This was my 15th cruise, third on Holland America. There were 3 of us cruising, myself, my wife and adult son. We opted for Marriott Springhill Suites in Ft Lauderdale for the pre-cruise hotel. It turned out to be an excellent choice. We flew in from Las Vegas and landed at 9 PM at FLL the day before the cruise. We took a taxi to Springhill for about $18 including tip. There were several fast food restaurants across the street so that worked out for us arriving that late. The next day we stocked up on some sodas and water at K-Mart in the shopping center across the street. Yes, we're cheap or frugal, as we don't want to pay $1.95 for a soda on the ship. You can purchase a beverage card aboard for $18. One of the wine stewardesses aboard told us, you need to drink about 3 sodas a day to make it worthwhile. She said it is just the glass not the can.
Springhill is very organized regarding transport to the port. You sign up when you arrive. We went with the 12:30 PM shuttle. The next day they have several vans with a baggage trailers behind to transport you to the port. It's a contract company, KSA that will market the return transport from the ship back to Springhill or the airport. They charge $8 a head. We opted for it. They give you an orange badge to stick on your clothing to identify which cattle pen to herd you into when you depart the ship. Moo! But like the California cows, we could talk. It was probably cheaper to take a cab from the ship to airport, but I like the convenience and peace of mind of being herded. The KSA driver put our baggage on the curb outside the cruise terminal (26), and that's the last we had to deal with it until it arrived in our cabin. The KSA driver gave us short dissertation on leaving your cell phone on while aboard the ship. He went into great detail of how the charges would be roaming with the ships cell tower and even voice mail calls would cost at least $2 aboard the ship. That's one less soda. I don't remember this dissertation on my first cruise in 1989.
Embarkation was smooth, took about 20-30 minutes. If you were in a SC cabin or above, they had your cabin numbers listed on a board as you entered the embarkation hall. They wanted you to identify yourself to the staff. These folks got whisked away to some place behind a curtain. I'm not sure what happened to them as I never saw them again until some sightings on HMC. Not us, we were the K-Mart soda crowd. They don't push you for the embarkation photo. Which is a good thing, as my family is in the witness security program. Disembarkation was smooth too. We arrived on ship at 1:20 PM and were able to go our cabins at 1:30 PM. There is no sense in getting aboard any sooner, as you just have to wait in the Lido restaurant with your carryon luggage. Our cabin was a SY handicapped cabin, because that's all they had left when I booked in this category. It was a nice cabin at the front of the ship with a balcony. It's the first balcony cabin or suite we have booked . As a handicapped cabin, we had 2 showers. One tub shower, and one freestanding one with a pull down chair. The bed had a great mattress and 2000 thread count sheets. Who counts those threads, and when did this start? My son had a convertible bed sofa that was adequate with 50 thread count sheets. The balcony was nice for sitting out as you were leaving port and in port. But during the cruise it was too windy to step outside. The curtains closed with an electric switch. I thought it was very high tech. There was plenty of room for stowage.
Computers; you can purchase 250 minutes of internet time for $100, and lesser amounts. If you opt for the 250 on the first day, they will give you 20 additional minutes. There was an internet happy hour at least twice for an hour or two where you used only ½ of your minutes during that time. We had to ask for our account to be adjusted though by the internet manager in the Explorers Lounge. There is printer there for printing out your boarding pass for your return flight. There are plenty of computers set up in the Explorers Lounge. However Wi-Fi is available throughout the ship, including your cabin. There is no J-45 plug in your cabin, only an old modem port. But our laptop picked up on the Wi-Fi in the cabin. There are about 10 TV channels on your flat panel TV and a DVD player in the cabin. The Explorers Lounge has a selection of about 800 DVDs to check out for $3 a night. I guess in all suites, DVD check- out is free. But if you are reduced to watching a lot of TV and DVDs in your cabin, you are definitely not taking advantage of all a cruise ship has to offer.
The ship is well appointed and kept very clean by the staff. The art work throughout the ship was impressive. Out ship was full with 1915 passengers. They actually made offers to some passengers to book a later cruise, including the 16 day repositioning cruise for the same cost of the 7 day. I think it was a combination of the spring break crowd, and the destinations that made this cruise so popular. It was a mix of young and old.
