We are a couple that live their lives in the public view all year long so we try to get away just to renew our marriage and renew and refresh ourselves for the upcoming hectic times. As such, this trip to the Southern Carib. was just what the doctor ordered. We have been to Aruba and Curacao before on the Noordam a couple of years ago and we loved them both and wanted to go back.
We arrived 2 days early and stayed at the W hotel in FLL. A fabulous contemporary hotel with a few quirks. (Don't try to share a room with anyone who is not your spouse - the wall between the shower/tub and bedroom is made of glass :) and the mini-bar is ridiculously pricey even for a luxury hotel. We go shopping at the Galleria Mall as there are more varied selection there than what we have back in NC.
Embarcation was a breeze especially as we were deluxe suite guests. Arrived at 11 AM and were eating in the MDR for lunch at 11:30.
This trip on the Westerdam (on which we had cruised to the Eastern Carib. last year at this time) had several sea days as it was traveling a long distance for just 2 islands (outside of Half Moon Cay). The price kept dropping on this voyage so we jumped on it and were able to book an SB AFT cabin on the Rotterdam deck. This is the first time we had been in the Deluxe Suite level although we had booked SS and sy suites previously. The aft balcony on this cabin is immense, in fact, it is so big we never went up to the pool deck. We ate every breakfast from either room service or the Neptune lounge on our veranda. I must say having been on 4 HAL ships that I love the service. Being pampered is a very nice experience for a change. The Neptune Lounge was a great perk as was free laundry and dry-cleaning. We ate every night in the MDR (except two - more later) at a table for two by getting reservations from the concierges which was wonderful. All of our meals were excellent and even though the servers are taking care of more tables we never had a problem. I have read other reviews about how slow the service is and sometimes it is but where do I have to go. One of the main experiences on HAL is dinner, esp. on formal nights so what's the rush? We loved it all (except the prime rib - get rid of the weird tomato sauce please).
The ship always feels empty to us. There are plenty of places to curl up with a book or whatever all over the ship during the day or sit in a teak lounger in the shade on the Promenade deck. however with our huge balcony we went back to our room and spent time on our private deck.
As far as the ports go, Half Moon Cay is wonderful and we have been there many times so we decided to stay on board - it was the first day - and we enjoyed our private deck and room service instead. Aruba is a great place. we love the beaches and there is a bus stop across from the pier and for $2.5 per person you can travel round trip to the beach by bus. The shopping is also good as are the jeep excursions. We only shop in Curacao as the shopping district is one of the best in the Caribbean. We found a shop that sells Havaiana flip-flops from Brazil there and bought some for everyone in the extended family.
The only time we ate in the Lido was once for lunch and the next morning I was sick with Norovirus. Went to the beach in Aruba and returning throwing up and by night experiencing all the other effects of the virus - ugh. By the next day all was good and loved shopping at Curacao. Back on board and spent the next two sea days loving the pampering and food and rest. We ate 1 meal in the Pinnacle Grill which was fabulous as well, as usual.
Many others evidently caught the virus as the ship had to be cleaned overnight from top to bottom and no more salt shakers etc and the crew only could handle the food in the lido. Oh well, it happens. When you have people from all over the world living in close quarters for a week it can happen.
The one area we had some issues with but only minor ones was the shows. We had seen one of the musical/dancing shows last year and although the soloists were great the show was just so - so. The 1 solo singer act was weak as was the humorist. In fact it seemed to us the shows were off in their attendances in general - we didn't go to the last two nights ourselves.
One comment on the age of the travelers. I know HAL is for seasoned travelers and we are not party animal ourselves so we could care less who is on-board. The bars were full most nights and there were a few dancers in the lounges. The shops weren't especially inviting and frankly we enjoy not being pushed to buy anything on-board HAL unless we want to. Not having a drink steward constantly pushing me to buy his overpriced special is terrific and one of the reasons we like HAL. But, if you are under 55 or so you might not feel at ease on these ships. Especially if you have young children. I understand the children's staff is excellent but some of the older guests look cross-eyed when a child comes near, especially in the MDR. In fact some are just plain rude in their remarks and actions. Get over it.
Disembarkation was very easy as we carried off our own luggage, walked thru customs and were in the airport within 30 minutes from when we left our rooms after 1 last breakfast int he Neptune lounge. Contrary to some people we found the concierges excellent as were our room stewards. I opened a bottle of champagne one day and it exploded out of my hand and filled the wall, ceiling and carpet with champagne - the stewards quickly cleaned it up and all in all did a wonderful job pampering us.
We love HAL. The food may be a bit less than previously but still very good to excellent, the staff may be a bit busier but considering what we paid it was an outstanding experience - one I would gladly repeat any time!!!