I traveled solo on this cruise, which I have never done before. I have usually cruised with family or friends. Solo travel, though, was relaxing and secure. I have decided I will do so again when my goal is to relax and make port plans at my leisure.
I arrived in Ft Lauderdale, FL the evening of the Dec 24 and stayed at the Cypress Creek Sheraton for 2 nights (situated about 10 miles from Port Everglades). The hotel was a mild disappointment. Though the suite was certainly large, it was situated at the corner of busy streets. The single pane windows didn't reduce the road noise from outside. As a result, my sleep was interrupted. The carpet was clean but ragged. The bathroom clean but older in style. This moderately priced hotel was okay, but if you book a room, make sure to ask for a room facing the business park or back lot. Otherwise, the interior courtyard was charming, having a large waterfall and restaurant. The employees were helpful and friendly even though they had to work Christmas Day. I would stay at this hotel again, but only if my room didn't face the freeway.
I arrived at Park N Fly (prepaid online included a one day discount through HAL website) at 10:45 AM and was at the HAL terminal in Port Everglades by 11:10 AM. I dropped off my luggage with a HAL stevedore and was on board Eurodam by 11:30 AM. The entire process was well planned and highly efficient. I think I waited upstairs in the terminal less than 10 minutes before boarding. HAL offered complimentary coffee and canapes in the upper terminal while waiting. I have never taken a cruise where boarding went so smoothly. Kudos to HAL!
After boarding, I was told my stateroom would be available at 1:30 PM. In the meantime I was directed to the Lido buffet or main dining room for a leisurely lunch. My recommendation: If traveling single or as a couple, go to the Main Dining room. The lunch was four course and very relaxing after struggling with the stress of travel to the port. If you have kids, the Lido is relaxing...and less formal. Note: there are no trays in the Lido. Stake out a table and then pick up your food. The lido staff often helped families carry food back to their table (fyi).
My stateroom was ready at 1:35. After dropping off my carry on, I went up to the adult only pool, Aft Lido, and met our cruise critic roll call group. At 4:30, I attended the life boat drill, (which surprised me, HAL did not require life vests). Nevertheless, the drill was informative and conducted efficiently.
IMPORTANT: Don't miss the sail away. HAL had a nice party on the Lido and Observation Decks. It was a wonderful way to begin your week away from real life! You can unpack your bags later...
Only 2 negatives noted on this cruise: (These are 2 areas that HAL management can streamline fairly easily, so I hope they take note).
1) Since it was Christmas several of my family and friends ordered gifts online (through HAL website) to be delivered to me. a) Suite amenities package (included wine package, daily tea or canapes, and a robe). b) All access pass to the Thermal Suites in the Spa.
I did not receive all the gifts until I asked the purser to research the gifts. This indicated a communication problem between the website/ call center and ship's purser/ management. If I hadn't already known my family ordered gifts for me, I wouldn't have asked the purser to research them. and hence, I may never have received them. I think, with some minor changes in communication, HAL can streamline this. (I run a service business. Communication is always key.)
So... if you order gifts for delivery on HAL, make sure you tell your gift-ee to expect them.
2) The Greenhouse Spa was woefully unorganized. They would shuffle through cabin cards, exchange them for lockers, and half the time didn't monitor who had cards or passes for the day. They may have been overwhelmed, but that is still no excuse for the confusion. Often had to stand in line for long periods.
a) when I ordered a service they did not tell me they had a cancellation policy (24 hour notice to cancel and a %50 penalty). This cancellation fee was even applied to a "free" or "complimentary" consultations. I had to cancel an appointment (I called the spa 9 hours before the appointment). At that time they told me about their cancellation policy, not when I made the original appointment. This is a pet peeve for me. Cancellation policy should be upfront, explained clearly when setting an appointment.
b) On 2 occasions I witnessed the front desk of Green House Spa being rude to other travelers. I never experienced this personally, but this is still not acceptable behavior for a service oriented business.
Now for the positives:
Entertainment: 1) Les at the Piano bar. He puts on a good show and has incredible range. Amazing. I hope HAL can keep him on board. He's a very good entertainer.
2) The comedian was terrific! Clean, positive, family oriented fun. Very tasteful and funny! He reminded me of Bill Cosby's style. Personal stories told in a truly funny way. I also sat at his table at New Years Eve and enjoyed talking with him and his wife.
3) TJ was a great cruise director. Kudos on arranging entertainment for 360 kids! This was unusual for HAL, likely due to the Holiday season. Cruise Trivia galore!
4) My cabin stewards were terrific. They cleaned my room twice daily, making every effort to check in with my needs.
5) Food was very good. Probably the best meals were at the Pinnacle Grill (ate there twice) and Tamarind. The Main Dining Room was very good too. I had HAL Anytime seating, and never made a reservation. I never had to wait to be seated. One of the pluses as a solo traveler is the interesting people you meet when dining.
6) HAL's Private Island (Half Moon Cay)
This is one of the most lovely Islands in the Bahamas. (I've stayed many places around the Caribbean) It drizzled a little on Sunday morning, but the sand and water was lovely. The Island barbecue was more than plentiful. I wish I could have spent more time there.