This was my 8th cruise and my first HAL trip and I must say I was pleasantly surprised. I booked the Zaandam for a Western Caribbean sailing. I sailed with my wife and kids, 25, 22, 20 and 15.
Boarding: one of the few downers of the trip, it was a little confusing since the tickets indicated boarding would be between 3-5pm. However, when you arrive at the dock, you receive a number. Boarding starts at 1:30, they call out each number in order and when yours is called you are allowed to board. We did not get on board until about 3pm, and we arrived at the port at noon – very long time to wait to board in a small and hot terminal, a big thumbs down on this.
Cabins: the best and biggest of any ship I have sailed. I received an upgrade to an outside cabin. The room had lots of storage space, a small couch, dresser and the bathroom had a small tub. The outside cabins have a very large window and not the usual small porthole. I had a chance to visit other cabins in different categories and all the cabins on this ship are very large in size (about 190sq ft.).
Food: Food on this ship was nothing short of superb. Besides the excellent waiter and busboy, throughout my dinners the assistant maitre de always made it a point to check up on my table. The buffet variety was excellent and I loved the fresh cooking stations and the lines were never long.
Entertainment: Average The evening music was more geared towards the 60’s and up generation, all three lounges had live big band era music, so I opted for the Crow’s Nest, as it was much more active and never crowded. The nighttime shows were very typical of most ships, and the variety and quality deserved 4 stars.
Activities: Needs improvement. I think HAL needs to work on this a bit; if you are used to Carnival or even Celebrity, HAL has a long way to go.
Teen activities: My son (14) gave them only one thumbs up, HAL needs work here as well, my son stated that he was bored, but the staff was nice.
Tipping: Boy, it was hard to figure the HAL policy, you have different amounts for each staff member and have to decide who to tip more/less and get enough change, etc. I tipped my wine steward 20% of my total wine bill. (HAL does NOT ADD the normal 15%) I also slipped the assistant maitre d’ (this is not required but I liked service). If you order drinks at any of the bars, you might want to slip them a few dollars since HAL does not add the usual 15%. I got GREAT service and tipped well.
Overall: this is a nice ship, HAL seems to want people to have a good time. They were not trying to nickel and dime you at every turn. The Filipino/Indonesian staffs were an excellent combination. The overall passenger mix was about 60% 60 and up (my wife and I are 40’s) with the rest of the passengers between 20-50 years of age. I would sail with HAL again based on my experience with this ship. Perhaps not the same boat, and maybe in the heat of summer so the average age is younger, but I’d still give HAL a second shot if the price were right.