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Naismith

First-time HAL observations

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We did an 11-day Panama Canal cruise earlier this month on the Zuiderdam.  I did post a formal review,  but wanted to leave some notes here because of all the love-about-HAL and HAL-is-going-downhill threads on this board.  My perspective is from someone who has been on dozen or so cruises with Royal Caribbean, Princess, Carnival, Norwegian.  We only cruise about every 3 years when it fits our vacation plans.  We do mostly independent traveling the other years; next year we have reservations for hiking into Havasupai Lodge, a week in D.C., and trip to the Philippines, so no time to cruise then.  We had done an Alaska cruise on a Princess Panamax ship and thought that we would do the canal on one of those, but the itinerary was better on the Zuiderdam.

 

The bed was comfy, and that is a non-trivial thing to a couple in their early 60s.  Although we were in a lowly obstructed OV, the cabin was well designed and the bathroom storage was particularly excellent.  Really the first cruise ship that has had enough room for all our stuff in a secure place.  We appreciated that the fruit basket was optional; we've stayed in resorts where it was delivered no matter what, so this was less wasteful and tempting.  

 

Loved Lincoln Center Stage.  I did not go to the purely classical shows of Bach or Mozart, but enjoyed the pops, movie themes, American, etc.  To be fair, our LCS group was on the last month of their 4-month contract and were perhaps more smooth and practiced than some of the ensembles. At the Meet the Artists session, when asked what the best thing about performing on the ship was, one responded that they had pretty much paid off their student loans:)

 

I also enjoyed BB Kings although I needed earplugs for that.  Some great dance moves from the audience. 

 

I had to use the rest room in a few public places and loved the real cloth towels.

 

I can't report on the fresh cut flower controversy, because I just didn't notice.  It's not my thing, sorry.  

 

We were astonished at how many elevators there were compared to other ships of that size, and loved the ocean view elevators.  Of course the day of the week carpets were a big hit.  Although mostly we took the stairs to burn a few of the excess calories we were consuming.

 

Food was good, and the final Gala Night included the traditional surf and turf; we saw waiters taking extra lobster tails to some tables:)  On the Lido deck, there were a few lunch times we struggled to find seating, but food was appealing.  I particularly enjoyed the mixed berries and absolutely ripe pears.  The taco bar made a great lunch a few days, and the mango salsa was incredible. 

 

We appreciated that although the When & Where seemed to imply the Lido was not open between closing for lunch at 2 p.m. and opening for dinner at 5:30 p.m., in the afternoon there was always pasta, pizza, soup, some breads, and the dessert station including ice cream.  My husband was up there at 4 p.m. every afternoon for ice cream:)  I appreciated the wide selection of my favorite herbal teas. Indeed, the only culinary disappointment was the afternoon tea:  We went once and the scone was dry, the sweets too sweet. 

 

I know there have been complaints about losing the Exc experts and having the CD fill in for those talks.  Our CD Lance was as good or better than some of the experts we had on previous Princess ships.  His presentation on the real Pirates of the Caribbean was fascinating.  And his preview on Cartagena saved us a lot of grief; he showed a slide with a of the port area and where to exit the port to get a taxi (for half the price).  We were DIY with audio guides that day, and wanted to be at the fort right when it opened at 8 a.m., so his advice was helpful.  He also offered solid guidance on where to find shade at Half Moon Cay, and places to view the Panama Canal as we went through the lock.  

 

When returning to the ship on a hot day, we loved being greeted at the dock with cold towels and water or lemonade--nice touch.  

 

We appreciated the Navigator app for finding deck plans the first few days, checking on activities and texting each other.  

 

The Zuiderdam fitness center was well equipped but short on space for stretching/floor work.  Can't remember which Norwegian ship we were on a few years back that had better room for that kind of thing.  Part of the seeming space crunch was that Zuiderdam has a lot of morning classes, and then the fitness center closes at 8 p.m.

 

A lot has been said about the nickel-and-diming on cruise ships, sometimes charging extra for things that were once included.  We thought that the upsells were more in our box, not in our face.  By email or in the box outside our room--and quickly recycled or ignored.  Other cruise lines have been more in-your-face as one walks around, so we appreciated the laid-back approach.

