Pre-Cruise and Sunday, March 24th, 2013 We arrived in Fort Lauderdale on the Wednesday before the cruise and rented a car. There is a car rental shuttle outside the terminal that drives you to the car rental facility by leaving the airport, circling around the highways for approximately 1-2 miles and returning to the car rental facility entrance on the other side. The car rental facility is directly across from the terminal, but I think they offer a shuttle due to the confusing layout of the airport and the confusing walk one must take from baggage claim to the car rental facility -- we never did figure out why there is a shuttle! We returned our car on Sunday about 10 am and walked directly into the terminal, went down stairs and walked out to the taxis in 3 minutes. The taxi was $12 to take us to Port Everglades. When entering Port Everglades a security guard checks all passenger I.D.'s and past the security booth is a large sign that tells you what berth your ship is located. The taxi driver had no trouble bringing us right to the drop-off area.
We arrived at the Port Everglades cruise terminal for the Niuew Amsterdam at 11:00 AM. We were in a seat inside with our room cards, waiting to board in 15 minutes. It was that fast to be processed and ready to embark. There were a lot of staff directing you to the correct line and/or location. At 11:30 AM boarding began and we were on the ship and in our room at 12 Noon. It had to be the fastest embarkation I've ever done. Our room was a balcony room on deck 8. This was the first time in a balcony room and of course it is so much better than an inside. Bigger and A LOT of light. No sunbathing on the balcony though as their is a roof overhang from the lido deck above. The deck was deep about 5 foot. It was nice to sit on the small sofa in the room and watch a moonset once and a sunset once. There was a bathtub, very small, but better and larger than a shower. I tried to take a bath once, too small for that, more narrow than a regular tub and short - but it works great for a shower. And I just love the cruise ship showers (on Italian made ships), they water temperature control and pressure is really great.
After checking out our room, we went to the cabana club on deck 11. We spent an additional $300 for a cabana and I thought it was well worth it, but I probably wouldn't do it again. It was a splurge. You are assigned two cabana guys that bring you free water, chocolate dipped strawberries and champagne. They will also serve you lunch from a small sandwich menu (I think they just walk to lido buffet to get it for you). For dinner this night, we ate at the Canaletto, the Italian restaurant that costs $15 each. It was good and the dinner entree was the largest of all the following dinners the rest of the week. I got the veal osso bucco and it was very good and large. We got a booklet in our room detailing our ports and with color maps of where to walk in each one, it was a booklet that we could keep and take with us to the ports and I found this booklet very helpful and not something posted online, so it must be new.
Monday, March 25th, 2013 - Half Moon Cay port
Half Moon Cay today. Cay is pronounced 'key' I learned. The Holland America owned port. It is a fairly large island, but a small area that you can visit. It is a tender port so you must wait in line going and coming. Maybe someday they can build a dock here, but I suspect not only is this bad for the environment it would probably be wiped out every year due to hurricanes and the port seems very shallow and with coral. We walked the beach with powder fine sand and crystal clear light blue water. HAL offers a free BBQ lunch, that was actually pretty good. Just simple hamburgers and hotdogs, grilled mahi mahi and several cold salad dishes - it was simple, but nice to have on the island for free -- and it really hit the spot after walking in the hot sun. Water and ice tea were free and of course there were a lot of outdoor bars that sell drinks. We spent the morning here and tendered back at 1pm to relax in our cabana till 4 pm. We did get our own food from the lido one day and brought it up there. The cabana is nice and private and there is a community lay out areas only for the cabana people. There are 2 cabana guys that bring you the champagne and clean up after you. If you want drinks a bar waiter from the crow's nest bar will bring it. We had dinner in the lido buffet tonight. It was ok, typical good buffet food, but it is always busy and packed with people. After dinner the show was an illusionist, he was entertaining and nice, but if you're a magic buff like me you can figure out how he did all his 'mind reading' tricks. I did enjoy it though, I wouldn't say he was bad.
