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ROTTERDAM - Feb 3 2019 Western Caribbean from Tampa - Reviewish

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Just returned yesterday from the 7 day Western Caribbean trip R/T from Tampa on the Rotterdam.  A few thoughts/observations:

 

  • Sailing from Tampa in the winter is more "iffy" than I realized.  We left port about 19 hours late due to fog that closed the Port of Tampa from 4am Sunday until early Monday morning, with the US Coast Guard keeping certain sectors of the gulf closed to commercial traffic through mid-day on Monday.  As a result, we missed Key West, which I thought was a shame as I've never been there.  We did make the other three ports on the itinerary: Trujillo (Banana Coast), Honduras; San Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala; and Costa Maya, Mexico.  We were, of course, refunded port fees, etc.  I think some people thought we should get more, but I'm not sure why HAL should be responsible for the weather.  Having said that, there was a rumor that HAL might be looking to discontinue the Tampa sailings in future years, as this was at least the second cruise that was disrupted by fog this season.

 

  • Unless you are interested in visiting ruins or laying out on a mangrove beach ... I wouldn't choose this itinerary for the ports.  It seemed to me that, with the exception of Costa Maya, many people chose to stay on board or just venture off to the market set up on the pier.  Definitely a lot more people around the ship on the first two port days than I've seen in the past.  In what might be related to efforts to boost business for shore tours, there was definitely a lot of negative messaging about the Honduras and Guatemala stops.

 

  • The food was uniformly good.  We ate in the MDR 2 nights, 3 nights in the Lido, had in-room dining one night and ate at the Pinnacle Grill once, as it was a booking perk.  The service was fine, maybe even a little overbearing (I can't tell you if I'm enjoying my meal if I never get a chance to taste it because people keep asking how it is!).  There seemed to be a good variety, although we did go to the Lido once because there was nothing super appealing in the MDR that we couldn't get there.  The presentation might not be as "pretty" as MDR, but many of the items are repeated.  As I often am more interested in the appetizers than the main courses, the Lido is great for me!  Another thing I like about the Lido is that it's easy to get a full serving of vegetables with your dinner.  In the MDR, they mostly seem to be "garnish."

 

  • At lunch, many items in the Lido are either served from behind glass or prepackaged.  There's a salad station where you chose the ingredients and they were tossed together for you, and a small station for custom sandwiches, along with a variety of specialty dishes (Asian/sushi and Italian), hot entrees and premade, wrapped sandwiches.  And we always enjoy the Dive In for lunch!

 

  • There was Surf and Turf (filet and lobster tail) on the MDR menu at no surcharge on the second Gala night.  Otherwise, there was an upcharge of I think $20 for a whole lobster.  I got a $10 lobster tail in the Pinnacle Grill the night we ate there.

 

  • People have commented that there is "no" entertainment on the cruises from Tampa.  That wasn't exactly the case last week.  There were no "production"  type shows at all.  There was music around the ship -- Adagio quartet, a piano player and I think some sort of more modern music combo.  There was also a DJ in one of the bars most nights.  But the "main" entertainment was mostly movies (Mamma Mia, Again!, Skyscraper, Crazy Rich Asians are the ones I remember).  The Mainstage featured comedians on at least 2 nights, maybe 3.  But that was it.  This wasn't an issue for me, but if you enjoy the "song and dance" shows, you will be disappointed.

 

  • We had a flight at 9:50 from Tampa, and made it with no problem.  We did the expedited departure (carried our own bags).  We were among the first off the ship at about 7:30, and walked off with almost no line  either to depart the ship or at Customers.  We got an individual cab to the airport and by 8 am, we were checked in and thru security using the Pre-check lanes.  The individual cab was $25.  There was also a shared airport ride for $8.  Since we weren't sure how long we'd have to wait, we paid the $25.

 

  • We were seated near a group in a bar one night who seemed to have a lot of complaints about the $9 drink limitation on the beverage plan.  We don't drink much (one or 2 drinks a day and we drank 2 bottles of wine over the course of the week), so we didn't bother and therefore didn't really pay that much attention to the drink costs.  But one of the women was annoyed that she couldn't get a glass of Prosecco on the plan, one of the men ordered a drink that was listed in the menu for $8.75 with a higher-end spirit than was listed in the menu and then barked out a question about whether it was included in the package (it wasn't, except as listed in the bar menu).  IDK if HAL has the same policy as NCL when it comes to the dollar limit on drinks (NCL only charges the difference between the price and the limit), but I would really hate to spend my vacation worrying about the cost of drinks.

