Holland America Line - Cruisemates Reader's Cruise Reviews

Holland America Line

by Stargazerm31
Western Caribbean
October 20, 2002

This is my tenth cruise and Pam's eleventh and our first on HAL. We have sailed the Ecstasy 96, Galaxy 99, Mercury 99, Sea Princess 00, Millennium 01, Zenith 01, Grand Princess 01, Summit 02, and NCL Star 02.

In order for my review to have meaning to you, I think it is important to try and understand what type of person and cruiser Pam and I are. I am a type A vacationer who likes to snorkel, sail, and walk and look in shops. I rarely use the casino, and I am not a big bar/disco person, so bars are not high on my list. My wife and I cruise to dine, meet other people, and to see the ports and relax. We are not big sun worshippers. Service is important, but I do not expect people to be perfect all the time. I just expect them to try and give their best effort. I also understand the difference between 5-star cruise cuisine and I don't confuse or compare it to 5-star restaurant cuisine. The ship has to feed 800 to 1700 people per seating where a restaurant only feeds 200 a night.

Please take my review as a critique and not complaining. This is My Humble Opinion that represents my tastes and biases, and with that said, here is my humble opinion of the HAL Maasdam.

We booked this cruise in March of this year. We have always wanted to try HAL and see how it compares to Celebrity and Princess. We were also looking for a good price and one that sailed this week in October. This left us with the Maasdam. I have mainly read good reviews on the Maasdam. The only main issue that I hear is the central air in the rooms leaves a little to be desired. Another good point is that we have done the western Caribbean six times (now to be our seventh) and this allows us to really relax because there is no rush to see Grand Cayman, Cozumel, or Ocho Rios. We really love the sea days so we were looking forward to a relaxing trip.

Ft. Lauderdale
I used Priceline to get a room for the Saturday night stay. I like staying in the 17th Street area that is close to the pier and the airport. I also like this part of town because you really don't need a rental car if you don't want to. There is plenty of shopping and restaurants within easy walking distance from most of the hotels.

We ended up at the Embassy Suite on 17th Street. This was the first time that we have stayed at this property.

We have stayed at the Amerisuites and Marriott Marina in this area. I would have to say the Marriott and the Embassy are the best. I know that there are many Amerisuites fans there and it is a fine place, but given a choice I would pay $10 to $20 more for the night stay at the Embassy over the Amerisuites.

Once we arrived, it is a 15 to 20 minute walk up 17th street to the bridge. This is great exercise plus you can see the ships that are in port. This is the third straight year we have cruised from FLL during this week. I have never seen so few ships in port on Saturday. There were only two cruise ships (Century and another ship). That was it. FLL was not crowded at all.

After that, we walked back to the Embassy dropped off some stuff and then went back down 17th St to have dinner at Bravo. It is in the same plaza as the Bimini Boatyard Restaurant with the Renaissance Hotel. We had heard great things on Bravo from DiveTex.

It was well worth it. Mainly pasta type dishes with one fish special. Prices range from $10 to $25 a plate and most come with soup or salad. The salad was fresh and they bring it in a bowl and you dish it out on your plates. We had the garlic bread and it IS garlicky! Pam had the wheat pasta with marinara. Pam rated it as okay. I had the Pollo Siciliano which is breaded chicken breast that is then baked with egg plant, cheese, and tomato sauce with spaghetti with red sauce on the side. It was excellent, but I could only eat half. Had ice tea and it was fresh and brewed and was excellent.

We then went down to the Eckerd drug store and got our bottled water and then went and bought a bottle of wine to take on board and went back to the Embassy.

We had an 11:15 appointment to be taken to the piers by the Embassy. Embassy has shuttles that go every 30 minutes starting at 11:15 and you sign up for your time when you check in. I know that we probably couldn't board until 1 or 1:30, but I would rather wait around the pier check-in area than the hotel. Checkout at the Embassy is noon.

