We traveled Huntsville-Atlanta-Fort Lauderdale and stayed overnight at the Hyatt Place North because of its location and free port shuttle. It's located near a shopping center with a Publix, Total Wine, and restaurants. The hotel is heavily trafficked and looking a bit worn, but our only problem was the air conditioner/heating unit in our room. It was LOUD. We had to turn it off in order to sleep. The staff is friendly, the free breakfast was adequate for people about to over-eat for a week, and the shuttle service was prompt. (Just be sure to sign up for it when you check in.)
Embarkation went smoothly and all our luggage appeared in our cabin in a timely fashion. The Westerdam had just returned from its European route and there were, of course, major staff changes. This may account for a few of the initial problems that we encountered.
We decided to try the Returning Mariner's Luncheon in the Vista Dining Room. Rather than welcoming us aboard, the maitre 'd grudgingly seated us for a simple lunch that took an hour and a half to serve. Cabins were opened and we were stuck in the Vista. Grrr...not a good start.
We had Suite 7070 on the Rotterdam Deck and anything good that you have heard of HAL cabins could be said of ours. It was large, clean, well decorated, with a large balcony and a separate shower and spa tub. The bottle of cold champagne that the HAL website promised would be waiting all Deluxe Suite passengers was no where in sight and failed to appear. But we did get a bottle of water. Our cabin stewards were all that is pleasant and agreeable, and 7070 remained a delightful place to sleep and rest. (Warning: the cabin next to us flanked the glass elevators that run up the side of the ship - they had no privacy on their balcony and also had the lights from the elevator shining on their balcony at night.)
The Westerdam is a beautiful ship in great shape. From the teak walking deck to the Explorers' Lounge with its leather recliners and huge windows, she's a beauty. The staff and officers are, overall, courteous and friendly.
My husband signed up for the hydro-therapy package and enjoyed the large pool and the scented showers. He was warned during our initial tour of the spa that the heated loungers were often hogged by passengers who understand the concept of sharing but don't apply it to themselves. And that proved to be the case. You know who you are and can expect lumps of coal in your Christmas stockings!
It was at about this point - as we were congratulating ourselves that our luggage had appeared and we'd signed up for the programs that we enjoy - spa pool for him, Yoga for me - that Captain PJ announced that the Westerdam had passed her port inspections - except for one. The emergency generator hadn't made the grade and another generator was to be quickly brought to the ship. It turned out that finding another generator was child's play, but hoisting it up to the top deck wasn't. Our departure was delayed until lunchtime the following day.
HAL offered compensation to the passengers since the delay meant missing our first port, Grand Turk. We were offered a shipboard credit equal to 10% of our base cruise fare paid or a future cruise credit equal to 20% of our base cruise fare, to be valid for two years. We were pleased that the offer was made in a timely fashion and that HAL accepted responsibility for the problem.
The major disappointment that we faced on the Westerdam was service in the Vista dining room. AWYL dining just wasn't working. Making a reservation was difficult and many people roamed the ship carrying buzzers waiting to be called back to the dining room. We managed reservations, but our table was seldom ready on time. The servers seem stressed; orders were mixed up and some items just never came. At one point I watched a passenger get up and serve ice water to those at this table because he was tired of waiting. (Lumps of coal to you too, sir.) The descriptions on the menu, as usual, sometimes failed to match the foods brought, i.e., shrimp on a 'bed of greens' had no greens, a pear 'stuffed with cheese' only had a teaspoon of cheese beside it on the plate. I asked our waiter what the problem was and he said - too many people trying to eat in the Vista. This translates to 'it's the passengers' fault' for crowding the dining room; but it isn't. This is HAL's problem and if they want to compete with other cruise lines at their price point, this must be dealt with.
Dinners in the Pinnacle Grill, on the other hand, were quite good. The ambiance is calm and sophisticated; the service prompt, and the food enjoyable.
Our preferred entertainment is the string quartet, and they were quite good on this cruise. (Although I am sending out more lumps of coal to the couple who showed up in bathing suits and bathrobes at seven one night to drink coke and listen to the music. Even the ever serious musicians were having a problem not bursting into laugher at the incongruity.)
San Juan, St. Maartin, and Half Moon Cay were enjoyable - bring sunscreen and a hat and be prepared for traffic tie-ups in St. Maartin. HMC is among the most relaxing places we've visited.
The highlight of the cruise for me was seeing 'flying' fish. As the ship disturbs the warm water, schools of tiny silver fish actually take flight and soar away to calmer waters. This makes for most interesting walks along the deck. And, of course, there's the changing colors of the Caribbean waters from blue to intense blue to green, the spectacular views on entering and leaving San Juan, the star-filled night skies, and the friendly islanders everywhere.
Will we sail HAL again? Probably, but unless we read of improvements in the Vista, we'll budget all our dinners in the Pinnacle. Other than that, the staff is extremely accommodating, the ship topnotch, and most fellow passengers congenial.