This was my first cruise, with a friend on his first cruise. We went for 2 weeks (or b2b), May 22nd and May 29th. I have health problems and if I was not well enough to enjoy or see something one week, well, we'd be back next week! We are both in our late 50's.
Having the two weeks also gave us more time to get acquainted with the ship and staff. We definitely knew (mostly) what to expect by the second week. These ratings and comments will be mine, as my friend went with me as a favor to me, and he frankly expected more than I did. He had a good time but he would possibly not rate some things as highly as I do (like the food).
Embarkation - with an S category cabin we had no line to wait in, but the HAL people seemed in general to be harried and overwhelmed. They were mostly less than friendly. The woman who took our tickets might have been new because she made quite a few mistakes, had trouble understanding that we were boarding for two weeks (English was her first language), made mistakes we had to correct, and seemed not to know quite what she was doing through the whole process. The one smiling person I encountered was trying to stop me - as I was finally through the hassles - to hawk something the ship was selling on board.
Cabin - As several people have said on the boards, the S cabins are worth every penny. We were in #7065, next to the glass elevator. I'd been a little concerned initially about privacy (with people on the elevators able to see our verandah) but people rarely seemed to be looking anywhere but out to sea. Occasionally I'd see someone looking and give them a smile and a wave, and mostly got the same back. They could not see into our cabin, at all.
At first I wondered why there was both a tub (with whirlpool) and shower, and another separate shower, other than for people in a rush to get ready for formal night, and maybe if more than 2 people were in the cabin. However, on the days when we had some rather rough seas, I was really glad we had the "extra" enclosed shower with three sides that were easy to lean into, rather than the two sides of the tub/shower combination.
The two sinks and vanity cabinets were a plus.
The beds are heavenly. I haven't slept that well in years. I'm getting a new mattress.
We received all the suite amenities mentioned in other reviews.
These cabins are about 518 sq. ft. including verandah, and they are not only roomy, but come with extras like a flat screen TV that swivels for viewing anywhere in the room, DVD player, DVD player (with a fair selection of DVD's from the Neptune from classic to newer), CD player (with poor selection of CD's from the Neptune, at least when we looked), lots and lots of places to put all the clothes we brought (and didn't need) for two weeks, plenty of comfortable seating and/or napping room, not to mention the Neptune Lounge.
Did I mention the Neptune Lounge! That is another huge plus for many reasons, one of which is the coffee. Room service coffee is undrinkable, in my opinion (I have high standards in that department) and being able to step into the Neptune Lounge for the best-from-a-machine-coffee I've ever had, was terrific. They also have wonderful things available for snacks from morning to night.
However, getting half and half is another matter. The Neptune Lounge sometimes had half and half, sometimes it was 1%. I'm not kidding! Our first night in the Pinnacle Grille, our waiter told us they had no half and half. I asked another waiter, and she said the same thing. About half way (no pun intended) through the meal, our waiter ceremoniously brought some half and half. Our second night in the Pinnacle, they had cream. In the Vista dining room, sometimes there was cream, sometimes something else entirely.
I think I always got half and half from room service, but I had my friend buy two pints of half and half in Juneau (our first port) since if you can't tell, I'm a little fanatical about my coffee and cream.
Staff - and stewards - a mixed bag but mostly very good. The concierge's were always helpful and were we ever glad we had them, several times, to straighten things out for us. For example, they made reservations and got a confirmation for us the first week for the Pinnacle Grille for our second Saturday. The concierge logged it, as they log everything they do for guests, including the fact that the reservation was made and confirmed through Peter, the Pinnacle manager. That Saturday, we were informed by the Pinnacle staff that there was no reservation and they could not accommodate us. The concierge got on the phone (as did I) and about 2 hours and several conversations later, they informed us that they'd moved heaven and earth to fit us in. Now I know that it's not necessarily tables available but wait staff available that determines reservations but guess what? There were two to three other couples, at the most from 6:00 PM that night (our requested time) to 7:20 PM, when a few more people started to arrive. There were other lapses that should not have occurred, but most of the staff were generally very good to excellent.
Our cabin steward, waiters and assistants, and the concierge's were wonderful as were many of the HAL people, but others, a few too many "others", were not up to any standard that HAL should be aiming for. Whoever handled the phone calls in the Pinnacle about our lost reservation was terrible (may have been more than one person) as they kept trying to shift the blame to the concierge staff. Some of the staff in the Lido were sour and sometimes they didn't know where things were, like the milk. Turns out that wasn't at the "drinks" station but at the ice cream station.
