Let me begin by sharing that this is my 4th cruise, 3 in the Caribbean and 1 in Alaska. This is my second with Holland America. It will definitely NOT be my last! I will do my best to share all my thoughts, but keep in mind -- they are just that --- my thoughts.
Hotel: Stayed at the Sleep Inn in Dania Beach in Ft Lauderdale the night before embarkation. Would I recommend it? Probably not again but it was convenient enough and they provide transportation to the ship; at a breakneck speed, mind you -- but it was transportation none the less!
Embarkation: Stayed in line at the terminal until the doors opened promptly at 11:00 am. We were sent to suite guest embarkation quickly based on the "S" badge worn by my mom, who shared the suite with my husband and I. No line to speak of and quickly went upstairs to await boarding. After only a few minutes, we were granted priority boarding and sent to the Lido for lunch as our staterooms were not yet ready.
Stateroom: We had a Deluxe Veranda stateroom aft (4181). Once advised that our rooms were ready, we ventured down to deck 4 to see our room. "Room" seems inadequate, there was closet space galore, a stocked mini bar, vanity and large bathroom. But the deck ---- I get the theory of never sailing without an aft deck suite. The penthouse may have been more luxurious, but it couldn't have been by much! Tons of room to move around and did I mention the deck??? A corner aft is awesome!
Cabin Stewards: Made and Made (pronounced "Mah-day") definitely made our day! There was not a single request that went unanswered. The suite was always spotless and ice was plentiful! I tried to take them home with me; but no dice! They were truly a treasure of the sea!
Neptune Lounge: I will admit I did not use the lounge much, but it was well appointed, had great snacks and the team there were very helpful.
Cruise Critic Meet and Greet: Shelleysch1 organized an outstanding M & G. We had not done this on our previous HAL Alaska cruise but from here on out, I will never miss it. It was wonderful to meet everyone who was looking as much forward to this voyage as we were. But the best part was meeting Shelley and her beloved Don. We became fast friends, co-conspirators and enjoyed their company throughout. I know we'll remain friends for life after this adventure! We've already got plans to meet up next month in their hometown of Chicago! If you are hesitant to attend, don't be! It was a great way to meet others on the ship and from this board, which we all know is a fountain of knowledge!
Ships Staff: An A+ is well deserved here! I would love to know where they planted the microchip on me without my knowledge because everyone addressed me by name at every corner. It was lovely! I don't believe I every said "Good Morning" as many times in my life as I did on that cruise! Outstanding!
Food: Delicious all the way around. We enjoyed room service nearly every morning, ate at the Lido a few times and went to Tamarind and Pinnacle once each. The food was always hot and tasty during in room dining for breakfast and dinner. I will comment on the specialty dining next, but suffice it to say the MDR room and Lido food were great and servers always attentive.
Specialty Restaurants: This is a tricky one! I'm glad I tried Tamarind and Pinnacle, but I don't know that I would do it again. The food was good, but it was just as good as the MDR and in room dining options.
Entertainment: We only went to one "show" and that was a magician. He was honestly, okay. The best shows on the ship are the ones in the Queens Lounge. From Karaoke to the Liars Club, they were all fantastic. I was even a contestant on Deal or No Deal and walked away with 1 cent after mistakenly saying the case I picked was our anniversary, when in reality it was my husbands birthday (oops!) In all fairness, they are only 1 week apart so no harm done! Great fun and our friend Shelleysch01 was a hit at Karaoke! She's got some pipes!!!
Casino: Small but enjoyable! And we walked away $100 or so ahead, so all in all they get an A+!
Spa: My husband and I booked the thermal suite for the week at $199. It was a bargain! What a wonderful way to unwind. I tried to book a few treatments, but my husband was on to my scheme. Nevertheless, the thermal suite was outstanding and worth its weight in gold. My husband was initially dubious, but is now a complete convert. If you have the chance, DO IT! You will not be sorry!
Ports: We visited Grand Turk, San Juan, St Thomas and Half Moon Cay. I found Grand Turk to be good, didn't really love San Juan but loved St Thomas and Half Moon Cay. We did excursions at all ports, so more on that later. It was a perfect itinerary with absolutely perfect weather so all in all, fantastic!