 

  • The last thing I noticed was the inefficiency of the muster drill.  First, I'm not sure why they bring everyone out onto the deck where they have to stand the entire time everyone gathers and the drill is conducted.  On NCL, muster stations are in areas with seats (I've mustered in the MDR and theater) and out of the elements.  There were a number of people who have issues standing, and the lack of seating is a problem.  Second, compounding the lack of seats was the lack of organization.  On NCL, when you reported to the muster station, there was a person holding up the Station number.  You go to the sign, give them your room key to be scanned and then have a seat while the drill goes on.  This cruise, by the time the crew started scanning keys, people had already been standing at the station for 10 minutes or more, and the whole process took a lot longer because they first were "rushed" once people realized the scanners were out, and then had to walk around to everyone else.  To be clear -- the location I listed for the NCL drill ARE the places you report if there's an emergency.  The crew members assigned to each muster group would meet you there and take you to the appropriate area for evacuation if needed, rather than crowding everyone around the deck with the lifeboats in an actual situation where you have to get into the lifeboats.

 

For me, the trip was exactly what I was looking for -- a week of relaxing and warmth.  I wasn't expecting a lot of action and didn't plan to spend much time off the ship (and didn't).  I'm looking forward to a trip on the Nieuw Statendam this summer.  As I've cruised more, I've realized that a ship of around 2500 passengers (big for HAL, but smallish in the industry these days) works best for me.  There seem to be more dining options when you get to that size, vs. the 1200 or so on the older HAL ships.  The difference between one of the oldest and the newest ship in the HAL fleet will be interesting to observe.

 

I didn't keep the Where and When guides -- not a lot happening other than liquor/beer/wine tastings; late afternoon and evening trivia and various shopping/shore excursion and spa discussions.  The casino is small (I think there were 3 tables) and about 50 or so slot machines.  Smoking was allowed in one section of the casino, but it's so small, that the whole area was at least a bit smoky smelling to me.

 

If you have any questions, I'm glad to try to answer them.

 

 

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Thanks for your review.

Tampa has indeed been dropped after this season, at least for now.  The 2020-2021 Caribbean schedule is now on the HAL web site with no Tampa sailings, unless they are added later.

Sorry you missed Key West, a nice and easy port call.  The joke at the Port of Tampa has been never say the F word....FOG!

When the gulf water temp drops and then the temperatures and humidity rise, we get fog.  Some years it is not a problem and some are.  HAL has sailed from Tampa since 1982, longer than anyone else.

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THANKYOU for your in-depth report!! Every one of HAL’s ships are unique and everyone’s tastes are different!! We will be on her for a Panama Canal Cruise from our home town San Diego 3/20. We have only one other ship Prinesdam we have not been on since the new Pinnacle class ships that have come out. Tried to get on her for this April 2019 but had to change our trip to our condo in Maui so we will not 

have a opportunity to sail on The Elegant Explorer before she is given to the new owner! We like the smaller ships on HAL.

Thankyou again!

Denise😊

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Very nice and informative. Thank you.  We will sail this itinerary on April 7.  Hoping there is no fog issue, as we've never been to Key West and really want to get a taste of the city. And yes, we will do Mayan ruins.  

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Thank you for taking the time to write your review.

 

Sorry about the fog and missing Key West.

 

You will find a difference for lifeboat drill on the Nieuw Amsterdam -- you will meet inside.

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We did the exact same itinerary and had the same issue of the fog in Tampa on the Dec 28th sailing.

 

That said, I wasn't sad to miss Key West, I've been before and didn't really enjoy it- maybe it is better as an 8 hour port stop vs a long weekend getaway. 

 

We really enjoyed the other ports. They were a lot more "authentic" than the many Caribbean ports.  There was poverty but in Trujillo we did the farm to table tour. We took a bus outside of town to a lovely eco-lodge where we learned how to make papusas and sat one of the most gorgeous, unspoilt beaches.  

