We were glad for the opportunity to ride the M.S. Westerdam out of Ft. Lauderdale for the Western Caribbean. It was cruise number nine (9) for us. We had previously sailed on the Zuiderdam in the Southern Caribbean and the Eurodam in the Eastern Caribbean. As anticipated, the deck plan was already familiar to us as our oft-travelled (five times) Oosterdam and prior voyage on the Zuiderdam as sister ships. Our first cruise voyage ever was in 2001 on the older Westerdam to Alaska. We have been with Holland America ever since.
Prior experience with Half Moon Cay led me to try booking a "clamshell" as soon as I boarded ship, knowing that they would all be spoken for, well in advance. At best, I managed to get on a waiting list for one which became available when I went ashore.
Enjoyed the shore experience of safe swimming near shore with the visibility of our large mother ship anchored in the distance with the tenders bringing us to shore.
The free photo tour by Microsoft "techspert" Aiden was a real plus. I was glad for the opportunity to go on a photo safari with him.
The ship crew provided us with an island buffet bargeque which made for a memorable experience. The weather was beautiful, warm, just perfect. The resident barracuda "Barry" did not show this time to accompany the swimmers. I was glad to know that he was well known and merely curious.
Our original stateroom was on deck 1, No. 1122, farthest, port, aft. It was okay as far as ocean-view staterooms go but it was immediately under the dining room area and we were subject to the sound of moving tables and other furniture during the night. Also, the shower water was cold. Contact with the front desk resulted in a work order to fix the hot water problem but lthe ceiling noise never quit. Finally after four nights of interruped sleep, and a second note to the front office, we were immediately moved to a verandah room (No. 4134) on the upper promenade which was much better. The remaining problem was the lack of hot water for the shower. The stress and sleep loss left us in worse health at journey's end.
The response and effort of the crew was admirable, but I guess the ship itself had too many issues, not consistent with our Holland America experiences thus far.
Day three, at sea was our 46th. anniversary. I couldn't imagine a better place to be but on a HAL ship.
It's always a highlight to go to dinner, dressed up with the opportunity to meet new people. The shipboard servers made every effort to make this happen at our request.
On my first dinner at sea, I unknowingly dropped my wallet w/credit cards on the floor and didn't discover it until long after I returned to our stateroom. When I presented at the ships "front office" after hours, they answered and had my wallet which one of the serving staff had turned in. Nothing was missing. They were also trying to notify me by telephone. I was deeply grateful for this immediate restoration of a potentially-great loss. Situations like this don't usually turn out this way.
Georgetown in the Cayman's was a pleasant shore experience. I found a Swatch store and was able to add to my collection of Swatches a duty-free, tax-free price. My wife went to the local library to use the internet for free. Free internet was also available at the local coffee espresso place.
Local bus service was available to remote parts of the island for $2.50, payable to the driver when you get off, either in USD or local Cayman currency. We went to "Hell" (tourist spot) and back and stopped at the local
"Seven-Mile" beach for swimming. Getting another bus back to the ship terminal was easy since they drive by often (on the wrong side of the road, UK style) and are always looking for fares.
Riding the bus was an experience in itself, being crowded together with frequent shifting to accomodate one more passenger. The expats, Brits, Aussies, locals were friendly and volunteered much interesting, colloquial information to make for a short, memorable ride.
Cozumel was something else: not worth going ashore for. Disembarking passengers were compulsively routed through an array of shops where vendors bombarded you with liquor, jewelry, chocolate, perfume, etc. Take my advice: all that stuff was cheaper in the Caymans without the hassle. Once I left the port area, I found the area trashy and dangerous for pedestrians given the traffic and irregular sidewalks. It's a real stumbling hazard. Tours were available to distant, remote, Mayan ruins or boat shuttles to the mainland but I didn't want to be gone for eight (8) hours.
The "sea day" afterwards enroute to Key West was interesting when a storm hits you at sea. Fortunately I don't get sea sick but some people found it necessary to excuse themselves from the dinner table.
Key West was interesting, pleasant, comfortable and more secure, being on home turf. I enjoyed the atmosphere and the many interesting places. One such place was the Hemingway House. Go there early lest you wait in a long line for the better part of an hour. The tourguides sported Hemingway-like beards and were really into the history and biography of this interesting man and helped the tourist appreciate and enjoy the experience.
I found Kermit's a must stop for their legendary Key Lime pie and an experience not to be missed.
Regretfully my time in Key West was over, all too soon and it was time to join the ship lest I get left behind.
If I were to do the cruise all over again, I would take more advantage of the Microsoft "techspert" to learn more about sharing pictures, making movies, programs, etc. and to become better acquainted with the new Windows 8 operating system.
The cruise director, Jason Venner was tops. I was fortunate enough to sail with him on the Zuiderdam and the Eurodam. I will miss him.
Entertainment was tops. Food was tops. Crew service was tops.
I booked a behind-the-scenes tour and was NOT disappointed. I got to go through the kitchen, storage, laundry, waste recyling, back stage theatre, bridge tour with the captain, Q & A with the captain, plus goodies and souveniers. I highly recommend this for those who want to know what makes the ship go. One disclaimer: no one is allowed to see the engine room.
All in all, I am glad I made the trip. I would normally give an A+ rating, consistent with my prior Holland America experiences but I am going to downgrade this to a "B" rating based upon the noisy stateroom and lack of hot water. This was a one-time setback. I still intend to book Holland America in the future and will recommend this cruise line to all my friends. I speak for myself as my wife likely does not share the same opinion.