This was our first cruise out of many more to come. Like probably most people I did a lot of homework before deciding on this cruise. I read review after review and I must say that Cruise Critic became my best resource and deciding factor, I was even able to get a better deal through this site. I became aware of the many differences between cruise lines amenities and customer service records through reviews such as the one I am submitting, I thank all those who provided honest opinions and guidance that were very valuable tools for me. After all, a cruise is not an everyday trip for most people.
I must say that Holland America Line has the cruise experience down to a science, from the checking in to the debarkation, the process was efficient and convenient.
The only problem encountered during this itinerary was the rainy weather in some of the ports and a bit of rough seas along the way (thanks heaven for Bonine). Here's a brief review of the ports visited:
Grand Turk - Didn't get to spend a lot of time there since this was the worst weather we experienced. I did however manage a few snorkeling moments in the beach across from Margarita Ville. There was an abundance of fish in the area and I was only a few meters from the pier, I can imagine what the excursions must be like. I hope to get chance to visit again and take advantage of the snorkeling a bit more.
San Juan PR - We loved the place, very impressive, lots of shopping and sightseeing, very friendly people. Took the trolley to El Morro and returned to the port on a leisure down-hill walk visiting interesting shops along the way.
St. Thomas - Had to cancel the excursion to the town and Megan's Beach due to the weather (HAL was very accommodating). We did however take a taxi directly there when the weather cleared a bit. The beach location is very pretty but somewhat overrated, the facilities were substandard and some of the people working there were rude, the ride there was more interesting, I thought. There were five ships on port that day and it was overcrowded everywhere. I hear that there are other beaches that are more pristine and secluded that can be explored.
Half Moon Cay - What can I say, a virtual paradise. The weather finally let up and we thoroughly enjoyed the beach, rented a clam shell which was somewhat unnecessary since there is a lot of shade there. We almost missed the BBQ as we arrived at the end. The staff was already picking up but we found the items available very satisfactory.
The ship is easy to navigate; we were very impressed with the overall decor and enjoyed the historical HAL pictures lining the halls to the rooms and the many works of art around the ship. Although HAL is well-known for its older clientele, we did notice a lot of families on this cruise and the all adult pool areas and facilities provided a restful and quiet ambiance. Our stateroom was spacious and quiet, we enjoyed a little extra room due to its location and the balcony was extra large as well. The bedding was outstanding, our son joined us on the cruise and the one doubt I had was the comfort of the sofa sleeper, I am happy to say that he found it acceptable and we had trouble getting him out of it in the mornings. The bathroom included a jacuzzi tub and a separate shower, very nice. There was plenty of storage space and room under the bed for the luggage. One thing that HAL can improve on is to include a microwave oven and an actual refrigerator in the staterooms. We came on board with our own drinks including wine and soft drinks (allowed by HAL) and the cooling appliance in the room was not very useful in keeping anything cold.
As far as the ship activities are concerned we did not partake on a lot of them but the ones we attended were very entertaining and made our trip memorable, especially the shows at the main stage, some the highlights were the magician, the show presented by the staff on-board and the HAL Dancers, they have very talented people performing on this ship.
The workout room is very complete and never too busy. The meals were exceptional; I can't understand how some people can complain about this. The service at the Lido, Pinnacle Grill, Tamarind and the Rembrandt Dining Room were exceptional. We especially enjoyed the service from Wesley and Aron at the Rembrandt, true professionals.
Lastly, I have to mention our room stewards, Eko and Richard. Their service was commendable, always a smile and a friendly greeting wherever we encountered them, the mostly Indonesian staff made our vacation one we'll always remember.
Our next destination is Alaska and you can bet we'll look to cruise on Holland America again.