We booked our tour in Livingston which again was fantastic. We did a private kayak tour of the River Dulce followed by some time in Livingston. Our guide was wonderful and now I really want to go back to Guatamela to the language schools she mentioned in Antigua. 

 

Costa Maya was meh to me. Getting out of port was like trying to escape a mall jail. Once we got out port We had a great time. Again we booked a private tour to the mayan ruins and then went to a pineapple plantation where I discovered the most amazing treat.. pineapples and chili powder.  We finished our day at the beach in Costa Maya but the red tide meant we left early. 

 

Overall, I think the stops in Guatemala and Honduras made the trip because both stops felt a lot more authentic. 

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A very good and thoughtful review. I had read/heard (can't remember which) that HAL was going to discontinue the cast of singers and dancers on ships but this is the first time (I think) that I have read that a ship actually had none. I don't particularly like all the production shows but I do think they add to the entertainment value offered so hope HAL does keep them. 

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Thanks for your review. We were on this sailing a week earlier. Loved the ship and had a wonderful experience in the MDR.  Fabulous service We had one of the nicest cruises ever. The only thing I did not like is that they had no Alaskan King Crab legs in the Pinnacle Grill.  We did have a great time, however, reconnecting with some people from our previous transatlantic.

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Thanks very much for the review. I'm doing this cruise on March 3 and it's my first HAL cruise.  I'm really looking forward to Key West, it's one of my favorite places.  I hope it's not fogged out but I do recall a cruise on RCL's Brilliance where we had to skip KW because of weather issues.

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5 hours ago, Krazy Kruizers said:

You will find a difference for lifeboat drill on the Nieuw Amsterdam -- you will meet inside.

The Nieuw Amsterdam is designed to have muster outside, at the lifeboat.
It's the Koningsdam and Nieuw Statendam that were designed for inside muster.

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8 hours ago, BRWolf said:

Very nice and informative. Thank you.  We will sail this itinerary on April 7.  Hoping there is no fog issue, as we've never been to Key West and really want to get a taste of the city. And yes, we will do Mayan ruins.  

 

We will also be on the April 7 cruise!  Craig & Mimi

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22 hours ago, albingirl said:

Thanks for your review. We were on this sailing a week earlier. Loved the ship and had a wonderful experience in the MDR.  Fabulous service We had one of the nicest cruises ever. The only thing I did not like is that they had no Alaskan King Crab legs in the Pinnacle Grill.  We did have a great time, however, reconnecting with some people from our previous transatlantic.

The waiter in the Pinnacle told us that they have not received a supply of crab legs in weeks on any HAL ships. Not sure what the issue is, but it seems that it is continuing.

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Thanks for the review.  My mom (89) became very ill on Sunday night, so we were very glad the ship was unable to leave Tampa until noon on Monday.  We left at 10 am to Tampa general hospital .     She was so disappointed to miss the cruise, so we are planning a New England cruise in May on the Zaandam 

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Thanks for the review!  We are doing that cruise next month!  I'm one of those that enjoys the places like Belize City and in this case hopefully Santo tomas de Castilla as we have never been there.  And yes we are doing one of the ruins and hopefully some birdwatching!  I sure hope the fog doesn't mess us up!

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On 2/12/2019 at 1:46 PM, CM1984 said:

 

We will also be on the April 7 cruise!  Craig & Mimi

Will see you at the roll call, Craig and Mimi!

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17 hours ago, sptree said:

Thanks for the review.  My mom (89) became very ill on Sunday night, so we were very glad the ship was unable to leave Tampa until noon on Monday.  We left at 10 am to Tampa general hospital .     She was so disappointed to miss the cruise, so we are planning a New England cruise in May on the Zaandam 

I'm so sorry that you missed the trip, but glad your mom is doing better and looking forward to your trip in May.  I was traveling with my 81 YO MIL, so I know it can be a challenge and a worry.  Have a great time on the Zaandam!

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15 hours ago, chill6x6 said:

Thanks for the review!  We are doing that cruise next month!  I'm one of those that enjoys the places like Belize City and in this case hopefully Santo tomas de Castilla as we have never been there.  And yes we are doing one of the ruins and hopefully some birdwatching!  I sure hope the fog doesn't mess us up!

