It was just my wife and I (ages 43 & 47 respectively) and we had filled out the immigration and debarkation forms on the HAL web site and received express boarding privilege 3 weeks prior to departure. We had also pre-booked a shore excursion on Grand Turk and pre-reserved one night at Pinnacles (on board steak house)on the HAL web site. This is our 6th cruise and our first on a HAL ship.
We flew to Ft Lauderdale on embarkation day. The HAL airport reps were not conspicuous and we had to hunt them down in the baggage claim area. Once located they were very nice and quickly got our luggage dispatched for the ship. We waited about 20 minutes and were then loaded on a bus for the 8 minute ride to the cruise terminal using our pre-purchased HAL transfer coupon.
Embarkation was a breeze and was very organized. Lots of agents to assist and very little wait time. We were on the ship within 15 minutes of entering the cruise terminal and were immediately sent to our cabin upon boarding.
We had booked on a guarantee at the SZ Superior Suite level. We received our cabin assignment 2 weeks prior to departure and were assigned cabin SY5001 on the Verandah deck 5. This is a handicapped cabin. We were a little concerned about this at first since we are not handicapped, but HAL Access and Compliance personnel quickly dispersed our fears. Turned out to be a very large cabin and nicely appointed. It was all the way forward on the starboard side so a bit more susceptible to oncoming wave movement. The verandah was a bit smaller than anticipated, but with only two of us this was not a problem. We would book this cabin again. Subi, our room steward was GREAT!There was a small NoroVirus outbreak on the Westerdam the week prior to ours, so the first three days of our cruise were a new experience for us. Gallons of Purell, no self service on the buffets, no salt and pepper shakers on the tables, and everything served to you in the dining room (rolls, etc.). We have to say though that the Westerdam crew handled this very well and with a smile. So much so, that it wasn't that bad having these little inconveniences. After the 3 day incubation period, everything returned to normal.
The food in the dining room was a little bland at first. We couldn't help but think that this was related to the Noro precautions and as the week went on the food got a lot better. Dining room service was good, but not over the top. Lido restaurant was good with good variety throughout the day. Lunch was a little crowded at times. Pinnacle Grill was awesome and truly worth the $30 per person surcharge! We ordered room service breakfast one morning and this arrived on time, hot, and delicious.
Half Moon Cay was great little slice of paradise. A beautiful little island with a great beach. We just got off in the morning and walked down the long beach, had lunch and then went back to the ship.
Grand Turk was pretty good. We had booked the Helmet Dive which was fun. After that we went to Margaritaville and had a very good lunch. Wife said it was the best banana daiquiri she's ever had. Cheeseburgers always taste good in paradise!Grand Cayman was a bust. 5 ships there that day and it was mayhem. We tendered to Georgetown, but only stayed an hour. Way too many people for us.
Costa Maya was just okay. Lot's of trinket shops with nagging proprietors. We had booked a Chaccoben ruins tour with a non-HAL tour group (David and Ivan). This turned out to be well worth the $43 per person and was very informative. Would highly recommend this tour group.
The entertainment was pretty good. We're not big show fans, so we didn't go to the dancing and singing shows. The comedienne, the illusionist, and the Elton John impersonator were all great! The jazz and string groups in the lounges were great too.
Debarkation was very efficient until we exited the cruise terminal to get on a bus (with our prepurchased transfers). It was very disorganized and very dangerous standing in the parking lot with buses whizzing by. After waiting for 15 minutes for an empty bus, we ditched our transfer and got a cab to the airport.
We really enjoyed this cruise. We will be sailing with HAL again. The Big ship with small ship feel is definitely for us. The service all around was great and the crew was always helpful and friendly.