Overall the cruise was great and on my second day back I already miss that ship. This was my first cruise and I wasn't sure if I would like being stuck on the ship knowing only the family I was with and wondering if there would be anyone my age (37) on the cruise with us. It was no trouble at all meeting and talking with other friendly people. And getting away from the family was as simple as signing up for the spa pass (hiding in the sauna when needed).
That spa pass was a great idea. It was so nice to come in from the rain and cold and warm up in the sauna and heated lounge chairs. The music in the room was relaxing and the view out the window was great. I wish there were a few more services and ammenities included though. You could barely get soap out of the dispensers in the changing room shower and no moisturizer for spa guests. That seemed remiss on HAL's part.
Dining onboard was fine. Pinacle grill was nearly empty every night except the one night we tried to go, so we never dined there. We ate nearly every dinner in the Vista dining room. Portions were perfectly sized for the four course meals they served. It was nice to know that the steak and salmon dishes were available every night. However, there were so many new options every night that it was a tough decision most of the time. None of us cared for the lunch at the vista though. If we all didn't like ruben sandwiches, we would have left that seating and found something at lido. After getting the sandwich, we wished we had gone to lido.
Lido was a disapointment overall, but there were some good things about it. They did have a lot of options to choose from, but if you are a foodie, you won't like most of them. The sandwiches are paper thin with one slice of meat per person--not my idea of luxury. The burgers were good and the taco bar had tasty chicken and lots of good fixins, so I used that as a standby. They did make eggwhite omletts, which I was happy to find. Had that most mornings. It's hard to carry hot coffee without a tray though. The coffee on lido is not worth the burns from carrying it. Most days I ended up paying for coffee in the Explorations Cafe.
Explorations, Crows Nest, Ocean Bar -- are all fun places to hang out. The views at Explorations/Crows nest are amazing and the seating is very comfortable. Two-for-one drink specials during happy hour were great and Matt the guitar player was very talented and the HAL Cats were a lot of fun too.
I went to a lot of shows onboard. The cast is very energetic and the shows were all really cute. They even performed on one of the roughest nights at sea--with the ship rolling about and scenery parts sliding around slightly. I was amazed they all remained on their feet. I appreciated that because I was sick in bed all day and was ready for some entertainment that night. We also saw Joel Mason's Elton John show and his Eagles tribute, and saw Julie Barr twice. They were both really hysterical and fun experiences. I do have to add though, that as a gay man, the cruise director's warm-ups for these shows made me feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. Every night he would come out and tell all us guys to give the woman we were with a kiss or applaud for the woman we were with. He made it seem like it was a cruise for married people only. In my opinion that is not inclusive of everyone at the show--gay, single, whatever.
All my port reviews below will be very positive, but I am going to end this overview with one negative remark: The excursions crew onboard the ship were no help at all. They might as well not even come along. We got much better service and information from the call center before we boarded. Those people at the call center do take the trips and can answer questions. Onboard we had several poor experiences with the excursions crew. First we showed up at the desk to book an excursion for sitka, since we didn't have one planned. Even though there was only one person behind us, we were told that if we didn't know what we wanted to do, to please step aside. Well we were there to get a recommendation, not just to purchase tickets. But that was just an annoyance that we quickly resolved. The real problem was their performance at the ports--where you are likely to need them most. Alaska is a rainy place (300 days per year) and excursions get cancelled due to weather. In Juneau our 10am glacier trek was canceled and the tour company told us to try back for the 1pm excursion. We wanted to ensure our spot on that, but had a hard time finding the excursions crew. The desk is closed at every port. They don't explain why. Another tour operator told us to wait with him and he would point out the manager that was accompanying him on an excursion, and when that manager came out, she tersly told us that she had no way to help us and turned away. That experience made me aggrevated and anxious the whole day--not knowing what I could do in Juneau other than jewelry shopping (not exciting for me).