As always I find the info on these boards so helpful in planning cruise holidays - especially when trying a new cruise line for the first time! Housework suffers with all the poring I do over threads, however I feel so much more prepared with all the great information shared here - so thank you for making our first HAL experience a terrific one!
We have sailed recently with Princess and Norwegian, usually with my parents. This trip was just my husband, my 8 yo son and I and since we live in Vancouver the Alaska itinerary from home port was so easy we couldn't resist - and there were some super-great prices about a month before departure.
Overall, we very much enjoyed HAL. My husband and I both agreed the common areas were lovely -nicer than either of the Princess ships we've been on, and as mentioned in several threads, with the exception of the Lido a few times, the ship really was spacious and we never felt crowded.
Boarding was very easy and quick - we arrived at port about 1145 and were on the boat in our stateroom in under 45 minutes. Disembarking was even faster - breakfast in the Lido about 830 and then a very short lineup off the boat (maybe 5 minutes) and no delays whatsoever with customs (no lineup, hand the declaration forms and we were out!).
Our stateroom was great - we had a veranda with the solid wall - it was fine, if we could have changed to a glass wall we would have but it didn't affect us. We were located forward - we would opt for aft next time if it was available, but we also like to walk so it wasn't a big deal.
After much deliberation we purchased the elite beverage package. I'm sure we ended up ahead as we started with mimosas for breakfast and had what we wanted throughout the day - I was glad we went with the elite as we were able to chose from the wines we wanted (I think the only one above $15 was Veuve Cliquot)... wine by the glass options were adequate - we missed the Vines wine bar on the Princess ships though and would have preferred a few more choices. We ended up with one bar charge on our last day at sea (not sure why) but a quick trip to the front desk to inquire and they assured it would be adjusted. Bar service was awesome all over the ship - in the Lido, at the pool, in the lounges - there were always staff available and ready to help everywhere we went.
We are probably in the minority on the dining room - we didn't love it. We ended up at Tamarind the first night and had 2 bookings in advance at the Pinnacle Grill so only had 4 nights planned in the dining room. Our first experience (night 2 Gala) seemed very rushed and not at all like other Gala nights - it just didn't feel much like a dining room (way too bright for our liking) - and there was absolutely nothing special at all about the service. Our second night was the opposite - slow and again, very little attention (the head waiter did apologize and say they had a bunch of new passengers as we picked up in Skagway and they were having some issues). The food was great, so if that's all that matters it'd be fine, but we enjoy dining for the service and the ambiance, and we found it seriously lacking in the dining room. However, the specialty restaurants were awesome. We agreed next time we would just splurge and book specialty or else perhaps do room service as that would have been preferable to our experience. Very personal what's important to one cruiser vs another though so this is totally subjective as I have seen many rave reviews for the dining room on this forum. I don't love buffets but I do have to say we all agreed we preferred the HAL practice of serving from the buffets. The food was great at the Lido - there were tons of options at breakfast, however for us it would have been nice to see some new things from day to day but nothing to complain about! We migrated for lunch from pizza (good) to the Dive in (fair) but often had the salads from the Lido - I'm surprised I hadn't come across nods to this here as we loved this - they make the salads to order for you from a ton of options and then dress/toss them for you - they were awesome! So were the soups for the most part. We only tried room service for snacks/desserts and it was fine but they take forever to come get the trays (one night we waited for an hour and then gave up - they never did come... I don't leave them in the hallways after reading on here how hard it is for people with scooters to get by)
As for things to do - we are pretty good at entertaining ourselves and my husband and son always spend a LOT of time at the sports courts, ping pong etc This cruise was no exception - the court was just fine for what they wanted, maybe a little smaller than others but perfectly fine. We enjoyed the EXC/crows nest for games (although it is a VERY busy space on days at sea and was a bit hard to find a table, we did make room and it is a lovely place to relax and spend a couple of hours. I really enjoyed the kitchen demos and wished I'd made time to go to more of them. My son loves the bingo so we went a couple of times - there was virtually no one there (for the free cruise one I think there were 4 people playing!!!) so good odds of winning :) Hands down, our favourite experiences were at the piano bar and BB Kings for the jazz band - all 3 of us had such a terrific time at these venues. We went to the first showings and always found a seat at the piano or a booth at the lounge, it gets busier as the evening goes on. For these 2 venues alone we would book HAL again, we have not found anything comparable on NCL or Princess and for us, live music is so much fun after dinner. We didn't go to any of the shows except the end of the illusionist - the theatre was very nice and even at the end of the first show there were still seats available if you wanted them. The pool area was beautiful!!! (again the nicest pool areas on a cruise ship we've seen) I was so glad they opened the roof on port days - we never had trouble finding a seat but wonder how busy it would be on a caribbean trip - I think we would book the retreat cabanas on a hot itinerary to ensure seats. We also went to a couple of the EXC talks and enjoyed them very much as well - the gentleman that was speaking was highly entertaining and knowledgeable about Alaska. My son went to the kids club for an hour or two most evenings - it was fine, the staff were great but it wasn't the highlight of the trip for him - nice for a diversion... they do x-box from 7-8 and that was what he was most keen to get to for a bit of a break.
As for the destination - it's gorgeous! Living in Vancouver I think we take for granted how beautiful our scenery is - quite honestly I feel the inside passage is an extension of what we see every day (yes, we are lucky!). But the glassy waters, glaciers, and mountains really are so peaceful and we couldn't help but relax and decompress with the scenery.
It didn't hurt that we had the most spectacular weather - gorgeous, bright sunny and warm/hot every port day as well as our day in Glacier bay - we know how lucky that is! We have been to Alaska before so were familiar with the ports. We only booked on excursion - the helicopter and glacier sled dog in Juneau. It was awesome - but definitely a once in a lifetime we booked solely for the special memories with our son. Seeing the glaciers from the sky is awesome (I keep using that word I know - it's intentional there really isn't another one to capture it). Last trip we did the Misty Fjords seaplane which was equally breathtaking. I love Ketchikan and we just wandered the town and had a great lunch on the pier there. In Skagway we just went for a hike down main street - we stopped in at the visitors centre and watched the free 35 minute movie on the Klondike rush - it was great and very informative. Glacier bay was very special - we spent most of the morning on the promenade deck in the comfy teak chairs... had several glasses of bubbly to celebrate a beautiful day! We should have taken binoculars - I would recommend packing at least one pair.
Overall we both agreed we would definitely do HAL again - I loved this ship and would be reluctant to try a different one as there was so little we found issue with!