Oh Westerdam, oh Westerdam.....how do I begin? I was really hoping for more, only to be slightly fooled.
Let me start by saying, we are a family in our late 30's and mid 40's with a child in elementary school. We are all seasoned cruisers, this being our 12th cruise and our child's 5th. Having sailed mainly Royal Caribbean and Celebrity and Carnival, we were looking for something different this time...something we felt perhaps would be more our speed. After cruising for several years, we thought we had figured out what we really like in a cruise. Hindsight...nothing is perfect, ever. You win some, you lose some.
Starting with pre-cruise, we flew down to Fort Lauderdale and stayed at the Embassy Suites for a few days and really enjoyed this. Upon arrival, we decided to take a cab (cost us $15, $20 with tip, not bad). Aside from a few dusty corners in the room, we really enjoyed it. The room was cleaned even better the next day. We had ordered room service upon arrival and it was fantastic...pricey, but fantastic. Martguerita pizza really great. The next day, we awoke to the beautiful sights of the cruise ships docked at Port Everglades from our room. Very nice. We enjoyed a great breakfast. I highly recommend the made to order omelette station. Customer service at this hotel was top notch. We ate at Duffy's Sports Grill for dinner. Best Kobe beef burger ever. Wow. Can't say enough. We also enjoyed our shopping at Total Wine that day and loaded up for our week long cruise, that along with water and Diet Coke from Publix. We enjoyed the pool very much as well the afternoon before our cruise. Great place.
Embarkation: Holland America got an A on this one. Very organized, very easy, very quick (quite pleased as I had read on CC before that HAL excelled in this area). We noticed how great the crew were upon arriving onto the ship. Loved that we could go straight to our staterooms and place our carry ons before exploring the ship. We stayed on Deck 8 in a Deluxe Veranda. The balcony was nice, but in need of cleaning (noticed it was cleaned the night before we debarked). The room was nice and we loved that the storage space was abundant. Nice TV in room with DVD player (nice touch). The ship and room showed a good bit of wear and tear, but we were expecting this as the Westerdam is going into dry dock next weekend. Biggest complaint was the temperature on the ship, throughout and especially in the stateroom. It was so hot. Very few places did you feel good air conditioning. After a little lunch in the Lido, we headed Midship near the pool to hang and have a cocktail. I highly recommend Red Stag Derbys. That evening we had reservations in the Pinnacle Grille. Really lovely. I highly recommend the lobster. It was wonderful. Service was beyond excellent here. Really, really nice. This was the culinary highlight of the entire trip. It was just fantastic. A+. Great start to the cruise.
Half Moon Cay: Really beautiful. Very nice island, easy tender, water was a tad cool, but once you submerged yourself fully, you got used to it quickly. The beach was beautiful. The lunch buffet was one of the best. No where have I ever had a ceviche that good, especially from a cruise ship buffet. Really nice touch. We were on the wait-list for a cabana so we booked a clam shell as well. Glad we did this. Cabanas didn't look like much and since our time was limited on HMC, worked out great doing the clam shell rather than the cabana. Liked our time here. Only complaint, a group of people pulled up right next to our clam shell (less than 2 feet away) and pulled up multiple chairs (felt like they were in our space) and they all started smoking. Not appropriate in my opinion to be invading our space then lighting up and blowing smoke everywhere, especially right beside our child. Other than that, great day. That evening, we had a nice dinner in the Main Dining Room. Wonderful service. Really enjoyed ourselves here.
Sea Day was next up. We tried to relax and unwind a bit more this day. The breakfast in the Lido was really enjoyable. The varieties of Eggs Benedict was fantastic. From Benedict to Florentine to Stanley, this was great. Enjoyed the fresh fruit and those raisin buns were fantastic! (as I've read before cruising, they were right!).
