We’ve been on several HAL cruises and this one was just what we expected – excellent food and service and a good time over all, despite a few things that could be tweaked.
The transfer was long, largely because we spent 40 minutes driving from terminal to terminal at Heathrow. The people who got on at the later terminals complained that they had to wait too long for the bus to come and the people already on the bus complained that it took forever to leave the airport, so pretty much no one was satisfied. The security check at Dover before getting on the ship was probably the strictest I’ve seen, but there was no line to check in and the luggage came to the cabin quickly. Boat drill seemed unusually long because it started with a series of announcements made while you were still in the cabin.
This is a small ship that has a lot of passengers who stay on it for multiple cruises, so the average age of the passengers and the number with walking difficulties is much higher than on most cruises. I like this ship a lot, but if you haven't been on this ship before make sure you know what you are signing up for. Newspapers and puzzles are available every day. Apart from the port lectures and the nightly entertainment, we didn’t do any of the other activities. One of the elevators broke down quite early in the trip and was never back in service. There was a fiasco one day when everyone sitting in the theater was asked to leave and come back in 15-20 minutes for the Captain’s toast. A lot of the people had come early specifically to get a seat for the toast and were not happy to have to stand around in the halls with no place to sit. I felt bad for the drink servers who had the ugly task of asking people to leave. After a couple passengers had some sharp words with an officer who happened to walk by, we were allowed back into the theater. There was no reason they couldn’t have put something in the daily schedule to warn people that the theater would be closed for some time before the Captain’s toast.
The cabin had smaller than normal balcony doors, so there was no wall of glass, but the balcony itself was bigger than normal (we were in a Vista Suite). The cabin had good lighting and was well stocked with deck blankets, beach towels, robes, slippers, etc., although I would have preferred a shower over having to climb over the side of the tub. The water temperature in the shower was erratic. Unusual for a ship, the bathroom door could be left ajar without swinging or slamming, making the bathroom a useful nightlight. Our steward Gede took very good care of us. Our cabin was behind the casino, and I had been worried that smoke and noise from the casino might be a problem, but it wasn’t, perhaps because the casino seemed to be pretty empty the whole cruise.
The production shows were fantastic, some of the best we have seen, and the singers had strong voices. Ocean Trio was good but they mostly played instrumental old standards, which got somewhat boring night after night. The Band was excellent, but they only play on nights when the show that night doesn’t need them. Piano Stevie was entertaining. Georgina Jackson (she sang and played trumpet) was very good. John Lenahan (comedy and magic) was very funny. Misha, the port lecturer, was energetic and charming and funny. Unlike on some ships, she wasn’t part of the excursion office, so the talks were actually full of practical useful information and not just someone describing the shore excursions and trying to sell them to you.
The excursions were very well run and the staff had excellent English (better than we have seen on other ships). The excursions were very expensive, though. There were a lot of tender ports on this itinerary. In a couple ports, the tendering service did not run very smoothly. We would get back to the ship but not be able to get off the tender for 10-20 minutes because another tender was at the platform. In Fowey, the tendering was a mess. Buses aren’t allowed on the narrow streets in town, so tenders for the excursions were sent to a different dock than the tenders just going downtown. It would have made a lot more sense to have the two groups meet in different lounges and to use two different tender platforms. Instead, they mixed the two groups in the same lounge, confused everybody with the announcements, and had chaos when the 2 groups mingled near the tender platform as they tried to keep people from getting on the wrong tender.
On the first night in the dining room, no one escorted us to our table – they just pointed (in the wrong direction, as it turned out). The food was excellent and it was hot (both in the dining room and in the buffet) but our dining room stewards had too many tables, so the service really suffered. Some nights our waiters were practically running in the dining room, with sweat pouring off them, trying to keep up. We were rarely greeted with menus, bread and water, some of which would already be on the table when we arrived. We never got steak knives or fish knives, crumbs weren’t removed, and we were not reliably offered tea or coffee at the end of the meal. Most of this I don’t really care about, but the comparison to the level of service we have experienced on other ships was striking. What was not acceptable was the long waits between courses. Most nights it took us much longer to have dinner than what we have experienced with the same size table on other ships.
We walked off early with our own luggage, which worked well.
Our cabin was behind the casino, and I had been worried that smoke and noise from the casino might be a problem, but it wasn’t, perhaps because the casino seemed to be pretty empty the whole cruise.
Mixed bag, but the guide was excellent. Half an hour drive to the Little Chapel, which was excellent and worth the trip alone. We had about half an hour there, then we drove about 15 min to Bruce Russell Silversmiths. We had 45 min there, which was much too long. No one was working so there was no demonstration. The garden was nice to see but there was nothing to do but shop or get coffee. Then there was a 45 min drive along the coast and back through town. We got back about 15 min early.View All undefined undefined Reviews
Kiss the Blarney Stone in Country Cork (Cobh)
Excellent guide. We drove about 30 min to Cork and had a photo stop at the St Finn Barre church (you walk around it but don’t go in, takes about 5 min). Then we drove another 15 min to Blarney Castle. The woolen mill shops and the free Irish coffee are also at the castle stop. If you are not interested in kissing the stone, be aware that there isn’t much left of the castle, so you will be walking around the grounds and not going through a castle. The grounds are nice but don’t expect formal gardens. You can walk through fields with horses and cows to see the pond, and some of it is forested with a fern grotto and waterfall. We had almost 2 hours there and it was a pleasant place. The woolen mill shop is big, with good quality stuff at reasonable prices. You also get a voucher for an Irish coffee from the adjacent pub, but there isn’t much seating.
Beautiful countryside, excellent guide. Drove about 30 min to Bruges, then 1.5 hour walking tour. Then 30 min boat ride on the canals and 70 min free time. Lots of cute shops. If you have time, go in Church of Our Lady to see Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child. I highly recommend this tour.View All undefined undefined Reviews
The drive is 30-45 min each way, a good chunk of which is spent stuck in traffic between Antwerp and Rotterdam. There were about 30 people on the bus but we were split into 2 groups once we got to the camp. Our guide was excellent. I think the way it works is that each guide tells you in some detail about one particular person who was a prisoner there. It’s really well done, very interesting, and very moving.View All undefined undefined Reviews