Our embarkation in San Diego was uneventful and we settled into our cabin quickly.
We had early fixed dining (anytime dining has proved to be more trouble than it is worth for us) and were delighted with our table mates and waiters. The food was excellent and seemed better than previous HAL cruises we have taken. Chef Karl did a great job of overseeing a good kitchen staff. In fact,the staff was excellent overall. Much more friendly than most HAL crews. This may be reflective of the more outgoing/less reserved attitude we have notice of late on HAL.
Our cabin was very nice and HAL did a very nice job on the recent refit. The only part we didn't care for was the redone theater. Holland has refitted this into a cabaret setting and it just doesn't work well. Hard to see from the tables or the balcony where many of the seats face the wrong way. It is one of those "great in theory but doesn't translate in practice ideas. They have also greatly reduced the size of the stage so those who enjoy the Production numbers of old will be disappointed. It is now set up for much smaller acts which, no doubt, save them money.
Lots of trouble with the heat and AC. Was either too cold or too hot. Cabin fine, good location, some noise when docking from thrusters.
We loved Buenos Aries and plan to return to spend more time.We had the good fortune to obtain the services of an outstanding guide, Alan of Buenos Tours (www.buenostours.com). Allan had come highly recommended, but far exceeded our expectations. His tour of Buenos Aries was one of the highlights of the trip. His company offers many tour options but he will also tailor tours to your specific needs, as he did for us. A banker from England, Alan decided to spend a summer in BA to work on his Spanish and ended up staying and founding his own company. He can be reached at: www.buenostours.com We can't recommend him enough.
Rio was somewhat of a disappointment given the fact that have to get both an expensive Brazilian visa and yellow fever shot (about $400 a person) to even get off the ship there. Yes, you need them even if you are just going to the airport to return home. The setting is beautiful, but there is a high crime rate and it is quite expensive if you stay in the Copacabana area which is the only decent part of town. Aside from the beach, the only major sights are Sugarloaf and Christ the Redeemer. The other tours we took were disappointing.
Our opinion of Brazil was not enhanced by the Health and Immigration departments keeping us on the ship for over 7 hours while the shook down Holland America for bribes before letting any passengers disembark. If you take this cruise, do yourself a favor and get off in Buenos Aries. Rio is clearly not ready for either the World Cup or the Olympics.