Embarkation presented smooth sailing. Checking in around 12:30, the entire process could not have lasted more than 20 minutes. The smiling faces of HAL's ground crew set a nice tone for our introduction to the Westerdam. We went directly to our room with no waiting required and our bags showed up within the hour or two. Definitely the smoothest embarkation process I have experienced on my six cruises.
The verandah cabin was nicely designed and decorated and it had absolutely no wasted space. We enjoyed the verandah immensely, but I did find the cabin to be quite small for three people. It was certainly not any larger than an inside cabin on the old Westerdam. When that sofa bed folds out, you literally have squeeze by it to get to the verandah -- waking up whoever is in that sofa bed in the process. Storage was adequate, for three people packing modestly. The beds were excellent, but the sofa bed is just as you might imagine. Elemis toiletries and the bathrobes were greatly appreciated. The cabin stewards did an outstanding job.
The Westerdam truly is one of the nicest ships I have ever sailed. Overall the ship maintains the HAL's traditional sense of tasteful elegance. The public areas of the ship were spacious, and particularly clean. Nice art pieces and fresh flowers really are all over this ship. Some rooms that had come off as quite garish in appearance on-line were really quite nice in person. The lounges around the atrium, the Crows Nest, and the Vista Show Lounge were particularly stunning. That being said, the miles of 80's mod and hideous blue, gray, and turquoise patterned carpet on the cabin decks really is a design miss.
It is absolutely true that this full ship never felt crowded. In fact, it is noticeably less crowded than Royal Caribbean. I think the staggered layout of the public rooms and nice curving hallways really does serve to break up the tremendous length of this ship. It also takes a couple of days to find your way around.
The overall quality of the food was very good. I am always astounded by the huge variety and superb quality of food on Holland America's Lido deck restaurants. I am not sure how this could get much better. Special touches like the Eggs Benedict station, and Filipino and Indonesian options at the Asian station make the Lido buffets far above average and ordinary. The Pinnacle Grill offers absolutely superb steaks and seafood dishes. It really was worth an upcharge for at least one night of the cruise. We also enjoyed our free but reservation only experience at Canaletto very much. Both of these specialty restaurants offered better service than the main dining room. The food in the main dining room was excellent overall, even if the service was not. Order your steaks medium rare if you don't want them well done. The food came out warm, but not hot. We very much enjoy the main dining room experience with our tablemates. I always see the main dining room menu as a time to make new friends and try new different and delicious menu items.
There is a noticeable decline in the food and beverage service from HALs earlier days. Perhaps the tone was set when our assigned table was short one chair. While the Matre de or Head Waiter smiled and greeted nicely at the front door, we never saw him otherwise. This made for an awkward situation as the three of us stood in the busy aisle for ten minutes waiting on the extremely busy waiters to rectify the situation. Somehow we were made to feel as though we had done something wrong. For whatever reason our waiter always seemed to mix up the entrees and there were long delays between courses. It seemed that we often the last table to leave the dining room - late enough to miss the second show on one occasion. I experienced a very long wait for drawn butter to accompany the King Crab legs. Generally a few diners at our table were missing something in the way of utensils. Really? Perhaps my memory is a bit rosy, but on the old Westerdam, I was addressed by name after the first night. I remember not having to ask for anything. I don't remember my name being used once at this table, and there was no overview of the menu items.
Up on deck, wait staff are a rare commodity unless you were seated near the pool bar. The rolling refills on coffee in the Lido were also hit or miss. I remember having to wave them away on some of my past cruises. Down in your cabin help yourself to that second bucket of ice if you enjoy cocktails on the verandah. It can take quite a long time to get that ice bucket refilled.
Overall, the bartenders could not have been nicer. A couple of servers really stood out and always seemed to remember our name no matter where they saw us. Joey in the Explorer's Lounge and the older gentlemen who tended bar up in the Crow's Nest. The genuinely kind and gentle manner of the staff at Holland America is still alive and well in small pockets throughout the ship.
The quality of the shows and activities on the ship gets a solid A in my book. As ridiculous as it may sound - If you ever get a chance to see Hilby, "The Skinny German Juggle Boy" or the ventriloquist, Mike Robinson, change your plans for the day to see them. Morning Thai Chi, computer classes, and cooking classes were just a few of the activities we enjoyed.
Would I sail on the Westerdam again? You bet! Would this mariner sail another cruise line? Probably. For the right itinerary and price I would consider it. It is a shame that what would have been a perfect cruise, loses a star rating in my book, by the mediocre service in the main dining room. Superb service in the main dining room is the one thing that Holland America did better than any other mainstream cruise line in my past experience. I have had better dining room service on the older budget oriented ships like The Seawind Crown and The Regal Empress.