Having a very active Cruise Critic Roll Call will probably contribute to many reviews and comments regarding this cruise.
Last June we started the 1/27/2008 roll call. We had 1330 posts and 13,800 views. Over 50 CC members signed up for out "Meet & Greet" and met in the Crow's Nest right after the Muster Drill. Westerdam's Beverage Manager, Hans Becker, hosted our meeting and provided hospitality that far exceeded our expectations. We strongly recommend organizing a CC Meet & Greet. It is amazing how meeting 50 or so people early in the cruise turns an anonymous group of people into a community of friendly faces.
Our vacation started a few days earlier flying into Orlando from NH and driving to Fort Lauderdale 2 days before departure. After reviewing the prices for wine if purchased on board we decided to bring our own. The Total Wine store on 17th Street near the Embassy Suites has the most remarkable selection of wine we have ever seen. The prices are amazing. We thought that wine prices here in NH were low but Total Wine beats them by far. We bought a mixed case of red and white for about $130 that would have cost $500 on board. We packed them in a small rolling case and had no trouble carrying them on board. In fact the security checker indicated she would like to join the party. I might add that I bought a liter bottle of Skye Vodka on board for about $25. This is a decent price and not worth trying to smuggle hard liquor aboard.
We arrived at the cruise port at 10:50, entered the building at 11:10 and were aboard well before 11:30. This was the best embarkation we have experienced in over 25 cruises.
Having had the good fortune of getting an upgrade to a suite we went to the Neptune Lounge to see if they knew when our cabin would be ready. They thought 1:15 or so and we decided to got o the Lido for a bite of lunch. We decided on the Asian station and had some very good sushi and General Gow's chicken with rice noodles. Let me state right now that the Lido is the best we have ever seen especially for breakfast. Many people did not realize that in order to know what is available for breakfast and lunch you MUST walk around both sides and ends of the buffet area. Six days into the cruise we heard people stating that they did not know there was an Eggs Benedict station, a Belgian Waffle station, and an omelet station, as well as the standard "cafeteria style" breakfast buffet.
Our Deluxe Suite was a 1st for us. We have never had anything like it in all our cruising. The bed's and pillows are luxurious, the storage space was twice what we needed for a 7 day cruise, double sinks in the BR as well as whirlpool tub with separate shower and the veranda with 2 lounges plus a table for 4 was great.
Our cabin steward could not have been better. We never returned to our room without noting that it had been checked, ice had been renewed, and neatest restored if necessary. Every evening we returned to our cabin looking forward to what today's towel animal would be. Our steward mentioned that he has a collection of about 35 different characters he can make out of towels.
Room service (we only had breakfast) was excellent. On time and hot. We didn't use the menu request that is hung on the door at night since we like to wake at our own pace in the AM. We called our order in and had a hot breakfast at our door in 15 to 20 minutes.
Our cabin came with Neptune Lounge privileges and it was great. The coffee, afternoon appetizers, and small desserts were fabulous. Having 2 concierges at your beck and call was something we thought would not be something we would use very much. Boy were we wrong. It is amazing how effective they are. Making reservations for the Pinnacle., sending our wine to our dining table so we didn't have to carry it through the halls or lounges, providing the services of the front desk right down the hall from our cabin, and arranging some special requests, such as a real treat for us, Caviar in our cabin.
Breakfast was the best of any cruise we have been on. We did not eat breakfast in the dining room. We could not think of anything that we could not get in the Lido. We liked the ability to go to the omelet or Eggs Benedict station to get what we wanted prepared to order and then if we wanted to go to another station and get a warm croissant. (or a made to order waffle with strawberry toppings)
We usually went light on lunch but again there was a great variety available including an Asian station, Italian station with pizza and pasta, a deli section with request your own sandwich as well as daily panninis, a selection of hot dishes, carved meats, vegetables, and a very good salad bar. Hot dogs, hamburgers, sausages and another salad bar was available pool side.
We had late, lower dinning which was at 8:30. If we do it again we would select an 8:00 dinner time. The late time, coupled with very slow service, made it rushed to go to other activities after dinner.
Dinner service was probably our only really negative comment on the entire cruise. Not sure if it was our waiter or his workload. We are used to having a waiter and an assistant waiter at dinner. We never saw his assistant and he needed to do everything from keeping the water glasses full, taking away dishes and silver, refilling bread , etc. All duties normally performed by an assistant. As a result he never performed the lite expectations of cruising such as explaining the menu items and picking up hints on preferences. Instead, he took our order, delivered the food and little else. Other than after dinner coffee preferences, never did he ask if any one wanted iced tea or anything else with their dinner.
In general the food at dinner and the selection was good to very good. A couple of things were excellent, the soups, the lamb, and the veal. Beef in general was OK and comments about the fish were consistently good. A little more attention to veggies is in order. They were sometimes either a little over cooked or under cooked.
On the other had our wine steward was great. We had our own bottles of wine, one white for my wife and a red for me, (one of the few things we don't agree on) brought to our table every other night. We usually consumed ½ of each bottle and the remainder was right there at our table the next night. They did lose one of our bottles one night but it was located the next day. If you would like to know how the "corking fee" was handled, send me an e-mail request.
The Pinnacle was a great disappointment. Our expectations were very high. The Olympic Specialty restaurant on the Celebrity Millennium provides an outstanding dining experience with continental service, food that is really a grade or 2 above the regular dining room , and somewhere you wish you could dine in every night.
