In summary, we enjoyed ourselves but we will probably be seeking a different line for future cruises. We noticed a precipitous drop off in quality and service since sailing on Eurodam last year, so much so that we seriously considered calling HAL corporate while on the boat to complain and have our issues addressed.
Like last year on Eurodam, booked SA category and we called 7081 home for the week.
Check-in: Despite everyone's insistence that I was crazy, we flew down to FLL the morning of embarkation, landing approximately 10AM. We were at the pier, checked in, and ready to go by 10:30. At 11:30AM, suite passengers were called for priority boarding. We were in our cabin at 11:45AM.
Cabin: HOT. Very hot. The AC was not on, and when we called the Neptune Lounge to introduce ourselves and inform them of the issue, we were told that this is normal as the boat is "open" and once all the doors for luggage and loading supplies are shut the ship begins to cool down. I knew this was a answer, but I played along. We were only on the ship for 10 mins so I didn't want to push the issue and allow them the chance to get everything working. We changed into Florida clothing and head upstairs to the Lido for some lunch.
The temperature barely dipped after we left port and we began to place more calls. Each time, a different story was told to us. Someone was looking into it, a person came and said it was ok, the engineer escalated to his supervisor... still it was hot.
We asked if we can change cabins and told the boat was completely full and they could only put us into an inside cabin. Coming from SA to inside was out of the question. They then offered us a fan. It was late, we were desperate - we took it.
In the middle of the night, I tripped over the fan and nearly broke my neck.
Next day was sea day, and I wasn't going to hear any more excuses. I started to ask to speak with the so-called officers who are tasked with handling these issues. BTW - our two people in Neptune Lounge were mostly useless through this whole ordeal. Not only did they just give us the company line, they wouldn't tell me who I can escalate anything to so it forced me to do that myself.
Finally, after landing down at the front desk in front of other passengers, I ask them to help me place a ship-to-shore call. They told me I can do this in my room, but I told them I wasn't going to pay for a call to Holland America corporate, so would appreciate if they did it for me. They asked what the problem was and after I gave them the abridged version they sent the Customer Relations officer along with one of the Neptune Lounge concierges and a maintenance technician to my room. They dropped the air diverters from the ceiling and found both vents to the room were closed shut. Once they were opened, which took him no more than 5 minutes to do both and clean up, the room started to cool down. Finally!!
We were compensated with a free Pinnacle dinner, and since they noticed I was drinking Corona beer they offered a case of it to enjoy for the rest of the week. Some people might think that is great, but I would have rather paid for my meal and drinks and had the problem fixed after I first reported it. But at least they offered something, and we did accept it. So we had one miserable night on the boat.
Other Cabin Comments: The people who had our cabin before us left 6 Corona beers in the cabinet. We appreciated that, but were sort of surprised the cabin stewards didn't fully clean and check the room prior to our arrival. We asked that the cooler be emptied of the mini-bar and used it for our own purchases for the week.
The DVD player, TV, and weird stereo system all are very outdated but they did the job. The remotes have dead batteries from people taking them for their own equipment and I wasn't surprised by that. The TV on the Westy is about 26" which is very uncomfortable to see from the couch. On Eurodam, we didn't measure it but it was noticeably larger, and much better picture quality.
The bed and linens were very comfortable, and the couch was where we often found ourselves taking naps. The decor of Eurodam was much nicer, but this was absolutely fine.
Food: Overall, I was satisfied. The menus were mostly different from last year's cruise. A few dishes were the same, such as Surf and Turf on the 2nd formal night. The Lido quality is not that great, but it's adequate for the masses. I wish the lunch variety was better. And the hours of operation just don't seem to mesh well with when people really want to eat. Just my opinion. Gone was the midnight Chocolate show we enjoyed on Eurodam. No reason given - just gone.
Pinnacle: Dined here for breakfast 4x, had dinner once, and did Le Cirque as well. Everything was perfect, except for Le Cirque evening. I had to wait a long time after dinner for my coffee and dessert, and we risked missing the magic show because of it. For whatever reason the service ground to a halt in Pinnacle ,and we did end up missing the opening of the show. As for food quality though, it was perfect. I enjoy this event, and tell everyone about it. Some people don't find value in it, but I think if they charged double I would still go. We had the lamb and the chicken under the brick - both were perfect.
