My reviews are sometimes a little different, because the focus of my cruises can be different from others there may be things I write about that are of little interest to some, and there are things I may not write about at all that readers may have wanted to know about. Hopefully, at least parts of the review can be helpful or interesting, even if they don’t always apply to your own cruise priorities! I don’t hold the food onboard, or entertainment, to be important, I don’t do any ship tours at ports of call, and often photography is a primary focus of my self-guided walking tours…while onboard my primary focus is relaxation, reading, and photography. So, here goes!:
Port Everglades boarding on Nov 9 Our ship had a somewhat unusual 4pm scheduled departure time, rather than the more usual 5pm so my 1:30pm arrival time was pushed forward to 12:30pm (it’s just a 20 minute drive to the port for me, being a S. Florida local). While I was worried this might put me in a longer line with the bulk of the passengers, surprisingly, it didn’t…I had a porter waiting for the luggage, walked inside to the ‘sick declaration’ paper with just a handful of folks, over to the Mariner priority line where I walked right up to a desk, checked in, and walked aboard in a grand total of 14 minutes from exiting the car. Onboard, it was pleasant to hear that the cabins were ready so I headed up and unloaded the luggage. Then while everyone hits the lido to eat (99.9% of the passengers seem to go there first), I roamed the ship taking photos of the empty lounges and public rooms below.
Cabin 8075 SS Class minisuite My favorite category of cabin of any ship, any line I’ve never quite felt the need for the large suites, but the SS is a significant step up in size and space over the standard cabins…I consider them perfect. This cabin is on Navigation deck 8, starboard side, under the deep overhang of Lido, protected from most weather and nicely shaded (unless sailing southbound in the late afternoon!). The only note to make about this cabin for those unaware is that it is a connecting cabin with 8077 next door ''" not anything of great concern to me, but the door connecting through to the other cabin does take away one bank of closets, leaving you with two rather than three closet sections. Those with lots and lots of clothes, take note!
Departure did not go as planned the blame was placed on the Emerald Princess parked next to us. We were hemmed in at Port Everglades as 5 ships were in port that day ''" we were parked facing east, with the Emerald Princess at our bow facing north and the Oasis of the Seas at our stern facing south…the three ships were like a giant ‘U’ and we were the bottom of the ‘U’ ''" which meant we couldn’t pull out until the other two did. Emerald Princess was delayed in their departure, and that caused everyone to be delayed. At about 5:15pm she finally pulled out, with Oasis following at 5:30pm, and we followed next, exiting the port channel at 6pm. Seas were slightly choppy as winds were sustained at 40 knots toward shore.
Day 2 At Sea…Not Day 2 was scheduled to be an at-sea day, however, we found out that during the night there had been a ‘brightstar’ alert, ie: medical issue, and the captain made an announcement to explain precisely why we were seeing some Bahamian islands extremely close off Starboard when usually our course would have taken us up into the Atlantic over the top of the Bahamas ''" he was headed for Princess’ private island, within sight of Half Moon Cay, to offload a passenger for emergency flight home. Half Moon Cay has no facilities, whereas Princess Cay sits on the tip of the island of Eleuthera, which has a city with facilities and airport accessible on the island. We pulled up next to Crown Princess around 11am, I’m sure confusing those passengers enjoying the private island and seeing a HAL ship pull up! The passenger was safely offloaded and we were back on our way about an hour later…the captain noted that he’d pick up speed a bit but it wouldn’t affect our arrival time in Grand Turk the next day.
Day 3 Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos We arrived around 8am in Grand Turk, and I jumped off the ship fairly early as my plan was to get away from the port facilities and walk to Cockburn Town. The Grand Turk port facilities are very much ‘captive’ by the cruise lines, much like Costa Maya where the plan is to keep the passengers as self-contained as possible within the port facilities keeping all the profits for the port and the cruise lines. There are cabs and tours available outside the port facilities as well, but I like a brisk walk, and Cockburn Town is about 3 ½ miles away so I took the long walk (apparently not a common idea, as I saw no other passengers the entire walk to or from!). Some nice perks of the walk were being able to pop onto Governor’s Beach at several access points, see Columbus Discovery beach and park, greet and pet the wild horses standing alongside the road, see the John Glenn Friendship memorial capsule, walk by the salt ponds and see native flamingoes, pintail ducks, herons, stilts, and other birds, and some quaint little buildings that the tours don’t stop by. There’s not much action in Grand Turk, but I still find taking a walk or a cab to Cockburn Town more interesting than the port facilities!
Day 4 San Juan, Puerto Rico This was really the reason I took this cruise…I have been to most islands in the Caribbean multiple times on many cruises over the years, so I try to find an itinerary that adds one place I haven’t seen, or stops at places I hadn’t been to in a while. I was surprised to realize I hadn’t been to San Juan in 7 years, and it’s such a lovely, historic town that I really wanted to get back to. We sailed into the harbor and past Castillo San Felipe Del Morro around 11:30am, and into port around noon. Once again, walking a self-guided tour of Old San Juan was my intent so I set off into Old San Juan, along the harbor wall, past the Puerta, toured past the quaint old Capela de Cristo and Parque de las Palomas (the pigeon park), then to Catedral de San Juan Bautista where Ponce De Leon’s tomb sits, and worked my way over to Castillo San Felipe Del Morro, where I marched up and down the many levels and stairs of the beautiful old fort taking photos. I headed back along the north wall, to Ponce De Leon’s house, past Barrachina, checking out the noisy monk parakeets in the park by the bayside, and finally, back to the ship. I love walking Old San Juan!
