ms Rotterdam Caribbean, March 16-23, 2005
Doug - 42, Eric - 56
Previous cruises total approximately 18 on several different line/ships including Dolphin Cruise Lines/Premier Cruise Lines Seabreeze I, NCL Norwegian Dynasty, Carnival Tropical, Holland America Noordam & Maasdam, Cunard QE2 and Caronia.
I (Doug) had vacation time he had to use up by 3/30/2005 or loose it so I took a few days here and there and a two week block of time in March. After numerous ideas as to what to do, we finally decided to take a Caribbean cruise. This one fit the bill and the price was right. We booked approximately 4 weeks out from sailing date. I booked a NN minimum inside guarantee. We received our documents about two weeks before leaving.
Ft. Lauderdale, FL
San Juan, Puerto Rico (3:00pm - 10:00pm)
St Marten, Netherlands Antilles (8:00am to 6:00pm)
St. Thomas, USVI (8:00am to 6:00pm)
Half Moon Cay, Bahamas (8:00am to 4:00pm)
Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
We drove to Ft. Lauderdale on Tuesday, 3/15/2005 after Eric finished up at work. We made great time. Eric had just come back from Istanbul the week prior and passed on a wonderful head cold that we now both had. We stopped at the new Publix on 17th Street in Ft. Lauderdale just a couple blocks up from our hotel, the Marriott Marina. We stocked up on water, cold remedies and tissues! We arrived and checked in to our room by 6:30pm.
One of things we really like to do is take the Water Taxi from the hotel to Las Olas Boulevard for dinner. It's $5 for all day travel and very scenic. We took the 7:28pm water taxi and had dinner at Cafe Blu. We ate outside watching the people go by and had a wonderful time. We went back to the hotel after dinner as I was exhausted and couldn't breath with my cold. Our room was on the 5th floor overlooking the port so we would see the Rotterdam in port when we woke up.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
As expected, the ship was in port when we awoke. We decided to check out at 11 am and go have brunch/lunch at Le Bonne Crepe on Las Olas then board the ship about 1:00pm. You can now board HAL ships at 11:30am but you can't get to your room until 1:00pm. We thought this would be a more leisurely way to do it and avoid the mass rush at 11:30. We were right! We had lunch, stopped at the Walgreens on 17th street at the entrance to the port and stocked up on more stuff. I forgot my 2nd pair of contacts and my lens case so had to buy one (first time this ever happened - I'm blind without my contacts!).
We drove to the pier, dropped off our luggage and parked across the street in the garage. The parking cost was $12/day ($84 total) and they take cash or credit cards when you exit (in Miami, you pay when you park, in cash only). I made sure to set aside the $84 for parking. We walked right in to the check-in desk. Everything was fine but they didn't have my boarding card at the the check-in desk. They gave me a temporary card and told me to have one printed up at the front desk onboard. The woman guarding the gangway didn't want to let me on because I didn't have a regular boarding card but an officer came over and set her right. We didn't know what our cabin assignment would be until we checked in and we ended up in 3378 on Lower Promenade port side. This cabin is a DD partially obstructed view. We really lucked out again on the upgrade (14 categories!). It was under the kitchens and could be quite noisy at times with clanging and banging from above but I wasn't going to complain - besides the ship was full and we couldn't have moved anyway. There was also a low mechanical hum that was constant but we liked it - kind of a white background noise. We had the beds put together into a queen and the bathroom had a tub. There was plenty of storage space and the suitcases fit under the bed. The toiletries provided included moisturizing shampoo, face and bath soaps, hand lotion, shower cap - note there was no conditioner.
Our luggage all arrived before sailing and we had all our clothes put away before lifeboat drill. I stopped at the front office and asked about my boarding card. They were having printer problems and couldn't print up a proper one but gave me another temporary that would open the room door. They asked me to please come back in about an hour and the other one should be ready. We walked around, checked out the dinner menu, etc. After lifeboat drill, I went back to the front office and they were able to make me a permanent card. I thought the front office staff were very friendly and polite, contrary to what I generally hear about HAL's front office staff (I've never had a problem with any front office staff on any ship).
