We enjoyed this cruise on the Maasdam. We paid a low price, less than $100 a day per person plus port fees and gratuities. Our stateroom was clean and roomy for an inside and we appreciated the full size sofa. The food was very good in both the dining room and the Lido. It seemed that HAL tried to have something for everyone. As a pescatarian and a vegetarian we could almost always find something we wanted to eat. We knew we could have availed ourselves of the special menu service and ordered a day in advance, but meals in the dining room tended to take one and a half plus hours. We didn't want to do that three times a day.
The staff was friendly and competent. No complaints. The muster drill was disorganized with staff members shouting out names and cabin numbers to take attendance. Quite a number didn't appear to be there but people were walking back and forth while this was going on. After 45 minutes of this some elderly people left.
HAL has a range of activities on offer, some revenue generating. There were many talks and we attended and enjoyed most of them. We also played trivia twice a day. The shopping was there but more subdued than other lines. The small pool was closed on multiple days due to the weather, which was not great; a typhoon in the general area was blamed for two missed ports. You couldn't swim laps in the pool.
One main point to mention is not to rely on the times posted on the HAL websites as to times in port for arranging independent shore excursions. They are misleading. The actual times vary considerably. Sometimes it seemed the weather was responsible but other times there was no reason that we could see. For example, when we missed a port due to weather making tendering not possible, rather than arrive that much earlier at the next port, we had another day at sea. Especially since that next port was in a different country with difficult immigration requirements, an earlier arrival would have been preferable. In that particular port, Otaru in Japan, we were given a 1:30 time slot to meet with Japanese immigration officials who came on board to fingerprint and photograph. About eight officials for 1250 passengers, so you can imagine the length of that line. We objected to the time, which after the formalities and shuttle to town would have given us less than two hours in that port. We were given an earlier time but I feel sorry for those who said nothing.
Further in that vein, we objected to the late disclosure of the HAL requirements for our independent tour of a Russian port. It is not helpful to advise us after we are on board that tour vouchers must contain the name, DOB, and passport numbers on separate vouchers for each person plus a separate list/letter about the tour containing similar information. HAL did telephone the tour company from the ship when we complained about this policy, which the tour company said is not accurate, and eventually things were fixed up but it was aggravating. No Russian officials looked at our voucher when we got off the ship.
We appreciated the shuttle buses in each Japanese port which I believe were arranged by the town. If it was HAL, then I commend them for this. There were also information booths set up with free wifi tents in some locations and we were welcomed by dancers and drummers in some towns.
The bar staff and photographers were low key. There were no production shows but entertainment in several lounges as well as a singer, violinist or pianist in the show lounge in the evenings.
This was not a scenic cruise. Sometimes we were shrouded in fog all day and mostly there was nothing but water to see - no visible coastline.
We enjoyed the afternoon teas and partook a couple of times after our return from time in a port.
There were many DVD's to obtain from guest services for free and the regular channels were fine. For some reasons the news channels were blocked in Russian ports. There is a design flaw with the remote as you had to extend your arm completely over your head to change channels. Or stand up. The TV was too far back on the shelf which blocked the signal from the remote. The ship was otherwise fine in repair and appearance. There were a few roof leaks in the Crows Nest which were quickly attended to.
Three ports were cancelled in this port intensive cruise out of nine, due to weather. I appreciated that the port talks were about how to get around and what to see in each stop not a thinly veiled attempt to sell HAL shore excursions. We were each given a $100 account credit, in addition to port charge refunds, to make up for the missed ports. This was a generous gesture.
All in all we were satisfied with our cruise for what we paid, however, my millennial daughters who travelled with me advised she will not cruise again until there is fast and free wifi on board, something she thinks should be a given.
We travelled independently from the port of Kobe to Kyoto, which is inland about an hour by train. You need some nerve and experience to do this on your own as the train stations can be intimidating. The machines to buy the tickets do have an English option, however. Kyoto is many, many temples being the original capital of Japan and our best stop of the cruise. It was exceedingly hot and humid (in August) and I almost got heat stroke so be forewarned.
If you get an all day tram/bus pass for about $10 you can get off and on. The things to see were average in my opinion. There was a Music Box museum which is really a large shop with many music boxes you can buy and a demonstration/concert was held outside the shop with tinny renditions of The Blue Danube and other pieces. There's a large park at one end of town and a ropeway at the other (we didn't go on this was it was expensive for a 3 minute ride).