This was our first HAL cruise, well not really, but the first was so many years ago it seemed like our first. I little background: we are in our late 60s, have cruised all but one of the mass marketed lines and are pretty much mid America types. I am a part time travel agent and DH is semi retired, does tax preparations during the season and writes a column for our local newspaper from time to time. We have traveled throughout the world, but certainly others have traveled more than us. With us on this cruise were old friends from California.
I do want to first mention, HAL is probably the class of the mass marketed lines, in fact I know it is.
The food was the best we have tasted after 20 plus cruises, especially the lunch buffet. If I had to find fault it would be with the Pinnicle Grill, HALs specialty dining room. The price has now been increased to $30 per person. We got reserved it when the price was $20. Although the food was better than the main dining room, the service was questionable thus I wouldn't pay $30.00 for the experience of eating there. Choices at both the buffet and the main dining room were quite varied with everything tasing fresh. The breakfast service in the main dining room could have been a little friendlier and more attentive, but we survived. What was lacking in the dining room was made up for in the buffet. The servers and cooks were super friendly, the staff always wanted to assist you with your trays and the overall atmosphere was outstanding. Of course on any cruise, especially a 10 day one, your will have a few dishes you wish they would just leave in the kitchen. This was the case here, the crab legs sould have been thrown overboard, the escargot was just so so and the eggs benedict were a little on the flat side. Every piece of beef we sampled was as good as eating at Ruth Chris' or almost, I would say the same about the fish dishes. Some feel HAL goes to light on the spices, I am considered a blue ribbon cook, love gourmet sauses and make most everything from scratch and I would disagree. The spices were not over powering but certainly were being used. A feature we learned to love was room service. Instead of the usually almost non existant room service menu, HAL will provide almost anything. Although we don't depend on room service too often it was great for breakfast on port days and the cheese platters plus salmon platter added to our evening cocktail hour. We had chosen early seating at 5:45pm I would not do that again. Next time we will opt for 6:15.
Our cabin was quite the largest we have had when booking a standard outside cabin. There was plenty of sitting room so we could have people in for cocktails prior to dinner, the beds were the best ever, the bathroom well designed although we didn't have a tub like many of the HAL cabins and our cabin steward was very attentive. He noticed right away, from the wine we had brought on board what we liked and made certain wine glasses were always available for us. We had also ordered a bar set up and as expected it was in place upon arrival. No, we are not alcoholics. LOL Putu, our cabin steward always kept things in perfect order, was pleasant and friendly, plus made the best towel animals we had seen. An extra tip came his way at the end of the 10 days as you can imagine.
We are pretty port intensive cruisers so found this particular cruise perfect for us. The only negative was the weather and rough seas. There were guests falling out of bed and sustaining serious injuries plus others getting teeth knocked out and many just plain sea sick like the gal we were traveling with. Although we did stop at HMC many of us didn't get to go ashore as soon after the tenders started taking passengers over it was decided it was too rough, so the excursions for the day were cancelled and the tenders returned those who were already on the island. From there we suffered through a couple more rough sea days until we reached Aruba and Curacao. Both islands are among our favorites. Even though the weather was overcast and rainy both stops we managed to go ashore in Aruba and took a great tour in Curacao. What we decided not to do was snorkel. Oh well, another time.
From Curacao we cruised to the Panama Canal. What a wonderful experience that was and one we will not soon forget. Having a lecturer on board to give us history helped a lot. He was very knowledgable and quite entertaining. Not only did he explain the building of the canal, he did one last lecture on Columbus's first trip to America.
One more day and it was tour time again, now we were in Costa Rica. I was a bit surprised how dirty downtown Limon was but after we got out into the country side everything changed. We chose a private tour with several others from the ship. Our tour guide, Oscar Brown was born on the island so you can imagine how well informed he was. Not only was he well informed he had a very good sense of humor. That night at dinner we were comparing tours with others at our table. We certainly got a better deal than any of them. Of course no port experience is complete without a little bit of shopping.
Aruba and Curacao offered wonderful linens, delft blue pottery, Curacoa liquer and some very nice polo/T-shirts. What we got was better quality than on some islands. Do check around as the prices vary greatly.
In Panama there was just a small shopping mall directly after debarking the ship. It had the usual souvernior shops, a duty free liquor store with some good deals on both booze and cigarettes and there was a straw market just past the mall with some interesting hand crafted merchandise. Of course most was not hand crafted. DH got a panama hat (his pride and joy right now) Costa Rica and coffee are one and the same. We managed to stock up on the coffee. Actually we ordered it directly from the ship and it was shipped free. The company wasn't connected with the ship in anyway. There was a nice straw type market just off the ship with wonderful wood products plus other native made items and the usual junk we all can't resist.
Our 2 day return trip was a little rough, but we all made it back in one piece. Although we felt HAL lacked on board activities they do have an outstanding library complete with daily newspapers and a wonderful book exchange program. You can exchange a book you have brought from home for one they have in a special section. Sometimes they aren't newest or best, but you can always find something you like. The best part, if you don't finish it before the cruise ends you can take it home. We consider this a win, win situration.
In finalizing this review, let me say, we obviously loved our cruise, but there were a few things lacking; activities, sometimes the service and relaxed friendly crew we have become accustom to on some other lines. We would cruise HAL again, but it isn't our first choice. For some I think it is the best line out there, we are probably a bit to laid back for the formalities.Nita