This was our 8th cruise, we have sailed once with Royal Caribbean and this was our 7th cruise with Holland America. My wife and I are in our 50's, took our 1st cruise in April 2000.
We departed for this vacation from Washington Dulles airport on Saturday, March 17th. Our airline and hotel arrangements were all handled through Holland America. We had a non-stop flight on United to Ft. Lauderdale. The flight went smoothly. After arriving at Ft. Lauderdale, we collected our luggage and a Holland America representative was there to greet us. Transportation to the hotel, Plantation Renaissance, via bus arranged with Holland America went very smoothly. Arrived at the hotel around 8:30PM and check in was very easy. Had a quiet dinner at the hotel restaurant. In the morning we had breakfast at the hotel restaurant. Instead of using the bus transportation arranged through Holland America, to take us to the terminal, we opted to rent a taxi.
Arrived at Port Everglades around 11:20AM, gave our luggage to a porter and entered the cruise terminal to check in. The registration procedure went very quickly. After registration we went to the second level of the terminal to wait for our number to be called to board the ship. This entire process took less than half an hour.
This was our first cruise on the Westerdam and our second on the Vista class, our first experience with the Vista class was on the Zuiderdam at Thanksgiving. The Visa class is wonderful. We booked an SY category veranda cabin. The cabin was the perfect size, 389 square feet. Ample storage for all of our clothes and we really tend to over pack. With this being a 7 day cruise we brought clothing for 10. Just wanted to be prepared. Bathroom had double sinks, a full jacuzzi bath/shower and a separate shower. The veranda was a very nice size. There were two chairs with a small table and another set of chairs with footstools and small table. The cabin also had a dressing table and small desk next to the tv, which had a window looking out on the veranda. The cabins were not ready as we boarded, because we took advantage of Hollands early boarding policy, which they started several years ago. While waiting for our cabin to be ready, we enjoyed lunch around the lido pool. Although the buffet items were tempting we indulged the taco bar for our first meal. It was very good as it has been in the past. We then wandered around the ship. The deck layouts were pretty much the same as the Zuiderdam, except for the decor, which is different on each ship.
Part of our luggage arrived before the lifeboat drill and the remainder arrived shortly after the drill was complete. One of my biggest problems on each cruise has been the life boat drill. This is a very important safety item and the manner in which many passengers handle this function is very disturbing. Instructions on where to report and how to put on your life vest is shown on the television in your cabin and announced over the pa system. However, passengers arrive at their station carrying their life vest instead of putting them on in their cabin. This creates safety problems for everyone else due to dangling straps that can trip and seriously injury someone at the very beginning of a wonderful vacation. Additionally, if folks can't follow simple instructions for a safety procedure, how do you think they are going to act in a real emergency.
During this 7 day cruise there were 5 casual nights and two formal nights. We requested and received a table assignment for 6. One couple shared our table all 7 nights and they were from Richmond, VA. They live only about 2.5 hours from us. Among the many things we enjoy about cruising, a favorite is meeting and making new friends. The other couple only sat with us on the two formal nights, otherwise they preferred having dinner in the Lido restaurant. We ate all of our dinners in the Vista dinning room on this cruise. The food was great as usual. Our waiter was wonderful, but he seemed to be over worked. We also noticed this on our previous cruise in November, but not on other cruises with Holland. Not sure why this was happening. Never the less our waiter was wonderful. Always had our ice tea waiting for us and always very pleasant.
We always had breakfast at the Lido Buffet, sometimes went through the regular line and other times went for the omelette. Mass produced breakfast food is hard to make good, but we have enjoyed all of our selections. Lunch was always an adventure, the sandwich bar, chinese food, hamburgers, hotdogs, taco bar or pasta. All good.
The itinerary for this cruise included Half Moon Cay, St. Thomas, San Juan and Grand Turk and two at sea days. Half Moon Cay was wonderful as usual. Beautiful beach, wonderfully soft sand, nice reclining chairs and we rented a clam shell as we normally do, providing nice shade. The water was wonderfully clear, but a little cooler then we have experienced. This may be due to the fact that we normally cruise the Caribbean in April or early May. The food was very good, we had hamburgers, ribs and hotdogs, makes for a great picnic. We did not take advantage of any of the excursions this trip. The tender service was very good. Since Holland started using the larger tenders, getting ashore and back to the ship is much easier.
St. Thomas is one of our favorite places, at least it is my wife's favorite place. We have been there about 5 times now and have never been on an excursion or visited a beach. We get off the ship as early as possible and I follow my wife through the jewelry stores. My credit card really doesn't like this port of call. On our first stop here in 2000, my father-in-law showed us a nice restaurant called Herve's and we always have lunch there. Spectacular views. Great place to wait while said jewelry is being sized.
This was our 3rd stop at San Juan. The previous stops here were for such a short time we only had time to visit ST. Christobal fortification which was very interesting. On this visit we took an excursion that included a tour of the Bacardi Distillery and a stop at ST. Christobal. The Bacardi tour was very informative and a revisit to the fort was great. Did a little shopping on our way back to the ship. Most interesting thing about this port of call was the missing passenger. We were over a half hour late sailing due to a missing passenger. One of the bar staff members informed us that although we waited over a half hour this missing passenger never showed up. Not sure what happened to him, but he caught up with us at our next port of call, Grand Turk. Never got the story as to what happened.
Grand Turk was our last port of call. As we were just here in November and took two excursions then, we did not take any excursions this time. Visited the shops, had lunch at Margaritaville. Mostly hung out at the beach. Soaked up some sun and just relaxed. This is what a cruise vacation is all about. RELAXING.
Relaxing is what we did during our two at sea days and we especially enjoy when our last day is an at sea day.
Entertainment during this cruise was great. Went to the shows most evenings. Especially enjoyed the the karaoke singing competition (American Idol like). Some very talented and not so talented folks, but you have to give them all credit for having the nerve to get up on the stage in front of all of us.
As we just started taking ballroom dance lessons, had fun dancing a little. The movement of the ship made our limited footwork even more of a challenge.
Disembarkation was very quick and organized. Once the staff started calling numbers and colors, we were off the ship, collected our luggage and were at the airport in no time. This is where the worst part of this trip occurred. Our plane was delayed over an hour past departure time due to broken screening machines and all the checked luggage had to be hand searched all 300+ bags (only 4 were ours). Just made our connecting flight, so we were able to sleep in our own beds that night. Many other folks were stuck in Detroit that night. However, our luggage did not make the connection. It came in on a later flight and we filled out our missing luggage report and our luggage found its way home though the airlines delivering to our front porch by 11:00AM
We had a blast on this cruise as we usually do. There were obviously some minor irritations along the way, but we choose to go with the flow and have found this makes for a better experience than always complaining.
Planning our next cruise with Holland in April 2008. Hope to book it in the next couple days.
P.S. Almost forgot, on our first day out I found the face mask for my cpap machine (sleep apnea)was broken. No super glue in the ships store, so I went to the front desk and the wonderful young lady who helped me, lent me a container of superglue and I was able repair the mask and therefore able to sleep properly. Great and Wonderful service.