We (Age 47 and 51) have sailed on both Celebrity and NCL in the past. Our original 12-10-2006 sailing (on Celebrity's Millennium) was cancelled. We then rebooked on NCL's Jewel 12-10-2006 sailing, only to be advised that there were no balcony cabins available, as they were oversold. We had heard generally good reviews on HAL, so we decided to give HAL a try. Our only reservation was that we had heard that HAL overall tended to attract a bit "older" clientele then Celebrity or NCL. This proved to be true.
We flew in to Fort Lauderdale a day early and stayed at the Comfort Suites Airport & Cruise Port. They provided free transportation from the airport to the hotel (and) free transportation from the hotel to the cruise port. Overall, this worked out very well (there was a bit of delay in picking us up at the airport, though)
In a nutshell, Here is the lowdown on our HAL Cruise Experience:
Embarkation: Very Organized and prompt. Due to our multiple rebookings, we had to pick up our tickets pierside. There is a designated area for this. HAL employees were very courteous and helpful. A BIG thank you to the porters who helped us with our luggage, as we did not have actual HAL luggage tags until after we obtained our cruise tickets inside. At the Port 11:30, on the ship at 12:00. Since room cabins were not yet available, went to the buffet area, ate a quick snack and explored the ship. At 1:00 cabins were available.
Stateroom: Roomier then average (200 square feet plus 54 square feet balcony) The furniture on the balcony included two wicker type chairs, a wicker foot stool and a small teak table. Very nice. The Staterooms could truly use a few additional drawers, though. We did ask our room steward for an additional wicker basket to utilize in the closet as a faux drawer, which we received promptly. Bathroom was large (with a tub) but the shower curtain was dirty and stained. The floor tile was in need of a major scrubdown. Loved the bathroom amenities...all individual bottles (body wash, shampoo, conditioner, lotion) which is a BIG improvement and much preferred over wall type dispensers. Room was usually made-up after returning from breakfast (Exception was one day where room was not made up until after 12:30 in the afternoon. This happened to be the day where the staff attended a mandatory "drill", hence some lost time on the part of our otherwise very good room steward)
Public Rooms: Clean and nice decor. The major difference that we noticed is that there tended to be more "smaller and intimate" public areas, rather then grand rooms.
Activities: Somewhat limited. There was often only 1 activity going on at a time. We did enjoy the Queens Lounge, where there were movies shown on a daily basis (plus free popcorn) Also, this is where the cooking (free samples)demonstrations take place. Very interesting and enjoyable. I felt that it would have been easier to view available activities, etc if they were all listed in time order, rather then by category.
Entertainment: Very Enjoyable. Stage shows / costumes and stage settings were top notch. Alfreda (Powerhouse Singer) was such a joy to listen to. Lance Ringwald (Olympic Gymnast and Comedian, too !!) was awesome to watch. Bernie McGrenahan (Comedian) was a hoot....very funny man.
Service: Dining Room Service for Dinner was excellent. Jeffrie, our waiter and his assistant were both wonderful, prompt, helpful and courteous. After the first night, we always had ice teas at our table upon arrival and after dinner, Cappuccino immediately followed. Kudos to HAL for the Cappuccino and espresso "on the house" in the Dining room. Unfortunately, breakfast was another story. At times, waited almost 45 minutes for a table. Witnessed a couple being seated at a "six top" that still had leftover food and dirty dishes at four of the six place settings. Thank goodness they spoke up (and were then moved to a clean table) Also asked for a table for 2 one morning. Advised there were none available. While being escorted to a "four top" we passed TWO clean tables for 2. Hmmmmm.
Food: Excellent. Quite a variety at Dinner. Loved the many appetizers that were offered. Presentation was very nice. Everything arrived hot that was supposed to be hot and arrived cold what was supposed to be cold. Again, kudos to our waiter and assistant. Breakfast menu could be a bit more varied. Lunch Menu provided a nice variety. Only ate in the Lido twice....much better then average. Separate areas (salad bar, italian area, general buffet, ice cream station, sushi and stir fry, etc) Room Service (Only utilized in the morning) was also excellent. We usually opted for croissants and coffee in our room or on the balcony, prior to an actual full breakfast in the dining room. A breakfast room service card is placed in your cabin each night. Just choose what you want and hang on the door knob. I did miss being called on the telephone as a "heads up" right before room service was delivered to the room though.
Shore Excursions: A bit pricier then other lines. Grand Turk - On our own. Took a Taxi into Town ($4.00 per person) and did a walkabout. Visited the Museum in Town...Small but interesting. Chatted with local B & B Owners. Enjoyed the "Small Town" ambiance. Afterwards, Took Taxi back to the Port area and relaxed on the beach / did a bit of shopping. Tortola: Cave Snorkeling at Norman Island. Lots of fish and Coral to see. Snorkeling into the caves a bit scary, but a very interesting experience. St Maarten: Butterfly farm. Very interesting - learned a lot. Super Photo experience. Afterwards, tour stopped on French side for a bit of shopping. French Croissants and Coffee at an outdoor cafe overlooking the ocean. Very nice. Half Moon Key: On our Own. A bit of hiking, snorkeling (area was the same as the children's swim area..still trying to figure out the logic of this)
Fort Lauderdale: City and Sea excursion. Toured the City by bus, visited Old Fort Lauderdale, then boarded a paddlewheeler for a short sail on the intercoastal waterway. Viewed Port area and ships in harbor. Toured Millionaires Row - Beautiful Homes. Very nice, but next time will opt for a day visit pass at one of the Hotels on the Beach.
Overall, we had a very nice Cruise, good weather and enjoyed sailing on the Westerdam. There were a few bumps here and there, but nothing major that would completely turn us off as to sailing with HAL again.