Had an awesome cruise, 7 day Caribbean.
ship is from 2002 but renovated in 2017/18
My wife and I have sailed primarily Royal, Celebrity, Princess, NCL, Carnival and my wife Cunard in the past, over 40 cruises.
1900 passengers and 9 decks with lots of elevators.
many were on 2, 3 and 4 week back to back cruises
we are 65 and 68 so almost felt young!!
An older mix, say average age 65-75. Very few children, saw the Club HAL kids place closed one day plus some younger couples who want a quiet cruise and have returned.
The dining room food selection, presentation, service and taste I'd say would be the best similar to Celebrity. We did not go to Pinnacle dining room or Canaletto for speciality dining, but the menu looked great at Pinnacle ($39 cover)
Would highly recommend HAL's renovated ships and newer ships.
Had prime rib 2 nights, lots of seafood, lobster tails on last Gala night (formerly formal night) and far less formal than in the past. This is all good.
Nice touch on exiting the DR, one could have mints, ginger, dates or figs.
Lido buffet was also excellent. They even had crepes, super omelettes,V8 and grapefruit juice which you don't see often. Most food was served to you, similar to what Celebrity has done. Some fruit, bread and other items you could pick up on your own. I asked why they served, its to avoid cross contamination, They told me with an older crowd, if someone gets ill, can be harder on older people to recover. a good idea.
Sushi and Thai, Chinese food every day.
Loved Half Moon Cay, private island stop, only ship there, soft powdery beach.
BBQ lunch was one of the best we;ve seen. great salad selection, gourmet hamburgers and fresh fruit and ribs and fish tacos. They also had a Lobster Shack so for extra $ can get a roll or lobster salad
Even had real ice cream scooped from coolers. Also lido had real ice cream all day.
Lido pool deck midship had Dive In, a hamburg/hot dog /french fries. You place the order and are given a buzzer to come pick up minutes later. Nathan's dogs and crispy fries, served in a cup. Beside Dive-in there was a mexican station all day, nachos, cheese, various additives, soft and hard tacos. A real nice touch.
Workers greeted you all the time and were constantly cleaning.
Just had main dining lunch once for Mariner lunch. Breakfast and lunch always in Lido, ate at the aft, nice to be in the air (we try to do this on all cruises) only minor issue smoking was allowed on the aft starboard side, so smoke sometimes blew over.
Mainstage a nice size theatre, on decks 2/3 No orchestra and big stage show, instead we had 3 excellent dance shows by Step One, 7 dancers with recorded music.
Get to Mainstage early and most go to the early show.
Also had great comedian Ken Boyd and illusionist Ben Zabin at the Mainstage
Live music in BB King's, a dance club bar which used to be the test kitchen area. This 7 piece group was tight, excellent and the place to go after dinner. 3 shows most every night.
Trumpet, sax, bass and lead guitar, keyboards, drums and male/female singers.
Nice dance floor.
Both Mainstage and BB King's were very cold so bring a sweater and socks when you pack.
Lincoln Center Stage had a string quartet with piano, 4 ladies and a fellow, young and excellent. several shows a night. room was quite small, so get there early. Now this venue was too warm !! They need some HVAC adjustments.
This quintet had 2 violins, a viola, cello and grand piano. Played classical but mix of American, show tunes and modern. Version of Stairway to Heaven was awesome.
There also was Billboard online with back to back grand pianos, playing various tunes. shows were after early dinner.
Noted that unlike most ships there is not a venue for piano and bar. They had an electronic piano with people dancing.
Casino was not big but busy and best of all no smoking. Celebrity has also gone this way Smart move.
one night was orange night (the Dutch colours) and chocolate surprise, where samples of dutch goodies and chocolates were handed out around Billboard and BB King.s
some trivia games.
Deck 10 forward has Crow's next, easy chairs, great views lots of games/most jigsaw puzzles ever. Large reference books, regular library replaced with book exchange, so check in day 1 for best selection. Shore ex and future cruise were also in this area, smart idea.
Some nice touches on HAL that we haven't seen on most cruises:
- when boarding ship after port, had cool towels, water/lemonade, nice sitting area with flowers (Celebrity has similar with no flowers) Celebrity does have the nice OJ and sparkling upon first embarkation though
- chocolates in your room every night (Princess also has but most have cut back)
- towel animals every night in your room
- bottomless fruit bowl in your room.
