I have been reading the reviews concerning this ship, and I want to put some of my comments down.
This was the fourth cruise for my two sisters and me, and it was our second with HAL Our ages are 82, 78, and 66. I'm the youngster!! I'll have to admit that we loved it. Yes, the ship needs paint and some other repairs (one of the forward elevators wasn't ever fixed)as mentioned by other reviewers, but the cruise was wonderful. In fact, we like HAL and enjoye ourselves so much that we booked our next cruise while we were onboard. We'll be doing the Panama Canal cruise departing San Diego next April 15th. It's on the Statendam, so I've been reading reviews about that ship and sincerely hope they have solved all the problems it seems to have!!
This cruise was very special for us, because our cousin, her husband, (in their 60's) his mother (91), their daughter and her husband (in their 30's) and their son (aged 3) joined us. They live in California, and we're from Texas
We drove from Anaheim and arrived at the pier and unloaded our luggage. Then they parked their vehicle in the lot across the street. Checking in was very easy. The three of us had booked a deluxe verandah suite on the navigation deck (Deck 7), and our cousins had upgraded to the penthouse after receiving the offer (not free) on Friday, so our check-in was right at the front of the big warehouse where CI takes place. There was not a long line for suites, and we were checked in and on our way to board the ship in a matter of minutes. Their daughter and her family flew in later in the afternoon. Even though they were not in a suite, they said that check-in was a breeze. They were in a verandah suite just down the hall from us.
Since we are HAL Mariners, we asked where the embarkation lunch was being held, but the crew members we asked had no clue. We didn't give up and finally made our way to the Rotterdam Dining Room (Lower Level) where lunch was being served. We didn't think there were too many people there, and having read the reviews, I can see that many Mariners didn't persevere—they just gave up and went to the Lido. It was a very nice luncheon. On the next cruise, we'll just go straight to the Rotterdam.
STATEROOM: Having had a deluxe verandah suite on our Alaskan cruise aboard the Volendam, we didn't even consider a lesser category cabin. (We've had those with small verandahs on Disney and RCCL) Once we traveled in this deluxe manner with a large cabin and living room area, big bathroom with tub/shower combo, a large dressing room with an extra lavatory and three nice closets, complimentary laundry, dry cleaning, and pressing, access to the Neptune Lounge and all the concierge service that entails, priority boarding of tenders going to and coming from shore, etc., etc., etc., the three of us really wouldn't want to sail any other way. In fact, the Neptune Lounge is actually why we prefer HAL. While other cruise lines have deluxe cabins, no other offers this special concierge service in a private lounge close to your stateroom. Let's face it, it's nice to be treated like royalty, and that's how Cris, our wonderful concierge in the NL made us feel.
Our stateroom stewards were Bangun and Widodo from Indonesia. You couldn't stay in the doldrums for long with them around. Bangun came into our stateroom the minute we walked in, and he had a big smile on his face. (We never saw him during the cruise that he wasn't smiling and laughing!) He introduced himself and told us that we were to let him know about anything we wanted. So, I asked if he had a long extension cord for my CPAP machine. (I sleep on the sofa and the only outlet is clear across the room by one of the beds, so I had brought one along, but it wasn't long enough.) He was back in no time with that cord which I was allowed to keep for the entire 15 nights.
Then I told him that I didn't want the sofa sleeper bed made up each night. I explained that after one night on that bed during our Alaska cruise I had come up with a better idea. So, at my request, he got two extra duvets and a set of sheets, and he and I made my bed. He removed the back cushion, folded the two duvets in half and placed them on the sofa as pads. Then he made the bed on top of them. It makes a very comfortable bed. I told him just to make it neat in the mornings, as I wanted access to it during the day!! He thought that was funny, but he followed my instructions explicitly. It took a few days to convince him that one of my sisters didn't want all of the top bedding tucked in at the foot of her bed. I think it really went against his inner-self and all of his training to leave a bed partially unmade. But he did it (finally) and got a great extra tip at the end of the cruise! Another reason we like the deluxe verandah suite is because we spend a lot of time there. We're not too "socially active" on cruises. We use it as a time to unwind and rest, read, etc. We have a Christmas business, and we work very hard in the months before our vacations.)
DINING: We had "As you Wish" dining, so for the first two evenings our whole group went up to the Lido. After that, we had Cris make a standing reservation for us to dine in the Rotterdam Dining Room at 6:00 p.m. We always had the same table and the same wait staff. However, if we did want to do something different, we told her and she let them know that table would be vacant that night.
