My husband and I are in our 40's. This was our ninth cruise and our third time on HAL. We expected the ship to be the similar to the Zuiderdam and Noordam which we have previously cruised on and we were not disappointed. We really love the layout of these ships, especially the covered promenade deck that allows you to walk all the way around the ship without having to go inside and offers quiet space for reading and watching the waves.
Embarkation was smooth and our room was ready upon arrival which was a pleasant first for us.
Our room was an SY on the starboard side. We had never had a suite before and it was a treat to have a larger bathroom with double sinks, more space, and a larger balcony. Oddly, this cruise was shorter than our other HAL cruises and our room was bigger but I found I struggled with clothing storage. There were very few hangers and I missed the extra shelving that is over the TV in the balcony rooms. I realized on the last day that there are More
flip down shelves in the closets. I wish I had realized that sooner! One other minor irritation is that I have noticed on all three HAL ships that the balconies are always dirty when we arrive with the chair cushions all wet and unusable for days.
Our room was cleaned timely but our room steward never introduced himself to us, in fact, we saw him only 2-3 times during the whole cruise where he called down the hallway to us to have a good day or evening but never got close enough for an introduction. Not a huge deal but we do usually enjoy meeting the person taking care of our room. It's a personal touch we've experienced on other cruises that we missed on this one.
In addition to walking on the promenade deck, we enjoyed the comfy chairs in the Crow's Nest and partook in a few activities including trivia, bingo, and Mixology. Mixology really was the highlight of the activities and I can't give enough accolades to Nino, Bill, and Lisette at the Ocean Bar for the enjoyable time we had there. One thing we really loved was the surprise appetizers at happy hour. I've never had food served to me in the cruise ship bars before. That was awesome.
During the cruise we participated in 2 HAL excursions and purchased one non-ship tour. The non-ship tour we took was horseback riding in Grand Turk with Sunset Rides and Tours and it was fabulous. If I get a chance I'll write a review for that on the boards as it does not belong here. In San Juan we took the El Yunque Rainforest Day Hike and I have written a review on HAL's site for that already so I won't go into detail here except to say we liked it. The other excursion we purchased was the Around the Island Art Tour which, in keeping with the 5 star rating on HAL's website, we loved. On Half Moon Cay we rented a clamshell which we needed due to our pale northern skin. Although that was a very inexpensive purchase I wasn't psyched about the clamshell as the chairs were on an embankment. The chairs sloped so steeply that I could not stay in the chair unless I put my feet on the bottom edge which quickly became very uncomfortable. We tried to adjust the chairs by digging sand out from under the legs but there were huge chunks of coral or cement under the sand and the small adjustments we were able to make didn't do much. We eventually gave up and made the best of it. At one point I moved the chairs out of the clamshell and put my towel down on the sand which was a bit better, doable at least.
Switching over to food... the lido restaurant was good with reasonable selection, though fewer desserts than I remember which probably saved me some significant calories. I missed the trays because I often order my eggs over hard so they set aside my plate while the eggs cook and when they hand the plate to me it is too hot to carry. The first day that this happened I asked a nearby staff member for a tray and his response was "we don't have those anymore" so I set the plate down and went to find some napkins in order to be able to carry my plate. The next day I grabbed the napkins ahead of visiting the egg station. Finding a seat was not always easy but not the worst we've encountered. However, often there was no silverware and inquiring resulted in "it's on the table" which obviously wasn't the case or I wouldn't have gone looking for it. While this sort of service wasn't really ideal, it didn't ruin my vacation. And, I do want to credit the cooks in the buffet as they did a great job. They took my order quickly and delivered what I asked for the way I asked for it with a cheery smile and a "have a good day" every single time.
For dinner we had "Select Dining". We traveled with some friends this time and seating was very efficient. Only once did we have to wait for a table. The food on the first couple days was just ok. The low point was a really really bad chocolate dessert. I took one bite and I almost spit it out because it tasted like soap. I wasn't going to say anything about it because I consider it divine intervention when I don't like the dessert, however, our friends seated with us also ordered this dessert and before I could say anything about it they tasted it and said "wow, that tastes bad" and I said "like what?" and they said "like soap!" Upon confirmation that it wasn't just my crazy taste buds we flagged someone down and ordered different desserts which came quickly and were much better. On the third day the food improved greatly. I particularly liked the wasabi crab roll which I think may have been served the same night as the turkey dinner which was also very good. There were also a few really good soups throughout the week and my husband had a hazelnut cream cake that was outstanding.
We did go to the Pinnacle Grill once as well which was wonderful. I really like the experience of dining in the Pinnacle Grill, though I get bored of the menu which is always the same. The food really is awesome though, especially the spicy cream soup and the steak Diane.
Regarding debarkation, we signed up for expedited debarkation and that went very smoothly for us. We were off the ship and at the airport in record time which was terrific because we were headed to visit family and had a bit of a drive ahead of us.
Overall I like the older clientele and calmer vibe offered by the HAL cruises, and I really love the ship layout. We have had better service on other HAL cruises (particularly Zuideredam) but I feel my issues were minor and I'm not the type that needs to be waited on hand and foot to be happy. I was ok with what we got for the money we paid and I only mention the minor glitches here for those who need to know them as everyone has a different style and things that don't bother me might very much bother someone else, which is the whole point of writing and reading reviews.
This reminds me that we did not receive an end of cruise survey in our room so I did not report anything you see here to HAL. Again, despite these minor issues we did have a great cruise vacation and I would get back on the Westerdam (or any HAL ship) in a heartbeat. Less