I was on this cruise with 5 friends for 14 days from 18th November, and we had Freedom/anytime dining.
This has to be one of the worst cruises I have been on [and I have been on a number]. I had previously been on two HAL cruise [Oosterdam and N. Amsterdam], which I really enjoyed and hoped that this time would have been as good.
These are my experiences and feelings and I have no doubt that a number of HAL loyalists [of which I used to be one] will decry me for them, but it will be a long time before I chose to sail with HAL again.
Stateroom: Excellent. Nothing to fault. As usual a wonderful steward with excellent service. Super comfy beds and pillows.
The Lido: The usual bunfight with a lack of food being replenished. In the end it was easier to order room service than wait for things to be replenished by staff who were not the most pleasant on the ship. The food was ok but not particularly good, flavoursome or hot.
Dining: We were on anytime dining in the MDR and for the first three nights were shown to a table in the same area of the lower dining room, meaning we had the same waiter. He was at best surly and rude. He served salads without asking what dressing; just presuming for me, and became angry when I asked to choose and on one evening snatched the menu from my hands before grunting!! On the first formal night it took him over three hours from start to finish to serve, and others who had arrived after finished before us.
Another problem is that the wine waiter only takes orders for wine -- that was fine for the 5 of us who wanted wine, but my friend wanted a drink from the bar which had to be ordered through the waiter who took forever and on the formal night took over an hour, which meant my friend took it into her own hands and walked to the bar herself during which time the waiter delivered her main course [yes she waited that long for her drink].
We were fortunate after that [at our request] to be moved to another area of the dining room, where we had one of the best waiters ever. The wine waiter the first week was excellent, but then he was moved upstairs to fixed dining and the replacement was slow and rarely appeared at the tableside, so we asked for the wine to be kept closer so we could access it. We had a wine package and the men had red wine -- one or two bottles every night. It seemed from looking round the tables nearby most tables weren't drinking wine so it was hard to fathom why he seemed to hide away so much.
Wine: On day one were not told of the availability of house wine and my friend and I ordered a package. A few days later another bar steward mentioned house wine and my friend and I enjoyed a bottle on deck. When we tried to repeat this a few days later we were told there was none left and we could only have the more expensive Pinot at $39 plus 15% per bottle. We spoke with the Assistant Beverage Manager, who told us that they had just been on a 35 day trip [why would that be relevant to us ?] and then a 7 day trip [the first of our 14 day trip]. This despite the fact they had been into Fort Lauderdale twice they had only taken on board 260 bottle of house Pinot Grigiot wine [for approximately 2000 passengers] and this was calculated on the basis of the last 10 years information!!! How was that meant to help? I found the excuse lame and a way of persuading the customer to purchase the more expensive wine. Sadly, in our case, we found the house wine to be better than the two more expensive types we were offered. Safe to say we did not buy any more of that wine -- a loss I am afraid to HAL. We did not bring any wine on board with us as we wanted to share with our friends in the public areas and not spend our holiday tucked away on our balconies.
Drinks stewards : Mainly excellent, but one or two who thought that omitting to bring a glass of water when requested with the drinks could go unnoticed, and when we asked politely for it they often chose to forget again.
Bars: On the first evening one of my friends was sat on a stool in the sports bar [one of my friends also smokes so we would go there]. Whilst sat on the stool it sheared off and he fell to the floor -- the lack of interest from HAL was amazing. They had to be persuaded to call the doctor and no point was it ever followed up by them -- Health and Safety sadly lacking. They placed a piece of paper on the chair saying "Out of Order" -- as if that wasn't self-evident. The following night, whilst being guided by a waiter in the semi dark of the Queens Lounge, he neglected to point out a step causing me to stumble and break my shoe. Again Health & Safety and a total lack of concern from HAL. Quite remarkable.
Most of the evenings after dinner the bars seemed quite empty. We went one evening to the Crow's Nest about 10:15pm to find Anthony, the guitarist, playing to an audience of about 3. We stayed for about 40 minutes and no-one else joined us. We spoke with Anthony and he seemed very pleasant, although his repertoire of songs to choose from was very limited. We also ventured back during Happy Hour one cold early afternoon and the place was packed -- that should say something to HAL.
Entertainment: There were two ladies on the piano and violin and I have to say it was possibly the most dreary music it has been my misfortune to hear. One evening whilst we were asked to wait for dinner we had to endure the sound -- sorry while it might be the taste of some it was not in any way spirit lifting.
We only saw the stage show with HAL once and only for about 15 minutes; not hugely professional nor entertaining. HALcats on deck or the Queens Lounge were not much better -- only the gentleman singing with them made them bearable at any time -- the girl just seemed to screech!! We didn't see may people waiting on deck to see them and I'm sure that wasn't just due to the cooler weather.
Stryker was very good although, again, on many nights not that well attended after 10:30. We enjoyed the time we spent there.
Hilby the German juggler [very amusing] and Recycled Percussion were both excellent and as something that was out of the norm for HAL -- most appreciated. Can understand why some people might not have liked the noise of Recycled but it was innovative, humorous and clever.
Excursions: We are not people for ship's excursions, preferring to do our own thing. I have been on one HAL trip previously, which was very well organised. However, being on two 7 day trips we decided that it might be easier for that day to do an excursion through HAL and avoid any difficulties with the 'in transit' bit, and any scrum for taxis that we have previously encountered on disembarkation day. What a joke!! We were given stickers and told to be at the Queens Lounge for 08:20. We got there to be told to go immediately to disembark and meet a coach outside the terminal.....we could have done that on our own. We were no different from the people leaving the ship completely. There was no organisation and the coach did not leave on time: what a fiasco
Casino: It is mainly smoking, which is a problem -- whilst respecting the rights if others to smoke it did limit the time we spent in the casino.
Return to the ship: I am sure that as recently as last year when you returned to the ship from a day ashore, there would be a tent to provide shade and the offer of a cold cloth and chilled drink of lemonade/water passed to you. Gone.
Only once we were offered a cold cloth, which ran out, and two of my friends who were immediately behind us did not get one -- no apology offered. No tents and no drinks available. Yet when at St Maarten moored next to another HAL ship they had the tent, cloths and drinks!!! Why the difference??
Half Moon Cay: All that I had read about it was true. Very beautiful. We did the horse riding here as being an experience of riding in the water. It was good but the trip was fast, no time to stop to catch your breath or have a quick sip of water. Very perfunctory; do this, move on, got more riders to get through and there were only 5 of us on our trip!!!!
Why do HAL charge more for the drinks on the island than on the ship? What can the justification be?
The second day we had there, they packed up all the bars at 2:00pm even though we did not leave until 3:30pm -- nothing was to be had for a drink -- why? And of course no shade or water to be had by the dock.
Overall we enjoyed our holiday but this would be in spite of not thanks to HAL. Will I sail with HAL again? Probably not, unless the itinerary or price were too good to miss, but my expectations would be much lower and I won't be extolling the virtues of HAL in the future.