Background: Married, late 30s-early 40s, been on 8 cruises (Carnival, Cunard, RCI). First family cruise with 2 children, ages 6 and 14 and first time on HAL.
Embarkation: Very organized, arrived port by taxi (had made independent arrangements and arrived 2 days prior). Arrived 11:30am, went through security-customs, signed document saying that we were not in contact with or have symptoms of SARS virus, checked-in, had photo ID taken, waited in comfortable waiting room for an hour,in our cabin by 1:15pm. Compared to other cruise lines - this was more organized and actually not a bad wait - even with kids (had books, crayons, Gameboy to entertain kids and snacks)..
Room: Crew gave warm welcome, directed us to our cabin. Our steward, Hasan, was there to greet us. I requested a few extra items and they were in our cabin by suppertime!
We booked a Verendah Suite Category B quad. It was much bigger and better than expected. My previous rooms were all inside staterooms, only once in a suite on a Carnival ship in 1985 and don't have any other comparisons.
The balcony was twice the size expected. Plenty of room for 4 people to sit out there and have breakfast. The bed was king size, the overhead bunk bed was very comfortable, according to my 14-year-old son (who is 5'9" tall), so it definitely fits an average size adult). The couch had a pull-out single bed which was perfect for my 6-year-old daughter. I didn't need to worry about using a bed guard (she tends to fall out of bed). There was enough armrest on either side of the couch with a couple pillows tucked to keep her from rolling off the bed.
The room, in general, had enough space for storage, a little cramped if the pull-out couch was down - but while 2 people were getting ready - the other 2 would be on the balcony enjoying the view, so I never felt claustrophobic at all. The bathroom was decent sized and had a nice small tub in it. The shower head was portable-moveable and had excellent water pressure (same for sink faucet)-best I have seen on any cruise ship.
Noises: Our room was cabin 4169 (back of the ship or aft - about 4 rooms away from the extreme back of the ship). We heard the usual muffled engine noises that I have heard on every other ship and slept soundly each night.
However, there were people that we met in the halls who were unfortunately in the last 2 rooms in the back (which I guess have really nice large balconies). They complained about really loud engine noises and vibration and were very upset about it.
They said they were unable to get a good night's rest. These were folks in our same age group with families. I felt really bad for them. However, we did not experience this at all in our cabin.
As far as smells, we did get a wiff of a bathroom odor in a couple of areas - but to be honest - from hearing about it in some reviews, I was looking for it. I really don't think I would have thought about it much.
The ship, overall, smelled wonderful with coffee, fresh baked goods and pizza, and the aroma of garlic near the kitchen door - for some examples. Food Service: We were in the lower Vista dining room in the very back right at the window. It was a GREAT location for the view (there was some engine vibration in this location - more than on other ships - but it was not very loud and did not interrupt our dinner in any way.)
The waiters were pleasant, efficient, organized, and sincere. Very accommodating to any special requests.
Entertainment: Shows were VERY good. Disco and other clubs were okay. Only bustling with people after 11-11:30pm - more of a mellow older crowd or with families. Very relaxing.
Kids Program - great folks, very organized, and my daughter LOVED it. Made many friends. Only area of improvement is to add more activities while in ports - so adults could particpate in excursions that exclude children. Private babysitters VERY limited - I was able to get only for 1 of my 3 requested.
Western Caribbean itinerary is okay - prefer Eastern Caribbean. Most breathtaking place was Half Moon Cay - HAL's private island - beach.
Still love Royal Caribbean International, but will definitely take another cruise with HAL.
Overall - I rate this an 8 out of a perfect 10.