Excursions: I pre-booked Power Snorkeling on Grand Turk and am glad we did it! We left at 8:30 am and the water was quite choppy. I am a strong swimmer but not sure I would have enjoyed it as much without the power snorkel machine. The water was gorgeous and we saw many various fish, coral, turtles and barracuda. Great excursion. Afterwards we had booked Cabana 10 at Margaritaville. It was nice, but next time I would pass on this for the cost. We didn't use the air conditioned portion of the cabana and their was plenty of shade throughout if needed and many waiters around. Now if it was August, I may have a different opinion, but in March I didn't feel it necessary.
In San Juan, we did the San Juan Old and New Tour. An air conditioned bus took a troop full of us around San Juan; shockingly to Old San Juan AND New San Juan, just like the brochure said! We had a stop at the Atlantic Ocean for a few moments, then off the Fort San Cristobal. Caution here --- this is not the fort you see on the postcards! That fort is El Morro and I would hazard to guess it is much more scenic. The guide was informative; and dropped some of the group off for 30 minutes of shopping and delivered others to the ship if they had had enough. I was in the latter group.
St Thomas excursion was Colonial St Thomas and Shopping. Great tour, got to see Magans Bay from afar and enjoyed Blackbeards Castle. Although I'm glad I stuck to just one tasting in the rum room. That was some powerful stuff!!! Took the 99 steps down to the shopping area and enjoyed the rest of the day with a nice lunch and some shopping.
Half Moon Cay - here is where I will go all gaga on you! It was STUNNING! Our CruiseCritic friends Shelley and Don had rented a cabana and invited us to join them for the day. HMC is definitely where you want to rent your cabana! It was lovely and a great place to read, enjoy a breakfast pina colada and time with friends! Thanks again, Shelley and Don!! The water was stunningly gorgeous and the barbecue lunch provided by HAL was very good! The cabana provided 4 rafts, snorkel gear and assorted snacks. Tender service was efficient on the way there with an open air ferry, however a disabled ferry caused the need to take a lifeboat tender back to the ship. One word --- HOT! But we all arrived safely back on board but with heavy hearts knowing the next day we would head home.
A few more general comments before I close:
* Having cruised Carnival and RCL before my Alaska HAL Cruise, I have to say that HAL will be my choice from here forward. I was mentioning to another passenger early on in the cruise that while we are young and don't necessarily fit HAL's demographic, it was great! I have raised my child and wanted something more calm and relaxing. I later realized that at 47, I AM HAL's demographic (that was a brutal truth!). Were their children? Yes! Were their teenagers? Yes! Was everyone well behaved? Absolutely! From infants to teenagers, the mix was great!
* A note on manners, please! While I am glad you found your particular piece of paradise on Half Moon Cay, please do not place your lounger in such a way that the elderly are required to hurdle your chaise to get to the restroom while you completely ignore their struggles. Be aware of those around you and do your best to accommodate those who may need a bit more room!
* I will repeat this mantra before my next cruise time and again! I WILL NOT PACK AS MUCH, I WILL NOT PACK AS MUCH! Suite guests enjoyed free laundry and most of my clothes never saw the bright caribbean sunshine. So, I WILL NOT PACK AS MUCH! Even for those who are not in suites, the "stuff all you can in the laundry bag" method is cost effective as compared to extra airline baggage fees and the bag appears small, but it expands!
* Drink Prices - I ordered the $100 Soda Card and it was in my stateroom on arrival. It lasted most of the week, but I will bring soda on board next time. At nearly $3 per can, I can haul some soda for a little bit! We also brought wine onboard (yes, you are allowed) and enjoyed that as well. But sometimes at the Lido or in the casino, you just want a drink and don't want to hoof it to your cabin. Either way -- learnings!
* Book Again with HAL? Already have! Next trip is planned for less than 365 days away although I know we may well change the date/duration. But booking on board was well worth it in terms of savings off published prices and upcoming shipboard credit!
* We took advantage of Luggage Direct from the ship to our final destination. What a bargain to not have to haul all that luggage, especially considering our flight did not leave til 5:11 pm, or 5:45 pm, or 6:10 pm or finally 6:30 pm.
Finally, disembarkation. Sadly, it was a breeze! We had the opportunity to visit with friends from my childhood that we haven't seen in nearly 30 years and it was enjoyable. However if that was not an option, I would book my return flight for 1:00 pm and head straight to the airport.
I have NEVER felt so pampered, so relaxed and enjoyed meeting so many people as I have on this voyage. Eurodam is a beauty and HAL is King!