This was our second cruise. Our first cruise was with NCL's Pearl to Alaska so I will constantly be making comparisons.
There was a long line to check in at the SD Harbor as two ships were loading passengers. However, the line moved pretty quickly. We were quite unimpressed with the staff (not sure if they were cruise ship staff or port staff) because they directed us, with our luggage, to the wrong place at first but things got sorted out pretty soon and we were soon on our ship and being directed to have lunch at the Lido Buffet as our staterooms were not ready.
We were not very impressed with the buffet. My husband and I eat mostly vegetables, fruits and fish. I occasionally eat chicken or other meat so we found the Asian section pretty quickly and helped ourselves to sushi. There were about 8-10 types of fish and vegie sushi rolls. They were ok. Modest sizes, nothing to rave about. There were two meat dishes cooking in the skillet that we did not help ourselves to. I helped myself to some curried Asian noodles, which I liked very much. We would find out that the HAL NEVER changes the lunch menu at the Lido buffet so you see the same thing day in and day out. When we were on the NCL, we noticed that they changed the buffet menu every single day, which was nice. We got to try different dishes even though we have a limited diet and we never got tired of eating the same thing.
The wait staff at the Lido were Indonesian. Since I was born and raised in Malaysia, I very quickly struck up a conversation with them in broken Malay. I haven't spoken much Malay for the last 22 years that I've lived in the US and Canada so it was fun to practice Malay again and it was nice to be around a crew that came from a place close to my hometown.
The two waiters we got to know very well at the Lido Buffet were Dan and Bagous. They were very warm and friendly, very talkative and helpful. They were always working. They had to be working 16 or more hours a day and they work 7 days a week for an 11 month stretch. Both had left their families behind in order to support them and make a better life for them.
Our staterooms were ready pretty soon and we were surprised how absolutely large and spacious it was compared to the NCL. There was plenty of storage and the bathroom was gigantic with a full bath! The amenities were great: luxury Elemis soaps, bath gels, shampoo and conditioner, lotion, shower cap. Two luxurious robes. The NCL has tiny staterooms and tiny bathrooms and they did not provide as many amenities. Instead of soap, they had liquid soap and shampoo and no conditioner, no shower cap, no lotion, no robes. So we definitely liked this room far better than NCL.
Our stateroom stewards, Tommy and Soli, were excellent. They were extremely unobtrusive and said little but they always seemed to know when we were out and they cleaned our room very well. They never forgot a single thing! I wish I could pack them home with me for life!
There were two chairs, a large footrest and a small table on the balcony and it was a large, spacious balcony with walls on both sides for privacy.
The safety drill was a joke. Rather disorganized. None of the passengers had to wear the safety vest. The NCL ran the drill like the army!! They really took it seriously!
We soon found out that there aren't as many restaurants on this ship compared to the NCL. The Vista Dining Room is the main dining room and you can have all three meals here with waiters to serve you. Canaletto's Restaurant is an Italian restaurant beside the Lido. The Vista, Canaletto's and Lido are included in the cruise. So is the Terrace Grill and Ice Cream Bar in the Lido. Room service is complementary (no surcharge) and that's a wonderful thing. NCL charges for room service. The Pinnacle Grill is the most elegant restaurant and you have to pay a surcharge to dine there. Since we usually don't eat meat, we did not go there.
The menu in the Vista DR changes daily for lunch and dinner, which is nice. The Lido has the same menu as the Vista for dinner, which isn't great as there were nights I would have preferred to eat something else other than what was on the menu of the Vista. I quickly got very tired of eating fish fillets American style. I would have had chicken but they only offered white meat and I don't like white meat.
The dining staff at the Vista were extraordinary! They were the best wait staff we've ever, ever had, anywhere! The first night, Tengku (Mr. T) and Lukman were our servers. They would be our servers most of the time throughout the cruise (even for breakfasts and lunches) because we asked specifically to be put at their tables. They were extremely attentive to every detail and very funny. They were always busy but they always took time to spend time with us and made sure that our needs were taken care of. As soon as Lukman found out that Earl had a nut allergy, he informed the kitchen. When they learned I was from Malaysia, they presented us, one night, with an Indonesian meal, which is very much like Malaysian food. I was delighted and it was the best cruise meal I've ever had. It's also been 5-6 years since I've had Malaysian food.
What we didn't like about dining at the Vista was the lack of tables for two. My husband and I do not enjoy socializing with others. One night, when we requested a table for 2, we were seated at a table for 2 BUT with a table for 4 stuck right beside it so it basically became a table for 6! Another night, we had to wait 30 mins for a table for 2 even though we had reservations.
Canaletto's Restaurant is excellent with great food and staff.
We ordered room service once for breakfast and once for dinner. Service was on time and excellent. We actually liked the dinner room service menu very much. The Thai vegetarian wraps were delicious!
We were not very impressed with the entertainment. The dancing and singing troupe were not very entertaining. We went to two shows and skipped the third, in favor of a movie in the screening room. The screening room is very comfortable but dangerous. We saw two people fall, one heavily. A third person almost fell. HAL needs to make changes to the steps or make people more aware of them. The seats are really comfy and the free popcorn really nice. The magician was extremely good. We watched one night show and a matinee. On the final night, the pianist and singer was excellent and he had the house rocking to Elton John, the Beatles, etc.
Another thing we disliked was the formal night as we're casual people. It just seemed to us silly to place white covers over the chairs in the Vista and ask that everyone be dressed formally. There are no huge changes to the menu. The wait staff are dressed the same so why require formality? Most of the guests in the Vista on formal night were formally dressed. My husband was dressed in a sports jacket and tie and I was dressed in a sequin blouse and nice shoes for formal night. To us, it was just more clothes to pack and since we had to fly out from frigid Winnipeg and bring our heavy winter clothes with us, this additional packing was more than we needed or wanted. For this, we definitely and without reservation, preferred the casualness of the NCL.