I am a travel agent (sort of) and I was on the introductory cruise (12/11-12/14) and at the Mariners Society Luncheon for 12/14. I also was present at the christening where Joan Lunden called the ship the "ZuiderMAN".
My first impression of the ship is the size. From the outside, it seems HUGE. The inside is a bit different. It's very broken up inside, which lends to a more intimate feel. If this is good or bad depends on your outlook. The design is a bit wild. Having never been on another HAL ship, I am not sure I can compare. But, the colors were bright and vibrant. The criticism would be the theme, which is "The Arctic", Including polar bears over the pool, and a disco called "Northern Lights". The ship was beautiful, but even this cruise being only the third to carry passengers (there were two previous travel agent only cruises) the ship showed some damage to interior things. The service was not quite up to snuff, but then, the cabin stewards and waiters KNEW they wouldnt be getting any tips. I loved my cabin (bb) but it didn't seem as spacious as those on Carnival "Spirit" Class ships, and for the reduced rate, I think I would opt for Carnival. But, I highly recommend HAL. Especially if you don't want a cruise ship full of kids. The food was good, but again, only AS good as Carnival. Nothing to write home about, but a nice ship. Watch out for the chairs in the dining room, they weigh more than the occupants, and are VERY ugly. But this is, of course, just my opinion.