This is a review of the Holland America Westerdam. We sailed on a seven-night Southern Caribbean voyage from Fort Lauderdale to Half Moon Cay, Bahamas; Aruba, and Curacao with three days at sea. Dates: April 1-8, 2012. We had received a $100 onboard credit for being Carnival stockholders.
The captain was Peter "PJ" van Maurik, who joined Holland America in 1994. Cruise director was Jason Venner. The mandatory muster drill was held at 4 p.m. on the Promenade Deck, Deck 3. Leave your life jacket in your cabin.
BACKGROUND: We are a family of three sailing during our 14-year-old's spring break. Overall, this was our 46th cruise. We had sailed Holland America twice previously but both were European cruises on the Maasdam and Prinsendam respectively.
The ship is older and has a few issues but none of these really detracted from our enjoyment of the cruise. I bet there will be tons of difference after her dry dock is finished in a few weeks.
PRECRUISE: We flew from Nashville to Fort Lauderdale nonstop on Southwest Airlines using our Rapid Rewards points. Once again, used Ricky Aguero to provide transportation to the Westin Diplomat and Spa in Hollywood ($95 on Priceline, cheapest going rate at time of booking was $379). Ricky also took us to Port Everglades the next morning.
The Westin was a madhouse. Crowded, loud, cars, taxis and limos constantly streaming in. A lot of weddings going on as well as spring breakers and those attending the Florida Derby. We are the highest level in SPG (loyalty group of Starwood Hotels) but the regular lines were moving quicker at check in.
We were told we would actually staying at the Westin's Golf and Tennis Resort (Country Club location), we were a bit disappointed as we had friends staying at the beach location. Hotel was sold out.
At first, we weren't too happy but in the end, we were ecstatic that we were at the QUIET location. It was beautiful. Only downside is you have to take the hotel shuttle to get between the two resorts and it only runs every half hour. Also, we came back to the beach location to visit with our friends at the sports bar (it was Final Four night). When we inquired, we were told the shuttle stopped at 10 p.m. but we could catch a ride back with any wedding party. This was inaccurate and we ended up with a $10 cab ride back to the Country Club resort. Later I saw that the shuttle actually ends at 8 p.m. Something needs to be done regarding this practice.
The next morning, we checked out of the hotel. We were to receive free internet (SPG perk) but a charge of $12.95 ended up on our bill. The amount was credited back after a stop at the front desk.
EMBARKATION: Ricky picked us up and took us to the Westerdam. We gave our bags to the porters and proceeded to embarkation. It was pretty crowded. The HA people could have been a bit friendlier. One old guy told me to move away from the table because that is where all of his health questionnaire forms were. We arrived about 12:30 p.m. and it took 25-30 minutes before we were finally getting our pictures made and getting on the ship.
CABIN: We really enjoyed the space that our SZ cabin (No. 6117) gave us. At times, I did think the room was a bit dark but this is only because of how the cabin is laid out. Loved having the huge angled balcony. The sofa was a full size. We had plenty of room for our cabin crawlers. There are only two SZ cabins on the Westerdam. Met others who did SZ guarantees and were given upgrades to SYs or SSs. We got exactly what we paid for -- an SZ. I would book this again.
We were pleased to find that our cabin was ready and we could drop off stuff. The chocolate-covered strawberries as well as our soda card were in the room upon arrival.
The bathroom was large with a whirlpool tub, separate shower and two sinks. Both the bathtub and shower also had shampoo, conditioner and body wash in a wall mounted dispenser. It was nice to have a separate area to keep our laptop.
Our bed was very comfortable. My son's sofa bed was also very comfy. Robes were supplied in the room (also comfy). Kind of funny -- the stationery that we received was personalized with my son's name and not my husband's and mine.
Have to mention that our cabin steward -- never got to know him. Sometimes we would come back after lunch and the room still wasn't made up. There were two occasions where we didn't receive any Explorer daily newspaper and missed out on some activities as a result.
We enjoyed having a DVD player in the room and ordered two movies for free. It takes a while, however, to A. get them to answer the phone, and B. to have the movie delivered. My son enjoyed chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk but finished those off long before the DVD arrived. You return the movies to Guest Relations.
There was tons of storage. Several drawers went unused during the cruise. There were also pull-out drawers under the bed. Also, we decided to do carry-ons this time around and there were still clothes that we did not use on the trip. I had a number of things for our roll call's cabin crawl including plastic wine glasses, napkins, chocolates, door prizes etc.
I ended up with 17 bottles of wine (15 by the time we got to the ship). We checked all of our bags on the way down (Southwest allows two checked bags for free per person). We had put one case in The Wine Check(www.thewinecheck.com). After the cruise, we were able to fold up the wine shipper and put in one of those carry-ons. Called room service to have wine glasses delivered. The rest of the week, our cabin steward kept the glasses clean.
PROBLEMS: It was extremely warm in our cabin. We reported and supposedly it was fixed but during our cabin crawl, everyone was miserably hot. Also, noticed that another roll caller had problems with their cabin cooling and also reported the problem. Same outcome. They were in an SS suite (#8099). They were exactly two decks above us. I think we must have shared the same system. Anyway, we reported the problem again. Finally on the fourth day, it was fixed.
Also, there was a lot of rust on our balcony. On the balcony glass, there was white paint. I decided to scrape it off myself. Even saw a woman up on Deck 8 trying to clean her balcony glass. I also noticed another recent CC review where someone mentioned they cleaned the glass on their balcony themselves.
