This was my 9th HAL cruise.
Embarkation was smoother than expected, even though the couple which I was with and I are from Canada. Check-in was rapid, with few line ups when we arrived some time after 11:00.
I was in a cabin by myself, with the couple I travelled with being 2 doors away, on the 'Dolphin Deck'. Unpacking was easy for me, and, being one deck below the main deck, just Aft of the Atrium Staircase, the Front Office, Excursion Office, etc. were easily accessed 'upwards'.
The Life-boat drill (which some people, as usual, did not take seriously) was held in a misty rain, but since men stand in the back, I did not get damp! The drill was efficient, and we were able to tick our names off quickly with a boat captain who was able to read off all the names of people with a minimum of confusion and mispronunciation.
We docked first in Nassau, and, because of the too short stay of the ship (early a.m. to just after noon), did not go on any tours, but went to visit friends who reside there. It would have been better to stay in Nassau a little longer; the port is small, but there are very interesting buildings, and there is a market as well.
We stopped at St. Thomas, shopping palace of the USVI, but owing to the number of cruise ships, we were positioned at the former submarine base in Queen's Bay instead of in the downtown port area. The 3 mile bus ride into town was only $3.00, was well organized by the ship, and we had a good time.
Road Town, Tortolla (BVI) a hop away, was fantastic. I did not book a tour early enough, but I went on one not organized by the ship, one which gave the participants many unforgettable views of that set of beautiful small islands. The 3 of us went to sample the "Pusser's painkiller", and I recommend this place for people who like rum. While we then experienced a huge downpour on the way back to the ship, we were ready for it, having been warned, and had dressed lightly, so getting completely drenched was not really a downer!
People doing this cruise need to get up early in the morning for Dominica (after Tortolla); some passengers were dropped off near Portsmouth at the North of the island for an ambitious 6-hour tour. Just before arriving near Cabrits, you can see the French possessions of Marie-Galante to the East, and, Aft, to the North, the island chain of Les-Saintes which is overshadowed by the dark looming hills of Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe. Dominica is an underdevelopped place which is very welcoming to people and also has great views for camera enthusiasts.
Barbados had rainy weather, and so ship tours were cancelled, but a number of people enjoyed the mini-submarine tour of coral reefs arranged dock-side by locals. The port has a small shopping area which was good for buying trinkets & things before setting off back to Ft. Lauderdale.
During the cruise there were occasions where the seas were quite rough, with both the pitch (front-to-back) and roll (side-to-side) movement, despite the ship being 85,000 tons. Being on a lower deck meant less movement: Going up the Forward stairs to the Crow's Nest at the top of the ship we could feel the roll of the ship despite the stabilizer fins. I should say that the 3 of us do not suffer from sea-sickness, so there never was a problem, although one of our party on formal nights had a hard time of it in high-heels walking along the Veranda Deck to get to the dining room! Anyone above the Upper Promenade Deck could have had a rough time of it, so this is somthing to be said for cabins on a low deck in high seas!
The lido was an improved version: At breakfast, the Omelette Station also included breads and bacon and sausages of different types; one could get fruit & juices at the Continental Breakfast station and did not have to wait in the general line-up.
The dining room was very good at dinner, the 3 of us were at a table for 4, lower (158). The only strange thing was the dummying down of the menu on formal nights where Lasagna was offered! During breakfast and lunch, the choices were less (unless one ate at the Lido) and sometimes things arrived cold.
The Pinnacle restaurant was a little disappointing, in that the service was not as good as it usually is.
Because of the weather, a couple of movies were added in the theatre, when tours were cancelled. The movies were ok, but for short people this is not easy because of poor seating sight-lines.
The pools (Aft, outside) and the Lido pool (Amid-ships Aft, which has a moveable roof) were well maintained, there were always towels and spills of food & water from the pool were quickly cleaned up. The level of the water in both was too high on rough days, even when they had to be closed, since the water sloshed over and the flooring outside the Lido pool, not being teak-wood, is very slippery.
The Crow's Nest bar, high up on the Sports Deck, Forward, had a very good band, "Rain", and we went up there almost every night. It was not well populated during the early part of the cruise because of the ship's roll.
The Dolphin Bar had comfortable bar stools, they could have used more staff during happy hour, which should have been longer (it was only from 4-5 p.m.)and was dominated by a loud group of 10 or more people who spent their time blaming the ship for the weather and generally complaining about nothing to do. I think they were on a freebie.
I never saw any of these people in the Library, but they may have been considered too noisy there, or in the card room nearby. The Library lacks an encyclopedia for the daily quiz (that is a first for me on a HAL cruise), but is comfortable.
Our room stewart was high-end of HAL: The rooms were clean, and the service was very good; there were almost no plumbing problems.
We will be on HAL again...