I have written several reviews for CC and I always begin by saying:
"There is no such thing as a BAD CRUISE" ..... unless of course you were on the Titanic (or other recent fiascos at sea)
The more we cruise, the more we learn about ships, crews, cruise lines, itineraries, entertainment, cabins, etc.... so naturally we are more opinionated. If this were my first cruise... I would say WOW. This being my 12th cruise ... I will start by saying...
....I love HAL. Prior to the end of this cruise, we happily put down a deposit for a future cruise. Why? Mainly because HALs overall service meets or exceeds our expectations. If there is a problem, they bend over backwards to try and resolve it for you. The food is very good. There is no nonsense in the way of dining room antics, PA system announcements (that are unnecessary) the cruise director does his job ... and doesn't overstay his welcome. There are lots of interesting people on board and enrichment offerings that other cruise lines don't offer. I guess it's like trying to find the perfect person... you will never be 100% satisfied. Personally we would like it if there was just a little more liveliness on board in the later evening, but it's the passengers of each sailing that determine this. The longer the cruise, the older the passengers.
Embarkation: HAL in Ft Lauderdale was swift and easy. We had all our check in documents complete ahead of time and the line moved quickly. (15 minutes at the most around 1:00 pm) The gentlemen who checked us in was friendly and charming and seemed to be working side by side with his other half. When he finished checking us in, he leaned over to share a kiss with the agent next to him who had also just finished checking her passengers in. It was adorable. We boarded before 2:00 pm and were able to go straight to our cabin (unlike many other cruise lines that require you to roam around the Lido deck with your carry on baggage until the cabins are ready).
Cabin: This was our 2nd aft veranda cabin. Previously we were on deck 4. We love the aft cabin experience. Watching the seas off the back of the ship is wonderful. Going northbound you get a lot of sun out there (and a little bit of ash from the ships stacks!) What we did not factor in when we booked this cabin was that on the Navigation deck (8) under the Lido deck, there is a lot of noise in the mornings and the afternoons when the deck chairs are being brought out and rearranged. There was also a noise that we never identified. My husband is a very light sleeper and if he wakes up he is up for hours. There was some kind of noise that was an intermittent loud bang. We ruled out doors slamming, chairs being dropped, toilets flushing. It would happen all through the day and night but not at regular intervals. We reported it to the front desk and they bent over backwards trying to figure it out. Short of having a crew member camp out in our room, there was no way to tell what it was. For 4 days we kept trying to explain it and finally gave up. The front desk was very apologetic and sent us a bottle of wine as a gesture of goodwill. In the end we think it may have had something to do with the HVAC system relieving itself of some pressure or the Lido pool/spa filtration system. That was our only cabin complaint. On the good side .. Our bathroom was spacious enough for a bathtub which I used on several occasions . We did notice there was a little less counter space than we would have liked and we wished we had booked a cabin with a full sized eating table on the deck. Next time.
Cabin Stewards: Weebee and Hadi from the Philippines were about as good as they come. They were always there when we needed them. They kept our rooms in tip top shape, kept our ice bucket full and their ability to communicate with us was a welcome treat. By day 2 they remembered our names, even if we saw them way down the hall or around the corner away from the cabin they associated us with. Amazing. It took us 4 days to remember their 2 names. Kudos. I will say that I think it's time for the Noordam to change out the carpeting.
Cocktails: We preplanned this trip to enjoy cocktails in our cabin and ordered through HAL the gin and tonic package and a bottle of vodka. One bottle showed up, the other we had to call the front desk to remind them of our order, but it arrived shortly thereafter. Of course we did not finish either bottle, but it was nice to mix a cocktail each evening before going to the dining room and enjoy them on our balcony. We also pre ordered the Navigator wine package. 10 nights - 5 bottles of wine worked perfectly for us. We still took advantage of the lounges about the ship. On sail away day we had champagne at the Atrium Bar "hip hip hooray" before our life boat drill, we had a bucket of cold beer (5 for the price of 4) on the night of Lido Deck Party, Pina Coladas at the Crows Nest one afternoon, Kir Royal and Cognac another evening before my husband enjoyed a cigar in the Oak Room. I thought the drink prices on this cruise were fair. My only pet peeve about cocktails on ships these days (not exclusive to HAL) is that I detest drinking out of plastic glasses and stemware. I know it's a safety issue, but I heard quite a few coffee cups in the Lido dining room hit the floor and break .. so why use plastic for cocktails? For me, it deters me from wanting to buy one outside. I like to be treated like an adult. (note to self: next cruise I plan on asking my cabin steward to empty out the servi-bar completely so we can use it for keeping our own things chilled. (including suntan lotion!)
