Background: I am 32 and my wife is 33. This was our 2nd cruise with our first being on HAL back in Nov of 09. We had a good time with our prior experience however it was with family. This was going to be a test to see if cruising would be an activity that we would choose to engage in the future. We read just about everything on CC before leaving and thought we had our expectation sets. I will refer to these through out the review. I also am a terrible writer/speller so ignore all misspelled words.
Booking: We used the AMEX Platinum to get the extra benefits from the cruise. I love Amex Plat.
Getting There: I booked a flight from MSP to PBI because it was $500 cheaper than flying into FLL or MIA. Renting 2 one way car rentals only cost $75 total so that saved some $$$. The flight was uneventful and the bags arrived as planned. I rented a car from National at PBI and returning it at FLL the next day.
Pre-Cruise Hotel: We stayed one night at the Waldorf Astoria Boca Raton Resort. The AMEX Fine hotel and resorts package plus our hilton status had us in a junior suite which was amazing. I can't recommend this place enough. We had dinner at Morimotos sushi bar and it was fabulous. The hotel was almost exactly halfway between PBI and Port Everglades. Also we stopped at Total Wine in Boca. I was amazed by the store and loaded up 5 bottles of wine and 5 of champagne. Our vacation tradition is to have a bottle of champagne before dinner.
Car Return and Shuttle: We returned the car at FLL and found the shuttle on the 3rd floor to Port Everglades. You do have to show your receipt from Alamo/National to the bus driver to get on so keep it. We were the last stop so it took 45 mins from return to get to our ship.
Prior Cruise Expectation: About a 30 min line and then rooms ready around 2pm. We had 4 people come up to us and asked if we had to drink all our wine before getting on board. We got to tell people you can bring all the wind on board HAL that you wanted. This made people mad and we directed them to the CC boards where we found out about it. So, Thank you CC boards for that moment.
We got on the boat around 1:00pm and the process was very smooth. The lines moved quickly and I was impressed with the facilities. We went straight to our cabin and dropped off the wine we carried on. This exceeded my expecations
Cabin: We were in VA 5188. This is one of the aft cabin verandah. Our prior cruise we had a SS class suite. We found the verandah meet all of our needs and even more so that the prior suite did. The reviews on cruise critic talked about the great views and how peaceful it was on the back of the ship. Well, it is when the ship isn't moving because the wake makes it hard to talk on the back of the ship. It is loud! The other thing is the back of the ship was far away from everything else on the ship. I wouldn't recommend unless you want to stay in your room and not talk then book one of these. I truly didn't see the value of being aft. The up charge for these rooms doesn't match the value I received.
Lido: I have to say I really really hated the Lido. The food was exactly was I expected aka school food. There was nothing exciting about it but the thing that really sucked about the Lido was all the old entitled people. I had to constantly fight or give mean looks for people just to respect my personal space. "I am veteran that means I can cut in line. I am 80 that means I earned a pass to be rude." Which brings me to the fellow guest.
Demographics: The prior cruise we had was a Thanksgiving cruise. There were tons of families on that cruise that we thought it would be a little better being on a more mature cruise. I will take a cruise with 400 kids on it over the one we were on. I knew the HAL crowd would have been older but I expected better behaviors from a mature crowd. There were way to many entitled old people and I made the comment in an earlier thread but it did feel like a floating nursing home. I was a little taken back by how old and feeble the fellow passengers were. This is the primary reason I don't think I would cruise HAL again.
Pinnacle Grill: We had a free meal at the pinnacle grill on the first night. The meal was really good but not as memorable as I recalled on our first cruise. I don't know if I would pay for it but it is good.
Old Coot Comment #1: "We paid for this cruise just like everyone else and I want my formal night on the day I expect it"
Super Bowl: The Super Bowl was on Sunday which is traditionally the first formal night of the cruise. They moved it beause the Super Bowl is a lot of things but formal isn't one of them. They had it on in the Main Stage and Casino bar. They had a $35 per person charge for an open bar. I signed up for this which was a bad idea. I tried to maximize my value for $35 but it ended up costing me the next day. The one issue I had was were in the Casino Bar and there were smokers there. Feel free to turn this thread into smoker's suck vs freedom threads. I fall into smoker's suck and am looking forward to the taxes that they pay so I don't have to and that they die sooner so I won't have to support them over a longer period of time. Smokers are just gross people but at least they have freedom.
Old Coot Comment #2: "I can't get my scooter around it"
Turks & Caicos: The port is pretty much an all Carnival Corp (CCL) port. There isn't anything near the port aside from Jack Shack which we didn't visit. The beach had rough sand but a ton of chairs. The water was clear and cold. There are fish all around as well. I was a little shocked when the fish would brush up against you but got use to it. We hit Margarittavile for a few drinks the staff were unhappy to be working and because of the crowd (see demographic section) it was a very subdued atmosphere. We jumped back on the ship.
Retreat Cabanas: We booked a retreat cabana for the whole cruise at $299. We had one that overlooked the pool and was right by the stairs. CC reviews had said this was the best money they had spent on the entire cruise. I have to say I disagreed. I was not impressed. I was expecting very good personal service but it was spotty at times. Alvin and Bryan were the guys working the area. They seemed overwhelmed or just weren't quick enough for me. I wasn't up there enough to get the value our of the cabana. I don't think it was worth the money at all. Also several other guest felt they could cut through the retreat to get to/from the Crow's Nest. I found this annoying. I would not book one in the future.