The food was good on this cruise. The Indonesian and Filipino staff was very friendly and helpful. The burger bar in the pool area was crowded at peak lunch times on sea days. We had dinner on the formal Tuesday night at the Pinnacle Grill and were not disappointed. Our $20 each meal in the Pinnacle Grill was provided to us complementary (comped in Vegas terms) for some reason. The Lido had a large variety and was well prepared. The Vista Restaurant provided you with a choice of fixed dining times in the upper level or called in reservations or as you wish dining on the lower level. We opted for the ad hoc dining as we didn't want to fit into any meal schedule. Plus you we were able to sit with different table mates each night. Cabin service was available, but I was never too lazy to get out of the cabin to eat on the ship.
Our Cruise Critic Group had a nice meeting in the Crows Nest. I arranged this with the HAL in advance for our first sea day. It was great to put faces with the names we had communicated with on the Boards for months. I thought the entertainment was great. Joel Mason, the Elton John singer, was excellent. He is an outstanding singer and piano player. He brings his own sense of humor to his show. One woman got up in the front row during one of Joel's ballads. Joel chased her down the aisle brought her and had her sit in a chair next to his piano. All in good fun of course. The singers and dancers were good. The singers had great voices. The sets and costumes were top notch. They are hired by Stiletto Entertainment out of Las Vegas. The costumes are made by Bob Mackie, who designs Cher's costumes. One of the dresses is worth around $10K. If you attend the informal tour with the cast and crew you learn all these neat facts. The Illusionist Leo Ward was exceptional. He added some real comedy to his show. If you go to the 8:00 PM show, get there early as there were people sitting on the steps. The four blondes around the motorcycle are part of Dance Company, not his. That's all I'll tell you about his show. The comedian Frank King had some good Southern humor and had us all laughing. We appreciated it because we are from Southern Nevada. He did one 10:00 PM show the night were in Aruba.
The morning coffee question answer sessions with the Cruise Director Kerry and Joel Mason and later in the week the Captain Peter Harris were great. One woman asked the Captain if the ship ran on auto pilot at night. The Captain said he has never found the bridge at night.
Half Moon Cay (pronounced key) was all everyone has said before. Beautiful beach, lots of water sports. Tendering to the island was easy as they use larger vessels instead of the life boats. The barbeque was fine. They had everything you would expect at a barbeque and it was well prepared. We did the Aquatrax-jet skis. The three of us all had our own machine and followed the leader in a large lagoon behind the beach. They even took us out in some of the choppy ocean, which was a blast. We heard the horseback riders say they went without saddles and into the ocean while holding onto the horse's mane. One Austrian passenger told me the parasailing was excellent, as you had a great view of the island. They have a fortress like entrance to the Island in an area called Pirates Cove when you get off the tender. Probably named this based on the cost of sodas. I think the very old fort entrance was built way back sometime after 1997 when Holland America purchased the Island. Though, I didn't see any evidence of old gun turrets to ward off the pirates or modern day tourists on the fort buttress. My tip, don't bother with the clam shell if you plan to move about the island during the day or rain showers are predicted for the day. However, I have no idea how you are going to know the weather in advance. That's $20 saved you could spend on sodas. There are a limited number of cabanas to rent with shower installed on the end to wash that pesky sand of your feet and shoes. I thought I saw some of those SC and above people reappear on those cabanas with ship sodas.
On Aruba I reserved a Jeep rental in advance. We decided to go independent on Aruba because it was our second trip there. After having to call American Jeep Rental, as they were not at the location they emailed me, we took off in our Jeep Wrangler that probably hadn't seen service since it was purchased 8 years ago. We did all the usual items, California Lighthouse, climbed the Rock formation, and the looked at the Natural Bridge. It was a nice break from being herded into a bus and having to wait for that one person who always took too long in the gift shop. We were so hot at the rock climbing location I broke down and purchased a cold soda for $2.50. My son reminded me they were $1.95 at HMC. Willemstad Curacao was a beautiful city, with pastel painted houses much like Amsterdam. The swinging pedestrian Royal Bridge linking the port with the town opens about 20 times a day to allow ships to pass in and out of the harbor. I thought it would be more practical to build a tunnel under the river, but wife disagreed and said it added to the charm of the city. By extension, I don't think she would find an old wringer washing machine more charming than a modern washer dryer. We found Willemstad a better location to shop than Oranjestad Aruba. Aruba is more beaches, if you didn't get enough at HMC. We did the trolley tour of Willemstad. We would rate it so so. We were told by the ship's Captain, Holland America leads the industry in the number of repeat customers. We were very pleased with this cruise, and I hope you enjoy your cruise too.