 

But the best thing about our trip the people.  We had friendly folks inviting us to sit with them in theaters, and in all our dining open seating matchups, we met some fascinating people.  Nobody went off on a political rant, which had spoiled past dinners on other ships.  So if HAL attracts that kind of lovely people, it is a big draw to bring us back.

 

 

 

 

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Thanks for your review! 

 

Zuiderdam is one of HAL's Vista class, and those are my favorite HAL ships. I'm doing the same itinerary on Zuiderdam this winter, so I'm happy to hear that things are running well. 

 

I'm glad you met nice people. I have to echo that sentiment. I find that HAL cruisers are more "experienced" travelers and know how to talk to strangers. Although a lot of cruisers want tables for two, those who ask for large tables tend to be people who are pleased to meet others. 

 

I know what you mean about hard sell. I thought there was way too much pushy selling on Princess. The first day, the bar servers selling the beverage package seemed to be everywhere! When I did the kitchen tour, there must have been four or five spots along the route where they were selling their cookbook. 

 

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Did you esperience anything on this HAL Forum that helped in your cruise planning and enjoyment of your cruise?

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2 hours ago, Naismith said:

So if HAL attracts that kind of lovely people, it is a big draw to bring us back.

Thanks for the positive review! We have never had a bad cruise on HAL, including our most recent cruise on Zuiderdam (trans-Atlantic last spring). 

 

I hope to sail with you and dine with you in the future!

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11 hours ago, Naismith said:

We did an 11-day Panama Canal cruise earlier this month on the Zuiderdam.  I did post a formal review,  but wanted to leave some notes here because of all the love-about-HAL and HAL-is-going-downhill threads on this board. 

thank you for taking the time to post this report.  We're taking the same cruise in Dec 2020

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Welcome to HAL and thank you for a wonderful report!  I am so happy that you discovered the same things I love about this line.  I am especially interested to hear your response to CrewNews’ question.  It’s a good one.

 

10 hours ago, Crew News said:

Did you esperience anything on this HAL Forum that helped in your cruise planning and enjoyment of your cruise?

 

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We disembarked from the 10 day Canal cruise yesterday. WeI generally agree with your observations.

Our first cruise was on HAL in 1982, so we were essentially new to HAL.  We are about your age.  We have many cruises on the mainstream lines, but were starting to feel that the mainstream ships are too big, too loud, and too crowded.  The cutbacks and nickle and diming were also becoming quite noticeable.  We decided to try HAL (and may try others like Princess and X).

 

We chose this cruise because of itinerary (canal and new ports) and a good deal on an inside cabin.  Three days before sailing we upgraded to a balcony GTY at a good price.  Since it was a late upgrade, our cabin was very forward.  We like to avoid forward cabins because of the extra motion, but that’s how the GTY thing goes.  Weather and seas were good throughout so there were no motion issues.

 

This was our most relaxing cruise ever.  That may not work for everyone, but we loved it.  It is clearly a step (or more) above the mass market lines.  The dining and amenities were very good.  The crew and service were outstanding.  The onboard vibe was friendly and relaxed.  The only noticeable crowds were during busy times at the buffet.

 

Everyone’s “perfect” cruise is different, so no cruise can be perfect, but it was indeed excellent.  We will be back.

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I'm leaving on my first HAL cruise, as well as my first solo (DH has mobility issues and travel is becoming a grind for him), in ten days to the Panama Canal. I was wondering if HAL has any hosted tables similar to Seabourn. I'm glad to see the positive reviews here!

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We really enjoyed hosted tables on Seabourn where guests are invited to join crew members or guest speakers at hosted tables for dinner. Very interesting conversation and the hosts were very good. Sorry, but Holland America does not do hosted tables. But, as others have said, those who are willing to join others at dinner are usually open to friendly conversation.

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55 minutes ago, twodjs said:

Sorry, but Holland America does not do hosted tables. But, as others have said, those who are willing to join others at dinner are usually open to friendly conversation.

 

I have been fortunate to be seated at hosted tables with HAL.  The last time was probably 4 years ago though.  So maybe they no longer have hosted tables?

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1 hour ago, TrolleyGirl said:

 

I have been fortunate to be seated at hosted tables with HAL.  The last time was probably 4 years ago though.  So maybe they no longer have hosted tables?

 

I think they must do them randomly because I have read some trip reports which mention them.  It probably depends upon the Captain and the Hotel Director, etc.

