This was both a Panama Canal and a repositioning cruise. We were expecting an older demographic, given that it was HAL and a longer Panama Canal cruise...but we had severely underestimated. With over 2,000 passengers, there were just three children on board. A 71 year old woman came up to me (I'm in my mid-40s) and said "you're one of the young ones! I feel really young with this crowd!!" It was a really, really old group of passengers -- even the crew were surprised by it, and many jokes were made (comedian: "I'm 57 years old, and I tell ya: there are a LOT of good looking women on this ship. If only I were 20 years older....").
The itinerary was Fort Lauderdale to either San Diego (13 day), Vancouver (16 day), Seattle (17 day), stopping in Cartagena, Colombia; Puntarenas, Costa Rica; Corinto, Nicaragua; Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Around 900 passengers disembarked in San Diego, and a similar number embarked for a short repositioning cruise (3 or 4 days; there was also a 1 day Vancouver-Seattle option). I have to hand it to HAL for choosing to dock in Nicaragua. It's an undeveloped location without much tourism infrastructure, and we weren't expecting much. However, we docked, walked a few minutes, and were in the midst of a local market where there were beautiful crafts (and not so beautiful - dead frogs holding a wee tequila bottle!), local live music, and $1 Nicaraguan beers in a cafe with a great ceiling fan. So much character, lovely people, and you directly saw the impact of your money. Tip: bring your ship chocolates to hand to the little kids and see their faces light up!
The Westerdam felt pretty tired overall (ripped wallpaper, tons of burned out lightbulbs, cracked & dirty upholstery,etc), but ironically we were repeatedly disturbed by maintenance at sea. I guess they were taking advantage of the final 'warm' time before heading to Alaska, but since the ship had just come out of a two week drydock, all of the work being done on the ship felt excessive. We had an 'obscured view' cabin, with floor to ceiling windows and a lifeboat/tender on the other side...which was repeatedly accessed by staff -- every day we had workers RIGHT OUTSIDE OUR WINDOWS -- which is pretty different than the notion of just having your view obscured! Several times we tried relaxing on deck 10 in the afternoon and were interrupted by workers setting up to paint, or wheeling things slowly across the deck that they'd cut off the ship. One morning we were up earlier for a walk and counted at least a dozen workers on deck, painting, varnishing, sanding, replacing ship pieces. Pretty much every day there was string up along railings, with 'wet varnish' signs...or wet paint signs. In the Culinary Arts Center/Queen's Lounge, they removed seating in chunks and seemed to be reupholstering them, replacing, and moving on to the next chunk. We understand the need for ship's maintenance, but it was CONSTANT, and interfered with activities and general enjoyment. This was our vacation -- not fix up time at home! I've been on cruises in the past, including repositioning cruises, and I've never experienced this level of visible work on the ship.
Unfortunately, our cabin also seemed in need of repairs. In addition to workers outside our window, we had no cold water for nearly a full day -- impossible to have a shower without scalding. Our A/C stopped working. It was frustration on top of frustration, and the small plate of chocolates didn't go far in helping with goodwill.
Also, they had just changed over all of their production shows, so they required extra rehearsal time. This meant that the Vista show lounge was unavailable for use for many of the large talks, so people were crammed -- and I mean squished, hot, and jammed -- into the Queen's Lounge/Culinary Arts Center. The ship staff did the best to accommodate this by repeating talks or showing them on the room TV, but it happened so many times that it was a big pain.
Speaking of the ship's staff, they were terrific (especially Jason, the non-stop energetically perky cruise director), but that's been the case for pretty much every cruise I've been on -- cruise staff seem to love what they do and are great at it.
On the Westerdam the food was overall quite good, great at times, though the desserts were generally rather pretty and tasteless. On note: the dining room 'dress code' needs to be more clearly conveyed and logically based. We were told on the first night in the formal dining room that shorts were okay for tonight only, and then wouldn't be allowed (fine, no problem, what we'd expected)...yet on that second night we saw jeans & flip flops, and very sporty athletic shoes and logo socks. If it's going to be a 'dressed up' dining room, then fine, create a reasonable standard and enforce it -- dinner is always available in the Lido. But don't do it by half measures.
We chose to cruise HAL for the first time as we were ready for the sophistication, attention to detail, excellent service, amazing food, etc. that repeat HAL cruisers rave about -- but we just didn't experience that. However, I will say that we really enjoyed the overall quality of ship activities (culinary arts center, speaker series, Microsoft computer classes, production shows) -- as well as the generous wine policy! However, we'll probably use a different line next cruise, and wouldn't recommend the Westerdam.