For background, DH and are in our late 30's. We were traveling with our daughters, ages 8 and 10. We were also with my parents and aunt/uncle, all in their late 50s-early 60s. This was our first time on HAL, but have sailed on 12 previous cruises (2 on Royal Carib, 1 on Norwegian, and 9 on Disney). This was our 3rd consecutive Christmas cruise, although the two years prior were both on Disney.
I've listed our review of the specific details below, but all-in-all, we thought the cruise was just ok. Nothing was terribly wrong, but nothing was great either. I had heard that HAL catered to an older, more "low key" crowd, but we just felt like there was an overall lack of energy or fun on the ship and we could hardly even tell in was Christmas.
The ship itself, as well as our cabin, were well laid out and clean. We had two connecting VD cabins on deck 4 and found them adequate for two people in each room, but we would have been miserable if all 4 of us had shared one cabin. We liked that the balcony divider between the two cabins opened. We also really enjoyed the Crow's Nest on deck 10. It was the best public space on the ship. We also appreciated the sliding cover on the midship pool, since we had a lot of rain. The fitness center was one of the nicest I've seen at sea and seemed to be well used, although not too crowded.
The Lido was a nice buffet and generally speaking we thought the food was pretty good. The main dining room was also nice, but nothing special. Usually I have at least one dish on a cruise that I think is spectacular, but that didn't happen, although most things were good. Our service was efficient, but not especially friendly.
We loved all 4 of our ports (Half Moon, Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire). We did an off-road Jeep tour of Aruba that was the highlight of our trip. Our excursion in Curacao was cancelled due to rain, but HAL refunded the cost with no hassle.
This is probably where we were the most disappointed in the cruise. We found very few activities onboard that were fun or interesting. Generally speaking, most of the music around the ship was targeted at a much older audience and we often didn't even recognize the songs. There were a ton of technology classes that seemed popular, but they didn't teach anything we didn't already know. I barely cook at home, so the Culinary Arts center wasn't of interest either. It was so bad that we ended up buying a deck of cards and playing in a conference room one night. The highlight of all the entertainment was the Talent Show that the Club HAL kids put on. We smiled and laughed and had such a good time watching them!
Kid's Club (Club HAL)
All in all, I think Club HAL was pretty good. After 9 Disney cruises, my kids expectations are pretty high, so they would say it was dull, but it met my expectations and was similar to what we experienced on NCL. Both of my kids were in the "Tween" group which was 8-12 year olds. There were 250 kids on our sailing, but only 50 in the Tween group, although I never saw more than 25 kids in the Club at a time. Most of the staff seemed attentive and interested, but my kids said they seemed happy to get rid of the kids when it was time to close. The activities were pretty basic - mostly video games and arts & crafts, but my kids made some friends and had fun. The highlight of the week was the Talent Show. All the kids from ages 3-12 were invited to participate. They did magic tricks, dances, skits, and sang songs. My kids loved participating and it was so fun to watch!!
As I mentioned above, this was the 3rd year we sailed for Christmas. In all fairness, the past two years were on Disney and no one celebrates anything like Disney. However, we really felt like we missed the entire holiday on this cruise. It felt very "un-festive." Don't get me wrong, the ship was decorated, there was a tree in the lobby, and the crew wore Santa hats on Christmas day, but generally speaking, Christmas Eve and Christmas day weren't any different than any other days at sea. I certainly didn't expect HAL to have all the Christmas activities that Disney has, but something was missing. After some thought, I really think this is much more related to the passengers than anything HAL did or didn't do. The HAL crowd simply isn't the "festive" type and I felt it on our cruise.
So the ultimate question in a review is "Would you do it again?" For us, the answer No. The only way we would sail HAL again is if it was a very port-intensive itinerary and we got a really great price. We definitely wouldn't sail with HAL at Christmas again.