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Jammu2

The Inside Experience - HAL vs Royal

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The question came up on the Celebrity forums a while back: Can you still have a good cruise booking an inside cabin and not spending any additional  money on board? It’s a valid question, with cruise lines dividing their ships by class and charging for upgrades. Since we sometimes cruise with relatives for whom price is the most important factor, I thought I would report on my experience on my last two cruises on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas (EotS) and the MS Oosterdam.

 

My Cruise Critic review of my May 5th Oosterdam cruise can be found here: (I wish I had waited a day or two to write it because it doesn’t look as positive as it should.)

 

Note: If you have kids older than about 5 years, may as well stop reading. I would just book my cruise on Royal. If you want to know why I am telling you this, ask in comments. Otherwise, I think most people would agree, there simply is more excitement for young people on Royal’s much larger ships.

 

To answer the question, yes, I think the inside experience is still a valid cruise style and it depends on what you like doing more than anything. For us, our primary goals are: to spend time with family; to go places we haven’t been before; to eat good food; and to enjoy being on a ship at sea.

 

We have a pretty standard routine which includes waking up early, enjoying coffee in the open air, working out in the gym, and then breakfast with family. Perhaps we will play cards in a public area if it is a sea day, then on to lunch usually at the buffet. In the afternoon we might play cards again, or read or take in some activities. Dinner is usually earlier, entertainment or cards, then early to bed!  Boring, I know. It takes all kinds!

 

On port days we usually book ship excursions and try to see as much as we can given the time allowed.

 

We believe HAL offers us more of what we are looking for in a budget minded cruise, and we get to enjoy a few little luxuries along the way. We have decided that Royal really has oriented themselves towards families with children and extra cost upgrades as the norm. So we will probably not be sailing with Royal in the future.

 

The Ships:

 

EotS and Oosterdam are both older, middle of the fleet ships that were once tops in their classes. EotS really is showing her age. We sailed last October and the public areas were disjointed and the carpeting and upholstery threadbare and soiled. I think with cruise ships they will always be either going into drydock for refit or coming out of drydock, but EotS really did seem a bit shabby. We had sailed her before and did not remember her so unkempt. Oosterdam had been refitted in 2017 and looked a lot better. I would have preferred more of the old Dutch Masters feel, but I thought they did a pretty good job with the public areas. I like a full promenade, and both ships have that, though EotS you need to climb stairs fore and aft.

 

Inside staterooms seem to be a little better configured on Oosterdam. The bathrooms are larger for sure. I like the shower curtain as opposed to the plastic tube they have to shower in on EotS. You can walk around the bed unobstructed in the M class insides, but you can’t on EotS. We had bruised shins and banged knees when we got off Explorer.

 

Explorer had a small sofa in the cabin, and our Oosterdam inside only had a chair. Storage was about the same. Adequate, but not much more than that.

 

EotS carries 3200 passengers so it feels more crowded. It was one of the first ships with the inside atrium, where the ship seems to be focused inward as opposed to outward to the sea. The Oosterdam doesn’t hold near as many passengers (1964) and the shopping/gathering areas on decks 2 and 3 don’t really compete. But I don’t really shop at sea so the lack of an expensive handbag shop is not going to really harsh my mellow.

 

The Food:

 

Cutbacks all around! But truly, the Main Dining Room experience on Oosterdam is in a higher league. Despite hiccups in service on both lines, Oosterdam MDR menus seem more sophisticated and fresh. We did have a couple misses on both lines (fish seems to be a problem) as well as getting food served cold. Gala Dinners were clearly better on the Oosterdam. But even though MDR food quality on both lines is suffering, Oosterdam was the winner.

 

The Lido Market also outshines Explorers buffet. The Lido is classy - classy colors, good service, well dressed wait staff, orchids on the tables, quick clearing of dishes, snappy beverage servers, all around a good experience. The food is varied, and served to you by the staff. You don’t see passengers taking a whole plate full of bacon at one time, leaving a pool of grease for the next person as I saw happen on Explorer.

 

The food is predictable but good. Every day at lunch they highlight a national cuisine: Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, Indian, Thai, etc. There are stations for more traditional buffet fare. And a great salad station. The hamburger joint ijust outside s very popular, and it’s no surprise. Top marks for the buffet. Puts Explorer to shame so I won’t even go into it.

 

Facilities and Entertainment

 

Gyms on the ships are pretty good now, and both lines offered both free and pay classes. Sticking with the “not one dollar more” theme, both EotS and Oosterdam offered several free stretch type classes and some strength training over the week. I do those, plus I do pay for yoga. Yoga on our Oosterdam cruise was excellent. It’s all about the instructor, of course. But we consistently have better yoga people on HAL.