I was a bit put off by some of the descriptions of the tours to the ruins.  I was traveling with my 81 YO MIL.  She's got some issues with balance and has had skin cancer, so between "uneven walking surfaces" and "limited shade," we decided to avoid those trips.  Have a great time!

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On 2/12/2019 at 7:55 AM, TN Fem said:

We did the exact same itinerary and had the same issue of the fog in Tampa on the Dec 28th sailing.

 

That said, I wasn't sad to miss Key West, I've been before and didn't really enjoy it- maybe it is better as an 8 hour port stop vs a long weekend getaway. 

 

We really enjoyed the other ports. They were a lot more "authentic" than the many Caribbean ports.  There was poverty but in Trujillo we did the farm to table tour. We took a bus outside of town to a lovely eco-lodge where we learned how to make papusas and sat one of the most gorgeous, unspoilt beaches.  

We booked our tour in Livingston which again was fantastic. We did a private kayak tour of the River Dulce followed by some time in Livingston. Our guide was wonderful and now I really want to go back to Guatamela to the language schools she mentioned in Antigua. 

 

Costa Maya was meh to me. Getting out of port was like trying to escape a mall jail. Once we got out port We had a great time. Again we booked a private tour to the mayan ruins and then went to a pineapple plantation where I discovered the most amazing treat.. pineapples and chili powder.  We finished our day at the beach in Costa Maya but the red tide meant we left early. 

 

Overall, I think the stops in Guatemala and Honduras made the trip because both stops felt a lot more authentic. 

On my own, I might have been a bit more adventurous, especially with private tours.  But I was traveling with my MIL and she is pretty set on sticking only to the ship tours, as she has a terror of being left behind by the ship.  Same thing in terms of eating off the ship.  It sounds like you found some great options to enjoy the ports, though!

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A friend and I took this cruise last spring.  While we enjoyed it (it was my third time, her first, on this itinerary).  We had arranged a private tour of in-depth Mayan ruins, but it turned out we were the only ones who signed up for this particular excursion, so the vendor cancelled and put us on another tour that wasn't interesting.  While my friend was thrilled, I was bored and decided that maybe this itinerary isn't for me any longer.  I wasn't that upset when HA pulled out of Tampa.  Maybe I'll feel differently in a few years.

 

I must have been fortunate, as I never experienced any fog on the cruises I took out of Tampa.  I wasn't aware it was a problem.  It's nice to be clueless on some aspects of cruising, I guess.

 

It's a shame you missed Key West.  It's an interesting place, and I never tire of it.  You'll have to find another cruise to take you.  When you go, be sure to stop by Kermit's for a frozen chocolate-covered Key Lime Pie on a stick.  Yum-m-m.

 

Thanks for taking the time to write your comprehensive review.

Edited by sevenseasnomad

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How many blackjack tables were there? Do you know how much per hand? How late was the casino actually going on until?

We are on the April 7th sailing.  I am traveling with my 78 year old mom, this is our second HAL cruise.  We usually do carnival or royal Caribbean as my 19 year old normally travels with us but since we are by ourselves wanted something smaller and more laid back.  The last HAL cruise was to Canada and it was a lot of older and not much to do. Hoping this is not the case.  

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10 hours ago, berries999 said:

How many blackjack tables were there? Do you know how much per hand? How late was the casino actually going on until?

We are on the April 7th sailing.  I am traveling with my 78 year old mom, this is our second HAL cruise.  We usually do carnival or royal Caribbean as my 19 year old normally travels with us but since we are by ourselves wanted something smaller and more laid back.  The last HAL cruise was to Canada and it was a lot of older and not much to do. Hoping this is not the case.  

It appeared to me that there were about 3 active blackjack tables during prime hours.  I was on the Rotterdam for 2 weeks in February and spent time in the casino for once.  Not a lot of activity at blackjack when we were there mainly mid-day.  We were playing slots and a passenger came up to us to try to get us to join him in a $200 blackjack tournament.  I was very happy with the casino facilities and they tried to have some smoke free areas with machines labeled smoke free.  If your itinerary takes you to Curacao that casino was excellent, smoke free and large.  Enjoy your trip!   

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