- balcony and higher have small bathtub/shower. Save the environment with no small bottles so shower soap, shampoo, conditioner in dispensers from Elemis, Elemis lotion bottles given though
-rooms were cleaned by team of 2 room stewards, there were no carts left in the hall like other cruiselines. Instead they would go into side rooms for suppliers. Amazing service, these guys were invisible
-could get a mini newspaper and NY times crossword every day at Deck 1 reception desk. They had German, UK, Canadian, Dutch and various languages if you wish. US paper also had a crossword and Sudoku puzzle but a little small font,
the NY times crossword was printed in good font on cardboard stock with a hyper sudoku as well. Will keep you busy for hours
-outside the good sized bathroom, there was a motion activated night light at your feet, nice touch. Celebrity has a night light in the washroom
- to save the environment in the room garbage can they had a slot for paper and regular garbage. Still too much paper handed out. Nice compact daily When and Where program though. Don't think they had an art auction, but art on display. Still doing group photos but less of them. No picture racks, but viewing screens like the other newer ships
-room had lots of storage, balcony good size for our VA category, 2 chairs, with foot stools and small table. Balcony had a door unlike most cruises with sliding doors. Beds were very good with nice pillows
- robes were in room to use for cruise or $55 to purchase with monogram
-free HAL bag in each room like Princess and Celebrity
- beach towels in each room to use
- like the newer ships, a flat panel, very impressive TV, lots of movies, and other shows, food menus etc. TV channels about 12, Caribbean ESPN and ESPN 2, MSNBC, Fox, BBC, HGTV etc
Gym had Precor equipment, I prefer Llifefitness. NO video input to machines. but 3 TV's on ceiling. Good selection of weights. Sadly people don't know to wipe machines, there was no sign to do so and no sign to keep machine use to 30 minutes, I suggested this to the gym managers
In tendering to Princess Cays, had quite a wait 45 minutes to fill tender ship, returning much faster.
On 2 Sea Days cruise director Stephanie made morning announcements at 9 am. Gave them feedback not to do that, can;'t sleep in
CD was Stephanie Summerville from the US. An actress and professional speaker. Great voice and pronunciation. Only with HAL 7 months
She gave some excellent EXC talks at Main Stage, History of HAL (150 years)The Deep Blue, Caribbean Rum Spirit, Islands of the Mind (Hemingway and Jimmy Buffet) These were highly produced excellent presentations with audio, video and using their million light LED stage panels. Made for HAL, I understand some sailings have guest presenters, but they use the CD most of the time. Forgot to mention the MainStage LED panels were used for the dance shows and these are incredible screens.
Only 4 computer screens. WIFI packages were pricey and i heard not too fast. For this ship audience, they aren't connected as much.
Captain Bart Vaartjes was Dutch as most are, he gave a great ship presentation and Q/A friendly noon announcements. Very casual, had a relaxed demeanor, walked about ship like most officers. Met him at Amber Cove, took a photo, he just ashore for a few hours
Amber Cove in Dominican Republic, at Puerta Plata, was a nice stop, Carnival Magic was also there, so large pool/lazy river were packed. Big swim up bar, food available, hammocks available, over the water bungalows to rent, also bungalows near Zipline $20 pp all day. Lots of the usual shops. No beach, but can taxi or shorex to Puerta Plata for beaches.
Free wifi just outside main store after leaving ship.
Carnival Corp built this stop a few years ago, for their branded ships. A nice stop, but quite busy if several large ships are in port.
Key West, always a nice stop. Interesting we had to clear US customs first thing in the morning, there were a lot of lines. Being Canadian we did not have as many line as US. Then at Fort Lauderdale, no US customs to clear, just walk off.
We walked down Duvall St, down to the Southernmost beacon, endless bars and stores, found a $5 for everything beachwear. Must visit original Margaritville, Had Kermits famous Key Lime Pie. Free wifi at Starbux
Overall, an excellent cruise, would sail HAL again. Put down the $100 deposit for a future cruise. Would highly recommend doing this for any cruise you are on
see notes above. good size. bed comfortable.
needed the HVAC fan speed dialed down, and toilet issue, resolved quickly
Embarkation was smooth, pier 26, parked across street in high rise lot
free wifi in boarding building
excellent beach, soft powdery sand. no rocks or coral on beach.
Super BBQ, nixe walking paths
just relaxed on beach and Margaritaville large pool bar
Good free wifi on second floor of Margaritaville restaurant
loved the large water park with lazy river, bit busy with large Carnival Magic also in port