Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: December 2nd, 2004
Cruising Background: This was my second cruise, first time with HAL. Previous sailing: Carnival Conquest in March '04 to Jamaica, Grand Cayman & Cozumel.
Cruise Info: Special 3 day "Sampler" cruise on Hal's newest ship, the Westerdam, (recently delivered from Italy). The Westerdam's normal cruise duration will be 7 days from now on. This was called the "President's Cruise" and the President of HAL was on board, along with other top notable HAL employees.
Day 1: Ft. Lauderdale, departed 6pm on Thursday, 12/2/04
Day 2: At Sea (topic of discussion at our dinner table: how many lazy loops we did in the Atlantic on way to port of call to delay port arrival until 8 am the next morning)
Day 3: Half Moon Cay, Bahamas, arrived at 8 am, last tender to ship at 3pm, departed around 5pm
Day 4: Arrived back at Ft. Lauderdale port
My mother & I flew in from Chicago on the early morning flight. I believe we landed around 10:30 am. We had not booked transfers (at $15 apiece) from the airport to the ship with HAL, but were told (very friendly like) by the HAL rep that we could take a taxi for $10 - 15 total. And that is exactly what we did - came to exactly $15 with tip.
Arrival at Dock:
The Westerdam was docked at #26 & took less than 20 minutes to arrive at by taxi from the airport. You must pass through a Customs checkpoint on way, so have your id's out & ready. Our baggage was immediately checked in at the dock by handlers and we were shown into the embarkation building. Waited in line for less than 5 minutes before being officially checked in, where we received our room keys (Sign & Sail cards), our dinner reservation time & a small deck-by-deck map of the ship (very helpful - don't remember Carnival doing this). They take your picture at the check in desk for identification when you sign in & out of the ship at ports of call. We were then ushered into a line to take the obligatory cruise pictures - the process was quick & the pictures did not turn out as well as I would have liked. We proceeded into the next building (by escalator/elevator) and waited approximately 30 mins before we could board the ship. You are assigned a number at check-in & they call groups to board every 5 to 10 minutes. While waiting, waiters pass orange juice (Tang) and ice water to guests. You can also order boxes of wine for on-board & I believe there was a special discount available.
Impossibly easy, much quicker even than the Conquest in March. After they call your group number, it's up an escalator and down a short hallway and you are on-board. We were told staterooms would not be available until around 1:30 or 2pm and that they were serving lunch on the Lido deck buffets. Everyone was more or less herded up there (option to temporarily hold carry-on luggage in piano bar was very nice - would not be delivered to room, but had to picked up by 2pm). When we got to Lido deck, one of the only 2 or 3 snafu's occurred - there was no food out yet. 1,000 ravenous guests with nothing to do for a few hours but eat and there was no food? It was corrected in about 20 minutes, with all of the buffets tables opening one after another; but it was enough time for the lines to wind around the tables & into the elevator hallways. We didn't feel like waiting that long (no one was going to starve) and so just hit the dessert bar (strangely devoid of guests) and had watermelon sorbet and butterscotch pudding with raspberries. (The dessert selection was to die for - but more on food later. . .oh, the food.)
Stateroom/Cabin: Since this was a quickie cruise for my mother & I and we had another longer cruise scheduled at the end of the year, we went bottom line with the cabin. It was small and cozy and cute. Yes, cute. But perfectly suited to a 3 day cruise (really 2 full days and 3 nights). We had booked two twin beds, but found a queen in the room (the room attendant split the bed into twins for the last two nights). Even though the room was a small inside cabin, there was an amazing amount of closet space: a larger drawer under each bed, 2 small night tables with 2 drawers apiece, 3 closets (one with a small safe) with plenty of hanging space for both long and short clothing. There was a desk with a large-ish tv and a hairdryer, a magnifying makeup mirror and a medicine cabinet in the bathroom. The beds are wonderful! Very tall and very comfy - my mom, who can never sleep comfortably anywhere but home, said she slept like a baby. I can sleep anywhere no matter what, but the beds were great. Every day the room attendants bring in a basket of fruit. I swear, the stewards must live under the bed, every time we left the cabin & came back, the beds were made & the garbage emptied. 2nd Trip Annoyance: The lights the cabin. There are light switches everywhere and some of them turn on the same lights, just in different orders. Took us awhile to get them straight. # of switches: One set near bathroom, one on desk mirror, two sets by bed, and one near door. Lights were flickering on and off all the time as we roamed around, trying to get them all out or all on.
