I travelled with my friend Marie on this cruise. It was my 6th, her 20th (?). Our third with HAL, our second on Westerdam. We had high expectations from our previous cruises and were looking forward to visiting Halfmoon Cay again.
We flew in from Europe the evening before the cruise and stayed at the Hampton Inn Fort Lauderdale Airport North. We picked it mainly because it provides a free shuttle from the airport to the hotel and from the hotel to the ship. It's fairly standard, but it's clean, the staff are friendly and the breakfast is OK.
We left the hotel at about 12 noon and missed the initial rush to get on the ship. By the time we arrived, the lines had died down. In fact, as we were non-US citizens, we had to go to a special line. The HAL staff member was already dealing with the family of 3 in front of us and we only waited 2 or 3 minutes (the lines for US citizens seemed to be moving fast too). This was great and because we had filled in all the documents in advance, it took no time at all to get our cards and be on our way. We walked straight past the photographer taking embarkation photos and boarded the ship.
Welcome back lunch
To me, the best feature of the Mariner programme is this lunch. Since the cabins are not ready until about 1.30pm, people are usually concentrated at the lido carrying their bags and trying to grab some lunch. Instead, we were immediately directed to the dining room where we were able to sit quietly and enjoy our meal. Once that was over, we made our way to our cabin, just as the announcement was made to say they were ready. Great!
We had booked a GTY, lowest category, inside. What we got was a category I (large inside). It was very spacious. In fact, this was a wheelchair accessible cabin. In these, there is no step between the cabin and the bathroom and the drainage from the shower is in the floor. This worked very well. Only once did any water manage to run over.
The weather had been cold in Fort Lauderdale and it was just as cold when we got to Halfmoon Cay. As we boarded the tender, it began to rain. We decided to go ahead anyhow and proceed to the island. We had booked a clamshell which was useful against the wind and the intermittent rain. Although the conditions weren't great, the sea was lovely and warm and we spent lots of time in the water. The rest of our time we spent drinking cocktails, playing scrabble and enjoying the beach BBQ.
Prior to the cruise, I had got chatting with a bunch of people on our Cruise Critic roll call. We had opted against the HAL-organised event and organised our own wine-crawl. In theory (according to HAL's published rules on the matter), we should have been able to meet and share our wine in any public area that wasn't a bar. In the event, they decided to make this difficult for us, so about 25 of us ended up back in someone's cabin. I don't know if it's because we were in the cabin, but we really hit it off and had a blast. In fact, at the end of the week, we did the same all over again! This was the best Cruise Critic group I have ever met. In fact, so many of us got on so well, that 12 of us (so far) have already booked to go on Celebrity Eclipse in February 2011, a kind of reunion cruise.
Along with some of the other people from the CC group, we had booked to do the Jolly Pirates excursion. We were late into port due to a technical problem with the ship and we had a long walk from the ship to the area where the taxis were waiting. We managed to get a taxi van very easily and the driver was king enough to inform the excursion operators that we were on our way so that they wouldn't leave without us. The trip was fun and the staff friendly. We stopped over a wreck to snorkel first, but the sea was quite rough here, then we had a second snorkelling stop, then at the third stop people could do the rope swing off the side of the boat. Getting back to the ship after the excursion was a problem. We waited quite a long time where we had got off the boat, then we gave up and walked to a hotel, then we kept walking and finally got a taxi for some of the group. I believe the rest took a local bus back to the port. If you do this excursion, make sure you work out in advance how you are going to get back to the ship.
We had nothing planned in Curacao. We got off the ship, crossed the floating bridge and walked around town for a while. It was very hot but the town is very colourful and pretty. We met some CC friends again and stopped for a drink. Coming back, we took the free ferry since the bridge was open to let ship through.
I found the food to be excellent on this cruise. There is lots of variety, many of the dishes are cooked to order and the dining rooms staff were excellent. The line at lunchtime for burgers and hot dogs was too long in my opinion. We only joined this massive line once.
Entertainment and activities
This was my 6th cruise (3 different lines) and the first time I have ever been bored on a ship. There was very little to do and the cruise director was not visible enough. The daily planner has been re-arranged to be by area rather than by time. This makes it rather confusing. I strongly believe they have made these changes to disguise the lack of activities. Contrary to popular belief HAL has a wide age-range in its passengers and it would have been nice to have something to do other that lie on the deck.
As for the shows, they were the same as on our previous cruise in 2008. I must admit I found this hard to believe. It was even the same stand-up comic. We went to a couple but never stayed long. We also left one of the shows after a few minutes because the sound was so poor. Too loud and too much treble, making it a very unhappy experience for our ears!
Although I didn't experience this myself, I heard several people complaining about dining room staff being overstretched and cabin attendants being mediocre. I am convinced that HAL is cutting too many corners.
I started off this cruise convinced that HAL was my favourite cruise line. The more time I spent on the ship, however, the more my thoughts turned back to Celebrity, wondering if I might prefer it after all. I am happy to be booked on Celebrity again, since regrettably HAL didn't live up to my expectations or previous experiences this time round.