Embarkation: (A)
We are always anxious to start our cruise so we like to board as soon as the cruise line will allow us. I like Celebrity in that they will normally let you board at 11 AM even if the rooms aren't ready. You can drop your carry-ons in your room and then go to the public deck until they are ready at noon or 12:30 PM.

HAL is not like that. From all the feedback I received, boarding doesn't normally begin until 1PM to 1:30 PM. This seems tight with a 5 PM departure.

We left the Embassy at 11:15. We were there by 11:30 AM. There were quite a few people there and they had not opened the doors for check in yet. We dropped our checked bags with the porters waiting to take them. About that time they asked us to form a line. We were about 30th in line.

The line to get in by noon was long and looked like it went to Georgia. Even at 1:00 PM, it looked like the line was pretty long.

They opened the doors at noon on the dot. You enter the embarkation area and weave through a line that has one x-ray machine and metal detector. This is a waste of time. They then check your docs and passport and direct you to a check in area. They then give you your boarding number. We were in group 4.

They take your docs and enter passport information give you a room key and your card used for charges and leaving/entering the ship. They do not do your credit card then, but ask that you go to the front desk in the first couple of days to set up the credit card you want to charge.

You then proceed to the waiting area to board. There is an upstairs and downstairs. We went up stairs where there are comfortable seats. It is air conditioned and nice. You board the ship from the upstairs. The only thing that is missing is they don't have water, tea, or punch like Celebrity does. Boarding was to begin at 1:30 PM, and it actual began at 1:25. Pam and I were on by 1:45 and in our room.

I never felt crowded or rushed by the other pax like I was waiting to board on Princess and on some of the Celebrity cruises. The crowd appears to be a good mix of young 20s and 30s, middle-age 40s and 50s and older passengers and all have been very friendly and willing to strike up conversations.

The Ship(A)
The ship is 9+ years old. It made her debut in 1993. She is 55,451 gross tons. This is small compared to the new ships that are coming in at close to twice the weight. She is 720 feet long and 101 feet at the beam. At double occupancy, the maximum number of paxs is 1,266. HAL claims there are 10 pax decks, but I really don't count the Sky Deck.

The main public decks are the Promenade and Upper Promenade, Lido and Sports Decks. You board on Main deck and from the minute we boarded, I found that I loved the ship. I have been on ships ranging in size from 47,000 tons to 110,000 tons and while the new ships are stylish and new, I think I like this ship in both size and style compared to the new ones.

I think the problem I see with many people not being happy is they don't rate it for the time period it was built in. An example, the atrium is grand on the Maasdam. Many will disagree when comparing it to the ships built since the late 1990s. What I think you should do is rate it on the time period. This ship was built right when they were moving from a single floor reception area like is on the Celebrity Zenith and Horizon. Comparing this atrium to those ships welcome area, it IS grand. You can't compare two different time periods and I don't try.

The other thing of sure beauty is all the teak wood that was used on her. You just don't see that much used any more especially on the Promenade deck. There were plenty of lounge chairs that are made of wood. Don't worry when you board the staff will put pads on them and they are more comfortable than they look on embarkation day. The other teak area that was great is the back pool and deck area and the fore observation deck.

The most important area (IMHO LOL) is the Rotterdam Dining Room. By modern standards, it may not be as elegant, but in 1993 compared to the Zenith, it was outstanding. It is a two level dining room on the aft of the ship. There is a stairwell that goes down from deck 8 to the lower area on deck 7. You can also enter both levels from the main elevator area. I found the dining room to be very elegant and tasteful. I also liked the fact that the tables aren't crammed together like on the newer ships (Millennium and Summit). There are a lot of tables for two, four, and six, and there are several for eight located on both levels. The captains table is not located in the main dining area but in side areas of the upper deck called the King's room and the Queen's room.

We were very fortunate in that we were at table 122 on the main floor (deck 7 Promenade Deck). It was all the way aft and was a table of 6 but there were only four of us. We were right by the windows and had a great sunset view when heading east. The ship does not vibrate like the Century class ships and it was a wonderful spot to have dinner.

