This was our first Springtime cruise. It turned out to be a beautiful time to cruise. The weather was 80ish everyday, we only had rain 1 day, and our sunsets were beautiful. It was also the longest cruise we have taken and on the smallest ship we've been on.
We had reservations about being on a smaller ship---thought the lines might be longer and bought seem more crowded, but it was actually the opposite. Plus the people we met throughout the cruise we kept running into and it was like cruising with a bunch of friends. We liked that we could walk from one end of the ship to the other in about 5 minutes.
We had booked a BB verandah suite guarantee cabin and about 10 days before our cruise we were assigned an A verandah suite---065. We were a little concerned about the location--the last one on the Navigation deck. I saw that there was a bar on the other side of our room on the Seaview Pool deck and we were on the side where smoking was allowed. What I couldn't see from the deck plan on the HAL site is that there is also a large storage area by the bar and that was probably directly next to our room and verandah. We never heard anything from the side of our room. We did hear chairs being moved around for about 5 minutes most mornings, but it really wasn't loud enough or long enough to bother us. I've also read that some people on our deck could hear the basketball court on the 12 floor, but we were far enough away that we never heard that (except when we were in the Lido restaurant late at night and it was LOUD)! Our cabin and the cabin next to ours were not covered by the Lido restaurant overhang. We liked that, although I've read where some people liked the overhang. We liked the wide open views of sunset. The verandah was rather small for a suite, but it was very private. We also ended up really liking the location being so close to the elevators and Seaview Pool. We also liked being so close to the stairs to take them up to the Lido restaurant. Our cabin steward was great. The only thing that did perplex me was that the category of that room was being changed from an A to a BC shortly after our cruise. We really liked the location of this room and wouldn't hesitate to book it again.
We had the anytime dining and met the most interesting people at dinner! Our servers were all very good as was the food. Even the desserts on board this ship were the best we've had on any ship before. It usually took about 1 - 1.5 horus to eat, but that seems normal on cruises. A couple times they had special bar b qs on the Lido deck, so we ate there on those nights. One night we even got our dinner from the Lido restaurant and sat out on the back Lido deck and watched the sunset go down. There was no one else out there.
We had the free Pinnacle dinner with the Explore 4 promotion. We were assigned dinner at 5:30 the 1st night. Our dinner was very nice. The restaurant wasn't even half full at that time and service was great then.
We thought the entertainment was the best we've seen on a cruise ship. The Hal singers and dancers were very good. The other entertainment in the Showroom at Sea was very good, too. I was probably most surprised by the beautiful music Elon made with the steel drums on the Lido deck.
I did a couple of the digital classes. It's nice that it's offered and it's kept up to date. We also enjoyed the culinary exhibitions. We even enjoyed the movies shown in the culinary room most evenings at 7:30.
My husband prefers the sea days, but I love the port days and chose this cruise for the ports: St. Maarten; St. Kitt's; St. Vincent; Martinique; Barbados; St. Croix; and Half Moon Cay. We love beaches and snorkeling and planned most of our port days around that. We were not disappointed!
I have lots of pictures from the ship and our excursions here:
This is a port we've been to before, but that time I didn't think there was snorkling from the shore so I went on a photography tour. Although the port is nothing to look at, I was very impressed with Barbados---especially the scenery on the East coast. This time, I read there was good snorkeling from the shore at Folkestone Marine Park. So we walked off the ship about 8:30 and were on our way to the taxi line when one of them came up to us. RT to Folkestone (about 30 minutes north) was about $27@. He offered a tour for $100 including dropping us off and picking us back up later from Folkestone. We didn't have $100 cash, so offered him $80. He accepted and we were off on our private tour. It was a nice but short tour. I had hoped to see the Scottish area again and Bathsheba, but he stayed strictly on the northwest side. Guess I can't blame him for the price we paid the the cost of gas (I think it was about $2.50/liter). We still saw some pretty sights! It was about 10 when we got to Folkestone Marine Park. We asked him to come back for us about 2. They had recently renovated the area around the park---new lockers, store, rock wall by the beach and a new concrete walkway along the beach. Hardly anyone there, lifeguard, lots of shade, beautiful water!---it was fantastic! After a couple hours of snorkeling, we got out. I would have gone back in, but didn't want to be soaked when the taxi driver came back. So I took a walk along the new walkway. A short ways to the left was a cute beachfront Italian restaurant. I can't believe there weren't more people at Folkestone Park and surrounding area! It's a definite Gem! When I got back from my walk, our driver was there.
This is our 4th time to Half Moon Cay. It has been beautiful every time we've been here---even the 3 times we were here in the FAll. It is a gorgeous beach and so stress free with not having to worry about finding local excursions and possibly missing the ship. The surf was a bit rough so it wasn't extremely clear, but the little snorkel area by the kids area was clearer then the first 2 times we were on the island. We saw damselfish, sergeants, flagtails, a Caribbean grouper, a squirrel fish, school of tiny fish, feather duster worms, surgeon fish, and even a Ballyhoo. After snorkeling for awhile, we headed to the dining area. There is a shuttle, but we chose to walk. After lunch, I decided to take the nature walk while Ken went back to the loungers. After my walk, I was ready to hit the water again and cool off. Too soon it was time to say good bye to the beach.