Day 5 Philipsburg, St. Maarten Unfortunately, there was not much time in St. Maarten this cruise due to their planned early departure of 2:30pm. I get annoyed by these short stops and early departures but you can’t control those so rather than taking a cab to the French side of the island, or over to Maho beach to watch the planes scrape the beach…most passengers just stayed walking around Philipsburg which is what I did as well. It’s a pretty town to walk, safe and upscale…so I enjoyed the sunny day. The King and Queen of Netherlands were on the island and staying in a nearby resort that day, and their intended tour of Philipsburg meant a fair number of closed streets, lots of police, and signs everywhere greeting them to town, with orange banners and décor everywhere. That was at least an interesting perk to see something a little different!
Day 6 At sea This was a generally relaxing day, though the seas through the day and into that night, got pretty steep and the winds were strong…the weather threatened rain, but only minor passing showers seemed to come through in the evening…the ship had some troubles keeping the schedule, as the captain had to slow down a bit with the big seas and high winds. There seemed to be less passengers at dinner that evening, and around the ship likely some of those more prone to sea sickness were feeling it that day and night. The downside was that our slower progress meant we were not going to make it to our final stop on time.
Day 7 Half Moon Cay, Bahamas True to word, the captain wasn’t able to get to HMC until nearly 9:30pm, rather than the planned 8:30am…first tenders to shore weren’t ready until 10:15am…feet in the sand started at 10:30am…all of which would have been fine if they decided to bump departure by an hour or two but due to the sailing schedule back to Port Everglades the next day, they had to stick to the 2:30pm all-aboard time. While it didn’t affect me personally, since my day on HMC involves walking all around the island’s nature trails, back bay, and beach, I would think those who reserved cabanas, those with tours planned, etc may have had some difficulties, especially considering it was one of those rare occasions where another ship was at HMC with us, the Ryndam. The weather stayed lovely and I enjoyed my walks and nature nonetheless.
Port Everglades debarking as smooth as can be. The ship started letting passengers off by 7:40am, and called through all of the luggage tag colors by 9am…I often have a fairly early color tag (4th or 5th), but don’t rush to get off since I only have a short drive. My plan was to debark around 9am, as my ride was arriving at 9:30am. Getting off the ship was quick, and my luggage was one of only a handful still remaining in the pink section (they were letting off mostly blue tags by then, so everyone was headed for that area)…I had a luggage tender waiting, walked right up to the customs aisle with no line, and was outside by 9:10am with my luggage at curbside. I called the limo driver and found he was luckily already at the port waiting for 9:30am to come, so he buzzed over and picked me up by 9:15am, and I was home unpacking and making coffee by 9:40am.
Other minutiae: The ship looked in good shape to me not brand-spanking new, but nothing too badly weathered, paint kept up, furniture looked good, carpets clean…minor wear and tear expected. The ottomans on my balcony had some broken wicker and unweaving on one edge…that was about the worst complaint I can come up with. Entertainment was something I didn’t frequent often though one night had a comedian who was surprisingly good. Lido food was the same as on all previous HAL ships plentiful and decent enough. Dining room was decent though not quite as good as on previous HAL sister ships some dishes were very well done like jerk chicken, tamarind pork sauce, and a very good Weiner schnitzel…but other dishes were not quite as well done, meats were often undercooked, and serving sizes were rather small. Desserts however were excellent the pastry/dessert chef was quite talented and never seemed to miss. An evening at Pinnacle grill was, as to be expected, excellent. I made the mistake of ordering the Porterhouse a gorgeous and delicious cut of meat but the size of an actual cow…it had to be 25oz or more, not including the bone nearly 2 inches thick and the size of the plate. The creamed spinach is divine, and I love the peppercorn sauce…and the spicy coconut milk chicken soup is actually SPICY a nice change as things labeled such rarely are. Anthony the guitarist in the Crow’s Nest was very talented and not overpowering which is very nice with the library nearby. Ship’s wifi was actually a decent speed in the library, though significantly slower even at the other side of the Crow’s Nest or other public spaces. While usable in other places, if you’re doing something a little more bandwidth-dependent, stay in the library area (I was remoting in to an office desktop).
That’s all! A fine cruise, as enjoyable as any. As usual, photography was a big focus of the cruise for me, because I love taking photos. I had two cameras and a bunch of lenses with me, though 7 lenses got most of the work between the two cameras. My galleries from the cruise are up, and can be found here:
All photos are labeled…hopefully correctly! Please feel free to look through or hit the slideshow there are lots of photos in there. Any questions about the ship, ports, or photos, feel free to ask and I’ll answer if I can!