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 More
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. Less
This cabin is perfect for two people, and bordering on too small for three. It is designed smartly to make use of the limited space. We loved the small verandah on floor above the life boats. Other than the view directly below, they really don't impede the site lines. The mid ship location made for a very smooth sail.
I absolutely loved Bonaire. Kralendijk is much smaller than Willemstad, but we were greeted by a chorus of bird songs like I have never heard before in the Caribbean upon our arrival just before daylight. The effect was complete with competing roosters on opposite ends of the small town. There are no Diamonds Internationals or Little Switzerlands here. This is the pure and simple unspoiled Caribbean as it was before the mega corporations turned so many ports into shopping malls. We found the people to be genuinely warm and friendly on the two excellent private shore excursions we took. It is a diver and snorkelers paradise and you do either by boat or from the land. This stop was an anomaly from usual southern route which includes Aruba. I would trade Bonaire for Aruba any day of the week.
I will echo the past compliments of the Woodwind Snorkeling Tour. Dee was a very an especially gracious host who was absolutely meant to do what she does. The snorkeling was by far the best I have seen in the Caribbean. The rum punch was appreciated.
We followed the Woodwinds tour with The Bonaire Vista Land Tour. The land tour was equally outstanding and Brian was equally gracious and knowledgeable host. The tour included iguanas, cactus fences, a beautiful national park, pink flamingos, salt pyramids, slave huts, a spectacular vista point, and a deliciously tasty local cactus liqueur called Cadushy. He presented us with a special keepsake at the end of the tour that would be worth what the tour would cost if you purchased it back on the ship.
Willemsted Curacao is certainly one of the most beautiful ports in the Caribbean. I especially enjoyed the fact that the captain opened up the bow for passengers as we sailed in to this beautiful port. It is touted as a shopping port, though I found no bargains in this port. The mall complex near associated with the Rif Fort area is a particularly nice new addition since my last visit. If I ever visit again I would take an excursion that includes Boca Tabla. We arrived fairly late in the day after a wonderful full speed sprint across the Caribbean.
What a lovely slice of paradise. No crime. Perfect beach. Very good entertainment by Stephanie from the ship. Very nice BBQ. Great selection of shore excursions that offer good value in spite of there being no private offerings.
We really did enjoy swimming with the horses. The handlers were a little rough at times. I could have done without the one who swatted my horse on the rear with a stick while in the water causing him to run out from under me. He then asked me if I could get back on by myself. Really? Have you ever tried to mount a horse without stirrups while standing neck deep in water? LOL I could have done without the "helping the fat man" comment to one of his peers. I am really not that fat and I have ridden horses before.