:From deck 7 (Promenade deck), you have to go up or down the back stairwells or elevators to enter on deck 7. The other options are to enter on deck 8 and go down the stairs inside the Rotterdam. You have to do this because the galley separates the dining room from the public areas on deck 7. Deck 7 is rarely used. The main items there are the Rotterdam dining room and the lower level of the Rembrandt Lounge (fore). The photo gallery is there along with the Front Office and Shore Excursions. The Wajang Theater is there as well and it usually shows a couple of movies with popcorn each day.

Deck 8 (Upper Promenade) is the main public, inside deck. This deck has the balcony of the Rembrandt Lounge, boutiques, Ocean bar, Casino, Casino Bar, Piano Bar, Explorers Lounge, Card Room, Library, Internet Café and the upper level of the Rotterdam Dining room.

One thing I really like about this ship is that the casino is on one side and doesn't span the entire width port to starboard. This means if you are going aft to fore (or vice versa), you do not have to go through the casino. There are five shops total that have the standard perfume, liquor, jewelry, ship named items and specialty items. Nothing special.

The casino was small by new ship standards, but I never saw it full. You have the normal donation machines to HAL (slots), several black jack tables, Caribbean stud poker, one roulette wheel and one craps table.

On the other side of the casino (port side) there is a sitting area between the casino and the shops. There are several chairs with tables with the Casino Bar there. They have two large TVs that show ESPN.

The Ocean Bar is a nice bar on the starboard side just before you enter the Rembrandt Balcony. It was busy before first seating for dinner and between first and second seating. The band that played there, The Station Band, were excellent.

On the aft is the Explorer's Lounge. Funny part is we wanted to go have a drink there pre dinner at 5:30 and it didn't open till 7:30. Celebrity and the Martini and Champaign bar have this down. You can get drinks there before either meal. We ended up back at the Ocean Bar by the Rembrandt Lounge.

The Piano bar is tucked away mid-ship on deck 8. It is a nice cozy bar that is dimly lit with a piano (imagine that) and a bar with stools that ring it. There are two areas that have tables and chairs close by that allow for small groups or more quiet conversation. It is a very nice area. It is reserved for suite passengers on disembarkation morning.

Deck 7 and 8 are anchored by the Rembrandt Lounge to the fore and the Rotterdam Dining Room aft. The Rembrandt Lounge is very beautiful. The walls and stairwells have a very elegant wall paper and the stairs going from the main level to the balcony have solid wood rails with brass spacers and they spiral up to the balcony. The chairs on the main level are comfortable as where the bench type seats in the balcony. The main issue that I see with the main floor is that it is considered a lounge and not a theater. This would be correct based on the layout. It reminded me of the Zenith. The stage is about 3 feet above the floor level so you are always looking up. The whole main area is flat. I did not find it conducive to seeing the shows or the acts. The balcony does have a gradual angle but not enough to aid the view. If you are not in the first row, then you will find yourself looking around peoples shoulders and heads to try and see. Not good site lines in the lounge.

The Rotterdam is very beautiful. As stated earlier, the tables are not packed together and there are many great views. Both upstairs and downstairs tables set right up against the back window offering wonderful views. The chairs are not as elegant as modern ships, but they are very comfortable and conductive to an excellent dining experience.

The center of the lower level is slightly raised compared to the rest of the lower level tables. The top is open to the upper level over the raised portion of the lower level. The raised area holds most of the larger tables that can seat eight. Some are round and a few are rectangular. The ceiling on the second level that is over the opening to the lower is covered with dozens of tulip shaped glass lights.

On the upper level facing aft as you enter is the orchestra pit for the players. Off to either side is a stair way that circles down to the main level. There is a large multi layered flower holder in the middle where the stairs coming down end that is filled with plants. There are large chandeliers throughout the dinning area giving it a classy feel.

On the aft of deck 10, the Navigation deck is the aft pool. This is where most of the sail away parties and music is held. There are dozens of lounge chairs for the sun worshipper and there are tables to sit and eat or just watch from. Shade can be found there, but it is normally in the sun.

