First time with HALL. First for the good stuff. We cruise mostly with Princess, so we thought just for the adventure of it we'd try HAL. We had done all these ports before so the idea was just to get away for New Years and have some fun.
Embarkation was a breeze. We flew into Miami because it was the only direct non stop flight we could get from Toronto. We took a taxi after our 9:45 am arrival. That took about 45 minutes and cost us $75 dollars US including tip. We could have taken an airport shuttle for $30 dollars per person but cab was faster.
We had about a 15 minute wait at the terminal and then we were in our cabin by 1:00pm.
Our travel agent, Blake, had sent flowers, chocolate covered strawberries and a bottle of champagne. We were delighted with that nice surprise. He said he would look after us and with Vacations To Go, they keep their word:)
We found the welcome on board wonderful. Just as if it was the first time they were doing that cruise, not as though they were bored to death to be doing it all over again. Everyone we encountered was very friendly and accommodating, not just that day but the whole trip.
The ship was spotless and so was our cabin everyday. We chose our balcony location because we wanted to be port side which I always like and fore because through past experience I find to be relatively stable if you encounter choppy seas. Also when we did the Panama Canal years ago we only had a window and it was such fun to travel through on our own balcony. Well worth the extra cost.
The private island was our first stop. Half Moon Key in the Bahamas is simply gorgeous. Not hard to see why it has won awards. I have been to Nassau etc., many times and have never seen water so clear or sand so silky. The whole island was spotless and the food was good at the barbecue. We were glad though that we rented one of the canvas shelters as the wind was quite fresh that day. Tendering was done by their own tender boats from the island, not the ship tenders and was much more pleasant.
We had not known what to expect in regards to the appearance of the ship etc., because in a lot of reviews we had read that it needed a makeover. I was able to find some places where there was a small tear in the carpet or a bit of trim coming undone. That was with really hunting for it. I just found the decor a bit drab but the upholstery looked in good shape.
We loved the fact that they had hand sanitizers everywhere and encouraged people to use them and they did. I was on the Carnival Victory this past September and had a hard time finding one and I came home with a terrible bug of some kind.
We found the food to be good...period. Not amazing or incredible, just good. Which is fine. We paid extra to eat in Pinnacles one evening and that was really good. We both had steak and they were cooked to perfection and very tasty. The "big" dessert on the ship was Baked Alaska which was a bit of a let down. To much cake inside and puffy cream on the outside, not real meringue. We were a bit disappointed that there was nowhere that was quiet to sit in the evening and have a specialty coffee and liquor. They stop serving coffee in the Observation deck at 9pm and instead open the bar, but they had a solo singer up there that literally screamed her way through every song.
Normally we don't care for the on board entertainment, but we went to every show and found them to be excellent. There was a comedian/impressionist that was hilarious, also the Steele drum group were incredible. They played songs from Broadway shows and classical music which was not at all what we expected and they got a standing ovation.
There was a $11.00 per person daily cabin charge and 15% on all alcohol and that was a big added expense. The wine was more expensive than we have found on other ships. Make sure you take that into consideration when you are figuring out your budget. We liked the two for one happy hour, but the wine sampling was a bit of a waste. It only went from 5 to 6pm and since we were seated at 5:30 dinner, it gave us no time to partake in that.
Overall a good cruise. Would we travel with HAL again? I doubt it. We still prefer Princess.