We just returned from the January 6th Southern Caribbean cruise and had a well deserved restful cruise on the Westerdam. This was our 24th overall cruise and our 3rd HAL trip, the first 2 on the Maasdam. We are 62 and 57 which fit well in the demographic.
We arrived a day early and stayed in the Hilton Beach Resort. Most of the bill was paid for with points. It was very nice but not worth the $400 they command for one night. It was fairly well located and about a $20 cab ride to the port. Lunch at the Casablanca, a small and somewhat eclectic restaurant, was convenient and tasty. Dinner that night at Timpano was not so good. I would rate it as an upscale Olive Garden. Food was OK but not the high caliber claimed by the concierge at the Hilton. I wonder what his kickback was? After dinner, we walked to the CVS and stocked up on snacks, last minute essentials, and wine for my wife. I have to admit that this was the first time I bought alcohol in a pharmacy.
The next morning, my wife walked to the Dunkin' Donuts for her morning fix. She is truly addicted to the stuff. Decaf to boot. Go figure! She brought back a little something for me and then it was off to the port. We hopped onto a Taxi and got there in about 15 minutes. What struck me was that every one of the cabs we took, the driver was Haitian. All were very polite, friendly and honest. We arrived around 11:15 and there was a short line for security. Once through, we went to the line, got our documents, ran past the photographers and were on board by 11:45.
We had gotten a VERY reasonable upsell offer a week before we boarded and had an SA cabin on Rotterdam deck. We had stayed in SA cabins before so we knew what to expect. Our cabin was ready when we boarded so we dropped our bags of and did a quick inspection of the cabin. The cabin was quite large with a large sofa bed, 2 chairs and a table, a very comfy large bed, lots of storage but a small TV compared to the size of the cabin. The bathroom was spacious with a small stall shower and jetted tub. I would have preferred no tub and a larger shower. Elemis products were supplied but we did not use them as my wife always brings her own bar soap. We had double sinks which, i must say, were in need of replacement. The counter was badly chipped and cracked and the faucets were in the wrong place, obviously a poor design. Be careful since the water is very hot. The only other complaint I had is that the grey water used in the toilet was always stinky which wasn't noticeable if the cover was down. We then met Ramon and Mohammad who did a great job of keeping our cabin spotless.
Next stop was the Neptune Lounge where we spent plenty of time during the week. We met our 2 concierges, Clair and Florida who always greeted us with a smile. They did a good job of keeping everything tidy.It was nice to go have a quick snack, a cup of coffee or other refreshment or to socialize. It was also a good place for the internet where the signal was stronger than other areas. The only complaint I has was that it closed at 8:30 which was unlike our experience on other lines where the lounge was accessible all day. I didn't find the concierge able to do much other than dining reservations which was not an issue for us since we had fixed seating.
It was off to the Lido for lunch. There always seemed to be a good selection and I liked that we were served the first 2 days. I hate touching dirty serving utensils. It was also nice to see people helping you to your table and carrying your plates and getting drinks. Although the salad bar became self service, the hot food was always served. Not a fan of pastries but the ice cream was always yummy. I can't comment on the burgers since I didn't have one since I always find them just slightly less chewy than a hockey puck. The French fries and sweet potato fries were delicious. Pizza was also pretty good.
Next, we did a tour of the ship. We started in the Crow's Nest where we spent a fair amount of time during the week. Between trivia, happy hour, and other activities it seemed to be a hot spot. It was also a nice place to sit and watch the ocean. The Library and Coffee Bar was next. They had the only decent coffee on board. There were a good selection of reading material, computer terminals, a jigsaw puzzle and comfy chairs. My wife set up her internet account and took advantage of the bonus minutes. The staff was very pleasant and accommodating which was unusual. Most of the time, they are not so nice. Then it was a trip to the spa for my wife to schedule a few treatments. Not my cup of tea. We walked around the pool deck and were surprised that there were so few lounge chairs for 2,000 pax. Most of the deck space had tables and chairs.
It was then off to explore the lower decks. We sneaked into the MDR and found our table.. We had Main seating wait list and eventually got our assignment at a table for 4. We are not big drinkers so our trips to the bars were mainly out of curiosity. One complaint I had was that there was a fair amount of smoking on board. The Sports Bar was divided by an open top wall with the actual bar being the smoking side and the other non-smoking. It didn't matter. The place always stunk. HAL needs to get on board with their corporate partners. We walked by the casino, another area of no interest. The Vista Lounge was next and was very nice with good sight lines from most seats. There were seats obstructed by poles. Never seemed crowded when we were there. The Culinary Arts Center seemed to be an afterthought, which it was, and was the sight for movies and televised football playoffs. The shops were obviously closed but, when opened, offered a very nice selection and were well priced. These were the areas which most interested us. The Atrium was elegant with a nice chandelier. It was not massive as on other ships. Overall, the ship is beautiful, well maintained, showed no signs of wear, and never seemed crowded.