We noticed there was an awful lot of stuff on the pier that looked like it had to come aboard and there was no way it would be onboard by our 5:00pm sailing time. The captain made an announcement that we'd be leaving at 5:30pm instead. They really moved to get that stuff onboard!
Went to the Crows Nest while waiting to sail and had champagne. When we saw the lines dropping, went to the forward observation deck (bow) and stayed there for sail away. When the ship sails thought the cut to the ocean past the condo's, the whistle echoes off of the buildings. There was someone on one of the upper floors with a huge HAL flag flying off their balcony! Very fun. The wind was really ripping and we weren't moving that fast - it was blowing the champagne out of my glass! After we went in, we stopped by the Pinnacle Grill and made reservations for Thursday, the first formal night.
Dinner was on the lower level at 8:30pm. We ended up at a table for 10 right under the opening to the 2nd level in the center. Our table companions were wonderful. All retired and well traveled. We had a great time. The food throughout the cruise was very good and I have no complaints about the food, service or staff. Everyone was very friendly and accommodating. I generally find that people who complain about being slighted, unfriendly or unhelpful staff have a poor attitude or expect the worst and end up with just that. There were people raising hell at the front office wanting to be moved, their cabin to too small, they didn't like the location, etc. Since we were full, they couldn't be moved which just made them madder (I think they were expecting an upgrade for free by complaining - usually doesn't work!). We had a coffee in the Explorers Lounge and listened to the Sonore Strings play then went to bed.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
Today was a sea day in route to San Juan. We slept in, had breakfast and looked through the shops. We pretty much laid around on deck, ate and slept. The ship did offer a kitchen tour which we took but it was basically a walk through and lasted all of 5 minutes.
We did meet up with 4 gentlemen traveling together at breakfast. We ran into them repeatedly and went into San Juan together.
We dressed for dinner at the Pinnacle and went to the Crows Nest for cocktails. The Crows Nest is my favorite bar. The staff gets to know you by name and what you drink. We went there each night for drinks and nibbles before dinner.
The Pinnacle is a very elegant room. We sat towards the rear. The service is good, the food is good and the ingredients are first class. The cover charge is $20 per person. With the $35 bottle of wine we had, we ended up paying $75 for dinner. We frequently end up paying this when we eat out in town at our favorite restaurants but for some reason it seemed too much on the ship. The food was very good, well presented and tasty. The chef came around on three different occasions to check on us but he had an air about him that he was somewhat unsure what to make of us (being a male couple) and would kind of hurry off. Honestly, I don't think $20 is worth it - the atmosphere just wasn't there (no music for one thing!). NCL had a cover charge in some of their restaurants ($12.50 max) but they seemed to do a better job at it. I guess we just didn't resonate to the place.
We walked around on deck for a couple of laps then went to bed.
Friday, March 18, 2005
Radisson Diamond, Silver Whisper, Celebrity Horizon were in port with us.
Slept in, met up with our friends and laid around. We planned to be on deck as we sailed into San Juan harbor. Before sailing, I'd e-mailed Pamela's restaurant at the Numero Uno guest house for reservations for today. We arrived at 3:00pm and sailed at 10:00pm. Our reservations were at 7:00pm. I had just come out of the shower and Eric was just about to go in as the fort at the entrance to the harbor went by the window! So much for being on deck. We planned to be dressed for dinner when we left the ship so we wouldn't have to change before going to the restaurant.
We showed our friends around San Juan and it was pretty much the same as the last time we were there in 2001. The Butterfly People have moved to a new location and the restaurant on the 2nd level isn't open yet. We parted company about 6:30pm to go to the restaurant which is in the Ocean Park area of town - our friends went into the Condado for dinner. Our dinner was good but didn't quite meet up with our expectations. We headed back to the ship by 8:30pm and stopped at the duty free shops in the terminal before boarding. We watch us sail out of the harbor then went to bed.
