I recommend HAL to friends who want to take it easy and just relax. This ship's captain has an excellent crew. The ship itself was small and mediocre, but the crew was excellent!
5 out of 5
Showed up on time, comfortable seats, all aboard right on time.
Food and Dining
5 out of 5
The food was excellent and well managed. The crew was able to put food out that was fresh and tasty with great variety, despite numerous sea days.
5 out of 5
The Pinnacle is in the interior of the ship. It's an older ship, so don't expect views. But the staff is amazing. The Maitre'd is warm and welcoming and the servers are kind and attentive. We ate there almost every morning for breakfast, several times for lunch, and once for dinner. All superb. They memorized our favorites and always called us by name. The tables have a locking mechanism so they slide in and out of the booths for easy access. Very cool. But the staff made all the difference.
3 out of 5
This is where I have my major gripe. Though the cruise director staff was fun during trivia two or three times a day, there wasn't much else going on. No karaoke at all on Holland America and everyone we talked to said they enjoyed either singing or watching others "sing". LOL. Not much in the way of other things going on. My wife went to a cooking class where they didn't let the passengers sample the food. There was dancing, but only late hours and not much in the way of variety in music. With numerous sea days, there needs to be more entertainment. There was an interesting Hong Kong native dentist who was a history buff who gave some interesting talks and they had a Microsoft classroom with a real Microsoft teacher (Erika) who gave half and one-hour sessions on Microsoft products. This was interesting, but not really "fun". I got the feeling that the cruise director staff was perhaps frustrated by their limitations from the company, but I may have read that wrong. We spent a lot of time in our room or with friends just chatting. So if you like that, then you're going to be happy. It's certainly not a Carnival party boat.
3 out of 5
Since we had late dining (I dont' know how that even happened) we didn't get to see many shows. I was so tired for the late show that I didn't see one. My wife said the shows she went to were fine but nothing special. Could have been that she was tired too. There were 3 music acts, all of which were hard working, but on an 18-day cruise you want to change the record. Less is more as they say. No DJ at all or recorded music anywhere that I ever saw. No Karaoke. At all. No guest participation in anything really. My favorite cruises have been the ones where the people were more involved in the entertainment.
I think there were 4 kids on the whole ship.
Service and Staff
5 out of 5
Room steward, concierge staff, ships officers, food service, all were outstanding. Always smiling and attentive. They really made the cruise for us. We were made to feel special from the Captain and his charming wife all the way down to the guys taking the railings off to varnish them. Security staff happy to see us getting back onboard, always waiting with cool water and towels, etc. I just can't say enough about the crew.
4 out of 5
Look, it's an older ship. Wallpaper peeling, rust, worn woodwork and carpet. Broken knobs and crappy TV and internet. But that's not why we go on a cruise. Besides, you can overlook a lot of that when the crew is amazing and they were.
Cabin / Stateroom
4 out of 5
The size of the cabin was small for a suite, though it had a large balcony deck. Big enough for a breakfast table and two lounge chairs to boot. If I were rating the bed, I'd say awful. It was hard and uncomfortable, but I was usually so tired I'd sleep through the night. Don't believe the "Egyptian cotton" crap in the brochure if you're considering a suite. You won't use the coffee pot in your room either. It's like a Keurig. We went down to the special lounge they had for suite guests for our coffee. It was a large professional espresso machine that made excellent lates.
It was very nice to have 4 closets for all our formal stuff and the free laundry service. Fresh fruit from our room steward every day was really good. A fridge was nice too. The slippers were made obviously for 4 year old children as was the bathrobe that didn't cover my arm, let alone my body. So pretty much all the "amenities" were a waste of money for us being full-size Americans! LOL.
Also nice not to be tripping over each other to get ready. The couch did NOT make into a bed, so if you're planning on adding another person, it will be an uncomfortable person. They'd be better off sleeping on the balcony.
There was a lot of wear present and the tub was SMALL. Jetted yes, but SMALL. I never used it and it was uncomfortable to shower in the tub because there wasn't much flat surface area on the floor of the tub. Lots of storage space though which came in handy and several US electrical outlets that were also European in design so either would work. I never used my adapters.
Overall, I'd say the lounge and the concierge staff made the suite worth it, but I don't know if I'd pay that much for this cabin type again.
Really get to know the crew and reward them with tips when they've really helped you out. They work HARD for a little bit of money and they should be recognized with praise and tangible cash whenever possible. Some Australians (who don't do tipping where they come from) actually advised us to have our cabin gratuity charges removed because the crew is well paid. I disagree.
Also, if the captain opens the bow of the ship for viewing, it's a good experience once. Get your photo with the ship's bell and that will be fine. It's deck 4 forward and you get there through the main theater backstage.
Singapore is a very clean and beautiful country/city. You can do it all in about a week because it's small and you can plan to do 2 big things a day. Very safe and most of the people speak some level of English. They have UBER which is CHEAP and the people don't expect a tip. It's not even on the app. Don't rent a car because you can't afford the parking and it's too crowded anyway. Uber is cheap. Cheaper than cabs, which are also cheap. Cheap souvenir shopping all over and the malls and mass transit trains are everywhere. Mall stuff is very expensive, so shop for souvenirs in the open markets. Pay to swim at the Marina Bay Sands. You won't regret it. Infinity pool on the 60th floor? Yes please. But don't stay there. It's too big and you'll be tempted not to go anywhere. We stayed at the JW Marriott too and had a Japanese toilet you will want to buy when you get home. I didn't want to leave! The Sands didnt' have one! LOL. GET THE TOURIST SIM CARD AT THE 7-11 AT THE AIRPORT. They're like $15 with 100GB of data and local calling and international texting etc. Also set up What's App before you leave so you can call and text free. Smartest thing we did.
