Stayed at FL Embassy Suites precruise. Always stay there because we like the way all the stores and many restaurants are within 3 blocks each way of the hotel. We learned not to take the huge transfer bus to the port. People sit around the lobby just waiting to be herded on this large tour bus with luggage piled all over the parking lot - takes forever. We take a taxi or a small transport van ($8 each) IF and only IF the small van is ready to go as soon as we get in. Arrived at the port at 11:30 and we were in our stateroom by 12:30. All lines except the welcome aboard picture line moved in good time. Even that wasn’t that bad and instead of maneuvering our way through the person blockading the entrance around the pictures, we just did the picture thing as quickly as possible and moved on. It is just as easy to have the pictures taken than argue with the people. I did notice as the days went on that no one ever pressured us into having our picture taken even when getting off the ship in each port. Very low key and we appreciated that.
To us the balcony cabin was the same as any on other line. For some reason it did seem a little narrower but I think it was just the way the closet doors and bathroom doors were situated. We cruise for the itinerary so aren’t loyal to any brand and have only been on one other HAL ship and that was the NA. On the HAL ships we have to take zip ties to hang the over the door shoe holder as the bathroom door has clothing pegs so we can’t use the metal over the top part of the hanger – works just as well to make circles with the zip ties and put them on the pegs. We like the tub just because it gives more room to the shower and bathroom in general, but can see that it might be tricky for people with mobility issues to ever take a shower. I missed having drawers in the desk area. I ended up putting our snorkel supplies in the round vanity/desk seat which worked well.
We like to be near the elevators (the aft elevators) but this time I made a big mistake and booked a cabin near the front elevators. Turned out not to be that big of a deal as the ship is just the right size for walking from one end to the other. This is the first time on a ship where even though I never heard one peep from anyone in the halls, etc., I heard the elevator "beep" when it stopped on our deck. Not annoying but noticeable but not enough to ever hear when sleeping.
The demographics on this ship definitely skewed to the over 75 crowd. I saw 2-3 kids the first night and then never saw them again. This makes for a great quiet cruise and the two times we took the dreaded ship snorkel excursions no kids meant no kids kicking me in the face. It also meant that the two ship snorkel trips we took were very lightly booked. In Half Moon Cay, only 5 people went. In Dominican Republic, fewer than 20 people were on a pretty good sized catamaran so we all had plenty of room for ourselves and our stuff. I have never been on a ship with so many VERY old people, however, I mean it seemed like there were many people in their mid to late 80s. It wasn’t the scooters or walkers that were an issue but it was sad to see so many people who were apparently suffering from some form of dementia – wondering aimlessly completely lost. I found one man just standing waiting for an elevator but he had never pressed the button and looked at me like he had no idea what I was saying. I asked him where he wanted to go and he said he wasn't sure but maybe "home." He ended up following me into the elevator but didn’t know what floor he wanted, of course, so he ended up once again following me out of the elevator and down the hall. I turned back and found a crew member and took him over to the man. It was so constant – looks of complete lack of awareness – it made for a sad environment at times. We are in our mid 60s so we aren’t young – but my husband said that he found seeing his future all around him every day very depressing. I actually met a younger woman who said that she takes her mother who has Alzheimer's on cruises simply because she can let her loose and she can't get too lost (go figure).
We never ate in the dining room – ate only in the Lido except for a free night in the Pinnacle Grill with the Explore 4 package. Never found the seating too crowded but we do eat an early dinner. The food was fine but I’m not too picky as long as I don’t have to make it. The salad area was always fresh. Fruit selection typical. Food was average but we found the desserts better than average for a buffet. I can’t believe how much cheesecake I managed to eat in 10 days. Our Pinnacle Grill meal was very nice. My husband had the lamb chops and said although there wasn’t that much meat on them, they were very good. I had the halibut and shrimp and the 2 shrimp were so huge that I ate them and not too much of the halibut. The halibut was very thick and was like eating a hunk of dried out fish to me. They do shared sides so fortunately we like the same things. I guess you could order what you want, but they bring large servings to share and it would seem wasteful to not share. The grilled asparagus was very good and I liked the mashed potatoes although my husband said they tasted weird to him. We didn't care for the dessert selection - but once again I had cheesecake (raspberry).
