We like to cruise, and have been on most of the major cruise lines over a span of 20 years. HAL's Vista Class ships have a capacity of 1800 passengers and do not feel crowded. They also have a majority of verandah (balcony) cabins that seem more spacious and well appointed than other lines. We also like the first run movies shown both in your cabin and a theater that doubles as a Culinary Arts Center.
This report will explain what to expect on a back-to-back cruise and also some features of Holland America Line that make them our cruise line of choice.
Back to Back FAQ's
• We actually booked this as a 14 day cruise. As far as the ship was concerned we were on two 7 day cruises. Booking the B2B cruise over two individual cruises was a little more economical and assured us of the same cabin (and cabin steward) for both weeks. On individually booked B2B's you may have to change cabins, but the stewards will assist you. • At the end of the first week you receive a letter in your Cabin the night before debarkation instructing you to meet in the Vista Lounge at 9:45 AM the next morning with your ship's ID, your passport and an In-Transit ID issued by the ship. We were escorted off the ship as a group and cleared by U.S. Immigration. People wanting to go ashore were released at that time. We were allowed to re-board at 10:30 AM. You then have the entire ship at your disposal for an hour or so! • The dinner menus and shows repeat, so don't worry, if you miss them the first week, you can catch them the second week. The sequence is different though depending on sea days and the itinerary. • Our shipboard account was billed at end of the second week. We received two interim statements. Again, on individually booked B2B's you may have close out your account each week. HAL automatically bills your shipboard account $11 per day per passenger for tips. • You have to do the lifeboat drill both weeks, but after showing up at our lifeboat station the second week, we were recognized by one of the crew and told we could return to our cabin after he checked us off the list. • The Vista Dining Room was two tiered with the upper level being "fixed" and the lower level being "as you wish". We were initially assigned "as you wish" for the entire cruise. We wanted a table for two for late seating and could not be accommodated. Every day we would call 88 and make a reservation or just show up. We were told to come to the Dining Room on the last day of the first week to make reservations for the next week. We were moved to fixed late dining for the second week and everything was fine. • There were 4 formal nights, Monday and Friday the first week, and Monday and Thursday the second week.
The food was excellent. The Dining Room selections were varied, attractive and well prepared. We dined several times in the Pinnacle Grill and it was outstanding, and well worth the $20 per person surcharge. Advanced reservations were necessary as it tends to fill up after the word gets out. Room Service was available 24 hours and we had breakfast in our cabin most of the time. We usually had lunch in the Lido Grill, but we ate in the Dining Room a few days. Food in the Lido was above average in our opinion. Dedicated food stations including Asian, Italian, Deserts, Hot Foods, a Deli and a Salad Bar made buffet navigation easier than the norm. In addition the Terrace Grill near the pool offered hamburger, chicken, hot dogs, etc. and a taco bar.
We were in a VE category cabin on Deck 5 about mid-ships. We had been in an SS suite previously and were trying to itemize the differences. The size of the cabin, including the bathroom and verandah, and having a separate shower and Jacuzzi tub were the main differences. We were happy with our cabin, especially the location.
We are not big on activities but attended a few shows and events and they were above average. The Culinary Arts demos were good and a first for us at sea. The Casino had a Texas Holdem Table which we had not seen before on a ship. HAL is not big on pool games, etc but still offer enough to keep you busy if you're interested. At the same time, the deliberate lack of PA announcements was great!
Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos - We went to Margaritaville which has a nice public pool and beach and is immediately at the end of the pier. The rest of the island was devastated by Hurricane Ike, but water related shore excursions were operating. A return to Margaritaville the second week was fun as there was a Carnival ship with the "party people" in port with us. Road Town, Tortola, BVI - We went on the Island's Secrets Tour and it was just OK. The bus was overcrowded and the tour guide could have been better. Philipsburg, St. Maarten - We took the Around the Island Art Tour that stopped in four different semi-private artists' studios on both the French and Dutch sides of the island. It was great! Half Moon Cay, Bahamas - The nicest cruise ship private island we have been to in the Caribbean................and we got to go twice. Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands - We could not tender due to high seas, so it was another sea day. Costa Maya, Mexico - We were the first ship in this year after a hurricane and it showed. Shops are restocking and some were not open yet. People who went to the Mayan Ruins said they were great!
Advanced Internet registration and pre-booking shore excursions has become so popular that some of the tours were sold out the first day. Be sure to register early with the cruise line and take full advantage of on-line booking options.
We met a girl in a wheelchair who shared a different insight into HAL. She cruises a lot and will only book HAL due to their facilities and experience with seniors and handicapped people.
Signature Baggage Service
Debarkation on HAL exceeded any of the rest of the cruise lines by far. First, you are allowed to stay in your cabin until your group is called. Actually, you are given a pre-arranged time to leave and updated if necessary. HAL offers a baggage service for a nominal fee where you are given your boarding passes and luggage tags in your cabin the last night of the cruise. You tag your bags after you pack and claim them in the terminal as usual. Then, after clearing Customs, you give them to a representative in the terminal. The next time you see them will be at your final destination. Certain restrictions such as your airline and the time of your departing flight apply, so check with HAL.