My husband and I have cruised over 20 times on numerous ships. This was our second time on Holland America. We flew into Ft. Lauderdale two days early. We had never been to Ft. Lauderdale before and we just wanted to sightsee. We took a cab from the Airport to the Embassy Suites on 17th St. Cost of cab was $14.50 for the two of us. Embassy Suites was nice and in a convenient location. However, it was very crowded. Obviously, it is a very popular hotel to stay in before your cruise as most people we met were going on a cruise. We took the River Taxi to Hollywood and to Las Olas. River Taxi was excellent. The narrators onboard were very friendly and had a lot of information regarding the area. Would highly recommend taking the Water Taxi in Ft. Lauderdale.
We boarded the ship on Sunday. Getting on was very easy and went very smoothly. Was very impressed. We arrived at the port around 11:00 via Taxi. We were easily in our cabins by noon.
We have traveled extensively on Carnival. I have to say that Holland America is a step up in quality. The ship was spotless and areas were constantly being cleaned. Our cabin was very spacious and very clean. Balcony was a little larger than we are used to. We were able to open the door between our balcony and our friends' balcony next door; so that made it seem like a very large balcony. Furnishings were very comfortable. Each day we had fresh fruit placed in our cabin.
The food on the boat was much better than Carnival. The quality was very good. However, the service in the dining areas was below average. In the main dining room it was as though they were herding us through. We had the early seating and I realize they had a group coming in behind us; however, we always ate at the early seating on Carnival and was never rushed. The service on the Lido deck restaurant was probably even worse. They were not friendly and acted as if you were bothering them if you asked them for something. However, the food was very good.
Holland America caters more to the older clientel. There were a lot of wheelchairs and walkers. This caused slow moving lines; however, it was not that inconvenient. Life on this boat moved at a much slower pace. It was definitely not a "fun" ship as advertised by Carnival. Having said that, it was a nice change. Seems like we relaxed more on this cruise.
Our first port stop was supposed to be Grand Turk; however, it was canceled due to an outbreak of the virus on the island. But that was O.K. I didn't want to get sick, but I was disappointed that we didn't make port because we were interested in seeing it since we had never been there before. We were looking forward to the Dune Buggy excursion that we had booked. They did credit this back to us with no problem.
We stopped in San Juan. We were supposed to be there from noon until 8:00 P.M. Since we didn't get to stop at Grand Turk we were on San Juan from 8:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. Made for a long day and we really enjoyed it. We didn't book anything off the ship for this port. However, we did take a tour of the city that was offered by an individual on the dock. It was a 2 hour tour and we very much enjoyed it. Saw a lot of San Juan. He dropped us off at Barachinos where we had reservations to eat. This was a nice place to eat. Food wasn't that great, but it wasn't bad. The staff was great and the atmosphere was great. A fun place to eat. We did some shopping and more sightseeing before we returned to the ship. Easy to get around and easy to get back to the ship by foot.
Our next stop was St. Marteen. Here we did a guided tour on waverunners through "Happy Hour". We booked this on line before we went. It was $75.00 per person and worth every penny of it. It was advertised as a 1 1/2 hour tour. However, it ended up being about 2 hours. Our guide (Dave) picked us up at the dock and drove us to his place and afterwards returned us to the dock. This was $10.00 per person. He was an excellent guide. He and his wife (Adriana) are from Canada and have been operating this business for about 2 years. I highly recommend this tour. He keeps the groups small. First we toured through the bay and then went out into the ocean. He pointed out points of interest. We had so much fun and would definitely do it again.
Our last port was at Holland America's private island - Half Moon Cay. One of the prettiest places I have ever seen. Service on the island was much better than service on the boat. We rented a claim shell for $15.00, which was great because there is not much shade on the island. We had lunch on the island that was very good - hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, ribs - all cooked on an open grill. There were several open bars on the island, which was very nice. They offered numerous activities on the island. There was plenty to keep you busy, or you could just chill.
I hated when the week ended. As I said before it was a very relaxing vacation. Getting off the boat was a breeze - very organized. Plenty of cabs waiting for you. Getting off a Carnival ship is a nightmare most of the time.
If you are going for a relaxed vacation - this was it. However, if you wanted to party a lot - go on Carnival. Again, most of the people on the boat are older and they are catered to. Which I can understand. Nothing wrong with that. Just depends on what you are looking for.
Would we do a Holland America again? I doubt it. I say this mainly because the service was way below par. However, if the price was right and we were going to Ports we are interested in, we would consider it.