This was our second cruise aboard the Westerdam (and fourth HAL cruise) during the holiday season. We also sailed on the Westerdam during the holiday season in 2011. Sadly, we were disappointed with HAL for the first time. We have always been HUGE HAL fans, but after this cruise we are definitely strongly considering whether or not we use this cruise line again.
Firstly embarkation - we had to wait for almost an hour to get on the ship...any other HAL cruise we've been on - we've had to wait 5 - 10 minutes at most. More concerning...all of our cruise documents indicated the cruise ship left the port at 5:OO. We were extremely surprised to hear that the muster drill was happening at 3:15 - we thought this curious, as there would be people who wouldn't yet be on the ship...we were even more surprised when the ship sailed shortly after 4:00!
Our room was great, and aft balcony - which was huge, and we enjoyed using it throughout our cruise. Otherwise a standard balcony room. Our room steward was excellent (as usual). A couple of SERIOUS (in our opinion) issues with our room, however. Our fridge did not work for the duration of the cruise, despite calling the front desk several times to get this fixed, and numerous complaints to our room stewards. At one point they said had been fixed and even replaced, however, it was so overheated and smelled so badly of burning plastic, that my husband actually had to unscrew it and unplug it. You would have thought that several complaints to the front desk of a fire hazard would have gotten some response. Not so. It was still not working when we left the cruise. Also, the air conditioning was COMPLETELY inadequate. Again, we complained more than four times to the front desk. Day three of the cruise, a technician came to our room and confirmed what we already knew, 'ya, that's definitely not working properly...I'll have to check a couple of things out and come back' the technician was never to be seen again. It's not enjoyable to be in such a lather after blow-drying your hair that you can't get dressed in evening clothes because you are soaked...and then sleeping - very difficult with no air conditioning. On a positive note, the bedding was very fresh and clean, and the bed was very comfortable. Yes, compared with the problems of the world, we realize these were minor inconveniences...however, when you are paying good money for a relaxing vacation to get away from the stresses of daily work life, it is very disappointing.
Another MAJOR disappointment - the food. One of my favourite things about HAL in the past was the quality and variety of food. The cutbacks are SO evident. Food quality is poor and the selection is very limited. The food was very unremarkable. We did eat one night in the Pinnacle grill. My husband LOVED the porterhouse steak, and raved about it. I had the planked halibut, and it was so dry and unflavourful, I couldn't even eat it. No apologies or offers to replace my meal with something else. Finally, I don't know what happened with the evening service. We sailed on the same ship, the exact same dates last year, and everything was flawless. We had 'as you wish dining' and this year, on the first night of the cruise we went to the dining room at 7:20, and the queue was around the corner. We were advised to go to the lounge and wait (we could not get a drink despite our efforts, service was abysmal). We were finally seated in the dining room at about 8:20, and received our appetizers around 8:50 - completely unacceptable! We were also advised that 'as you wish' dining would not be in effect for the next two nights (the 24 and 25 December). We were forced into an 8:00 sitting (which was fine for us, however, if you wanted to go to dinner at 7:00 - you were out of luck). On the 24th we arrived at 7:50 - again a huge queue. We were seated about 8:20 - after standing in formal wear sweating profusely for 1/2 an hour with about a hundred other people waiting in the stairwell to get in...definitely NOT elegant! More of the same on the 25th...we thought we would show up at 8:10, have less of a wait...not so, we didn't get seated until after 8:30. Same cruise last year, no issues - what happened HAL!? We met (several) people while waiting who were so upset they indicated that would never cruise with HAL again because of this. By night four, they finally had their act together. Oh, one other thing, gentlemen, don't bother lugging your heavy suits...the dress code is NOT enforced. My husband always brings his suit as we love dressing up for dinner every night, but even on the formal nights (and in the Pinnacle grill) there were people dressed in 'resort casual'...save yourself the five pounds of weight per suit. Disappointing.
Other areas that the cutbacks are evident - you used to get a detailed outline of the port the day before you arrived, where to shop, bit of history on the port. I always enjoyed this - gone. I managed to find one laying about for Grand Turk, but never saw one again. Also, in the past, it was so nice to get the 'daily news' delivered each day...gone. We discovered day four that these were available at the front desk, would have been nice to have been advised of this (for past cruise passengers who had been used to receiving these at your state room). Finally the daily program was LACKING - no cooking courses offered, limited activities)
We did provide all of this feedback to HAL with the offer for them to contact us for further information/suggestions...I hope they do contact us, to try make it right (we would like to continue to give HAL our business). We are a couple in our early 40's who have MANY cruises ahead of us, and we thought we would always sail on HAL - we love the older clientele, the (past) specialized attention, and the refined service. We *may* give HAL another chance in the future, but will likely try a 6 star cruise line next.