From Toni Vitanza -- who cruised on Noordam June 20 from Rome -- I am a flight attendant with 17 years of experience and I have frequent cruiser status with several cruise lines. This cruise was probably my seventh or eighth Med cruise. ... Read More
From Toni Vitanza -- who cruised on Noordam June 20 from Rome -- I am a flight attendant with 17 years of experience and I have frequent cruiser status with several cruise lines. This cruise was probably my seventh or eighth Med cruise. But this was our first time to cruise with HAL and I am afraid we have been spoiled. Since returning from our cruise, I have already told several passengers on board my flights about what a great experience we had with HAL. My husband Victor, in particular, is now a bona fide cruiser, and a bona fide HAL cruiser, like he never was before (and I also managed to get him hooked on the spa). My parents are smokers who still want to smoke on a balcony and their next cruise will be on HAL as long as you allow smoking on balconies.
Sophie (in the ship's guest relations department) was INSTRUMENTAL in changing us from a balcony room with a completely obstructed view to one with a real view. A balcony was a splurge for us; we don't smoke but wanted it specifically for a relaxing view. She found us a new spot and even offered to send someone to help us move (although we refused the offer). She answered the phone often when I called with questions and was always affable, patient and competent. She is efficient, communicates clearly and professionally, looks so sharp in her uniform, and works HARD!
Our stateroom attendants, Erwan and Ray, were so hardworking but also discreet. That is probably an overlooked quality in a stateroom attendant; after all, the work they do is rather intimate, isn't it? They never failed to greet us in the hallways with a smile and a question about our day. They were on the ball with ice and restocked our mini-bar promptly.
We bought the spa "membership" (from Alexandra) almost immediately after boarding and it was some of the best money we ever spent. If Sophie chose our new room due to its nearness to the spa, that was a wonderful thing to do for us. All of the staff there was AMAZING. My husband won one service in a raffle and paid for a massage as well; I had a manicure repair from Jucille. All of them were skilled and professional.
When our shower sprayer apparatus broke from the shower wall, the repairman was quick and competent and came ready with tools to repair it. We also had very prompt response when our remote control went on the blink! We were in the bar to watch the operation of pulling the tender boat up out of the water and back into its place on board. That was something to see and we were very impressed with the competence and skill of your crew.
Brian, who served us in one of the bars (the one that offers a wine tasting in the evening along with a very special gourmet snack to eat with the wine) was very knowledgeable and a fabulous server. Artemio, in a different bar, (the one with a two-for-one happy hour special at 4 pm), was also wonderful to us. The band in the BB King Blues Club provided some of the best live entertainment my husband and I had enjoyed in a long time! Rochelle and Eric, our sommeliers, were both WONDERFUL to us and terrifically knowledgeable and passionate about wine, as is my Sicilian husband. Before I became a flight attendant I was a newspaper food and wine columnist so I like to think that while I might not be as knowledgeable as Eric or Rochelle, I am as passionate!
Now...two issues before I tell you the BEST thing about the cruise.
I would ask that you become MUCH more vigilant about keeping diapered babies/kids and kids obviously too young to be toilet-trained OUT of the pools and hot tubs. If a parent tells you that their kid IS toilet-trained, that isn't good enough when we are talking about a child under the age of 2 or who is clearly diapered. (And tearing off the diaper and putting the baby back in the pool isn't acceptable.) I encountered kids in the adults-only pool once. I reported this to staff. I don't know whether or how this was handled. But the fact is, these things shouldn't happen to begin with. I'm a parent, stepparent and stepgrandparent and anyone who knows me will tell you that I am crazy about babies and kids. But I also know where they belong and understand that these rules are about their health and safety and the health and safety of everyone else on board. The parents/kids should be stopped BEFORE they ever enter or AS they enter the pool and/or hot tub. Passengers shouldn't be required to report this for it to be addressed. Pool-area staff should be trained and EMPOWERED to monitor just who is in the pool/hot tub and to politely but effectively remove young ones who are where they don't belong. Frankly, I don't think the fact that kids are "well behaved" should exempt them from the rule; their presence still inhibits adult behavior and makes many of us feel responsible for their safety. When staffmembers see tiny kids in bathing suits, their antennae should go up. I have cruised with a friend who was immunocompromised due to cancer treatments, and I have cruised with a friend who holds a doctorate in microbiology. And you can't imagine the information they shared with me about what can happen when you allow these kids in the pools and hot tubs. I could go into it all here but I won't; suffice it to say that the CDC/VPS rules about this exist for very good reasons. And when one parent ventures in with a baby or small child who clearly can't possibly be toilet-trained, other parents assume the rules aren't being enforced and put their babies in too. Then it's not a pool; it's fecal soup, filled with nasty organisms -- including the live viruses the babies are given when they are vaccinated. On Sunday afternoon, during a sea day, I saw one mom allow her one-year-old son, clearly wearing some kind of bulky diaper, into not just the pool but also the hot tub, where no child that young