I chose this itinerary last year because of the ports. Being an avid snorkeler, I was anxious to explore the aclaimed waters of Grand Turk and St. Thomas. Unfortunately, last year we happened upon a little storm called Hurricane Tomas and there would be no Grand Turk and all the beaches at St. Thomas were closed. So---we decided to try again this Nov. As it turned out, our daughter was going to be flying home from San Juan the day we ported there, so we joked that she should cancel her flight and sail back with us. She thought that was a good idea, so I started the several calls to Holland America to see if it could be done. At first we were told yes. Then when I called back to go ahead with it, the Jones Act was brought up and we were told that since she wouldn't be going to a foreign port (Halfmoon Cay didn't count and Grand Turk was the day before San Juan), that she wouldn't be able to go. After some research, I found out that San Juan and USVI were exempt and I called again. They said they would send off a letter to see if it would be approved, but I'd have to get a room assigned first (we had reserved an SZ guarantee). I was told to call the room inventory department and talk to them. This was about 6 weeks before our cruise and they kindly assigned us to a SS category room and took the information to send whereever to get approval for "delayed embarkation" (or something like that). A few days later I got the approval letter by email and was then able to add her to our cabin. About 2 weeks before our cruise, I got an email from Holland America offering an upsell to an SA suite for $199 @ for my husband and myself (our daughter wasn't charged). I immediately took it. Having read about the extra emenities and extra space (and having never had a suite before), I figured this was a great time to experience the "suite life"!
Since I was vacationing in Ft. Lauderdale for the week before the cruise, I rented a car from Budget and we returned it to the Quay Center right by the port and took the free shuttle to the port on Nov. 5, 2011.
Embarkation: Being in a suite made it a breeze! Quite a contrast from our embarkation a year before! As soon as we got past security, we were whisked away to a check in area for suite passengers only. After filling out the medical questionaire and getting our ship cards, we were sent upstairs and taken to the front of the line. Once on the ship (about 11:30), our room was already ready so we went there and unpacked our carry-ons.
SA Suite: I was impressed! It was twice the size of the veranda room we had last year. Loved the couch with the curved side (almost like a sectional) that folded out into a bed for 2. Our daughter said the bed was comfortable. The 2 side chairs were ample in size and comfort. The coffee table was a good size (the 3 of us had a complete dinner on it twice) and it was adjustable (although ours wasn't working right and we had to hold it up with our knees if we had 3 plates of food on it). The bed was king size and very comfortable and loved that we could leave the curtains open above the desk and see the ocean from the bed. The deck was also twice the size of our deck last year. Loved having a table and 4 chairs around it. Plus there were comfortable cushioned whicker lounge chairs and ottomans and a side table or 2. There was even a clock on the wall! Also loved the larger bathroom and the changing/vanity room. The bathroom had 2 sinks and 2 showers. I was afraid the stand up shower would be small, but it was a decent size. The tub was a jacuzzi tub and it worked well. We even had a free bottle of champagne and a large bottle of water as a gift from the hotel manager. I also loved the free flowers that arrived the next day. Our cabin stewarts, Putu and Wayan, were fantastic---thorough, fast, and very personable.
Dining: We had our first returning Mariners lunch on embarkation day. It was very good, although it understandably took a long time. Most of our lunches were in the Lido. The first 2 days we had breakfast in Lido, then decided to try Pinnacle which was a benefit of our suite. Pinnacle for breakfast was fantastic! Service was fast, food was great, servers were great--we really appreciated this benefit. We only went to the Rembrandt 3 times. It was good all 3 times, even had a waiter who made my daughter and myself a rose out of paper. Ate at Tamerind one lunch. We aren't huge Asian food fans but heard so much about it that we wanted to try it. We did enjoy it. Ate at Canaletto once and really enjoyed that. Service in Canaletto seemed much faster then in the Rembrandt. Ate from the Lido deck bar b q the first night---it was pretty good, too, although I think I would opt for prime rib in the Rembrandt next time. Had reservations for Pinnacle for dinner on the last night, but our daughter ended up sick and throwing up, so we had room service and stayed with her that night. Also had room service dinner one other night and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was nice having our whole meal right there and not waiting between courses. We have no complaints about the food. Some was better then others, but we certainly didn't go hungry.
Service; Outstanding everywhere we went! Although I really didn't think I'd use it, I found the conceirges in the Neptune lounge very helpful, too. They made our dinner reservations, printed out our boarding passes, and even checked my daughter in when we were in San Juan.
Entertainment: We only went to the main stage 3 nights. We were spoiled by Joel Mason last year and he wasn't there this year. The illusionist was very good. We even enjoyed the staff show.
Activities: Went to the digital creative photo editing class and really enjoyed it. Also loved the cooking demos. Would have done the cooking class, but they were cooking shrimp and my daughter and I as allergic to shrimp, so we passed on that. Did the card making class and made 2 really nice cards. I even participated in the Classic Volleyball match. My team won and when I got back to my room, there was a prize on the bed---a Holland America thermal glass. We also enjoyed the pool a couple of times. It always amazes me that there can be that many people on board and the adult pool is often empty. I also love that the adult pool is really for adults and kids are sent to the family pool---a couple other cruise lines didn't do that and I find jumping, splashing, screaming kids annoying when I'm trying to lounge in the pool.
Ports and excursions: Again our plans for Grand Turk were foiled! There was a north surge hitting the beaches that day and all the snorkel excursions were cancelled. We hung out at the beach by the ship and actually found the snorkeling there to be much better then I expected. Not very clear, but there were a lot of fish there. In San Juan we encountered heavy rains again. In St. Thomas we rented a car and headed to Cowpet bay. The snorkeling there was exceptional, but it was cut short by a lightening storm. We had hoped to check out several beaches, but the overcast and storms didn't help out. After 3 hours, the lightening stopped and we did snorkel a bit more, but I was glad we didn't pay for a snorkeling excursion that day. Halfmoon Cay was beautiful, even the weather.
Disembarkation: Apparently not very many employees showed up for customs and it took a bit longer then expected to get off the ship. But we were still at the airport by 9:30. There was no wait for a taxi to the airport and it was only $14.
Again we didn't have the time we expected, but we had a great time none the less. Good enough that we did the onboard deposit for a future trip again.