First of all, embarkation in Ft. Lauderdale was so organized and quick I was quite impressed. I was also quite shocked that when I went to check in I had been upgraded to a room with a view (window seat) vs the tiny inside cabin I booked so thanks to you HAL for such a nice surprise. Unfortunately my luggage, drink cards, goodies from my Travel Agency went to the old cabin. Despite numerous calls from the 2 lovely ladies in my old cabin to the front desk and multiple trips to the front desk by me; I finally got my going away champagne present from Jimmy and Alex in Grand Cayman and found other purchased items by just simply calling these ladies in the old cabin ... so to the two wonderful bridge ladies in 7049; thank you from the bottom of my heart for my coffee card!!! I learned a lesson; just call your old room and go get your own stuff; the staff was overwhelmed it seemed like for 3 or 4 days???
So this said, I did not have my purple hat for sail away so other CC people could find me nor did I have my doorsign identifying me as I had no luggage. What I did have was a wonderful red fruity drink on the aft deck and got a gorgeous picture taken by the ship photographer that showed me sitting in the sun, hat-less, sunscreen-less in a long skirt having a fantastic sail away without new friends or champagne. However, I had my cell phone so called dear travel agent to let him know that Yes, I am ON THE BOAT!!!!!
The cabin was large, spacious and well cleaned. I had a mini bar which I didn't expect and which I used to store pig puffs for my new friends from CC. I had no phone list for a couple days but we found each other at the welcome meet and greet and MsFancy was in her red/white Canadian tie.
I want to thank HAL and Gene Young for arranging the wonderful events for our group and to thank MsFancy (Gladys Marie) for her work in putting together such fun events. Everything was well organized and planned out and I think the whole group had a lovely time; so lovely we are already discussing going again possibly in 2012 to Hawaii. Who knows, we'll meet up again.
I had no complaints re the ship, staff. To rebuke what the 4 dayers have stated, the ship did NOT get the N1H1 virus until after Costa Rica so it came on somehow. Wasn't us necessarily. And the plastic wrap etc. was to protect us, the passengers. I didn't mind. And if the staff seemed aloof, come on folks, they were TIRED. And it was the children brought on in San Diego puking in the elevators and hallways the first day out of San Diego when the seas were so rough that caused the weird small ...... that smell wasn't there the previous 14 days. I realize the staff were working up to 16 hours a day to keep the ship clean AND doing their regular jobs, so no, they didn't get any time off. I will agree with the head of the Lido, he was way too serious for a cruise ship; this was not the Dutch military ..... it is OK to smile when smiled at; we were a happy, easy going group. We did feel a "change" in the atmosphere of the boat after San Diego. We were in relax mode and the newbies were in party mode. No one minded the children except a couple were really rude. Two little girls tried to beat out the glass in one of the glass elevators; don't know where they thought they were going, could have been into the sea; alas, they didn't suceed, but I noticed the elevator was out of service after that. And one little boy about 8 or so was licking his way down the stair railing (and we were in code RED .........) oops, bet that little fellow was sick when he got home; the staff were using various chemicals to kill germs on the railings. My only comment is parents should keep a little closer watch over their little ones as they can get hurt when not watched. We aren't all old and anti-child; we just appreciate the ambience HAL provides.
Overall, I'll go with HAL again, why not, I bought the advance deposit. I do want to try one of the new ships. I enjoyed the cooking demonstrations and classes with Chef John who had an amazing amount of patience, and the speciality dinner with all that remarkable food we got to watch the chefs prepare and how much wine did we drink with that dinner? Elizabeth? I lost count.......
So thanks again HAL; well done. You provided me with a most memorable vacation and the canal transit was absolute the bestest experience of my life. I bought the videos; only complain, you have it in fast forward and the people are running around like little ants.
I am not going to do all the ports. Enough said already regarding them. I will say to those who didn't zipline, including me, let's do that next trip. I agree with people who went off alone. I think I have cruised enough now to just go my own way; the shore excursions, however nice, are very expensive.
I want to say please join Cruise Critic to my new friends Jan and Patti Jean and thank my DTA (Darling Travel Agent) for introducing me to this site a couple years ago. I actually read all the reviews and either choose or not choose a ship based on previous postings. This ship was 5 and would have been 5+ but I was a little disappointed in the shore excursions.