Deck 11, the Lido deck is the main deck for out door activity. The Lido Restaurant is on the aft. There are plenty of tables inside. You can go out back and eat outside with an overlook view of the pool on deck 10. Mid-ship is the Dolphin bar, the Lido Pool, and the Terrace Grill. The Dolphin bar is nice and is where cigar smokers go from 6 PM to mid-night for cigars under the stars.

A retractable roof that is opened up over the Lido Pool to allow sun and a breeze into the area covers the mid portion of the Lido deck. There are two hot tubes on the fore side and the dome covers them. The grill is a hole in the wall and they have a very nice taco bar out front of the grill window. There are plenty of lounge chairs and tables. It is a busy place on sea days, but there is plenty of room on days you are in port. This area would be a great place for Alaska or New England.

The main area on deck 12, the Sports deck is the Crow's Nest Lounge. It is located fore ship and offers a wonderful view during the day and is where Rockin Ronnie plays songs after dinner and into the wee hours. This is another great viewing area for scenic views like Alaska or New England when you may want to stay warm.

The ship uses a lot of solid wood in its trim. Something you do not see much of on the new ships anymore due to costs. This gives the Maasdam a more elegant and luxurious feel than the newer ships. The stairwell handrails are all made of this solid, dark wood and they are well cared for.

Another area that I really like is how they have the elevators offset from the stairwells. In most ships, when you come down or go up the stairs, you end up fighting through those waiting for the elevators and it creates a big traffic jam. On the Maasdam, there is a room where two sets of elevators on each side face each other. This allows guests to wait without impacting the stairs. Due to the size of the Maasdam, there are only two sets of elevators (fore and aft) containing 4 elevators at each location. This was more than adequate in accommodating the needs of the guests.

Rooms: (A)
We take the view most of the time that we would rather save the money and cruise more often. Because of that thought process, we booked a Guaranteed N back in March. We received our actual room assignment the Monday before sailing.

We were very surprised and happy with our assignment. We were upgraded to a cat F that is an outside room. We were in room F729 on A Deck. We were in the fore of the ship on starboard side. We were right by the front stair well and elevators. There was some noise, but we always take and use our ear plugs so it was never bothersome.

The room is well laid out. There is plenty of closet space and drawers and it easily held two people with room to spare. It is easily the published 197 square feet.

The beds were up against the window and pushed together. There is a stand on each side of the bed with two drawers. The desk area has 6 wide drawers and a space for the chair to slide under. The mirror is large in front of the desk but there is only one 115v and one 220v outlet so bring your extension cord. The closet space has four doors. The first has a life preserver and the safe and some shelves for storing things. The second door is a full length, hanging closet for those items that are long such as suites, gowns, slacks, etc. The final two doors have hanging rod for half height items such as shirts and slacks that are folded over a hanger. There is storage space below it to stow other items.

The room also contained a nice, but firm two seat couch which folds out to a bed for a third person in the room if needed. There is also a table stand that can be adjusted in height and a sitting stool.

The cabin walls were a light, whitish-beige color that were plain but bright. The carpet was dark but in very good condition. The beds were firm, but that suited Pam and I just fine. I have read many posts complaining about the room temperature and the in ability to keep the room cool enough. In fact, we froze on the first night. We found that the room maintained a 70 F to 73 F temp throughout the cruise.

The bathroom was the only place that was showing its age. The walls were made of small 2" square tile that were a pinkish-mauve color. The outside rooms come with the combination tub-shower. This is the first time that we have ever had one. Personally, I would rather just have the shower, but there was nothing wrong with the tub. It is just strange having to step up that high to get in the shower.

Another common posting problem I had read about was the plumbing. We did not encounter any in room plumbing issues. The biggest issue was the toilet might wait one to three minutes to flush, but it always did. The water was shutoff in our part of the ship on Saturday while we were at Half Moon Cay from 9 AM to 1:30 PM for repair work, but this had little effect on us.

