Because this was the first Caribbean cruise after a Transatlantic cruise our departure time was changed from 5pm to 7pm to accommodate the extra crew and ship screenings done by the Coast Guard. We didn't know if this would change the time we were allowed to board, and were pleased to see that actual boarding began about 11:45. They had little plastic clip on tags with the letter 'S' for suite passengers that moved us up in the lines. We were on board, with our carry-on safely in the Neptune Lounge, and at the entrance to the Vista dining room in less than 15 minutes. Lunch was fine, and we were done eating just as the cabins were ready. A model of efficiency.
We were a little disappointed when we reached the cabin. It showed signs of being cleaned in rush. My DH has a very compromised immune system as a result of chemotherapy, so I was more than glad to be carrying Lysol spray. The door to the verandah was propped open, so perhaps there had been smokers on the previous cruise. If so, there was absolutely no smell of smoke in the cabin. That was nice. With the door opened, though, we had no air conditioning. (In retrospect, our guess is that doors to other cabins had been left open too, since the air conditioning didn't start working until much later in the evening) We were surprised that there was no "Champagne" waiting for us, just a bottle of water. I was coordinating the Meet & Greet and there was no information as to whom I should be contacting onboard.
A quick trip to the Neptune Lounge seemed in order. There I learned that our stewards would be serving us a glass of "Champagne" later in the evening. (They were much too busy for that to actually happen), that someone would be down to the cabin to check on the air (someone did come, the air conditioning started working later, and the next day someone called to check that all was well), that the Beverage Manager was my contact person for the Meet and Greet(they called him and he came to the Lounge to meet with me), and oh, by the way; the Captain's suite passenger reception was this evening and the suite luncheon was tomorrow at noon. We hadn't received invitations to either so it was good someone mentioned both events.
Sometime before dinner we all learned that the Westerdam's backup generator hadn't passed the Coast Guard inspection and our departure would be delayed. We were all kept up to date as that information morphed into a new generator being ordered...installation expected around midnight... and then that the original crane for the installation wasn't able to handle the new equipment...we would actually be departing the day after we were scheduled...and that we wouldn't be docking in Grand Turk. That was all disappointing, but I think most of the passengers were understanding. We were offered either a credit of 10% of our cruise price to use as an on board credit, or 20% of our cruise price to use as a discount on another cruise within 2 years. That seemed very fair to everyone I talked to.
That first night before turning I filled out our breakfast room service order carefully adding favorite items from the Main Dining Room as I've always done. I was a little disappointed (a little disappointed being an early theme to this cruise) the next morning when the waiter who brought the tray told me I couldn't place special orders, and the kitchen had substituted scrambled eggs for Eggs Florentine. There was a little note on the tray (printed on the back side of scrap paper) that gave me the same sad news. I have told so many people that one of the nicest features of HAL is that you can use room service to order anything you'd like from the dining room menu during dining room hours. The Neptune Lounge confirmed it a third time, although they couldn't tell me if that meant that only the room service menu could be used or if we could continue to order dining room items during dining room hours other times of the day. When I called the dining room to see what we could order for diner in the cabin I was told anything from the dining room menu.
We had a nice roll call meeting the next morning, with a great turn out, especially considering the elevators were shut down for the installation of the new back up generator. None of the ship's officers or department managers were able to attend, but that generator was a REALLY big deal. The poor staff person who was setting up the room was prepared to bring us individual cups of coffee since he couldn't carry the large pot they would normally use up from the kitchen. We all passed on that!
Almost half of the roll call members who attended the Meet and Greet decided to do a cabin crawl the next day where we could see each other's cabins. There were 11 cabins scheduled open for viewing, and we went around in a group to see them. It was fun, easy to organize on the spot, and took less than an hour.
We used the main dining room for three evening meals. They were fine. Some places in the MDR seem to have background noises that make it difficult to for us to hear so we also ate twice in the Italian restaurant. We liked that very much. Once we tried the Lido because we wanted to be sure we had time to catch the entertainment. I'm just not a Lido person. The food was fine, but it wasn't like eating together when one or the other of us seemed to be always getting up to get something. We also had diner on our verandah. That's very nice. If you do this be sure and order everything you want...table cloth, water, bread basket, butter...or it may not come. The last time we did this the staff of the Neptune Lounge took care of it perfectly, this time we were missing a few unimportant items. We also tried the Pinnacle Grill for breakfast and found the service just as slow as the last time we went.
We went to the Vista Lounge for Joel Mason's shows, his energy level is so much fun, and also stopped by for the comedian, Max Elliot, who was also good. Usually we like the Adagio Strings, but the first night we stopped by one of the violins was a little off key so we didn't stop back. The entertainment in the Crow's Nest just wasn't what we were looking for the night we stopped by, but the few other people there seemed to be enjoying him.
San Juan was just beautiful. I don't think I had fully appreciated the history of the port. It was a wonderful. We didn't take any excursions, but road the trolley up the hill to one of the forts, then walked to another, and hopped on the trolley again coming down hill. The trolley is free, the forts are worth the small admission fees. Don't miss the views coming into or leaving the harbor!
We had an independent excursion in St. Marteen. Captain Alan's snorkel adventure (we did the one WITH clothes). Everything went as they described on their web site. I wouldn't hesitate to use them again. The water was choppy and there had been a hurricane less than 2 weeks before we were there so visibility wasn't as good as usual, but that's the chance you take traveling in the Caribbean in November.
This was our first visit to HMC. Everyone always seems to mention the softness of the sand, and indeed, it exceeded our expectations. The island is very well organized and prepared to handle more passengers than our one ship that day. We rented a clam shell, and didn't need it. It was a nice insurance policy anyway. On the HAL web site it looks as if the clam shells are one per person, but it's actually one per two chairs, so a couple only needs one clam shell. We must have been on the first tender to the island. The first two staff people on the island that we met were so short with us they bordered on rudeness. Later in the day the very same people were pleasant. We had a nice, very relaxing day.
Getting off the ship was just as easy as getting on. I must say, we really enjoy being able to have room service breakfast and stay in our cabin until we're ready to get off. Given the choice between having the cabins ready before 1:30, or a relaxed disembarkation, we would take the way HAL is doing it right now in a heartbeat. We've been herded into public areas to sit and wait on other cruise lines, and think it's a hard jolt back to reality that we're glad to miss on HAL.