February 25 2007

This was our 30th cruise, our seventh on HAL, and our third in a suite on a Vista class ship. As expected, we had a perfectly wonderful time. We were traveling with my Dear Aunt Ruth, shortly after her 93rd birthday. Besides my wife Renée and myself (Mike) we were joined by our friends Suzie and Pam. We all met in Fort Lauderdale, after an uneventful flight from Missouri for Aunt Ruth and Suzie and from D.C. by Pam. Our flight from Sacramento, however, turned into an adventure. Let us just say that the staff on HAL was very helpful to two poor waifs when we boarded very bedraggled after driving all night from Orlando Airport, not knowing where in Texas our luggage was! We were staying in suites (cat SA) 7057 and 7059 on the Rotterdam deck right across from the Neptune Lounge, our favorite location. We took the hotel shuttle to the port about 12:00 and were on board by 1:00 after a very easy embarkation thanks to the courteous and efficient ground staff in Fort Lauderdale. We soon made the acquaintance of the lovely concierges in the Neptune Lounge and enjoyed the light lunch there.
Of course, the lifeboat drill was the first official order of business. Aunt Ruth and I looked very stylish in the required dress! Following the drill we opened our welcome aboard champagne and enjoyed a little get together in the suite, and then went down for our first wonderful dinner. The cruise was off to a great start!
The very first day of the cruise is spent on Half Moon Cay, HAL's private island in the Bahamas. We began with breakfast on the balcony, overlooking the island. We could see the first tenders going ashore with the crew who would be serving on the island. It was a delightfully warm day with partly cloudy skies, just right for a day on the beach.

This is a beautiful place to enjoy the beach and the many activities. On the right of this picture is the visitor center, then working to the left are the massage and food pavilions, and the first five private cabanas for rental. In front of the visitor center and massage pavilion are several of the "clamshell" shelters which can also be rented. The floats which mark the swimming area can also be seen.

We got on the new, large tenders specially designed for this beach, and made the short trip in. On Half Moon Cay, we had booked the Taupe Cabana. The private cabanas are a wonderful way to enjoy the day at this beautiful beach. We settled in, enoyed the sodas and snacks, relaxed in the sun or the shade according to our individual tastes, and had a great time.
Half Moon Cay is a beautiful beach. We had delightful weather, very warm and sunny but with a few fluffy clouds in the sky. Many people were busy with the activities or baking in the sun, but we chose to just relax around the cabana. The Taupe Cabana is close to the food pavilion (and the restrooms!) so after enjoying the sodas, chips and fruit in the cabana we had a great BBQ lunch including ribs, burgers, slaw, potato salad and all the fixings.
The swimming area was just in front of the cabana. Not many people were in the water. It was reported to be pretty chilly. Renée ventured in a bit, but didn't stay long. She preferred to lounge under the misters on the porch and absorb the sun. Meanwhile the rest of sat in the shade under the ceiling fan and enjoyed the tropical weather. We returned to the ship in time to order hors d'oeuvres and put on our formal clothes for dinner.
Next day was a sea day. This is an excellent itinerary for enjoying the ship's facilities as there are three full days at sea. Sitting on the balcony watching the ocean go by is a great way to pass the time. We also tried out the team trivia but alas, we were second place today.
Lunch in the Lido cafe was always great. The buffets on the Vista class ships of HAL are some of the most wonderful afloat. This day most of us opted for the sandwich deli, or the salad bar, with a trip to the sweet line for the famous HAL bread pudding. It was delightful to sit by the big window and watch the stunning blue water as we ate.
Then we went up to the Thermal Suite. We had booked a week long couples pass to the Thermal Suite and Hydropool and enjoyed it daily. The heated couches are great to relax on, and there are beautiful sauna and steam rooms that you can enjoy with your sweetie. Then there is the wonderful tropical rainfall shower, and at the end of it you hit the button in the wall for the icy mist! It is delightfully refreshing and a great way to enjoy the afternoon. Here is more on the Thermal Suite.
This is a beautiful ship, decorated throughout with wonderful art work, plants, and fresh flowers. Aunt Ruth and Suzie admired these after dinner. We did find it a little annoying that every band in the ship took the same break, from 8:30 to 9:15, so that unless you went to the big show, there was nothing available for entertainment after dinner.
Our room steward, Adam, favored us with a great assortment of towel animals daily. Mr. Elephant is keeping a good watch on the room for us here!
Next was our day in Aruba, but the ship did not arrive there until noon, so we had time for lunch in the Lido. On our way in, Aunt Ruth and I could not resist posing in these wonderful faun decorated chairs outside the Lido buffet. Whimsical chairs are another characteristic of the great art all over this ship.
We fought a terriffic head wind all night, so we arrived at Aruba about an hour late. Disembarking was easy, and it was only a short walk into the small terminal. Standing in front of the gift shop was Marco of Wixtours. He escorted us to the waiting minivan and took us on a great tour of Aruba. We began by driving past many fine white crushed coral beaches to the Butterfly Farm. This is a beautiful garden, filled with many species of butterflys. Renée admired this red and black beauty, and Aunt Ruth was favored by an Indian Leaf Butterfly which landed on her sleeve. Although the outside of its wings resemble a dead leaf, it has a beautiful pattern inside. The guide told her to make a wish when a butterfly landed on her.
We then toured the island. We passed many uncrowded public beaches just across the street from the hotels. Our guide said 50% of the island's employment is in tourism. Then we turned into the countryside, past small houses and through the arid scenery, filled with cacti and populated by goats and donkeys. We soon reached the rocky seacoast punctuated by beautiful coves pounded by the surf and salt spray.
Our destination was the "Natural Bridge." Actually, the famous rock formation jutting out into the ocean collapsed about a year and a half ago, but there is a smaller one which is sort of visible by peering down into a crack at the edge of the rocks. It is not exactly among the world's Top Ten Tourist Attractions, but provided a pleasant stop for drinks (and restrooms) during our tour.
Back aboard the ship, we relaxed and watched the beautiful ocean from the balcony of the suite. Balconies are a very nice luxury, particularly when the weather is good. However, when the ship was in motion, the wind made it a little difficult to stay out there very long. Aunt Ruth says she is taking this picture home to show her hairdresser!
One of the perks of suite passengers is hot and cold appetizers every evening. This was a very nice way to enjoy the pre-dinner hour. We brought orange juice and cranberry juice from the Neptune Lounge, and enjoyed champagne sunrises. It is nice to be able to entertain your friends in the suite.

