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holmes96

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  1. Misc Thoughts/Wrap-Up 1. Internet: We both purchased the mid-tier Internet package. It was $119 for the 9 night cruise. Best pricing at sea by far! 2. Photography: prior to the cruise I read online somewhere that some Koningsdam cruises had a $99 unlimited digital photo offer. That wasn’t an option for our cruise, unfortunately, but I went to the photo area to check and found out it was $199. I didn’t purchase it, although I thought the staff there was extremely friendly and patient. In Club Orange, a photographer never came in to take dinner photos. I LOVED THAT! 3. Whenever I called HAL customer service, a human being picked up right away. There was a never an automated menu with a wait time. Nice! 4. Gratuities: With HAL you cannot pre-pay the gratuities online, or even if you call customer service you cannot prepay. The recommendation made to me by customer service was to purchase onboard credit to cover the gratuities cost so I did that. 5. Service: Holland America clearly places significant emphasis on service and it was very apparent. 6. Entertainment: I do wish there was additional varied entertainment during the day other than Bridge, Mass, Microsoft computer classes and Trivia. Picky, I know, but something else would be nice. It doesn’t have to be belly flop contests, just something geared towards a younger demographic. 7. Club Orange: Would buy it again. We loved our trip and would cruise HAL again for another Girls’ Cruise. Happy sailing!
  2. Ports/Tours Our ports included Tortola, St. Maarten, Antigua, St. Thomas and Half Moon Cay. When looking for excursions, we always book through the ship and there are criteria I use that works for me: never more than 3-4 hours, begins in the AM, and the collective tours should be a mix of strenuous and not. That way, we can come back to an empty ship, eat without crowds and get a nap in before evening festivities. I thought the Shore Excursion employees were very active. For example, there were a couple of tours where a shore excursion employee was included to assess the tour. They were also always active on the pier directing people. All tour companies, I felt, were well organized. It is a huge turnoff for me if a tour company ‘doesn’t know where the shuttle bus is’ or ‘it’s late, etc, etc, etc.’ I didn’t have to worry about any of that with Holland America. Tortola We booked the ‘Virgin Gorda & the Baths’ excursion and we had a great time. The scenery was amazing with perfect high 70s/low 80s weather. It’s been awhile since we cruised in early January so I didn’t know if the temp would be low 70s, but it was just right. There were A TON of people on this excursion, but split across multiple shuttle buses, and people just went at their own pace. Word of advice, thank goodness I threw my sneakers and socks into my beach bag. The hiking/walking is very rocky and flip flops won’t cut it. The age demographic for the tour, like the ship, was 60+ and everyone was active. We ate at an open air restaurant that was at the top of the hill, overlooking the water, where the buses were to return, that hit the spot. Sint Maarten We had the absolute pleasure of being on the ‘Airport Adventure & Snorkel Cruise.’ We definitely recommend this tour. Big boat, not a lot of people and lots of amenities on the boat, such as an extensive bar and made to order lunches (all for a fee). I had chicken quesadillas and my sister had a cheeseburger. Once we were anchored by Maho beach to watch the planes come in and take off, there was snorkeling, or you could just swim with noodles, or sit out on the water deck that the boat lowered for your use. The water was 10 ft deep and it was clear and we could see on the white sand on the bottom. A nicely narrated tour. Antigua and St. Thomas For both of these ports we did land “Scenic” tours and they did not disappoint. I’ve been to St. Thomas several times and have usually done water related tours so doing a land one was a good change. Half Moon Cay I love this private island, probably the most out of the cruise private islands. It’s perfect – beautiful water and sand. The last time I was there was 2 years ago with my husband and kids on a Carnival cruise and there was a confirmed shark attack in the water while we there. The victim in that case was transported to the ship first and then evacuated to Nassau for surgery. Talk about a mass exodus from the water. All was well this time around. We rented the pink cabana and enjoyed the buffet lunch. For those interested, the stray chickens with babies and cats are still there. All seemed in good shape. Also, there was another HAL ship tendered with us. Between the two ships, I don’t think the beach areas were nearly as crowded as when we went on Carnival. I’m wondering if it’s because there are not a lot of children on HAL. We saw maybe 5 the whole time onboard. Next Up: Misc Thoughts/Wrap Up
