DH and I have cruised eleven times. This was our second HAL cruise. We live NW of Baltimore. We're in our 40's. We have two young children that we left at home with my parents. We tend to cruise Carnival when taking the kids and try other lines when it's just the two of us. We try to cruise twice per year.
We flew in the morning of departure. We prefer to arrive the day before, but had a 7:00am non-stop flight from BWI to FLL. We booked a sleep-and-fly package at an airport hotel. Our flight was on time and uneventful. We were in FLL at the taxi stand with our luggage by 10:00. We took a taxi to the port for $25 with tip. Traffic was light, even with all the port construction.
Easy and painless. We walked directly up to the the security scan, then perhaps 15 to check in. We waited in the chairs upstairs until boarding began around 11:30.
I thought the ship lovely. It was decorated in an understated manner, very clean and well maintained. The only issue was a sewage smell near the art gallery and Pinnacle Bar. This persisted all day long, all week long. Needless to say, we did not visit the Pinnacle Bar!
We had a Superior Verandah Suite, an SS on deck 6 mid-ship on the starboard side. We booked an SZ Guarantee just past the final payment date and were upgraded when cabins were assigned a week before sailing. The cabin was an adjoining cabin, so we lost one closet, but we still had more than enough storage space. Our cabin steward was efficient. We didn't see him very often, but our cabin was always in order.
Main Dining Room
This was our first experience with open seating dining. Last year on the Westerdam, we had traditional late seating and dinner took over two hours every night. This was our biggest dissapointment with that cruise and nearly kept us from coming back for a second try with HAL. But customer service made us an offer to return (nothing crazy, just a dinner at Pinnacle and a beverage card), so we decided to try again with open seating.
Anyway, we really enjoyed it. My husband, the traditional dining fan, ended up liking sitting in different spots all over the dining room and meeting new people every night. Service was fine and we did get through dinner faster than last year. We purchased a wine package and had no issues getting our bottle each evening. There was one wine that wasn't available, but they offered a substitute bottle and we were pleased with it.
We enjoyed both breakfast and lunches in the main dining room some days too.
I don't like the Lido buffet for breakfast, just because I prefer more quiet and calmness. We ate there a few mornings, and it was fine. Lunches likewise were fine.
This cruise was our first ever experience with pay restaurants. We had a comp for Pinnacle Grill. Unfortunately, we didn't make a reservation upon boarding and had a real problem getting any reservation when we tried Tuesday morning. Every night was full. We ended up with reservations for Saturday evening at 9:00pm. We don't usually eat until at least 8:00pm, so this was fine. Lesson learned to book early! We also tried Tamarind. I was able to snag a reservation Thursday afternoon for Thursday evening at 8:30. We really enjoyed both experiences and probably will include at least one pay restaurant each cruise.
I had a burger from the grill and it was good. We never tried pizza or anything from Explorations Cafe.
Used room service most mornings as a wake-up call and for delivery of coffee and croissants before we went to the dining room or buffet. Delivery was always at the early side of the time we marked on our door hanger. We never tried anything else from the menu.
Unfortunately, I never made it to any of the tea times. Every day, I planned to, but somehow just didn't. Maybe next time!
We went to Happy hour at the Crow's Nest once and at the Ocean Bar two nights. HAL's drink prices, especially with two-for-one deals, are the best value of any line we've been on.
My husband attend two Mixology classes and enjoyed them. He also went to one of the cooking shows.
We went to one movie, but found the theater small and not the screen on the small side. The movies shown didn't appeal to me enough to get there 15 minutes early to get a seat.
The best show we attended was Recycled Percussion. We really enjoyed this show. Kudos to HAL for trying something so out of the ordinary. We were given a drumstick and something to beat on as we entered. On the bottom was a sticker giving us a color to be part of one of four 'teams'. Lots of audience enthusiasm and most seemed to really enjoy the show. I know I did! My husband was one of the 'monkeys' and I thought I'd die laughing.
We also attended Campare, which was four guys singing. The singing was wonderful, but the choreography was beyond cheesy and really detracted from the performance.
The magician/comedian was ok at first, but both my husband and I lost interest pretty quickly.
Unfortunately, weather caused us to miss Grand Turk. We had booked a private snorkeling excursion with Blue Water Divers. They refunded all except a $10 fee. The port cancelation was announced at 7:00pm the night before. There was also a letter in our cabin that evening and a free glass of champagne at dinner the following night. We were also refunded $14 in port taxes and fees to our onboard account.
This was our third stop in San Juan. Because of missing Grand Turk, we arrived at 8:00am rather than 1:00pm. Our departure remained at 10:00pm. We were so excited to be arriving early because we would be able to go to La Bombonera, a favorite breakfast restaurant and get mallorcas. Unfortunately, after 110 years in business, it has closed. We walked around Old San Juan, up to Castillo San Cristobal, then down towards El Morro. We used Yelp to decide where to stop for lunch and ended up at a pleasant little restaurant, St. Germain Bistro & Cafe.
We took the water taxi over to Phillipsburg and walked around for a few hours. We have been here a few times, and didn't really want to do an excursion. We were back on board by lunchtime and enjoyed the deserted aft pool.
Half Moon Cay
Ahhh, HMC, my favorite cruise ship stop. This was our third stop here. Before I plopped myself down on the beach to laze and sip fruity frozen drinks for a few hours, I went for a run. The walking loop is very short, about .6 mile, so I just took any road I could find. I went back down to where the tenders docked, then out to the stingrays and glass bottom boat, and out to the horse stable. It was just short of 3 miles.
Our flight home wasn't until 5:00pm. We were in no rush to leave! We had a leisurely breakfast in Lido and were among the final passengers to leave the ship sometime after 10:00pm. It took us about 20 minutes to get through immigration/customs and take a taxi to the airport. Once there, we spent a long time sitting around waiting to be able to check our luggage and then another long wait for our flight. From now on, with such a late flight, we will definitely make plans for the day. This was the very worst part of the cruise. I was anxious to get home to our children and had nothing to do but miss them! Our flight was on time and uneventful. We arrived at home around 9:00pm.
I enjoyed this cruise much more than our Westerdam cruise last year. I think partly because my expectations were lower. From reading the HAL board on CC, I think my expectations were just too high. I expected the entire experience to be above the other lines I've been on. It wasn't. That's not to say I had any complaints, just that I wasn't as wowed as I expected to be. Anyway, I went into this cruise expecting a nice, relaxing week with plenty of time to myself and to spend with my husband. At that level, this cruise met my expectations. We're heading back to Celebrity for our next cruise, but I expect we'll return to HAL because of their great itineraries and wonderful staterooms.