This was my fourth cruise with HAL although only my second in recent years. The first two were in 1952 when I was 7 years old. Perhaps at least in part because I am Dutch by birth, I find I feel right "at home" in the HAL ships. Most of the people I met were delightful. There was a small contingent that I would tag as "chronic complainers" and a few I would put in the category of "The Ugly American". It was generally fairly easy to avoid the latter group when they weren't too loud. The staff were very patient with these folks.
Unfortunately there was an outbreak of a "Norwalk-like" virus aboard the ship. I felt that the captain kept us sufficiently informed without causing panic. The unofficial numbers I've seen indicate that there were approximately 50+ passengers and 10-11 crew members who became ill.
Embarkation: I flew to Fort Lauderdale the day before the cruise and stayed at a hotel using HAL's Fly/Cruise plan. This worked out well and both embarkation and debarkation went very smoothly despite the crowds and the fact that our sail day was the busiest in the port's history.
Dining: The Rotterdam dining room was very pleasant and the menu had a good selection each day. The staff serving our tables were professional, courteous and efficient -- and had a sense of humor. The first night one of the passengers at our table requested a cappucino with dessert and it was forgotten. Every night after that the cappucino seemed to magically appear along with the dessert menu. The Lido casual dining was very pleasant for breakfast and lunch. It became a little awkward when special procedures were implemented after the virus made it's appearance among passengers and crew since no self-service was allowed - even for salt and pepper shakers, coffee, etc. The food itself ranged from good to excellent, in my opinion.
Public Rooms: There were a variety of public areas. I found that it wasn't hard to find places to interact with other people or to be alone to read quietly if I so wished. There were passengers of all ages and interests so I could generally tell by walking around where there were groups I would like to join. I especially liked the Crow's Nest in the front of the ship for a terrific view during the day and a comfortable chair for reading or chatting.
Entertainment: Each day we received a newsletter with the schedule for the next day showing all activities. Each evening there was a show and a movie in addition to movies on the cabin TV. Although I tend to go to bed early, I did stay up for some shows and enjoyed them very much. Jeff McBride, the sleight-of-hand magician from Las Vegas was excellent and did a great job too with the children as well as entertaining the adults.
Cabin: My outside E category cabin was pleasant. On my Alaska cruise I had a mini suite with Veranda and that is truly a lovely experience but I hadn't wanted to spend that much this time. I decided that with a regular cabin I just wouldn't be spending as much time in it. There was plenty of closet space. The tub was a little snug but workable. The hair dryer was a little underpowered and the handle got way too hot long before my hair was dry. The cabin steward was young but very pleasant and attentive. My bed was made and cabin cleaned by the time I finished breakfast. I've heard from frequent cruisers that these cabins are better than what they've had on other cruise ships.
Fitness & Recreation: I had a massage and facial at the Ocean Spa. It was very pleasant but was not as good as I've had in some places.
Shore Excursions: These are a nice chance to do something off the ship. The tour of Key West was interesting and enjoyable. In Cozumel I took the "Taste of Cozumel and Folkloric"; the show was very enjoyable. The tour showed us the lovely beaches of Cozumel and as I gather is fairly typical in the Caribbean, the vendors were legion. Our next stop was at Roatan, Honduras. We had been told that this was the first time a HAL ship had stopped here and that therefore they didn't know as much about it as they did about the other places we stopped. It turned out that Roatan is a very poor island as far as we saw and doesn't really seem to have much of an infrastructure to handle tourists. This didn't bother me in the sense that I think it's sometimes important to see how other cultures live even when it's disturbing. One of my dining table mates noted that in his previous travels he saw that some of the other Caribbean Islands like Cozumel had been like this some years ago. A number of passengers were angry about the shore excursion and demanded their money back. I felt they were being unreasonable. After the next 2 days at sea, we stopped at Half Moon Cay, HAL's own place. I had planned to go ashore -- it is a lovely sight -- but I was tired and decided to stay on board. Those who did go ashore said it was great.
Value for Price: I feel it was a great value for the price, particularly because I booked about 5 weeks before the cruise at a good discount. If I add the costs of the flight, hotel in Fort Lauderdale and hotel at the airport near home because of a very early am flight, I don't know if I would consider the value for the price good *without* the discount.
Overall Cruise: I loved it! I really need to "get away from it all" and totally succeeded. I would do it again in a heartbeat.