Also, cleaning was not perfect. On the first night, I broke a wine glass. Shards went everywhere. As I was picking up pieces from the carpet, I managed to find a lot of other things including cereal. Behind the chairs, there was a gum wrapper. Long, dark hairs were present in the bathroom. Also, broken glass on the balcony behind the chairs.
FOOD: We were Anytime Dining. For us, this worked most of the time. We could go to the Vista Dining Room anytime between 5:15 and 9 p.m. on Deck 2. We just showed up. Only once (first formal night) did we have to share a large table. Otherwise, we were at the same four-top (same waiter also) for the other nights.
We only made it to breakfast twice in the Lido. Did the Mariner's lunch on our second sea day. Decided to go to the buffet for lunch most days. Thought there was a good choice for the most part. Liked the Mexican bar out by the pool but didn't realize it was there until Day 4. Most of the time, you had to try and find someone to replenish the tortillas, chips, taco shells as there were none.
For the first 48 hours on a cruise, your food choices are plated for you and you do not touch serving spoons etc. This is to prevent the spread of the Norovirus.
I also found that I had a severe headache for the first two days of the cruise after eating lunch at the buffet. The foods are heavily salted and I attribute the headache to this.
I am not a dessert person but on a cruise, I will have a bite or two. We all found the desserts to be lackluster and blah. They seemed like they were always dry.
We didn't bother with going to Pinnacle Grill ($25) or the LeCirque dinner ($39). Thought the entrees were fine in the main dining room. However, hours should have been extended for the dinner buffet.
ALCOHOL AND DRINKS: We purchased the $25 soda card before leaving home and felt it was well worth it. You actually get $50 worth of canned Coke products.
We brought our wine with us and if taken to the dining room, you were charged a $18 corkage fee. Drinks of the Day like the Sparkling Belini Manhattan and Sexy Citrus Cosmopolitan were $5.95 each plus the automatic gratuity. A bottle of Corona will cost you $6.36 before sailing away in Fort Lauderdale as you have to pay the local sales tax.
On the first night, there was a $2 wine sampling in the Pinnacle Bar.
Also, we enjoyed happy hour in the Crow's Nest from 10 to 11 p.m. (also held from 4 to 5 p.m.) Buy one drink and get the second for $1.
ENTERTAINMENT: We enjoyed Stephanie on acoustic guitar. Most of the time she was at the Crow's Nest but we were able to catch her once poolside. Very talented lady. Only made it to one show in the Vista Lounge on the last formal night -- "Rockin' Road."
Missed out on Hilby, the "Skinny German Juggle Boy" as well as Jeff Trachta (comedy, singing, impressions) because we were still at dinner. On the last night, they did a combined show. Heard they were both really excellent. The Marriage Game was hilarious and was won by our of our cruise critic roll callers, Robyn and Evan.
We spent our day at the aft pool watching the pool games (funny). Also, went to a culinary demonstration and some trivia contests including one on spices and herbs and learned how to play the steel drum. Also did the daily quizzes and participated in the "Lost in the Desert Survival Challenge."
We found that the activites sometimes were scheduled at the most inopportune times. We wanted to play trivia more but decided to take in the beautiful view from our balcony with a glass of wine instead. The hand's-on cooking class ($29) looked interesting but never got around to signing up for it.
PORTS OF CALL: Half Moon Cay is as terrific as ever. Cabanas were waitlisted several months prior but upon inspection of the highly-touted Green Cabana, we were happy that we saved our $299.
On Aruba, we booked an independent sunset/snorkeling trip through Blue Melody and had a fabulous time ($49 a person for a three-hour tour including the famous grilled Gouda cheese sandwiches and libations.
In Curacao, we went with and independent tour again -- Irie Tours -- and paid $20 for a fabulous excursion with all the local beer, bottled water and soft drinks we could consume. My husband bought one of the same beers at a bar during our beach stop (Aquarium Beach) and he paid $3 USD for one!
Great times were had at all the ports.
MISCELLANEOUS: Daily service charge for our SZ suite was $12 a person.
*AAA batteries were not available on the ship but were at the shop at Half Moon Cay for $4.95.
*We purchased a 100-minute internet package for $55 and a $3.95 set up fee.
*The Westerdam is decorated with art valued at more than $2 million. An iPod, available at Explorations Cafe, is your personal guide.
*Casino was pretty small. So was the Sports Bar. Both were extremely smokey smelling. Luckily, we were able to watch our University of Kentucky Men's Basketball team win the NCAA championship from the comfort of our cabin because of the ESPN feed.
*Jacques Torres Chocolate Seduction Shop was pretty cool with its selection of hot and cold chocolate treats and assortment of fresh bonbons (Promenade, Deck 3).
DISEMBARKATION: We had a 9 a.m. flight from FLL to Nashville so we obtained Expedited Disembarkation and carried our own bags off the ship. We had breakfast delivered to the room at 6:45 a.m. and were in place on Deck 2 by 7 a.m. Probably eight to 10 others ahead of us. At 7:20, they let us go. We were at the airport checking in at 7:30 a.m. We could have cut off a few minutes more if we weren't stuck behind the people who had not filled out their customs/immigration forms and those that kept dropping their bags.
Overall the trip was good. I have never have a bad cruise. It was extremely relaxing due to having several sea days and arriving in Aruba early afternoon. Never did I feel rushed to make an excursion or get off the ship. We just did what we wanted to do, which was basically nothing. This equaled great relaxation. Great weather also. Never felt any motion whatsoever on the ship -- you couldn't really tell if you were moving or not.
Have all the daily Explorers and would be happy to answer any questions.