The Staff: (A)
Being our first cruise, I was expecting service similar to Celebrity. However there were some posts that did not like HAL service on the Maasdam stating that they "would give you what they wanted to give you on the Lido Deck buffet" or "they were unfriendly".

:From the minute Pam and I boarded, I found the staff on the Maasdam to be attentive and very friendly. The crew is mainly Philippine in nationality, or in that region so there were a few times where I would have to point to what I wanted or slow down when speaking but I never had a problem. They never pushed what they wanted at the Lido buffet and I always found them smiling and happy.

I have no idea who our room steward was. There was no name stand in the room and we had been there one full day before we even knew who they were. They did what they was suppose to do. They keep our room in good, clean working order. They were not as proficient as other room stewards we have had. We take a collapsible cooler for our water and we ask them to keep it filled with ice. They did this about every other day. Pam asked for a robe, but the steward did not get it or tell us why he didn't. Pam found that only suite guests get robes. Finally, Pam always asks for extra towels every day. We got them the first day, but never again. Did this ruin our vacation? Hardly, but this is what separates superior service from good service.

Our dinning room Waiter was Siswanto and his assistant was August. They did an outstanding job of keeping the courses coming in a timely manner. They were always greeting us with a smile and they remembered what we had ordered. Al and Mona were are table mates and Al ordered tomato juice the first night. It was always there waiting on him each night there after. Our wine steward was Petrus and he did an excellent job as well. Unlike Celebrity where my wine glass would get empty and sometimes be empty for 10 to 15 minutes. Petrus always keep our glass full. In fact, Pam's glass was never more than half empty and mine was never empty before Petrus refilled it.

At lunch in the dining room and at the Dutch tea, they were attentive and on top of it. They were probably the best overall staff that I have had on a cruise. They were friendly and efficient. That is all I ask for in the staff. I would rate them an A..

THE TIPPING POLICY. HAL's tipping policy is not only confusing, it is down right stupid. Pam and I tipped as we would on Celebrity or Princess.

The food: (B+ to A-)
Food is always subjective depending on each individuals taste. So take my review with that in mind. I think Celebrity food is the best at sea so I was anxious to compare HAL's offerings to that of Celebrity's.

When you board at 1:30 AM, the Maasdam has the grill and taco bar working mid-Lido deck and the Lido Buffet. The buffet was excellent. In fact, it is the first one on any cruise that I can say was very good. There is a fresh selection of fruits, pasta/potato/tuna type salads, breads and cheeses, along with hot food selections which include pizza and French fries. They also have a couple cold salad stands to build your own salad.

In the Rotterdam Dining room, the beef dishes were very good and had good flavor. The lamb dishes also turned out very well. The few pasta dishes were very good and Pam had a couple of vegetarian dishes that were excellent as well. Fish dishes were very good, but did not show much creativity since most were just pan fried.

The appetizers were usually very good to excellent and you would have three or four choices. There was always two hot soups and on some nights they would have a chilled soup. Most nights, HAL offered a house salad and would offer a second type salad. The main course would have four or five offers and an additional two or three from the grill. The last course is desert. There would always be three to five deserts plus they would offer two to four ice cream flavors as well.

HAL offers pizza up on the Lido Restaurant and it was as good a Celebrity. Only issue is that HAL would offer two types each day. Some toppings I like others I didn't. I really prefer just a plain cheese pizza and you could not get that every day there..

The other item they have and excel at is the ice cream parlor on the Lido Deck in the Restaurant. They offer four or five flavors plus toppings or you can have it in a waffle cone.

HAL offers a pastry area where they have about a dozen offerings ranging from cakes and pies to pastries and jell-o thingies in the Lido Restaurant.

The Lido Restaurant has a good offering every breakfast and lunch. I loved their French toast. There were always a large number of fresh fruits and hot food items. The pastries are very good, but not as good as Celebrity.

To answer the question of dress code for each night, HAL had 4 - casual nights, 1 - informal (sport coat) and 2 - formal nights. First night is always casual, 2nd is Formal, 3rd was Informal, 4th and 5th were casual, 6th formal, and last night is always casual.

