Recently returned (Friday!) from a 13 day cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to Civitavecchia, Italy on HAL's Eurodam. I shared a cabin with my 80 yr old parents, and my sister and her husband also traveled in their own stateroom.
We booked directly through HAL, and got our air tickets through HAL. Traveling to Ft. Lauderdale was effortless, and we grabbed a taxi and went to the Total Wine Shop (minutes from the ship) to buy a couple of bottles of wine and some soda before boarding the ship.
The stateroom was small, but we did ok. We didn't use the balcony much (it was cool, and we encountered some rough seas). Next time, we'd probably opt for an inside cabin (I hear they are larger) but only if we also get a cabana, like we did this time. (See below. I LOVE cabanas and will ALWAYS book one henceforth!)
I purchased (and therefore paid) for many amenities in advance of the trip, hoping to avoid a staggering credit card bill when I got home, and to prevent my parents from finding out how much I spent on massages, the thermal suite, and the cabana. This had some upside (smaller bill due when disembarking), but also some downsides. The wine package I paid for came with four dinners at the Pinnacle Grill, and HAL (shoreside) said it wouldn't be a problem to use all four dinners at one time, so I also purchased a fifth so we could all eat together. In addition, HAL extended us all five dinners at the Pinnacle Grill as part of a VIP package, but never explained this to the ship personnel, which meant continuous backs and forths with the manager at the PG, who has yet to respond to my post-trip email documenting the five dinners gratis from HAL. (She said there was no way HAL gave us five dinners. Oh yes they did.) I don't mean to sound small minded, but HAL gave me a gift of five dinners, and when the manager found no record of it, she said I could pay for the 5 dinners and straighten it out after I returned. Yeah, right. I paid over $2400 out of pocket before I ever set foot on the ship for the amenities. If I can trust HAL with $2400 for several months, it would seem that they could have trusted me for $120 (5 dinners at the Pinnacle Grill) for a couple of days. That was disappointing customer service.
But I try to cruise with the attitude that I am not going to let the little things get me down, and overall, we had a glorious time. I did splurge and get a cabana (four persons) on deck 11, which allowed the family to meet without having to worry about deck chair hogs. We were served champagne and chocolate strawberries, fresh fruit, you name it. Mark and Ryan were our cabana servers and they were delightful. I will always try to book a cabana in the future. I found the deck 11 cabanas infinitely nicer than the Lido cabanas, but take a look and decide for yourselves.
My sister and I also booked lots of spa services for all five of us, including the thermal suites for all five of us, hot stone massages, facials, and I also had the seaweed wrap. I loved all of them! We even got our elderly parents to each have hot stone massages. You should have seen the look on my dad's face when we told him he would be naked under the sheets!!!
I purchased a wine package that came with four dinners at the Pinnacle Grill, two wine tastings for two, and five bottles of wine. It was nice having wine at dinner, but I felt the choices were limited. Also, the premium wine tasting was held on a very rough sea day, when all the outside decks and promenade decks were closed, and my brother in law was seasick, so I checked to see if we could substitute the wine and chocolate pairing tasting later on. Was told yes and this led to another series of interminable discussions back and forth with the front desk. Again, for the amount we'd already spent, I didn't think those sorts of conversations were conducive to good customer relations.
Food was great. We ate twice at Pinnacle, twice at Tamarind, we did the Le Cirque, and also Cannaletto. I love the steak Diane at Pinnacle, ADORED Tamarind, will probably not repeat Le Cirque, and also loved Cannaletto (ate there twice). I found the main dining room to be loud and not conducive to dinner conversation. But, having said that, I also found all the servers to be fast, attentive and polite.
The ports of call--Madeira, Malaga, Alicante, and disembarking at Citivecchia, were wonderful. I would definitely go to ALL of these ports of call again. In Madeira, I paid for a driver (through JD's Taxis) to take us all over the island. Our driver, John, was knowledgeable and was careful to accommodate my elderly parents. I strongly recommend JD's taxis. Madeira is LOVELY!
In Malaga, I hadn't arranged any excursion in advance, wanted to see how my parents were doing, and we got burned. We spent a lot of money on a driver whose English was poor and his knowledge of what we were seeing was even worse. I overheard at dinner several people who had been on HAL excursions making the same complaints, though. Malaga is an ancient, fascinating city, and there's lots of history behind it. The next time I am there, I will plan a tour well in advance. Great bars in Malaga and even better food!
In Alicante, we swam in the Mediterranean (brisk, but very swimmable!) and enjoyed the topless beach. If you don't have an excursion planned, use the Hop On Hop Off bus--10 Euros pp and worth every penny.
Disembarking in Italy was painless. Really appreciated having spent the extra bucks to get on a HAL bus to our gate to come back home.
Service was excellent everywhere. Our cabin stewards were very attentive and our room was always neat, which was nice, as it was crowded with three of us. There must have been a disco or bar beneath us, as I could hear the music late at night. No problem for my (deaf) parents though.
In short, a very memorable trip. This was my seventh cruise, my first cruise over one week in length. I am still learning how to cruise (like, bring every piece of correspondence with you when the cruise lines promise you something in case there's some crossed lines of communications), but it was the best cruise ever. Funny. I say that every time I finish a cruise! And I never thought about work once for two solid weeks. Now THAT'S the sign of a good time!