We flew into Fort Lauderdale the day prior to the cruise and stayed at the Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites. The hotel was okay but a little pricey for the location. We ate dinner at Bravo's Italian Restaurant that night with Joe and Debbie (JoeDebNH) from our roll call. It was great company. They are fabulous folks.
Day 1: (Embarkation)
We returned our rental car and took a shuttle to Port Everglades at about 10:30am. It was a bit early but there was nothing better to do. As it turned out, it was a good idea because we met some Cruise Critic friends who arrived at about the same time. Boarding began a little late because of computer problems but we were onboard at noon. We went directly to the Pinnacle Grill to make our reservation. (If you book the grill on-line, you must still go by to reserve a specific date and time.) We then wandered around the ship and ordered our favorite cruise drink ... mango pina colada's. THIS SHIP IS BEAUTIFUL AND VERY WELL MAINTAINED!!! At precisely 1:30pm, the announcement was made that all cabins were ready. We were thoroughly impressed with our cabin. It was SY category 6111. At 4:15, we had our lifeboat drill. It was quickly done and the crew was very efficient!!!
At 5:00 we had our Cruise Critic "Meet and Greet". Our Roll Call was started back in June '07 and it turned out to be the most active roll call I've seen ... 34 pages of posts and over 13,000 views. Joe (JoeDebNH) started it and did all the logistics to put our meeting together ... thanks Joe ... you're awesome!!! Richard (RPS2004) made some excellent nametags for us ... thanks Richard!!! We had 50 members show up for it and a great time was had by all. The beverage manager and hotel manager were there and answered all questions. The beverage manager (Hans Becker) provided a VERY nice layout of snacks and all the champagne we could drink. He went way above and beyond!!! Thank you Hans!!! Unfortunately, we couldn't get all 50 for a group picture because half had to leave early for the early dinner seating.
There was a bit of confusion concerning dinner attire for day two. The "Itinerary at a glance" said it would be Formal and the daily planner said Smart Casual. The staff seemed just as confused as the passengers. There was an announcement made early on day 2 to clarify it but not everyone heard it (I didn't hear it. I found out on HMC.) I noticed as I waiting at the dining room (in my tux) that a few people got out of the elevators dressed in smart casual ... you should have seen the look of panic on their faces. (They made mad dashes back to there cabin's to change.) Obviously, not everyone got the word. It's very hard to hear the shipboard announcements inside the cabins. It would have been much more efficient to have put reminder notes in the boxes outside the cabins. Oh ... just in case you're wondering, in my estimation, only about 20% were dressed in tuxedo's/gown's. I didn't notice anyone that didn't have at least a jacket and tie on for formal nights. Everyone was very well dressed.
Day 2: (Half Moon Cay)
Early on, during our roll call chatting, Leah (Lishka) suggested that we try to get 12 folks together and rent the new "Grand Cabana Oasis Package". We immediately agreed and even though we didn't have the minimum of 12 committed at the time HAL made it available, Lishka purchased it. We ended up getting the required 12 and purchased the "upgrade" package too. Thank you Lishka ... you're awesome too!!!
The Grand Cabana Butler picked us up on-board and escorted us to our tender. We were at the cabana by 9:00. It had a hot tub, sun deck, free bar with bartender, all the food we could eat, and free massages. (Well, we actually paid for it all but it seemed free at the time.) This excursion was well worth every penny we spent. I enjoyed socializing with our fellow CCer's very much!!!
Day 3: (Sea Day)
Today we spent the morning on the aft pool deck. It was fun basking in the sun and chatting with other passengers. Mango-Pina Colada's ran wild.
We spent the afternoon in the casino. I love the "Three card poker" table. There's also a Craps table (doesn't open until 9pm), a few Blackjack table's, a Caribbean Stud table, a Pai Gow Poker table, and plenty of slot machines. There is also a room dedicated for Texas Hold'em (only 1 table.) They have tournaments scheduled quite often. The $100 buy-in tournaments are listed in the daily planners. The $60 buy-in tournaments are not. (You have to ask the casino office about them.) I actually won a $60 buy-in tournament. Well, I actually split 1st and 2nd place money with Lishka as we were the only two left at the end.