 

Music on Oosterdam was pretty good! The new line ups are effective and I enjoyed BBKing Blues Band. EotS has, of course, the Ice Show (of all things) which is surprisingly good, but you are going to be a very low priority for seats unless you are Diamond Plus (which everyone seems to be on Royal Caribbean). Don't worry, you will get them. Maybe not for the day and time you want. Both lines have quality stage productions. If we were talking about Oasis Class ships I would definitely give the edge to Royal, but we’re not...

 

Fellow Passengers:

 

Both lines are catering to a variety of people of all ages and nationalities. HAL has had a reputation for being popular with an older crowd but I haven’t really experienced that yet. Maybe next year when we do Japan on Westerdam. I think it all depends on the cruise and the time of year. Our EotS cruise was in October, so after school started, and our Oosterdam cruise was in May, before school ended. Both were 7 days. Both left from Seattle. So it makes sense the passenger demographics were very similar.

 

The Sea:

 

I love a traditional passenger liner. HAL ship designers design with me in mind. I love weather - all kinds of weather. And you will likely find me sitting out on the promenade deck in all kinds of weather. As Royal focuses more and more inwards towards a floating Disney World Hotel experience, the Vista Class HAL ships still provide the feeling of being at sea.

 

Little Luxuries

 

Oosterdam has them. Royal does not. Chocolates on the pillow. The traditional Holland America colonial uniforms. The candied ginger after dinner. The Gala Night menus you can take with you as a keepsake. Your personal cruse report, printed on fine card stock signed by the Captain and Hotel Manager. The tile gift for Mariner Society members. A nice touch.

 

All in all, the Inside Experience is alive and well at HAL. One might say that is HALs niche. But is that enough to survive in today’s environment? The cruise lines are differentiating along class lines. So far HAL has resisted that movement. This fall we will be on Celebrity Eclipse - Pre-Edgification. So another opportunity for comparison.

 

Smooth Sailing!

 

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Enjoyed reading your post on comparison of RC and HAL.  We sailed once on RC and found that it missed on several things that make a cruise enjoyable and memorable for us.  Thanks for taking the time to review.

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This makes me so excited to see, as I’m booked in an inside on my first HAL cruise in 2021!

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Thanks for your detailed review and opinions.  Appreciate it!   

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Thanks for a great review. We have also cruised on Royal but prefer Hal. As you said Royal seems to be more about the ship then about the itinerary. We did take our 7 yr old great grand daughter on a 3 week New Years Eve cruise and she loved Club Hal, she stayed until closing every night. The three of us are doing another 2 week cruise on HAL next year.

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Thank you for taking the time to write your detailed  comparisons between the 2 ships / cruise lines.  Very informative.

 

 

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About kids...yes, we had some kids and they did not impact our cruise in a negative way. I remember my parents would never center their trips around what we kids wanted, so we learned to enjoy museums, archaeological digs, etc.

 

Oosterdam at Sunset - Ogden Pt, Victoria BC

 

 

20190511_191646_HDR.jpg

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Thank you Jammu2 for your review. You just made up my mind to try HAL

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Exactly why I am a dedicated HAL client - did all the others, and with the exception of the one Celebrity cruise, never have considered any of them again.  

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We did a family cruise on Rhapsody of the Seas in March, 2018. We had only cruised with HAL to that point.

Ou daughter and grandsons had an inside, we had an outside and our son, DIL and granddaughters had a family outside. The family ov was nice with a large window and window seat.

The crew was wonderful with the best CD we have ever had.

It was a good choice for our family but we won’t cruise with RCCL again.

There were none of the nice touches we enjoy on HAL. Apparently bathrobes and pillow chocolates are only in higher level cabins. There were too few public bathrooms with none around the upper level dining room. Only paper towels in those bathrooms.

Constant messages about leaving the buffet area as quickly as possible even though there were lots of empty tables.

I had no idea that all ships don’t have a retractable roof over their main pool!

The food on our 7 day cruise was very repetitive.

I realize that none of these issues are earth shattering and may make very little difference to others.  

There are so many wonderful cruising options. We have found our fit on HAL.

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RCI used to be our favorite until 2007 when we had many, many issues on a Brilliance of the Seas Transatlantic sailing.  We haven't been back.  Royal turned in a very different direction and it did not fit our needs or desires anymore.

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Thanks for your report!  I think you will find Celebrity similar to HAL; however, I have not seen one of their inside cabins.  Happy Cruising!

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