should EVER be; it's bad for the baby and bad for others. I called the front desk and also reported this to the ladies in the spa but never saw anyone approach this mom. Next to the toilet in my stateroom there was a sign stating that if I disobeyed the rules about what should and shouldn't be flushed down the toilet, and stating that I would possibly be liable for the cost of repairs should I ignore the rule. When I boarded the ship, I had to sign a form stating that I didn't have symptoms of illness. The staff was very vigilant to prevent passengers from touching serving utensils in the buffet and hardly shy about suggesting we use hand sanitizer when entering the buffet. I believe even the captain (or cruise director) made reference to hand-washing in an announcement. I suspect the daily newspaper mentioned it as well. All these efforts are for nothing the second a diapered baby or non-trained toddler gets in the pool. I would suggest that the medical form we are asked to fill out before boarding include a statement telling/reminding parents that children who need diapers, who are wearing diapers of any kind or who are not thoroughly toilet-trained are not to be allowed into any pool or hot tub, including "family" pools and hot tubs. This is, after all, the rule. The form should also tell parents that they will possibly be liable for the costs of draining, cleaning and refilling the pool/hot tub should they ignore the rule -- just as the sign next to my toilet states. The signs next to the pool/hot tub should not merely state that diapered children and those not toilet-trained are forbidden; the signs should also state that parents will be liable for the costs of draining, cleaning and refilling should their children be found in the facility. That will put a stop to a lot of this. When I see health and safety rules (and this IS a health and safety rule) disregarded in "front of house," so to speak, I wonder what health and safety rules are ignored in places I can't see.
The other problem was our excursion to Carthage. Our guide, Murat, was wonderful -- professional and knowledgeable and proud but also honest about his country. This was the highlight of the cruise for us and what we looked forward to the most. The excursion bus left RIGHT ON TIME, something I appreciate very much. We visited the Bardo museum and the ancient city of Carthage. Yet one woman was consistently late to the bus from our various stops; given the heat, this was inexcusable. After our lunch (at a lovely restaurant), she carried wine bottles from the tables onto the bus, where she drank from them. I don't know if this is legal, but it certainly isn't wise or mannerly. In the end, I came to think of her as the person in charge of our excursion. I don't know what to do about this sort of thing; I am merely reporting what bothered my husband and me and also clearly bothered others on board the excursion. The real problem with the excursion is that half or MORE of the day was spent in dark, stifling markets or shopping areas where we looked at store after store, stall after stall, of the same junk: Small carved camels (many made in China!), dishes that we were warned weren't suitable for serving food (they contained lead-based paint), cheap jewelry, keyrings, t-shirts, etc. One stall after another, the same old tacky junk! It really was shameful and not up to the standard that HAL seems intent on holding. It was just a waste of time and shameful to rush through the Bardo so we could look at cheap (again, Chinese) junk to buy. I also understand that different cultures operate in different ways. I carefully dressed for my visit to Tunis is long sleeves and a full, long skirt and behaved in as modest and sensitive a manner as I could. I behaved in a very modest and reserved way and kept with my husband at all times. Yet the same men approached me multiple times to hawk their wares; I had to tell them "No, thank you" over and over and over again. There's not a culture where this kind of hounding people is acceptable, and it's certainly not an effective sales tactic with most of the folks who cruise. This excursion could cost half as much and include nothing but the Bardo and Carthage, with perhaps lunch. Or it could remain at the same price but include more time at Bardo and/or Carthage, or include some other genuine cultural or historical site rather than opportunities to peruse a lot of tacky junk at not one but two separate sites.
NOW, for what was the best thing about our cruise. I don't know how we got so lucky, but on the first night of the cruise we visited the main dining room (we avoid buffets and specialty restaurants) and were seated with waiter Rudy Canyadi (I HOPE I am spelling his name correctly) and Mr. Hakim, his assistant. (Both are from Indonesia and Mr. Hakim wears some fabulous hipster eyeglasses, if my spelling makes it difficult to identify them.) These two men were absolutely the highlight of our cruise and we simply cannot say enough about either of them. We ordered the same wine and water every night and while our sommeliers remembered the wine, Mr. Hakim always remembered the water. (By the way, are you discontinuing San Pellegrino water? It's our favorite and apparently we drank the last bottle on the ship! Since the ship visits Sicily, we think you should continue to carry a water from there!) While we met some wonderful fellow passengers aboard the ship, we would have rather had Mr. Canyadi and Mr. Hakim as dinner companions than anyone else. As far as Mr. Hakim goes, well, I wish he would come be a flight attendant at my airline because he would be SUCH fun to fly with. Mr. Canyadi -- well, that man knows FOOD. He pays attention to what his customers order, what they leave on their plates, what they finish, what dishes best complement each other and what his passengers order from night to night to night. His memory and sensitivity are like nothing else. These two men made my husband HAPPY and for that this loving wife will always be grateful. Read Less