I have to comment very highly on Club Hal. I have to say that I was a bit apprehensive prior to sailing because of the very little comments on the program. I was pleasantly surprised. Great staff of people and I was very impressed how they ran the program. Our child loved every minute of it and I have to give a rave review to one of the counselors, Nataly. She obviously loves her job and does fantastically. We loved the Club Hal Kids Talent Show towards the end of the cruise. What a highlight! This was really great. More light should be shed on what a great program this is. I couldn't be happier with this aspect of the cruise.
Aruba: Fabulous. Having been to Aruba before, we were excited to see this beautiful island again. Absolute heaven. We took the Catamaran/Snorkel/Beach Break cruise. Great excursion. Beach time was very limited, but it was nice. Pelican Tours that did the catamaran were awesome. Lots of fun.
Curacao: Another beautiful place. We had been wait-listed for the Dolphin Encounter and were pleasantly surprised when the tickets for this excursion had been delivered to our stateroom the day prior. What a nice surprise! We loved this excursion! Having done a dolphin encounter before, were were aware of what to expect, but this tour was so much better than what we had experienced elsewhere. The dolphins were calmer, the trainers were excellent and the facility had one of the greatest marine/sea life aquariums that one could imagine! I rate this tour an A+! Great time here!
Le Cirque: Having gone to the Pinnacle Grille the first night of the cruise, we landed here at Le Cirque with great disappointment overall. The waitstaff was indeed great once again, however, the food fell short. We were hoping to expect that same great dining experience and it did not happen. Some of the dishes were okay, but others did not meld well at all, let alone the sodium issue (which I will address shortly). I would rate this experience as a C-.
After our port days, we had two days. I'm going to touch on some of the things we took part in as well as some of the services.
Bar Service: Not very good. Compared to other ships, bar service was seriously lacking. With such an extensive bar menu, I was hoping to really enjoy my libations. I did very little. Bar tenders were few and far between amongst the pool deck and lounges. On other ships, we would have them follow us to our seats and take our orders, some knowing us by name and knowing our "usual". This did not happen here. Being given a very dirty ice bucket after requesting ice and soda was a bummer. On top of that, after requesting a particular cocktail at the pool deck and the bar tender trying to change my mind. I really don't know. I ordered a Cuban Mojito (drink of the day) on a particular day and the drink came back as a regular mojito. Bar service was seriously lacking. I appreciate that the wine policy (bringing your own aboard is allowed), but I'd rather have better wine prices and selection and better bar service overall than lug my own wine onboard. The other cruise lines beat HAL out here most definitely.
Entertainment: Seriously lacking. The shows were below mediocre. We knew this going in. The one thing we have to absolutely applaud though was Jeff Trachta. He was fabulous. Very funny, very entertaining, engaged the audience. This is exactly what I hope for and want from a cruise in terms of entertainment. The HAL Cats (were were previously warned) were awful. They appeared to not enjoy themselves and Caren was very unpleasant to listen to; wished this was better. Adagio Strings was very nice. Stephanie (guitarist) in the Crow's Nest was fantastic. This saved the cruise music-wise. Although her style did not exactly match the demographic of the ship. She was very enjoyable and many people seemed to appreciate her and her music, which was great to see.
Laundry Service: A great deal, yes, for unlimited laundry at $49 total for the duration of the cruise. The first day, the laundry came back fresh, clean, pressed, and beautiful. Very happy. We put out laundry daily. As the days went by, the service started lacking. I noticed many garments turning color to a grayish hue. It was apparent that some pieces were thrown in with dark colors that bled. Not very pleasant. Other pieces did not look very "clean" as they had pieces of lint and hair attached to them, nor did they smell fresh and clean. This was a major disappointment. Not very happy about this service.
Culinary Arts Series: We were entertained to say the least watching Chef Michael and Party Planner Lisa banter back and forth in the playful manner in which they did. This was really fun to watch. The cooking demo was fun and mostly informative. The only disappointment was going up to sample the dish to finding it extremely salty (seems to be the theme with HAL here).
Food: I will touch on all aspects of dining as possible. Overall, food started out great and gradually declined throughout the cruise. While we enjoyed some dishes extremely well, overall, we felt that HAL's food was really salty (Note: my ankles haven't been as swollen after this cruise as they were since the day I gave birth to my child).