The wine steward was strange. After the first night, he'd just plonk (yes, "plonk") down a glass of white wine in front of my friend (I usually had coffee), the same that he'd ordered on the first night. This same steward would whirl away after plonking down the glass of wine, so that on the night my friend knew he did not want that same wine, he hunted the steward down first, to tell him he'd be having a different wine that night.
Room service was prompt, often coming way too early. Mostly that wasn't a problem for me but an hour earlier than requested on many occasions, even when specifically requested "no earlier than" could use some improvement.
The staff people who took care of our mini-bar were a pain. I forgot to have our room steward remove all the things in there so we could store some things we really wanted, and despite several explanations to the staff that we had not and would not use the items supplied, we were charged for items we didn't use. The concierge fixed that but we had to go through the whole thing again the second week.
Laundry - free to S suites, was mostly good except that one of my friend's shirts was bleached white (despite a note to use only cold water and no bleach), and the iron-on tape they use for identification was scratchy and I ripped some holes in my underwear getting it off.
Food - in general was pretty good. My filet mignon was really well-done (I requested medium rare) on our first night in the Pinnacle, and yes, I could have sent it back but I really didn't want the fuss or the wait. The flavor was excellent. The Vista dining room is mostly pretty good, but not excellent. Presentation was better than the food itself, but not excellent. As others have said, some food is pretty bland (and I'm not a big fan of hot spicy food!).
The Lido has an okay selection of food, but the strong smell of garlic (and I love garlic) was a little too strong.
Room service food is okay. Never more than that. They did their best to accommodate "off menu" requests, however.
I'm going to give my opinion on the art with a caveat first - I'm no expert. Nonetheless, I think the art is overrated by HAL. I'm just not sure where they spent that $1 million. Maybe $100 (dollars) here and $150 there.
Atmosphere - I didn't like the so-called art auction's noise level, the daily pieces of junk mail advertising ship's specials and other shopping specials or the loud announcements about bingo and some of the other entertainment. They could seriously tone down the consumeritis level. I was grateful that none of these announcements were piped into the cabins. I also didn't like the in-your-face photographers at the first meals, at every disembarkation and other places on the ship. People must have complained because this seemed to be toned down a bit the second week, or maybe I was just more wily about avoiding them. (Photos were also seriously over-priced.)
But I did like the many small areas to sit and read, visit, watch the beautiful scenery go by, or just daydream. Except for those darn hawking announcements and the intrusively noisy art auctions. That stuff is Not classy (didn't think I'd ever say something like that about a HAL ship). Since no one else has mentioned this in any of the reviews I've read, or on any of the boards, I'm mentioning it twice with the expectation that it will not change unless others feel the same and say so.
The Crow's Nest was particularly enjoyable on our night in Victoria. It was quiet with many people ashore and the view is beautiful.
Excursions - I went on one only; the floatplane to the Misty Fjords. That was stunning despite the low cloud cover, well organized and definitely worth the money. The only down side, if it mattered to anyone (and it didn't matter at all to me) was the in-flight narration on tape that skipped many parts. My friend went on the helicopter excursion to Mendenhall (sp?) Glacier and he said that was spectacular and the bus driver was funny and informative. I did not leave the ship for any sightseeing as that was not my interest.
Passengers - the first week were fine and mostly were fine the second week except for the group that was somewhere over our head that week. We could have asked the concierge, or someone else, to speak to them, or probably even found them ourselves with little difficulty, but we didn't. Partly the white noise from the air conditioning helped to lessen the impact of all the jumping up and down and slamming of doors and partly I was too relaxed to let myself work up enough energy to do anything about it.
Our first week was generally colder, rainier and the sea was much rougher, with many people suffering from sea-sickness. A few people were sick the second week, but not nearly as many.
I didn't go to any shows as again, that was not my interest. I did hear the music from small groups as we walked by and they were okay. The musicians in the Vista dining room on our second formal night were better.
I might go with HAL again, but definitely not on a Vista class ship or any ship for over 1,000 passengers. Just too much of the hawking and herd mentality. It was not my first choice to begin with but the ships I might have preferred were not where I wanted to be sailing.
Again as others have mentioned, I went with a positive attitude and was willing to overlook most problems unless there was a fairly simple way to fix it, or it was a major concern. When I say I was "relaxed" enough to overlook the passengers overhead, that really means something, as I would normally have a big problem with that level of noise.