Summary and Highlights:
1. Had a great time!
2. Got to the ship about 12:30 and walked right up to the registration desk-no waiting in line like the very early arrivals. We then were able to go right to the ship, as they had just wrapped up the boarding of the earlier arrivals and were no longer calling groups. We were on board by 12:45. We went right to the Mariner’s Lunch in the MDR.
3. The HAL Cats were very good and while the ballroom dancing crowd hit the floor (and dominated) for several songs, we took advantage of “Unchained Melody” to hit the floor as low-key dancers. Many others joined us. This was the pattern for the week-fitting in dances among the ballroom dancing folks. I don’t mind sharing the floor with them and they seemed OK with our slow dancing as well, you just have to be confident enough to get up and dance and not wait for them to clear the floor.
4. The Piano Bar played 60’s-80’s folkie/light rock music all week (a constant barrage of Arlo Guthrie, Elton John and Billy Joel) which many in the crowd enjoyed. I have preferred other ship’s piano bars where the music selection includes classical piano tunes and also includes music from the 60’s + today. If I heard any more Cat Stevens or 70’s era Elton John… I would scream or leave, and I did (leave).
5. Grand Turk. If there again, will fully skip Margaritaville. Back to ship for sail away. Watched the late comers wander back (why do some push arrival back so late?), and watched the Swan Hellenic Minerva arrive (looks like a great classic ship!).
6. San Juan. Finished up with tapas and sangria at the El Convento Hotel (second floor casual dining area in the beautiful courtyard is great for lunch, drinks or light dinner, and quite affordable).
7. St. Maarten/Martin: The Art Tour was very nice. Got to see the inside of several homes on the island as the artists work out of their homes and trip took us around the entire island. We bought a couple of prints and one small oil painting
8. Formal Nights: I thought folks were even more dressed up for the second formal night than the first. More long gowns, more sparkles, very festive! Have read many reviews that said the numbers of those dressing up was shrinking. That may be the case, but there were plenty of dressed up folks so future cruisers should not fear the tux and gown!
9. Half Moon Cay. The two-story cabanas (and the Captain Morgan “ship”, very non-HAL as obviously for the Carnival folks) are the visual monstrosity that other reviewers have mentioned. They are the first thing you see when arriving, are ugly, and do not even pretend to blend into the island. Maybe one of them was rented during our day there but we were the only ship there that day. Who knew the small cabanas were so tasteful??
Details for those of you that read everything (like me!)
Overall: We are in our mid-40’s, this was our 16th cruise and our 4th on HAL-though our first HAL ship in 8 years. We had booked a balcony guarantee and ended up with 5163 (VC), a very nice cabin that was close to the aft elevators and low enough to walk down to decks with activities and dinner. Cabin was good sized, bigger than other cabins we have had on other lines. The balcony was a good size as well. Had two chairs, plastic whicker with pads. We started the trip with 2 balcony tables: the “wicker” table and the teak/metal table; but midway through the week, the staff took out the teak/metal table. It was in rough shape, but it was strange having it disappear one day. Bathroom was also good sized, had a tub which was nice, though it was very slow to drain. Bed was comfortable. A/C kept things cool OK but did not seem to take the moisture out of the air so it was damp so the cold felt even colder. We are not complaining as we have been on ships that are too hot. We take too cold any day!
Pre-Cruise: We flew down Friday night and took taxi to the hotel. During the taxi ride the radio played Celine Dion’s Titanic’s theme (gulp). We stayed at the Hyatt Pier 66 using points for the stay (but food ended before 11pm and the bar closed soon after, always a bummer at hotels that claim food and bar until Midnight or later), and were able to enjoy breakfast and the hot tub the next morning before departing for the pier. Took taxi to pier, and while it took a while to get a taxi, we preferred to wait rather than do the shuttle van which would stop at multiple ships. With 8 ships in port that day, no wonder taxis were limited.
