We arrived at the Fort Lauderdale airport about 11 am, took a taxi to the Port and were on board and in our room by 12 noon. We met our neighbours in the Lido for lunch. It was only their 2nd cruise and they drove to Fort Lauderdale and spent the night before in a hotel close to the Port.
We had anytime dining and found the meals in the dining room to be excellent with lots of choices. We are pleased that the servings are not large so we can have all five courses without feeling stuffed. We had two dinners in the Pinnacle and as always the food was perfect. The first time we found the steaks to be too large for us, so the second night we asked about the steak sizes and ordered accordingly. We also bought a wine package the first night on board and we find it to be economical.
We had lunch and breakfast most days in the Lido but we did have a few in the Dining Room. We really enjoy the waffles and omelettes for breakfast in the Lido and the sandwiches for lunch. We used a non alcoholic beverage card to buy speciality coffees in the Explorations Cafe just outside the Crows Nest. They also have a chocolate cafe on either deck 2 or 3. We did not try the chocolates but had some speciality hot chocolate.
The entertainment on board the first week was amazing except for one performer which did not appeal to our taste. The second week was also excellent except for one performer. We both agreed that the singers and dancers were of high calibre. The production shows were well done and very enjoyable. We spent part of each evening in the Piano Bar and also in the Explorers Lounge.
For Christmas the ship was decorated tastefully. Not too much but enough.
The ports the first week were Half Moon Cay, Cayman, Cozumel and Key West. One of the best, if not the best private island is Half Moon Cay. I took an excursion to Coba Ruins from Cozumel. The pyramid there is the only one that you can still climb. According to our guide you can no longer climb the pyramid at Chichen Itzua. We had 2 1/2 hours at the ruins. The ferry ride to the mainland was 30 each way and the bus ride was 1 1/2 hours each way. At Key West, I toured Hemingway House and we had lunch at Two Friends -- shrimp and key lime pie.
Back at Fort Lauderdale we did a tour to Sawgrass Mills Mall. Thought there would be tons of people doing last minute shopping the Sunday before Christmas -- not so. We bought a few things.
The second week the ports were Grand Turk, Puerto Rico, St Maarten and Half Moon Cay. We were at Grand Turk on Christmas Day but we enjoyed the pool and the beach. I took an excursion on St Maarten to the French side on a downhill trek of 2 1/2 miles down through the tropical forest. It was quite interesting, but the walk was very difficult and some little ants managed to find me and I have many ant bites. We were almost finished the walk when the rains came in a torrent. Those (including me) who did not have rain gear got soaked.
Although usually there are very few children on Holland American ships (it seems so) during Christmas week there were 250 children registered with the children's program. They were not a problem. Also, during Christmas week there were large families travelling together. There was one group with 28 and an other with 19 that I knew of. Santa Claus even made an appearance for the children. I noticed that there were more teenagers and young adults (20-30 years) on board. Quite a different mix than one would expect on Holland America.
Overall, it was an excellent cruise and our neighbours also enjoyed their first HAL cruise.