Wonderful re-positioning cruise from Vancouver to San Diego, stopping at San Fran and Catalina Island. First cruise for me, although my traveling companion had made several cruises on HAL with her late mother.
Best thing overall was that we were extremely lucky with the weather. Sail out day from Vancouver was glorious, had a bit of rain overnight but the rest of the trip was incredible. Thanks to the cruise gods! Sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge without a cloud in the sky was quite an experience. Even the crew members who weren't on duty, were on deck enjoying the experience.
Embarkation was interesting - there were 3 HAL ships docked all leaving the same afternoon. The logistics to dock 3 ships, discharge passengers and luggage, restock everything and load up the new travelers in one day is mind boggling. It did take a while to get onboard, perhaps almost 90 minutes but HAL had hired a lot of older, presumably retired people who were along at every step of the way. They were all helpful and pleasant; HAL had organized chairs along the way to allow people to sit rather than stand (very helpful given the general age of the travelers.) We boarded relatively early; it's certainly possible that with 6000 people boarding onto 3 ships, wait times might have been longer for those who came later.
I thought the food and service in the MDL was quite good with lots of interesting choices. Other than breakfast, we never ate at the Lido. Since we didn't eat there, perhaps we are not being fair but the lunch and dinners there looked a bit pathetic. Sort of looked like a high school cafeteria. Before the cruise, we had booked at the premium restaurant, the Pinnacle, and we started rethinking that, wondering why pay a premium when the MDL was very good. Well, it was worth it, the dinner at the Pinnacle was excellent.
Reading other reviews, especially on Princess ships, I thought we were going to be bombarded with tacky sales pitches, kind of like time shares. In fact, this was never a problem. They announced each morning things like the art auction, talks about upcoming cruises, jewelery shows and that was it. If you were interested (and it looked like a lot of people enjoyed the art auctions), you could go. If you didn't no pressure at all.
Staff was very pleasant; didn't see our room steward very much although he was exceptionally nice when we did. We rather felt like we had a cabin elf - we would leave the room and it would magically be cleaned upon our return. Cabin was very nice with a very comfortable bed. I have seen some complaints that the shower stall is small, and it is but given there also is a full sized tub, it wasn't an issue for us.
I realize that cruises are pitched to different age groups and HAL tends to be an older crowd. We're in our late 50's and we brought down the average age. There were lots of older people, many with walkers or wheelchairs and almost no kids at all. Not a problem for us; it seems that the staff were very attentive to the senior citizens and were very accommodating. Good to know if you are in the senior citizen bracket and worry about getting around on the ship.
One bit of strangeness: you are allowed to bring on one bottle of wine per person. Not being experienced, we thought that wine and drinks would be very expensive on the ship so we brought our two wine bottles. It was very strange when embarking. They asked you if you had any liquor and if so, to show it to them. I guess they must believe in the honor system. They diligently wrote down the kind of wine, the maker, the year, etc. And then nothing was ever heard about it again. I'm sure there was some reason for doing this but I have no clue. But then it turns out that the wine and drink prices on board are actually pretty reasonable and given the tax in Vancouver on liquor and wine, you really didn't save much money anyway.
Disembarkation in San Diego was also easy. We docked at 7am but fortunately you could pick your time to depart. Some people, perhaps catching early flights wanted to get off first but others, like us, were in no hurry and could stay as late as 9:30, It only took a little while to leave the ship, collect the luggage and clear customs.
Very comfortable room, great balcony. Plenty of space.