  3. Club Orange/Dining We were not in a suite so we paid $50/per day/per person for the Club Orange benefits. It’s steep, but we enjoyed the perks, such as Priority Check-in (used), Priority Disembarkation (sort of used), dedicated guest services line (used), access to concierge line (didn’t use), priority tendering (didn’t use) and access to the Club Orange restaurant (used every day) and an enhanced room service menu (used). Guest Services did call us twice during the cruise to ask how everything was. Having breakfast and dinner in Club Orange, by itself, was worth it to us. The food and service was DEVINE! The restaurant is small, nicely decorated and the servers were so attentive. After the first few days daily banter ensued. Above all, it was quiet and not chaotic, and we could walk in anytime during the designated hours. No reservations needed. The breakfast menu was extensive, but I stuck with my favorites of french toast, pancakes and waffles, with an egg breakfast in there somewhere. I was sooo happy to learn that the french toast did not have raisins in it, like a lot of other cruise lines. I also tried the Banana Bread french toast and it was tasty. There was a variety of egg benedict dishes, which were immensely popular, among many other dishes. I liked how we were brought hot tea without asking and the delicious pastries that were brought around. I don’t know what it is about those chocolate croissants, but I have to have them whenever I cruise. It’s my understanding that the Club Orange dinner menu is the same as the dining room, except for 1-2 dinner specials. I never compared, but I thought the menu was great and portions larger than the normal cruise portion. It had the ‘every night’ selections, plus the rotating options. Of the cruise lines I’ve been on, I liked Holland America’s food the best, with MSC a very close second. I enjoyed watching the chefs prepare the food and plate it. They really took pride in their work. Lido: We went to the Lido buffet for lunch a couple of days and we enjoyed it. Those were my ‘salad’ meals. Couple of distinct differences from ALL the other lines: no self-serve food, except for desserts (good) and the waiters brings drinks (also good, but sometimes waited awhile). I immensely liked the hard and soft ice cream with toppings area. Dive-In: We ate at the Dive-In twice (once on deck and once for lunch room service). Burgers, hot dogs and fries - I definitely recommend, but not as great as Guy’s Burgers on Carnival ships. I thought it was AWESOME a person could order from the main dining room menu or the Dive In for room service. Pinnacle Grill: As part of our booking package we received a free dinner at the Pinnacle Grill. I thought it was very odd that Holland America chose our reservation day/time. Turns out the 5:30 PM time was perfect for us. There is also a Restaurant Reservations desk that is open daily from 9 – 4 PM where you can make/change reservations if your date/times don’t work. If the dinner is not part of a package you can make your own reservations to begin with. We liked our meal here. It was cool that they offered a lunch menu for a fee. Exploration Café: My sister ordered hot chocolates from here, which were included in the Signature Beverage package. The pastries and desserts were complementary and they were GOOD. I wish this café was in a more central area, as opposed to being tucked away on deck 12 (I think). Next Up: Ports/Tours and Misc Thoughts
  4. Entertainment This was a ‘relax my mind’ cruise as opposed to participating in everything the ship has to offer. I’ve had the latter, but really needed the former this time so I stuck with Bingo, slots at the Casino, my Kindle and naps. Did tours in each port, but will talk about that later. Did not partake in any of the music activities or shows, although we did enjoy the violin/cello group when we walked by. This was the first time I've seen a cruise ship offer Mass, and other religious ceremonies, on a daily basis. It was a little startling, but certainly good for people that like to attend. I can't remember the Cruise Director's name, maybe Thomas, but remember him being professional, refined, and had a nice voice. It was pleasant change to not have a Cruise Director who told silly, or over-the-top jokes, all.the.time. Bingo – cheapest prices of all cruise lines I’ve been on. $30 for the top package – sign me up! Couple of differences with HAL bingo – play 4 games instead of the average 3 (good), know the prize total before the game starts as opposed to after (good), no joking by the casino host (a little boring, but still ok) and they give you clip boards to use (good). HAL does it best, similar to MSC, where you can buy the bingo cards in the casino throughout the day, which prevents a long line at Bingo time. You also get a free jackpot card when you advance purchase. Bingo was held in the theater. Thumbs up! Casino – I really only like the slots. The Koningsdam casino is so small comparatively. Initially I was disappointed, but then I found several machines I liked and that was all it took. Charging money to your onboard account was easy and there were plenty of hosts around to help people set up pins, etc. I like that any winnings/credit you have are just stored to your card, instead of paper slips, where you can easily access them the next time. If you want to cash out, you just go to the cashier. First time on any cruise where there was a casino smoke-free night. I liked the concept, but it was much more crowded that night. My sister participated in a slot tournament, which I think was $25. She enjoyed it. There were many poker tournaments with an automated poker table (I think). The tourneys were popular. Now that I think back on it, I ate, drank Amaretto Sours and gambled. For those 9 nights, though, it was so good.
  5. Room Impressions We were in a balcony cabin on Deck 5 Aft. I liked the Aft part because it meant a lot of walking and I wanted to balance out the food that was to come. There were rooms above and below us. Noise was not an issue. This ship had the cleanest balcony I’ve ever seen…no dark residue, trash, or rust spots. I like that HAL takes pride in their cleanliness. Liked that there was a little table and an ottoman on the balcony, too. That’s not normally included in a regular balcony room on other lines. I’ve never stayed in a balcony room where the actual key to the balcony door stayed in the balcony door and you used that to lock and unlock. Simple and effective and less complicated than some other cruise line locks. The glass shower was nice and I loved, loved, loved the motion sensor light that came on when the room was dark. Genius. About the bathroom, lol, there was a toilet paper holder on both sides of the toilet. Double genius. I wish there was a regular outlet in the bathroom, as opposed to just a shaver one. Sometimes I wanted to blow-dry my hair in there while my sister was still sleeping, but no can-do. Our room was an adjoining room so I don’t know if the inside door eliminated a closet, but we really had to work at finding enough space for our belongings. It all worked out, though, and we liked the rest of our room and the room steward. He was very attentive and on our last day pulled our suitcases out from under the beds without our asking. I was not looking forward to pushing them out so this was a nice touch. Our room steward seemed very much aware of our schedule and our room was always made-up and turned down at night when we were not there. So nice! The towel animals did not disappoint. I saved all (well, most of) the chocolate squares at turndown as a souvenir for my 17 yr old son. He loves chocolate. The truffles in the box (I don’t know if that’s a normal give-away for HAL) were yummy. I took advantage of the $20/cloth bag laundry mid cruise. I put it out one morning and it came back the next afternoon. They did a good job and hung everything up in a garment bag, even though I said folded was OK. They did lose my Philadelphia Eagles shirt, which I loved, but I didn’t pursue it. I’m sure someone became a new Eagles fan as they had just won the Eagles-Bears game. We had room service twice and both times were good and came within 30-40 minutes. I wish there was a way to order via the TV, instead of having to call. They were always very nice on the phone, though. Loved the TV! Best programming of all cruise lines by far, at least as it relates to movie selections. We don’t normally watch movies while cruising, but it was very relaxing for the 2 that we did watch. We also watched a couple of the NFL playoff games during wildcard weekend. The games were accessible on the cabin TV, some games played by the Lido pool and also some on the casino TV. Coming Up: Ship Impressions, Club Orange, Entertainment and Dining
