Pre-cruise: We flew into FLL a day before our cruise, which I highly recommend, and stayed at the Holiday Inn Express on 17th street. The night front desk clerk and the shuttle driver were very pleasant. The hotel had a weird retro vibe. Regarding the free breakfast, well let me just say, you get what you pay for. There's a small space in the lobby with tables and chairs adjacent to the buffet area. The kitchen staff seemed hard-pressed to keep the victuals stocked for the numerous cruise passengers. After a day of airline delays, I found the hotel adequate for one night. A transportation company has a desk in the lobby and provides shuttle service to the port, which is about 5 minutes away for $8 per person.
Now for the cruise: DH and I are in our late 40s and this was our first grown-up cruise sans kids. Our previous 6 cruises have been on Royal Caribbean or Carnival with the kids. I'll probably make several comparisons to my last Carnival cruise (2011), and I do mean LAST. I really wasn't sure what to expect on HAL since Carnival Corp. is the parent company. I was pleasantly surprised.
Embarkation was without incident. The staff guided passengers where they needed to go, and the line moved quickly.
The muster drill was extremely organized and roll was taken, unlike my last Carnival cruise where the drill was unorganized. HAL's procedures, and from what I understand, those on other lines as well, are a welcome change.
The Nieuw Amsterdam is a beautiful ship with nicely appointed common areas. Our stateroom on Deck 10 met my expectations. There was adequate storage and plenty of hangers for day and evening attire. The bed and pillows were comfortable. Our room steward kept our room clean, and made it a point to ask us how the room was every time he saw us. On the first night, I noticed a few spots/stains on the sheets and called for replacement bed linens. A steward arrived and was changing the sheets within 10 minutes.
Spa: We spent a fair amount of time at the spa. We purchased a spa package that included the use of the hydrotherapy pool, the heated ceramic lounge chairs, and a few other amenities. The pool was never too crowded, which we made good use of, but the ceramic lounge chairs were usually occupied when we wanted to use them. There's supposed to be a 20 minute limit when people are waiting, but we didn't care to wait and went on our way. We also had a few spa treatments which were wonderful...top notch spa staff. I also got a good, morning water aerobics class in.
Entertainment: The showroom entertainment consisted of the usual comedians, singers/dancers. The comedians were good for a few laughs and the singers talented. There's no need to get to the showroom early as there were plenty of open seats when we got there for 10:00pm shows. We made a few visits to the piano bar, which was usually packed.
Food: The food was good. It met my expectations, and I can't say I really had a bad meal. Breakfast and lunch include the usual cruise options -- buffet or Lido deck grill (for lunch). I had pizza once. I'm not crazy about this pizza - it's ok in a crunch. I found the Sicilian-style a little more palatable. I really loved the poached pear dessert one night. We made a reservation for dinner at the Pinnacle Grill and, while the meal was good, the service was extremely slow. If you want to dine at the Pinnacle Grill, I suggest you book before your cruise. Le Cirque is also an option; again reservations need to be made in advance of sailing. Service was slow in the main dining room on the last formal night, not the norm, though. A new option for us was the anytime dining in the main dining room. That worked out well. We always had a table for two in different locations. On two nights, we had to wait for a table, but the wait wasn't long at all. We headed to Canaletto, the Italian restaurant, for our last night on the ship. Our meal was very good, but what really made the experience was the attentive and friendly staff topped only by the cotton candy surprise at the end of the meal.
Excursions: We did excursions in Puerto Rico and St. Maarten and enjoyed the beach in Grand Turk and Half Moon Cay. We planned a day of snorkeling at Half Moon Cay, but due to a cold front moving south, Half Moon Cay was really cold and windy in the morning. We decided to have lunch at the barbeque that HAL provides, and thought we'd go back to the ship after that. Instead, we took a walk along one of the trails and by this time the sun was shining and warmed everything up. I recommend packing fashionable sweats or appropriate clothing for cool days like this. I was able to shed my sweats by noon and enjoy the beach in my bathing suit.
Disembarkation: This necessary evil was also without incident for us. We had an excursion in FLL and were in one of the first groups to get off of the ship. I was pleased to see our luggage neatly organized in groups according to disembarkation order/tag color. On our last Carnival cruise once the ship was cleared in port, getting off of the ship was a free for all, which resulted in bottle necks on the ship. Our luggage came out on conveyor belts in the terminal building, and I would characterize that whole experience as complete chaos. Years ago, Carnival handled disembarkation the same way as HAL. I appreciated the order.
Overall, this cruise was all about relaxation. In between ports, there are a lot of shipboard activities, and as previous cruisers know, you can do as much as you want or nothing at all.