We picked HAL for our vacation because we liked the ports of call and we have heard so many people raving about it. Itinerary and Ports were great, we enjoyed it greatly. HAL in general is just OK. That was our 8th cruise, first with HAL.
Pre-cruise: we stayed at Cambria Suites. Very nice rooms, great service, well organized shuttle service, free shuttle to and from the port and free parking (with a package) for 14 days. Be aware: you will not be able to use your room key to reenter the building from the pool area after 10 pm. Bring your cel phone with you to call front desk to let you in, or walk around the building to re-enter the main entrance. They say it is for security reasons.
Embarkation: perfect, fast, well organized.We were on board at 12pm and ate lunch at the main dining room to avoid the crowd in Lido. Our room was ready at 1:30.
Rooms: great thing about their rooms - lots of storage space. However, VE category is not big enough for 3 people. When our daughter's sofa-bed was prepared for night time, we were not able to get to the balcony unless we climbed over her bed. Every morning my DH folded it so that we could walk in our cabin. If you travel with a child (or children) do NOT book this category room. Some people put 5+ for rooms. You be the judge: would you give 5 if on the first night of your cruise you picked up a pillow and discovered make up (specifically, foundation) from previous passengers!?! if your steward took glasses (i guess, to wash), and returned them only 3 days later? if you gave him a hair drier that did not work, and he never returned it? He changed the pillowcases and apologized, but trust was lost.
Service: We are not used to hearing from Front Desk receptionists "i don't know" answers on our previous cruises. We encountered that problem here a lot. We received great support and assistance from Patricia - thank you for helping us organizing our group tour.
Cooking class - was rescheduled from 1:30 to 12:00 and we found out about it just before the originally scheduled class when we stopped by in our cabin (we saw a message). We went to the Front Office - it was still 1:30 in their computer. They called Kelly, a person in charge, and refused to credit our account b/s "we were notified". We still don't know what our steward did with a notification letter (if it ever existed), but we had to wait for Kelly to finish her meeting (about 30 min), then she "OKed" to issue us credit but it did not appear on our statement, then we had to pay two more visits to the Front Desk to remove these charges for not attended classes, and again on disembarkation day. Finally, it was fixed, but that is not my idea of excellent service.
Ship: Ms Noordam is elegant, beautiful and tastefully decorated. We enjoyed art found everywhere on the ship. Some reviews mentioned "bad kids destroying the ship" - we did not see any damage. We only learned about it from the Captain's announcement. There are always exceptions, but majority of children on board were very well behaved and respectful. We really enjoyed the pool area (family pool). It was peaceful and relaxing. Amazing thing: there were always lounge chairs available! and hardly anyone was smoking! Unfortunately, they decided to paint beams in pool area on our sea days. First day, we took it with understanding that they needed to maintain their ship and tried to ignore paint fumes. When they started doing it again on the second sea day, it became upsetting. We spoke with their officer's addressing this issue, and surprisingly, they agreed and stopped painting.
Food: just average, often overcooked or undercooked (extremely raw eggs during breakfast were very common). I have special dietary needs and it was addressed with understanding; however, one night they gave my food (differently prepared to avoid food allergies) to another member of our table; and twice, they brought specially prepared bread at the same time as the main course. Our dinner would take up to 3 hours (thanks God we had great company most of our dinners!). Sometimes, coffee was brought 5-10 min after deserts have been served. In Bonaire, we had 45 min in between tours to come back to the ship for early lunch/snack. Beware: everything was closed b/n 11-11:30 - we were surprised. Very limited selection of fruits, and only available during specific hours, which we did not figure out. On the positive note: open dining was very well organized, we have never been in line for longer than 3 min, and we were always seated with our friends (table for 10-14)on a last minute notice. Club HAL - our daughter loved it, and spent every available time there (often cut shot but prolonged dinners).
Entertainment: average, average production shows but we had a great magician on board, a great comedian, and a great violinist!
Disembarkation: was smooth after we cleared our account.
The highlight of this cruise was meeting a lot of people we got to know via roll call on Cruise Critic. We had great times together! I am not sure if we will ever cruise with HAL again. If our friend go - we might join them, otherwise we will probably choose a different cruise line. Comparing to our previous cruises - HAL is very overrated.