My wife and I booked this cruise due to its itinerary. However, it appears to us that HAL is relying on its past reputation with older cruise passengers and not putting much effort into providing a new shipboard experience. For example, the Canaletto and Pinnacle restaurant menus have not changed in at least 10 years.
Boarding in Fort Lauderdale was quick and easy. A dedicated ‘Mariner 4 and 5 Star’ line combined with a priority boarding card meant we were on board by midday. Our verandah suite towards the rear of deck 9 was not quite ready but we were able to leave our carry-on luggage in it while we went for lunch. At 12.45 pm they conducted a 3, 4 & 5 star Mariners welcome drinks in the Crows Nest. The compulsory lifeboat drill was on the open deck 6 at 3.15 pm on time for our departure at 4.15 pm.
The young captain was very visible throughout the ship and was very approachable, spending time talking to passengers. He and the officers ate mainly in the Lido. The captain was also compassionate – he had no hesitation in turning the ship around and heading full-speed for Rio as a passenger required immediate medical attention not available on the ship. Well done.
The size of our verandah suite was adequate and the drawer and cupboard space was good. There was one (US) powerpoint. The cabin came equipped with a fridge, a small flat-screen TV and a spa bath (which we did not use) with a shower overhead and all the usual amenities (including binoculars). Cabin 208 is on the port side on Deck 9, about half way between the rear elevators and the back of the ship. The cabin was directly above the rear side thrusters, providing a “gentle??” hum whilst moving into position whilst docking. Other than that it was in a quiet position with no cabins opposite and little passing traffic.
Our “dial” air-conditioning control was replaced by a digital one early in the cruise. Apparently they do this as people complain.
Easy, level walking in this town. Beware the cosmetic shops, especially those with the people on the footpath holding “Rip-Off Shop” signs – one passenger we met fell for their sales-pitch and was bullied into spending $4500 on their obscure no-name products! we had a very reasonably priced lunch (with complimentary pina coladas) at Two Friends Patio Restaurant, a short walk from the dock.
On the dock, we chose an independent $25 each tour with Irie Tours – beer and water included – which was fantastic. Willemstad is a very interesting port.
We tied up at the more central North Pier instead of the advertised South Pier, which was occupied by an Aida ship. We booked an independent tour but at over twice the price of the Curacao tour and not quite as good. The island caters mainly to divers, with some of the best sites in the Caribbean.
We had a wow of a time on another independent tour “Sonny’s Tours” for US$35 each. Great value and an excellent tour. After the tour, we went to Iguana Joe’s Bar & Grill for some dessert and 500ml cocktails (‘Aruba Ariba’ and ‘Blue Caribbean’). As we let off our lines, someone let off some fireworks – it seemed very appropriate for such a lovely day in port.
The ship docked next to the Hyatt Regency, which has a free 12 hour internet package for visitors (like cruise ship passengers). We did an independent tour but it wasn’t very good. Port-of-Spain is an untidy city with lots of traffic. One passenger did his knee in falling off the uneven kerb onto the road (and had to leave the cruise at Barbados for surgery in the US). Port-of-Spain was basically not worth the stop.
We were warned not to wear any “camouflage” design clothing off the ship due to guerrilla activity a few years ago. There is free internet at the port providing a lot of people aren’t trying to use it at the same time. Easy flat walk into town. The town had a lovely, broad white sand beach. There was a strong smell of molasses (which they use to make rum) at the port.
This port is renowned for its large mosquitoes but we didn’t see any. It was a tender port. A pleasant enough stop, but a poor man’s Buzios (where we had stopped earlier - a beautiful place.
Docked at a small industrial port with a free shuttle to the Fisherman’s Square. The stall holders at the dock were selling mounted dried pirahnas, and Amazon t-shirts for R$40. The riverside promenade is pleasant, but there isn't much to do in Santarem.