We never booked the cruise with the intention of having a ship full of children's activities. In fact we didn't use the HAL Club Program at all. We are typically a busy family and booked this boat (as opposed to RCL as an example) to have some quality family time together, 'down' time, have fun at the pools and enjoy the port stops and exploring.
I'll start with the 'likes'.... The kids loved to explore the ship and some of the areas were beautifully decorated. We particularly liked the Crow's Nest and the midship Lido pool area (with the retractable roof, comfy chairs and cabanas). It was a treat to use the pools on this ship because you were not packed in like sardines (as you can imagine on the Disney ship!). With the exception of a few adults who would dip in the pools from time to time, only the children (67 total on board) tended to use them, so it was a tremendous bonus for the kids. The rooms were also very nice although smaller than Disney. I actually thought there was too much space on the balcony and they probably could have made the rooms a little bigger if they had skimped a bit on the balcony. Storage space, as others have commented, was great. Unfortunately, we had a terrible sewage smell from our toilet at the beginning of the cruise. Our cabin steward acted immediately to rectify the situation but there was always a 'trace' of it throughout the rest of the voyage. We thoroughly enjoyed the food (dining room, lido buffet and the Tamarind). We never got a chance to try the Pinnacle Grill or Canelleto. We enjoyed all of the port stops with the exception of Grand Turk (personally I think HAL should remove this from the itinerary and choose a different place). The place is under construction/development and aside from the pool, small beach and the few shops - there is nothing to it.
Shows, spa, shopping on the boat and the photographers - no complaints. The bars and lounges looked very nice and cozy. We walked throughout them frequently but never actually spent time in them.
Dislikes...... Service requires a major overhaul on this boat. The staff consistently looked miserable and 'forced' smiles were clearly evident. On 2 separate occasions - we had requested the possibility of having a 'window' seat in the dining room and both times our request was not made. They often tried to seat us in some closed off quarter where they stacked dirty dishes. Now I can understand this if we had 2 crazed children or young babies who were apt to cry but our children were always fully behaved and quiet. It almost seemed that the 'older' guests on this boat came first. Perhaps, this may be the case given that they do constitute the majority (in numbers), however, all guests should be treated equally in my opinion. Never once (throughout the entire trip) did I have poolside service offered (re: the option of ordering a glass of wine or a soda). Although these workers were in abundance (strolling around aimlessly holding their trays) - I always had to go to the bar and retrieve everything myself. A few times my husband observed crew members yelling at other crew members - not very professional. On the last day of the cruise, the service suddenly seemed to improve but then the staff were continually making comments to us about ensuring that we rate them 'high' on the survey so they could win or receive some type of reward. Overall - service was very poor and not authentic. So different from Disney where this was top-notch.
Another interesting observation...we were told on day 1 that all of the cabanas were booked. I don't doubt that but it is frustrating to watch how more than 50% stayed empty throughout the duration of the trip and could not be used. What a waste. On another occasion, we happened to stroll by the Pinnacle Grill at dinner time. The entire restaurant was 75% empty. When we inquired as to possibly having dinner there (despite not having reservations), we were told "NO" as it was fully booked. Perhaps, HAL needs to revisit some of their policies and procedures around these 'reservations' and bookings.
Probably the most disliked part of this trip was the constant 'rolling' of the ship. No one in our party gets (or got) seasick and I can't tell you how many times I have gone on the 'swings' at various amusement parks with my kids but the rolling on this ship was incredible!! They even had to put out motion sickness bags by the elevators. Maybe there were high winds but honestly, this ship could make you seasick even if you are not necessarily prone to motion sickness. We also overheard someone commenting on a poor woman who apparently fell down the stairs and bruised half her face. I could not sleep at night (all week) because of this terrible 'creaking and screeching noise' in our cabin secondary to the rolling. This was in a deluxe verandah balcony stateroom. I kept wondering if the boat was going to fall apart ;)
If you are expecting any exciting bon voyage/send offs to mark the start of your vacation - it will not occur on this boat. They also had a midweek Lido pool party - I have to say it was disappointing (both food and entertaining wise). The daily newsletters clearly outlined activities throughout the day but essentially they were the same every day and variety was clearly lacking.
My HAL experience was not great (despite multiple recommendations from friends and relatives) and I would really have to think twice before I choose HAL again. We paid a little more for our Disney cruise but the details to attention, service, boat design, staterooms, imagination and creativity made every cent worthwhile.