It was so much nicer than the Lido. My sisters and I decided to go there for breakfast one morning, but never did that again. Our experience in the Lido on the Volendam in 2007 was wonderful. We often had breakfast and/or lunch there. But that was when they had trays! Now HAL has decided to do away with the trays, and you have to carry a plate of food which you take to your table. Then you have to go back for anything else you want like bread, drinks, etc. Being the youngest, I did a lot of that walking for my older sister. By the time you get everything to your table, most of it is cold! On the Volendam, there was always an attendant ready to carry the tray for you, but alas, no more! It was an absolute pain! I was worn out at the end of the meals, so we stayed away from there for the rest of the cruise. It was NOT as enjoyable as it was on our Alaskan cruise. I'm not even sure that the food was good or bad, because the whole experience of getting your food to the table was terrible!
The Rotterdam Dining Room was a much nicer experience. We got to know our servers and they got to know us. Each evening we would arrive, and they would already have our little three year old's (I'll call him "A." from now on) high chair in place. "A." is very well behaved—many people commented on that. He is also very cute and personable. We eight adults became known as " 'A's' party." Each evening, the moment we were seated, the head waiter would come and bring "A." a plate of fresh fruit. Then he would tell him what was on the child's menu and ask him what he wanted. He had a choice of spaghetti and meatballs, a hotdog and fries, macaroni and cheese, or peanut butter and jelly. All of our wait staff knew that he would end his meal with sugar free vanilla ice cream, a treat that he doesn't get often at home. They knew my older sister would want the kind with sugar!
Baba was our waiter and Nanda was his assistant, and they were really, really good. (On a Disney cruise in 2008, the assistant waiter could never remember what we liked.) These two men knew all of our likes and dislikes. We never had a bad dining experience there. The food was very good. It's so much fun to be able to order anything you want, because it gives one the opportunity to try things you would never order in a restaurant. Cruising is how I found out that I love escargot!
We had some very rough days at sea on this cruise due to the weather. One evening as we got up from the table to leave, the ship lurched and my older sister was falling. Baba grabbed her and kept her upright. He didn't let go of her arm until he had walked her to the elevator. He escorted her out of the dining room every night for the rest of the cruise.
As I was making a monthly payment back in November, the reservation agent commented on the fact that the middle sister would be having a birthday in April. He said that HAL would be happy to help us celebrate. So, on the 19th of April, a chocolate cake with a lighted candle was brought to our table in the Rotterdam and waiters from all over the dining room joined our waiters in singing an Indosian birthday song to her. Then Baba came with a plate piled high with scoops of vanilla ice cream which he served to all of us.
All nine of us ate at the Pinnacle Grill on the last night of the cruise. That was wonderful. Everything was delicious and beautifully presented. The service was impeccable. Once again, "A." made a big hit. All the girls who were on the staff there hugged him goodbye as we were leaving.
We had one other occasion to dine in the Pinnacle Grill. The Captain hosted an Indonesian luncheon during the first week of the cruise. The penthouse and all deluxe verandah suite guests were invited. We were thrilled, because we were invited to sit at the captain's table (it's the penthouse that did it!). However, JoJo, the Guest Relations Manager came to our table and joined us. She extended the captain's apology, because he was unable to attend the luncheon at all. We knew that the ship had been rolling for a while that morning, and it turned out that one of the stabilizers had gone out. So we understood why the captain missed lunch. The Indonesian food was wonderful. Even my older sister who is the world's pickiest eater liked it!!
The Neptune Lounge always has food available. That is where we all ate breakfast most mornings. They always had an array of food available like cereals, muesli, fresh fruit, yogurt, pastries, cheese, cold meats, all kinds of bread, and I could go on and on. The fresh orange juice is the best I've ever had. Coffee, Cappuccino, Latte, Espresso, hot tea, hot chocolate, iced tea, cold water—all are available all day. All kinds of little finger sandwiches and other goodies were there to tempt us. (Yes, I gained weight!) Who needs the Lido if you have the Neptune Lounge. Of course, you do have to book a deluxe suite!
I must give kudos to the ladies who make the lounge so special—Cris, the concierge, Mary Rose, her relief, Made (Ma day) and Rose, who kept the food replenished and fresh all day. They all went out of their way to make sure that everything was clean and attractive and that the suite and penthouse guests were happy and well taken care of. Made and Rose also work in the Pinnacle Grill. It is amazing the hours that the crew works each day. You see them in different places at different times of the day, and they are always happy and courteous.
