A couple months after booking our 2015 cruise, they offered a free Beverage Package and a cheaper fare for new bookings. Since it was well before final payment, I called and got the reduced fare and the Beverage package, but had to give up our "welcome back OBC" which was only $50@. After that, we waited about 7 months for the cruise to finally get here. I was surprised the rates never lowered again. Since we're not big drinkers, I didn't figure we'd get much use out of the Beverage package and would have given it up for a lower fare. No further reduction came, but it turned out really nice having the Beverage Package. On board they were charging $44.99/person/day for the package which included up to 15 drinks a day as long as they were under $7@ ---per person! I had heard there would be a Beverage card waiting for us in our room when we boarded, but all we found was this card stating the rules and wanting us to sign that we got the card. After calling the main office, we found out that starting with this cruise, the beverage card was also our room card.
Usually had a beer or wine for dinner followed by the cordial of the day. They had a nice selection of brews from other countries. It was nice trying them all, such as this Boddingtons from England.
(Called once we got home and were told it was for a bottle of wine that we didn't get and that it would be credited to our credit card along with the remainder of our credit.) We ended up leaving with a credit, but I didn't think you get anything back for OBC for shareholders' credit or credit from Holland America---guess we'll soon find out. We did get the credit!
About a month before our cruise we got an email with an upsell offer to a lanai room for an extra $450/person. It was only $50 cheaper then upgrading at full fare and I wasn't sold on the shared lanais idea, so we declined the offer; but I kept checking to see if any verandah suites opened up. About a week before our cruise I noticed a couple verandah suites opened up and decided to call inventory and see if I could upsell to one of them. The young lady told me they weren't upselling on our cruise any more but would take my name and let inventory know I was interested if they chose to offer another upsell. Much to my surprise, a couple days later I did get a call from them. They wanted $700 @ to go to the verandah suite. I offered $500 and they countered with $550, so I took it---even got to keep the Beverage package and OBC of $350 for stock owners and FCC. I love having the floor to ceiling windows as well as the private space outside--not to mention the slightly larger room.
We were given category A, suite 182, midship on the Verandah level. Good location. No complaints with the room.
Everyday they had a corner of the Lido with something special. This was from when they had the Filipino corner. It was excellent.
There was an afternoon tea in the Rotterdam Dining room every day, too. On a couple of the sea days, I made it there while Ken rested in our room.
A view of the lower diningroom from the upper diningroom.
I even enjoyed an Italian beer.
Here Chef Sander and Executive Chef Walter go head to head. They had us laughing most of the show.
The Crow's Nest.
Now on to my favorite part of the cruise-----Ports!!!! I LOVE the water, so usually try to pick a vacation that takes us to great snorkeling areas. This cruise went to 7 great snorkel ports: St. Thomas, St. Barth's, St. Lucia, Barbados, Grenada, Bonaire, and Curacoa. We spent 3-6 hours in the water at each port!
We have been here 4 times by cruise ship and once for a 9 night land vacation. As we've done the last few times, we rented a car from Budget at the Contant Station. We've had major problems renting from Budget at the airport, but never from Contant. We made our way over to the windmill shown above to the far left and called Budget for our free shuttle. They came within 10 minutes and soon we were on our way to the East end. When we stayed here, we were in the Wyndham Elysian Resort on Cowpet Bay and loved the snorkeling and amenities there, so we headed straight there.
St. Barths --- 8am-3pm:This was a new port for us. From my research ahead of time, I read there was a beach within walking distance. So we took off to find it---Shell Beach. It really was a pretty walk. The town was beautifully landscaped and the marina full of boats made for a great setting. I had read to walk to the right about 10 minutes.
After drying in the sun a bit, we walked back to the boat. Along the way we saw 8' tall cotton.
St. Lucia---8am-3pm:We'd been to St. Lucia a couple cruises ago.
At that time, we took a taxi to Pigeon Island and really enjoyed it, so we decided to do the same this time. This time the taxi fare was about $25/person rt as I recall, plus there was a $7 entrance fee into the park.
There were tons of fish along the rocky areas.
Here is a cigar wrasse
after about 3 hours we decided to get out and change clothes so as not to get the taxi wet. They had nice restrooms with changing rooms in them.
