My wife and I decided we needed a mid-winter break. We also did not want any of the hassles associated these days with airports so we selected a cruise out of Norfolk, VA on the Maasdam. We live in Virginia and there was only a three hour drive to the ship. In addition to not needing air, we had never been on HAL before, but the lines reputation was first class and we were looking forwand to the trip.
Overall, we did not have a good time. It was like being nibbled to death. Details follow, but in summary, the food was great, both in variety, preparation and quality. The service was OK, but not great. Our room was filthy. There were a constant flow of mechanical problems. And the in-room safe agrivated me for the entire trip.
Unfortunately, due to bad weather the ship was five hours late in arriving in Norfolk. We had planned on a late breakfast, the drive to the ship, checking in and then a meal in the buffet around 3. Due to the late arrival, they only began boarding passengers around 6PM. Almost 1,200 passengers waited in the Norfolk terminal for up to six hours. I can support the decision not to risk the ship or passengers because of the weather, but there was a shortage of information about what the plans were and it would have been very nice to have had some coffee, tea and even cookies provided to the passengers waiting for boarding.
We finally got to our stateroom at around 7PM. The ship was to have sailed by 5 PM. The temperature in the room was over 90. Even with the balcony door open the room was still too hot. It took over two days to get this problem corrected and even during the remainder of the trip, the only time the room was at an acceptable temperature was as it passed from either too hot to too cold or from too cold to too hot.
The cleanliness of the room was unacceptable. We had the room steward clean it and it improved, but, for example, you could see a layer of dirt and dust under the TV that indicated it had been several months, if not years since the room was thoroughly cleaned. We told the steward to take the bedspread out of the room as it was just a disgrace. The Sky lounge on the top deck at the front of the ship had not only lights missing from the ceiling fixtures, but there were several covers also missing which made it easy to tell that the lights were gone. The ship had the appearance of a tired operation where not too many people cared.
We had early sitting with four friends and they did accomodate us in the dining room, but our friends never made it that first night as they got aboard even later than we did.
My wife and I both enjoyed the food during the entire cruise. In our opinion it was better than that served on the Celebrity lines (both the Infinity and Galaxy). It took the waiter and his assistant almost four days to learn our preferences and several days they forgot that my wife likes a cup of coffee as soon as she sits down for dinner. One of the things my wife has always enjoyed on cruises is a special Lipton camomile tea which cannot be purchased in a supermarket. It may have gotten too special, as for this and the last cruise we where on, it was unavailable.
The item that drove me the craziest during the cruise was the in-room safe. There was no indication in any of the literature that it would only work with a credit card or other card with a magnetic strip. It would not work with the key card for the room. About the only think I wanted to lock in the safe was my credit card and I had to carry it with me the entire trip just so I could open and close the safe. Since you didn't need the card unless you were in port, this made no sense at all. Every other safe I have seen either had a key pad operation or used the room key in some manner. Every time I used the safe I was reminded of how it annoyed me.
In addition to problems with the temperature, the remote controls for the TV and VCR would not work. It was about three days before they got replaced and the replacements would not work which meant another couple of days before they finally got something to us which functioned. The toilet did not function for some hours on at least two days and there were several hours one day with no water in the bathrooms.
My wife and I have been to the Caribbean several times and as far as we are concerned if you have seen one port you have seen them all. We go for the sun and the chance to get away from our routines. One of the things we enjoy is trivia. On this cruise the staff informed everyone that while there would be trivia contests while the ship was in port, there would not be any prizes awarded. In addition, the trivia prizes that were awareded for these games were among the cheapest, most unwelcome things I have ever seen. There were HAL mousepads, luggage tags, CD holders, etc. I don't expect to get a new Mercedes or a free cruise for winning a trivia contest, but I also don't want to be given what is plainly junk. An additional problem with the trivia contests were the questions and answers. One example, the question was what kind of weather event produces clear high temp days in the summer and clear cold days in the winter. Over 80 percent of the passengers were American and they gave as the answer a high pressure system. All wrong - the only acceptable answer to the staff member (an Australian) was anti-cyclonic. There were many other answers to simple questions like that.
We had many converstations with other passengers who had several HAL cruises under their belts. The consensus was that HAL is headed downhill. Some attributed this to the purchase of HAL by Carnival, other to the general over supply in the market. I don't know which is right, but my wife and I will look in other directions for our next cruise.