Sail Away: We dropped our bags and went to the Lido for a late lunch. There were plenty of options for my husband. I was dieting and also found a wonderful salad bar. I only wish there were more fat free salad dressing options. As I mentioned above, we had champagne in the Atrium Bar "hip hip hooray" before the life boat drill. The drill was conducted on promenade deck and quite efficiently (especially following recent events on the seas) It would have gone very quickly if it hadn't been for 3 cabins who had to be paged repeatedly to show up.
48 hour rule: HAL now does a hands-off policy for the first 48 hours of a cruise. The buffet in the Lido is not self serve until after 48 hours have passed. Salt and pepper shakers are off the tables and you must use paper packets and they have staff to serve you from the buffet, coffee, water, iced tea machines. Frankly I would be thrilled if they kept this policy the entire cruise. (The things you see at a buffet line!!) I asked a crew member and he told me it takes 6 extra crew to serve the buffet rather than have it self serve. Small price to pay for keeping an outbreak of Norovirus.
Pools: Much to my surprise the aft pool was fresh water. I never stepped into the main pool, but I am guessing it was also fresh water. By the end of 10 days it did look like it needed to be drained as it got a little murky. The aft hot tubs were about 100-101 degrees. One worked, the one on port side had no bubbles. These aft tubs and pool are supposed to be Adults Only. There were a few kids in the tub on the first couple of days. I hate to be the cranky lady who complains, but I really don't understand why parents can't respect this signage. We also mentioned this to the front desk and it seemed to stop occurring after a few days. There weren't that many children on this cruise, but I just don't like getting into a hot tub when kids are splashing around. It's a place for adults to congregate and enjoy adult conversation and adult beverages. My suggestion to HAL is to post better signage by the entrance to the hot tubs and enforce the rules.
Towels: On the plus side ...... Ship towels were available at the pool, both main and aft, on the Promenade deck and on disembarking to shore. They were freely available. Not distributed with a sign out sheet. (again, I like being treated like an adult). On the minus side, when we anchored at Half Moon Cay and tendered in, they were completely out of towels. We assumed there would be towels on the beach and there were not. So we spent the day on the beach with no towels.
Greenhouse Spa: We signed up for the week of Thermal Suites. I love this and it offers you a chance to use the Hydro Therapy Pool (aka the hot tub with no kids). I think it is over priced, but I am willing to spend the money. (perfect marketing strategy!!) We also had a couples massage on the second sea day. It was really nice, but when it was over they push you to buy another service and we were caught up in the moment and did. Later that week our sunburns prevented us from desiring another massage, so we cancelled and they were kind enough to do that without charge. We gave them 24 hrs... or close to it. I also had a Fire and Ice Pedicure. It was very nice and after a 10 day cruise and a week home, my nail polish still has not chipped!
Dining: We had main seating 8:00 p.m. in the Vista Dining Room on the upper floor, table #56. For some reason I never learned the name of our head waiter. I recognized him, but his name did not stick. He was very nice and remembered after the first night that we enjoy an espresso and a cappuccino after dinner and we never had to ask again. The menu each night was different and varied and I liked that they had items each night that were available if you did not want to venture off the beaten path. I always enjoy trying all the exotic soups (hot and chilled) they are wonderful and the escargot and caviar and seared delicacies they offer. Sometimes we order two of something or have special requests and they are always pleased to indulge our gluttony. We dined in the Vista Dining Room 6 nights. The food ranged from very good to not so good. First night's prime rib was undercooked to order and very thin. Some of the seared items were room temperature and some chilled appetizers had been sitting out too long.Also the service was slow between the last appetizer and the entree and so slow a few nights that we missed the show if we stayed for dessert. Again, I would love it if HAL would offer some healthier choices.
Wine Steward: Also I did not remember his name. He was efficient and never lost our wines even as we moved to different dining rooms throughout the cruise. We don't like our wines poured in the glass in large quantities. We like "an inch" of wine so that we can swirl and open up the flavors. It always takes 3-4 days for us to convince our wine stewards of this. I think they just want you to finish the bottle so you can feel like you need another.
Pinnacle: $25 extra per person. We have done this before and enjoyed it. The decor and service exceeds that of the dining room, but the choices and quality of the food were not overly superior this time. I had Steak Diane and mushrooms, but when I asked for a lobster for us to split, the answer was no .. unless we wanted to pay extra for the entree. It wasn't much $10, but it seemed petty. We have eaten in other "specialty" restaurants and never heard of this. We rarely ask for 2 of anything, but from time to time you can't decide what to order or want to try something. It's standard operating procedure to order this way in the Vista dining room. The amount of waste that goes on in the Lido could save a small country.