We never went to the pools, bars, and few activities. My husband is a smoker so we occasionally were in the smoking area next to the aft pool (very large and nice smoking area). Lots of loungers and I always saw empty loungers. I only went to two computer classes as I had done all of them before on the NA. These are great classes – IMO. The Techspert on this cruise, Emily, was excellent dealing with the senior crowd with the same questions over and over. She has the patience necessary to do well in that job. I went to one open time to ask one question and as I waited I couldn’t believe how many people asked her what computer they should buy. I watched her patiently explain over and over why she couldn’t tell them what to buy as she gave them the appropriate Microsoft web site for assistance. I have hired many MS software instructors on the college level during my career and I found myself wishing that Emily had been one of them.
I did buy an Internet package so I could keep in contact with our private tour people and also to check emails from family. I used the computers in the very large Explorations area - always several empty computers - and from my cabin with my small laptop. In both places the speed was about the same. Yes, it isn't like at home, but I didn't find it that slow. The computer tech person was on duty several hours a day. I found him very helpful. The library was also in the Explorations area and appeared to have lots of books. The strange thing however was the paperback exchange area. Hardly any books - we are used to 2-3 long shelves of books.
We went to three shows. I forget what the first one was called but something with “rock” in the title. The song choices were just what we like and the singing was pretty good but the dancing was really painful to watch. Went to Droom and enjoyed that show and the same dancers for this show were good. So, it goes to show that choreography and costumes, etc., play a part. We went to the BB King club on the last night. I kept waiting for them to be showcased in the main showroom but they never were so we had to see them in the Queen’s Lounge. It really is too small of a venue for the loudness of the music, but we really enjoyed that show – too short. Also, the show times for the BB King group were usually 8:45, 9:45, and 10:45. We are fans of DWTS so we went to the Jive class just to watch and that was a fun way to spend 45 minutes.
The weather was perfect but windy in most places particularly the ABC islands, which is normal for this time of year. We went on this cruise to get away from the cold in the north and to snorkel in each port. This time around the snorkeling excursion at HMC was actually a little above average – I enjoyed it. In Grand Turk, we booked a private trip but it was very windy and the water was very murky so that didn’t work out too well. In Dominican Republic we went with the only snorkel trip the ship offered. The snorkeling was below average – again a little murky. Unfortunately this was a sail, snorkel, and beach excursion so we had to spend about 45 minutes sailing around, 45 minutes snorkeling, and 45 minutes at a really bad beach. The beach was dirty, the water not inviting. We just sat there counting the minutes until we could leave. A few people tried to get a taxi back to town but couldn’t do it so they had to stick it out too.
In Bonaire we went snorkeling with Woodwind. They were fully booked but they have handling 20 people down to an art. They split us into 3 groups each with its own in the water leader and we entered the water at different times so there was no feeling of being crowded. Very windy but the water clarity was perfect and it was a great snorkel trip. In Curacao I had booked a private trip with Curacao Actief. This time, we booked for just the two us and had a person drive us to several places for shore entry snorkeling. Again, windy but excellent water clarity and he took us to places where we were the only two in the water. Good snorkel trip. In Aruba I booked a small boat for just the two of us and the captain took us out to the reef, but it was too windy and the water very rough that we declined to get in the water – so no snorkeling that day. To us, Aruba had the best prices on the typical souvenir stuff and enough in the two cruise buildings where walking into town isn’t necessary.
Our cabin stewards were Kay (Kadek) and Kadek. Great team who met all of our needs with a smile and always a greeting when we saw them. I found the lido team to be very friendly and efficient. In particular I enjoyed the always cheerful smiling and hard working Cherry. Asti was another person who always had a smile on her face. I also enjoyed Larry’s sense of humor as he served the hot food. He always made me laugh. It’s nice to see someone making an effort to have some fun on the job – why not?
Two days into the cruise the captain announced that too many people had noro and that obviously someone had brought it onto the ship. So, we were on code orange until the last few days. Since we eat in the lido, that was fine with me. I have no problem waiting a little longer while someone dishes out the food instead of watching how some people act when serving themselves.
Since the waters seemed calm to mostly calm on this cruise, I was surprised how much movement we felt walking around the ship. It wasn't terrible but noticeable.
I would definitely cruise on HAL again based on the itinerary.