This was a Panama Canal Transit that started in Seattle (we embarked in San Diego). We are 53 and 57 and retired. We flew into San Diego a day early and stayed at Holiday Inn on the Bay with a King Bay View Room. The weather was gorgeous and we were excited. This was our first time staying in this hotel although it was not the first time we have taken a cruise from San Diego. I would stay in this hotel again.
Originally we booked an SC Guarantee at an unbelievably great price and waited until about 3 weeks prior to the cruise for assignment. I was somewhat hesitant when we were assigned a suite on the hump/curve but those fears I later found out were unwarranted as the cabin was lovely.
Embarkation was a disaster, the worst we've experienced with HAL, it appeared that no one on the ground in port knew what to do. Going through security, no one was aware that you were able to take as many wine bottles as you wanted onboard (they insisted it was no more than 2) until I made enough noise that someone from HAL came over and cleared up the misinformation (after holding up the line for more than 20 minutes). We went straight to our suite to drop off our carry-ons and make our requests to our cabin steward and the Neptune Lounge. With that set we went to check out our dining assignment - Perfect, a table originally for four set for 2 - Fantastic!!!
Life Boat drill was a breeze considering 50% of the passengers had already gone through the drill in Seattle and were not required to attend a second time. We were back in our suite long before sail away.
CABIN: This cabin is configured differently than the side SA's and it feels like there is more floor space but in actuality it has to do with the cabin's configuration instead. The cabin really is an SS with Suite benefits. There is less storage space (although we didn't miss it as there was more than enough storage space for 2 adults), the sofa is smaller and the desk area is smaller. The verandah is not as deep and is angled but there is still a dining table with 4 chairs along with two cushioned chairs, ottomans and a small side table. It was more than adequate for 2 adults to relax and enjoy themselves. The verandah's angle made our cabin visible to others and them to us but it wasn't a bother at all (I do think it may be different with a younger crowd onboard). This cabin was windy but on this itinerary, the wind was helpful and made being out on the verandah tolerable. I would say this verandah is perfect for warm weather but could be problematic for colder destinations.
Our itinerary was: San Diego At Sea Cabo San Lucas, Mexico At Sea Acapulco, Mexico Huatulco, Mexico Puerto Chiapas, Mexico Puerto Quetzal/Antigua, Guatemala At Sea Costa Rica At Sea Panama Canal - Full Transit Cartegena, Colombia At Sea At Sea Fort Lauderdale
We did ship sponsored excursions in Cabo, Acapulco, Huatulco, Puerto Quetzal/Antigua, Costa Rica, Cartegena. Due to the seas, our excursion in Cabo was cancelled as we were unable to board a tender (I would have been upset if it hadn't been for having been on the same excursion last December when we were on the Oosterdam).
We felt Acapulco is a has been port of call, it's old, run down, and steeped in the past, military with guns were everywhere we stopped, the city is dirty and severe poverty is ramped. Huatulco is a newer port of call and is lovely (although there was still military with weapons present) there is little poverty and the port is clean and beautiful both at the port and beyond - I would consider a land based vacation at this city.
Puerto Chiapas - we got off right at the pier but didn't go anywhere, major disappointment!! This is a brand spanking new port of call for Mexico and has a long way to move forward.
Puerto Quetzal/Antigua - very nice! We took an excursion to Antigua up in the mountains, the highways were good roads and there was plenty to look at on modern comfortable buses. Antigua is a city not to be missed, steeped in history and fabulous architecture everywhere you turn. I would go back to this port.
Costa Rica - the Pacific side port Puntaranas has virtually nothing and you must travel inland. We took a bus, train, boat tour that essentially showed us landscape and poverty. We weren't happy with this tour nor of this port of call.
Panama Canal. We were up by 5am and started the transit at around 6:30am. There were transports before and behind us so we were able to see before and behind. I was glad I was able to experience this.
Cartegena, Colombia. This is a large city but there is much to see and experience. We took a bus tour of the city taking us to missions, naval museum (also a dance show), shopping at a Mercado, forts, the Old City. It was worth it for seeing the Old City (behind the walls), what a beautiful area!!!
FOOD: We ate in the dining room all but one night which we ate in our cabin and watched a presidential debate. Our wait staff was polite, efficient, and fun. Food was good to very good. Lido dining - we were not happy with the quality of the food. They no longer use trays in the Lido due to waste (people would fill their trays and then leave a great deal of food). The Lido is cut up and not efficient for the traffic. We ordered breakfast from room service (both the night before from the door hanger menu and calling room service in the mornings, both were equally efficient). We also ate continental breakfast a few times in the Neptune Lounge.
ENTERTAINMENT: There was plenty but we really aren't people that want/need to be entertained but instead enjoy time on our verandah listening to music, reading, watching the sea.
FELLOW CRUISERS: We have found that cruises over 7 nights in length tend to attract a much older well healed crowd, this was no exception. I would venture to say the ages were mostly from 55-90. Approximately 40% were Europeans. This was the demographics we were prepared for and enjoyed. We made many new friends from around the globe.
We put down a future cruise credit and now need to find where our next great adventure will be. This was a nice cruise on a nice ship.