Well it's all over bar the memories and what a great time we had on-board the Ryndam. When you read this you will have to bear in mind that this was our first cruise, and while we are seasoned travelers, we were cruising virgins - but no more!
We did the Western Caribbean itinerary from Tampa calling at Key West, Ocho Rios- Jamaica, Georgetown - Grand Cayman and Cozumel - Mexico. Our main aim with this holiday was to get an introduction to cruising and also to get some heat and sun! We achieved our aim in bucket-loads, the weather couldn't have been better, 7 glorious sunny days and no port or weather issues. The Ports of call were another matter. Key West is always fabulous and I never tire of visiting here, though I did miss the glorious drive down from Miami. No problems here. In Jamaica we booked a private trip up to the Enchanted gardens. The gardens themselves were fine, but there was a lot of work going on there with building and landscaping. The driver (for an extra fee) took us up Fern Gully and to a look out at the top of the hill where we got a fabulous view down over the port. He also gave us lots of interesting information along the way. Interesting, but would I do Jamaica again? No.
We had to tender in from the ship in Georgetown which was fine. This was extremely well organized and we were in the first tender off the ship. Again we had booked a private charter with Stingray Sailing to visit the Stingray sandbank. There were only 10 of us on a 43ft catamaran and we were one of the first out to the sandbank. This was an amazing experience and I would certainly recommend the charter. Shopping in Georgetown on our return was fine, none of the pushy sales seen in Jamaica (or later in Cozumel) so a pleasant experience. Yes I would go back to Grand Cayman.
Finally Cozumel. The trip out to the ruins was too long a day so we passed on that. We had booked a private trip to Coba Ruins, but the timing was too risky with the ferry off the island so we cancelled and just took a taxi downtown for a wander. Mistake. Too many pushy salesmen and nothing much to see. We would have been better staying at the shopping area near the ship. So we won't be going back to Cozumel.
And onto the ship. We were group 5 for boarding and once checked in we were only waiting for about 20 minutes. Once on-board, the staterooms were ready to drop hand luggage which was very useful! We were very pleased with our accommodations. There was us and our two teenagers. We had thought about a family room, but decided against this and took two outside staterooms instead. I am so glad we did - we were in bed before the kids most night! The beds were super comfortable, the bathrooms were small but more than adequate - I've been in smaller in some hotels! There was plenty of storage space for clothes and items. Everything in the stateroom was in good condition apart from one frayed towel, but that's not worth bothering about. A small fridge would be nice, but I'm sure you get them in the larger rooms. Our room configuration was wrong (beds apart instead of together) but this was rectified by the stewards that evening while we were at dinner.
Talking of food, again we have no complaints. Everything you could ever want was available in the Lido for breakfast. The cooked breakfast was my downfall I think! We tended to lunch in the Lido as well and generally had salad which was always plentiful. The mixed salads changed daily and there was always something tasty on offer. We opted for early fixed seating and were allocated a table for 4. The Rotterdam dining room made for a very pleasant dining experience. The servers were all very friendly efficient and all paid extra attention to the children. In fact on the last night, the two of us went to the Pinnacle Grill, and the children thought they might have room service, but as it was the Master Chef's Dinner, we persuaded them to go to dinner on their own, and they were well looked after. We are very lucky in that we don't have fussy eaters - they will try escargots, mahi-mahi, calamari, you name it which certainly makes our life easier! They were certainly able to explore here. I had an overdone surf and turf one night, but that was redeemed later in the week, and everything else was cooked perfectly. Some might complain that the portions were on the small side, but we found them to be more than adequate, especially if you had all 4 courses.
As I mentioned we went to the Pinnacle Grill on our last night. I know there is some debate as to the increasing number of 'additional pay' dining options and following our trip I have given this some thought. The big question is, was it really that much better than the Rotterdam? Hand on heart I have to say it probably wasn't. The service was very slow. Some might say relaxed, and I agree there is a fine line between 'relaxed' and 'slow' but when you are asking yourself and your dining companion where the next course has got to, we are on the slow side of the line. It was a nice dining room, the service was pleasant (if slow) and the food was good. So by all means give it a go, but if you can't get a reservation, don't be too worried!
There are plenty of bars on boards. All cater to a certain clientele. The only two complaints I would have are the chairs in the Ocean Bar are very low, and some of the elder passengers (and there were a lot of those!) had difficulty getting out of them. Some of these chairs were looking past their prime, but this was the only part of the ship that looked like this. Also the Crow's Nest, which is also the smoking bar, had a lot of evening activities hosted by the Cruise Director. We were put off because of the smoking smell in there. (I do suspect that HAL may be considering a smoking ban on board as we had a survey to complete on this subject at the end of the cruise). The beverage staff were attentive and efficient.
The Oasis area for Teens was an excellent area. Unfortunately, as there were only about a dozen teens on-board, a whole load of seniors thought they would just take over that area. This was very intimidating for some of the younger teens, and I had to call passenger services, who to their credit were very good at sorting the problem out. They also followed up with me and my daughter, so very pleased about that. The Kids activities were certainly varied and enjoyed by the kids who were on-board. The teen activities (13-17) did go on very late and as I said sometimes we were in bed before the kids, but we never felt they were in harm's way at all, and they were never left on their own. The fact we have twins also helps!
The entertainment was of very high quality given the size of this ship. It is very much geared towards the older generation, but was enjoyed by everyone we spoke to. The biggest complaint with the Showroom at Sea is the view from seats upstairs. If you are on the front row upstairs, fine but the rest of the room has a very restricted view. We found ourselves getting there extra early to get a good seat downstairs. Nothing like a bit of people watching for half an hour.
The ship has an excellent gym and spa, I even managed three spinning classes during the week which was great. Always look out for the specials in the Spa. They run all week, so there is no need to pay full tariff for any of the treatments.
I'm sure I have forgotten something so I will add it if I remember, but this was a fantastic week for us and a very good introduction to cruising. I certainly wouldn't like to go on a larger ship, this was a nice size and never felt crowded, even though it was fully booked. When we docked with other cruise lines, you certainly felt as though you were a slightly better class with HAL. Suits me fine!