The 4 of us, Mom, Dad, my husband & I arrived at Terminal 3, Tampa at roughly 12:30 p.m. on March 9th. We were promptly directed to the elevators because we had lots of carry-on luggage, including a case of wine. No way were we going to make it up an escalator with it. We easily went through the security checkpoint and then saw THE LINE. The online check-in line was backed up to the wall. Well, we got our paperwork together & waited an hour and a half to get to the front desk. We were able to chat with people in line and enjoy our unusual delay. We found out then that the ship had been delayed more than three hours from getting into port because of weather the day before. It also was tied up in such a way that the wireless computer connection had further to run than normal and caused unexpected problems. It also meant that by the time we boarded all rooms were ready. We were able to put all our lugged on bags in the cabin and have a nice leisurely (unencumbered) lunch in the Lido. All of our bags were in our cabins by the time we finished the muster drill. We left the Port of Tampa promptly at 5 PM.
We had sailed prior on her sister, the MS Statendam, for a 16-day cruise through the Panama Canal, so we had no need to explore to get around the Veendam. Included now on the ship cards is your dining table and time, as well as your life boat. Our table was against the aft window and sat 6 people. The other couple assigned with us did not show up the entire week. They had made a special dietary request and a maitre d" was there Sunday evening to make certain their request had been fulfilled. My parents ate in the dining room every night except for the BBQ Friday and they raved over service.Our waiters, Hart and Rony, remembered that Mom liked Sleepy Time tea and Dad drank de-caf coffee after dinner. We brought our own wine for dinners and had an ice bucket right there if needed. DH & I ate there 3 nites, and the rest in the Lido or ordered room service. Breakfast & lunch were taken in the Lido. I ate my fill of smoked salmon for breakfast and treated myself to ice cream in a waffle cone at lunch. Can life be better than that? All 4 of us agree that the food was excellent. We all ate different items and no one had complaints about any of it.
While raving about the staff I can't leave out our cabin steward, Suko. He was extremely efficient. Our room was promptly straightened every morning and evening. If we had a special request, it came almost immediately. We were very spoiled by him.
The bar attendants were some of the best I have ever had on HAL. The remembered our drinks, and were very friendly with us also. I like someone who talks well about their work. If more than one was on duty, they helped each other out. The evening complimentary hot hors d'oeuvres were so tasty I could have made a meal just from them. I am admitting publically to being addicted to the HAL Tropical Cable Car. Perfection in a martini glass. Try one. Try two.
I also must commend the Guest Relations staff. I either lost my camera charging cable or left it home. I was frantic for a battery charge. One of the front office staff had a similar camera. I left mine with her overnite & she charged it for me. Thank you!!!!!
The Casino entertained us greatly. Win. Lose. Up. Down. It's gaming. We had a blast.
My parents attended all the shows and enjoyed all of them. With a main dinner seating time, a few shows were prior to dinner, and they liked that. Dad would tell us all about the show at dinner or the next morning. DH & I enjoyed watching movies either in the theater or on the TV.
No matter where we were the ship was nicely maintained. I love all the live floral arrangements in the public rooms and the artwork throughout the ship. The use of eggshells in Lido arrangements was a stroke of genius!
We attended 2 Cruise Critic meet & greets while sailing. Our first one was attended by the ship's Hotel Manager, Beverage Manager & Guest Relations Manager. I was happy to meet the fellow members who I'd been talking with onlilne for the past few months and I hope to see them again in person very soon.
I used the gym and the spa while on board. I am undergoing physical therapy for a disc bulge and was able to maintian my exercise while cruising. DH & I also bought a Thermal Spa pass for the week and completely enjoyed our time in there. We had it to ourselves every time we were there. I don't know how I am going to cope without a steam room and heated tile chair here at home. If you are undecided if you should or shouldn't use it --- I vote for should. Yes, you deserve it!
Our ports of call were Key West, Belize, Guatema find it a quaint drinking town with a historical reputation. If you have been, and remember being there, you did not find it a drinking town. What else can I say? Take the self-guided Duval Crawl tour. In Belize, we took the tour to Altun Ha. It was my first Mayan ruin. I was very impressed. I hope now to go to more. The tender ride into Belize City was a nice 20 minutes from ship to shore and it dropped us at a shopping area. Only authorized Belizeans are allowed into this gated area. I walked around it alone after our tour and felt quite safe. We did not take a tour in Guatemala, but shopped extensively at the port. We had been to the west coast of Guatemala on a prior cruise, and had purchased linens and T-shirts then. This time I was after black jade, coffee, and other various crafts. I do lots of fiber work & am still in awe of what these people can do. A few of our fellow CCer's took the GoWithGus Tour up the Rio Dulce and told me about how it was one of the best tours they had ever done. This tour stops at a native village. It is described in detail on the CC Boards. Cozumel was our big shopping port. I shopped and shopped! We had to tender to the port, because all docks were full of ships. Each tender held 350 people. If you have to tender, sit inside the tender. It has A/C.la and Cozumel. Key West is what it is. If you haven't been, you will
Our 2 sea days had plenty of activities available. We chose to do nothing, but sit and watch the sea slide by. If was so relaxing. Both Key West and Cozumel were afternoon dockings so our mornings were spent at sea. That was a nice way to ease into our day. Our cabin was described as a fully obstructed view, and located towards the aft on the Lower Promenade deck. If you stood at the foot of the bed & looked straight out, all you saw was white metal. When we stood on either side of the bed, we could see the gulf and sky. Our window was always shady, and meant it never got too warm. One night our A/C was not working efficiently and it went to 79 degrees inside. Most times it averaged 72. The Gulf of Mexico was very calm. It was difficult to see any movement between the promenade railingsand the water. I haven't been in water that calm since since our Alaska Inside Passage cruises. We felt the vibration from the engines more that the motion of the ocean. Except for a windy and cloudy day in Key West the weather was a perfect 10.
Our only complaint about the entire 7 days was during disembarkation in Tampa, and HAL had nothing to do with it. Hopefully, this will be corrected by the time the Veendam returns in two weeks, by having a port employee acting as a traffic controller. There was supposed to be 2 lines at the terminal: one for the escalator and one for the elevator. We were requested by the terminal employees to use the elevator because of the liquor boxes. (We had drunk the case of wine and re-filled our box with liquor purchases.) Somehow these two lines all merged into one big crowd mess. We waited a few minutes and when no one moved we thought something was peculiar. The port staff was taking the new cruise documents inside and told us to follow them to the elevators. We politely tried to get by to follow them and the crowd would not budgea A man (who was no gentleman) stepped in front of me and asked what my problem was. HIM! We barrelled him aside and went to the elevator. No line there. Got on it, rode downstairs and quickly got through customs. Found our luggage and met our limo. We were off the ship and back at our Clearwater home by 9:30 a.m. Now to just unpack....Suko, I need you! And bring a Tropical Cable Car!
With a total of 54 HAL days now, I consider this cruise to be our best yet!