Eastern Caribbean (Jan 4-11/2004). We have had five past cruises on HAL, and while this was a good cruise, it was 'off' from past experiences with HAL on other ships. We particularly didn't like the 'nickel & diming' that occurred that had not been part of past HAL experiences (i.e. wine tasting price was up from $5 to $7.50, but you couldn't apply that fee to a bottle of wine as on past cruises; $.75/min for internet usage which hardly anyone took advantage of; soliciting of drinks in the Lido Restaurant; etc). Wine prices were excessive and quadruple the price of purchasing the same bottle of wine at home.
Pluses included: a nice B cabin with large bathroom (though the balcony was small); Lido food was very good; good service by the staff generally (some cruise staff for activities were a bit testy); embarkation was handled smoothly and we got on the ship by noon; the Sport's Bar was a nice addition; pre-selecting shore excursion on HAL's web site.
The ship layout seemed cramped in the public areas, though the casino and Crow's Nest lounge were large. The Vista Lounge had columns that hindered views of the stage. The shows were typical, but the HAL lead singers were too full of themselves which was irrating. The last night of the cruise the entertainment was only the ship's band. The Queen's Lounge was used for movies, but the chairs in the front were higher than the back lounges so sight lines were difficult. Meals in the main dining room (Vista Dining Room) were fairly ordinary and the portions (particularly vegetables) were small, though the presentation of food was excellent. Food quality seemed to improve during the week. Passengers could also ask for more and it was provided with no problem. Tables were fine as long as you weren't at an oval table that had 6 people and should have had 4. We take issue with charging for "Espresso coffee" in the Windstar Cafe and the new exclusive dining room for an extra $20/person. The onboard activities were good and offered a variety of choices for the passengers. The library had a small selection of books and games and again, there was a charge (though refundable) to check out books. There were no laundry facilities (available on other HAL ships) though you could 'pay' to have your clothing laundered and/or ironed. The decor was 'interesting' and we adjusted to the 'wild' colors by the third day. The Piano Bar was a bit weird for such a venue, in grays and black. All the pianos on the ship were electronic (except the piano never played in the Lido Restaurant), and particularly in the Piano Bar there should be a 'real' piano. In discussion with other past HAL passengers, it was felt by everyone we talked with that this ship was a 'little less' than they had experienced on other HAL cruises. We hope that HAL will raise the level of this ship to what we have experienced before and certainly hope that they have not regressed backwards on all their ships. We have been so satisfied/loyal in the past to HAL that we have been afraid to switch and not receive the same cruise vacation, but we think that for our next cruise we will try another cruise line.