Let me begin by saying that my husband & I are seasoned cruisers. We have sailed everything from Carnival to Crystal & this was our 15th cruise. We cruised with 4 other couples. We are all seniors (50-70). We like HAL because it mainly caters to us and they are very sensitive to passengers who are physically challeneged. Embarkation was easy thanks to the Express Documentation we filled out on the internet. We simply printed out our Express tickets and showed our passports to HAL personnel and went up the gangplank.
We immediately went to the Lido deck & ate some lunch. I went into shock as there were no food trays & everything was served in very modest portions to passengers by waitstaff. This resulted in long lines & having to run back and forth from the table to fetch drinks, sides and anything that necessitated more than 2 hands. We were dismayed & frustrated as when we finally sat down, our food had cooled considerably. Many passengers echoed the same sentiments & they opted to go to the dining room for breakfast, lunch & dinner instead. Our cabin steward, Ricard, and the rest of the waitstaff were Indonesian & they were terrific. Ricard was like a stealth cabinboy in that we never saw him but every request we made was fulfilled & our room was always clean. We enjoyed his towel creations at night. The staff worked very, very hard to please the passengers, and they were ALWAYS very polite and helpful.
CASINO: I found the video poker machines to be very tight. They hardly gave back any winnings & never once did I hear a slot machine go off. I did okay on roulette and my husband won the Texas Hold'em tournament. Again the dealers were very nice and big HELLO to Ramona.
ENTERTAIMENT: The two standouts were Kuba, a vibraphone maestro and Barnaby, a comedian who had everybody laughing so hard, our bellies ached. The others were rather run-of-the-mill and the Noordam singers were just average.
SPA: The prices were astronomical but I had a gift certificate so I got a special. As the cruise progresses, they offer specials on various services so try not to book right away. Also for a price a GREEN HOUSE card can be purchased which gives access to a wonderful whirlpool, 2 steamrooms and heated chaise lounges that are fabulous. It's worthwhile and very zen-like.
EXCURSIONS: I went on two excursions & they both proved to be very good. The first was in St. Lucia where we traveled by bus up a mountain to enjoy tea and snacks at an old mansion.The view was breathtaking as we sipped tea on a wide balcony & overlooked the bay. St. Lucia was surprisingly poor & our tourguide, Ramsey, was very informative on it's history. The second was a bicycle ride through Half Moon Cay. The tour was filled to capacity as we biked down roads to see a horse ranch,a stingray farm and some backwoods that are ordinarily never experienced. For those of you who are not athletic,the island is tiny & we rode for a very,very short time.Anyone can do this. One woman in our group was in her eighties & she did just fine.Again,we got a thorough lecture of the island's history. It was just right and my favorite excursion.
DINING: I give the food a solid GOOD, but in the interest of cutting costs, we found the portions to be measly. Our waiter was very attentive & he worked very hard to please. The sommelier, Arnold, was the best. We ate at the Pinnacle Grill once & although the food was very good, I was surprised the waiters weren't more professional. One waiter dropped a tray of silverware behind me & I jumped 5 feet off my seat and then they messed up one order. A man in our party expressed his dissatisfaction with the modest portions, so we did not return. As I said before, the removal of foodtrays at the Lido in an attempt to prevent passengers from wasting food drew many critisms from people. For us, it was an unnecessary inconvenience.
ACTIVITIES: There was always something to do on the ship & the social director, Mike, was very upbeat. They featured talent contests, newlywed games, trivia games, bingo, poolside games, art history lectures, etc. Also there were first-run movies on the cabin TV's which were good. I attended mass most mornings and Father Kazimir is an elderly priest with a great sense of humor. He was a pleasure to get to know.
SUMMATION: I must concur with the others who have said that for the money, HAL is probably the best cruise on the high seas. There were many more canes, walkers and scooters than children on board so I wouldn't recommend it for families. Also, I must re-emphasize that there were lines for food,drinks,getting on & off the tenders, so pack your patience and bring a comfortable pair of shoes for all that walking you'll be doing between your table and the food buffets. I suggest that if HAL wants to cut costs, they should eliminate the little bathroom lotions/shampoos and instead reinstate smaller food trays in order to make mealtimes a more efficient, less stressful experience. Another idea would be to just offer them at lunchtime since that's when most people eat at the Lido anyway.