Saturday, March 19, 2005
Today we were in St. Martin. We didn't have any tours planned so slept in a little, had breakfast then walked off the ship. The Costa Classica was in port with us and arrived after we had docked. We could have walked into town but took the water taxi instead. It dropped us off right at the edge of town. We walked around, shopped and decided to leave back to the ship at about 12:30pm. The best buy I got were 2 liters of Johnny Walker Red for $8.95/liter! I also bought some cologne at the same store. We did have a somewhat unpleasant experience. At the store we bought the liquor and the cologne, Eric was also going to buy a bottle of cologne. When I checked out, they said they didn't accept credit cards - cash only. I had enough on me so I paid in cash. Eric decided not to buy his cologne because he didn't have that much cash. The clerk then said that for $2, they would take a credit card! He said he wasn't going to pay them to accept a credit card and we left. The owner then called him back in and they finally accepted the credit card without a fee rather than loose a sale! This type of thing really turns me off and I'd not go back there again. This was a smaller shop, not one of the cruise line recommended places.
When I went through security before boarding the ship, the bottles of scotch were in a plain plastic bag, not the usual liquor boxes. Security said "Liter, Liter!" but didn't take it. When we boarded, we just walked right past the people who were taking liquor - they made not attempt to take the bottles. I believe they didn't know we had them since they weren't in the boxes! You might try to take the bottles out of the boxes and carry them onboard in regular shopping bags!
We waited for the water taxi for about 30 minutes before it finally showed up. In the meantime, the people from the Windjammer cruise were leaving and others were getting ready to board. They highly recommended going on one. The ship was anchored out in the harbor and looked tiny compared the Rotterdam!
We made it back to the pier and took a taxi from there to Marigot ($15 for both of us). The driver, Maria, was very pleasant and dropped us off near the marina where there were lots of restaurants. I paid for a roundtrip in advance and she said she'd pick up in the same place around 4:00pm (we sailed at 5:30pm). We wandered around checking out the restaurants and ended up at Brasserie de la Gare right on the harbor front. We ate under the awning and the view was beautiful. The food was exceptional and a 1/2 bottle of Chablis didn't hurt the atmosphere! We finished up around 3:00pm, walked around town then waited for the taxi which showed up about 3:45pm. We were back on the ship after going through the shops on the pier by 5:00pm. The Costa Classica sailed at 5:00pm.
Cocktails in the Crows Nest, dinner at 8:30pm, Sonore Strings in the Explorers Lounge then bed.
Sunday, March 20, 2005
Queen Mary 2 (anchored), Serenade of the Seas, Sea Dream 1 and Seabourn Legend were in port with us today.
The only shore excursion we booked was the Champagne Catamaran Sail to St. John. We had to go past US Immigration officials before leaving the ship to get a green card. You basically walked past them with your passport open and they gave you a card. You surrendered the card when you left the ship.
The tour met on the pier and we boarded an open air taxi bus for the ship to the harbor. There were only 18 of us and the catamaran held 49 so there was plenty of room onboard. The roads on St. Thomas are like roller coasters! Yikes. We were both recovering from our head colds and decided not to snorkel. We stayed on board, laid out in the sun and drank water. The weather was perfect and the scenery was great. We sailed back to the harbor, boarded the bus again and were dropped off at the ship. We went back onboard, changed, had lunch then we ashore. We didn't attend the port lectures and didn't know that being Palm Sunday, the downtown shops were closing at 1:00pm. We were looking for a particular bottle of brandy we got at A.H. Riis but the Havensite stores didn't have it. We took a taxi to downtown only to find all the shops closed! We went back to the ship and went to Al Cohen's Discount Liquor. I bought 2 bottles of Drambuie for $18.95 per liter and Eric didn't buy anything. I was now set for my Rusty Nails! We went back to the ship. Since the liquor was in a box, they took it and gave me a numbered tag - as I expected they would.
