Embarkation: The embarkation was a breeze, we arrived at the port at 1:11pm and by 1:45pm we were in our cabins...HAL gets an A++ for the smoothest embarkation process that I have experience from HAL from the past and from other cruiselines.
Now, at this point I don't want to compare HAL with other cruiselines because every line and ship is different so please forgive me if I mention other cruise ships and cruise lines as I give my review, I will do my best not to compare.
Our cabin number was 5128 on the Veranda Deck...although last year we had a Cat. SS (suite 8047) this year due to price we decided to "slum" and take the regular veranda cabin. The cabin was smaller then other veranda's I had in the past...and I do admit that draw space is an issue. We packed lighter this year but found draw space was an issue...but we did figure out the space and found the solution to our problem. The cabin was clean and well planned out for the space of the cabin with the exception to the draw space. The beds were comfortable and the A/C worked great! Like in the past, the cabin steward always came to our cabin and introduced him or herself but this time it took serval day's for our cabin stewart to appear and say "Hello".
Since we were travelling in the heart of Hurricane season and this year happens to be the worse season for Hurricane activities our itenarary changed several times to avoid Tropical storm/Huricane Jeanne. This is a gamble all of us has to take when you travel during Huricane season, since the storm of Jeanne was present in the Eastern Carb. the Captain changed our trip. I can't blame HAL nor the Captain for the Weather. This just gave me more time onboard the ship.
Service: I think since the staff already knows they are getting there tips, they don't seem to work to try to increase there tip. I understand that if you tip extra an individual they can not keep that tip so this discourages them to give better service. The staff seem to be to mechanical, just going through the motions and seem to be over being on the ship. Not one of the staff memebers took the extra effort to give extra service. Most of the staff memebers seem to be tired and not happy and seem to be overworked and just do what they are told. It kind of sadden me when an officer was talking to a staff member and it seem the officer was talking down to the indo staff worker and the staff worker just bowed his head and said "yes, sir". It was a pitty how they are treated onboard the ship and this may have caused the lack in service or the decline in service in a combo of Officers talking down to them and tipping policy. It seems to me that the staff rather work for a salary and try to earn there tip and keep there own money.
Food: What the hell happen to the food on HAL? I found that the food in the dinning room and on the lido deck has gotten worse over the years. Steaks got smaller, soups have NO taste, the escargot was not as good, cookies to stale, no shrimp cocktail...the only shrimp cocktail was on the lido deck for dinner but the shrimp was more like bait. The only exception was the Odyssey/Pinacle grill, the service and the steaks were out of this world and the attention to detail was remarkable. The service in the dinning room was as slow as the slowest boat coming from China, and the dinning room was not even busy. I also found the four seating times was great until it came time for the Captains farewell dinner and the waitstaff has to dance around the dinning room with the baked alaska, the upstair dinning room opens and seats at 8:15pm and the downstair dinning room opens and seats at 8:30pm...when the upstairs dinning room is finished with dinner and we just get started with dinner, the lights go out and they start dancing in the dinning room with the backed alaska while I am trying to eat my lobster. This was very tacky and uncalled for and shame on HAL for this type of situation. This turned me off and made my dinning experience with my friends/table mates unsatisfying.
The Dessert Buffet: Is it me or the Buffet each year gets smaller and smaller. This year the buffet was the smallest I've seen with limited selection and the same items just spread out more. How many chocolate cover strawberries can they display and spread out? What happen to the good ol'days when the buffet was at midnight and they had a larger variety of desserts and took more pride in there creations?
Overall Food: lacked in some area's such as the dinning room, cuts of beef were not up to par, soups were not as tasty salads in the dinning room served at room tempature. In the Lido, the eggs were awful with the exception of the omlett station...not as thrilling as years past. Portions were cut down and quality control with food was an issue.
