Just returned yesterday from the 7 day Western Caribbean trip R/T from Tampa on the Rotterdam. A few thoughts/observations:
Sailing from Tampa in the winter is more "iffy" than I realized. We left port about 19 hours late due to fog that closed the Port of Tampa from 4am Sunday until early Monday morning, with the US Coast Guard keeping certain sectors of the gulf closed to commercial traffic through mid-day on Monday. As a result, we missed Key West, which I thought was a shame as I've never been there. We did make the other three ports on the itinerary: Trujillo (Banana Coast), Honduras; San Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala; and Costa Maya, Mexico. We were, of course, refunded port fees, etc. I think some people thought we should get more, but I'm not sure why HAL should be responsible for the weather. Having said that, there was a rumor that HAL might be looking to discontinue the Tampa sailings in future years, as this was at least the second cruise that was disrupted by fog this season.
Unless you are interested in visiting ruins or laying out on a mangrove beach ... I wouldn't choose this itinerary for the ports. It seemed to me that, with the exception of Costa Maya, many people chose to stay on board or just venture off to the market set up on the pier. Definitely a lot more people around the ship on the first two port days than I've seen in the past. In what might be related to efforts to boost business for shore tours, there was definitely a lot of negative messaging about the Honduras and Guatemala stops.
The food was uniformly good. We ate in the MDR 2 nights, 3 nights in the Lido, had in-room dining one night and ate at the Pinnacle Grill once, as it was a booking perk. The service was fine, maybe even a little overbearing (I can't tell you if I'm enjoying my meal if I never get a chance to taste it because people keep asking how it is!). There seemed to be a good variety, although we did go to the Lido once because there was nothing super appealing in the MDR that we couldn't get there. The presentation might not be as "pretty" as MDR, but many of the items are repeated. As I often am more interested in the appetizers than the main courses, the Lido is great for me! Another thing I like about the Lido is that it's easy to get a full serving of vegetables with your dinner. In the MDR, they mostly seem to be "garnish."
At lunch, many items in the Lido are either served from behind glass or prepackaged. There's a salad station where you chose the ingredients and they were tossed together for you, and a small station for custom sandwiches, along with a variety of specialty dishes (Asian/sushi and Italian), hot entrees and premade, wrapped sandwiches. And we always enjoy the Dive In for lunch!
There was Surf and Turf (filet and lobster tail) on the MDR menu at no surcharge on the second Gala night. Otherwise, there was an upcharge of I think $20 for a whole lobster. I got a $10 lobster tail in the Pinnacle Grill the night we ate there.
People have commented that there is "no" entertainment on the cruises from Tampa. That wasn't exactly the case last week. There were no "production" type shows at all. There was music around the ship -- Adagio quartet, a piano player and I think some sort of more modern music combo. There was also a DJ in one of the bars most nights. But the "main" entertainment was mostly movies (Mamma Mia, Again!, Skyscraper, Crazy Rich Asians are the ones I remember). The Mainstage featured comedians on at least 2 nights, maybe 3. But that was it. This wasn't an issue for me, but if you enjoy the "song and dance" shows, you will be disappointed.
We had a flight at 9:50 from Tampa, and made it with no problem. We did the expedited departure (carried our own bags). We were among the first off the ship at about 7:30, and walked off with almost no line either to depart the ship or at Customers. We got an individual cab to the airport and by 8 am, we were checked in and thru security using the Pre-check lanes. The individual cab was $25. There was also a shared airport ride for $8. Since we weren't sure how long we'd have to wait, we paid the $25.
We were seated near a group in a bar one night who seemed to have a lot of complaints about the $9 drink limitation on the beverage plan. We don't drink much (one or 2 drinks a day and we drank 2 bottles of wine over the course of the week), so we didn't bother and therefore didn't really pay that much attention to the drink costs. But one of the women was annoyed that she couldn't get a glass of Prosecco on the plan, one of the men ordered a drink that was listed in the menu for $8.75 with a higher-end spirit than was listed in the menu and then barked out a question about whether it was included in the package (it wasn't, except as listed in the bar menu). IDK if HAL has the same policy as NCL when it comes to the dollar limit on drinks (NCL only charges the difference between the price and the limit), but I would really hate to spend my vacation worrying about the cost of drinks.
The last thing I noticed was the inefficiency of the muster drill. First, I'm not sure why they bring everyone out onto the deck where they have to stand the entire time everyone gathers and the drill is conducted. On NCL, muster stations are in areas with seats (I've mustered in the MDR and theater) and out of the elements. There were a number of people who have issues standing, and the lack of seating is a problem. Second, compounding the lack of seats was the lack of organization. On NCL, when you reported to the muster station, there was a person holding up the Station number. You go to the sign, give them your room key to be scanned and then have a seat while the drill goes on. This cruise, by the time the crew started scanning keys, people had already been standing at the station for 10 minutes or more, and the whole process took a lot longer because they first were "rushed" once people realized the scanners were out, and then had to walk around to everyone else. To be clear -- the location I listed for the NCL drill ARE the places you report if there's an emergency. The crew members assigned to each muster group would meet you there and take you to the appropriate area for evacuation if needed, rather than crowding everyone around the deck with the lifeboats in an actual situation where you have to get into the lifeboats.
For me, the trip was exactly what I was looking for -- a week of relaxing and warmth. I wasn't expecting a lot of action and didn't plan to spend much time off the ship (and didn't). I'm looking forward to a trip on the Nieuw Statendam this summer. As I've cruised more, I've realized that a ship of around 2500 passengers (big for HAL, but smallish in the industry these days) works best for me. There seem to be more dining options when you get to that size, vs. the 1200 or so on the older HAL ships. The difference between one of the oldest and the newest ship in the HAL fleet will be interesting to observe.
I didn't keep the Where and When guides -- not a lot happening other than liquor/beer/wine tastings; late afternoon and evening trivia and various shopping/shore excursion and spa discussions. The casino is small (I think there were 3 tables) and about 50 or so slot machines. Smoking was allowed in one section of the casino, but it's so small, that the whole area was at least a bit smoky smelling to me.
If you have any questions, I'm glad to try to answer them.