Age: 31 to 40
Number of Cruises: 3 to 5
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: December 2, 2000
Itinerary: 10-Day Caribbean Wayfarer
Boarding started at 1:00. We were told that HAL no longer provides priority boarding for repeat customers, as over ½ of their passengers have sailed with HAL before, but boarding went very quickly anyway. The life boat drill was held at 4:30 and we set sail promptly at 5:00.
The ship is absolutely beautiful! Flowers are everywhere. HAL said they spend over $1 million per year per ship on flowers, and it definitely shows on this ship. I highly recommend the ship’s art tour, which is usually held around 3:00 before the life boat drill. There are many unusual pieces of art work on the ship totaling $2.5 million. My favorite is a painting entitled “Old Women’s Mill.” Old women go into this mill and are cranked out as young women, with their young men waiting for them to come out. I have seen several reviews where the people have said that the atrium glass column looks gaudy, but once I found out that it is made entirely of Murano glass imported from Italy and is a kaleidoscope, I was fascinated by it. You keep your eyes on it while you walk around it and you will see all the different colors of glass. The ship is in top condition. Everything looks new. The Lido Restaurant had plenty of room for the lunch crowds and there was never a wait for a table. There is a beautiful room called the Tulip Room which has Dutch vases filled with different kinds of tulips. There is also an internet café which is open 24 hours. The Wajang Theatre played recent movies and the seats are very comfortable. The Fran Hals Lounge has some very nice love seat/couch type seats that I highly recommend over the barrel type chairs which are quite uncomfortable. It was not hard to find a seat for any of the shows, and you can see the stage for anywhere in the theatre. There are two swimming pools on the Lido deck. One is outside and the other is inside with a retractable dome.
We had a large outside room on the lower promenade deck. I like this deck because it is close to everything. Many people do not like the constant foot traffic past their windows, but it does not bother me. People cannot see in during the day, but at night if you have the lights on, they can see you, so it is best to draw the drapes if you want total privacy. The room had a king-size bed, two night stands, a sofa, an ottoman, a table, a chair next to the desk/dresser, and four large closets, one of which was large enough to store empty suitcases in. The bathroom has a hair dryer and a shower/tub which was more than adequate. There is plenty of storage in the room, lots of nooks and crannies and hooks to use if you need them. One word of advice: Bring one of those outlet/power strips, as there is only one outlet in the room. There is no outlet in the bathroom, only a hairdryer with a small outlet on it that says “for razor use only.” You need to plug in curling irons, etc. in the one outlet on the dresser/desk. Another note: the hair dryer is plastic and you can only use it for about five minutes before it becomes too hot to handle, so if you have long or thick hair, you might want to bring your own hair dryer.
I do not like “fancy” food, so I don’t think I am a good judge of the quality of the food on board. My table mates thought that the filet mignon and assorted varieties of seafood were excellent. I had heard people comment that the quality of food on HAL has declined over the years, and I can confirm that they have switched from a seven-course to a five-course dinner. I frequently made substitutions, one day substituting the appetizer of cheese tortellini for the dinner entree. There was never any problem or hassle with the substitutions. I was pleased with the hamburgers, veggie burgers, hot dogs, tacos, french fries and pizza served everyday on the Lido deck. I did not attend any of the midnight buffets, except for the chocolate extravaganza which consists of all types of desserts made of chocolate. It is truly paradise for a chocoholic!
Ports of Call:
This was a ten-day wayfarer Caribbean cruise, with stops in St. Kitts/Nevis, Martinique, Dominica, Trinidad/Tobago, St. Thomas/St. John, and Half Moon Cay, Bahamas. After the initial two days at sea, there was one port after another until one final day at sea, and then the last stop was Half Moon Cay, Bahamas. Several shore excursions were offered at each port. The shore excursions are rated in the booklet as 1, 2, or 3. All the ones I chose were rated 2, and some were more strenuous than others. If you do not like to walk on uneven terrain or slippery rocks through rainforests, you should definitely stick to the shore excursions rated 1. In general, all the sightseeing was far away from the port, at least one hour traveling on narrow, winding roads. I found out that although I do not get seasick, I do get car sick, and by the fourth port, I was tired of the traveling to the mountains. I do feel that the excursions could have been explained better. I would not have chosen two of them if I had known how much walking was involved. This was more activity than I wanted to do on a vacation. But the sights were worth it.
