Background: I am 39, DH is 42. This was our 9th cruise, 1st on HAL. We used our credit card points for this trip. We only had to pay taxes and the non-discounted fees. This was the reason we tried HAL.
Hotel and embarkation: We stayed one night pre-cruise at The Renaissance on 17th St. We used our credit card points for this too. Very nice hotel, clean and comfy. Our room was large and had a view of the port. We used a taxi from FLL to the hotel. Quick and easy. The fare was about $15. We took the Sun Bus to the beach area to soak in the local atmosphere. Great place to people watch. The fare was $.50 per person one way. We used a taxi to the port on Sunday morning. The fare was about $10. There was the usual traffic jam of people unloading luggage, but our taxi driver was fairly efficient at dropping us off at a good spot. Embarkation was very fast and efficient. We were on the ship within 15 minutes of entering the building.
Ship and stateroom: We liked the ship, but it felt "enclosed" and broken up to us. The ships we normally sail on feel very open with huge atriums and areas that flow one into the next. This ship lacked that, but she is very beautiful and well maintained. Our cabin was partially obstructed by the lifeboat rigging. The window let in plenty of light, but if I had paid for this cruise I would have chosen an unobstructed view or balcony cabin. There was plenty of storage space, and our cabin steward was very kind and efficient. We had a strong sewer gas smell one night, but it only lasted a few hours so I never reported it. Otherwise, our cabin was fantastic.
Dining/Service: We ate most meals in the dining room. We had early upper dining, and we had a table for two as requested. Our waiters were great...very kind and eager to please. We don't like a long, drawn out dining experience. We never had to mention this to Eko or Neiki. They seemed to sense it, and we were always served promptly. The food was good. Nothing was great, but overall we were pleased. The food in the Lido was plentiful and for the most part good. Room service was prompt, and our orders were accurate. We did not try The Pinnacle Grill. Overall, the service was fantastic everywhere we ate. I think this crew was the most kind of any crew I've sailed with.
Entertainment: We attended two shows. The first was a juggling comedian. He was ok in our opinion. He kept dropping the things he was juggling, but he usually had something funny to say about it. At first, I thought it was part of his act, but later thought he just wasn't a very good juggler. The second show was a two person piano act. They were talented pianists, but I don't think they should sing. DH and I wanted to leave after the first two numbers, but we were trapped in our seats. It would have been too disruptive to our fellow cruisers to leave, so we stayed for the entire show. This is the only area that I feel needs huge improvement.
Activities/Ports: We took the galley tour, which was very interesting. I've never been on a ship that offered this, so I was glad to see it. We watched some pool games one afternoon. Tootie fruitie in the suitie is a riot! We didn't use any shore excursions except the clamshell in HMC. This was well worth the $14. We never really sat in the shade of the shell, but it was nice to have a "place" on the beach. We used taxies to go to the beach and snorkel on Grand Turk and Tortola. We liked both ports. We had planned to go to Virgin Gorda and The Baths on our own, but we were delayed 2.5 hours by tendering. We lost our spot at the pier and ended up using the lifeboats to tender. For some reason, 4 of the 6 lifeboats used had mechanical issues. This caused delays and much frustration among the passengers, and I think the crew was fed up too. By the time we arrived on Tortola, we had missed our ferry to VG. At least I have an excuse to book another cruise to GT!
Disembarkation was quick and easy. I loved being able to stay in our cabin until our color was called. We hailed a cab to FLL, and our 7 days of heaven on earth came to an end. We will sail on HAL again, even if we have to pay in full.