We arrived at the terminal at about 3:00 after driving from the Phoenix area. Except for a minor problem with the new to us car, it was an uneventful trip across IS 8. Since most of the passengers were on board embarkation was quick and easy. The first intimation that HAL was losing it's class was the lack of a reception party to give directions to our cabin. Having more than twenty cruises under our belt, this gave us no problem, but one can imagine the confusion for the first timer.
Since we were late, our cabin was ready for us. We dropped our carry-ons and proceeded to the Lido for something to eat. The ship was operating under high sanitation procedures so all buffet food had to be served by the staff. Chaos is the best description one can give it. We immediately found that many of our travel "companions" had little concept of manners or respect. Crowding and line jumping were rampant. Too make matters worse, the food was basically inedible. The meat was tough, the vegetables were cold, the drink dispensers were slow, and there was insufficient table space. We avoided the buffet as much as possible for the rest of the cruise. All-in-all, a bad start.
Back at the cabin we found our luggage had been delivered. This was pleasant surprise given our late arrival. We found the cabin to be clean and in good condition, but a trifle smaller than we expected. Storage and closet space were very good. Quite surprisingly, we did not see our steward on the first day or for the rest of the cruise, except for the last day as we were leaving the cabin. He did, however, do a good job of keeping the room and bathroom clean and tidy.
Back to the food issues. Meals in the main dining room tended to be mediocre and uninspired. Service for breakfast and lunch tended to be slow and erratic. This was a far cry from our previous experience on this ship five years previous. We ate two meals in the Pinnacle room where we found the food and service to be very good, however the Le Cirque experience was somewhat overpriced. Our meal in the Canaletto did little to inspire us since we could have obtained the same food in the buffet. Service was good, but not great.
The only entertainment we attended was the Adagio Strings in the Explorer Lounge. This group of talented musicians from Romania provided a pleasant diversion. We did not attend any of the shows.
Since we have been in both of the ports we visited, we spent little time ashore and took no excursions. The stop scheduled for Mazatlan was cancelled due to dangerous conditions there. In addition, one day of cruising was shortened to allow our ship to hurry to Puerto Vallarta to assist another ship there with engine problems.
FYI. The casino is rather small for a ship of this size. We spent little time there since smoking is allowed. Note that you can now use your cruise card to play the machines (and the table games I surmise) This looks like a great way for the unwary to get into a lot of trouble. We did not see a lot of activity in this area.
Make-up of the passengers seemed to be evenly spread from young families to senior couples. The timing of spring break, the relatively low cost, and the itinerary seems to have attracted significant numbers of passengers unaccustomed to cruising and social exposure. Rude behavior in the buffet, loud and inappropriate conversations, failure to make even the most perfunctory acknowledgment of dress "codes" all served to make activity in the public areas less than pleasant.
As with all mass cruise lines, HAL is attempting to offset low initial cruise cost with nickel and diming on every thing from specialty coffees to overpriced photos.
Disembarkation was well done and seemed to be one of the best organized activities of the week.
I seriously doubt any future cruises on HAL for us.