One of the nicest and most elegant ships I've ever seen. . .not near as flashy as Carnival. Hardwood floors everywhere, wooden deck chairs, beautifully tiled & mosaic floors abound on all decks. There were several bars & lounges - we spent a lot of time in the Piano Bar which was cozy & the pianist was outstanding and sweet, even though people requested the same songs over and over again. The casino was nice, but nothing out of the ordinary. . .you go there to lose money, not to admire the machines. Northern Lights, the ship's night club, was nice, if a bit dark at time. One of the hallways had a neat trick - the walls & paintings light up as you pass them and them dim after a minute. The bar and dance floor are separated by a wall, but there are lots of little nooks to sit & observe. DJ Jazzy provided a good mix of music. Holland is obviously trying to attract a younger crowd for it's Caribbean routes. The other lounges had jazz and classical music with dance floors for those so inclined. The Lido deck's pool has an electronic roof that is put into place at night and during inclement weather. Less actual deck space to sunbathe then Carnival. The Vista Lounge, Hal's theater, is beautiful, and instead of stationary stadium style seats, there are movable chairs, couches, and tables. It is a new ship and occasionally I caught a whiff of some very unpleasant odors - once in the Lounge, while playing bingo, there was a distinct sewer smell for about 10 minutes. I'm sure this will be worked out on future sailings. The toilets did have a tendency to smell like 'diaper.'
To. Die. For. You will eat your weight in chocolate, I guarantee. A different menu every night and the appetizers are portioned just right to allow you to enjoy all of your meal. If it sounds like an odd combination, just get it anyway - you'll be surprised how the chef combines spices. I don't think there was a single thing I didn't like. (Well, the carmelized onions had to go, but that's just me. . .I'm sure they were tasty to others.) As on other ships, the Westerdam had a fancy restaurant that cost extra ($20 per person). . .but it was booked solid since such a short trip. Maybe next time. Note: they offer the same dinner menu at lunch time if you don't want to miss sitting with your tablemates during your regularly scheduled time. Our table was wonderful - the people knowledgeable about cruising and so very pleasant to talk to. We'll miss them on our future sailings.
Never a lack of things to do on board: trivia contests, bingo, the casino, line dancing lessons, board games, shuffleboard, art auctions (they had a Picasso, several Erte paintings & a full line of Erte jewelry, several Dali's, and a Chagall, amongst others.) We had afternoon tea every day, a very nice affair.
The first night was a musical review of the movies, from Singin' in the Rain to Saturday Night Fever. The costumes were designed by Bob Mackie (and you can tell) and had a decidedly 70's feel to them. The singers and dancers are amazingly talented and the sets are Broadway quality. The second night was a special guest star from Las Vegas - Clint Holmes - who has a versatile voice, is very personable and does a mean impression of Tom Jones, chest hair and all. The final night was a Broadway-inspired grand tour of Europe. Songs were not only Broadway, though - I recognized several pop ones by Shakira and The Corrs. Again, the singers & dancers are extremely talented, the costuming A+ and the set design innovating. But the story line could use a bit of work.
