This is for the 3/20/05 cruise and it's from the perspective of a 1st time cruiser.
It was a very good vacation. My wife and I had a wonderful time, the Westerdam is a terrific ship. I have always been hesitant about a cruise because my wife and I work very hard and when we vacation it's for relaxation, to get away from schedules and crowds. A cruise is not for that type of vacation yet we still enjoyed ourselves. Having never been on another line all I can compare it to is 30 years of travel to resorts and major cities. HAL is not a luxury or sublime resort. The easiest way to explain the cruise is that the total cruise is better than the sum of it's parts. It's quite good overall but each aspect lacks sophistication and luxury. embarkation: It's a process that must be endured but there needs to be a better way than just dumping your luggage on the curb and tipping the porter to ensure you get you luggage later on, we did, very timely actually. There was someone waiting with paper cups of water and OJ. Rum punch would be luxury and Champagne would have been sublime.
We loved to stroll the 3rd deck outside and the top deck. Never saw the work out rooms or spa. A lot of people complained about the massages so we didn't bother. The opinions of others varied. Out main dining room companions were very experienced cruisers and said this was the best. Another couple complained about being nickeled and dimed to death, I agree. Charging money for soda is stupid and insulting, especially at meals.
Having read so many postings on the message board I was nervous about Holland America. Many posters on the boards are sycophants of HAL, fortunately, the people on the ship were by and large very nice and well mannered. No Kool Aid drinkers.
Dining: Pinnacle Grille was amazing. Food, service and ambiance was 1st class. The filet was perfect the fish was great and the hor d'oeuvres were fabulous. Though desserts all over the ship leaves alot to be desired, Pinnacle is no exception.
Main dining room was attractive but service was more like a wedding with a menu than anything else, rushed. The idea isn't that I asked to slow things down but I shouldn't have to. When I ordered soup and my wife ordered salad, they wouldn't; serve the salad until after the soup was served. Again, an easy correction, but superior service doesn't require corrections or suggestions. The food was well presented, with smallish portions and good, but nothing special. The gazpacho was very good, anything with salmon was good. A 9 year old boy was explaining the Baked Alaska to his grand mother and his description was perfect, Neapolitan ice cream with whip cream.
About 70% of the men wore tuxes on the 2 formal nights. We ate at the late seating which was a younger crowd, young & middle aged adults. We didn't see the elderly at the 8:30 meals.
Lobster, caviar, shrimp cocktail, oysters Rockefeller should be options 5 out of 7 nights, not a once a week specialty. Obviously a raw bar selection can't be accomplished on a ship, but no fresh fish at all is silly on a Caribbean cruise.
Lido Buffet, a very good buffet, no problems. It's good as an alternative. Breakfast was very good, loved the sliced ham and eggs. They ran out of bagels after 3 days, wassup with that. They ran out of guava juice after 5 days. Pineapple was never ripe.
The barbecue on the Lido was excellent, the ribs were great, the brats were very good and the small steaks were good.
The ice cream tasted like Breyers, on a Holland America cruise I was expecting Ben & Jerry's or Hagen Daaz.
The Shows: The Vegas style shows were not to our taste but alot of people did like them. The magician was great, the comic was good, but he was basically a poor man's Don Rickles with old material.
LOVED THE CASINO, good times. We don;t do auctions, bingo, parlor games or pool games so I can't comment.
The pools: on sea days people were jammed around the pools to the point that it wasn't fun just smelly and crowded, but if you went to the top of the ship there were nice place to lay out.
SS cabin: very nice, but I would never cruise with a smaller cabin. If you're used to hotels, it'll take a little getting used to having such a small room. BUT, apparently the SS cabin is considered large by cruise ship standards. We really did enjoy the cabin, the veranda and the views. But smelling other peoples' cigarettes and cigars was vulgar. The room stewards did everything right, nothing special, but a fine job, just as advertised. Great in room movies. Bathroom was a good size, a tub/shower and a stall shower, just like home.
Excursions, Expensive. BUT, always do an excursion from the ship or don;t get off unless you really know what you're doing. The British Virgin Islands are the best, the Sail Away and snorkel was great, they should have just allowed more snorkel time and more sailing and less beach time. I rode the Horses on Half Moon. Everyone said it was worth it, even if the ride was too short. A BLAST TO BE REMEMBERED.
Too many old people who do nothing, a very depressing sight. Way too many obese people. Too much smoking in the casino which was well ventilated.
I loved just sitting around watching the water. It certainly helped that the weather was perfect everyday and no bad seas.
The food could be better, the desserts much better, the service could have anticipated needs, the shows less cheesy and the pools less crowded, yet still it was a very good time and I would cruise again.
The Westerdam is a fine ship.