Lido: Breakfast was really enjoyable. Food was plentiful and good in variety. Really enjoyed the fresh fruits and Eggs Benedict (and varieties of). Coffee was not very good at all here. Lunch was equally good. Lots of variety. Sandwiches and paninis were a nice touch as well as the Sushi Bar and Asian Station. Salad bar was nice. Taco Bar and Burgers from Terrace Grill were great (until about day 3 or 4). Again, we noticed food quality to decline over the duration of the cruise. Not just the same old thing, but the quality (aka - bad leftovers) took quite the dive. Brat on last day was not fully cooked leaving it unpalatable. Food went from great to slop over the duration. Dinner in the Lido (we did this once or twice) was pathetic. Very few selections and the quality was seriously lacking.
Room Service: Wish we could have done this earlier in the cruise. We did late night as well as breakfast a few times. This was great, especially the breakfast. Coffee was so much better from Room Service. Really great and very happy with it.
Main Dining Room: As somewhat touched upon before, this started out great and declined significantly as the week progressed. How can you go from Lobster Tail and Chateaubriand to a poor excuse of a Vietnamese spring roll that was actually a few noodles wrapped up in a piece of very wilted bock choy with zero flavor about the size of an infant's fist and a piece of strip steak that was the size an Ipod with two thirds of it resembling fat (not to mention the half baked potato that was topped with burnt piped whipped potato atop)? Thank Goodness there was some bread at the table that evening, we were hungry. The food went from very nice to inedible. This was extremely disappointing as we had read that HAL's food was top-notch. We also had breakfast here a few times. It was okay. Lido's Eggs Benedict appeared to be better. Coffee was atrocious (burnt flavor). Note: We even tried Explorations Cafe for a treat and the coffee was still awful.
Pinnacle Grill: This place gets an A+ as mentioned before with the exception of Le Cirque.
Other notes: We were on Deck 8 and the rocking of the ship was awful. Having sailed a Transatlantic Crossing in the past, we know waves. Trying to balance oneself on the Westerdam was even more challenging that the Transatlantic. The last night of the cruise, we didn't sleep a wink as we were holding on for dear life trying not to fall out of bed. I still have vertigo. Perhaps size of ship? Unfortunately, this was quite an issue for me as it took a lot of enjoyment out of the cruise for us. Not having proper sleep due to the ship rocking most nights and especially the last night was not fun.
I have to say something very positive about our experience, although this cruise was not the best at all compared to the other 11 cruises we have taken. The overall service on the Westerdam was outstanding. Most appear to enjoy their jobs and take them seriously. This was a highlight.
I did want to mention that we booked yet another shore excursion about departure in Fort Lauderdale. We did the Everglades Tour, which was held at the Sawgrass Recreational Center. This was A+. What a wonderful place, great staff, very informative and appreciated the care they gave for the animals and the education they delivered to the tourists. This was a nice ending to the vacation. So, overall, shore excursions were an A+.
Overall, I give this cruise a C-. Will I sail HAL again? No. Really not our thing. If the food had been better, the ship in better condition, the Spa hadn't charged for the Thermo Pool (ridiculous, take a note from Celebrity, HAL), the entertainment somewhat better and the Captain wouldn't have "floored it" to get to Fort Lauderdale causing the ship to feel so unstable, it would have been better. Luckily, there were some fellow passengers our age and a fair amount of kids (guessing because of the timing and itinerary). We did encounter some people that got into scuffles with other passengers and treated the crew poorly. This was really pitiful and took away from our cruising enjoyment. If I had to do it over again, I would have picked a different cruise. We chose HAL because of our time off (Spring Break) and our chance to sail the Southern Caribbean again (one of our favorites). We really thought HAL would be more like Celebrity, as people have compared the two. We didn't exactly find that the case. In cruising, you win some and lose some. Although this wasn't great, it wasn't a total loss. The Southern Caribbean saved it for us.