Embarkation: Got to the ship about 12:30 and walked right up to the registration desk-no waiting. We then were able to go right to the ship, as they had just wrapped up the boarding of the earlier arrivals and were no longer calling groups. We were on board by 12:45. We went right to the Mariner’s Lunch in the MDR and had a table of 10, 8 of us who had all lived in upstate NY at some point in time. We then made our way to the Assistant Dining Room Manager and arranged for a table for 2. We had late seating (7:45) and she said we received the last table for 2. She said that on nights that we were not there by 8:00, the table would be opened up to those using the Open Seating-we heeded her warning when the MDR was on our agenda.
We went to our Cabin (5163), met our steward, made our request for ice, and let him know we are late sleepers. Muster drill uneventful. Sail away was delayed a bit given the number of ships in port and a problem in engineering and the emergency generator (or something similar). We were on deck 10 near engineering and was interesting to watch them start up the whatever they were repairing, gather as a group of engineering staff on deck to watch the smoke pour out of the stack, and then go back inside to huddle and try again. It all got worked out and we left about 6:00 or so. The sun set while we were still docked but we had wonderful warm and dry weather for sail away. Looking at the sail away video on the Port Everglades webcam, you can’t see us, but we are waving from the top deck and toasting our departure with a bottle of sparkling wine. We love how the condo folks wave and make a fuss when ships are leaving so we definitely wave back.
Unpacked, dressed for dinner. Hit the Ocean Bar to dance before dinner. The HAL Cats were very good and while the ballroom dancing crowd hit the floor (and dominated) for several songs, we took advantage of “Unchained Melody” to hit the floor as low-key dancers. Many others joined us. This was the pattern for the week-fitting in dances among the ballroom dancing folks. I don’t mind sharing the floor with them and they seemed OK with our slow dancing as well, you just have to be confident enough to get up and dance and not wait for them to clear the floor. Dinner service all week was very good. Our waiter and his assistant were friendly. Wine steward came by efficiently each night and we ordered a bottle of wine several times. Things moved quickly. Our table for two was right behind the waiter stand so we got to watch all of the trays come out and the organization that goes on. Interesting to watch and initially thought it would be loud and distracting, but it worked out fine. We tend not to do the ship shows, but we hit the casino a bit, walked the promenade, sat in the piano bar for a bit, and hit the nightclub. The nightclub was usually not well attended at the late hour we finally made it there, so were able to regularly request music we enjoy dancing to. The DJ would play many of our requests. The Piano Bar played 60’s-80’s folkie/light rock music all week (a constant barrage of Arlo Guthrie, Elton John and Billy Joel) which the crowd enjoyed. I have preferred other ship’s piano bars where the music selection includes classical piano tunes, but also includes music from the 60’s + today. If I heard any more Cat Stevens or 70’s era Elton John… I would scream, and I did (leave). The ambiance was nice and the player very talented but a wider range of music would have been good.
Day 2-Day at Sea. My favorite days are those at sea. We were up unexpectedly early. Moderate seas overnight kept us rolling a bit in bed so took advantage of being up to see the sunrise at sea. Hit the lido for a light breakfast and then back to the balcony for the room service breakfast that had been ordered for 8:00. Hit the CC Meet and Greet at 10:00-nice group, no officers attended. Had lunch in the MDR, table for 6, very nice dining companions and we talked with two of them periodically during the week. Lunch took longer than expected so we opted out of the 3:00 high tea which we usually enjoy. Hit the pool (brrrrr), took nap, and got ready to watch the sunset. Formal night was very nice. DH rented a tux and it had been delivered on board. The only problem was the shirts they gave him were not bow tie shirts. He had the choice on type of tie and chose bow tie, but the shirts had a regular collar. The shirts were also more cream colored (read dirty) than one would have expected. He wore it and looked wonderful and there were more tuxes that I would have thought reading past reviews. While certainly in the minority, he was not out of place in a tux. I wore a long gown on this first formal night and again, while in the minority, was certainly not alone and felt like we fit in perfectly. Very few casually dressed folks (or maybe I just overlooked them).