In summary, please take this with the salt mentioned earlier in the review. This reflects MY personal preferences and likes. Celebrity is still the best food at sea. HAL is a solid second and is better than Princess IMHO (I think Pam disagrees). HAL's fish preparations could be improved and their deserts are good but don't measure up to the quality on Celebrity. Is there any room for real complaints on HAL? No, not as far as I can see. I hurt myself every morning, noon, and night and never walked away hungry. If you do walk away hungry then it is your own fault. They offer a wide selection of food on their dinner menu, and you can always find something at the Lido Restaurant that fits the bill. Throw in the great waiting staff HAL has and it is a solid winner.

Entertainment (B)
We decided to do the show on the first night. The Rembrandt Theater is not large and the sight lines in the balcony are not good if you are not in the front row. The shows normally start at 8:30 PM for the first seating diners, and at 10:15 PM for the late seating.

The singers and dancers were okay doing the opening number on "rock the boat" and how great the Maasdam is. The comedic juggler, Edge, was outstanding. It is amazing how many times you can see jugglers and find them funny. They don't do the same stuff and the crowd participation was unlike any I had seen before. It was a laugh a second.

We heard from our table mates that the singers and dancers show on the second night (Upon the Roof - songs of the 50s and 60s) was very good although we did not go. The third night featured a magician and we did not go to that one either, but we did see him on the last night and he was excellent then.

On Wednesday night we went and saw the comedian, Don Sherman. He was outstanding and he had everyone laughing. Again, I am amazed at the crowd participation on this cruise. It added a tremendous amount of energy to his show and to Edge's show on the first and last night.

Friday night we went to see the singers and dancers do a number act (Party Gras). They are good dancers, but not a one of them has seen the light of day. They are so white they glow in the dark on stage. The singers are average to good. It was enjoyable and they do put all their energy into the show and you can see they enjoy what they are doing. Before the show, Pam and I went to the Newlywed-Not So Newlywed show and that is always a hoot, and this one did not disappoint.

Saturday night, HAL wraps up with the magician and Edge. It is a great show and not to be missed.

Disembarkation (A)
Because we had a very late flight (after 4 PM), we received two packets. They had different numbers (11 and 17). Since we were getting a rental car to poke around Sawgrass Mall, we left with the group number 11.

You are asked to be out of your room by 8 AM. Breakfast is only served till 8 AM in both the Lido and Rotterdam dining rooms. The Maasdam arrived at about 6:30 AM. Disembarkation began at 9:50 AM. The disembarkation ticket number means nothing because the don't go down in order. They started with tickets A and 1 then went to 5 and 6 then D and 2. They did 8, 9 and 12 before our number 11. Then they did 11 and 14. Go figure.

The process was smooth and there was no rushing or shoving. You exit on deck 4 (Main deck) and go down the gangway. Their in the upstairs waiting area they had four lines for passport check. You then go downstairs and before entering the baggage area you give customs your declaration form. Our bags were right where they were suppose to be in the color coded area. We were out front by 10:30 AM. Taxi's were plentiful and there were buses waiting on those with transfers. Because our flight wasn't until 3:30 PM we booked with Avis. Use and another group ended up calling 5 times trying to get them there. They kept saying 10 minutes then blamed it on airport construction. They finally got there about 11 AM. I am preferred so we were dropped off at the car and we had our car by 11:15 AM.

Ports of Call

COZUMEL, MEXICO: The Maasdam arrives in Cozumel after a day at sea around 6:30 AM. The ship sets its time back to CDS time. Shops open at between 8 and 9 AM. You depart at 2 PM. This does not give you much time to do a tour and then shop without being totally rushed. Since Pam and I have been there a half dozen times or so we waited till about 10 AM and headed out to get a few things. The ship docks at Puerto Maya pier that is by the International pier. It is a three mile taxi ride to downtown. They are really building up this pier and there will be a new shopping plaza in the next two to six months that will hold about 50 stores by my guess once it is done. At this time, it is a total mess and zoo. Taxi's were very abundant and waiting so we walked right out and up to taxi and we were on our way. It is $6 to town. It was in the upper 80s and clear and hot! We were back by 12:30 after shopping and a drink. Taxi's back are plentiful and easy to find as well. There were 6 ships total in Cozumel t

