After spending 2 nights at the luxurious The Pillars Hotel in Ft. Lauderdale, we set sail on 12/23/12. We arrived at the port around 1pm and were on board and in our stateroom in a quick and efficient manner. The stateroom was ready and very clean.
We had fixed seating at 8pm with a table of 6. Several times during the cruise there were events that we wanted to attend, for example, 'The Marriage Game" or Karioke, which started at 8 or 9 pm. On those nights we opted to eat at the Lido, as we knew we wouldn't be done with dinner in time to attend. The next cruise we will ask for earlier seating. The people we spoke with who had 'as you like it' seating complained of inconsistent service and wait times.
The cruise director, Drew, was very witty and entertaining. We enjoyed the 4pm trivia in the Crow's Nest each day. At 6:30 there was pub trivia in the Northern LIghts lounge with DJ Reggie, who was also fun.
The first stop was the private island of Half Moon Cay, which we had been two twice. The tender to the island was uneventful. The downside is that they like to have a full tender, which means sitting on the tender and waiting until it fills up. Not so much fun if there are some waves. We rented a Hobbie Cat and did some fine sailing. Lunch on the island was OK, consisting of burgers, salads, etc. We ended up eating very little and going to the Lido when we returned to the ship.
The Captain opted out of stopping at Grand Turk due to the high seas, so the next stop was Samana, Domincan Republic, where we once again tendered to the island.
Christmas Eve dinner was formal and festive. The crew gave an international caroling event in the Vista Lounge which was very nice and certainly put us in the Christmas spirit. The Night Before Christmas (Noordam version) was read by the cruise director, egg nog was in ample supply, and Christmas Eve was a very nice event. Christmas Day was equally nice, with Santa's arrival, more egg nog, good food. The decorations throughout the ship were gorgeous.
We did a dive through the cruise ship excursion in Samana (Dom. Repub). Though the visibility wasn't very good and the venue was diving out of a 15 foot rowboat (with an outboard motor), our dive master David did a good job of adapting the dive to us novice divers.
Bonaire was warm and lovely, and we did shore dives that we had arranged via the internet with VIP Diving. I highly recommend this outfit, as they do one dive master with 4 divers, and went out of their way to be accommodating & instructive. The dive sites were great with good visibility. Our dive master, Liz, was terrific!
In Curacao we did a dive we arranged ourselves with Ocean Encounters. Not a good experience for beginner divers, as the ratio of divers to dive master was high, and the dive was geared toward the experienced diver. It was more like a 'cattle boat' experience, and we were basically on our own.
Aruba dive was through Red Sail Sports. Good dive boat, good ratio of dive master to divers. They really wanted everyone to have a good experience, and took the time to help talk me 'down' on the first dive.
New Year's was very festive in the dining room and throughout the ship. Good food, champaign at midnight, HAL cats in the Vista Lounge with balloons, countdown, streamers... Older more sedate persons had the option of sitting in the Ocean Lounge with the piano guy (who was very personable and good). The Northern Lights and Crow's Nest was lively.
We met some really nice people and had a very enjoyable time throughout. A few younger (20-40's age) expressed feelings that the cruise was somewhat boring and sedate. We're in our late 50's and felt that it was somewhat laid back, but we felt we could be either partiers or sedate.
HAL did a fine job of attempting to meet our needs, seeing that we were comfortable and pampered. Speaking of pampered, one thing I noted was the LACK of pushing product sales in the Spa. What a welcome experience! I hate listening to the 'sales pitch' when I'm getting a spa treatment. Thank you, HAL!