We chose this cruise to experience Japan in Cherry Blossom season and experience the culture and history of the country.
The tours provided by EXC (HA's onboard service) were good. I feel I saw most of the attractions I wanted through these tours, while being guaranteed I wouldn't miss the boat at the end! The price was up there, but after sorting out some private tours at either end of the cruise, the costs were comparable for the amount we experienced.
The ports we stopped at were new for Holland America. There really weren't any ports that were in the centre of town. It was at least a 20 minute bus ride into the town centres if you were wondering around by yourself for the day. The frequency of busses was adequate.
Due to Japanese law we had to visit a different country at least once before we made it the whole way around Japan. This is the only reason why we went to Russia for one day. The port was Vladivostok. Don't bother doing a tour here, the town is run down and you have to go on a HA tour for Visa reasons. The customs debacle for this one day out of Japan was appalling. I understand all customs issues are never fun, but HA was definitely did not make it any better. For a cruse company that is meant to be professional at this stuff, they could have made their clients a lot more comfortable through the process. We had a lot of older guests on the ship, I felt horrible for the them.
The quality of the ship was a little tired, with maintenance undertaken at every port we stopped at. Sometimes this was an inconvenience to the patrons.
We were on level 8 in a stateroom. They had asked us if we minded being in a an 'accessible/disabled' stateroom before the cruise. We agreed, but we would not do this again. Mum and I were twin sharing, but if this room was used for a disabled person, you could only fit one person in there. We missed out on a good shower, cupboard space and a sitting area because of this, and we paid jut as much as the other guests.
The food in the main dining areas was good, tasty and well presented but not as fresh as I am used to. The dining experiences in the premium restaurants was much better. Don't worry about the special events like seafood nights or degustations and wine pairing, these are much steeper in price and not much better in quality to any other night.
The hospitality, bar and dining staff were great, nothing was a problem, my mother and I came down with illness on the ship and they were very accommodating. Our waiters and bar staff knew us by name from the second day and remembered what we liked to drink - which was an extensive list!
Drinks packages - definitely get one. we got the 'Signature' package for approx $50USD/day. The wine options were a little too limited for us, if we had the time again, we would have purchased the top drink package for approx $10USD/day extra.
The most disappointing this was the accounts department of HA. We printed our statement every morning to check our account. Almost every second day there were charges on there that shouldn't have been - we were charged for drinks that were covered in our pre paid package, room service charges that we didn't order, etc.
On the last night, the whole cruise was taken over by chocolate and towel animals as a bit of fun, but I can't help thinking this type of activity is to 'smooth everyone over' at the end so we leave happy and recommend them to our friends.
At the end of the cruise, we went to pay our bill, and they held the amount on our credit card. On the last day we received an account that they had charged us. This was fine, apart from they still had the amount on hold as well, effectively holding twice the amount of money they owed us. This can be quite debilitation if you are only half way through your entire holiday. Through waiting for statements to reflect charges and calling HA a couple of times to sort it out, I am still waiting for this money to be released 7 days after disembarking their ship. The HA girl assured me this would be released no later than 72 hours after the cruise finished. After trying to explain that didn't happen, I am also chasing this through with my bank.
Osaka Castle is more beautiful outside and the surrounding grounds and gardens are quite impressive in Cherry Blossom season. The top of the castle has great views overlooking the city.View All 6 Osaka Castle Reviews
A beautiful little town to walk through. Good markets and shops. The castle garden is very nice. We didn't go into the castle.
Tottori Flower Park is amazing. So many varieties of different flowers and landscapes. A nice walk, probably need a good 2 hours to see everything. Good cafes and amenities as well.
Didn't do a tour here, just walked around the town. Markets are OK but that's about it.