For our first cruise we decided to travel in familiar territory (Australia and New Zealand) so that we could focus on the cruise rather than the destinations. We had looked at a large number of possible cruise lines but thought that HAL would be the right demographic for us (active couple, 59,62, retired) and we were proved right.
Boarding the Volendam at Auckland went very smoothly and we spent the afternoon familiarising ourselves with the layout of the ship - it seemed very spacious and well laid out, easy to get around. We had been upgraded to Deck 2 and the category L cabin was large enough for us with plenty of storage space. (We did not spend very much time in the cabin at all - only slept there for about 6 hours a day!) The cabin steward was always very cheerful and helpful with very unobtrusive service. (We enjoyed the towel animals very much and were slightly disappointed to discover that it wasn't just for us, but a standard feature!)
One slight glitch with the dining seating was soon rectified after boarding and we opted for open dining which suited us very well. We had dinner most nights in the Rotterdam with two nights in the Canaletto and one in the Pinnacle Grill. We took all breakfasts and lunches in the Lido. The standard of the food preparation, taste and service was excellent throughout, and on returning home we are finding it difficult to return to catering for ourselves! It required a great deal of self-control to limit our eating so as to not put on too much weight. We walked around the lower promenade deck 7 or 8 times every morning and went to the stretch sessions at 7am everyday in the Gym (this is a really good idea to get you going in the morning after a busy evening), as well as dancing every evening which helped keep the activity up.
The provided entertainment in the Franz Hals Lounge was generally of a high standard and we greatly enjoyed the jazz trio (the Neptunes) and the HALcats, to whom we danced every night. The solo pianist Matt in the Piano bar was also very good and provided many hours of listening pleasure. We did not take part in many of the organised activities this trip but there were such a large number of them, catering for all sorts of interests, that you could easily spend the whole day taking part.
There were a large number of areas in the ship where you could settle down with a book, sudoku, etc. or just watch other people, always a fascinating activity. The Explorations Lounge and the Cafe were very good resting places and the Library provided plenty of books even though we had our own e-readers. The Internet access fees were exorbitant and slow, even by Australian standards, and we did not bother. Nowadays it should be possible to do much better, particularly by using a caching server on board. We suggested that e-books could be easily provided (particularly the free ones from Gutenberg, etc.) but the Librarian thought that it would take a long time for HAL to do such a thing. Come on HAL, such things are cheap and easy to set up and your guests would love you for it (we saw a large number of people with computers and e-readers so the audience is ready for such services), just get a competent IT consultant (I am available at very reasonable rates :-) ) to organise such things for your whole fleet - you could be up and running next year!
Despite the poor weather for most of the trip, apart from Milford Sound which put on a spectacular display, we had a ball and have signed up for some more cruises with HAL.
An interesting city with many interesting buildings. Plenty of places to stay and to eat (try the shopping mall near the ferry dock for cheap and good lunches before boarding). We will try a harbour cruise to nearby islands next time we are here.