This was our 12th cruise but first on HAL. I won't bore you with all the HAL flight arrangements and so forth. Transfer from Miami airport to Fort Lauderdale was smooth after being greeted at the airport by very courteous HAL staff.
We arrived at the pier just before noon and remained on the bus while luggage was off loaded. Once inside embarkation was the fastest we have ever experienced. An incredible eight minutes from walking into the terminal to walking on the ship.
Perhaps our expectations were set too high due to all the reviews we have read about other HAL ships. Everything about the cruise was great but overall not noticeably better than our previous cruises on RCCL, Princess, Costa and Carnival.
We booked a BC balcony guarantee and received an A balcony cabin on Navigation deck forward. This is a great location. The view from the glass elevators into other balconies was a concern for me and I observed that these balconies are not private.
I found this cabin to be slightly smaller than our last balcony cabin on the Carnival Victory but the balcony was larger. I never saw our cabin steward but the cabin was always tidy.
We changed out table assignment due to an awful location and ended up by the rear windows in the lower dining room. There is a definite vibration and rumble here but I know I'm on a ship so it was not a concern. We had great table mates so we did not try the Odyssey Restaurant. Food was generally very good and the service was excellent.
This cruise was Western Caribbean, Key West, Cozumel, Grand Cayman and the private island Half Moon Cay. We did not book any ship's tours and pre-arranged snorkeling tours on the internet prior to leaving. Half Moon Key is very nice but comparable to the other cruise lines' private islands.
The entertainment in the main show lounge was average cruise ship fare including the usual singing and dancing routines. Some of the lounge bands have some very talented musicians.
A very nice touch was the hors d'ourves available in all lounges prior to the dinner hours. Room service was usually very fast with an large selection. On the second sea day a Dutch dessert buffet was presented at 3:00 p.m. I skipped lunch to attend and it was excellent. A much more agreeable time here than midnight on most other ships.
The cruise director and her staff tried very hard to get a party atmosphere started on several occasions when sailing out of ports but there did not appear to be much passenger participation. It was rather comical on our first day when there were announcements for the first sail out party from Fort Lauderdale. The sail away party began at 5:00 p.m. with music and activities. Four other ships were leaving the port, horns blowing and crowds cheering. For what ever reason the Zuiderdam did not move. The crowd finally dispersed by 6:00 p.m. when all other ships were out of sight. We didn't set sail until after 8:00 p.m.
We found the main public room decks confusing and very winding. Many public rooms have very low ceilings. The center atrium is small and not very impressive.
On this and other boards a great deal has been written about what is acceptable attire, especially at formal dinners. I was expecting more formality on HAL but this was not the case. Tuxedoes were in the minority and I observed many women on formal nights with bare legs, flip flop style beach shoes and wearing dresses more suitable for a trip to the supermarket. I am personally not a big fan of formal nights but dressed in a dark suit out of respect for the dress code. From what I saw here passengers on some Carnival cruises were better dressed.
Overall the cruise was very good with great service. We will probably not take another cruise on the Vista class ships since we do not care for the design.