We arrived at the port around 1:00 and waited only a couple of minutes to board. Our room was ready so we went directly to it to put some things in the safe. We had a huge inside cabin on Main deck. We rarely cruise in balcony cabins anymore since we never use the balcony and find that we sleep better in an inside.
After reading some of the reviews we were concerned that the ship would be in poor shape. Well, either we aren't that fussy or some of the others have impossibly high standards. We did notice some of the carpet was worn on the stairs leading to the dining room (my suggestion is to take the elevator to avoid the stairs if that will ruin your cruise) but other than that the ship looked great including the pool area. All the hot tubs were open every day. We have never seen so much cleaning going on -- the ship was spotless.
We enjoyed our sea days. We did not have a problem finding lounges or a table and chairs. One thing we did notice is that a lot of passengers leave their towels on the chairs even if they aren't coming back. The pool attendants tried to keep up with this.
There are a lot of events happening every day. I attended several digital camera workshops and learned some new things. The teacher was a young woman named Molly. She did an excellent job explaining and demonstrating how to organize and edit our photos. I now know how to remove wrinkles making everyone in my photos look wrinkle free!
The food was above average. We ate breakfast and lunch in Lido and had anytime seating in the MDR for dinner. I am a picky eater and I could find something that I liked on the menu each night in the MDR. The service was excellent in both the Lido and the MDR. Someone on the staff was always willing to assist you. Ice cream was available all day and into the evening.
The staff was very friendly. It seemed that every staff member we saw smiled and said hello. We did have to go to the front desk for an issue with our TV. They resolved it promptly and sent a plate of chocolate strawberries to make up for the issue (totally unnecessary but the strawberries were delicious). Every time we passed the desk (which was at least once a day since we were on Main deck) they greeted us by name.
The officers including the captain were out and about on deck. The hotel manager spoke to us several times during the cruise making sure we were enjoying ourselves. The cruise director, Jason, was outstanding. Probably the most visible cruise director we have ever had on a cruise. His staff is young and energetic. We even managed to fit in a movie in the screening room -- they have really comfortable seating.
We really enjoyed the entertainment. There were several production shows, a magician, Marty Brill, a comedian who did one of the funniest routines we had ever heard about someone learning English, and another comedian. We also had the pleasure of watching Island Magic, the steel drum band, perform a few times and listening to guitarist, Stephanie Johnson several evenings in the Crow's Nest.
We have been on HAL before for New Year's Eve and love it. There were numerous places you could celebrate but we chose to be in the main lounge. It was crowded but fun with a good mix of music, a countdown to New Year's and the balloon drop.
We had a little rain on the first day when we visited Half Moon Cay. But, we didn't let it interfere with our having a good time. We were off the ship early and we able to find a shaded area under a thatched roof near the lifeguard stand. We walked around, swam and enjoyed the barbeque.
We didn't do much in Curacao. It isn't our favorite port. We did get off the ship and look at some of the shops but that was it. It was the day before New Year's Eve and many people were setting off firecrackers -- lots of noise. Later in the evening prior to our leaving we were able to see a lot of very pretty fireworks from the ship's decks.
In Bonaire, we took the water taxi to Klein. We walked down to the pier and booked with a vendor rather than booking with the ship. It cost $15 round trip. Our cousins, at our suggestion, booked with Woodwind (we have gone with them twice previously). They were amazed at how great the snorkeling was. The snorkeling on the side of Klein where the water taxi drops you off is not as good as where you go with Woodwind. But, it was a great beach day and we enjoyed it and would do it again.
Going through the Panama Canal was very interesting. We took most people's advice and got up early to be on deck when we entered the canal. We were glad we did. It was beautiful and very interesting. It was very crowded on the bow so we went up one deck and watched from there. Then, later, when most people had lost interest we went down the bow. Don't miss the special rolls and coffee that they serve when entering the canal. We got off the ship when it docked in Colon. We followed the ship's advice and stayed in the port area. There are a few shops including a very good market where we bought some local beer and candy. Lots of people were buying wine to bring on the ship. It seemed as if the entire crew was in the market buying personal food supplies.
In Costa Rica, my husband and his cousin went zip lining. They booked through the ship -- the 3 hour tour. My husband had been before and said that this zip line was much better than the one he had gone on previously. When he returned we walked around town. There is a little market right by the port and if you go out onto the street there are many shops. It is very laid back and we enjoyed walking around looking at the old architecture. We found a supermarket a couple of blocks from the ship and bought coffee there. They had the same brands they were selling at the market at the pier but much cheaper.
We really had a great cruise and are already booked on the Noordam for next New Year's Eve.