Hey Frase! Sent you a PM on another subject.
For this topic: My wife and I enjoyed our HAL experience a few years ago on a 10 day Southern Caribbean cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale on the Volendam. The Volendam, (at least at that time) looked a little worse for wear. We really dig the newer ships, so maybe we're biased. Had a really great time on that one though. There were a bunch of older people, average age seemed like 75. My wife and I are in our late 30's - very early 40's.
I saw maybe 6 children the whole cruise, must have been someone's grand children. We actually enjoyed the older people.
I think the Zuiderdam has a nice 7 day out of Ft. Lauderdale that goes to Half Moon Cay, Grand Turk, St. Thomas and Tortola I think.
I wouldn't hesitate on reccommending HAL. Been on RC a few times. Would like to book a Carnival but my wife went on one once for spring break when she was in college and she said it was for the younger party set. That wouldn't bother me.
We found the food in the dinning room to be really great. In fact, we read that the Volendam had a 5 star rating which surprised us until we ate in the dinning room. We never seem to like the buffets much on any ship and this one wasn't any worse than others, but that dining room was definately 5 stars and the food was fantastic.
Regarding the "worse for wear" comment above.. You could see rips in wallpaper, dirty grout in tiles, tarnished, scratched brass, broken wood chairs on the deck. Two broke underneath me ,
(no, I'm not overweight!). There was more but I don't remember.
I might take f-mattox's idea about Princess. HAL was okay but f-mattox made a good point about the age group as far as activities. Like I said, the older people didn't bother me much personally. Penny and I had a great cruise last year on the SUN Princess which was just replaced this season with the new Emerald Princess. Penny went two weeks before us on the same intinerary. I booked that one because it was such a great deal for a balcony room for 10 days. It went to Grenada, Antigua, Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Thomas, just a wonderful intinerary. You take that out of Ft. Lauderdale as well. Penny went on the Emerald more recently and said it was wonderful. From my experience, we generally prefer the new ships. The Sun was older too, but such a great value. The new fares for the Emerald only jumped up a hundred or so on the balcony rooms. I believe you can book a 10 day Southern Caribbean out of Ft. Lauderdale on the Emerald for around $1400 pp. not a bad deal. I hear the older people gravitate toward the longer cruises, so maybe HAL would have a younger set on a shorter cruise?? If not you will surely get the peace and quiet on a HAL. They all go to bed so early. By 9:00pm the ship was like a ghost town. You won't have to fight for a good spot by the pool as much either.