This was our 33rd cruise and first Holland America Line adventure. After constant disappointment with some of the other major lines, I decided to give HAL a try.
Living in SW Florida I drove over to Ft. Lauderdale and chose Park-N-Fly with their van service from their lot to the ship and back. The service was courteous and flawless.
Embarkation was the smoothest and quickest we have ever encountered. The only thing I could do to make this process faster would be to run instead of walk. Homework completed with online boarding pass, only left a very short health questionnaire to complete and we were aboard. Arriving at 2pm allowed us direct access to our inside cabin, forward on the Rotterdam deck. I had some reservations about the location of our cabin but it was virtually motionless; even noting in the Captains Cruise Log that we had "Rather Rough Seas" on 12/16@ Noon.
Our accommodations were well appointed with storage space galore. Pre-purchased flowers, libations and a receipt for specialty dining were in place upon our arrival. One complaint is the lighting (or lack thereof) around the vanity mirror. Our cabin steward was efficient and invisible. I especially like the fact that there are no service carts in the hallways. Daily room service with juice, coffee and rolls was without exception.
Having traditional dining, we were directed to table #43 at 8pm. We were blessed with terrific tablemates and probably the two best servers on the ship. Our nightly dining experience was the highlight of this cruise. We were met with "Good Evening Mr. & Mrs.-----"and never ending smiles followed with impeccable service. And to make matters even better, the appetizers, soups, salads, rack of lamb, fish dishes, and deserts were all wonderful. The only dinner we had outside the main dining room was one in the Pinnacle. The service and filet were exceptional. Breakfast and lunch were evenly split between the buffet and dining room. There was always something good to eat.
Our first event upon embarkation following the compulsory life boat drill was a CC Sailaway party hosted by one of our fellow CC members in their enormous suite. Well attended by more than 20 folks, we toasted goodbye to Port Everglades and set a course for Grand Turk.
We chose a HAL shore excursion to go "power snorkeling" in Grand Turk. We were not to be disappointed. We saw plenty of tropical fish, sand shark, barracuda, and coral. Returning to the dock area we visited Margaritaville and spent some time on the beach mesmerized by the kaleidoscope of blues and greens between the ship and us.
Going up on the foredeck as we cruised Sir Francis Drake Channel into Tortola was a first for us, thanks to Capt. Jeroen van Donselaar. Again we took a HAL shore excursion. This time on land. The North Shore & Pusser's Landing tour took us from the shore to the mountain top and back to the shore. Not bad for the price but the seats were a bit uncomfortable in the open air bus.
Arrival in St. Thomas found us at Crown Bay where we boarded a $4 taxi to downtown for shopping. While there were some 15,000 visitors in St. Thomas during our visit, we had no problem being waited on to purchase jewelry, liquor, camera, perfume and the always elusive T Shirt. New shops are just opening at Crown Bay.
Half Moon Cay had to be the biggest surprise of all. In the past we haven't been leaving the ship while visiting "their" private islands after we found the food to be substandard after a lengthy wait, in different service and over run with kids. But after reading some positive reviews about HMC we felt like we should see for ourselves. No waiting for a tender and a short ride got us to the island in no time. The sand is like baby powder and the water even more colorful than Grand Turk. We rented the $14 clamshell and just enjoyed our peaceful surroundings. Lunch was served in multiple lines and I found no waiting at all. There are several dining areas surrounded by vegetation to give the feeling of intimacy rather than the dining hall experience. We hated to leave.
As others have mentioned, the ship is clean and someone is always hard at work keeping it that way. But so are a lot of other ships. What makes this ship so unique to us are the ship's personnel. They always smile, bid you a good day and provide exemplary service. We enjoyed the entertainment in the Vista Lounge, Piano Bar and the Casino.
Did HAL succeed in impressing us? Our next cruise will be on Holland America.