First time on HAL and first time to Bermuda. Usually do X or RCCL - Balcony or OV
What I liked:
Easy embarkation and disembarkation process. We got to the port by 12:30 and were processed and in our rooms before 1 pm. While we unpacked our carry ons, our luggage was delivered, so we were completely unpacked before we had lunch in the Lido around 1:30. When we disembarked, we had breakfast in the Lido and were able to wait in our room until it was time for our departure at 9:15 am.
Nice large verandah suite cabin on Dec 9 (Verandah), starboard (right side looking forward), a few steps away from the front elevators and stairs. Two large closets with wooden hangars (non-attached to poles) and changeable shelf space, small safe. (configured) Queen size bed, comfortable, 6 pillows of varying firmness, plenty of room underneath to store large suitcases (although we nested them with the carry ons. Phone on night stand with 2 drawers in each. Reading lights as well as room control lights at door and at headboard.Dressing table with 9 drawers. Flat screen TV on swivel base with DVD player underneath. Wire fruit bowl (can order fruit from room service? - we didn't) Tray, nice water, cocktail and wine glasses and ice bucket. Full size sofa(bed) - glass cocktail and side table - mini-fridge (really just a cooler with selection of soda, mixers and a couple of mini bottles of booze and wine - for fees listed in room book).
Nice size balcony - one teak padded lounger and one padded chair with small table and ashtray.
Biggest bathroom I've had in 12 cruises - whirlpool tub (although not very deep) with handheld shower. Elemis shampoo, conditioner and (minty)shower gel in wall dispensers. Lotion and shower cap at sink. Everything clean, but slightly worn.
Cabin service was good - unobtrusive, room always tidied up while we were gone.
Destination - Bermuda is beautiful. Everyone speaks English and American money taken everywhere. Even our credit card charges in port were charged in US dollars and no conversion fees.
Missed port of St. George, but they gave us one day voucher for transportation that we used to take bus there anyway. HAL said it was due to weather; it did rain in the am, but also heard that they regularly miss that port and it is such a hassle with the 1 1/2 hour each way trip tender ride/process, that most people welcome extra day in Hamilton with free day's transportation. Went to Crystal caves $20 pp - seen one cave, seen them all- nothing special; Swizzle Inn for a Rum swizzle - also nothing special - basically your average rum punch in a landmark bar. Then on to St. George itself - cute town square, shops, good photos of unfinished church. Tried to find Tobacco Bay, but walked the wrong way up the hill and too exhausted to backtrack in the muggy heat that afternoon. Pretty scenery. 45 minute bus ride back to Hamilton, overall good day.
Day 2 Husband golfed at Belmont (par 70 - $149 w/cart, I think)Hard course despite par 70 and not very well kept up he said. I went to Horseshoe bay with relatives - bus ride from Hamilton bus terminal $5 round trip; Clean, gorgeous soft sand beach, warm water, gentle waves; no shells. $11 for each beach chair or umbrella with additional $5 ea deposit. Worth it for the day. Snack bar selling soft drinks ($3),beer ($5?), rum punch ($8?) and usual fried fare ($5- $10). Huge rock formation to climb on; tide pool and sheltered cove to the right. Gets crowded. Be there by 10 am for some solitude. Changing rooms with showers and bathrooms (no fee). Long hill down from bus stop. Hard, hot walk back up - take $2 van ride up if you have old people, kids, just too much stuff or too tired to walk about 1/4 mile.
Day 3 Husband golfed at Belmont again. I bought $12 day transportation pass and took ferry to Dockyards - nice ferry ride over; great pictures and scenery, past pretty houses and yachts. Typical "cruise town"; X - Summit and NCL Gem there - and 5000 people. Walked around fort, clock tower shops (glassblower, rum factory, pottery works.) checked out Fort and Onion Pub - too early for a drink. Ferry back to meet husband at Ferry Terminal, then we both took bus back to Horseshoe Bay for afternoon swim. This time took circuitous route from Horseshoe to Dockyards, walked around a little with Hubby and then took ferry back to Hamilton, so he could see those areas too. On the bus Had a delightful conversation with retired English resident of Bermuda (former headmaster of a private school on the island), whose wife had died three years ago and had left him a list of eligible women he could marry after she was gone. He was well know in the community and women tried to bribe him to find out where they were on the list and move up! My husband thinks he was trying to get me on the list. LOL! He was eventually sponsored by someone on this list to allow him to stay in Bermuda - but not married. Was in traditional dress - Bermuda shorts with jacket and tie, knee socks.
Day 4 - walked around Hamilton; Had a Dark and Stormy at the Hog Breath Inn (can you say 1950's Highball?) Nothing dark or stormy about it ; shopped for some souvenirs. Back on ship at noon for 1 pm departure back to NY.
Food on ship - mostly ate in MDR (Breakfast and dinners), variety and quality good. Lido food standard fare for ship buffets. Lunch was salads, pastas, sandwich makings; pizza; stir fry; Asian/Indian specialties. At pool deck - hamburgers (well done only), hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, fries every day; late afternoon usually some Mexican fare - tacos, nacho fixings. Occasional poolside events - one afternoon - stir-fry; one evening fruit/dessert buffet and BBQ. every night at 11 late night buffet in Lido - looked, didn't partake.
Canaletto alternative dining (no charge) - reserved section of Lido - same Italian menu every day - food was enjoyable and service was better than in MDR.
