We scored a great price on a 15-day HAL cruise from Sydney, Australia to Auckland, New Zealand. Perhaps the price was so affordable because a) November is a less popular travel window (our itinerary included Thanksgiving); and b) the Noordam is due for a significant refurb very soon, which is much needed because her passenger spaces are outdated and worn. The AC failed in our cabin the last four days of the cruise; they never could fix it though they brought us a fan which make the ventilation almost bearable.
Itinerary: The Australia/New Zealand itinerary did not disappoint. Between Sydney and Auckland, we stopped at eight lovely ports, each with its unique charm and scenic/cultural offerings: Melbourne, Hobart, Dunedin, Akaroa, Picton, Wellington, Napier and Tauranga. We would definitely recommend a vacation Down Under.
On-Board: As with all cruises, there is no shortage of on-board activities. The Maori cultural ambassadors were great, as were several of the other evening entertainers. Kelly, our on-board EXC tour consultant, was a real asset. She prepped us for upcoming ports of call, giving historical context and tour options to match diverse interests. Her commentary as we sailed into Milford Sound and thru Fiordland Nat'l Park made that part of the cruise all the more interesting.
Dining: We dined mostly on the Lido Deck for its convenience and wide variety of choices. We did notice there seemed to be more servers peddling alcohol than clearing tables and bringing water/lemonade. Burgers and Mexican choices at Dive-In by the pool were always good. We ate at only one of the specialty (extra charge) restaurants -- the Italian Canaletto. It was our least favorite meal of the cruise, the food too unusual/bizarre for our taste. I order lasagna (what can go wrong?) and didn't care for it at all. The food and choices in the main dining room were good (we ate there about 5 times), but it takes TWO HOURS to be served dinner. That's just too long for our American lifestyle.
Cabin attendants: Our room stewards were okay. We never saw them, and on the rare occasion we made a request, "Green apples in the fruit bowl, please" we got bananas, red apples and unripe pears instead. "Please don't close the curtains unless we are in port", but they always did anyway. I understand they have a heavy workload, which probably grows heavier every year as HAL tries to reduce the number of staff.
What is missing: Having cruised with Holland American for a decade, we've seen a number of old "traditions" disappear. The beautiful ice sculptures, chocolate night extravaganzas, and any-time ice cream/dessert bars are gone. I'm sympathetic to the competitive nature of the cruise/hospitality industry and the need to cut corners wherever possible. I enjoy a good cruise experience for a bargain price, so some of these niceties are inevitably trimmed in the process.
We will sail with Holland America again!