Day 3-Grand Turks/Caicos. We slept in, had room service breakfast on the balcony, went ashore about 11:30. Walked off the pier, went through Margaritaville (had an adult beverage after a longer than needed wait) and walked down the beach. Left the Margaritaville property as we walked down the beach and ended at a bar called “Jack’s Shack”. Father-in-law named Jack so bought a hat for him and a few beers and walked back. Walking along the beach was nice, once past the Margaritaville crowd. Poked head in a few shops but did not buy anything and wandered by the John Glen exhibit. If there again, will fully skip Margaritaville. Back to ship for sail away. Watched the late comers wander back (why do some push arrival back so late?), and watched the Swan Hellenic Minerva arrive. Nap. Dinner at the Pinnacle. We had made and paid for the Pinnacle reservation in advance so it was nice to have it already taken care of rather than figuring it out the day of. Had a lovely table for two and very nice waiters and wine steward. Food was very good as other reviews have noted. Seas were still moderate. We enjoy the feeling of being on a ship and did not mind the rocking and rolling but you definitely felt it. Having been on a transatlantic sailing where we were speeding across the last half due to a medical emergency and another trip that hit the tail end of a hurricane, these seas were not that rough. But still, you were bumped around consistently and we heard some passengers were seasick.
Day 4-San Juan. Slept in, room service breakfast and went up top to watch us arrive in San Juan. What a pretty arrival it is into San Juan. We have been to San Juan a few times over the years so hit our regular haunts: bought a painted door at Mi Pequeño San Juan, had a beer at the bar at the top of Calle Cristo (and corner of Calle San Sabastian), watched the sun start to set at Castillo San Felipe del Morro, and finished up with tapas and sangria at the El Convento Hotel (second floor casual dining area in the beautiful courtyard is great for lunch, drinks or light dinner, and quite affordable). Stopped at Walgreens for some things we ran out of and bought a bottle of wine to bring on board to have in our cabin and headed back to the ship. Sail away was tricky with a late dinner seating but the MDR staff really stepped up and helped us out. We went to dinner at 7:45, ordered appetizers and salad and a bottle of wine, told our waiter and wine steward we were skipping the entrée-leaving to watch the evening sail away (taking our wine with us)-and we’d be back for desert. Worked perfectly and the staff were wonderful. We wanted to see the beautiful evening sail away from San Juan enjoy the dining room. By skipping the entrée, the timing worked perfectly and upon our return to the MRD, the wine steward immediately put our wine into an ice bucket with water (key for quick chilling). Nightclub and promenade walking made for a good evening.
Day 5-St. Maarten/Martin- We had looked at the Art tour (8:30 departure) in advance of the trip but it had been sold out. We checked once on the ship and they had added a 9:30 departure so were able to go. Small tour bus with about 16 or so of us, nice tour leader Lisa and driver Elvis. Challenge was that even though we left an hour later than the first tour, we skipped the first stop and followed this first group at 3 of the 5 stops, each time having to wait for them to wrap up before we went in. No real problem, certainly, just a bit irritating. One woman on our tour was very upset by it and we dropped her and her husband off at a taxi area to go back to the ship. The Art Tour was very nice. Got to see the inside of several homes on the island as the artists work out of their homes and trip took us around the entire island. We bought a couple of prints and one small oil painting. Good Christmas shopping. Sail away was beautiful and hit the pool before the nap. Attended the Le Cirque evening at the Pinnacle. We had the same table and staff that we did for our dinner in the Pinnacle earlier in the week. Made it nice as we knew the staff would be wonderful. Le Cirque was very nice and we are glad we did it. Broke up the week nicely. They had covered the Pinnacle’s light boxes to change the mood of the room which we appreciated. The chateaubriand was very good and we enjoyed the dinner. We hit the observation deck late that night to stargaze. The ship’s light impacted viewing but we found Deck 10 Forward the best spot. We grabbed two loungers and had the deck mostly to ourselves during our time there. Had a two-swan towel animal and a small flower bouquet on the bed that night as we were celebrating an anniversary that week.
