This was my 10th cruise but first on HAL. I have traveled with Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Princess previously. We decided to drive to Fort Lauderdale in order to make our trip be more than a cruise as well as being able to bring as much luggage as we wanted and not be constrained by the airlines. For us the main question was how much was parking going to cost us as well as a hotel. After much searching we spent the night before the cruise at the Hyatt Place North and although our room was $200, it did offer free parking for two weeks as well as a shuttle bus to and from the port. When we arrived, we found that we could have parked at the Park n Go for $12 a night or $10.50 if we were AAA members. They are right by the airport/port and will shuttle you over and back. After looking around for another hotel and finding that they were all sold out, we stayed with our original plan.
There was no problem getting the shuttle the next morning, in fact, we met our new friends on the shuttle. We did not print off luggage tags and they were quite easy to get on the curb where we checked our luggage. We proceeded into the building with our travel documents, had our picture taken, given a number and waited for our group to be called. All this by 11:30 AM. All went very smoothly and no effort on our part. We were served juice while we had a short wait for our number. We proceeded onto the boat and immediately went to Lido deck for lunch. We are glad that we did because about 60 minutes later, it was packed and there were no tables to be had inside. We met another couple and decided to make reservations for Pinnacle as well as Canaletto's - the Italian restaurant that is no charge but does require reservations.
By 1:30 we were allowed into our rooms. After having read some other reviews, I thought that storage was going to be a problem and it wasn't. All of our closets had shelves in them that could be folded up or down; two large drawers at the foot of our bed, nightstands with two drawers, stool whose lid came off that we used for dirty laundry, two cabinets over the loveseat and a shelf under the sink in the bathroom. I did bring along an alarm clock since I knew from other cruises that there were no clocks in the rooms. We were on the 5th deck, the floor above the lifeboats. We had a lovely view of the sea, sunsets and the ocean in general. Even though we couldn't look directly down into the water I felt safer since I knew that if I fell, I would land on the roof of the lifeboat. The balcony had two chairs and a little table. The room had a hair dryer so I didn't need to bring mine. I did bring a travel size steamer in case my clothes got wrinkle. I also brought extra coat hangers with me - never can have too many. We never saw our room steward and most days our rooms were not made up till after lunch even though we had the tag in our door that our room needed to be serviced. On the days that we were in port, it was not a problem but the at sea days, I would have preferred the room to be made up earlier.
I took a tour of the ship and found out about the 3 cooking lessons ($29 each) in the Culinary Arts Center. Since each class was advertised as having only 12, I immediately went to the Front Desk to sign up. The spa services appeared to be very expensive and although I was tempted, I did not get any services. The other family that came with us, she had 3 acupuncture sessions which she said did not help her. I was impressed at how easy it was to navigate the ship. The explorations area where there is Internet, a fantastic library, card rooms was great! So much better than any ship I have been on. Although I never went on the Internet, I was in this area often - a comfortable place to be.
We had the early dinner at 5:45 and had asked for a table of 8 (it was on our paperwork) but we found that we were at a table for 4. We were disappointed and thought about changing but once we saw how many older people were on the cruise, we decided to stay where we were. The food was absolutely delicious except for the Pot Roast - don't order it. They always seemed to get the beef just the right degree of being cooked the way that I like it. When we were at sea, we ate breakfast and lunch in the dining room on Deck 2; in port, we ate breakfast in Lido. My husband's favorite breakfast was Eggs Benedict - Scottish style (salmon). Plenty of herring, salmon, etc. At dinner, there was always a vegetarian meal. On Lido , there was an Asian bar with stirfry and sushi, and Italian Pasta section with four different sauces and pasta types, steamship round or whole chicken or ham, etc with potatoes, veggies. At lunch I tried on the their paninis and it was delicious. I loved all the fresh fruit. The fresh machine squeezed orange juice was the best. The only pain was that you had to wait in line for the one server to pour you a glass of water. Some days there were 20 people waiting for water, ice tea or lemonade. There has to be a better way.
In the casino, you use your shipboard card. You can either put money into the machine or charge it to your cabin account. Once you were through, you withdrew your winnings through your shipboard card and your money stayed on it till you withdrew it either at the cashier's cage or when you went to another machine. Was confusing at first but I grew to like it quite a bit.
Next to the casino was the Piano Bar - you need to go early and get seats. Lee was fantastic, often had request line open and always seemed to engage the crowd. That was one of the highlights for us. Alen, the waitress, was great as well. She was singing along and play acting. She made it fun as well.
We also went to the Crow's Nest for Kat and the HAL cats. Great music from the 40's. 50's, 60's and 70's. We were all dancing and kicking up our heels. I hardly ever danced on other ships because it was much more disco and youth oriented and although I am not old (mid 50's) the music was more of what I was used to and loved to dance to. We had many fun nights in the Crow's Nest.
Now, back to the cooking lesson that I mentioned earlier. I was very disappointed to find that we had 14 people in our class. Apparently they changed the times of the classes and on the first day, they were not able to reach everyone. The class I took was the second one so we got the overflow of those who didn't get notification early enough. The Party Planner left and we were with the Executive Chef and given recipes. There were no demonstrations and we were left on our own. As you can imagine some women were very bossy and others got left out. I would have liked more structure. The burners on the stove were not working to their full potential and the chicken that was stuffed with banana and prosciutto took forever, particularly since we had to cook 14. Lunch was suppose to be in the Pinnacle Grill and that didn't happen either - we ate in the Culinary Arts Center where we were cooking. Tables were brought in as well as wine for us. Unfortunately since everything took so much longer to cook, we ate later. As we were eating, people came in for the next program. This program had potential but was not executed as well as it could have been. In addition to the paid classes, they also had demonstration classes which were very good. Of particular note, go to the demonstration on the Cinnamon Buns - I am not saying anything else :D
Mega trivial pursuit in the afternoons in Crows Nest was always packed and you needed to get there about 20 minutes early in order to get your table and chairs for your team. Cruise Director Mike was great in this game and everything that he did on the cruise. He made it fun.
Most days had Bingo for $10,000 up to $100,000 (on the last day) and to win you had to bingo in 46 numbers which is almost impossible. I went the day where you could win a free cruise if you won bingo and guess what - I won it! Actually I tied for it and another gentleman and I had to go into Sudden Death. It was so nerve wracking but I did want you to know that people do win cruises on the cruise.
Entertainment, in my mind, is never very good on a cruise boat but this was better than I expected particularly the concert pianist who gave two concerts to standing room only. For shows in the Vista Lounge at 8:00 be warned, you do need to get there early - seats are difficult to come by if you arrive a few minutes before the show. We were not bothered all the time to purchase drinks like we were on other ships.
Half Moon Cay - we never made it due to moderate gale winds and choppy waters. Crew came up with things to do during day which were fun.
I loved my trip on HAL and can't wait to take my next cruise with them (on them :D.