We flew into Lauderdale a day early on January 1, 2012, and stayed at the Roadway on State Road 84, as usual. This year the motel was more hectic and expensive than other years, and the service (free airport and port shuttles) not as good. We need to find a better place. Our boarding of the Maasdam on Jan. 2 was delayed until mid-afternoon while they cleaned the ship after an outbreak of norovirus. After this 11-day cruise, we transferred to the Crown Princes for a two week back to back, and I'll make some comparisons. Our HAL stateroom, C325, was a good location, near stairs and atrium, but quiet. It had no minifridge, though we were able to rent one at $2 per day. We were wait listed for early seating and had problems getting seats assigned. This was my 51st cruise (life time total), with over 100 days on HAL ships, but their perks (compared with Princess cruises) are negligible. HAL offers discounts on merchandise and services (jewelry, clothing, spa, cover charges) or extras (lunches and snacks) we do not need. Princess offers preferred boarding and significant free internet time (based on 50 days) not available on HAL.
This smaller ship (1200 passengers) was easier to find our way around, and we almost never had to wait in lines (except for boarding), though the older clientele means more walkers, canes, and scooters. This is an observation, not a complaint (I'm getting there myself, age 84). Dining room staff and cabin stewards were excellent. The Maasdam, built in 1993, has had more than average problems with infections, which involve various restrictions and constant cleaning. Understandable and necessary, but annoying. We found the food very good, though we had the usual problem with getting small. They insist on large servings, leading to the waste of food and adding to our waists and the epidemic of obesity.
HAL gets a plus for a large, excellent library, with open shelves, a real librarian available most days 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and magazines. The Princess library is small, with shelves often locked, and a crew member there part time. HAL also has a selection of over 1000 DVDs with a player in every room. It publishes a daily NY Times summary, in various languages, of news of the world, and has both CNN and Fox news channels. Princess has no DVD's and a repetitive CNN.
The HAL evening entertainment included some of the usual too loud Broadway type of song and dance, but also a variety: a wild odd juggler named Barnaby, a crew show, a non-raunchy family comedian, other odd acts, and the incomparable Adagio string quartet. A bonus on this cruise was the presence of over four hundred musicians and dancers celebrating an annual Jazz at Sea convention. Every day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. there was wonderful New Orleans jazz, with some talented dancing. We could hear the "Saints go marching in," and this was a saintly cruise: St. Croix, St. Kitts, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, St. Maarten, plus Barbados.
We usually find our own activities in the ports. The maps provided by HAL focus on the fancy expensive stores found almost everywhere, the International Diamonds, Emeralds, Tanzanite, and such (employing cheap local labor and exporting profits). These maps are not much help in finding interesting local places. The decor here is OK, but inferior to that of the newer HAL ships.
The disembarkation (we travel with carry-on only, and can do an early walk-off) was fast and easy. The next day, Jan. 13, we boarded the Crown Princess for a two-week back to back sailing, described in a separate review. All things considered, I probably prefer HAL, though I rate both lines above most of the others in that price level, and especially appreciate the perks of Princess.