Tuesday, March 26th, 2013 - Sea Day
Sea day today. No ports, vacation moving right along and I'm now in vacation cruise mode. Awww, relaxation. Had room service coffee and tea service in room and then onto to dining room for breakfast. Lots of breakfast options organized into things like 'American Breakfast', 'Japanese Breakfast', 'Scandinavian Breakfast', and tons more, but they also had typical omelets, pancakes and lots of sides, meats, potatoes, etc. The breakfasts were pretty good. At first, I always think the portions are so small, but when you're eating 3 solid meals a day, plus snacks, it is good to only have small portions after a couple of days of porking out. Some days, I could barely eat dinner! They had a free tour of the kitchen today which is just amazing. They have a huge line to prepare food as well as a room service area and dietary restriction area. It was amazing to see how clean it was -- although they might have prepped it a bit for our visit! There were several sample stations set up and they were showing how they make bread etc. I was impressed with how much they put into it, although it was a quick tour. We did the slot tournament in the casino, but didn't win. Ended up spending $280 in the casino over the course of the week -- didn't win and I'm a big indian casino slot gambler at home and thought the slots were considerably tighter than home. The overall playing time for my $20 at a time was a lot shorter and the bonuses just didn't come that often. It was fun, but definitely not there to win much, kind of gave up and spent far less than I budgeted to spend. We sailed all down the south side of cuba all day today, but really too far to see anything other than a vague outline of the island. Tonight we went to the Tamarind for dinner, I had sashimi (just raw fish, no rice) and it was pretty good and some soup and salad. Light dinner. The desert was a gigantic fortune cookie (with no fortune) dipped in chocolate that was larger than all the food I ate for dinner. It was stale and wasn't very good. Tonight was Cantare a group of 4 singers. They were pretty good singers, individually, but they didn't all 'work' together that well. Kind of like they put an ad in the paper to form a group of 4 unrelated, unknown people. Just my 2 cents.
Wednesday, March 27th, 2013 - Sea Day
Today was supposed to be Georgetown, Cayman Islands port day, but we were unable to tender due to windy weather. There were 15 foot swells. I was disappointed, but that's how it goes. Of course I came up with all kinds of conspiracies on why they skipped the port (make more money, etc.), but actually the waves were huge! So, even I couldn't convince myself of my conspiracies. I've read countless conspiracies here on cruise critic on why they skip ports, so I was ready with mine. Tonight, we ate at Le Cirque a special event dinner in the Pinnacle. It costs $39 and it just was not worth it. Basically, it was the same quality of food as the Pinnacle itself, but served on special le cirque plates (that weren't really all that special). I definitely wouldn't recommend this. My expectations went way up. I know it was $39, but that is a huge price compared to the main dining room at 'free', which is pretty much the same food, so I expected a lot in service and quality and just didn't get it. This was probably the only let down of the cruise. Entrees were small too and you couldn't double up appetizers, etc. The entertainment tonight was Alfreda Gerald a vocalist doing some songs of the great divas. She was good fun.
Thursday, March 28th, 2013 - Mahogany Bay, Roatan, Honduras
My opinion here is to skip the magical chair ($12 ski lift over to the beach) and just walk. It is faster to walk as the ski lift stops often and goes really slow. It's only a quarter mile at most to end of beach. There are really only 2 things to do here: excursions and the beach. We walked to the beach, took some pictures and walked back. We didn't do any excursions here and didn't plan too. The 'town' is another Carnival Corp. company town. So, if you like jewelry shopping or bars you will like it. A few cruise souvenir shops and some other 'local' products. By 'local', I mean mostly like made in china, although look like made here - wood sculptures, etc. We aren't into jewelry at all, and don't like to booze it up at 9am, so didn't find anything here. We were back on the ship by 11 am and found that everyone was in port, so we basically had the ship to ourselves! We went swimming in the pool for the first time ever on a cruise, since it is usually overrun with kids or adults acting like kids. Even on this HAL ship every kid (only about 20 on the whole cruise) were always in the pool it seemed. The adult pool in the back in which we swam is usually full of people too. It was nice. It started getting busy around 3pm -- we headed to our cabana to duck n cover from the crowds. This afternoon we did another splurge for $150 we saw the Behind the Scenes tour. It was absolutely fantastic if you like to see how things are made or done. It was a 3 hour tour. We spent about 30 minutes: the bridge, the engine control room, the kitchen, the food storage locations and the waste processing areas. In each location we met ship officers and they answered any questions we had -- and some people had some really interesting questions. At the end they gave us some cookbooks, operations handbooks, and we got a picture with the captain. While expensive, it was a small group and we felt like VIPs the whole time. It was really nice, although once done, I wouldn't need to do it again.
Friday, March 29th, 2013 - Costa Maya
This was my favorite port. Today we had an excursion to the Mayan Pyramids at Chacchoben. It has to be the best excursion I've ever been on. Very cool to see the pyramids and we saw several, could climb on some of them. Took tons of pictures. It was 2 hours at the site with a guide and an hour each way from the cruise terminal. At the port there was a baby lion that you get your picture with for a fee. The lion was so cute. So, tired tonight. We had dinner tonight in the Pinnacle. Comparing this to the Pinnacle steakhouse on Carnival it is not worth it. The Carnival pinnacle was a lot better. The portions (seafood) were a lot smaller than we've ever had. The lobster tail was about 4 inches long and 1.5 inches wide and that was the entire entree -- I get bigger ones for cheap at Costco at home! Was a bit disappointed as I feel the dining room is pretty good on HAL, so my expectations go on up for the 'premium restaurant' that you pay extra for and it just doesn't deliver.
