EMBARKATION: A breeze! We had an early flight out from MacArthur Airport on Long Island. We had never flown from this airport before and found it very convenient and hassle-free. We also flew Southwest for the first time and enjoyed it very much. Check-in at the pier was very smooth. We were the 2nd family to board the ship and took advantage of the empty Lido for lunch, then lounged by the pool on a clear, cool Florida afternoon.
THE ROOM: My husband, one daughter and I had a room next door to my mom and my other daughter. The cabins were not adjoining; however, we opened the partition between the verandahs so we could go back and forth. We are always satisfied with the verandah staterooms and find that we have more than enough space.
THE SHIP: The ship is beautiful. We had been on the Zuiderdam before (in November 2007) and the ship has had a few changes since, such as a makeover of the shops and the addition of the library/internet cafe next to the Crow's Nest lounge on deck 10.
DINING: We never experienced a bad meal! Our dining room steward, Hanni, and his assistant, Putu, were always there to make sure we got everything we wanted. They learned our names right away, and even seemed personally disappointed when, for instance, the chicken was a bit saltier than expected. Make sure you order the following, which were served at different times during the cruise the pate, the baked brie, the cold soups, the wienerschitzel, the liver with bacon and onions, and the tenderest lobster I have ever eaten on any cruise. Also be sure to eat at the Pinnacle Grill. We were given free lunches there by our travel agent, and we loved the food there. When you eat breakfast in the dining room, you also have a choice of daily specials. And of course, be sure not to miss the Indonesian high tea.
ACTIVITIES: There is always something to do, especially on sea days. I found myself circling plenty of activities in the daily bulletin from cooking demonstrations in the Culinary Arts Center to trivia and Pictionary, from port lectures to "coffee chats" with the onboard entertainers. We don't gamble and we don't spa, so I can't report on those. We went to an art auction, but I was surprised I didn't receive my free art print at the end, which is what I used to get on past Holland America cruises (perhaps I went on the wrong day).
KIDS' ACTIVITIES: My 11-year-old made new friends at Club HAL and couldn't wait to join them. After club hours, you could usually find these 5th and 6th graders in the hot tub. My 14-year-old hung out with kids in the Loft, and they also met for onboard activities.
SERVICE: This is where I would like to tell me story of a "good deed" done by a Front Office staffer, Julie. It's little incidents like these that make me want to cruise exclusively with Holland America. On the first formal night, a half hour before the captain's cocktail party, my husband discovered, while dressing, that he had packed his tuxedo but not the shirt. I went down to the Front Office to see if I could rent a shirt, but Julie told me that the tailor shop had closed at 7 and it was now 7:08. She made several calls to see if she could find a key, but then told me she was sorry. I gave her my room number, just in case, and as soon as I returned to my room, I got a call from Julie, that she had found not one, but two shirts, and was going to deliver them personally to my room. Julie arrived at my room 5 minutes later, my husband picked the shirt size that fit him, and he had a complete tuxedo for the rest of the cruise! Thank you, Julie! Thank you, Holland America!
You could always find warm, personal touches like this wherever we went helpful staff at the shops, workers at the Lido deck who not only memorize your name but carry your tray to the table ... I could go on and on, and no, they don't pay me to say this. I am just a fan of Holland America!
ENTERTAINMENT: Except for this ship's HAL Cats (the house band)not being the best HAL Cats I've experienced on Holland America, the entertainment was very good. We had seen the three production shows on the Eurodam last summer, but always appreciate how hard the cast works. The male singers stood out in that one could not hit the low notes and the other would sing in an operatic tenor voice. The male dancers are very energetic! Please visit Nathan in the piano bar this guy is amazing, what the heck is he doing in a ship's piano bar? His talent is amazing, and shame on the people who chatted in the background and didn't want to listen to him (and sing along). My mom and I sang a song dedicated to the cruise director, Andrew, in the Superstars contest. Andrew, though out and about, is not the most charismatic cruise director around. He needs to get more involved. DJ Mark is a nice fellow, but wee also have seen better. The rest of the entertainment was good, not great. The ventriloquist was very talented and funny. We had seen the magician, James Cielen before on the Zuiderdam. I find him to be full of himself, wanting very much to market his magic kits and DVDs. The steel band that played, Island Magic, was amazing, playing everything from the Beatles to classical music, and they were extremely humble. The Indonesian crew show was wonderful, as it always is, and my kids and I got a chance to go onstage and play the anklung, a traditional Indonesian instrument. The most disappointing entertainer was the singer/impersonator, Paul Tanner, who seemed full of himself and tried too hard to impress the ladies on the cruise (I will say no more). During the crew farewell, the crew did not file onstage one by one; rather, the curtain was opened after "Love in Any Language" was sung, and they were all already backstage. Don't tell me that guests have complained about this lovely aspect of the cruise!
PORTS: Our first stop was Half Moon Cay, Holland America's private island, where we enjoyed the sun (the air was cool for the Bahamas and the water was chilly!). My advice is to go to the buffet on the island and get extra hot dog buns and feed them to the fish. The fish will come up to you in hordes! Our next stop was Aruba, where we looked at some stores, but they were mainly jewelry shops. We had intended to go to the beach, but it got too hot. Instead, we went to the beach in the next port, Curacao. It was Easter Sunday and the beach was crowded. We had wanted to see the synagogue, but it was closed. The next port was Cristobal, Panama. This is after we had gone through the Panama Canal. We did the shore excursion to the Embera Indian Village. This is something right out of National Geographic, and it is an experience not to be missed. We arrived there by dugout canoes with outboard motors, were treated to a lunch of friend tilapia and plantains served in banana leaves, joined the Indians in a dance, and had a chance to buy their crafts. Our last port was Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, where we took the Rainforest Aerial Tram excursion. We really enjoyed it. This tour included a delicious lunch of chicken, rice and beans, plantains and a tropical fruit drink. Their gift shop is very nice; we bought coffee to take home.
DISEMBARKATION: This was not a high point. Unfortunately, on the way back to Fort Lauderdale, they had to offload a sick passenger in Grand Cayman. This made the ship an hour and a half late in coming back to port (8:30 instead of 7:00 a.m.). Our flight was at 11:15. We just made it! Along with many other passengers, we tried to leave the ship before all the luggage was off, but the port people held us in a room and would not let us go, despite our protesting. They said that it was unsafe in the luggage area. When a representative from the ship came to talk to us, she was accompanied by 2 armed officers who were there solely to intimidate us. Finally, at 10:30, they let us go, and we scrambled for a cab! The lines at the airport were huge, but they moved, and as I said, we just made the plane.
SUMMARY: Except for the annoying rabbi, who was hired to lead Passover services, but instead spent most of his time walking up to passengers at the poolside and trying to sell his book, this was a terrific and enjoyable cruise.