We enjoyed ourselves on this cruise and thought it might be helpful to share our experiences with everyone. My wife and I are both in our mid thirties and we have two young children. We decided to leave the kids at home with grandma and have an adult only week. We have been on a total of 9 cruises, but this was our first on HAL. We have sailed on RCCL, X, and NCL. We prefer X and even after this cruise will always pick them as our first choice. We will definitely cruise with HAL again someday, but not with our kids.
We chose this cruise because of the ports. We have heard great things about Half Moon Cay and were enchanted with the opportunity to go to Grand Turk. We have sailed the Caribbean four times previously and found this itinerary unique. We were originally supposed to go to Half Moon Cay, Grand Turk, Grand Cayman, and Costa Maya, but for some unknown reason they replaced Costa Maya with Key West, which was quite fine with us.
We flew to Ft. Lauderdale from LA the day before the cruise and had a direct flight that was easy. We chose to stay at the AmeriSuties because of the easy location and good price. They picked us up at the airport promptly and our room was ready for us when we got there. The real problem was the room! It was small, smelled of mildew and was really run down. We made the best of it and went out to dinner at the Tex-Mex joint next door before turning in. We ate the complementary breakfast in the morning which was pretty good tasting but was in a place that was far too crowded. The Hotel took us to the ship at 1:00 after a late check out time and we were in line for embarking.
Embarkation was a long process. It seems that we arrived at the most hectic of times. We have never waited this long in line for a cruise before (around 1 hour). I don't think that the wait was HALs fault; it was probably just the time we arrived. At any rate they processed our paperwork and we were on board shortly after. On our way up the gangway I noticed that our room number was different then the one I was originally assigned and instead of going to our room I would have to go to the front desk of the ship. We did and was informed that we were upgraded from an inside Cat. L (#5022) to an Outside obstructed view (#4087). I was wondering if we were ever going to see our luggage because our tags were marked with our old room number. We went to the lido for lunch and when we got back our bags had indeed made it to the right place.
The Cabin was nice. We were quite pleased with the upgrade and found the layout of the room to be the same as a veranda type room without the balcony. The entire back wall was glass and we indeed had a big old lifeboat in front of it. I still liked the fact that we were able to see outside and had a larger room. The best part of the cabin was the bathroom. It was by far the best laid out design we have had. The shower actually had a tub! Quite nice! The beds are great and we slept very well! Our room attendant was named Wagi and he was great.
The Ship was really beautiful. From the moment we walked on board, we felt that this was a classy looking and feeling ship. The carpets are dark rich colors and the common areas have great artwork that features HAL's cruising traditions. The ship was exceptionally clean and well maintained. Though this ship is a good size vessel, it never really felt like a large ship because of the unique layout.
The Food is always a tough subject to review because everyone has such a different palate. The Lido Buffet is probably the nicest buffet I have seen on a cruise ship. It is well maintained and looks very nice. The functionality of this area is questionable. It is really confusing because they divide everything up into serving stations and in order to get your meal you seem to be waiting in five or six different lines. I actually gave up on eating breakfast there because it took to long and was far too confusing. The only thing I can say is that the food was of much better quality then I have seen on other buffets on any other brand of ship, but the layout was poor. Also we found service in the Lido poor. We were never asked for help with our trays and even during slow times tables sat uncleared for a long time.
The main dining room was nice and the food was just O.K. We certainly have had better on RCCL and Celebrity, but we were still able to find good selections each night for dinner. I feel that the Dining Room service on this ship was not very good. Our waiter didn't seem to be overworked yet service was inconsistent and unorganized. Our assistant waiter was not very good at all and he never really ever remembered our ice tea orders or any other preferences. Dishes were slow to arrive and slower to be cleared. It felt like they just didn't have things in good working order. I found that I ate a good deal of beef dishes and most of the time they were good and arrived cooked as I requested, however they were rarely served hot! The soups, salads, and appetizers were all pretty good, but the deserts were not. In my opinion HAL needs to work on the dining room service! We enjoyed our meals and always found things edible, but they certainly can improve!
Room Service was great! Because of the confusion in the Lido Buffet, we opted to eat breakfast each morning in our cabin. We filled out the card the night before and our orders arrived mostly on time and correct. We really were quite pleased in this area and found the room service food to be pretty good!
Pinnacle Grill was just alright! Our T.A. had given us a free evening at the Pinnacle so we made reservations and went. It was nice but I don't think I would pay the cover fee for the experience! The meal was good and the service was much better than in the dining room however.
Entertainment was for the most part good! The standard singing and dancing group was on the ship and they performed quite well in the production shows. There was a comedian on board who performed the first night and also an adult only late night show and he was terrible. I think he must have been someone's brother in law or something to even get the job! There was a ventriloquist and an illusionist on board, both did excellent shows! We found the cruise director Billy to be little more than a host and though he was polite and sometimes informative, he really was not of the caliber that we have seen on other ships! We don't do too many ship activities, but other then the galley tour their were few that were very interesting! We saw a cooking demonstration in the Queen's Lounge/Culinary Art Center, but the room was overcrowded and we simply had to watch it on the T.V. monitors.
Ports were good! We came on this cruise to rest and hang out at the beach. Unfortunately the weather was not so great in the first few ports and we were limited to shopping and strolling. Half Moon Cay is great, but when it is raining there is nothing to do so we went back to the ship after a few hours. Grand Turk is very small and I suggest that if you go there you take an excursion. The small beach by the pier is nice, but the beach is rocky and it was hard to get out to swim without scraping your feet or twisting your ankle. I could have skipped this port! We love Grand Cayman, but again the weather was poor and so we walked around town and shopped. Key West was fun! We had never been and the weather finally cooperated so we had a nice day. This is a great last day of a cruise port.
Disembarkation was a snap, it was very well organized! We had an early flight out of Ft. Lauderdale, so we were off early and made our 11:00 flight easily and comfortably.
Bottom Line I would go on HAL again! We had a good time and found our overall experience a good value! We got a great deal on this cruise and were pleased with the overall experience. I know I sound critical on many aspects of the cruise, but I also realize that every cruise and line have their challenges. I believe that our T.A. did a great job getting us perks and HAL has a good product for what you pay!