Saturday, March 30, 2013 - Sea Day
At sea today. Relaxed in the cabana all day today and then had a full dinner room service out on the balcony. I've always wanted to do this! I moved the table from the room (small coffee table that rises) onto the balcony and ordered soups, salads and sandwiches for 2. Room service takes about an hour, but it was fun having a nice dinner on the balcony watching the sunset. I also ordered a 1 liter bottle of liquor plus 3 tonics from room service for $36 ($33 plus tip) (my second one this cruise, heh, heh.) - I'll take the rest home. It is a really good deal for a 1 liter considering the state I come from taxes heavy on booze. Also most well drinks on the ship are $5.95 which is cheap considering most drinks in my home state are $8-12 at restaurants and bars.
Sunday, March 31, 2013 - Departure Day
We didn't end up leaving the ship on Sunday until 11:45 AM (our debarkation time was supposed to be 9am) and then waited an additional 2 hours in processing with customs. The reason: there were only 4 US customs people processing 2100 people! It took forever. There was a sign up saying due to budget cuts of congress not passing tax increases that is needed to run the government. I was in my post cruise hotel (5 min. away) at 2 PM. This was not the fault of HAL and if anything they purposely held us on the ship as long as they could so we wouldn't have to stand in line so long.
We stayed at the Hyatt Place 17th Street. It was ok, kind of weird layout in the rooms as they are 'suites', but really just a room with a divider and a wet bar. It also was very dirty in the halls, floors, trash, etc. as they were still cleaning from the pre-cruise people from the previous night. We saw one maid cart with a dozen or more empty liquor bottles!
The Bad (you can't have good without the bad)
The worst part is the customers! It is true HAL is like a floating nursing home. We are in our late 40's and there was probably 90% that were 67 and higher. We saw about a dozen or two or kids and the parents for them. There were many scooters, canes and walkers, and staff bending over backwards to help people to their seats and help them around, etc. I know, someday I will be here too, but when people get old they get grumpy at least these HAL ones do. We're on vacation people!! We saw lots of bitchy people, particularly the new yorkers (accent gives them away). They are an odd lot, very loud, rude and obnoxious and determined to get their way at any opportunity. We saw one old guy eating an entire plate of lox at breakfast, telling the waiter to bring him another (he had eaten about 6 already) and then a full breakfast to boot. He was never pleasant, but barked orders, very loudly in a raspy voice that gave way to cigarettes years ago. He then told the waiter he would be back next week and the waiter said, "oh that is very nice." And then the guy said very loudly, yeah "I know what you whisper under your breath". "I know what you whisper under your breath". He was crazy, gross, obese and just the rudest person I have ever seen or heard in my life. His wife just sat there, quiet, meek, probably wasted her entire life with this ahole. Caused a big scene and others had looks of horror on their faces. At an earlier dinner, we saw one guy get seated and complain all the way to his seat that he wanted to be seated up front -- 'they had seats open at the tables' he said. The waiter explained they have been seated for a while and are already eating, some ready to leave. He was seated with an older couple and proceeded to complain loudly to them. Apparently he had enough as he got up after complaining for 5-10 minutes and went and sat up front with some others himself, just moving in to someone's table! I'm sure they enjoyed that! We saw lots of 'scenes' of bitchy old rude people complain about everything under the sun, but soon life will move on for them, I sincerely never want to be a grump! The pleasant people way out numbered the grumps, but wow, I saw some real grumps here. NOTE: grumpy old cheap farts are not in the cabana which made a pleasant oasis from the seniors. At times, I really felt sorry for the staff we just had to suffer through it and smile.
Also, my dining partner (who really likes wine) said the wine list is very limited on HAL (mostly washington wines) as compared to the Carnival wine list which actually is quite extensive. So maybe the HAL market just does not drink good wine? Or they only drink cheap wine?
I would give the cruise a 9 out of 10. While there were some grumps and no everything worked perfectly, it was very enjoyable and we had a very relaxing and good time. I don't think people really see what a great value the whole cruise business is. People wait on you hand and foot for food and cleaning, the food is decent, they try hard to entertain every day and night. Not everything is perfect and I predict in the future one of two things will happen. Prices will go up or service will go down for the same price.