Embarkation: We arrived at the pier by hotel shuttle. The porters quickly took our luggage and we were off to get in line for check-in. There was a little line and we were checked in an on the ship within 15 minutes. As we were returning guests, we were able to enjoy lunch in the Main Dining Room instead of fighting the crowds in the Lido. As usual, the cabins were ready around 1:30.
Stateroom: We were in stateroom SY5096, a Superior Suite, midship. This was our first experience in a suite with HAL, and we really enjoyed it. This cabin is just over the lifeboats, so there was some obstruction when looking directly down. The balcony was a good size, with 2 chairs, 2 ottomans, and a round dining table. Although the Veranda staterooms are a nice size, the extra room in the Superior Suite made a huge difference, especially in the bathroom. The dual sinks were great and the Jacuzzi tub and extra shower were nice. The entrance area is wider than in a Verandah, and there is more room around the bed overall. There was a vanity as well as a desk area. I found that the area around the table and sofa were a bit cramped with the chairs, so I moved them. No problem. Dining: We had As You Wish Dining. We never had difficulty getting seated right away as we were agreeable to dining with other guests and we enjoyed good conversation most nights. We found the food generally to be quite good and beautifully presented. We made a few choices that we could have lived without, and the desserts seemed to be lacking, so I had the fruit plate most nights. Although AYWD is convenient, we missed the personalized service that comes with set dining times. We may return to set dining in the future. There was no Master Chef's Dinner on this trip, which was a plus for us. We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner in Tamarind and a cocktail in the beautiful Silk Den. We did not dine at Pinnacle Grill this time, nor were we able to get reservations at Canaletto when we thought about it several days into the cruise. The food in the Lido and Terrace Grill was good for lunch. We did not eat in the Lido for breakfast, as we had room service daily. The room service arrived at the time that was indicated on the door card; however, the order was incorrect EVERY SINGLE DAY. As usual, the pizza was lousy, but a quick bite late in the evening. I can say that the man working at Slice always appeared unhappy and I had the feeling that I was inconveniencing him. We nicknamed him "Angry Pizza Guy."
Other Guests: There was a wide variety of ages on this cruise, including multi-generational groups. People seemed to be very well travelled as well, which made for good conversation.
Daytime Activities: We didn't participate in the scheduled activities. We were not fans of the new daily program. It is set up by overall type of activity, rather than chronologically. Also, there was no more perforated portion to put in your pocket. Who wants to carry around some big ol' daily program? Not us. We would have liked to have attended the demonstrations in the Culinary Arts Center, but we weren't able to for some reason. We attempted to go to the movie theatre one afternoon, but found it completely full. We enjoyed the Crow's Nest, Explorations Cafe and library. We spent time at the aft pool, as this was away from the little ones playing in the Lido pool. On sea days, the aft pool was the place to be. That being said, things got pretty intense between passengers for lounge chair space. There were the Lido Cabanas; however, they were located at the Lido pool, and did not seem relaxing/appealing to me, as they were near all of the kiddos playing and they were inside, so no breeze. Also, they took up a good amount of space on the deck, which made it a bit challenging to walk around when it was crowded. There were cabanas on deck 11 as well, which may have been more relaxing as they were away from the buzy-ness of the Lido. We didn't play Bingo. Service: As we have come to expect from HAL, the service was really good overall. The crew were smiling, friendly and helpful, with a few exceptions. The service in the dining room was efficient, but we found that the service staff did not take time at the table to talk with the guests. Perhaps this was because we had AYWD. One thing that really bothered me was trying to get into Tamarind for lunch one afternoon. We didn't have reservations, so we knew it would be a craps shoot to get in. We waited for about 20 minutes to see if any reservation was cancelled or if there was a no-show for a reservation. We bumped into a couple we had been talking with regularly who had a reservation. Later in the day, they told us that they were seated at a table for 4 and indicated to the Maitre-D that my husband and I could join them. They were told that it was not possible. I had a photographer make a very rude comment to me and then offered to take my picture! The other thing that bothered me was attempting to take advantage of the in-port spa specials. We were told that the spa was "pretty much booked." I never knew exactly what that meant. Did that mean fully booked or mostly booked? The staff member did not even attempt to offer any alternative appointment dates or times. Too bad. I would have enjoyed some spa treatments. It seemed that if you did not have all of your reservations/appointments scheduled on embarkation day, then you might be out of luck. Evening Entertainment: We absolutely enjoyed the jazz trio in the Ocean Bar and listened to them nightly. If you enjoy jazz standards and dancing, then this is the place to be. There was a string quartet in the Explorer's Lounge and although we did not sit down and listen to the music, we did enjoy it when we walked by the lounge. The entertainment is the show lounge was so-so. I didn't find the comedian particularly funny, but other passengers did. I enjoyed the magician even though I had seen him previously on another cruise. We did not attend any of the HAL production shows because we haven't had great luck with them in the past. This is not an issue for neither my husband nor I. The casino was hopping at night! But, if you are sensitive to cigarette smoke...Beware. The piano bar was always full and passengers really enjoyed the pianist/singer, Les. We did not go to the Northern Lights disco.
Special Events: We attended the Captain's cocktail party in the Crow's Nest, which was lovely. I enjoyed meeting Captain Mercer, and I must say, his hands were really soft! The Eurodam staff did an excellent job with New Year's Eve. The dining room was festively decorated, there were hats and tiaras to wear all night, and the food was excellent. There was a big to-do in the Show Lounge to ring in the new year, but we opted to stay in the Ocean Bar with the jazz trio, where we rang in the new year with champagne and happiness! The atmosphere was so festive and joyful. There was a beautiful New Year's Day brunch in the dining room.
Ports: The ports for this cruise were Half Moon Cay, Aruba, and Curacao. The only tender port was Half Moon Cay. The Noordam was also anchored in Half Moon Cay. We had the large tender boats, but it still seemed chaotic getting off the ship. It was a free-for-all. At one point, there was an announcement that there was no line for the tender. We immediately went down and found a gigantic line without any type of order and it took almost 30 minutes to get off the ship. So much for no line! The island was beautiful and the beach was incredible, with powder soft white sand. It was misty most of the day, but that was o.k. with us. We did the Stingray Swim and rented a clamshell for the day. We booked a catamaran/snorkel trip in Aruba which we really enjoyed and we booked a private tour in Curacao, which was also quite nice.
Disembarkation: We were in the Expedited disembarkation group, as we could carry off our luggage and had a relatively early flight. We were off the ship by 8:00 a.m. and passed through customs without a hitch. This was, by far, the easiest disembarkation process I have experienced.