Background Info: As my title says, this cruise was to celebrate my 50th (actually in September but starting early) birthday. Booked this cruise back in October and have been counting down ever since. I've been on 10-15 cruises lost count and have been on one other HAL ship, Maasdam, very nice but smaller and I must be truthful, on a gay sponsored cruise so that was a bit different. Also picked this cruise for the itinerary and the fact that the ship was new. Also never been to the Med, so all ports were new to me. Our itinerary was Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Liverno (Florence), Civitavecchia (Rome),Messina,Nafplion,Katakolon,Corfu,Dubrovnik and Venice.
Ship: Very beautiful and understated, not as glitzy as other lines such as the corporate owner Carnival. Staff is extremely friendly and nice, I think more than other cruise lines. I lost my camera about half way through the cruise and one of the staff found it and returned it to lost and found. When she (Evangeline from the Sea View pool) saw me at the pool she told me she found it I gave her a big hug since I had taken some 500 pictures already and was very upset about losing it. She was one of the highlights of the trip! One of the others was Tom the tour guide. What a great guy and gave some great advice on what to do on shore. Loved the narration coming into Venice! Also have to mention a bar attendant name Boozie Boozie (his last name) at the Sea View pool, this is a guy that loves his job and is excellent at it. What a great personality and makes everyone laugh.
Stateroom: Loved the stateroom. Our cabin was on the port side which seemed to the side we docked each time, love to watch the docking process. Lots of storage and I travel heavy meaning lots of clothes and I had plenty of room. They even had two drawers under the bed which I never used! Even had enough room to store the luggage under the bed and in the closet. Loved having the tub for more room for showering, rare on a cruise unless you have a suite. Also loved the containers in the shower for shampoo, conditioner and loved the shower gel. The baloney was very roomy and used it every morning when having coffee. Very fun way to not lose your stateroom key, HAL makes you insert the key in a pad by the door to turn on the electricity, good way to save energy as well.
Excursions: Took three HAL sponsored excursions to Florence, Rome and Olympia and was not disappointed. I must say they are a bit pricey but I didn't want to deal with renting cars and getting lost especially since your only in these ports for a certain number of hours. For the ports where we could walk to a town or beach that's what we did. On one occasion we rented a car in Corfu with friends we met on board and that was fun. Hint - if your a dumb American (LOL) like me make sure you asked if they rent auto transmissions since alot don't.
Dining: We opted for "As you Wish dining" and was not dissatisfied. The only comment here is even though its "As you Wish", when you go you tend to have to wait for a table, but no problem, they gave us free champagne! We loved loved loved the Tamarind restaurant and ate there three times. Fredy, the mgr, was the greatest guy and always fitted us in. The food and service was magnificent. We also ate once in Pinnacle and loved that as well, but a bit more formal but a very nice place and again service was great as well as the food.
Formal nights: One note I wanted to make was how HAL handles formal nights. Now I have been on many cruises as stated and HAL is the only ship I've been on that requires formal attire in all dining revenue on formal nights. Other lines require it in the dining room but not in the specialty restaurants. I would be okay with that if it was communicated prior to the cruise. The first formal night I was turned away from Pinnacle since I didn't have a jacket. Now I know better than to wear jeans and was wearing black dress pants and a dressy long sleeve shirt, but still turned away. Had to go back to the stateroom and order room service. Needless to say I was not very happy that night. One of the reasons I loved Fredy in Tamarind was he allowed me to go there on the formal nights and other guests I might add, if they did not have a jacket or tuxedo. My own opinion is I think HAL should rethink formal attire in the restaurants on formal nights. This was the only per say negative of the cruise, but I got over it.
Standout Moments: All ports but especially Dubrovnik, I was so surprised how beautiful this city was, not to say the others weren't but I was so pleasantly surprised. Also coming into Venice was an experience one will never forget, unbelievable.
Summary: A wonderful cruise with wonderful new friends we met on the ship and wonderful memories.