My husband and I chose the HAL based on researching reviews and talking to many "cruisers". We are past the age of rock climbing or hitting the water slides so we chose a traditional cruise, leaving the families having to amuse children to the mega ships. We were celebrating our 30th anniversary and were very excited to do so on a 12-day cruise. The cruisers told us that 1) once we were on board we would be sorry not to have booked a longer cruise, (That was not the case), 2)the food would be phenomenal (I am now questioning what people consider an acceptable standard) and 3) there would be so much to do on board ship that we would be spoiled for choice (found just the opposite).
To start, I will cover the good points:
1. The ship was lovely. Everything sparkled as it should.
2. The cabin had ample space for our luggage and the beds were very comfortable. We slept well every night.
3. The staff were efficient and were at beck and call.
4. The mineral pools and thermal beds were wonderful.
What I found to be a great disappointment:
1. Food: We expected our dining experience to be above standard. Instead, we found the food in the MDR mediocre. We felt like we were back in the 70's with french onion soup and escargot. Non existent vegetables. We also booked the Pinnacle room for 3 nights and ended up cancelling the third night. The steaks were full of grizzle and when we mentioned this to our server, his response was "Yes, that cut of meat usually has a lot of grizzle". The second meal wasn't any better. We also booked the Pinnacle for ambiance. Unfortunately, while eating our meals we listened to not only the piped in music but also the piano bar and another performer (located elsewhere on the ship). It was most annoying. Also, please note: The MDR is open for breakfast and lunch. We did not realize this and ate on the LIDO deck during the day. (Mostly deep fried, ho-hum food). We didn't see any mega buffets as you see on cruise ads. Maybe they were offered in the MDR during the day.
2. Entertainment: The organization of entertainment was not the best. Many performers overlapped in time slots. As a result, we didn't see them (i.e. we were slotted for 8 PM dining). The evening show did not appeal to us but couldn't find much else to do. The lounges were fairly empty.
3. Daytime activities: If you chose not to go on a tour and therefore were not off the ship for the full day, there wasn't much to do on board. The casinos are closed in port, the shops are also closed. Most lounges were shut down. I really had a hard time, sitting and reading a book on the cruise ship. We travelled a great distance and spent a fair dollar to have this experience. I just felt that if I wanted to read a book I could have stayed home and saved a lot of money. We attended a cooking class one day and they showed us how to make balaclava. (Not a good this for diabetics! LOL). Again, only a handful of ladies attended.
4. Ports: As with most cruises, there are 2 or 3 major cities worth seeing. The rest start to blend together. Unfortunately, the major cities are inland, resulting in having to sit on a bus for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, whizzing about for an hour or two, then sitting back on a bus for another 1 to 1 1/2 hours. We didn't think this was worth the price being charged. After 12 days, it adds up.
In summary, I would have to say cruising was not for me. If you are considering a cruise for the first time, I would suggest you not get swayed by what others say. Ask yourself how you like to spend your vacation time and if cruising would suit you. Many people love it! Mind you, in recent years when I ask a person back from their cruise how was it. I am hearing more of Ãt was OK and less of Ãt was fabulous!!!)....makes you wonder??!!