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3 hours ago, twodjs said:

We really enjoyed hosted tables on Seabourn where guests are invited to join crew members or guest speakers at hosted tables for dinner. Very interesting conversation and the hosts were very good. Sorry, but Holland America does not do hosted tables. But, as others have said, those who are willing to join others at dinner are usually open to friendly conversation.

 

Oh well, I'll definitely try joining a table now and then. And I believe there's a solo travelers meetup the first day so I'm sure I'll meet one or two folks that way. Thanks for the information. 🙂

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2 hours ago, TrolleyGirl said:

 

I have been fortunate to be seated at hosted tables with HAL.  The last time was probably 4 years ago though.  So maybe they no longer have hosted tables?

 

It may be harder to orchestrate on such a large ship. I'm actually looking forward to trying a ship with more people. We were on a 24 day cruise with Seabourn last year and by the end we were a bit weary of the same faces every day. Especially since they were with us in the hotels both before and after the cruise. It was also a very sea day intensive cruise that exacerbated the close quarters.

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Interesting that some have enjoyed hosted tables on HAL. We are four star Mariners, cruising since 1995 and we had never even heard of hosted tables. On our first cruise on Seabourn (12 nights) just two weeks ago, we were invited to a hosted table every night beginning on day two. Seabourn seems to have a more accessable crew policy which we found quite refreshing. Expanding such a policy on HAL would be a nice improvement. 

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3 hours ago, TrolleyGirl said:

 

I have been fortunate to be seated at hosted tables with HAL.  The last time was probably 4 years ago though.  So maybe they no longer have hosted tables?

We used to get invited to some hosted tables (in the MDR) on HAL with the hosts often being senior officers and staff.  But HAL has recently followed a trend (we have seen this on other lines) where Officers and senior staff seldom to never dine in the MDR or host tables.  We have also enjoyed the hosted tables on Seabourn which are available to anyone (solo or couples) who can simply mention to the hostess that they would like to join hosted tables.  

 

What is amusing is that last year, while on our first MSC (Yacht Club) cruise we ran into a senior officer who we knew from HAL's Prinsendam.  He had left employment with HAL to join MSC which has more opportunities for senior staff advancement (MSC is expanding by 2 ships a year and will soon be up  to 29 vessels).  The Officer immediately suggested we join him for dinner in one of the alternative restaurants where we had a very enjoyable dinner.  The attitude on MSC encourages senior officers and staff to mingle (and even socialize) with passengers.  Sometimes it seemed like the Captain (and many of his senior officers) were everywhere.  In fact the Captain even hosted part of the CC Meet and Greet where MSC provided free drinks, snacks, and even live entertainment.  At the end of the Meet and Greet we all joined the Captain for a group photo (8x10s were given to everyone).  

 

Hank

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OP, thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I am interested in knowing which ports attracted you to this itinerary. Cruising the PC is one of my goals.

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We dined with an officer at our table twice during our VOV this summer.  And 3 times on our previous cruise as well. I think it helps when your table mates are Presidents Club😀. It’s a very enjoying informative evening. 

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On 11/20/2019 at 11:14 PM, Crew News said:

Did you esperience anything on this HAL Forum that helped in your cruise planning and enjoyment of your cruise?

 

That's a good question.  I certainly picked up some little hints, like being sure to get to Lincoln Center Stage early for a seat.  No hardship since I always had a book with me, and sometimes had conversations with other people.  (My husband thought I was crazy to go almost 30 minutes early, but of course there were already a dozen people there.)

 

Thanks to reading here, I was able to explain about the tradition of the Yum Yum Man, even though there was never a person by the cart.  

 

Some of the info I came across was outdated.  I had read about DVD checkout, but Zuiderdam had already upgraded to the onscreen, on-demand movie system for the television, which worked well.  

 

What did NOT add to my enjoyment was the lectures about to get a better deal.  I am glad for others who cruise more frequently and have a great relationship with their TA.  But those who went beyond sharing their own experiences to rather lecture ("...you need to....") were not helpful.  I was trying to use a TA for the reasons mentioned, but the extras that I was being offered were not valuable to me.  We've never been interested in the premium dining venues, and drink packages are useless because we don't drink alcohol and I can't drink carbonated drinks. (I ended up booking directly from HAL when they had an offer for free gratuities and the price had dropped to the range I had pre-determined was acceptable.)

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