ENTERTAINMENT: My two sisters and I went to every evening show in the Mondrian Lounge. We are singers/entertainers, so we love the shows, but can be a little critical. However, the shows were okay. We don't expect Disney entertainment quality or New York Broadway quality. We were disappointed to find that the production shows put on by the HAL singers and dancers were the same ones we saw on the Volendam three years earlier. Since they encourage repeat cruisers with their Star Mariner Rewards, etc., I would think that they could develop some different productions and not make us sit through the same ones. I guess we'll see them again on the next cruise in 2011. Or maybe we'll find something else to do on those evenings. However, the special entertainers who were on board to perform were really good. We thoroughly enjoyed each one.
Only one complaint about the HALcats band and the recorded music used in the theater—IT IS TOO LOUD!! Tone it down for Pete's sake. Those young people must all be losing their hearing from being around all that loud noise constantly. At our age our hearing isn't what it used to be, but we can hear that!! Thank goodness I carry ear plugs for my sisters and me to wear. . SHORE EXCURSIONS: We booked all of our excursions through HAL. We enjoyed them all—some more than I thought we would. I wasn't too excited at the thought of going to the Tsunami Museum in Hilo, but it was very interesting and informative. That tour, called Waves and Waterfalls, took us to Akaka Falls State Park. The walk through the rain forest down to the waterfall viewing area was beautiful. I got some really great photographs.
In Kauai, my sisters and I took a tour called Waterfalls and Movies. That was the most entertaining excursion of all the ones we did. There were only ten people on our little bus, and we had a wonderful tour guide. As we traveled from place to place, she showed clips of the movies and TV shows. We were taken all over the island to the locations where these were filmed. We also saw the waterfall featured in Fantasy Island.
The most meaningful tour we took was the one to Pearl Harbor. Due to construction taking place there, we were unable to go out to the Arizona memorial, so we changed our tour to include the battleship Missouri, known as the "Mighty Mo." We stood on the deck right where the Surrender of Japan took place. From the "Mo" we were able to see the Arizona Memorial very clearly. Due to very high winds and rough water, our day in Lahaina, Maui was canceled. We had all scheduled a luau there, but HAL refunded our money. Instead we sailed along the north coast of Molokai which was beautiful. Once again, we stayed in our cabin on the port side and enjoyed the cliffs, waterfalls, and waves crashing on the shore from our verandah. We kept the door open and could hear the commentary on the P.A. system. I took fantastic pictures! This is the website for the Captain's blog about that day. It includes pictures. http://www.hollandamericablog.com/2010/04/16/captains-log-postcards-from-molokai/#comments
Our last excursion at Kona was to the Kahua Ranch. Since the three of us own a cattle ranch here in Texas, we thought it would be interesting to see how they do it in Hawaii, and it was. It's not very different except their view is a lot prettier! The hour trip back to the pier took us through the lava flows. That sight was awesome! My only regret is that the bus didn't stop and let us take good "still" photos. I got lots, but all from the moving bus.
KID'S CLUB: My sisters and I are single, so no children with us. However, our little cousin, "A." loved Kid's Club. His mom and dad took him there for the first couple of evenings after dinner, and stayed with him. After a while they felt comfortable leaving him there. I think that says a lot about the program and the crew members who were in charge.
EMBARKATION AND DISEMBARKATION: Both were easy. We like to get to the pier early before the crowds arrive, but that is really not an issue in San Diego where they had lots of people working to get people checked in. I always take advantage of Online Check-in, so we only had to fill out the medical questionnaire. Getting off the ship was even easier, because we kept our luggage in our rooms, and special ship's porters came and got them about 9:15. All nine of us were then taken down and out an exit that opened right at ground level on the pier. That was convenient since our cousin's mother-in-law used a wheelchair.
SERVICE; I think I have already praised the people who were in charge of serving us. They were fantastic. We never, ever met a grouchy crew member. Everyone outdid themselves in giving service. We left the $11 a day service charge/tip on our bill, but we handed out envelopes with extra tips for those who had served us so well.
VALUE FOR THE MONEY: Well, that might be debatable. The deluxe suites are very expensive, unless you get a free upgrade or one for minimum $. The people in the stateroom next to ours got it free. Wow, what a deal! I make our reservations 10 to 12 months early, and we're willing to pay for the deluxe accommodations. It might not be worth it to everyone.
We went on board as One Star Mariners and left as Two Stars. We hope to make it to three some day. Read Less