So here’s our report for Cindy and anyone else interested. We returned Sunday from a one week cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale to the Western Caribbean on the Nieuw Statendam, HAL’s new ship. We got a good deal on a Neptune Suite, so had a lot of space in our room, as well as use of a new suite dining room called Club Orange for breakfast and dinner. The staff there was A+ and set aside a perfect 4-seat table against a wall for the two of us to use. The main dining room host did the same when we ate there for two lunches.
The ship has numerous good features. There are lots of tables against walls (to keep the dog out of foot traffic) in several large entertainment lounges with dance floors on the “Music Walk,” and we actually went to performances every night. In the big theater, we sat in the back beside an open space good for stashing the dog. There was a sensational dance performance on the first gala night with all kinds of lighting effects, and Raylene snoozed peacefully through all the noise every night.
Outside, the two pool areas had multi levels with a lot of lounges, seating and food outlets. Indoors, the Lido buffet was always pretty crowded at lunchtime and had heavy chairs and tighter seating, harder for maneuvering a dog between tables than other HAL ships. The pool areas had automatic door access.
Elevators were fast and the ship has three sets (instead of two like the Celebrity ships). Much, much better access via elevators to public spaces and seating on this ship than on the new Celebrity Edge. Nieuw Statendam is a more comfortable, well-organized ship.
On the promenade deck, though, I believe that only the mid-ship exits had automatic doors. Our cabin was near the forward elevator, closer to the relief box, and the three sets of forward doors by the theater leading to the promenade were very heavy wooden ones like on the other HAL ships. Hard to pull or push open alone and wrangle the dog through. They would not work well for a wheelchair user.
There was one other service dog on board, a guide dog for a man with a visual disability. The relief area was forward on the port side and not protected as it has been on the other HAL ships, since the bulkhead had large openings letting in a lot of wind and spray. The faux teak deck covering was very slippery when wet.
Box filler was very unsatisfactory, unusually so for HAL, which in the past has provided a full box of fresh green sod. The two 4’ square plywood boxes contained only small, dry, withered sod patches, which the dogs were reluctant to use. The rest of the box had leftover dirt from previous sod, so when the dogs peed, the liquid ran off into the dirt and turned into mud under their paws. So of course they tracked it onto the deck. Very messy, unsanitary, and disappointing, and my numerous requests never resulted in any improvement. None of this was typical of HAL in my past experience.
On a more fun note, Bob and I were invited with a lot of other people to receive a bronze medallion from the captain for 100 days sailing with HAL, at a reception before the Mariner's Club (repeaters) luncheon. One of the Mariner staff women decided that Raylene should also receive a medallion (see photo) which she wore proudly as she slept through lunch.
Four ports - We went ashore on Half Moon Cay (yes, we needed our Bahamas permit) and sat on the beach loungers for a while - always enjoy doing that. We wrote on the form 7001 that we would not disembark in Jamaica or Grand Cayman (because of the paperwork hassle). The ship docked at Ocho Rios where both of us had climbed Dunn’s River Falls years ago. On Grand Cayman day, the captain called back the tenders and cancelled our day there due to swells that caused tender damage and safety issues; we left by 10 a.m. and HAL later gave everyone a $50 pp on board credit so I think there must have been a lot of grumbling. For Cozumel, Raylene and the guide dog had to appear before the Mexico officials at 7:45 a.m. for a body check with attention to ears and skin. We brought just the standard 7001 form (not endorsed) and the vet’s bilingual statement signed on her letterhead, with the language provided by Mexico (see APHIS website). The inspector was happy with that. Later we went ashore and after getting past the mobs (lots of big ships in port), we found plenty of nice grass for Raylene and two big margaritas for us.
Embarkation was very easy - we were escorted onto the ship before general boarding, which was the case on our HAL cruise last year, directly to the front desk to hand in our dog paperwork. Disembarkation was busy but very smooth because we got a porter - he took us to the Global Entry booth (we don’t have GE) and then whisked us across the street into the parking garage up the elevator to our car!
Bottom line, we had a great cruise, with the only glitch being the lack of customer service to do with the skimpy, inadequate box filler. The dog eventually adapted to the reality, of course, but it took extra unnecessary trips, and I was wishing I had traveled with a bag of garden mulch.