We have read in the posts that the Filet in the Pinnacle was outstanding. We thought it comparable to one we could get in our local grocery store. No lobster or crab dishes on the menu, no special appetizers. In general we thought the dining room food was comparable even if the steaks were not as thick. On Celebrity the Olympic restaurant includes a great cheese course with over 20 selections, table side salad preparation, and a service team constantly prepared for any wish you may have.
Evening entertainment was very spotty. Although we have heard comments of people enjoying the juggling comedian, we though he was the poorest entertainment we have experienced. The other comedian was much like a Vegas Lounge act but did provide some chuckles a laughs. We were appreciative that his "Adult " late show did not include any "F Bombs" and in general had a few funny innuendos. Entertainment can be very subjective. For example, we over heard two "Sophisticated New Yorker" couples that slammed the piano playing team, The Fantastic 88's. When we told them we had enjoyed the show they asked us where we were from. When we said New Hampshire, one of the "Gentlemen" from NY said "no wonder" and insinuated we were a couple of unsophisticated people from the country. My wife wanted to set him straight with a verbal (I hope) shot to the head but refrained. We enjoy all types of music and performers and tend to be a bit more open minded than these couple of phony NY sophisticates.
The song and dance shows were typically cruise variety, not bad, but not ready for Broadway either.
The Piano Bar is a good spot for after dinner relaxation with good entertainment as well.
We went to the Crow's Nest once. After listening to the shrill voice of Helen and the HAL Cats for ½ a set we left along with many others. We heard comment from others that HAL should put the DJ in the Crow's Nest and the group in the Navigators Lounge.
We considered the Culinary Art's Demonstrations in the Queen's Lounge some of the best entertainment on the ship. Executive Chef Andreas put on a show similar to Emeril on the Food Network. Great hints and food made with a flair that showed his great personality and sense of humor. We bought the HAL cookbook and he was gracious to sign it with a nice message. He is the most visible Executive chef we have seen on any cruise. He is very proud of what his staff does and he should be.
Never did see the poolside entertainment since we had a great veranda and enjoyed the sun in peace and quiet.
The casino was OK. I was fortunate to win the blackjack tournament and that covered all our shipboard expenses. The casino staff was a bit mixed. A couple of the dealers who ran the tournaments where very personable, but other dealers showed a great flair for lack of personality.
Other than our overworked and slow dinner server, the service staff in general is fantastic. I believe HAL has the friendliest and best trained group of any cruise lines in HAL's category.
We were part of the group that bought the Grand Oasis Cabana package on Half Moon Cay. This was a great experience. At first we were apprehensive of the package and its cost. Thank goodness that we didn't back out. It was absolutely great and well worth every penny. With a full time butler, bartender for 5 hours with an open bar, chef's attending the grills and their helpers, every wish of the day was granted. The pina colada's, mojito's and mango tango's were flowing with Niagara Falls. The steaks, shrimp, mahi mahi, and chicken were hot from the grill along with the availability of hot dogs, hamburgers and salads.
Add to this a very large hot tub and a masseuse at our beck and call, what else could you ask for?
Aruba is OK, the wind made the beaches a bit murky and we were told that they were not as kept up as they used to be. We took an island tour from a vendor on the pier. For $15 each we got the equivalent of the $49 excursion offered by HAL. Carlos and Charlie's is closed and being replaced by Senor Frog's in the near future. I think they are the same company. We had a good lunch at Iguana Joe's and went back to the ship to relax. Don't think we would partake in Aruba nightlife unless we were in a large group.
Curacao is a very pretty island. We took the Trolley Tour offered by HAL. Although the same tour is offered by Atlantis Tours direct, when you add in the cost of taxi's to and from the Trolley location the cost is very comparable. We did not shop although there are many opportunities on this island. We were also told the snorkeling and scuba were very good but the beaches were very rocky.
One of the reason we took this cruise was the fact that there were 3 days at sea. We enjoy the rest and relaxation that the days at sea provide. The weather was great and the only rain was in the middle of the night.
Debarkation was unbelievably easy. No lines at all if you followed the rules and used your color code to move the the gangway.
Anyone who does not use the Express Luggage Service is making a big mistake. You receive your boarding passes delivered to your cabin the day before the end of the cruise and special luggage tags. When you get off the ship the porters know exactly where your bags where placed and take them through customs directly to the Bag's Inc. loading area. Next time we saw our bags was a the baggage conveyor in Boston. Best $15 per person you may spend on any cruise.
Great Staff, friendly and always ready to assist. Better than average cruise food. Especially for breakfast and lunch More than you can expect for an 1800 passenger ship. Cabins are bigger than most ships in HAL's price category. Suite perks are great. Common areas, bars and lounges are well kept and varied. Embarkation and debarkation were stress free and very efficient. For us the itinerary was perfect. Felt like we got every thing we paid for plus. Great value for the money.
Pinnacle Grill Helen and the HAL Cats. Average and slow dining room service. (probably caused by over-worked waiter without a table assistant) Outrageous cost of wine (that's why we brought a case aboard) High cost of the Thelassotherapy pool (free and open to all adults on Millennium) High cost of some of the little options such as wine tasting, yoga, spa activities in general.
Great value for the money. Food slightly better than Celebrity and Princess. Much better than Carnival. Not as good as Oceania. Will book HAL again. Probably compare price and itinerary with Celebrity and choose one or the other.