Spa: Years past a half body massage cost $65 for 40mins. I ask the price at the spa and I was told it was $65 for a half body massage. I did not think to ask how many minutes because of my past experience. Instead of 40mins its the same price put now its 20mins with a selling pitch to buy the spa products. What a rip off!!!!!
Entertainment: Comedian-Bad, Elton John impersonator-Bad, the shows-Good
The Cruise Director and his staff: Boring, since we had more time on the ship you would think they would be more energized and excite the crowd...NOPE! boring. Mind you I am not into the rock climbing nor the carnivor (carnival) type cruises...but this cruise director and its staff lacked in any type of entertainment.
Cabin Stewart: I don't even know his name...no proper introduction who the hell was this guy coming and going in & out of my cabin all week?
The Shore Excursion Desk: If anytime you needed to have the shore excursion desk to be open, this is the week they should have had it open. Let me see here, many excursions were cancelled many guest had questions. Shore excursion desk is only open 2 hours for the whole day...wow! that is great customer service...I didn't want to have the shore excursion folks work to hard..perhaps they were being entertained by the cruise director and his staff.
Bars and Lounges: The drinks went up in price but I do admit the pour of liqeur is much better. The service in the lounges were great...no problem! This staff had some personality...but what got me is when I asked our server to bring some nuts or pretzels to the table we were told its locked away and can't be served. Now, I thought I was a paying guest...wouldn't you think Nuts and/or pretzels should be offered...perhaps we will eat the nuts and/or pretzels and become more thirsty and order another round of drinks...but that would be too easy and makes too much sense...the company rather lock the nuts and pretzels away to save money and control the food costs. Can you imagine everyone on the ship eating nuts and pretzels and ordering more drinks?
I just found that HAL IMO has been cutting back. I kind of realized it last year but this year has really hit me in regards to cutting back and becoming more like a "commercial ship to the masses" compared to the HAL that gave great service and great food. Here I go and compare...last year we took celebrity and found the service and the food to be much better and it seem that celebrity is what HAL use to be. Oh! one last comment PRICE.
We booked 8 months ago for a Cat. BB Veranda cabin the price 8 months ago cost use approx. $1900 then the price went down and the HAL made the adjustment in price and we saved about $400 total. We wanted to upgrade because friends of ours that was sailing on the same ship with the same CAT. BB/veranda cabin got a call from HAL for an upgrade for only $100 per person and they happen to been upgraded to a Cat. S and they ended up in our old cabin 8047 which we had last year. I called up HAL and was told that there is no more cabins to upgrade, but once we get on the ship go to the front office and inquire about an upgrade. Once we got on the ship, I went to the front desk and I was told that some guest cancelled in the last few days and some Cat. S and Cat. SS has opened up and are available. We were told if we wanted to upgrade for the CAT.S cabin it will cost us an additional $980.00 for both...if we wanted to upgrade to the CAT. S it would cost us $1860 for the both of us. I could not believe that HAL already made the money on those cabins and they couldn't at least give us a break or anyone else a break on those cabins...it really didn't bother me until I met a couple and they were proud of the fact and bragging about the upgrade they got for $400 for the two to a CAT. S cabin and to boot they ended up paying less then us. I am tired of the price game HAL does..and yes comparing it to celebrity they don't play the price game.
Overall, the ship is clean. The toilets don't smell. The vibration is gone. The A/C works great...but don't expect the luxury that goes along with cruising. Will I travel on HAL again...YES! I am still loyal but I think its not about the "Vista Class" I think I am going back to basics and staying with the older ships that HAL has to offer (Maasdam, Veendam, Rotterdam, Zyndam etc.) that made HAL a great cruies company. We realize that the vista class ships are not for us, and if the older ships are not up to par then unfortunetly we will be going on other lines.
I hope to hear other reviews regarding the ship and finding out what others thought. On a further note, I will not answer anyone with "Sarcastic Remarks", "Nasty Replies" or Being "Bashed" I will not respond nor acknowledge your reply.