We were on the March 25 Spring Break cruise. We're a family of four, with two boys 11 and 9, and were excited to find an itinerary that fit us so well. We've sailed on NCL and Carnival in the past and have usually had to hunt out a quiet place on the ships to avoid the constant "fun," so HAL looked to be the right fit for us. A TA tried to talk me out of sailing with HAL due to the usual "walker and scooter" line, but it only served to whet my appetite for a nice, quiet ride. We planned on (and did!) have active and exhausting days on shore, so relaxing ship days were perfect.
We boarded at around 11:30am in Fort Lauderdale, and since we were in an SA category cabin, we dropped our bags off at the Neptune lounge before exploring the ship. We hit the Lido right away and found the sandwiches to be pretty good (although the kids concluded they weren't as good as Panera's). I was looking forward to the bread pudding but found myself confronted by a bowl of Vanilla Icing Soup with a Raisin Bread Crouton. Well, now I knew to ask for less icing next time! So now I might as well talk about the
FOOD: Reviewing the food is so subjective, but what the heck! Overall, I have to say we were satisfied with the food but only at the Pinnacle, which we ate at 8 times during the cruise (6 dinner, 2 lunch). After our first two nights in the Main Dining Room, we were not looking forward to anymore (although I did have excellent lamb chops). Too bland and overcooked for our tastes in general and the service, while friendly, was rushed and impersonal. The soups especially were uninspired. Most everyone else we talked to during the cruise loved the food in the Main Dining Room, so what do we know? And also, being a desert person I was disappointed (but my waistline was grateful) that there was not one desert I tried, with the exception of a few at the Pinnacle, that I would care to try again (and most I thought were pretty terrible). I gained no weight on this cruise, so maybe this is something I should look for on future cruises?
On our third night we had pre booked the Pinnacle, and it literally turned the mood of our cruise around. First, the service was near-perfect. We consistently finished up in about and hour and a half or a little longer, while noticing that the other tables with no children were taking at least two and a half hours for their service. That, to me, says it all. My guess is that the many people complaining about three hour meals (which is typically how long I would expect to spend at a nice dinner with my wife) could have mentioned to their waiter that they were in a hurry and would have been taken care of.
The food was very good - not always outstanding - but definitely good enough that we again looked forward to dinner each evening. The lobster mac and cheese was rated as "the best thing ever" by my 9 year old (and I enjoyed his leftovers!). Between the four of us we worked through just about everything on the menu, and while we enjoyed every entrEe except the veal chop (a little tough and bland compared to the other offerings), the appetizers were less compelling. The kids loved the crab cakes (hey, they're fried), but my wife and I decided the French Onion Soup of all things was the most memorable appetizer. At lunch the Scallop Crème Brulee was so good I requested it one night for dinner (after asking ahead of time). On our last day we were invited to a Suite Lunch at the Pinnacle and they had a short menu which was terrificg, including the best veal tenderloin I've ever had, and an unbelievable berry and cream desert.
While we're not big breakfast people, we did eat once each in the Pinnacle, Lido, and Main Dining room. While the main dining groom was very nice, if you are staying in a suite I would not pass up the chance to eat in the Pinnacle for breakfast.
We wanted to try room service once for dinner, and while it was fun to eat on the verandah, the food was again not to our taste and we wound up going to the Lido!
And that bread pudding? Well, I kept trying and the forth time I was finally able to communicate that I wanted the crusty part with just a few drops of icing. I did get the crusty part and after pouring out the excess icing (do the servers get paid by how much they put on?) I found that - it wasn't all that bad ? I can definitely see why many people love it though - - - suuuugar!
Overall, we were happy with the food choices. Those little chocolate squares in the Neptune Lounge quenched my sugar fix in the absence of delicious deserts during the day. I think we would be happier should we sail HAL again on a ship with two specialty restaurants like the Eurodam. Either way we would simply book every night at the specialty restaurant(s) and gladly consider the premium as part of the overall price of the cruise.
CABIN: Our Deluxe Verandah Suite was more than spacious enough for our family of four. The pull out sofa was big, it seemed a little bigger than a double but maybe not. I slept fine on it with one of my sons when he got a little seasick the first night, and I had plenty of room. I can see two adults doing just fine on it. The beds were very comfortable but very firm (no complaints, just an observation). I prefer the plush, squishy mattresses on Carnival. The service was impeccable and was the equal of staying at a Ritz, I would say. The storage space in the room was way more that we needed, and we packed heavily, with 12+ bags.
NEPTUNE LOUNGE: We were directly across the lounge in 7055, so our kids loved popping over and getting snacks thoughout the day. I just read another reviewer of our March 25th cruise complaining that "unsupervised children" were eating all the snacks and didn't leave any for them. Guilty as charged! My well behaved children did eat the snacks they were entitled to, and unsupervised no less! Fortunately, the staff in the Neptune were unfailing in their commitment to make all the guests feel comfortable, not just the grumpy ones!
Other than the chocolate squares, I found myself stopping in just about every time I passed by to get ice water, something I really came to appreciate! The TV was always on in the Neptune and for this reason I didn't find it to be very appealing as a "hang out." If not for the kids, I would not consider it important to book a room close to the lounge, although there was certainly no drawback to having a room across the hall. There was absolutely no noise from inside our cabin unless you were standing right next to the door.
POOL: This was the highlight of the ship for me. My wife and I spent most of our time onboard by the Lido pool (I was to be found in the hot tubs). While there were some kids there, usually around 10 or so, they were always very well behaved. The hot tubs were always available, as were deck chairs. The glass roof allows movement between sun and shade "As You Wish." :-) and the quiet music and atmosphere suited me to a tee. The aft pool was more crowded, not as well laid out, and too hot for me.
CLUB HAL: You'd think I could say something about club HAL but I can't. My kids wanted to do their own thing. I was thankful my oldest is only 11 and too young for the teen group after peeking in on them in the Loft. But then again I just hate the idea of him becoming a teen period!
The captain made an announcement about damage to the ship by teens one morning that got a lot of people upset, even though most of them (like us) probably had no idea what happened. Lots of tut-tuting followed but other than that I saw no evidence of anything amiss.
All in all the ship was just what we were looking for. A nice "simple" and luxurious ship which always made us feel welcome, even if the food didn't always live up to the standards set by the service. We would gladly sail HAL again, but maybe we'll try the Eurodam or Neiw Amsterdam next time so we can enjoy the Tamarind as well as the Pinnacle.