We flew into FLL on Wednesday January 12, 2011. We spent two nights at the Riverside Hotel on Las Olas and found it to be near ideal for our purposes. Unique "old Florida" feel, spacious and clean. Taxi meter read $19.00 upon our arrival from airport(this was at rush hour and we were stuck in tunnel for several minutes). There is a CVS superstore within easy walking distance where we were able to buy pop, wine, beer, bottled water , sunscreen, etc for our cruise. Just about any type of cuisine you could possibly imagine is also available within walking distance of the Riverside. If you look real hard---even reasonably priced fare can be found. The Riverside is also very near a water taxi stop and the Route 11 bus stops right out front. This is a scenic beach route that runs along the coast all the way to Pompano Beach and back. We got the Riverside for a reasonable Priceline bid and upgraded to a King Tower room for $20/night. We were very pleased with the hotel. Weather during our stay in Ft Lauderdale unfortunately was cold and blustery.
On Friday morning we took a cab to the Port at 10:30 AM (meter read $16.20). This proved to be a little early, as we had to wait in the waiting room for close to an hour before boarding. On the plus side we were in boarding group #1 and among the very first on the ship and to the Lido for lunch. The Lido is gorgeous and seemed much larger and more formal than our remembrances of the equivalent upper deck RCL buffet (Windjammer?).
We enjoyed our cruise on the Westerdam, I would say about equally as we have our previous cruises.
FOOD The food was consistently good---particularly the lamb, lobster tails (moist and large), escargot, and foie gras. The pork and beef seemed somewhat unexciting. The only negative food experience we had was with Canaletto's. Pasta was way overcooked and clumpy and the veal coating was gritty and weird. We were sorry we missed the MDR that evening. The service was excellent at all venues we experienced. We ate in the MDR every other evening at fixed early seating where we shared a four top with a delightful couple we had similar interests with. One thing I thought was outstanding was the portion size---usually just right---no great wasteage. More was always available if you wanted it. We ate room service breakfast several times and it was just ok---as you're filling out your card make sure to be very specific- and don't forget anything!--want butter with that toast??? Make sure you check the butter box! Likewise the Lido buffet was just ok---but with tons of choices. Late night snack and desserts available every evening.
CABIN The stateroom was gorgeous. We had a superior suite with extra wide balcony, dual sinks, shower AND separate tub (with its own shower) tons of closet space and a sofa that Shaq could comfortably take a nap on. It was kept impeccably clean and supplied by our wonderful stewards. Only two fairly minor complaints: couldn't get room quite as cool as I like, steward somewhat alleviated the problem by bringing us a fan. Also we were directly under the Lido restaurant and I can tell you---they start preparing for breakfast at 5:15 AM sharp! Woke me up every morning---was able to get back to sleep however.
ENTERTAINMENT, PUBLIC ROOMS AND BARS We attended the welcome aboard show and found the ship's singers and dancers to be pretty amateurish, reminiscent of a high school review. Jimmy Carroll the comedian was pretty good and even though much of his short set was verbatim purloined from George Carlin it was still funny, well delivered and we hadn't heard it in awhile. We went back to his longer set later in the week and enjoyed it too. Otherwise we enjoyed whatever was going on in the Queen's Lounge Theater, movies, the Marriage Game, and the Jeopardy-like game. Drew, the cruise director is a talented, funny young man and is stunningly a dead ringer for a young Johnny Carson---both in looks and in his glib style. We enjoyed 2 for 1 drinks nearly every evening in the Crow's Nest between 8 and 9 and enjoyed the James Taylor-ish singer/guitarist. Incredibly between blackjack, Caribbean stud, and the Wheel of Fortune slots---we wound up over $200 ahead from the casino. Parts of the casino and adjacent small Sports Bar are, I believe, the only indoor spots on the ship where smoking is allowed. I am a fairly militant non-smoker and never found the smoke to be overpowering in these areas.
POOLS---the amidships Lido pool has a retractable roof, three hot tubs, plentiful tables and chairs, and a little more staid atmosphere than the open air aft pool. On most days a chair massage was available for $30 at one corner of the Lido pool area. This is much cheaper than anything on the spa menu -and was a good deal. Oddly, this is the only pool that can be used by children---even though the aft pool has what appears to be a large statue of a cartoon character in it. The no children (under 14) at the aft pool policy is also enforced as the DJ mentions it about every 10 minutes. We hung out at the Lido on the blustery days and at the aft pool on the calmer sunnier later days of our cruise. We like them both. Chair hogging was evident—but not a huge problem as the demographic of this cruise was a little past the sun worshipper stage. Plus there is an abundance of loungers on various other decks. If you wanted a sunny spot -you could find it anytime—somewhere.
Half Moon Cay---was overcast, chilly and windy in the am---so we didn't go. Cleared and warmed up for the afternoon---but we chilled at the Lido. Looked cool and pretty from our mooring though. Was interesting to watch the tendering process using the Westerdam's own tenders.
Aruba—Arrived about 1:30 PM. We got 2.5 hr tour of western half of Island with points of interest---from independent operator (6 passenger vw van) at pier exit for $25 ea. Enjoyed it. Island reminds me of Arizona surrounded by sea. Great vistas from lighthouse. Came back to ship, ate dinner and walked back to downtown casino and mall. Casino was nothing special and it was a downer that all the outdoor vendors had packed up and closed by 6PM. A more normal port time would have been more enjoyable. It's written in a lot of places that a cool and cheap thing to do is to take the city bus up to the big hotels and beaches----all I can say is good luck with that! The line for that particular bus route looked (2 busses came, filled and went while we were still in line) insurmountably long to us so we altered our plans and took the van tour instead.
Curacao---Got off ship walked across bridge and took trolley train tour of city for $20/ea. Was fun and informative. Learned meaning of mashi danke and dushi yu. Walked around Punda and shopped. We intended to take a couple hour private taxi tour of countryside. We talked to several taxi drivers but none would allow themselves to be tied up for 2 hours as there were 3 large ships in port (unusual here, I think) and more profitable shorthauls were plentiful. So we spent the afternoon sunning on the aft deck. I would book a ships excursion if I had it to do over again.
Enjoyed two near perfect sea days going back to FLL. We were in next to last group to disembark. Had leisurely breakfast in MDR—menu was very limited though---would go to Lido next time. Line in warehouse to customs looked daunting, but moved very quickly. Guy with "TAXI DISPATCHER" vest drug our bags thru bus line to front of taxi line and placed them in taxi trunk -$2 tip. Meter read $11.20 at airport. Had 2 hours to kill at very boring FLL terminal. Poorest airport entertainment/food options I've seen in awhile.
We enjoyed our cruise. I don't understand when I read reviews complaining about the HAL demographic. It's like -did you just buy a computer or view the comments and reviews AFTER you cruised???? There were but 30 children under 17 on this cruise. We passed Club Hal several times and there appeared to be noting going on there. If I had children that I hoped would be able to interact with other children on the cruise, I would only consider HAL at school holiday times. We didn't see much if any interaction on this cruise. We always saw the same kids only with their families.—They seemed happy with that.
I don't like the guaranteed room marketing concept. In considering future cruises I would only consider HAL if I could get an attractive room of MYchoosing at a competitive price with competing lines. With HAL's current structure—that's not possible- so it may be awhile before we cruise with them again---despite our enjoyment of this cruise.