We were extremely happy with our first experience on HAL. As a 42 and 46 year gay couple we weren't sure of what to expect. The staff was nothing but friendly, gracious and kind. We are now sold on Holland America!
Embarkation: This was such a great start to the cruise. We arrived at the terminal at 11:00 and were on board in 15 minutes. Very smooth and easy with no issues. Since we were booked in a suite we were able to board right away.
Our accommodations: we booked the Deluxe Veranda Suite SC 4181 cabin and loved every aspect of it. The closet space is more than enough in fact you would be hard pressed to fill it all up on a voyage of 30 days let alone 7 days. It's the first cruise we took when we had empty drawers space! The deep wrap around balcony more than compensated for the long walks to the other areas of the ship. In fact we enjoyed any extra calorie burning we could get so the long walks weren't an issue at all. Upon disembarking we were able to see some of the SA suites on the Rotterdam deck and other than the mid-ship location and proximity to the Neptune lounge really did not feel that much bigger than our SC room. The bathroom was spacious and well lit, the dressing area was adequate and great for additional storage. Placing the bathroom behind the dressing area was smart as it allows one guest to get ready while the other sleeps in and keeps light and noise out of the bedroom area. The room was clean and the only design complaints were 1) The location of the plasma TV which blocked the window view, if it was wall mounted it would open up the space. This would open up views to the deck and let more light into the suite. 2) The drapery was too long and pooled on the floor so it looked a bit cheap and unkempt. 3) Pop in some windows on the side of the room with the bed to capture views and light. 4) Plug outlets should be spaced apart so multiple iPhones, Kindles and iPads could charge. Or add more outlets throughout the room. That is it for the constructive feedback and I think they are minor but just some odd design options.
Service: Made & Made our stewards were absolutely fantastic, in fact they never stopped smiling and in one case when we forgot to turn in shirts to be pressed for formal night in time they and our Neptune concierge located the shirts in laundry and had them to us in a matter of 20 minutes. That was a wow factor for us. These guys were amazing in their ability to help out. Our Neptune concierges Roxy and Bien were also great in securing last minute reservations and making recommendations for other options on the ship to eat and do. The most amazing thing was accidentally dropped my iPod Nano somewhere on the ship. I called Bien at Neptune and he said that if it was found it would be returned to the lost and found. Sure enough someone in laundry located the item as I accidentally tossed it in with the towels collected at the Grand Turk dock. From the time that I lost the iPod to the time that it was returned was under 2 hours. Again this was a wow. Our retreat cabana attendants NJ and Dexter were also amazing as they kept the drinks flowing throughout the day and remembered my partner's birthday and decorated the cabana with balloons on that day. Great service and wonderful attitudes overall. We never encountered any staff member in the public areas who did not smile and say hello.
Neptune Lounge: was a nice touch but not a must stop on our daily activity. I liked the morning coffee and the wealth of knowledge the concierge's provided but beyond that an OK space to hang out. I would prefer if this was on the exterior with either deck space or windows. I get that this is not a revenue generating room so taking window/verandah cabins for this would be counter intuitive but it would be nice. Perhaps on a longer cruise I would use it more. Pinnacle Breakfast: our favorite way to start the day. After seeing the chaos on the lido deck each morning with the jockeying for tables and the lines for food we found Benjamin and Lusi hear to be amazing as they remembered our names each day and our coffee and juice preferences when we sat down. This restaurant also understands how to make proper portions as a two egg omelet is more than adequate to start the day.
Main Dining Room: we ate here only once as we either had dinner or breakfast at the Pinnacle or Tamarind . Our dining experience was fine. The service was good and the food was good. We weren't disappointed but we weren't wowed by the experience either. I do like the buzz in the MDR when filled with passengers. I will post some dining room menus later this week as they were featuring a number of well known chefs such as Charlie Trotter.
