Background Information: My husband and I are in our mid 70s. I have done eight previous cruises on HAL (out of 20 total cruises), five of them with my husband. They gave me my 100 day medal while I was on this cruise. I booked this cruise because there were three places it was visiting which I had not been to before - St. Barths, Grenada and Bonaire. We have cruised on this ship before - we were back to back on the Maasdam in 2006. We like the ship. We drove to the cruise because my husband does not like the hassle in the airport. This also meant that I could take as much luggage as I wanted for no extra charge and I could take my scooter in the trunk (broken down to five pieces) which I need because of reduced lung capacity. I have difficulty walking the distances required even on a small cruise ship. I am interested in photo documentation of cemeteries and we have very little information on most Caribbean islands, so when I did not take a ship tour, that was what I did ashore.
Travel To Port of Embarkation: We drove from Maryland to Ft. Lauderdale. We left on Jan 1st and did about 350 miles a day. We did not stop to sightsee or visit. Just straight down I-95 instead of byroads like we usually do. I had the hotels we are stopping at on the GPS and the GPS just had I-95 on it for miles and miles and didn't talk to us hardly at all. So we listened to NPR where possible.
Hotel Info: The night before, we stayed in the Hilton Garden Inn which has a tour package. Breakfast, free parking for the cruise and a shuttle to and from the port. The Hampton Inn apparently has a similar package which may be cheaper, but it was farther away from the port. We had the 11:00 shuttle. When we checked in with the shuttle guy, he gave us two stickers to wear, and two more for the shuttle back to the hotel, and also gave us a number to call if there was no shuttle there. At 11:30, the luggage including my assembled scooter were loaded into a trailer and we were on our way to the port by 11:35.
Embarkation: Check-in was pretty quick as there was a special check-in desk for Wheelchair and Special Assistance. We were able to go to our room right away - by 12:30. We talked to our room steward later, he has 31 rooms to do. For the lifeboat drill, they didn't tell us that we didn't need to take our life jackets until we were all already out on deck. Bob looked and said that the only people with life jackets were the crew, so we didn't take ours. They put me on the scooter back against the wall and people were put in front of us so I couldn't see anything except the bottom of our lifeboats. I could definitely
hear as the loudspeaker and whistles were earsplitting.
Ship Info: There was no problem with being able to get an elevator which I had to do with the scooter as I couldn't use the stairs - unlike the last two ships I have been on (Princess was the worst for this). After dinner we went up to the computer cafe. I hadn't been able to sign on because I was to use the name that I was registered under, but I was registered as RosalieAnn and I had to sign in as just Rosalie. We had good internet access in the room although occasionally I would lose the connection and then I could not log off. I found through trial and error that I would have to reboot the computer in order to log off. We were opposite one of the laundry rooms, but it was out of service for the entire cruise. I think they were having trouble with their ship laundry as the washclothes did not seem to be really white in the beginning.
The Explorer used to have a handy little one column list that you could fold and put in your pocket. Unfortunately that list has gotten fat (2 columns) so it isn't as much use anymore. Also it never said what dining room would be open for breakfast and lunch (deck 8). After we went to the wrong place once, we knew, but it was annoying the first time because with a scooter we couldn't just run up a flight of stairs.
Dining: There was no way I could do the Lido on a scooter. If I was lucky enough to get food, I would have no place to put it on the scooter. I had to find a table and my husband had to guess what I would want and bring food. On previous HAL ships, the staff has been helpful when people are handicapped and having trouble, but that was not the case here. Only once did someone offer to help. Neither was there someone offering tea or water at the table. Also there were long lines at the server stations, especially for ice cream. People would not be able to decide even though there were only three or four choices. So we never ate in the Lido if there was any other option. And once when we were getting back from a morning tour, the Lido was closing or in one case CLOSED.
We had Anytime Dining because there was a large Jazzsea group on board and they took all the early dining slots on deck 8 and late dining is too late for us. We got to the dining room every night just before 5 and always had nice table companions and good service and never had to wait. Sometimes when we finished there were long lines waiting. We did not go to the Pinnacle and couldn't even tell where the Canaletto dining room was - it wasn't on the ship deck plan. We did get pizza from the grill once.
Food was generally good and Bob only ordered the anytime salmon about twice. He liked the fish dishes, but he was annoyed to get a non-cocktail sauce (mustard based rather than with horse radish) for all the shrimp dishes. He was only able to get the sauce he wanted once. I loved the bread pudding in the Lido. I liked most of the cold soups. I did get tired of the fancy food - there is no need to spice up meatloaf with salsa. I was able to have cranberry juice at breakfast until the last two days when they ran out. But we had brought some of our own just in case, so we had that. There was one incident which was strange. I ordered Manhattan Clam Chowder and it came with clams INSIDE THE SHELLS and the shells were closed. I finally picked the shell up and opened it with my fingernail to get the clam out, but I am sure that soup is not meant to be a finger food.
Activities: I didn't go swimming on the ship, and we didn't do any of the other activities except trivia. We did Trivia a couple of times and even won once, but the prizes are just pins now and not really useful or attractive. It was in the afternoon and we were usually too tired to go then. One set of our table mates had gone up for the free foot analysis, so we decided to do that. The guy said I was putting too much pressure on my big toe and wanted to sell us some shoe inserts. But I did not like them and returned them.
The Cruise Critics meeting was quite interesting. They gave us coffee, tea, water and Bloody Mary's, cookies and pastries. The head cook and the hotel manager and the guy who does the scheduling and the cruise director were there.
Service: Good to excellent. Not so good in the Lido. Sometimes small mistakes in the main dining room. Room steward was excellent. We did once have a problem with the toilet - it kept filling and wouldn't stop. And there is no floor drain in the bathroom so Bob had to keep flushing it every minute or so to keep it from overflowing into the room. I called the front desk, and after a couple of non-answers, I got Hoda and she said she would be right up. I hung up, walked out and opened the door to the hall and there she was running up the hall. Within about 5 minutes she had someone shut off the water, and then in 15 minutes she had the plumber replace the valve and all was OK again.
Entertainment: They had a good port lecturer and we could get his lectures on the TV but we couldn't see the visuals that he had or not much of them. The port shopping person and the excursion person also had their presentations on the TV. We were able to hang out and watch some of the Jazzsea performances which were excellent and we bought some of their CDs. We didn't go to any of
the shows, although the sight lines in the main theatre are MUCH better than they were before - you can actually see from all the seats. None of the four Jazzsea bands were scheduled in the main theatre which was a shame as that would have been awesome.
Other: I heard other passengers coughing. And Bob got a cold after about 4 days and gave it to me. (no fever and no stomach problems just a runny nose and cough) He was finally coughing so bad I sent him to the doctor. He hadn't gotten much better in the week after we disembarked.
Disembarkation: Dis-embarkation went well. We had breakfast in the dining room and about 9:00 our number and color was called. (They wrote the color which was good as Bob thought we were Blue 2 and we were really Purple 2). I rode the scooter off. They didn't even look at the declaration form. We did have a problem getting our luggage to the shuttle because there were almost no porters. We were told to go to the door where they come in to get one or else someone else would snag them.The shuttle was there waiting for us and took us right into the parking lot where our car was parked.