Why does planning things for Martinique turn out so difficult?! I had planned to take the ferry to the other side of the bay and hit a beach, but Ken was paranoid we'd miss the ferry back. I had read that the ferry dock was only about 5 minutes from the cruise port and was confused since when we were here on the Noordam we had to walk 1.4 miles to the ferry dock. This time we were docked right by the ferry. Now I know there are at least 2 cruise ship ports! Anyway, we decided with such a short stop, we would try to go on a taxi tour. We knew it would be expensive (about 60 Euro/hour), but decided to do it anyway. The hard part was finding 2 more couples that wanted to do the same tour we did and having a taxi large enough for all of us. After about 45 minutes of waiting around while people haggled about prices and length of tours, we finally got in a group of 6 in a mini van for a reduced rate of $30/person---which was an excellent fare.
First stop was at the replica Sacre Couer church like the one just outside of Paris. Then we headed further north. The rain forest was lush and beautiful. On the other side of the rain forest, we came to a distillery. The grounds of this one were beautiful Soon we were back on our way. On any tour to the north you should end up in St. Pierre. This is the town that was destroyed by the volcano eruption of Mt. Pelee in 1902. They claim the only survivor was a man in prison there. I've since read that another man just on the outskirts of town also lived, as did a young girl who jumped in a small boat and rowed it into a cave. At any rate, the whole town was destroyed. It had been the largest town on the island. Mt. Pelee was covered by clouds, so I never did see it.
included in our taxi tour
With it being another short stop, we used more of our obc for an excursion here---the Buck Island snorkel excursion for $99@. Turned out to be a great excursion and we got to see more of St. Croix as we were shuttled to the other side of the island for our boat ride to Buck island. In Christiansted we boarded a motor boat and road another 30 minutes or so to Buck Island. Buck Island Reef National Monument became a US National Monument in 1961. Most of the Monument area ( including a 4,554-acre reef) is underwater. It was rather choppy out there. They divided us up into 2 groups--experienced snorkelers and all the rest. Us experienced snorkelers went in first and were taken by group around the underwater trail. It is one of only three underwater trails in the United States. Then we were left to go on our own for the rest of the time (about an hour). It was quite crowded out there, but fun. Although with how rough the surf was I'm surprised none of the inexperienced snorkelers drowned! Then the dark clouds moved in and it started raining. A lot of people got back in the boat then. I stayed in the water as long as we could---it was warmer in the water then on the boat. We were poured on the whole way back to Christiansted, but they gave us plenty of rum punch to warm us up.
I had read that White House Bay was the best place to snorkel, but the taxi dispatcher there on the dock said hardly anyone goes there and we'd have to pay more for a taxi to go there. There happened to be another couple waiting to go snorkeling at Cockelshell Bay which was my 2nd choice, so we decided to share a cab and go there for $7/person each way. Our driver even stopped for a couple pictures along the way. We found out later we could have taken a ferry there, too. After about a 30 minute drive, we were finally there. We put our stuff by a pic nic table and took off snorkeling to the left side of the bay. It may not look that pretty (somewhat rocky beach and water), but for snorkelers, it was just what we were looking for. Boats were continuously arriving and departing from the dock there. Had we thought about it, we could have taken a ferry over to Bequia Island from there , which is suppose to be beautiful. But we were having too much fun snorkeling. Saw lots of marine life (a turtle, lobsters, bat rays, sting rays, squid, colorful snails, tons of fish) and the water was calm and warm (probably about 85 degrees). We spent about 4 hours snorkeling here. There was a covered bar with food and drinks for purchase. When I had read up about Cockelshell beach, I assumed it was a party beach with a lot of people there. That wasn't the case when we were there. Our taxi driver had agreed to come back and get us at about 3. Didn't even charge us for our trip out there to prove to us that he'd be back. About 2:30 he let a bar owner know he would be late, but was definately coming back for us. About 3:15 he called again and said he wasn't making it! Fortunately, the bar tender called someone else and we got back about 4 (30 whole minutes to spare). I did find it odd, though, when the bar tender said the first taxi driver told her to collect his fare from us.
Gotta mention the monkeys! We happened to see 4 or 5 while we were driving to and from the beach. At the beach, they had 3 or 4 in cages.
If we weren't so into snorkeling, I'd probably give this port a higher score. But we had been here before and were told to go to Dawn beach for snorkeling then. We did and didn't find the snorkeling very good---pretty beach, though. This time we decided to do the ship excursion to Orient Beach. It was another beautiful beach. We did try snorkeling a bit, but there wasn't much to see, plus it was pretty rough. But we enjoyed having loungers and unlimited rum punches. Before our excursion we found the ferry to town and wished we had more time there. If we go back to St. Maarten, we'll probably just do the ferry and hang out at the beautiful beach there.
Another new port for us. My research mentioned some snorkeling at a beach on the southernmost point of the island. So we got off the ship and looked for a taxi dispatcher and asked where we should go for snorkeling. They, too, mentioned Indian Bay on the southern point---specifically Villa Beach. So we headed there with another couple. The beach was beautiful, but there were a lot of young resident adults hanging around. One even followed us saying he'd watch our stuff so no one would take it. I was a bit skeptical, but Ken chatted with him for quite awhile and trusted him. There was also a woman in uniform with something like Visitor Police on it, so she looked out for us, too. We spent a good 3 or 4 hours snorkeling. Our driver was due back at 3:30 and we didn't want to be soaking wet. He actually arrived 30 minutes early and we were all ready to leave then.