Cruises are Always Great - Some are Outstanding
Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
Dam good ship -Ã¢â¬" we had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Our room stewards -Ã¢â¬" Sonny and Putu were excellent, as were our waiters -Ã¢â¬" Henry and Roni. As others have commented, it appears HAL has reduced the staffing but the crewmembers always have smiles on their faces, but there doesn't appear to be time for the extra conversations, etc. I don't know how they maintain such a positive attitude working 12 hours a day, seven days a week for nine months. The ship was very clean and all areas were in good repair. (Could we find problem areas -Ã¢â¬" sure, but why look for them.) Air conditioning and plumbing worked well and we only smelled smoke in the smoking areas. We enjoyed the extra cabin and veranda space that comes with an SY cabin. It really is an ideal size for a cruise. Had breakfast in the room each day with selections from the very complete menu. Took leave of the main dining one night (Master Chef's Dinner) for Canaletto, More
which was OK, but not great. Shows were excellent with the exception of the comic (Jeff Nease) who was poor. Haven't heard so many old jokes in years. DW enjoyed the cooking classes -Ã¢â¬" just like I need more great ship recipes made with lots of butter and cream. HEADS UP -Ã¢â¬" if you want to do any of the extra cost cooking classes or the behind the scenes ship's tour -Ã¢â¬" sign up when you board. They are unadvertised, but sell out quickly. Shows how many people read these boards.
The cons -Ã¢â¬" Front desk is friendly and tries to be helpful, but the bookkeeping staff can only be described as inept. Eventually the charges came off, but I got to know the desk staff well. Keep track of your receipts and ask for print outs of your bill, otherwise you will be overcharged. Did not see a sommelier in the dining room -Ã¢â¬" I think they have been replaced by bar waiters who will serve you wine, mixed drinks, etc. The dining room is now pushing bottled water for $2/liter. The officers seemed to be content to come out when required for social events, but otherwise were never seen except for Captain Turner. This is in contrast to Celebrity where they are visible and accessible. Previous posters have commented on a sewage smell -Ã¢â¬" we passed it in the vicinity of cabin 6060.
Tours -Ã¢â¬" Did independent tours in the ABC islands. Bully the taxi driver is outstanding as reported in other CC and TripAdvisor posts. Truly superb snorkeling with Woodwind Bonaire. Took a good local tour in Curacao. We did the Sea-to-Sea ship's tour on a small ferry boat through the Panama Canal to the Pacific and the Rainforest tram tour in Costa Rica. Both were excellent and met expectations and served delightful meals with no intestinal distress afterwards.
Summary - Would we cruise with HAL again? Absolutely, they offer a good product with many different itineraries. However, we have booked our next three cruises on Celebrity. The ships are fresher, seem more roomy -Ã¢â¬" even with 50% more passengers, most of the ship is non-smoking, and there are more options for things to do. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
We had made arrangements with Ulf from Woodwind Bonaire for a two and a half hour snorkel expedition. We had about a five minute ride to the boat along with nine others. It was a short sail to Klein Bonaire during which we were given a safety briefing, background on the island, the national seapark, and some tips on snorkeling. We would be drift snorkeling, which meant drifting with current instead of really having to swim along. At the dive site, we were divided into two groups - newbies and those with some experience. The experienced ones went with Alisha while the rest of us (five) went with Dee. She made sure we were safe and comfortable and led us on a one and half hour expedition to see the sights including big sea turtles, coral, sea snakes, and all sorts of fishes. We can't begin to tell you how much fun that was, even though we were still draining seawater from our sinuses that afternoon. During the time on the boat, we had options of things to eat and drink including adult beverages on the way back to port.
We proceeded through the three locks into Gatun Lake where we anchored and lowered the tenders (lifeboats) that would take us ashore to meet our busses. Since our trip was the longest, we were the first group called. There were 300 or so people on the tour which would take us by small tour boat to the Pacific Ocean. But first we met our guide, Melvin, and travelled an hour back toward Colon and then South to Gamboa which is near the Culebra (Guillard) Cut to meet our tour boat. After boarding we proceeded though the cut - narrowest point and crossed the continental divide which was certainly the deepest and most difficult part of the digging. We passed under the Centennial Bridge and the into the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks. During the trip, we had a lunch of chicken and vegetable skewers, Panamanian pork sausage, and potato custard with watermelon and pineapple for desert. Our guide explained that Gatun Lake was at max capacity which permitted us to travel alone in the locks, without waiting for another ship. During the trip we saw lots of work being done to deepen and widen the Culebra Cut along with the approaches in both the Caribbean and Pacific. This is all part of the expansion project that also includes additional larger locks. The planned completion date is 2014, the one hundredth anniversary of the grand opening. Along the way we saw several container ships, a liquid cargo ship, a car carrier, and a bulk cargo ship all headed to the Caribbean. When we reached Panama City, the Panama Canal pilot was picked up by the pilot boat enabling us to enter a small yacht harbor to board our busses back to the Colon 2000 cruise pier. There was a lot of traffic and we were diverted through the free trade zone back to the ship. After being tied up in traffic for a while, we got a police escort through the final mile or so.
Our tour to the aerial tram ride through the rainforest departed promptly at 7:00. During our two hour drive, we saw lots of banana plantations, some pineapple fields, and other agriculture. The two-lane road was being repaired in several places and there are near term plans to make it a six lane highway since it is the main route for containers being transported between oceans. The guide mentioned that the Caribbean side was far less developed (and less expensive) than either the Pacific coast or highlands. At the entrance to the property, we transferred to mini-busses since the road was only one lane paved with bricks. We unloaded and split into groups of six (Terry and Mary from Morehead City, NC and Nancy and Carol - our next table dining mates from Minneapolis) and met out guide who would narrate our 90 minute gondola ride. He explained the different trees we saw including why they grew the way they did. He also had a book with great pictures of the birds, bats, and butterflies that inhabit the area. It was interesting to see the differences in vegetation lower in the forest and in the canopy. (The tram does and out and back loop, but at different levels.) After our tram ride, we met with another group of six and did a 30 minute nature walk on the floor of the forest. Then it was time for a lunch of tropical fruit, salad, chicken, vegetables, and fried plantains - delicious. After a bit of shopping, including buying some local coffee, we headed back to the ship. Along the way, our driver spotted a sloth so we got to see her before arriving at the ship.