MDR: We both decided that after Night 1 when we were turned away because we didn't have proper attire on (we hadn't received/unpacked our luggage yet) that we would not enjoy ourselves here. We were told to visit the Lido, where less than 1/2 of the dishes are available and much less quality. To say the least, we weren't thrilled. We ended up going back to our room and ordering room service from the dining room. On the two nights we actually did eat in the MDR, the service was great, food presentation and quality were high. I couldn't be happier, except that it is a stuffy environment and just can't get around the required attire. Especially since the MDR wasn't nearly full any night we showed up, and the Lido was packed - this should tell HAL and everyone else that the days of dressed up dining might be about to sunset.
One other funny thing: In the AM one morning we received our menus and noticed a pepper-encrusted strip loin as the main dish from Chef David Burke. I was actually pretty excited about this since I've been to his restaurants here in NYC and his food is great.
Somehow, between the time they printed the menu and we arrived at dinner, that selection was gone off the MDR menu and replaced with Tempura shrimp (which were NOT good). No one in the MDR can explain why I got this rogue menu with a strange item on it. I asked for a copy of theirs so I can send a copy of both to HAL when I write my full letter.
Formal night: I put my suit on, just so I can have dinner in the MDR. I'd say most of the boat wasn't dressed up. With luggage limits strictly enforced I can see why people are packing more shorts and less suits. As soon as dinner was over we changed back out of our clothes so we can be comfortable again. 2nd formal night we ordered plenty of Surf & Turf to our room along with plenty of apps/sides and had way more fun on our balcony.
Room Service: No complaints, except for the very limited menu after 10PM. The menu can use a complete do over - it's boring. We asked for a Caesar salad one night and was told they were only available until 10PM (it was about 10:15). After a little NY-style insistence and request to speak to someone else, somehow they found some salad and sent it up. Other than this, every request was perfect and prompt. Like it is supposed to be.
Neptune Lounge: The cookies are gone. So are the chocolate covered strawberries. You have to ask for them, since they are now in the back. No one can explain why, especially since they are still available on other boats. The furniture in the NL is very dated and uncomfortable, and the TV is an old Sony tube TV that isn't even in HD. I've had HD in my home for nearly 10 yrs, so watching TV in the NL gave me headaches. This room can use a renovation.
Casino: HAL decides to do the daily Texas Hold'em poker tournament at the same time as Bingo, so you can only play one and not the other. I won 2 poker tournaments out of 4 times playing, so I was pretty happy about that. I also won at every other game I played throughout the week, so overall my entire bill was paid for with winnings.
However, the dealers here are RUDE. And they make LOTS of mistakes. They overpaid my friend on one hand, and in the middle of the next hand the supervisor told the dealer to grab the extra chips from my friend's pile. This is extremely unprofessional, and would never be tolerated on shore. The majority of the dealers here are Ukranian, and they can often be heard talking to each other in their native language which is also forbidden. English is the official language of the casino. They didn't have my trust at all.
On more than a few occasions, they would take chips from winning hands by accident. In the few times I was in there this happened at least 10 times. That is very bad.
I am convinced I was also short-changed when coloring up my chips, and when I asked the casino mgr to check the tape I was told they couldn't do that and he would instead ask the dealer how much I gave him. He came back and told me maybe I made a mistake and I should stop drinking. Ridiculous, and I'm absolutely going to complain to HAL and insist they look into that. They basically stole some of my money. And PS - I wasn't drinking.
Last thing about the casino: I asked for a few $50 bills for tips, and was told he didn't have any. The funny thing is, that he did, because I saw him open the drawer for the person in front of me. I asked him why he wouldn't give them up and he again said he didn't have any. I told him they are on the top I just saw them - "Oh those - that's a different bank and I can't touch that money". BS. They are just really rude in there. Someone needs to shake up that whole crew and scatter them out into the fleet so they can't work together anymore.
At least I won. That felt nice.