Port of Call: Half Moon Cay
Population: 10-12 year round. All workers live on a nearby island and take a ferry to the island when a ship is in port. You must take a tender to the island, but these are very fast & efficiently handled by cruise staff. The island, Hal's own little slice of heaven, is beautifully and intentionally only developed about 20%. The beach is endless, with cool-to-the-toes sand with a flour consistency and dreamy, crystal clear aqua waters. I do not swim and have a healthy fear of deep water, but the beach is so shallow and the water so calm, I must have been at least 30-50 feet from shore and still had toes touching bottom. There is a built up kiddie section, with slides and water floats. I highly suggest renting one of the limited cabanas if you are just going to beach bum all day. They are spaced out down the beach and have decks with h2o misters, a fridge, ceiling fans and chairs. You are supplied with chips, salsa & other finger foods throughout the day and can even upgrade to butler service & have someone bring all your packages to & from the cabana and your food. We didn't get one this time, as they fill up fast! Book early through the Hal website. There were lots of water activities & toys to rent - mats, water bikes, snorkel gear, etc. Beach chairs are readily available, but I suggest renting a clamshell for shade - the sun was HOT. Try to get there early to rent it or you'll be waaaaaaay at the end of the beach like we were. The catered lunch was fabulous - hamburgers, hotdogs, steaks, prawns, bbq pork & chicken, and fish. (Even veggie burgers) Lots of fruit and some salads and cookies & cake for dessert. There are bars situated around and on the beach for your convenience & everything on the island is charged to you room since it is completely Hal property. Convenient, but be careful, you can rack up hundreds of dollars in charges very quickly, especially on alcohol. Tip: inquire about the drink & martini of the day, usually a discounted $3.50 to $4.50 compared to the $7+ for normal drinks.
The island's vegetation was heavily damaged by the recent season of hurricanes, but is slowly recovering. . .so it may appear bleak for awhile, but the greenery will come back.
We went on the glass bottom boat tour - which was a little short for what we paid for it, but for one who doesn't swim - it was the only way to see the reef & fish. . .which are used to the boats & expect to be fed when it arrives. Got some lovely up close pictures of them. We went on the earliest tour, which was quite empty (only 1 couple besides us) and felt like a private tour. It gave us the freedom to move around the boat and take pictures easily. I recommend the early time if you are interested in this - it seemed to fill up the rest of the day. We also did the stingray adventure. . .(remember, I do not swim & fear deep water) Now, after saying that: despite what the description tells you & the excursion desk assures you: you will not be allowed to wade in the water to see the stingrays. Everyone is handed snorkel gear and a blow up life vest and told that they must not touch down on the bottom for fear of disturbing the rays, starfish & other creatures. You will have to snorkel to see the stingrays. I tried, valiantly I think - but stayed on the stairs the whole time because the water was about 6-9 feet deep. It is an enclosed space, so you can't float out, but you must float. The diver on duty was kind enough to grab a stingray and bring it to me to touch - delivery! (Note: they feel like dolphins, except slimier). My mom had a wonderful time, she is not an experienced swimmer, but was able to quick off and float a ways & do the snorkel thing. She had a fab time, just loved it. . .said it was very exciting. . .but a suggestion to Hal: perhaps you could string a rope or two across the top of the water to help guide the more inexperienced around. My mom said she was afraid she couldn't make it back to the stairs and got nervous. (Note: stingray adventure is also available in Grand Cayman - where I've heard you actually WADE in the water and there are many, many more stingrays that are very friendly and will swim around you & through your legs and like to be pet).
Wow, what a breeze. I think we were off the boat in under thirty minutes. You are assigned a group number and can either wait in a lounge or in your stateroom until it is called over the PA. Once announced, you sign out of the ship with your keycard and go through security, pick up your bags and away you go. We boarded a HAL tourbus (paid for transfers, about $15 each) to the airport. 2nd Gripe about vacation: online at Hal's site, it listed two different tours of Ft. Lauderdale after disembarkation, each a few hours and all your luggage comes with, that could only be booked on the ship. So we went ahead and scheduled our flight for 7:15 pm, thinking we'd be taking a tour. Once onboard, however, we found that they were not offered so we went straight to the airport from the dock - think we arrived somewhere around 10:00 and proceeded to imitate the movie "The Terminal." If you're flying ATA, word to the wise: they will not let you check your baggage until three hours prior to your flight - so for us, that was 4pm. The security checkpoints were also only processing passengers whose flights were in the next 2 1/2 hours. It was a very long boring day spent walking around, inside, outside, and trying to sleep on uncomfortable couches. Please, call Hal to check for any cruises once back in home port & call airlines to check & see how early you can check in. Do NOT get stuck at the airport like we did.
Had a wonderful trip to an absolutely stunning little island & am currently in the planning stages for another one.