Casino: Yeah its pretty tight with terrible odds but its the only game in town. Stay away if you can.
Main Stage Entertainment: We always went to the show and left after about 10 mins. They were all really poorly done or just too cheesey for us.
Piano Bar: Man this place was packed prior to the main show. The piano man was good drinks were good. Just as usally the song selection trended to Frank or Jersey Boys. Would have loved to hear something post 80s.
Young Whippersnapper Comment: "I don't get motion sickness, I am a real man"
Trip to San Juan: There were 50 mph winds between Turks and San Juan. The captain closed down all outside public areas for safety. The boat was a rocking and I felt like crap so did the wife. Lets just say I didn't eat much that night.
San Juan: The sail in talk to San Juan was wonderful. The one thing that made me laugh was the cruise director said "You can use your cell phones in San Juan" and people clapped. My goal is to have that thing off. I guess we have different objectives. My wife could have done without San Juan. I on the other hand loved the history of the old San Juan. We hit a local place for lunch which was good. We saw the fort, the church, the gov's garden and the gate. I loved it. I didn't know Ponce de Leon was buried at the church. That was awesome to see his grave.
Old Coot Technology Challenge: As soon as CD Jason said "You can use your cellphones in San Juan", 3 old folks broke theirs out. We were still 3 hours to port and tried to make calls. They then proceeded to get angry because they couldn't make calls and started blaming Verizon. I laughed
Tamarind: CC reviews said this place was awesome. That the food was out of this world and great. The meal was good but was not blown away. The giant fortune cookie desert was disappointing. The choclate was bitter and it was more show than anything else. We did do lunch here one day. Lunch was much better I recommend going for lunch because it is free. I am glad we tried it but won't be back for dinner.
St Thomas: Standard cruise shopping port not really worth it. I wish I stayed on the ship. The one fun thing was the Allure of the Seas parked next to us at the pier. It was a gay chartered cruise. Let's just say all the balconies were dressed up fabulously and a few of the group were fun to chat with.
Team Trivia: My wife and I played team trivia once then were done. Too many overly competitive people.
Old Coot Comment #3: "Let's make Trivia like Obama would like it, Everyone wins."
Progressive Voices Group: There was a group on our ship that featured Robert Kennedy Jr., Rep Grayson and a few other liberal folks. I got to listen to a few of their discussions. I would say it was preaching to the choir on vacation. The worst part was how much this group's T-shirts spurred discussion with dinning groups.
Main Dining Room: Food was in general good for being mass prepared. We had to move to a 2 top on the 3rd day because too many political discussions. I tried to entertain my self by being the opposing view at the table. I was a liberal on the 2nd night and a conservative on the 3rd night.
Half Moon Cay: We both loved Half Moon Cay. The water, sand and sun were in a perfect balance on the island. The food was actually better than I expected. CC reviews say the BBQ is crap but I was surprised that is was edible by the review I have read on CC.
Captain Morgan on the Rocks: I wanted to break this out because of all the vitriol on the boards around this bar. I had never been to HMC before but the ship fits the island perfectly. I liked it and would love to hang out at it more. I had a few drinks there and loved going upstairs to get the views. The music was not to loud it provided a nice break in the silence. I find it funny that people on CC think that a $39 billion dollar corp wouldn't try to maximize an asset like HMC to make money. There are plenty of quite natural places to spend time. A corporate asset is not one of those.
Disembarkation: We were on one the last groups to get off. We left the ship around 9:00 there were no lines. We went right off the ship and thru customs in 10 mins. The agent didn't check our passports which was odd.
Car Rental to PBI: We jumped on the shuttle to Alamo/National right outside of the terminal. There is a sign near one of the sky way bridges outside of the HAL terminal. We were the first on and it took 45 mins to stop at other terminals and get to FLL. I wanted to add this for someone planning tight connections. Dropped off the car at PBI and were checked in and head to the Sky Club for our flight back into the winter wonderland.
Service: With the exception of the cabin stewart, The service was forgettable. everyone did exactly their job. Our cabin was always made up and everything we request for the room was delivered promptly. Bar Service, Dinner Service, Casino Host Cruise Director etc... all did their jobs but no-one stood out as going above and beyond. They all met my expectations but did not exceed them.
Basic Incompetence: I ordered $500 of ship credit that was not applied applied to my final bill. I went to the Front Desk with my receipt of the purchase and they would not apply the credit. I have to work with corporate to get this resolved which they didn't open till Monday, the day I am posting this. There is no excuse for someone ordering something having the confirmation number and the front desk not being able to verify the order and apply the credit. This has left a sour taste in my mouth specifically around HAL.
Conclusions: We vacation for 2 reasons, 1. To turn off our cell phones and 2. Enjoy each other's comapny. Our vacation met both objectives, but there were too many drawbacks during the cruise to recommend it. We are not planning on cruising in the near future. We think we might try some resorts going forward. The HAL demographic we thought we could handle and make it fun but that was not the case. The cruise was too old and too entitled for our liking. CCL or HAL will not be getting our business for at least 10 years.
Let me finish by saying thank you to all the CC posters out there. The information shared on the boards did help us make a few good choices around our vacation.