Before taking this cruise we did some research and decided that it was time after staying away from this cruise line for 20 years and over 20 cruises to give it a try. The bottom line is it did not deliver even to our miniscule expectations and there is really no reason to take a cruise on this line if you are under 75 and even then you might be bored to death.
A little background, we came to this cruise to relax, not expecting much, not looking for great fun, mostly good service and total relaxation. We are not picky and like simple well prepared meals, nothing super extravagant. We enjoy musicals, Broadway or Las Vegas style shows, good comedians and cruse type entertainment -- this cruise had NONE of it. I will try to put as many facts into review as I can to make it useful for people looking for factual information.
Embarkation was easy and flawless, we got dropped off by the ship at 2:30 pm, by 2:50 we were inside out balcony cabin.
Cabin is good size, has a couch, balcony is decent size with arm chair, chair and little round table. TV is on the wall, refrigerator with bar, few shelves, wardrobe, bathroom is equipped with hand held shower and small tub. There would be no room in this cabin for more than 2 people, but for 2 it was sufficient.
We went to Lido deck to check out the lunch buffet and the selection on the first day was good and everything was edible. Average age of passengers was ~60 so we felt excited for the things to come. Unfortunately, this was the best time on this cruise; from here it all went downhill.
We went by the spa because I was planning to use Turkish spa and mineral pool. Well you cannot use one or the other, they come in package and it costs $229 for a couple. I did not think this was reasonable at all considering we had 4 stops and could only use spa 2 days at sea.
HAL does not believe in having multiple venues of anything be it entertainment or food.
Food: General note about all food -- tasteless and blend. Breakfast was ok because they had lox and eggs benedict, so you can always have bagel and coffee, or eggs. Juices were watered down, coffee was bitter and burnt. I ordered cappuccino and could not drink it, it was so burnt.
There is only 1 buffet place on the ship -- Lido -- and it is closed for long periods with no food at all. If you do not eat lunch at noon in main dining room then you are out of choices for lunch. When you come from the shore or just like to have late lunch any time after 2:30 the only things you can get are sandwiches and mini salad bar. We skipped 4 lunches all together out of 7 because there was nothing edible available. There is pizza and hamburgers available somewhere on the ship; however we do not eat junk food so it was not an option. We called room service once just to hear that it takes over an hour to deliver, so we did not order, also because selection was limited to club sandwich and chef salad.
One day we asked Lido chef to help us find a cheese plate with crackers and fruit anywhere on the ship at 3 pm when all other food venues were closed - he was not able to help. The other 3 times when we had lunch, epithets' like hospital food were in use. There were no vegetables, no prepared salads, no cold cuts, no quiches, nothing you would expect to have for lunch. Typical food was raw ceviche, raw cabbages, anchovies, mixed greens -- that was called salad bar. Beef, fries, rice, sweet potatoes, fried fish, fried chicken -- was hot lunch selection. Also there was fajita and lasagna station.
Main dining room also has limited selection, very blend, nothing gourmet or outstanding. I asked for shrimp cocktail and was told that it will be on the menu on the second formal night. Even lobster was served once and it was part of surf and turf to shrink the size of it to miniscule. One night the only desert was baked Alaska. Dining room waiter also did not approve of multiple appetizers or changing of selections. We did not have any good deserts anywhere on this cruise, most of the days we did not even order deserts the selection was that poor.
There is no second venue where you can grab tapas, appetizers, finger foods, small sandwiches, fruit, desert, even water -- Lido is the only place and most of the time there is nothing but water there. Ice cream selection included vanilla, chocolate and sometimes lime or strawberry. Most deserts were sugar free, don't know the taste as we do not use sugar substitute for food. One night they had a desert gala on the deck, even the gala had mostly selection of cakes you would find in Costco and Sam's club and nothing interesting. I wanted to try fruit tart, but it was with sugar substitute, so we skipped this desert too. However, at the time of the event and right after no other food venue was open on the whole ship.
Needless to say, we did not gain any weight on this cruise and did not bring any recipes home.
Entertainment: There was no traditional cruise entertainment. What all other cruise line would call a secondary venue at the off hours between first and second meal sitting -- HAL calls main production. There was 1 show, and it was terrible. Terrible!!! Women could not sing if their lives depended on it, men were so- so but could not keep harmony, dancers were ok, but the production was terrible, no decorations, strange songs selection. In addition to 1 show during the 7 days cruise there was 1 magician, 1 comedian, 1 musical production by 4 so-so singers and Philipino staff talent show. That is all!!! There was string quartet of Hungarian girls who played funeral music and never smiled once. There was a woman who could not hold a note and pretended to do something in front of the band, I cannot call it signing, there was a piano man who played tunes from 50th and 60th, and there was a night club that played Michael Jackson to an empty room. Another piano trio was playing classical tunes for an hour before dinner, but there were no chairs ever available at this venue.
There were no enrichment programs onboard, only one lecture about jewelry onboard.
Cruise director would feel much more at home with his heavy handed jokes that preceded him by at least 15 years on a Carnival line. Same goes for magician.
There was absolutely completely totally nothing to do every evening on this ship.
The ship is new but it is so cheaply decorated, the walls are empty of art, there is nothing on the whole ship to rest your eyes on -- no paintings, no sculptures, no vases -- nothing. The lobby has one chandelier for decorations; everything else is decorated in dark browns and nursing home like.
The ship is built by someone who has never been on a ship in his life and had no idea how the rooms will be used. Our cabin was on the 5th deck aft, to get to the internet and library we had to go 2 flights down to the 3rd deck, cross the ship and take forward elevator to 11th floor. And make the same trip in reverse to go from there to the dining room on the 2nd floor aft. The sun deck was on 11 deck mid-ship, to get there you had to take elevator to the 9th deck, go through the buffet and pool area to mid elevator, take it up to 10th deck, go on the cabana deck and take the stairs to the 11th deck. The whole deck 10 is used to open and close roof over pool on deck 9 and has no lounges or chars or anything at all. The area around the main pool is so small it maybe fits 40 people, so there was never any space near the pool. First day at sea the pool was overcrowded with kids, which leads me to believe that kids program is not so good on this ship. The rest of the time there was no space, so we never even gone close to the pool area in the 7 days we were on the ship. The back pool is located in a smoking area, so first try to find a chair there, just to realize that you cannot stay anyway because people smoke non-stop. Same for outside buffet area on deck 9, we did not go out there until the very last evening for 3 minutes -- you need a gas mask to survive the place.
Service on the ship was unobtrusive, meaning if there were crew members near you they will be helpful and provide good service, but most of the time there were none nearby and no one went out of their way to serve you.
One night we went to see a movie and there were fewer chairs in a theater than people, few teenagers were very nice and let adults take chairs and opted for watching a movie sitting on the floor. There were crew members going in and out of the theater but no one brought in extra chairs or offered any kind of accommodation to teens on the floor or adults who had to leave because of the lack of space.
Stops: Ship left St. Marten at 3:00 pm, which is ridiculous; we had no time to enjoy the beach or to shop. It also left private island at 3:30 which is not enough time to enjoy. Buffet on the island was bad as on every island, so nothing new here, but the island was huge and clean with plenty of available chairs and even cabanas. San Juan was typical stop, we've been there many time so we just walked in the old city.
In every area of this cruise we saw definite Carnival influence and not in a good way. We enjoyed the party ship 20 years ago when we were in our 20th and 30th, but we did not get the party and did not get our money worth this trip. HAL is supposed to be upscale and service oriented, not cheap and boring, but that's what it is.
From now on we will go on Celebrity and Royal Caribbean -- enough experiments.