Let me begin by saying that by no means are we rookie cruisers and we are both over the age of 60. We have cruised on Regent Seven Seas, Celebrity, RCI, Carnival, and NCL but never cruised on HAL. I have been wanting to do this particular cruise for the last 3 years because we hadn't been to several of the ports on this itinerary. I had also been told that the food and service was better on HAL and also that it was a little more upscale than some of the other lines. So finally my husband agreed to go and we were off on what we hoped was a fun and exciting vacation.
Embarkation went smoothly, until we boarded the ship, I was disappointed that we didn't get a glass of champagne like we typically get on Celebrity. That always made me feel just a bit special and welcome.
Instead, it felt more like a cattle drive heading everyone into the chutes. We located our room and it was an aft facing balcony. Nice big balcony, with a great view. I loved the room. Only issue was that it was hot in there. We located the cabin attendant and ask him if there was a problem with the A/C and he said it should get better after we were sailing and told us to keep the curtains closed....WHAT??? If I wanted to keep the curtains closed I could have gotten in interior room for 399.00 plus port charges. I also noticed the blanket on the bed in between the sheets, it was disgusting. Dirty and full of hair. That was changed immediately. (Not sure if this is true or not but was told that they have 24 cabins to keep up after, that's almost impossible to do.) We headed down to the embarkation lunch at the main dining room only to be told that it was full and to go to the Lido. We got to the Lido and it seemed very disorganized. No one seemed to know where the line began and ended. People cutting in line like the hadn't eaten in days. No place to sit. When you found a table that had been vacated it was another story trying to get the tables cleared. I chalked it up to the 1st day chaos. But after the 2nd day it was evident that they had cut the help in the Lido. Also rather annoying was the fact that people would just go there not to eat, but to grab the tables by the windows to play cards or just sit there. If you aren't eating be considerate enough to go to the lounges to sit.
Getting a drink was another issue. They were almost always out of drink glasses, all they had were small juice glasses and I might add you would have to look for the clean ones. Then maybe only 2 choices of drinks. When you would try to find someone to replace a drink that took forever. With all the concern about people getting sick, after the 1st day we never saw anyone with the sanitizer making people clean their hands. Seemed like we were the only ones doing it. But the most disgusting thing that I saw day after day was by the drink station. They had a large plastic tub with an ice scoop in there that people were to use to get ice for their drinks. After they handled it the scoop would fall back into the ice and water for the next person to dig out their ice...YUCK...I would NEVER use that ice, I always went to the machine.
The food in the Lido was subpar. The omelet station in the morning was good. But the only other food that I thought was good was the seafood salad and the drunken shrimp out by the pool. If you didn't grab a dessert before dinner and hide it in your fridge the choices were very limited by 7:00pm
Day 2 was Half Moon Cay and it was wonderful. We rented a cabana and glad we did as shortly after getting settled, the rain poured for just a few minutes. About 20 minutes later there was the most incredible rainbow I have ever seen. You could see where it began on the water. It was definitely a Kodak moment. The bbq that they had on the beach was nice. The jerk chicken was good, but again trying to get a drink from the machines that were empty was a pain. By the time they were filled up your food was cold
Day 3 at Grand Turk almost didn't happen. Due to the high winds, the Captain aborted the first try and said he would give it one more try and if he couldn't dock we would have to move on. It took him about 1 hour but amazingly enough he made it. As we waited at the gangway to get off, it almost became a mob scene. People squeezing and pushing and 1 lady in particular became irate and screamed at the top of her lungs at the other passengers that she was there 1st and they should wait. As she was getting off she got separated from her partner and again screamed ...TC...several times. This was just getting off in a port. I can't imagine how people would have reacted in an emergency situation.
If you ever go to Grand Turk, get off and pass Margaritaville and go to the end of the beach to Jacks Shack. We are so glad that we did. Its only about a 5 minute walk, but the sand and the beach there was awesome. We rented an umbrella and chairs and literally had the place to ourselves. Plus the drinks were about 1/2 the price of Margaritaville.
Day 4 was to me was a total disappointment. Due to high winds we couldn't port in Samana. This was 1 port that I had never been too and had a great independent tour scheduled there. However I appreciate the fact that the Captain didn't port there due to the safety factor. But the sea day was PAINFULLY BORING. The cruise director came over the loud speaker and said that they would be adding some activities to the schedule for the day and would announce them shortly. Good thing, because the things on the current schedule were nothing that we were interested in. The only other option was that you could go shopping and pay way too much for the jewelery and other things. On most of out cruises we get liquor at the duty free shops, but not on this cruise. The prices were about $2.00 cheaper than what I can get it for back in the states, so not worth the trouble of packing it.