Then we continued on our way down to Soufriere to tender in people who took the ship's excursions there. No kids in little boats here "diving for dollars" this time. There were water patrols there instead.
Barbados---8am-5pm:This was our 3rd time to Barbados. It certainly isn't very impressive from the very industrial port. But away from the port is a beautiful pretty wealthy island.
First time we were there I took a photo tour and loved seeing the Scottish district and Bathsheba area. The next time we discovered Folkestone Marine Park. This time we took a taxi and went back to Folkestone. Fare was about $35/person rt. Admission into the marine park is free.
Even came across this rather large barracuda.
Grenada---8am-5pm:Another new port for us. Again I had researched places to go and saw there was an Underwater Sculpture Park. But when we got to the port, we were told by the Tourist advisers that it was too far away.
So we took their suggestion as to where we should go and ended up at Aquarium Restaurant beach.
The waves were coming in pretty hard and we were doubting our snorkeling would be any good. But with our fins and experience, we gave it a try.
The waves were really churning up the sand and visibility wasn't too good until we got about this far out.
Then we got to the good stuff. Like this guy who I saw for the first time in St. Barth's
After about 3 hours of snorkeling we went back to Aquarium.
Some views from the taxi on our way back to the ship.
Bonaire---8am-5pm:This was our first time to Bonaire and I was probably looking forward to here the most because of it's reputation for diving. We don't dive, but that usually means snorkeling is very good, too. We weren't disappointed.
I had read that the whole island was a Marine Park and that we could walk to nearby hotels where there was good snorkeling. Again the tourist advisers told us we would be better off going elsewhere. So we ended up taking a taxi to Spice Resort/Eden Beach. At least it was only about $5/person@ way. It's where a lot of the cruise people go since there are lots of chairs and a bar, but the water looked promising.
some sort of sea centipede
bone fish, I presume?
This was about the time my camera battery gave out. I guess I didn't have it fully charged. Too bad---saw some more really neat stuff by a couple other docks further along the coast and some great coral beds in deeper water. Definately a great place for snorkelers to go! This was where we actually spent about 6 hours in the water.
Curacao---8am-6pm:Another new island for us. I was surprised how modern both Bonaire and Curacao are. I imagine Aruba would be, too. They're known as the Netherland's ABC islands. Definitely see a land trip out to this area in our future.
I really had a hard time figuring out where we should go in my research ahead of time---not that it really mattered since we didn't do what I planned at the last 2 islands. I had read the best snorkeling was quite a distance away so I reserved us a car. Once we got there, Ken decided he didn't want to drive---especially since it was a holiday there (the King's birthday). So we walked to the tourist booth and were told Blue Bay is where we wanted to go. I knew this is where the ship's Beach Express Excursion was going, but didn't have much luck convincing the taxi drivers we should go to Porto Marie or Pirate Bay or Porto Lagun (which was where I wanted us to drive to). So for $50rt for the 2 of us, we went to Blue Bay.
There were signs saying $8/person entrance, but noone was there collecting money, so we took our stuff to a tree and left it there. We don't rent chairs because we're usually not out of the water very long. The cruise ship customers had not arrived yet.
off to the right side we found some rocks. Surprisingly it wasn't bad. Here's a Jack.
Then we swam across Blue bay and into a bay on the other side. Spent quite a while there. The restaurant in the above picture is on the left side of Blue Bay (looking out from the beach).
Turned out to be well worth going to Blue Bay.
All too soon we were back at the port. It was then we noticed the free Wi-Fi signs. Our room was facing the port, so when we got back on the ship, we checked to see if we could connect from our room. Much to our delight, we could and spent the next hour (until the ship shoved off and our free Wi-Fi dropped) catching up with the "kids" and uploading a couple pictures to Facebook. It's pretty hard being "disconnected" for almost 2 weeks!
Good Bye Curacao.
We were suppose to have a stop at Half Moon Cay, but the surf was too rough, so we ended up having another sea day. Although I was disappointed, I was really happy with the way the rest of the cruise went and the beautiful weather we had at all the other ports. Can't wait until we board another ship for ports unknown!