We both thought St. Thomas has gotten very dirty, run down and not very friendly. Unless they spruce it up, I don't plan to go back any time soon. St. Martin was better at pricing also.
Serenade of the Seas left first, followed by us. As we sailed past the Queen Mary 2 at anchor, our ships exchanged a whistle conversation, some of which I caught with my digital camera ( Rotterdam-QM2 Whistles ).
The usual evening line up then bed!
Monday, March 21, 2005
Another day at sea. The usual - eat, sleep, read, etc. We did meet our friends for cocktails in the Crows Nest before dinner (second formal night). We were invited to attend the Mariner party which was interesting. I had 21 days with HAL at the end of this cruise and Eric had 14 days. They awarded one woman a Platinum medallion for sailing in excess of 700 days with HAL! WOW!
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
We were anchored at Half Moon Cay by 8:00am. Tendering started by 8:30am. We waited until about 10:00am before going to the Queens Lounge for a tender ticket. In the meantime, the Maasdam arrived. We only waited about 10 minutes before our number was called. We decided we would walk all the way around the point (far left end of island as you face the island). We bought a couple bottles of water and headed off. The island now has horseback riding in the surf which we got to walk past. I believe the horses are very intelligent - every overweight rider got dumped in the water! Some of these people were well over 250 pounds if they weighted one pound! YIKES! I wouldn't want that on my either! We walked all the way up and round the point there were only two other people there and they snorkeled up! We love being up there - there are a couple secluded coves, it's absolutely beautiful and private. We walked back and arrived just in time to have lunch before the closed up. After eating, it was about 2:30pm and we had to be onboard by 3:30pm so we decided to head back to the ship.
Since we were leaving before the Maasdam, I knew we'd have another whistle barrage so I headed up to Sports deck and waited. Two of the 4 tenders had been raised, the ship turned around facing away from the island and the remaining 2 tenders were raised. No sooner than the tenders bottoms were out of the water than we started leaving! I caught 2 of our initial 3 whistle blasts, the Maasdam's response, our reply and the Maasdam's final response (Rotterdam-Maasdam Whistles ).
We changed, relaxed, had cocktails with our friends in the Crows Nest. We also packed most of our luggage. We decided to do the express disembarkation. You are given a card and stickers and walk off the ship with your luggage. HAL cautions you that you will receive no help at all if you choose this.
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
We were off the ship by 8:45am and on the road to Tampa by 9:00am. A quick stop for coffee and off we went. We got home around 4:00pm. We tried to stop for lunch in St. Armands key but the weather was stormy and very windy plus there was NO parking to be had. We drove back to 75 North and finally got off at Ellenton and ate there. Upon getting home, we discovered the water heater decided to develop a leak and water was running through the garage into the driveway! No damage since it was in the garage but still annoying. It was under warranty with GE and we only had to pay labor to get a new one installed on Thursday.
We had a great time on this cruise. The ship, food and service were wonderful - no complaints. The price was right, too. The age of the passengers is still older than other lines but we didn't have to put up with rowdy or drunk slobs either. There were a few kids but they were well behaved. The Rotterdam was leaving at 1:00pm the day we returned to go to Nassau for dry dock (their term - not sure if it was actually being taken out of the water) to bring it up to par with the "Signature of Excellence" project. This involved new bedding and linens, flat screen TV's, new carpeting, addition of the Windstar Cafe among other things. This was said to take 17 days. The ship then sails to Europe in April.
I still like the ambiance of HAL the best of all the lines we've sailed - Cunard would be second. The atmosphere is a bit more formal but laid back at the same time. I like the hors d'oeuvres in the evenings in the bars, the string quartet in the Explorers Lounge, the staff remembering your name and drink preference, live music at dinner, etc. The decor of the ship is elegant with lots of flowers all around and very interesting antiques and artwork throughout. I didn't notice any shortcuts others have complained about recently.