We just returned from an Eastern and Southern Caribbean cruise on Maasdam. My husband and I are both in our 60's. We are active and in good health. My parents who are in their 80's traveled with us.
We stayed at the Sleep Inn and Suites at Ft. Lauderdale airport the night before the cruise. It was fine, nothing fancy but clean and the staff was very helpful. Breakfast was included. We used their free shuttle from the airport and to the pier. We had dinner at Pancho's Backyard across the street. The food was very good. A grocery store is in the same shopping center and a Walgreens is next door. A Chinese and an Italian restaurant are within walking distance.
Embarkation and disembarkation went very smoothly and quickly. Many passengers stayed on the ship for the previous or following cruise so I don't think all 1250 passengers were checking in on the same day.
We had a Lanai room and we enjoyed being able to go out on the deck. I think the kitchen or storage is above the lanai rooms. It wasn't noisy, but every once in a while we heard some strange sounds. Storage in the room was fine. The bathroom had a tub, which meant the shower area was large which was nice, but it was really deep which made it hard to get in and out. The bed and bedding were very comfortable. We didn't see our stewards for the first few days of the cruise, but they did a good job and responded promptly to my request for an additional towel. We did have days where our room wasn't made up until after lunch even though we were out of the room all morning. I know that sounds petty, but it bothered us.
The ship is small. The main passenger areas are very compact. We decided that the small ship was not a good fit for us. It was really limited in a lot of ways: less going on, fewer music venues and less variety on the Lido buffet. They have tried to convert the Lido into islands, but it is still a long old style buffet with dividers inserted for the different types of food.
The food seemed bland and not very interesting. Service in the dining room was great. We had anytime dining and ended up requesting the same waiter for all of our meals. He was great! We were disappointed with anytime dining. We were not allowed to make a reservation between 6 and 7. If you wanted to eat then, you had to take your chances on a walk up and they indicated that the line could be really long. We didn't try it and settled for an early reservation. We did not try the Pinnacle.
The singers in the show room were great. They were much more experienced than the usual cruise ship singers. There were only two dancers who were also very good. We enjoyed the dancing lessons they gave. With the small ship and small cast they did not do the standard Broadway or movie music reviews, but the shows they did were very good. The HALCats orchestra and lead singer were very good. The jazz/dance band was good. We like to dance and we were able to every night. The pianist and string quartet were also good.
I don't think we will go on HAL again unless it is a really outstanding itinerary. It's not that anything was really bad; it just didn't seem to be as good as Royal Caribbean or Celebrity. The average age of the cruisers was older, too, 70 ish.
We really enjoyed all the ports that we visited. The islands each have very different cultures reminiscent of the European countries that settled each. It almost seemed like a quick trip to Europe in the architecture. HAL's shore excursions seem to be mostly half day bus tours. There were a few more active ones. As always some were good and others were mediocre.
We left from Fort Lauderdale. We visited Half Moon Cay which was fine for beach lovers. The snorkeling from shore in the beach area was terrible. We took the nature walk which was fun. The guide gave us lots of information on the Bahamas, plants, animals, and her home island of Eluthera. Our tour went to some ruins of old farms, another beach, and the sting ray area.
Our first tour was of St. John's from St. Thomas. The contrast between the two islands is amazing. St. Thomas is very commercial and St. John is relatively untouched since it is mostly National Park. We saw beautiful beaches and ruins of some old sugar plantations.
St. Bart's is a very expensive resort island. They do not allow big hotels, so everything is very high end. We walked around the historical sights in the town of Gustavia. The yachts in the harbor were amazing. The Wall House Museum gave a good history of the island. We had lunch at the Wall House Restaurant. The island is French, but most of the tourist trade speaks English. My attempts at French were pretty much a failure.
Martinique is also a French island and English is not widely spoken, even in the tourist shops in Fort de France. I was a little more successful with my French here. I even had a shop owner who complimented me on trying to speak French. We had a tour of the island including a church, a botanical garden, and St. Pierre which was destroyed when Mt. Pele erupted in 1902. The town has since rebuilt and has a nice little museum. The ruins of the theatre were interesting. The island is very lush and beautiful.
We next stopped in very British Barbados. We did a tour of the island with a photographer with an emphasis on natural rather than historical places. He was really interesting and provided lots of information about the island and its culture. Again, we saw lots of beautiful beaches and tropical foliage. The economy here seems to be thriving. After we returned to the ship we walked into Bridgetown for lunch and some exploring.
Grenada was a real contrast to Barbados. They have suffered a couple of hurricanes recently and have not recovered from the damage. Grenada is known for spices and most of the nutmeg trees were destroyed. The new ones are just now beginning to bear fruit. They also had a revolution (we saw where the US Marines landed) which really damaged their economy. We did a tour which was beautiful, but frustrating because everything was so crowded. We stopped at an old spice plantation, Grand Etang Reserve, Annandale Falls, and Fort Frederick. The island is hilly and green.
Bonaire was a lot of fun. The island is not highly developed. Kralendijk is very small and since we were there on Sunday mostly closed. We had a really good bus tour of the island. We saw flamingoes and some cultural and historical sites. After lunch we went to the Plaza Resort and I snorkeled from the shore. I am an inexperienced snorkeler and had a great time. I saw lots of fish since the reef is right next to the shore and in a marine park. Getting into the water was a little tough since it was so rocky, but the snorkeling was great. Bonaire is not a lush tropical island; it is hot and dry but very interesting.
Curacao and Aruba are both very similar to Bonaire but more developed. They are both big diving and snorkeling sites and very dry. On both islands we walked around the towns and did not do island tours. Willemstad, Curacao is very pretty. The island has a Dutch background as do Bonaire and Aruba. The buildings look like they are from a Dutch town and are painted beautiful colors. The floating market was really interesting. Vendors from South America bring produce on their boats and set up shop on the pier. We visited a good museum on slavery, Kura Hulanda.
Oranjestad, Aruba is not quite as picturesque as Willemstad, but still interesting. We visited the National Archaeological Museum of Aruba which was wonderful. It is very well laid out and informative and only a few blocks from the port. Fort Zoutman was open so we were able to see the inside. We ate lunch at a Cuban restaurant; Cuba's Cookin', which was great.