Le Cirque: $39 extra per person. We had pre reserved this before the cruise. It was paid for or else we would have cancelled it after the Pinnacle experience. Supposedly the dining room was to be "transformed into the legendary Le Cirque of New York" ... all we noticed was the change of the china and linens. The menu was about the same as the Pinnacle in choice and quality. Don't get me wrong.. it tasted pretty darn good, but in our opinion it definitely did not warrant $78 + gratuity. We can get that at home. We did meet a really nice couple both nights while dining and the service is much more attentive, but I think next time we might only try the Pinnacle.
Canaletto: No extra charge, reservations only. On the Lido at the end of the Lido buffet. Linen covered tables and personal service. The food is prepared and set up behind one of the Lido buffet areas, but not available for self service. The food was fabulous, piping hot and the service was wonderful. I think the waiters there are hoping to work their way out of the Lido and into the main dining room, so they work extra hard to be friendly. We found this to be the same in the Lido all hours of the day. Very friendly wait and service staff.
Room Service: We ordered room service 3 times and it always came right on time and exactly what we ordered. You can actually order a full breakfast. The coffee was not very good in our opinion, but we classify ourselves as coffee snobs.
Lido: Lido had lots of choices, poached eggs for eggs Benedict, waffles, omelet chef, and standard scrambled eggs and meats, oatmeal, and even some ethnic choices from Asia.
Vista Dining Room: Plenty of choices, but each day we were told the wait for an omelet would be 30-45 minutes. We could never figure that out. We usually had eggs Benedict or oatmeal, fresh fruit, etc. Coffee was slow and rarely refilled without seeking out a waiter and asking for it.
Other foods: There was a pretty good sushi bar in the afternoon offering maki and noodles. The Lido BBQ Party was fun and we ate like we were planning for a famine that night. It was perfect weather and the smells got the best of me.... I blew my diet that night!
Entertainment: We enjoyed the HAL singers and dancers on 2 nights, a magician/comedian another night, a fabulous violinist another night. We always found a seat in the show. We went to the late show and it was never full. We skipped a few nights and went to try other venues of entertainment. The Adagio Strings were a nice touch, but we did not enjoy the dance music of the HAL Cats or the folk music in the Crows Nest Lounge. The Northern Lights played the usual popular fare, but the crowds were nonexistent after 11:00 pm. The whole ship basically shuts down at 11:00 except for the Northern Lights Club and the casino. The Piano Bar was full each night. The piano man was quite talented as a pianist and a singer, but a little too full of himself and over-the-top for my taste. I don't recall hearing much of the pool band, we must have been on the other side of the ship while they were playing. Normally the main pool would have the noise and the music and the aft pool (adults only) would be more mellow and quiet. This cruise the music was in the aft pool.
Activities: We watched a movie one night in the Culinary Arts Center with popcorn and we attended part of a demonstration on how to make creme brï¿½lee ... very interesting.
Public Rooms: The Explorers Lounge is wonderful. Huge library you can check books out, magazines, puzzles. Someday I will take a long enough cruise that I won't feel guilty for spending time down here out of the sun.
Restrooms throughout the ship: Nicely appointed and always clean
Casino: What can you say about a casino? You win some. You lose some. We did both and enjoyed our time spent there. Special shout out to Rey who was training to be a dealer but spent most of his time in the cashiers cage. Very personable and entertaining. We enjoyed having fun with you each night!
Cruise Director: Shane. Great job. I love a cruise director who actually does their job without being annoying over the PA system. He had funny jokes to start his introductions out to other entertainers and had the perfect blend of information and not being overbearing. Kudos.
Mariners Society: Very nice upgrade from the usual champagne toast and canape ... to a full on luncheon in the Vista Dining room. Excellent.
Cocktails with the Captain: We aren't sure why we were invited, but we attended a really nice cocktail party toward the end of the cruise in the Crows Nest Lounge. We had actual one-on-one conversations with the Captain John Scott as well as his lovely wife and the 2nd in command, hotel manager and other officers.
Shore Calls: Getting off and off the ship was very organized and easy in port. Even on the tender days the wait was short.
Half Moon Cay: Wonderful day. Only wish they had not run out of towels before we left the ship.
Medical Center: We did stop by here once because of a sting my husband got while snorkeling in Bonaire. It was irritating him and the nurse looked at it and advised us to return when the ships doctor was back at 5:00 pm, but we didn't return as the sting began to dissipate. Friendly, good service.
Disembarkation: Easy. We had a shore excursion booked on the ship and then to the airport
Thank you HAL for another memorable cruise. Time to start planning our next sailing