My wife and I are in our early 30s and needed a relaxing cruise to get away from our busy careers in the financial industry. We usually travel 2-3 times per year. We have been on a fair number of cruises (Norwegian 2x, Carnival 2x, & Royal Caribbean 2x) and thought we would give HAL a try. For this cruise, we were looking for relaxation and to again explore the Mexican Riviera on port days. We sailed the Mexican Riviera in 2005 via the Norwegian Star (The Star actually ported with the Veendam at a couple ports) and have been to numerous destinations in Mexico with all-inclusive packages to various resort cities (Acapulco, Ixtapa, Manzanillo, Cancun, Cozumel, etc...) The Veendam stopped at Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas during our 7-day cruise from 10/10 - 10/17 that sailed from San Diego. The weather was great, sunny everyday with exception to some rain one night due to a nearby tropical storm we avoided. Embarkation was a breeze as was Debarkation.
We had a great time on this cruise and certainly achieved our goal of relaxation. We were extremely pleased when we were upgraded from an interior room to a Lanai Stateroom without even asking. The room was of adequate size and had all the essential ammenities you would expect. A Lanai Stateroom is essentially a shared balcony of which the sliding glass door opens to a public walkway. During the day, other cruisers cannot see in your room as the outside of the slider door has a mirror, but during the night if you had the lights on, guests could see inside your room. The Lanai Stateroom was certainly unique compared to other ships we have been on and worked well for us. It was convenient just to step outside our room to take pictures and videos of the numerous dolphins and wales spotted in the ocean. The captain was excellent in making announcements whenever we would come close to dolphins or whales.
We were extremely pleased with the food on the ship, which was just as good as our NCL & RCCL cruises, but much better than CCL. The Veendam food venue consists of the Rotterdam Main Dining Room (with open or assigned seating), Canaletto Restaurant offering Italian cuisine, and Pinnacle Grill (surcharge restaurant). We did not try the Pinnacle Grill, but really thought the food was excellent in both the Main Dining Room and Canaletto Restaurant. A majority of the cruisers we visited with also expressed a high opinion of the food. We overall cruisers giving stellar reviews of the Pinnacle Grill and thought is was well worth the upcharge.
Ports of call:
Mazatlan - We took a boat to Stone Island (40 pesos, or approx $4 for 2 people roundtrip) and relaxed at the beach with beers, margaritas, and chips & salsa - a very relaxing day. We were contemplating taking a boat from El Cid Resort to Deer Island like in 2005, but thought we would try something different at the last minute. Due to the tropical storm nearby, the waves were rough and we later found out no boats were going to Deer Island so we thankfully made a good choice unbenounced to us at the time.
Puerto Vallarta - We independently booked online the Riu Cuale Canopy tour. The cost of this tour was $64 each and was simply excellent. This was our first time ever ziplining. A bus picks you up at the company's location and takes you into the jungle in the Sierra Madre Mountains. The Riu Cuale Canopy tour features 13 ziplines (they have the longest & highest ziplines in all of Puerto Vallarta; Los Veranos Canopy has the fastest, Los Veranos is the zipline used through the cruiseline) and we had an incredible experience. Booking through the cruise ship would have cost almost double the price. As such, we NEVER book excursions through any cruise ship. The tour lasts 4 hours as you zipline through the Riu Cuale River and through the jungle. Incredible. A photographer accompanies you through the tour and you can purchase his CD of pics of you for approx. $60 (we talked him down to $45). We paid him cash, he provided a receipt with tracking invoice, and we should receive our CD of pics in the mail any day now. They say you shouldn't bring your own camera on the tour for obvious reasons, but after the tour was completed, we realized we probably could have gotten away with taking our own pics. Was there risk involved? Yes, but we would have been able to take our own pics and many of them. But if you dropped your camera once, down the mountain the camera goes. It's your call.
Cabo San Lucas - We took a boat to Lover's Beach/Divorce Beach and relaxed at the beach. We also wandered around the town, bought some tequilla, and had some drinks. Another relaxing day similar to 2005 except we skipped Cabo Wabo this time. We were thinking about trying Medano Beach for the first time, but rumors have it that a majority of the beach is not public (resort owned sections of beach) and you might be asked to leave. Besides, the boat ride to that beach is much longer and further than Lover's Beach. So it wasn't worth the risk to go all the way over to Medano Beach only to possibly be asked to leave and waste all that time during an already limited visit to Cabo (ship leaves by 3 p.m.).
Although we did have a relaxing time on the ship and the food was excellent, it should be noted that we were certainly the minority on the ship in terms of age. We knew going into the cruise that we would be one of the youngest couples on the ship which wasn't at all bad, but approximately 95% of cruisers were at least 60 years of age. Literally. Again, this wasn't all that bad b/c this helped with the relaxation factor compared to the undesirable number of kids running around the Carnival ships. But at the same time, it would have been nice to have a more diverse crowd in terms of age similar to RCCL and NCL. The negative to this was that EVERYTHING was catered to older guests. PERIOD. From the broadway shows (old Vegas shows, etc...) to the daily activities to the Crowe's Nest Club (primarily played 50s and 60s music), it was all catered to the majority clientele on the ship. It would have been nice to have something catered to the younger crowd. The cruise director, Eric (who is our age himself), when he wasn't flirting with one of the hot dancers on the ship in his spare time, even joked at one of the shows how nobody was ever at the Crowe's Nest. Well, when the only music being played at the Crowe's Nest is 50s and 60s music, well yeah, nobody is going to be at the Crowe's Nest. You know why? The guests that like this music are all sleeping!!!!!!! Cruise director, Eric, had the easiest job on the ship. He didn't have to do anything!!!! He actually teased all the older guests to help liven up the ship. Good luck Eric, everyone's sleeping by 9 p.m.
Although HAL has obviously had success marketing to the older cruiser, it couldn't hurt to try and diversify their client base and try to attract younger cruisers as well. It would have been nice to have AT LEAST ONE activity, one or show, or just one place on the ship that wasn't ALWAYS catering to older cruisers, most of which are in bed by 9 p.m. after the first show. JUST SOMETHING for us 20s, 30s, or 40 year olds to party and hang out in a scene without 1950s and 1960s music bee bopping in the background would have been nice. But then again, with the type of clientele on the ship, it was nice to not have to deal with kids running around the ship like Carnival. Also, the food was excellent b/c the cruisline demands higher quality food based on the higher demands from the clientele on the ship. As such, it's all relative; it just depends on what experience you're looking for on your trip.
As always, there are always PROS and CONS to any ship. No cruiseline is perfect. What did we learn about cruising on HAL? We learned that for a relaxing cruise with excellent food, HAL is the way to go. For a little more excitement with a more diverse group of cruisers and the same quality food, NCL may be the best option. For a fun and huge party scene, but with kids all over the place, CCL is your choice. To pay a bit more and have the best of all worlds, RCCL is the best option. It all depends on the type of cruise you're looking for.
But overall, we were very pleased with our experience on HAL and would consider cruising with them in the future if the price was right. But for the time being, we might be looking at NCL as the front-runner. The pricing points are similar, NCL has just as good food, they don't have kids running around all over the place, yet there is a younger crowd they cater to amongst a diverse group of cruisers. But HAL has the potential to market to the younger crowd if they so choose......, which I don't blame them if they don't b/c they have no trouble filling up their ships. But if that's the case, the cruise director shouldn't be making fun of the older cruisers on the ship for being boring. It is what it is and will never change if the ship's objectives don't change.
I would be happy to answer any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org