Day 6-At Sea. Great day at sea. Promenade reading/napping, balcony sitting, reading, and eating. Went to the Mariner’s Brunch. The brunch was very nice, had a very limited menu, provided glassed of sparkling wine, and we received our tiles on our way out. Sitting by the aft pool is difficult as the plastic chairs located there are very uncomfortable. They are not made for sitting/reading. They may be OK for sunbathing but that is not what I am looking for. The chairs in the mid-ship pool area were much better for reading, but you did not get the open sea views. The promenade has the wonderful wooden lounges with pads. They are in rough shape but hope they are kept in place as they add so much to the ambience of the ship. It was the second Formal Night. DH wore tux and I wore a black cocktail dress. I thought folks were even more dressed up for the second formal night than the first. More long gowns, more sparkles, very festive! Have read many reviews that said the numbers of those dressing up was shrinking. That may be the case, but there were plenty of dressed up folks so future cruisers should not fear the tux and gown! Had fun/ boisterous time at the three card poker table late with several other women. Always fun when that happens. On the bed that evening were our new 2-star Mariner pins, a nice memento of the trip.
Day 7-Half Moon Cay-Love the island, have been there a few times. Very typical day on the island. Good weather, found chairs in the shade, water was cool at first but we acclimated. We find the BBQ consistently under par so we were not surprised by the food. We got two floating mats which we enjoy. One couple got float rings and went out too far they had to send the lifeguard boat out to make them come back closer to shore. The two-story cabanas are the visual monstrosity that other reviewers have mentioned. They are the first thing you see when arriving, are ugly, and do not even pretend to blend into the island. Maybe one of them was rented during our day there but we were the only ship there that day. Who knew the small cabanas were so tasteful?? Oh well, we walked past all of the cabanas and found our spot. Tendering back and forth to the ship went smoothly- our tender to the island had a wedding party which was fun to see. The wedding took place further down the beach where a small white shade tent had been set up. Back on the ship we packed, went to dinner, danced, walked the promenade, cashed out our casino accounts. When leaving slots, you save you money to your keycard and have to cash it out by midnight the last night.
Debarkation. Stayed in the cabin for most of the morning and had our regular room service breakfast delivered. When the crew came by to open up the doors between balconies, we made plans to leave the room. Hit the Crows Nest to use up the rest of our internet minutes, check on our flight, and read. Just up there about 30 minutes. We were in the second to last color called as we had a very late in the day flight. Waited in line to get off the ship about 10 minutes, got bags, in line for customs about 10 minutes, and walked off the ship. Waited in line about 10 minutes for cab and off to the airport.
Finally…Had a great time. The Westerdam is a fine ship and we did not have time to try all that it had to offer. Tried doing the happy hour specials in the Ocean Bar a few times but got shut out-too busy. Hit happy hours on the pool deck once and the Atrium bar with no problems. Room service cards are given each night for the next morning’s breakfast and the food was always on time and hot. We selected apples and bananas for our fruit bowl the first day and it was replenished during the week as we ate them. We used the mini-bar but for soda, beer, wine, and alcohol for convenience but found the items were not replaced as they were used. Not a big problem for us, just surprising. Though it is likely not cost effective to send staff every day (as they used to) to each cabin to re-stock. We were still in the cabin on that last morning when the crew member came to tally our use and we laughed that we were one of the few who had used the stock. The overall crowd was older (probably ¾ were older than our mid-40’s with the majority in their 60’s-70’s) than some of our other trips on NCL, Carnival, and RCCL but that worked to our favor in many ways and we enjoyed the mix of folks on board. The vast majority of folks were retired, rather than on vacation (like we were). Very few children under 15 given the timing of the trip, but again, that is fine with us. There was no pushing drinks on us and wait staff were available if you needed them (except during happy hour at the Ocean Bar when it was packed). The crew was wonderful and the food overall was very good.
Have things changed on HAL in the 8 years since we have been on? Yes. But while we have enjoyed every cruise we have been on and find things to love about each cruise line, HAL is special and in my view, a few notches above the others.
We are glad we came back to HAL for this trip and we can’t wait to hit the seas again!