Booking Procedure We decided pretty early on to look at HAL for our cruise as they have an excellent reputation in the industry and we were expecting something a little like our Cunard experience. We booked direct and on each and every contact with the line we experienced good service. Booking confirmation and receipts were emailed to us with in a few minutes. We pre booked excursions online and that was just as easy. You can see a short description of the tour and read past reviews before making a decision. The online check in procedure is easy to follow and then we were emailed when our cruise docs were ready to print.I do find it disappointing not to have real luggage tags (reason why is there paper tag came off and we had to go looking for our bag around 6ish), but it's easy to do and you are in control. About 4 weeks before we travelled we received an offer to upgrade from our inside cabin and decided to go for it and have a veranda - so the right thing to do. We always have an inside cabin so we have more money to spend when we are away but this was a special birthday so we thought why not and we couldn't go back to an inside cabin now.
Check in at port
We arrived at a fairly busy time around 11am. Our bags were swiftly taken from our transfer bus and we joined the queue outside the terminal for check in. The check in area looks very basic and needs some work. More signage would be helpful. We entered the building having found the reason for the queue to get inside was for the staff to issue priority boarding passes to those who qualified - it would be better to include this as part of the online check in. Inside we then had to queue to wait for security to open as check ins starts at 11.30. There was no sign telling you which queues to be in and no restrooms. We sped through security which felt a bit half hearted as you didn't empty your pockets and could carry small items through with you. You were then given a number with no explanation - apparently this is your boarding group but at that time of the morning it was not necessary. Next you had to figure out which queue to join as it was unclear where to go next. Check in was quick but don't ask any questions as the representatives only know there job. We had our photos taken and were issued our cards - unfortunately ours did not have our mariner status on them as we had been with a leading cruise line member and qualified for 1 star automatically and we had to go to the front desk and get them re-printed. This also meant we didn't receive our invite to the brunch or the free gift. We did however go to the welcome aboard lunch in the Rembrandt. Just this little error meant we had to ask about the lunch, the brunch etc.
Ports of Call
We thoroughly enjoyed our Dune Buggy Safari booked through HAL in Grand Turk. The port itself had a few shops and a Jimmy Buffetts but with 2 ships in port was very busy. The Dune Buggy guides were very nice and we covered a lot of this small island. However, we were shocked to see just how poor this island is and the tour took you around a lot of the less pretty parts. San Juan was beautiful, El Morro and San Cristobel can easily be visited independently. The security line to get back inside the port here was quite long. St Thomas is just beautiful and again easy to navigate independently. We were concerned about docking out at Crown Bay but the taxis, of which there are plenty, are just $4pp each way and very easy to get for the return too. Half Moon Cay was just amazing. We did the Horse Riding, we are not experienced riders and it is fine for novices. You get part of the trail on-land and then they desaddle the horses and place a seat pad on them for your journey through the water. I would recommend the clamshell sunshade for apx $15, it was definitely worth it as the beach is busy but you just feel that bit more sheltered and still have a fab view of the beautiful blue sea and feel more secluded.Lastly the stingray encounter is also good, you must be able to snorkel which was not made clear in the write up as you are in the sea and it is a little deep.
The Food and Drink
The food was pretty good throughout. You can have breakfast in your cabin but bear in mind any toasts etc will not be warm. The in room dining service, Lido, Rembrandt and bar services were all very good. In fact the staff are a credit to HAL, always happy to serve, polite and efficient. The only disappointment with the drink service is that the mini bar is not automatically replenished. The room steward seems to think it is but it was not and each time we wanted soda to go with the liquor we had bought from the cruise line we had to call for it and then wait for it to come before we left the cabin so it would be there ready and cold when we wanted it. The only disappointment with the restaurant was they do not wipe/brush away the crumbs between courses and all the other cruises we have been on this was automatic. We did not eat in the Canaletto but were disappointed to see the menu was the same every day. The Pinnacle was very good with some nice little extra touches inc the truffles.
The ship itself looks very good both inside and out, constantly being painted and cleaned. They were lots of hand sanitizers available too. The pool area gets very busy and there is not that much sun lounger space, it's quieter down on deck three but a bit shaded. The shops are ok, like any other cruise really. The Culinary arts centre offers a very good programme and the wine tasting was very interesting. We did not use the spa or see any shows. The library is quite good and we loved all the games available to play. The casino gets very busy and is unfortunately a smoking area, the few machines that are non smoking are in the same area. We didn't receive a final bill and had to chase that up, watch out for the water at dinner, if you don't state ice water quick enough you will be charged for water from a bottle before you can say no.
Overall, it was a great ship, beautiful itinerary, lovely cabin, wonderful staff, just needs a few small attention to detail improvements.