GRAND CAYMAN: This was very disappointing. I say this for those that were wanting to do things. Like Cozumel, Pam and I have been here a half dozen times or so thus we didn't have anything planned. The Maasdam arrives at 8:30 AM. They handout tender tickets in the Rembrandt Lounge on deck 7, but they don't publish it well. They did announce it at around 7:45 AM. We wanted to let those go that needed to so we moseyed on down at about 10 AM to get our ticket. We were number 24 and they had just called 2! They wanted every one to stay in the lounge but we thought no way. It was going to be at least an hour so we got our books and went to the Promenade deck and read. It was 11:20 AM before they called us and we weren't on Grand Cayman until 11:40 AM. This was ridicules since we had to be back on board by 4:30 PM. For us it didn't matter because we were back by 1 PM, but there were a lot of upset people. There were only 4 ships in that day and we were the last ship there and only the Grand Princess

OCHO RIOS, JAMAICA: You dock in Ochie at about 8:15 AM and you have to be on board by 5:30 PM. We walked to the end of the pier and took pictures of the ship, but spent the day by the Lido pool. It was great. There were very few people to contend with on the ship. Better than a sea day if you ask me. The day was hot sunny and perfect. Jamaica is beautiful but they are just too pushy and there is nothing that I want to see again. We were the only ship in port that day. I only think it can handle one ship at a time.

HALF-MOON CAYS, BAHAMAS: This is the best private island I have been to. That really doesn't mean much because I only have Princess Cay to compare to. We arrived at 7 AM and dropped anchor. We got our tender ticket at 7:45 AM and we were in group 2. We then proceeded to have breakfast at the Lido Restaurant. By the time we got back to our room, they were sending us ashore. We were on the first boat and on shore by 8:25 AM or there about.

The beach is long and there are a lot of chairs on the beach. Finding one is not a problem. They have about a dozen covered areas that cover two lounge chairs on the beach. Pam and I snagged one because Pam is so fair skinned. There are a few umbrellas and some shade from trees in the morning, but during the afternoon there is little to no shade.

The sand is the finest sand I have ever seen and it is very, very soft and white. The swimming area is very shallow (knee to chest deep to about 60 feet out), and the water was very warm and refreshing. We spent about an hour to hour and a half total in the water.

After staking our claim to chairs, we took about a 45 minute walk along the beach to close to the end on the west side. I cannot say how great a walking and swimming beach this is. There are several restrooms and the picnic eating area is very large with plenty of tables. There is one shop and several stalls with local knickknacks. They have several bars that sell drinks and soda and they have a Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream stand. I assume that it is a pay stand and not free, but I didn't ask.

All in all, this was a very nice place and I am glad we stopped. It was well worth the time.

In conclusion on the ports of call, IMHO HAL needs to eliminate one. You don't get enough time in Grand Cayman or Cozumel. HAL would be better served getting rid of one or the other and spending more time in the other. Better yet get rid of Ocho Rios and space out Grand Cayman and Cozumel with a sea day. Half Moon Cay is a beautiful place. It is a keeper. I know you can't please everyone, but if I owned my own cruise line, I'd do it that way.

I really enjoyed HAL. I did not find it to be an "Old Person" line. There was a diverse group of paxs on board and everyone was friendly. The crew and staff were excellent and would always smile at you and many would talk to you. This is one of my top three ships (Galaxy and Summit being the other two.) I love the layout, ship size, and number of passengers.

The only big issue I have is that they do not mark one side of the ship for smoking and one for non-smoking. Celebrity has this right. By splitting the ship it gives a place for smokers to go and not be harassed and a place for the non-smokers to go.

I still think Celebrity is better overall, but if you do like Celebrity or Princess, then you will like HAL. It is a top notch product and is deserving of the Premium Line label.