  6. Embarkation Day The hotel shuttle bus was great – big and on-time. There were probably 15 people on the bus with us, either going to 2 HAL ships or a Celebrity one. It was maybe a 10 minute ride. My sister and I both purchased Club Orange (more on this later), which includes Priority Check-in. We were really, really hoping to avoid the very long line outside the terminal, but it was not to be. Priority Check-in for Suite and Club Orange guests begins when you enter the terminal building and you are able to divert to a designated line that takes you to the beginning of the security line. Things progressed very quickly once we were in the building…security was fast and we went into a designated Suite/Club Orange check-in line. For comparison, priority check-in for MSC Yacht Club guests begins at the curb. Check-in took about 5 minutes and they took our picture there (same as other cruise lines), but didn’t need to take our credit cards again that we listed in our online docs (liked that). Went up the escalator, bypassed the two boarding photo stations and we were onboard! Truth be told, the first thing that caught my attention upon boarding were the elaborate fresh flower arrangements everywhere. This is not really the case on the other cruise lines I mentioned so I was impressed and happy. I love flowers. Embarkation Day Lunch I don’t know what it is about cruising, but once we were on the ship, we had one-track minds to have lunch. “Must have food!” I had called HAL customer service previously about something or other and they mentioned we were invited to eat in the dining room for lunch on embarkation day due to the fact that we both previously cruised on Carnival and Princess. It is interesting that nowhere on the Day 1 sheet did it mention the dining room was open for lunch, but we checked and it was open – YES! To us, there is nothing better than sitting down to a relaxing lunch, as opposed to the buffet. It was not crowded at all and our waiter soon came and took our order on a tablet (different than other lines). I liked that because I had visions of our order zooming back to the kitchen to get started. For lunch, the menu was small, but a good variety. The cheeseburger, fries, chocolate chip ice cream combined with an Amaretto Sour to drink was delish. Two interesting notes about the Amaretto Sours (at least for me)…it really is the only drink I like…don’t like beer, wine or other cocktails (at least I haven’t found any others) so I wanted to confirm that it was included in the Signature Drink Package. I was charged for it on Day 1, so was very temporarily dismayed, but was not charged on subsequent days. The 1st charge was probably because we were still in the Fort Lauderdale port. That has happened to me on other lines, too. Liked that we didn’t have to sign for drinks. Also, this drink traditionally comes with a cherry or a cherry and orange slice combo. On the Koningsdam, a few times I felt like I was having sangria. My drink would have two cherries, two oranges and a lemon slice all mixed in the drink. I found it very amusing and interesting. It doesn’t take much for me, I guess. Next Up: Ship and Room Impressions
  7. Background: This was a Girls cruise with my twin sister. We are 46 and have been lucky to travel on several cruise lines, just the two of us, and with our respective families. We’ve cruised several times each on Carnival, Royal Caribbean (Suite and non-Suite), Norwegian (Haven and non-Haven), Princess and Celebrity. My sister has also cruised on Disney and I have cruised on MSC (Yacht Club – love it!). This was our first experience on Holland America and our decision to try HAL was based on 1)price, 2)cruise duration of 9 nights as opposed to the normal 7 we cruise), 3)itinerary (fabulous) and 4)curiosity about the HAL experience. Hotel Pre-Embarkation: We both live outside of Philadelphia so we flew American Airlines from Philly to Fort Lauderdale and spent a night at the Four Points by Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Airport/Cruise Port. It was a good choice for us. They offer a free shuttle to/from the airport, but the shuttle was taking a little too long so we took a cab to the hotel. The shuttle run includes guests that were staying at a nearby Holiday Inn, too. Check-in and the room were great, but having a restaurant and bar at the hotel was fantastic. No need to venture out for dinner after a day of traveling and we had a full (not continental) breakfast the next morning. There is also a CVS right around the corner within walking distance that was convenient. At check-in we signed up for a shuttle bus ride to the Port. $8/each. I believe the departures were in 30 minute increments and our time was 11:15 AM. More to come shortly.
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