Oh, and for those of you who have been wondering -- this evening was when we were finally reunited with our luggage.

The next morning we arrived in Curacao. It is a very beautiful place, Dutch in heritage. The green hills are covered with colorful little houses. From the Observation Deck there was a wonderful panoramic view of the island.

We got in a taxi and drove over the bridge and through the town a short distance to the Seaquarium. This is a very pretty place, with about 40 tanks displaying the fish of the Caribbean, a flamingo pool and a tropical garden, dolphin, shark and turtle tanks. There is also a very nice touching pool with lots of giant starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and other fascinating creatures.
We had booked ahead on the Seaquarium website for the Sea Lion Encounter program. This was a very exciting experience. Accompanied by the trainer, we entered the sea lion enclosure and got to meet Coral, a female South American Sea Lion, up close and personal. Each one of us got to pet the smooth silky fur, slicked back for streamlined swimming. Then we had a chance to shake her flipper. Most of the animal's strength is concentrated in this strong tough flipper for quick swimming.
But of course the highlight of the adventure is that wonderful, whiskery sea lion kiss! We would highly recommend this encounter for kids of all ages. The Seaquarium also offers dolphin, turtle, and even shark encounters!
Then as the rest of us returned to the ship, Renée stayed for the next step of the encounter, snorkeling with the sea lions! She had a marvelous time in this exciting experience, spending about a half hour swimming with two sea lions.

Then she had a cab drop her off downtown for a bit of shopping to complete the Curacao experience. She got back to the ship in time for Trivia, but either the questions were tough or we were distracted, as we finished a miserable LAST!

With all the ports behind us, the ship turned North for two days sailing across the Caribbean back to Fort Lauderdale. This is a great feature of this itinerary and gives plenty of time to enjoy all the wonderful facilities of the ship. Sitting on the balcony watching the ocean go by remains one of Aunt Ruth's favorite parts of cruising.
Every day on the cruise we took advantage of the relaxing Thermal Suite. Lying on those heated couches, listening to the fountain play and watching the waves induces a wonderful sense of relaxation. Then we enjoyed these beautiful sauna, steam and aroma rooms.

Renée needed that relaxation after spending too much time fighting with the ship's miserable wifi internet connection. Slow was only a part of it! At the price they charge one would expect better connections.

We returned to the Trivia game, and named our team The Phoenixes. True to that promise, we rose from the ashes to WIN today, getting HAL umbrellas for our efforts.

The service provided by the Indonesian crew is excellent. They are especially delighted to serve the passengers who attend the special Indonesian Tea. I had an excellent Jasmine Green Tea while my friend Pam stuck with the Spiced Black Tea.

Then we went to the Liar's Club show, which was hysterical! There was always something going on all through the sea days.

This evening was the second formal night, featuring Surf N Turf. Renée managed three filet mignons, while I found that our great waiter Hary had helped four lobster tails swim onto my plate. Our whole group had fun at this dinner, which ended with the traditional Baked Alaska parade.

After dinner we went to the big production show. Sadly the entertainment this trip was way below standard. The choreography was miserable and the costumes were worse. The music was so loud it blasted us out of our seats. And as for the lead singer -- where was Simon when we needed him?

So we entered into our last delightful day at sea. This was a lazy day for breakfast on the balcony, sunning by the pool for Renée and others who enjoy that, and for me to indulge in the hydropool. There are couches with refreshing bubbles, a more intense foot massage jet, a gently circulating pool and in the exact middle a set of strong hot tub jets. Then it is into the thermal suite again for more lazy relaxation.

The week long couples pass to the hydropool and thermal suite was $250 and was money well spent. They were never crowded and there was always plenty of peace and quiet.

The last day at sea was beautiful weather with blue skies and bluer water, and almost no motion of the sea. It was a wonderful time to watch the ocean go by. At noon we went up to the Crow's Nest for the suite passenger's brunch with the Captain, Hotel Manager and Cruise Director. One of our wonderful concierges from the Neptune Lounge, Jasmin, was there to see that we were treated royally.
So our final day on the Westerdam arrived. We got up early for breakfast. All the breakfast venues were open by 6:00 AM. The ship was cleared exactly on schedule and disembarkation began at 8:15. We had early colors, and were off the ship by 8:30. Luggage was well organized, we got a porter easily and he swept us through customs and immigration very rapidly. Everything was moving quickly. Cabs were a bit chaotic with no cab rank or dispatchers, but our porter snagged two cabs and sent us off to FLL airport. We were at the airport by 9:15, checked in and through security by 9:45, in plenty of time for an 11:15 flight. BUT -- every single thing worked perfectly for us. Any tiny glitch anyplace along the way would have held us up and made it very chancy to catch a flight that early. It is much more comfortable to follow the ship's suggestions and book a flight after 12:30.

All in all we had an absolutely GREAT time on this cruise. The itinerary is very relaxing and the three sea days give us plenty of time to enjoy the ship. I would thoroughly recommend this trip for people who like to lie back and enjoy the Caribbean warmth!

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