This is our 6th cruise and our 1st on Holland America. We had decided to take this itinerary primarily because it fit with our friend's work schedule and the ports except for Grand Cayman would be new for us. My husband is 57 and I am 53. For me half the excitement about taking ia cruise is that I read up on different ships and read reviews and by the time we have made our decision, I have unfortunately killed a forest by printing out the reports and reading them to each other over a leisurely weekend coffee.
We arrived a day early in Fort Lauderdale to ensure that our luggage came too. This time luckily we had no issues. We stayed at the Sheraton Yankee Clipper on the beach and it was satisfactory. Breakfast in the morning on the beach at Shula's was good and got us in the spirit of the ocean as we had arrived from Dallas seeking water!
We had a rental car from Hertz and therefore returning it and catching the complimentary shuttle to the pier is the best idea since the line of taxis was backed up with needing to show identification. We breezed through on the right side as these drivers have a pass.
Embarkation We arrived at 1pm at the Pier. There was only one person taking care of the baggage drop off and although she did a good job could have used some help, with her needing to advise people on taking medication out etc. Once inside the building, there were lots of people and clear directions for the most part. Pictures taken and Noro Virus paperwork complete, we were ready to go. We were aboard the ship in minutes. People were there on the other side to greet and direct you. When we came out of the elevator, there was someone waiting to show us to our lovely cabin, on Deck 5-5143. This was our first balcony and we really enjoyed it. Our Cabin Steward Henry was there to greet us and welcome us to our cabin, telling us our luggage would be there soon and he was there to help with any of our requests. There were 3 bottles of wine in our cabin waiting for us as well as 2 soda cards. These were gifts that were promotions from our TA. Nice touch.
Cabin Our cabin was larger than any we had in the past. The deck has 2 wicker chairs and a wicker foot stool. The bathroom is a good size with a tub. We would have preferred a glass enclosed shower stall as we use only the shower, but it was clean and fine. The water pressure was good but our controls for temperature were difficult to manage and my husband scalded himself one morning. The steward came in and showed him a trick how to work it. There is an enclosed medicine chest that came in handy with nice amenities, although we always bring our own. The closet space is ample but the drawer space is limited. Only 2 small night tables. You can take one of the closets away and pull down shelves but you need to choose one or the other. Where the desk is the space is strictly for the mini bar and storage. Our cabin was near the aft of the ship but except for rough seas one night we did not hear any additional noises. We travelled with close friends that we had not seen for a year and they were in the cabin right next door. We had the steward open a portion of the balcony partition so if we wanted to sit on the deck together, we could spread out.
Westerdam Physical Space In roaming the ship I have to say that there are many lovely nooks and crannies to sit and read or have a conversation. There are lovely lounges and bars suitable for different atmospheres. There is a nice coffee cafe that served up an excellent Cafe Americano. Initially we found the ship to be very choppy but perhaps it was a matter of learning where things were. For example, I could not easily find the shops except the jewelry store and my husband had to tell me where they sold clothing and gifts. I found both Princess and Celebrity more clearly defined. I enjoyed the Promenade walking track on Deck 3. The retractable roof is a great idea for rainy times and although we had good weather it was needed on one occasion. There are lots of elevators and found that with 1800 people except for disembarkation, the wait was never very long.
Muster Drill Just a brief note here. The obligatory drill was held at 4:15pm. The life jackets were a little more challenging than I have had to don in the past as they did not use snaps but the long ties and needless to say-it took me an extra moment to unravel myself and get it on correctly before walking down the 2 flights. I saw others in the same confusion and just a note-if it were a true emergency there would have been some chaos happening especially with the older group. Once at our muster station,people were not that organized and were poorly directed by the crew. At each station, a crew member called out each persons cabin number and ticked you off the list when you answered. We could not end the drill until all had answered that they were in attendance. I applaud their attention to detail, however they need to train their staff to capture the attention of the group a little better. Once completed then a different crew member showed us how to correctly wear the life jacket. My recommendation would have been to do it the other way. Anyway, it took a little longer than usual, but no complaints-it must be done!
