November 15 – 25, 2013
This is my cruise review. All opinions are personal and subjective.
My wife and I are 3 star Mariners who have nearly 100 days on HAL. We have been sailing Hal since 1998. We are in our late 50’s and this trip we were joined by great friends.
Our vacation started with a flight to Ft. Lauderdale the evening before the cruise. We stayed locally and lingered at the hotel the next morning through lunch. We wanted to avoid the crush of people who like to board as soon as they can. It proved to be a good strategy.
Embarkation was a breeze. We were suite passengers so we did not have to wait to board. We had done all the paperwork on line and had our passports so everything went smoothly.
Escort is no longer provided to the cabin, but we were in aft suite 6166 so I knew where to go. The elevators midship where we boarded had a long line so we went aft. That didn’t help. Two elevators were being used for luggage and the one of the other two was malfunctioning. We gave up waiting and lugged our carry ons up 4 decks. Our cabin was ready and we made ourselves at home. We love the aft cabins for the view and for the large wrap around balcony. Our friends stopped by and we discussed dinner plans. We were open dining, so we went to the Neptune Lounge and made dinner reservations for the first 4 nights. We were disappointed that we could not reserve for all 10 nights, but we were told 4 nights out is as far out as they would go. Later in the cruise we did not have reservations but we were seated without a wait.
Our cabin was clean and well kept. We met our steward and his assistant, who did a fine job throughout the cruise. The safety drill was in the rain but we didn’t melt. It was time to sail and we were soon on our way.
Like most lines, HAL has significantly reduced staff over the years. This was immediately apparent in the main dining room. The worst service of the trip was the first night. It took us 2 hours to eat at our table for 4, with long delays between courses. The wine stewards were few and far between and harried at best. Portion sizes continue to shrink, but we were pleased with the quality of the food. There were good choices every evening along with staples available every day. The service was irregular through the cruise. Some tables had better waiters than others. The guys work incredibly hard and were always kind and polite despite being understaffed. We love the HAL crews, which are always a highlight of a HAL cruise. They all do everything they can to help you enjoy your vacation.
We ate twice in the Pinnacle Grill. The food and service is a decided upgrade from the main dining room. The portions were too big here, but we enjoyed delicious steak, fish and chicken. I lost 3 pounds on this cruise, which would not have happened had we eaten here every night. As a treat it can’t be beat!
The ports were typical Caribbean. Half Moon Key is pretty. We rented a cabana, which was comfortable and helped protect us from the sun. Grand Turk is similar to Half Moon Key with the cruise industry development and shops. Samana, DR was poor and polluted, as we were warned. We took a tour but there was not much to see except for the nice Taino Park. The ABC Islands are beautiful and always nice to visit. We dodged occasional showers along the way, including a loud thunderstorm just north of Cuba on our last sea day.
The entertainment early in the cruise was excellent. The first show was hysterical Canadian ventriloquist Mike Robinson. His talent is amazing! Other fine acts we enjoyed were Scottish comic Scotty McLean and the talented singer and impressionist Tricia Kelly. One night Robinson and Kelly performed back to back, which was fun. The Noordam Singers and Dancers were typical cruise entertainment and nothing special. Later in the trip was a Swing artist but I’m a rock & roll guy so I didn’t go.
The captain was Jeroen Van Donselaar. He kept us well informed throughout the cruise. He said there were 1810 passengers and 810 staff. That low staff ratio was evident in the bars as there was sometimes no one to take drink orders, so we had to go to locations with bartenders to get drinks. That was disappointing.
The cruise director was Shane Michaels. He was nothing special but did his job.
In general I would rate the cruise 4 stars out of 5 – with one glaring exception that will prevent us from sailing HAL again unless it is changed.
Many cruise lines have banned smoking from cabins and balconies. HAL continues to allow smoking on the balconies. We had the misfortune to be surrounded by smokers, in particular one adjacent cabin with chain smokers from morning until late at night. The ship movement and wind even in port wrapped the smoke around our balcony, making it impossible to sit outside and enjoy the beautiful weather. We’ve never encountered smoking this bad, and we won’t deal with that stench again. I suspect smokers have changed to HAL because the other lines prohibit smoking on the balconies. It’s HAL’s business decision to allow the smoking, but it’s a deal breaker for us. Our health and comfort are an important part of our cruise experience, as is enjoying the balcony.
There are plenty of no smoking alternatives to HAL, so we will continue to cruise. We will reconsider HAL if they change their smoking policy.