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Trip Report West and East Caribbean 14 November HAL

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We are 2 couples from the UK and embarked at FLL on Sunday 14 November on the Nieuw Amsterdam. Check in was reasonably quick and luggage was delivered to the room within an hour or so. We sailed at 5pm and overnight to Half Moon Cay, HAL's private island. There's not much there apart from watersports that cost a mint, HAL shops that are expensive (you pay with your keycard on the island) and food ferried to the island from the ship's kitchens. We did a nature walk and met the resident mosquitos and got badly bitten. There was no warning from HAL staff.

Following a day at sea we called next at Grand Turk and had the fastest ever tour of the west of the island. The previous tour was delayed and therefore cut down on our time. The driver/guide spoke very quickly to match his drining and to make sure that his script didn't miss out on a word! This was the Grand Turk Experience--not grand and not much of an experience. 1 and a half hours with the Salt House stop being the only one of real interest. Don't miss the wall out the back commemorating the slaves who worked there.

Next stop was Grand Cayman and we had time for a shop before our Grand Cayman sightseeing adventure. We saw the Conch House, a house built with some conch shells in the front wall, the largest car parts distributor on GC (all aprts for all cars), a beach, and a visit to some rocks called Hell. We also were promised a visit to the rum cake bakery and rum factory. There was no rum cake being baked, none to taste and a rum shop, no factory (none to taste).

Next stop Cozumel Mexico. This is an island off the mainland and is very USlike. Lots of fast food places. We did our own tour via taxi to the Mayan Ruins and also a tour of the top of the island. Very enjoyable and maybe we found a really good driver who was very knowledgeable.

Temperatures throughout our two weeks were mid 80's +, with a little rain on Grand Cayman.

The second week took in Grand Turk again, San Juan on Puerto Rico, St. Martin and thenh back to HMC. We took a walk on the beach at GT, the rain forest tour at San Juan and the "Under Two Flags" tour on St Martin. Our two favourite islands were Puerto Rico and St Martin and we wished that we would have had more time on both. But no, we had to dash back to HMC, where we styed on the ship.

HAL has really good people working for them in the restaurants, bars etc and make a 15% charge on any item you buy from the shops, bars and restaurants (drinks or wine). They also levy a $11 pppd charge on your account for gratuities. On a 14 day cruise you are paying for two, $22 per day making $308 for the trip plus the 15%'s that you rack up. That gets close to $500 taken for gratuities, which we assured that the crew get in full. They neglect to say whether this is on top of their wages or forms a part of their wages. Cabin staff, restaurant staff and some bar staff still expect to get a tip on top of this. This was only our second cruise and we felt that this sort of charging is excessive.

They offered two shows in the evening, the second a repeat of the first and quizzes that were pathetic. The shows were pitched at the older crowd, older than us anyway, with 40's and 50's music. We found that we were heading to bed before 11pm from boredom. The age range was probably adults from about 30 up up to the 80's. The second week was Thanksgiving and there were more children on board. There was no celebration apart from a dinner on the Thursday. Food was generally acceptable, but not great and certainly no better than an ordinary restaurant in Anytown. We had been led to believe that HAL was good in this area but were quite disappointed with their standards.

The announcements from the cruise director were like a 50's holiday camp in the UK (anyone heard of Hi de Hi?). We probably won't do another cruise and feel that land based hotels and restaurants offer far more variety and pleasure.

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