Sailaway Up on deck for a 5pm sailaway. This for us is an emotion moment of knowing you are truly alive-to have reached this moment and to be back on the seas with each other. The live band was poor and not as Caribbean sounding as they needed to be. The drinks sold were your typical sail away fare. There were 5 ships all pulling out at the same time and it went very smoothly.
Entertainment We usually go to the show every night after dinner and before the casino and bed. Timing on this cruise did not work out as we ate at 8pm and the show was at 10:30pm to accommodate the 8:30pm seating. By having an extra 45 minutes or so in between, we just ended up most nights in skipping the show. We saw it one night and the singer Alfreda was really good. The Olympic gymnast Lance, was talented as a gymnast but not a singer, which he attempted nor a comedian. He was acceptable but not more. We had heard that the magician actually botched a disappearing trick and he was so embarrassed. All in all, the entertainment I would say was almost collegiate and 2nd rate-did not hold a candle to Celebrity.
Activities We were looking forward to the Newlywed game, trivia, dance lessons and some arts and crafts. I am not seeking the Carnival type fun ship atmosphere but wanted offering that my husband and I could attend based on the daily newsletter. We found there was very little offered-and would recommend they consider adding more activities.
We went to the library on day 2 and they had a great selection of books but a limited selection of games. By that time they were all picked over and not returned to the end of the cruise.
Ports of Call Half Moon Cay Holland America's private island was fabulous. It was clean and the water and sand were heavenly. The facilities were good and the staff were friendly.We chose to enjoy the day in the water swimming. The buffet is not as close as I would like but a short walk or tram ride takes you there. We did not care for the food and went back to have a burger at the pool.
Turks and Caicos Grand Turk is very remote. Carnival cruiselines has built a few shops at the port. We took a taxi though with our friends to the downtown area but there is virtually nothing to see. There is a museum you can go in and see. We looked for some local arts and crafts but could not find anything we wanted and went back to the ship.
Grand Cayman Unfortunately we left the ship later than we should have. We were planning on doing a little shopping and then heading out to 7 mile beach. It was almost 1 o'clock till we were done shopping and as the last tender was at 3:30 and there were 5 ships in port and taxis were hard to come by, we thought that we would have to do that next time. Great day in port-nice weather. The tender is a little rough for some people especially when loading as it rocks in the water alot!
Costa Maya Really enjoyed our day. First we shopped at the port area and then took a cab $5 return to the Fishing village. We sat in lounge chairs at the beach, had a few drinks and had a 1 hour massage on the beach for $25 including tip. The water was a little less clean than Half Moon Cay but the day was enjoyable.
Dining Room-Dinner I had taken a peak at the menus online before I left because as most cruisers, the food is a highlight. Having said that, it is very subjective. All 6 of us at the table did not find the menus to be very exciting-we found it difficult to decide most nights. Aside from the delicious Surf and turf night where there was a piece of Tenderloin (extremely small about 2 oz)and a lobster tail and vegetables, there was only one other night that I can look back and remember a great meal. That was the night I ordered crab legs. It said they came in broth so all others thought it wouldn't be to their liking, however there was virtually no liquid and they were great. The Dutch night did not have anything interesting and they do not offer staples such as Prime Rib, New York Steak or a Salmon Filet at the bottom. When I spoke with the Maitre d' he offered to get me something from room service and my chicken was a flattened piece of white meat that is grilled an put on a bun at the poolside grill. Our waiter and busboy worked very hard and we were very grateful however I sensed that their management does not like for them to ask for anything special and they may not be empowered to serve the customer as on other lines. This is not what I expected from HAL. The salads were very similar each night. The cuts of meat were not Angus or AAA and we were told that we would need to go to the Pinnacle to experience that. We tried to make reservations and could not get in. Several people told me that they felt the $30 did not get them any better food or service. I love dessert and felt that there was NEVER an item that you would say it was to die for-very basic culinary offerings. I would commend our servers, Handy and his side kick Charlie. They knew what to offer us after day one and tried their best.They were funny and happy and made our evening enjoyable in spite of us not being passionate about the culinary expertise. All in all for the most part it was average.