Day 4: (Aruba)
IMHO ... Aruba is probably the most "over-rated" island in the Caribbean. I don't know if we were there at a bad time or what, but the beach (Palm Beach) wasn't well kept up, the buildings were in need of paint, etc. The locals seemed that all they wanted from you was a buck. It even cost to use the bathrooms. All the shops closed by 7pm and the Westerdam didn't leave until 10pm. (Sigh)
Day 5: (Curacao)
Unlike Aruba ... IMHO ... Curacao is the most "under-rated" island in the Caribbean. It is BEAUTIFUL!!! One of the first things that I noticed from the locals is that they were genuinely very friendly ... and humorous too. In the morning, we went on the Trolley Tour. I highly recommend it. In the afternoon, we went on the Spanish Shipwreck Snorkeling Excursion. Curacao has the best snorkeling that I've ever seen. Though the highlight was supposed to be the shipwreck ... I found the coral and tropical fish to be amazing. The colors are unbelievable. We even saw an octopus. Some saw sea turtles. This excursion was well worth the money. Oh ... and there was free rum punch.
Day 6 & 7: (Sea Days)
We just laid out on the aft pool deck and played casino games all day. We tried to go dancing but the Northern Lights night club was always packed. Helen and the HAL Cats played in the Crows Nests but they were ... umm ... let's just say that we could only listen to them in 5 minute increments. Between her sharp voice and them trying to turn songs like "Born to Be Wild" into a ballad, it just wasn't our cup of tea. The Crow's Nest was never crowded. If I were in HAL management, I would put Helen in the Northern Lights and the DJ in the Crow's Nest to accommodate more people.
Day 8: (Disembarkation)
We booked the Everglades tour because we had an early evening flight. We went with our very good friends Ray & Georgetta (GETTA) and Harry & Beth (ILOVESCOTLAND). We met in the Queens Lounge at 8:30am and left the ship by 9. Getting through customs, collecting our bags and dropping them off to the "Signature Express Baggage Service" (SEBS) was very smooth and expedient. The Everglades tour was shorter than I expected, so we still have a 3 hour wait at the airport. When you enroll in SEBS, you get your boarding pass for the first leg of your flight delivered to your cabin on day 6. Once you drop your bags off to the SEBS just outside the cruise terminal, you don't see them again until you get home. The only thing that I didn't like was not being provided "Baggage Claim Stubs".
This was hit or miss for the most part. The very first show was below average. It was done by the ships crew and I fell to sleep half way through.
The "Amazing 88's" was a piano show and were very, very good.
The food was good and if you wanted more of a specific item, it was provided. I had two lobster tails and two servings of escargot ... yum-yum. Speaking of "yum-yum" ... the "Yum-Yum Man" is alive and well on the Westerdam.
Now, I will probably get flamed for this but ... the service was not what I was expecting. HAL advertises that their dining room stewards are chosen for their abilities to remember preferences. This never happened. Our steward did his job in the sense that he delivered our food accurately and with a smile. But that was as far as it went. Preferences were not noted as I've experienced before. Examples: (1) Salads were served with pieces of anchovies. Most of our tablemates slid them to the side and never ate them. Every night the salads still arrived with the slimy little things. (2) I ate some sort of beef almost every night. I like it cooked medium. Every time he asked me how I wanted it cooked ... every time I said medium. (3) Not once were we asked if we wanted something other than water to drink with our dinner. (Excluding the wine steward ... he was great for those who drank wine.)
Mawardi was fabulous!!! He went above and beyond!!! Every time we entered the cabin we noticed that he straightened out our mess. He had this uncanny sense of when we were gone. There were always towel animals made, ice in the bucket, etc. Whenever we saw him he always asked "Is there anything at all I can do for you?" He got a healthy tip at the end of the cruise.
We always ate breakfast on our balcony. We filled out the breakfast card every evening and the food was always right on time and hot. Those guys have their act together.
Very poor. There was not nearly enough staff on the aft pool deck. 90% of the time, we had to get our own drinks. (Small issue but just felt the need to mention it.)
Speaking of the pool deck, we never had a hard time finding side-by-side lounge chairs. But the chair hogs were evident on every sea day. Towels and bags sat for hours (unattended) on the lounge chairs.
Overall ... it was a great cruise!!! It was made great by the friends we met on our roll call and the friendly staff. We never passed a crew member that didn't say something nice. AND ... some even addressed us by name even though I didn't remember seeing them before. It was amazing!