Brimstone Hill Fortress and Gardens tour ($54)--There are about 80 large steps going straight up to the top of the fortress. They are made of uneven stones and many people had difficulty navigating them. You do not have to go to the top, but that is where the best view is. We did take our time and held on to the side and made it all the way up for pictures of the surrounding islands. The gardens tour was walking but it was on level ground and much easier for seniors to get around on. We also stopped at a batik factory where they make the lovely batik scarves, shirts, etc. If you have already seen all there is to see in St. Kitts, you can take an excursion to Nevis, its sister island.
St. Pierre and Tropical Tour ($69)--This was a long, long drive to get to St. Pierre. In my opinion, it was not worth the drive to see St. Pierre. The way back you stop in the tropical gardens. The gardens are very beautiful and there are flowers and greenery everywhere. The trip was a 5-hour one, so there was no time to go into the downtown area before heading back to the ship. Our guide was very pleasant. The actual downtown area (Fort de France) is very congested and somewhat dirty, and people did comment on how rudely they were treated in some of the shops.
We chose the Asa Wright Nature Center tour ($54). Again, a very long drive on narrow, winding roads. The path through the nature center is very rocky, uneven, somewhat slippery with very little steps or handrails. The worst part is you are entertained as you make your way down the path by the scenery and your guide’s narration, but then when you get to the bottom, it is nothing but all uphill to get back to base. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the nature center, I felt that the walking was very strenuous, with no place to rest, and it was also very hot and of course raining intermittently throughout. Our guide told us that 70% of the wildlife at the center is seen right in the front before you go down the path because they put food there. I would not advise an elderly person or someone not used to walking to walk down the path. It was something to see once in a lifetime.
Dominica’s Favorites Tour ($54)--This is the only tour offered that stops at both Trafalgar Falls and the Emerald Pool. The terrain you walk on to get to the falls is more even and not nearly as rocky as the trip to the Asa Wright Nature Center in Trinidad. The falls are beautiful, but frankly, if you have seen one fall, you have seen them all. It is not advised to go to the top of the falls, it is very dangerous and slippery and the authorized guides will not take you there. The walk to the Emerald Pool is very easy, and this stop is included on most every tour. You can also swim in the water if you would like to. I very much enjoyed this tour. Dominica is the most undeveloped of all the islands, and the scenery is outstanding. I highly recommend this tour.
St. Thomas/St. John :
Island Drive and Coral World ($34)--This was a beautiful drive with several short stops to see views from the top of neighboring islands. Magens Bay is one of the top ten beaches in the world and is the place for swimming. Coral World is a nice stop to view underwater life from several indoor tank areas. Nice and clean park and the stop there is a little over one hour, more than enough to catch several feeding times for the fish. It is easily walked and several people in wheelchairs chose this tour. Another stop on this tour is called Mountaintop. There is some shopping here and a view so spectacular that you just have to see it for yourself. This is the most popular attraction in St. Thomas and deserves the title. On a clear day you can see all the way to Puerto Rico. This was my favorite excursion. There was not enough time after having lunch to shop in the main shopping area, but there are several stores right by the dock (we docked in Havensight). You can walk there or take the free shuttle. I spent two hours there shopping around for the usual souvenirs. You can take a side tour to St. John’s, the ship anchors and lets those people off and then they take a short boat ride to the ferry to St. John’s, which I was told also has outstanding beaches and views.
This was by far the best cruise I have ever had. The weather was in the 80s everyday, no rain. The seas were so calm that it did not even feel like we were moving, but floating. The ship was gorgeous, the crew helpful and attentive, the fellow passengers pleasant to talk to and virtually no pushing, shoving, or rudeness. I can only hope that future cruises are as good.