Nice touches: fresh squeezed OJ at breakfast; good chocolate chip cookies; free ice cream all afternoon and evening in Lido; free espresso and cappuccino in MDR at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Long list of free DVD available from front desk. Outdoor movies with popcorn at the Retreat.
Thank you Hal - bar set-ups can be purchased for room consumption very reasonably. $34.50 for a liter of Stolichnaya vodka and three cans of soda of your choice, including service charge (similar charge for other liquor set-ups). $20 for 6 bottles of beer. $25 soda card that gives you $50 worth of canned soda to be used for anyone you choose - great value. Coke Zero, Sprite Zero and Caffeine Free Diet coke (yeah) Long list of other Coke products. Reasonably priced drinks, especially drink of the day - $5.75 for a special martini or fancy drink. Other specials like $4 martinis at the MIX happy hour one day; $4 wine at culinary center; 2 for 1 happy hour at Crow's nest. Wine packages 3 bottles for $89 can be brought to dining room and saved if not finished (not bad for cruise ship prices, although not what I would call fine wines. Of course you can run up a big bar bill if you are not careful.
Activities - technology classes (brother-in-law loved the tech guy); good selection of recent movies, played in theater, in Outdoor Retreat and then rerun on cabin TV; occasional trivia (would have liked more of those).
Entertainment - typical cruise shows, although with just one set of performers who rotated throughout the week. Magician/comedian was good; acapella foursome was good; Soprano and Tenor were good. Dancers (2 girls) were good.
A for effort - cruise director CJ - first time - was a little stiff and rehearsed. Nice Lady - heard HAL is looking for more female CDs
What could be improved:
Service - extremely slow in the Anytime dining room; 2 hour dinner was common. Even getting bar waiter to take a drink order in dining room, pool or theater. Very slow to pick up dirty dishes and glasses in pool area. I'm convinced that poor anytime dining service was due to not having to work for your tips. Room service was slow. I order liquor set up and it had not arrive after one hour. I left for dinner and when I called upon returning from dinner, they said I should order it again tomorrow.
Food - Room temperature shrimp cocktail; cold salads served on scalding hot plates; food presented different than described on menu (3 pieces of sushi when menu said 6). See Pinnacle Grill below.
Anytime dining - what they mean - anytime at either 5:45, 6 or 7:45, 8. If you want to reserve anything in between - no dice - you just show up and wait like in a restaurant. Could be a while, although it did look like they might be serving champagne for a long wait.
Special Afternoon chocolate buffet - disappointing, although I wouldn't really care if they ever offered those things on cruise ships at midnight or in afternoon. Displays very crudely put together. One chocolate display, I think it was supposed to be sand castles, looked like a pile of turds!
Pinnacle Grill - ate there last night on ship. Venue was nice, service was attentive, food was tasty and attractively presented, BUT every course was brought barely lukewarm or downright cold for almost all courses for 6 diners! Cold Thai soup, cold creamed spinach, cold sauteed mushrooms, cold sauteed onions, room temp fillet Mignon and shrimp, room temp lobster bisque. Definitely took the enjoyment out of the meal. Maitre Di apologetic and discounted each couple one $20 fee. I could see an occasion plate becoming cool while waiting for the other plates, but dish, after dish, after dish. Pinnacle has their own kitchen area and cooks, so there should be no excuse.
Ship cleanliness - dirty windows, even in the dining room - I mean brown streaks, not just salt from ocean spray; sticky menu covers (marked up from kids) and chairs; grime in door jams and along walls; lots of marking on walls; dirty carpeting; worn wood everywear; brass fitting literally lifting off of window sills and green with tarnish; ill fitting doors out from Lido; stained beach and pool towels. You did not constantly see staff cleaning like I have seen on other ships.
Elevators and air conditioning - both spotty through cruise and throughout ship. Don't worry about being cold in the dining room on this ship! Our room AC was OK, but others on same floor said it was unbearable and fans had to be brought in. I think it may have been dependent on location. At least one elevator down almost every day; very slow door opening and closing and very slow moving. One women got stuck and became disoriented.
Activities: staff didn't do much to engage guests. Rock and Roll party was just DJ playing oldies - no dance contest, no other staff dancing or in costumes. Even Karaoke was boring. No quest or newlywed game or guest engaging events. Occasional (one game per session) bingo and pool event, but not that much going on - probably due to destination and being docked for so many days
Accessibility in rooms - sister booked a deluxe suite accessible room - she has difficulty lifting leg over even small step. Shower has two seats, but very narrow doorway - hard to maneuver her motorized cart through; shower had step and no grab bars in needed locations; Toilet was low and weird placed grab bars; Deck had threshold that could not be wheeled over. She was very disappointed as was told shower was roll in. She wound up using accessible toilet on deck 8 whenever possible - sad situation given her needs.
Cabin soundproofing and location. Thin walls - heard women humming while she was unpacking. Can't tell you what they heard from their side! Deck/lounger chairs and Pads got soaked on trip home on that side of ship - balcony not usable that day and 1/2. Port side cabin may be better for that reason.
On Board Shops- I'm not much for cruise ship shops - but it was the same stuff I have seen everywhere. Only could be opened for one day going out and 1 1/2 day going back, so I could see where they wouldn't devote much effort to this.
Smoking allowed in room? - ashtrays in every room, nothing that said you couldn't smoke in your room. cigars and pipes only allowed on pool deck.