This was our third cruise. Previously we had cruised with another couple. This was our first time going it alone. All of our cruise experiences have been on HAL. (Our first cruise was to the Caribbean on the old Westerdam in an oceanview. The second was also to the Caribbean on the Volendam in an oceanview.)
This cruise was to the Mexican Riviera out of San Diego. We weren't looking specifically for this destination, but the rate was too good to pass up. It was SO much less expensive than comparable length Caribbean cruises at the same time. This seems to be one of HAL's best value cruises since it is still substantially cheaper than other HAL offerings a year later.
ABOUT THE EMBARKATION PORT. San Diego was a pleasure compared to Fort Lauderdale (where we sailed from on our previous cruises). You could even walk from the airport to the cruise terminal if you didn't have to deal with luggage! (It's about 2 miles.) We flew in a couple days before and stayed in one of the several hotels that is within a few blocks of the terminal. We stayed at the Hampton Inn which was a two block walk to the ship. We walked pulling our wheelies behind. There is a high-rise Holiday Inn immediately across the street from the terminal - after checking out from your hotel, all you need to do is negotiate a crosswalk to check in for the ship. The whole experience of airport-to-hotel-to-ship transfers were absolutely painless. The proximity of the airport made catching your flight home much less stressful, too.
ABOUT THE CABIN. We booked an SY cabin (Superior Veranda Suite) for about $800. Some time before saildate (maybe 6-8 weeks) we got a call from HAL asking if we wanted to upgrade to SA (Delux Veranda Suite) for $295pp. We jumped at it. The total for the cruise was just a little over $1300pp for the second largest stateroom on the ship.
Was it worth it? Oh yes! It definitely was. The stateroom was more than 500sf with a very large and comfortable sitting area and a huge bathroom with two sinks, a jacuzzi tub and separate shower. There was a large, well-lighted dressing area with lots of closet space. The veranda was large enough for two lounges and a table & chair set. Waiting for us in the room was a bottle of wine (or was it champagne?). The stateroom was nicer than many hotel rooms I've stayed in. To give you a sense of how large it was: without moving furniture around, there was enough open floor space for the two of us to stretch out on the floor and do yoga!
Another benefit about having a suite is you get priority boarding and departure. We didn't know this when we checked in, but as soon as we cleared check in, we were told to go right on board. A nice unexpected perk.
NAVIGATOR LOUNGE. For passengers booked into Deluxe Veranda Suites and Penthouse Suites, there is a Navigator Lounge. It is a large, comfortable room in the center of the ship (no windows). There is constantly food and drink (coffee, tea, juice) available for self-service. (The staff will also offer to have you sit and they will get what you want.) We got our breakfast from this Lounge every morning and walked down the corridor to our room to enjoy our breakfast on the veranda. There is a nice breakfast selection, an excellent variety for a light lunch, hors d'ouvers in late afternoon, pastries and sweets all along the way. We would also go to the lounge to have tea and play cards mid-afternoon. It is a very quiet, comfortable, welcoming place.
SPA & HYDRO-THERAPY SUITE. We splurged ($250/cpl) for the week and used the hydro-therapy suite. The eucalyptus steam rooms, heated ceramic lounges, and luxurious, quiet and large therapy pool were totally worth it. I lost many hours that week in utter relaxation!
THE SHIP. I was a bit concerned about the size of the Vista Class ship. Our two previous cruises were on significantly smaller ships. One of the things I liked about those experiences was the lack of crowds. I was pleasantly surprised. The only time I felt at all crowded was our first night going into the dining room. There was a long line with people waiting to be shown to their tables. That didn't happen subsequent nights because people knew where their tables were.
The ship felt exactly like the other HAL ships I was on. I liked the familiarity and definitely liked how the 1800+ passengers seemed to disappear nicely! It was never even a problem finding a deck chair at the pool or on the Promenade.
THE FOOD. I have read mixed reviews about the food on HAL. Personally, I have yet to be disappointed. We're both "foodies" and appreciate fine dining. The meals in the main dining room consistently surprised me. I always marvel at how they serve so many people such high quality food.
The Pinnacle Grill is very much worth the small surcharge. The meat that I've had there surpasses what I've had at most dining establishments on land.
SERVICE. We had a table mix up our first night. Since this cruise was a celebration for our 20th anniversary, we really wanted to have a table for two. We were seated at a table for six (or was it even larger?). This was a big disappointment (and the only one on the cruise). We chose not to dine there that night after discussing the mix up with the dining room manager. The next day we got a call in our stateroom from the manager - he would have us seated at a table for two for the rest of the cruise.
One night we off-handedly mentioned to our waiter that it was our anniversary. The next night he surprised us with a "Happy Anniversary" cake. This was particularly nice because, as a gay couple, we really appreciated the being treated as a couple. The dining room manager even wished us a happy anniversary when he next saw us. These little personal touches are the types of things that have happened on each of our HAL cruises - and it's one reason why we're brand-loyal.
NOTABLE POINTS ABOUT THIS CRUISE. I particularly liked that 3 of the 7 days were at sea. I really enjoy at sea days. I wish HAL had more cruises to nowhere. When I'm looking for a cruise I look for one with a high ratio of at sea days.
We had lots of whale and seal sightings on this cruise.
We enjoy jazz and classical music. Each night in the Explorer Lounge after diner there was a string quartet that was truly excellent. It was a lovely way to close the evening.