Here is just a little of the itinerary and keep in mind the ones that include dollar signs – because these will cost you extra. Indoor Cycling ($$) – 5 Minute make over – Art Auction ($$) – Body Sculpting ($) – Acupuncture ($$) – Bingo ($$) Shopping ($$) - Discover Windows 8 – History of Fabrege – Reinvent your Outlook Email – Spa Seminar – Wine Sampling ($$$) - Win a free cruise at Bingo ($$) and my favorite Party Night Buy one Drink get one Free and in small print it says on SELECT BEVERAGES ONLY.
Soon came the announcement...and let me tell you it went from bad to worse. One of the things that they added was how to do a place setting and fold a napkin...HUH???? Or we could learn how to make a bow....REALLY???
We walked the ship hunting for some action and only thing we found was nothing to do. Even most of the bars were closed. Thanks heavens I stopped at Total Wine before boarding and grabbed 3 bottles of wine.
HAL is definitely set up to cater to the older 75+ crowd that is content to sit in the library reading a book or playing cards or just sitting looking out the window. So we decided to watch TV, again nothing on there either. You could watch reruns of Bonanza or watch the port excursions that you have already been to over and over. I didn't pay 350.00 a day to do nothing, I can do that at home for free. I'm not expecting a thrill a minute, but I do expect a little excitement. It seems like a lot of the crew, on top of their daily duties were parts of the entertainment as well. I wonder when they get some rest. I talked to several of them and they told me that they work 7 days a week 12-14 hours a day. No days off for months at a time. We did take 4 computer classes but the the room was so small and if you didn't get there 40 minutes before it was SRO. I spoke to several people while waiting in line and ALL of them said they were very disappointed in that sea day. So again, I chalked it up to it was a last minute thing and tomorrow (another sea day would be better) but boy was I wrong.
Day 5 as bad or worse than day 4. Today we had the option of taking an "advanced napkin folding class"
We took Celebrity 2 years ago and the sea days were so much fun. There were great bands or just some good music playing by the pool almost all the time and it wasn't the same thing day after day. They had fun contests and people were up dancing and having a good time. They also had a WONDERFUL champagne brunch on 1 of our sea days. There were ice sculptures, chocolate fountains and at least 30 carvings done out of fruit. It was amazing and so was the food. One evening we had a dessert extravaganza that was out of this world... Not on this boat.
We did have Debra with the steel drums and the 1st 3 times we heard her it was good but seemed like she was the only one out there during the day and at the end of the cruise if I heard HOT HOT HOT again I was ready to jump overboard.
Day 6 Bonaire AMAZING SNORKELING
Day 7 Curacao Did Porto Marie Wonderful beach with good snorkeling and facilities
Day 8 Aruba Eagle Beach Beautiful clean beach with a palm shade and chairs
Day 9 and 10 Two more brutally boring days at sea
On to the main dining room. We only ate there a few times and I wasn't impressed with that either.
Those poor waiters are running themselves ragged. Seems like they have cut the staff there too. Sitting there for 2 to 2 1/2 hours for dinner is not fun to me. Couldn't get your tea refilled because they barely had time to blink. The night of the Captain dinner the "filet" was no more than 1/2 inch thick. Not a filet in my book. Just a hunk of mystery meat.
Because it took so long to eat we missed the show that night so again, nothing to do.
Our last 2 sea days were the same. Entertainment big fat "0". We were walking past a venue and I remarked to my husband that they must be having karaoke because the singing was so bad and one of the crew said,"oh no, that is the ship band and singer." Yikes... There was a man singing in the piano bar that was equally as bad. One other person standing beside me said the butchered the song up so badly he couldn't tell what it was. Or you could go listen to the piano player and the violinist where most people were falling asleep. The casino was the only thing happening, but after throwing some money in there that gets expensive.
On a positive note...I can't say enough nice things about our cabin attendant. He was always smiling and worked really hard at keeping our cabin clean. One of the highlights of the day was seeing the wonderful little towel animals the he would leave for us each night. The ports that we did get to go to were AMAZING and lots of fun. We did get to see 2 shows that we really enjoyed and that was the Ventriloquist show and the Rock and Roll Legend show.
In conclusion, my husband and I both thought we should rename this ship from the "Noordam" to the "The Boredam".