We booked this cruise ten days before departure as a spur of the moment decision. I retired in February and we did back to back cruises on the Dawn Princess around New Zealand and then around Australia. We started cruising in 2003 with a two day coastal cruise on the Dawn Princess from Vancouver to San Francisco and absolutely loved it. By the time we decided to do an Alaskan cruise, the Princess cruises out of both Seattle and Vancouver, BC were completely sold out.
Fortunately, our TA was able to book a guaranteed verandah stateroom on the Westerdam. Five days before sail away, our TA called and told us Holland American would upgrade us to a Superior Verandah Suite for a little more than the per day cost of the original fare. So amazingly, we ended up with a SY category Verandah Suite on the port side of deck 6.
Our son drove us down to the Cruise Terminal at Pier 91 in Elliot Bay. We arrived at the terminal at noon which was the rush hour peak boarding time. The Pier 91 Cruise Terminal while plain and very industrial looking, has a very efficient layout. The time from stepping out of our son's car to stepping into our stateroom was only 45 minutes. Our two suitcases arrived at our stateroom 10 minutes later - well done Holland American.
The safety briefing was different that what we were use to on Princess in that it was conducted at our life boat muster station outside on the promenade deck instead in a assigned interior lounge space. Thankfully, it wasn't raining as the life boats are not covered by ship's structure. The Captain gave a clear and complete safety briefing on the ship's exterior loudspeakers followed by crew members demonstrating how to put on the life vest. It really is quite crowded with all the passengers on the promenade deck at their muster stations. However, I see the value of having the passengers actually go to their life boat stations.
Sail away weather was beautiful as we left Elliot Bay for the Strait of Juan de Fuca and our passage outside of Vancouver Island to Juneau. We really enjoyed sail away from the Crow's Nest just above the bridge on Deck 10. The floor to ceiling windows wrap around the sides and front of the ship giving a 180 degree view which is great for viewing the Alaskan scenery. There is also a small cafe in the space serving coffee and pastries.
A large storm in the Pacific Ocean changed our original itinerary. Captain Keijer took the ship inside of Queen Charlottle Islands and followed the inside passage to Juneau to avoid the high seas and wind of the storm. Sitka was dropped as a port of call since it is located on the unportected ocean side of Baranot Island. As a result we went from our day of scenic cruising of Glacier Bay to Ketchikan bypassing Sitka. From Ketchikan after sea day we arrived in Victoria, BC in the morning instead of 6:00 PM as originally scheduled.
Overall, my wife and I really enjoyed the Westerdam and the Holland American cruise experience. The service, quality of entertainment, cleanliness of the ship, and dining are excellent and equivalent to what we have experienced on Princess. Here is a summary of the differences:
Stateroom - The bed was far more comfortable than beds on Princess. Our stateroom lighting was marginally adequate, dim in comparison to a Princess stateroom. We liked having a hinged door to the verandah instead of a sliding door.
Public Spaces - With the exception of dining rooms and the forward theater the public venues are smaller especially the Atrium. The Atrium on the Westerdam is like a dark cave. On Princess ships, the Atrium is large and functions as a town center.
Dining - The three stations on each side of the Lido dining room make self service much less of a hassle than the single large station on each side of the Princess Horizon Court buffet.
Here are a few of the differences that we really liked on the Westerdam:
The free brewed coffee which is so much better than the undrinkable reconstituted coffee from syrup on Princess.
Free fresh squeezed orange juice in the Lido Buffet.
The daily New York Time four page news summary available in Explorer Cafe.
The custom order sandwich and pasta bars in the Lido Buffet.
Here are a few things we did not like on the Westerdam:
Background music in the Vista and Lido dining rooms.
Dimly lit Photo Gallery which nearly requires a flashlight to find your pictures.
The lack pictures of the ships senior officers and hotel management in the atrium.
We do not do cruise ship's excursions so I can not comment on that. We did enjoy each of the port of calls and overall really liked the Holland American cruise experience. Would we do another Holland American cruise? Yes we would. In fact, we have booked the Oosterdam cruise from Seattle to Sydney, Australia in September, 2013.