Travel: I live near Savannah, GA; and my DF near Tampa, so we met at DeLand Fl, and left my car with some friends; whose house we stayed at before getting an 8AM start heading to Ft. Lauderdale. I used AAA to pre-reserve parking at the Park N' Fly, arriving there just before noon. We dragged all our luggage out, and managed to get a shuttle bus to the cruise port.
Embarkation: As always in HAL, it was a breeze, we were on the ship in about 15 minutes. We checked on the Culinary Center menus as soon as we got on, and unfortunately, found that the actual "classes" were only on port days, and wouldn't work with our schedule. At that point, we went up to have lunch in the Lido, as rooms were not yet available. We managed to snag a 4 person table, and have our lunch while we waited on rooms to open up, as they did right around 1:30.
The Room: We were a VF Guarantee that got upgraded to VC 5047. We were just forward of the life boat dip in the sides of the ship; and had a great view, with no obstructions whatsoever. The room was of good size, had a very large feeling Queen bed, plenty of storage (Although, I would prefer more shelving somehow), and a small couch. The balcony was of a decent size, but one of the chairs was really uncomfortable. We asked for another chair, and ended up with a chaise lounge. That made our balcony comfortable, but a little crowded with 2 chairs, table, footrest, and the chaise.
My first complaint about the cruise is our Room Steward. I didn't see him at all before dinner; I didn't see him at all after dinner (nor had he been to our room yet, as the luggage mats were still out) until I went to go look for him. This is the first time I have ever done this on a cruise. He introduced himself, we made 2 small requests (New chair, Empty the fridge); he told me to go ahead and do the 2nd one myself and that he would get me my chair later. We went ahead, and went to go look around the ship so that he could get the room ready for us for the evening. We didn't see him for another 4 days after that. Many times we would go to breakfast and dinner, and not see notice of a steward for the first few days (Bed not made when we would be gone out of the room 2-3 hours, or not gotten ready for the evening while we were at dinner); it did get better as we got closer to the end of the cruise; but I was highly disappointed there. We got our chaise on the 3rd day (Grand Turk) after leaving a note for him on the bed.
Food: We had fixed Early Seating dinner. I chose this as I wanted my DF to have a traditional style cruise to relate with, in case she decided for the freestyle/as you wish type in the future. We ended up at a 10-seater with a good selection of different styles of people. We got along well with most of them, especially a couple from upstate NY.
The food scaled the range from excellent to horrible. My DF got a mild case of food poisoning after eating Linguine Frutti De Mare on the 2nd night; but she perked up the next afternoon. We also had the absolutely worst Pasta Fagioli and Lasagna on the 5th night. I'm not even sure how to describe the Lasagna; it was not layered at all. It came in a bowl with some spinach pasta at the bottom, topped with a horrible meat filling and cheese topping, with the tomato sauce somehow on the side. I think I ate better Lasagna when I was in high school; it was just that bad.
On the good side, Steaks were excellent, however, they tended to be a little on the rare side, so you may want to order your steaks a little more cooked. I had some excellent seafood as well. The final formal night was Surf & Turf night. DF and I both ordered double meals. The lobsters were of a surprisingly good size, I was very impressed. Our final dinner was at the Pinnacle, which was not very full at all. We both had bone-out ribeyes that were absolutely wonderful. I wanted a small side of Lobster Mac n' Cheese to try, but the chef would not make it for me; my only complaint about the Pinnacle was that you didn't have that same multiple dish freedom like the main dining room has.
For other meals, every breakfast we had on the Lido. The Oatmeal and omelets were great as always, good selection of different things. They had a whole station for eggs benedict, but I didn't try it as i'm not big on poached eggs. The waffles were good, but the pancakes tended to be only okay. The bacon was WAY too thin. Lunch tended to be either in port, or at the hamburger/hot dog place by the Lido Pool. Those were very good, but I had a tough time getting 2 hamburgers (or 1 hamburger/1 hot dog) without ended up with tons of fries. Nothing too horrible I guess.
The Lido DID NOT have trays. This I found to be a major Pain, as you could never get drinks with your food, and always ran the risk of losing your food to cleanup if you went to get something instead of waiting for someone to check on you. It also made it difficult to carry anything to your room to eat it there. I never tried to request one, but I really missed them.
Shows: They were okay, I've come not to think too much of them, normally they are just an enjoyable way to spend some time. We went to both of the ones on the formal nights. I really enjoyed the first one, the 2nd one was just really okay. They weren't anything special. I skipped all the other performances.
Activities: I found I really did NOT like the daily planners. I don't know when they changed them to what they are now, but I found them very confusing, and just not well lade-out. The planner was set into departments, each with its own times and such. Things like trivia would show up under the SPA, since the spa was for "Mind and Body"... Because of this, it made it very difficult to glance at the schedule and see what was going on at any time easily. We missed a couple of things this way, because we didn't notice it around the time it was happening.
I liked the Activities staff, I'm horrible with names, but the DJ was a lot of fun during the Bingo (esp with this one bewildered lady during the "Deal or No Deal" Bingo on the 100,000 Snowball bingo the final sea day). The Cruise Director was also very good. We didn't use the pools or anything like that during the cruise; so I have no report to give there.
Disembarkation: We were 9:30-9:45 disembarkers. DF wanted to be able to take her time getting off the ship, so we did. We left our room around 9:35, and had our bags picked up by 9:50. We were cleared of customs (check my San Juan notice about this) by 10:15, and in the car by 10:30 and on the road home.
We did the "Snorkel & Stingray Adventure" excursion, and had a lot of fun with both sections. They were actually at different beaches. I would definitely have to say you have got to go to Gibbs Cay to see the Stingrays, and interact with them near the beach.
Our final port was Half Moon Cay. I have been here and Coco Cay, and Half Moon is my favorite by far. DF and I rented a Private Cabana, and with some winnings from Gambling, I upgraded us to a Butler package on the ship. The water was cold, but crystal clear. We had massages in the cabana. One of the most restful and relaxing days I've had in a very long time.
I would definitely get a Cabana again if I had 4 people, for 2, it's a little pricey; but it was my DF's first cruise, and I wanted to make it special. It would actually handle up to 6 comfortably, as there are 2 chaise lounges as well as a table with 4 chairs in the main part of the room. (It's basically a deck, with a little 3 wall room on the end). There is both AC and a Fan in the room, as well as a fridge. There's also a fan near the chaise lounges that can be used as a misting fan if it was really hot.
The butler package gave us a good meal from the Pinnacle Grill, 5oz Fillet & 5 Shrimp Skewers (we got 2 of each), however, they were a little on the cold side by the time we got them. We also had Brut Champagne, which since neither of us like it, we gave to some friends to share with our table mates as we were eating at the Pinnacle that night. I would not have normally paid for the butler package, but I really liked the idea of spoiling my DF that day, and as I had won a nice chunk in the casino (almost $500), I paid for it with the money from that, so I figured I was still ahead, and it was "free".
We were joined by 2 of our table mates towards the end of lunch. We got our butler to get some drinks for them and we spent the last few hours sharing our humble abode.