Breakfast Out of 7 days, we ate 3 meals on our balcony ordering from Room Service. They were quick and pleasant. I preferred to order cold cereal, fruit, yogurt and coffee so I cannot comment on the hot items. Only comment is that there was always an error in our order-we made due, but it almost became funny. The other days we ate a lovely breakfast in the Vista dining room. The service was pleasant, the menu was lovely and the food was tasty. I recommend this highly to you. Only problem is the hours are between 8-9:30 only.
Lunch I ate lunch once on a sea day in the dining room-again very short hours of operation. I wish I had kept a lunch menu so I could be more specific but basically it was the room service lunch offered in the dining room-don't know who they thought they were kidding. I went for a beef broth that tasted like salty soup with a couple of macaroni noodles. I ate later on deck.
Poolside during the day You could order up at the grill a hot dog, burger,chicken burger, veggie burger with fries. Do not expect any personality from these poor duo. I guess some might commiserate and say that if that was all you do for the entire day you have the right to be grumpy-sorry I don't see it that way. And don't even try to ask for onions on your bun-they will just point to the buffet that sits out all day with Mexican Food and is rarely cleaned up. I actually bent down to pick up some strewn french fries so no one would slip-I saw crew members stepping over mayo too! Due to what my next area deals with, the Lido Buffet, I unfortunately are more burgers than I needed.
Lido Buffet I will make this short. We tried-we really did to give it a chance but would only say that the offering is no better than average cafeteria food. The Italian smells great but the pizza and pasta with sauces are just average. The Wok had sushi everyday that does not hold a candle to the sushi that I purchase at Walmart. Too much rice and cut too thin with no variety day in and out. The chicken tasted like frozen precooked chicken that was overdone. On the first day I made myself a great cobb salad but at the salad bar daily they often offered extras like fresh turkey or sliced eggs. I had a fairly good turkey paninni but they do not offer French Fries, only potato chips at that station. The hours of operation were strange to us. For example if we came back from a day in port at 2pm-most stations were closed and that is why I was forced to go back to the grill. As a lover of bread pudding I question why it the same thing is offered daily-wouldn't it make sense if you wanted to offer it daily change to bourbon one day and chocolate another! Bottom line-it lacked creativity, variety, friendliness, appeal and most of all taste.
Service One of the major reasons we selected HAL is we were told that they were ahead of most of the cruiselines in this area unless of course you are looking at Crystal. I have been in the Hotel/Hospitality/Food and Beverage business for 30 years. My heart is for the people-I get it and I know off the backs of the back of the house person things get done. There is something wrong with the picture here. There are some staff that are happy-but not at the levels I expected. The crew for the most part pass you in a corridor and do not make eye contact-yes some do. When someone went out of their way to offer great service we really noticed it. By that I mean if you are sitting in the Lido restaurant and you have finished your coffee-someone actually says-can I get you another cup. The bar servers on the Lido deck are very disappointed when you have a Soda card and often showed there disappointment in having to get you a coke versus a beer.
Cruise director and his team leading the activities were very pleasant.
Disembarkation It was a little unclear as to whether or not were were cleared to disembark back in Fort Lauderdale. We went down to the 1st deck and the crew were very helpful and actually let the people who were waiting off before our tickets came up (we were well behaved and he offered anyways)
Summary At this point I do not know which cruise line we will go back to. I am really disappointed because we want to expand our choices but good service and food quality is important. I know many people said that they were thrilled with both so reading someone else's review reminds you that food especially is very subjective.