In the past, we have cruised on Princess, Royal Caribbean and Carnival, but this was our first HAL adventure. Overall, the experience was good, but there were a few issues along the way. Many people had told us prior to our voyage that HAL would be quite a luxurious experience compared to the other three lines we have traveled. In fact, there was quite an emphasis from most that the service and the food would excel above the others. Perhaps it was that our expectations were too high due to what we had been told, however we were surprised to find that it wasn't quite the case. Don't get the wrong impression, the stewards and wait staff were very friendly, however it seemed that they were understaffed.
Our visits to the Vista Dining Room were what surprised us the most. The first night at the dining room, our meals came out cold. The next morning, my wife commented that the food was closer to a Vegas Buffet than she expected; mind you, we rarely visit gourmet restaurants so we really are not food critics, but I have to admit that the food quality was below what I have had at some Denny's restaurants. After that, all of our breakfast and lunches were at the Lido Restaurant. We continued to have dinner in the Vista, with the exception of two nights at the Pinnacle Grill, which was fantastic by the way. On another evening, the food for our two children was served a good half hour before my wife and my meals came out. On the second to last evening, I had asked for my water to be refilled when our appetizers were served as it had sat empty for quite some time and despite being served dinner and dessert and multiple more requests I never did get it refilled, which was disappointing (my wife and I do not drink and our kids don't really like soda, so we drank water the entire trip). My wife ordered "Land and Sea" one night which was prawns and fillet mignon, however the steak, although cooked to the correct temperature, was a very tough cut and really seemed too chewy to be fillet. The wait staff were very friendly, but pretty scarce; it would take them quite a bit of time to reach the table to welcome us and then once the orders were in they were MIA until it was time to order dessert. The wine stewards were at our table in a flash, but as we don't drink and our kids don't like sodas we really did not utilize their services.
Club HAL was awesome for our 7 year old daughter and our 4 year old son. As they were in the same age group for Club HAL, it worked out well as our son is shy and our daughter is very outgoing. With the two of them together in the same group, they had a blast. In fact, they wanted to go there constantly. Which was quite a blessing as with two young children it was a rare opportunity for my wife and I to spend some time together alone.
Our stateroom was always clean and our steward was very helpful. The only problem that we found is that there were four of us in the room, but on three of the four days, we were only provided with 3 towels. In the end, it was not a big deal as my 4 year old could handle a hand towel without issue, however it would have been nice to be able to have a larger towel for him.
The only other problem we had was our missing breakfast. We had filled out the card for a morning breakfast to be delivered to our room on the day of our first port. We had asked for a 7:00am to 7:30am delivery window. However by 8:00am, we called to find out why it had not been delivered. The voice on the other end stated that they didn't have an order for our room. They offered to have us give them the order over the phone, however it just seemed easier at that point to go the Lido buffet since all of us were dressed by then and ready to go to port.
I do want to point out that we really did enjoy the cruise overall. All of the staff were very friendly. There was plenty of information regarding the ports and where to go. Being in our early forties we were one of the younger couples on board, which was a great change to the "party" atmosphere of a younger crowd on a Carnival ship. I hold CCL stock in my IRA, so receiving the $100.00 ship credit for being a shareholder on a 7 day cruise was a nice bonus and covered the extra cost of the Pinnacle Grill without issue. Having the opportunity to have DVDs delivered to the room was awesome with two kids.
Although there were some disappointments, we attribute most of it to having expectations that were too high. Overall, we had a great time, the kids were happy and my wife and I still were able to have alone time on a family vacation. We will sail again with HAL, but now we will have more realistic expectations.