The "Grill" by the Pool: I didn't realize they had the best lamb burgers I've ever tasted. I only wish they had better hours to go get them!! For some reason, this grill has only 2 ppl working in there even if there are 50 ppl on line. And they close BEFORE dinner!! What if you want a lamb burger for dinner?? Tough. Get there before 5PM.
By Thursday, the menu was missing said lamb, and I was disappointed but understanding. The boat can't possibly carry enough for 7 days without things running out. However, when they mysteriously reappeared on Friday's menu I was a little out of sorts. I just don't understand that.
Billing Issues: Major problem. Somehow, my charges were going on someone else's card, and someone else had their charges on mine. I can't explain that, nor could anyone else. The first tip was when I went to the casino and put my card into a slot machine. My name didn't pop up - it was someone else. So a quick trip to the front desk sorted that out, but the billing wasn't resolved until the morning of disembarkation.
Also, there was a mysterious charge for 23.00 from the Ocean Bar. The NL crew told me we had ordered the Ship Flicks package - two of them. I instead said we ordered mixed nuts, not the whole package. They said the charge would be $1 per bowl, so we ordered two. The charge should have been $2.30. This took 5 days to rectify. Good thing I kept the room service slip as a receipt otherwise I'm sure they would have insisted I pay for them.
Ship Flicks: I love this!! I didn't even know about it last year on Eurodam. The movie library is impressive, and current. One small nag - I asked for the movie The Departed and was told it was out, but they would let me know when it was back. They never did, so the the day after it was supposed to be returned I called to ask and was told that the people said they returned it but it is now lost. Oh well - we got something else. The next day, just curious I asked again about the movie and was told it was now available. Weird - supposedly my name was on the waiting list but no one called. Poor follow up.
Entertainment: We did not enjoy Eurodam's offerings last year so pretty much assumed it would be similar quality as that boat. However we decided to see the magic show and we were completely blown away how good it was. The act was on America's Got Talent and they advanced to the finals. A very well done show - don't miss it. They also did a Q&A session a few days later in the Culinary area and got very personal with the passengers.
We didn't attempt to see any other show since they were not our taste.
Ports: Grand Turk - a colossal tourist trap. The island has some charm, but is poverty stricken and not as nice as we thought or hoped it would be. If we were to ever visit this island again we would probably stay on the boat.
San Juan - much nicer each time I visit. I enjoyed stopping here, stocking up on supplies from the CVS across the street and taking a stroll through the small city. Even won some money at the casino in the Sheraton, which is completely made over from the last time I visited. I'm really happy the tourism here is allowing them to clean up this area. It is starting to become my favorite port.
St Maarten - Hired a local cabbie to drive us around the whole island and give us a tour. He asked for $100 for a 2 hour tour, and we tipped him an extra $50 for being one of the nicest people we had ever met. He took us down roads only the locals would go down and we really got to see the island in a way unlike most tourists ever do. He dropped us off at the beach and handed us his card and told us to please refer him or call again if we happen to visit. We def will.
Half Moon Cay - Nice island, very relaxing day on the beach. The BBQ left a lot to be desired as it reminded me of my days of going to summer camp. The tender operation is efficient and quick. The shops on the island are all owned by Carnival naturally, so everything is overpriced. The selection is also very limited since it is an uninhabited island only used by the cruise lines when they are in port.
Disembarkation: We had the freedom to leave when we wanted since we were in Neptune Suites, and we are very glad we left early. Apparently there was some major accident outside the port area and many workers were unable to get to work, including customs agents. So, into the great hall and only 2 agents to stamp everyone on their way out the door. This took about 45 mins, and caused many to worry about catching flights.
Once outside, there were no cabs because of the accident outside. Fortunately we were able to jump into a shuttle bus that had 2 open seats and for $25 total we were back to FLL with an hour to spare before takeoff.
It was 75 and sunny in FLL, and when we landed at LGA a few hours later it was 25 and snowing heavy.
We had a great trip, but we're probably going to seek out a better line for our next cruise. There was just a little too much going wrong on this one and the service was much worse than last year.
Thanks for reading.