The tour we were on was Ko Samui highlights and temples. We didn't have much time at any of the stops. The ship didn't have an ATM loaded with local currency, so you get ripped off changing money unless you find an ATM. We got a SIM card here for about $5 with unlimited data for 3 days we were in Thailand. Again at 7-11. $300Bht. Big budah, happy budah, but no time for the markets.
We got a transfer from Australian Taxi for this one. Then we hooked up with Totti on What's App, a local guide +66-91-779-8971 to take us around Bangkok. It was super fun. We did a riverboat taxi ride, saw the palace and the temples, stayed overnight at the Marriott Shukumvit and ate dinner at the restaurant on the roof. Mike the maitre'd there was so nice and the staff was great. Quite a memorable experience. It's about an hour and a half from Laem Chabang, but having the sim card in our phones with 3GB of data lasted the whole time with uploads to facebook too. Wifi at the hotel of course. Hold on to your purse in Bangkok though and two hands on yur cell phone when taking photos. They don't take US$ despite what our ship tour folks said, so get THB at an ATM IN A BANK to be safe.
This will be a great country once they get it together. It's very dirty with trash everywhere and people just struggling. We went on a bus tour that was pretty intense. Terrible traffic and congestion everywhere. I had a hard time changing money and never found an ATM. The bills look alike so it was hard to see if I was getting ripped off. Definitely hold on to your purse here! They are doing a lot of construction in Sihanoukville and surrounding, but it looks a way off before they're prosperous. Bathrooms. Um. No. Just a hole in the floor here! No Uber.
Again, got a VietTel pre-paid sim card at an actual store that looked like a Verizon store. Be careful because counterfeit cards are out there and the government regularly shuts them all off. But they own VietTel, so they know which are legit and don't shut them off. We got 3GB of data that lasted us the 4 ports easily. There's also wifi everywhere including public parks and beaches, which is nice. Just got to find it! LOL
You can do this city in probably two days, but we only had one so we went up the tallest building. They have a restaurant up there so save your elevator ticket for a discount or go up free and pay full price. The Reunificaiton Palace, government stuff, and museums are all right near Starbucks, so have a nice walk. Don't try to drive. Cross the streets slowly and steadily and the cars will stop and the motorbikes will go around you. We ate at Ngon restaurant Saigon which was excellent, filling, and worked out to be $11 for two. Nice restaurant, really and free wifi. Not my favorite city in Vietnam, but a good introduction. The people are very nice. They have Uber.
We did a cooking class at a resort. It was excellent. Great food and the resort had massages for about $6 an hour. Then we went downtown for the evening. It was BUSY. Lots of new western type hotels right on the public beach. Good cheap shopping or malls. One thing I noticed was lots of Russians, so it must be a Russian tourist mecca. I don't think the Vietnamese were liking the Russians too much though. Just got a weird vibe from their interactions. They seemed to like Americans though. The public beach and restaurants were playing propaganda videos and patriotic music. Very interesting. This was our second favorite stop in Vietnam. No Uber.
Loved it. We went to the Sheraton Da Nang Resort for the day. HUGE infinity pool right on the beach. Went to a mall with an ice rink in it and had an Australian burger that was amazing at a pizza place. Saw a bridge with a literally fire-breathing dragon that shoots fire at 9pm on weekend nights. Went to Hoi An and wished we had more time. Miles of shops wit cool stuff there. You can get a suit made on you in one day or shipped home. At night they launch lanterns into the sky. Very nice place. This was our favorite stop in Vietnam. We'd need at least a week here though to do it right! They have Uber.
Meh. The ship's tender takes you to a spot near the amusement park, but it's all closed until 11. Nothing but restaurants. No shopping unless you want to get a corrupt cab to the city center. Some people went to Hanoi, but that's a 3 hour drive. They're working on an interstate type road system, but it's not done yet. We took an excursion to a cave and harbor cruise. If I had it to do over, I would take the early cave trip and spend the afternoon downtown.
We stayed 5 days in HongKong. I would recommend 7. We went to Macau. Been to Vegas? Then you've been to Macau. It's actually hotter in Vegas. LOL. They only gamble in Hong Kong dollars, and it's $300 a hand for blackjack! So maybe see a show. IN HongKong, you have to go to the peak. There's a Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurant up there with great views. Just go early if you're seeing a sunny day because it's busy. You can use your Octopus pass and skip the line for the train that takes you up there. They have a tourist sim card you can load at 7-11 but activation is complicated. You have to specify you want 7 days and then you have to apply credit to the data and/or calling/texting. SO get someone at 7-11 who speaks english or you'll be tring to figure it out. A lot of people don't know this, but you can go on an organized tour to China (Shenzhen) without a Chinese visa. It has to be a licensed tour operator and only to the Pearl River District. It's on the China visa government website. Check with your hotel concierge. The hotels here are SMALL rooms, but the people are very nice. We got comfortable and someone stole our 36o camera so keep your guard up. It's CROWDED. Also, if you're going to walk, walking is done underground or on elevated walkways. You can't cross all the streets because of barriers. Takes some getting used to. The subways are FULL but cheap and reliable. The ferries from HK to Kowloon are regular and cost about 37 cents one way. They have UBER and it's about $150 Hong Kong Dollars over to Stanley Market from the harborfront. I recommend shopping there or the ladies market in Kowloon.
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