I am 35 and took this cruise with some family members (12 of us in all). We live in LA and drove to San Diego the night before the cruise and stayed at the US Grant - lovely hotel!
We arrived for embarkation at around 12:30. The staff at check in were incredibly rude and abrupt and acted like they were being tortured by working there. Between the 12 of us we checked in with 4 separate people and we all had the same experience - not a very good welcome to your cruise! It was about 1:15 by the time we were on board and we were completely aggravated and frustrated by the way we were treated.
The ship is nice but nothing special - I am used to Princess and the atrium, etc. When we walked on board it was anti-climactic. The 3-story atrium is ho-hum and small with low ceilings. I felt that the ship is very chopped up - lots of small spaces everywhere - it didn't seem open and free-flowing.
We had an inside cabin which was by far the most spacious of any inside cabin I've ever seen - and lots of room for 3 people to unpack and put away all out stuff.
The highlights of the cruise were:
1. The cabin size and layout
2. The food - the food in the Lido was the best buffet food I've ever had on a cruise ship (although 4 out of 7 mornings I could not find a table and had to take my food back to my room). Dining room food was excellent as well.
3. The staff in the dining room. We had fixed late seating and Ario, our server, and RJ, our wine steward made every dinner special. They had all 12 of our names memorized by night #2. Incredible service!
4. Joel Mason, the Elton John impersonator - great entertainer and very funny!
5. Thermal Suite. If it wasn't for my buying this package I would have lost my mind due to boredom on the ship (all 3 sea days were cold). I highly recommend purchasing this package - it was AMAZING and so nice to be able to go there twice or more each day and chill.
Other than that we were less than impressed. For us the biggest problem was lack of activities. HAL schedules their shows to be seen before dinner instead of after. I have never experienced this before on a ship. I choose late seating because I don't want to have to get cleaned up and ready to go by 7 PM - its too early for me.
Every night we would finish dinner at around 9:30 and we would go from bar to bar, show room to show room, looking for something to do. There was rarely anything going on. 2 nights they did have karaoke which was fun. Other than that you had to hang out and occupy yourself until 11 PM when the Northern Lights Dance club opens. By then you'd be out of the party mood. And the times we did finally make it to Northern Lights we were the only ones in there dancing (other than the second to last night, when it was busy). Several nights I was in bed, lights out before 11 PM because there was nothing to do (a first for me on a cruise!)
Overall service on board was so-so other than our dining room staff.
I had an 80 minute massage that was good but not great. However, the staff in the Spa was very friendly and warm every single day.
PORTS: This is my 4th time doing the Mexican Riviera so I went for the ship, not the ports so much. In Cabo we took a water taxi to Medano Beach - very relaxing and easy!! In Mazatlan we went into town and shopped and hung out at the beach in front of the hotel Flora. Mazatlan is just so-so and every time I go I wonder why I got off the ship. In Puerto Vallarta we went to Las Caletas for the 3rd time and it never disappoints - one of my favorite places on earth! I HIGHLY recommend this excursion!
In my opinion if you're under 55 and you like to have any kind of fun after dinner, HAL is not for you. If you're looking to vegetate and hang out in a nice stateroom and eat great food then HAL is for you.
One last comment - they allow smoking in many of their bars, and a couple of their main bars are right off the casino and smoke is wafting in rather strongly. NOT GOOD. I had asthma problems more than once. Smoking should not be allowed anywhere other than the casino.