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ms Rotterdam Caribbean, March 16-23, 2005

 
Background

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.

 
 Trip Itinerary

Date


Details

 Wednesday, 3/16/2005


 Ft. Lauderdale, FL

 Thursday, 3/17/2005


 At sea

 Friday, 3/18/2005


 San Juan, Puerto Rico (3:00pm - 10:00pm)

 Saturday, 3/19/2005


 St Marten, Netherlands Antilles (8:00am to 6:00pm)

 Sunday, 3/20/2005


 St. Thomas, USVI (8:00am to 6:00pm)

 Monday, 3/21/2005


 At sea

 Tuesday, 3/22/2005


 Half Moon Cay, Bahamas (8:00am to 4:00pm)

 Wednesday, 3/23/2005


 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.

 


      
Liquor Hint!


                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.

 
Conclusions

 

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.

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