E.J. Pettinato & Diana Plasberg
Number of Cruises: First
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: February 9, 2001
Itinerary: Southern Caribbean
There are not enough good words in the dictionary to describe how wonderful our first cruise experience was. The level of service provided by the Holland America Line was higher than we could ever imagine. From the moment we arrived in San Juan and throughout the entire cruise, our every need was taken care of.
As soon as we got off the plane we were met by a representative from Holland America who whisked us away to the bus that was to take us to the ship. We didn't even need to claim our luggage. When we arrived at the ship, check-in was effortless. I don't believe we had to stand in line for even five minutes. After check in, a porter instantly took our carry on bag and led us to our room. A short time later our luggage was delivered right to our door.
Our stateroom was very comfortable and roomy enough for two people to navigate without tripping over each other. There was ample room to unpack our suitcases and really settle in. The bathroom had a full tub an shower and a large enough medicine cabinet to store all of our toiletries. Our room steward was top notch. It seemed that every time we left our room, he would go in and tidy up. He even fixed our TV remote when I dropped it and knocked the batteries out, causing it to become inoperative.
The food was indescribably delicious and exquisitely presented. The Dining Room experience was one thing that we would not trade for anything. Our dining room waiter was equally as efficient as our room steward. He even de-boned our fish for us. Each night there was a different menu and if we wanted try several items of a particular course, our waiter was happy to oblige. For passengers that plan on taking shore excursions, we highly recommend getting the late seating. The rest of the food service was just as wonderful as in the dining room. We had our breakfasts, lunches and late night buffets in the Lido restaurant. Also in between meals something was always being served. Be it hamburgers and hot dogs or tacos or pizza and even ice cream.
Every evening before dinner we would go to the Crow's Nest Lounge for cocktails. Here we had a waiter that learned our names from the very first time we went in and always was ready to take our order and provide us with a plate of hors d'oeuvres.
Not being big fans of Las Vegas type shows, we only went to two shows on board and both of those were very enjoyable. One was presented by the ships' crew and cast and the other was a comedy magician. The evening activities we did participate in included; Name That Tune in the Piano bar, dancing in the Crow's Nest Lounge and gambling in the Casino. In participating in these activities we met some very nice people from all over. As far as other shipboard activities go, there was something for everyone going on every minute. So much so that it was sometimes difficult to make a choice of what to participate in.
There were two swimming pools on board. One with a sliding glass cover that could be closed in case of rain and one outdoors on the Navigation deck. Also there were two hot tubs. There was always an available chair near both pools and the hot tubs always had an available seat. Towels were provided at all of these locations so it wasn't necessary to carry any around.
Now on to the ports of call. We had a last minute change on our first stop. We were supposed to go to Santo Domingo, but due to an outbreak of polio, it was changed to St. Kitts. We went into Basseterre to look at several sights mentioned in the literature provided on board, but we were turned off by the hoards of taxi drivers trying to get us to take tours of the island. So we went back to the ship and spent the rest of the day getting to know the ship better and also resting up from the previous days flight.
For the rest of the ports we booked shore excursions. All of which were well organized an very enjoyable. There were always beach towels available at the gangway for our use if we going to the beach. On Barbados we took an Eco-Hike into the Whimm Gully. Here we learned about much of the plant life native to Barbados. This excursion also included some time at a local beach. The next stop was Martinique, where we took a walking tour of Fort de France, which was very informative. Since this was only a 90 minute tour, we spent the rest of the day at local beach which was a short boat ride away from town. On St. Maarten our shore excursion wasn't until the afternoon, so we went into Phillisburg to shop for a short time and then we went to sit on the beach. At this point it stared raining so we ducked into the Everything's Cool Bar to wait out the rain. Here we had a drink and an interesting conversation with the bar's owner. The rain ended shortly and we spent the rest of the morning on the beach. That afternoon we took The Golden Eagle Catamaran to the French side. This was the best boat ride we had ever taken. Since the weather was rainy off an on, the waves were a little high. We sat on the front of the boat and we were constantly being splashed by waves coming over the bow. The whole time the boat's crew were serving champagne, rum punch and beer just as if we were sailing on smooth water. The final stop was in St. Thomas. Here we took a very scenic bike ride along a route high above Magens Bay. This ride offered spectacular views of St. Thomas. This tour ended at Magens Bay Beach which was our vote for the nicest beach we went to the entire cruise. (Not to say the others weren't nice).
The disembarkation procedure was just as effortless as the boarding process. The night before we disembarked we put our luggage outside our door. We did not see it again until we went through customs. We waited for our number to be called in the Lido Restaurant and enjoyed our last wonderful breakfast. When our number was called we easily left the ship and found our luggage in no time flat. Here a porter took our bags and escorted us through customs and out to where our airline had set up for flight check in. We checked in for our flight home. Our luggage was tagged right there and loaded on a truck to take it to the airport. We didn't see it again until we arrived home. We were then immediately directed to our bus. Since we had an afternoon flight, we booked a shot tour of San Juan which ended at the airport. This tour hit all the highlights of Old San Juan and even gave us some time to explore on our own before taking us to the airport for the trip home.
All in all this was the best vacation we have ever taken. Holland America really knows how to show its passengers a wonderful time. We would not hesitate to sail with them again.