Pinnacle Dinners and Le Cirque: we had four dinners here and were impressed by the experience. There were a few issues of pacing the meal and in the delivery of coffee with dessert. The service started with a trio of butters and a trio of Hawaiian Sea Salts to taste followed by an amuse bouche from the chef. During these meals we provided our own wine that we purchased in Fort Lauderdale. Coffee service was elaborate one day with chocolates and then was forgot the next evening. Minor things but ones you notice. The quality and presentation of the food was great. The bone in rib eye was delicious as was the veal chop. My partner's black cod dinner at Le Cirque featured a few bones in his fish which was a minor turnoff. We loved that Benjamin could keep our wine and champagne chilled for us before our next dinner. We felt that the regular Pinnacle dinners were far superior than the Le Cirque dinner.
Tamarind: A great meal for both lunch and dinner. The service here is great as is the staff who work here do a great job of explaining the dishes and preparation. In fact the wine steward thanked us for ordering her national beer, San Miguel and supporting the Philippine economy. The dim sum was well prepared and presented, this is the only room where we felt any vibration on the ship and it was minor. The pompano served at dinner was out of this world as it was steamed and cooked in rice paper.
Lido: If you like buffet food it looked good. However, we only ate there the day of embarkation for lunch and it was good for a buffet.
Canaletto: the service is good and the food is just OK. If you don't want a buffet this is a great option, the veal parmigiana was flavorful enough if a tad burned on the bottom. The antipasto was the best part of the meal. One complete turn off is the fact that it is part of the lido dining area so there was a constant presence of foot traffic. If the room was more closed off it would feel like a special occasion.
Retreat Cabana: the best money spent. In fact we would be hard pressed to book another cruise on HAL unless the ship offered a retreat cabana. The lido cabanas we felt were crowded, loud, and hot. After a day out or after the scene at either pool this place provides serenity and calmness in a great atmosphere. We booked the whole week and really liked a place where we could read and relax away from kids and any loud activities. Our days were spent lounging around and being spoiled by Dexter and NJ who brought us lunch each day and champagne and strawberries each late afternoon. On my partner's birthday they decorated the cabana for him which was a total surprise. Starting on this cruise the Eurodam will offer an outdoor dinner in the retreat cabana area during the evening in San Juan called Cabana Club. I do have the menu and will post it later this week. The cost was $87 per person and included liquor. We did not attend but heard that the turn out was only 10 or 15 guests this may have been due to the rain in San Juan so the Cabana Club was moved to the following evening.
Some other random thoughts:
+ The Silk Den is by far the best bar on board and the most under used. We met a group there nightly and felt like it was our own private club.
+Liquor prices and mini bar prices were less than what we would pay for in Chicago. Great selection of liquors as we say St. Germaine and Pimm's in the bar area.
+ Casino and Sport's bar are filled with too many smokers or need better ventilation.
+ Daily delivery of the NYT to our room was a nice touch!
+ Catamaran to St. John was a great activity. The crew was engaging and the snorkeling was perfect as we encountered 3 6ft nurse sharks.
+ If you can't be outside for a sail away definitely hang out in the Explorations cafe. We were surprised that outside of the Lido Pool and Lido Dining Area the rest of the ship was not crowded. In fact many of the outdoor spaces were empty.
+ We wish the Suite Party and the Captain and Hotel Manager drinks party was announced at the beginning of the cruise so we could change our dinner reservations in enough time.
+ Lack of announcements is great!
+ Spa area is great. I had the bamboo massage which was fantastic and variation of deep tissue. I am surprised that if you had a treatment that you could not use the thermal pool area before or after. I am accustomed to access to the full spa on shore when using a service.
Overall, I think HAL and Eurodam are a fantastic option. The ports are not the most exciting but that allowed us to not feel guilty about coming back early and enjoying the ship, the retreat and the wonderful service provided by the staff. We will definitely be back but until Retreats are rolled out to other ships we will look to the Eurodam or Nieuw Amsterdam for our next cruise