We then prepared for the muster drill which was a big failure in my opinion. The good point was not having to drag the life jackets. It took place outdoors at the assigned location which was good. We could not hear a thing. First, the roll call was done by a crew member with a very heavy accent and we had difficulty understanding him. Next came the drill which no one in our area could hear with the speakers not working, planes flying overhead, noise from pallets clanging, and back-up beeps from all of the commercial vehicles. This drill would have saved no one in a real emergency. Again, they need to learn from their corporate partners.
Our next activity was my favorite, dinner. We found our table and met our table mates who were a friendly couple from Rochester, NY. Our waiter and his assistant were friendly and efficient. I was concerned with all of the criticism about the food but, throughout the week, we very much enjoyed the food. Some of the choices, especially the fish which I enjoy but not on this ship, were less successful but it was never a problem changing. The wait staff could not have been better in making sure we enjoyed our meal. For the first 3 days we had excellent bar service from Lovely (her real name and it fit her well) until she got word that her father had suddenly died and she had to return to the Philippines. The other bar server took over and it was slower but very understandable. Speaking with her made us appreciate how much the crew sacrifices to make a living. She was on board with her husband. He was not able to return with her because he had a critical position and could not be replaced easily. So, here they are together on board. They have 2 small children being cared for by her parents. She has little time to spend with them and now her dad dies. God bless her and all of the crew. They work so hard. Other than that, our dining experience was very positive.
Breakfast we had in the Pinnacle. It was very pleasant with everything well prepared and fresh. I like poached eggs and they came out perfectly. Coffee still was bad. This was a nice experience for the suites.
Before I move on from dining, I just wanted to mention Le Cirque. We opted for the wine pairing which I do not recommend. They brought out a glass of Champagne, a glass of Chardonnay, and a glass of some red wine. The Champagne was fine. The Chardonnay was horrible. It was dark and tasted corked. The wine steward said that this particular Chardonnay was that way. I beg to differ. He then exchanged it for something different which was fine. I just found it odd to bring all three glasses at the same time and not with each course. I had the Trio which was just OK. My wife had ravioli which was luscious. We both had the squash soup, another excellent choice. We then had Chateaubriand. I ordered mine medium rare and my wife medium. They have the most talented chefs because they managed to accomplish both temperatures in one piece of beef. Nevertheless, it was great. Finally, we both ordered creme br'lee also very good.
One note I must make is that, although I did not find the drink prices on board to be high, wine prices were. I bought the Navigator's package only because the Admiral's package wasn't worth the extra price. Even with the package, markup was at least 200%. I buy these wines for around $9 and they charge over $30. I also felt their regular wine list to be a little high. Oh well, it's vacation.
Half Moon Cay was our first stop. We were only there for a few hours. We had reserved a snorkel excursion which was cancelled and we rented a clam-shell instead. This worked out fine. The sand was soft but the water was cold. We walked up to the Shipwreck to check out the bar but, at that time, it was time for lunch. Nothing special. Average cookout food. We went back to the ship early and enjoyed the peace and quiet.
Next day was a sea day. Boy, was it rough!. We had gale force winds all night. A lot of people seasick. Meclizine was being handed out like candy. The dining room was 1/3 empty. I actually felt a little under the weather the next morning but it passed quickly and I never get seasick. Some even got sick in the MDR which was choice including a woman at the table next to us.
We finally arrived in Aruba on time. We were lucky. We got off the ship and walked around town. We then returned for out sunset catamaran cruise. This was nice and relaxing. Then. back to the ship.
The next morning we sailed into Curacao. We were lucky. Other ships either could not dock or were several hours late. We did the dolphin encounter which we loved. It was twice the price to swim with them and we were quite content being near these gentle and beautiful animals. It was a blast interacting with them. The rest of the afternoon we spent at the Aquarium attached and saw the dolphin show and a shark show.
As we were pulling out of Curacao, the captain gave us an update and told us to expect the same rough seas. It was not as bad as the way down. We had 2 sea days coming up to rest and explore the rest of the ship. We spent a lot of time in our cabin and appreciated the our SA. My wife bought me a watch at a good price. we caught up on our email and just enjoyed to period of rest. My wife would have preferred another port but I was content.
As far as activities, there weren't many that interested me. Trivia is always a favorite. The menus in the Culinary Arts Center didn't interest me but that is personal. I am not big on shows but the entertainers were very good. There was an male Asian singer who was excellent. The comedian was terrible and was billed as the Canadian Bill Cosby which was an insult to Bill. The juggler Hilby was hilarious the last night. I wished he would keep on going on.
Debarkation was a snap. As suite guests, we could debark when we wanted. We had a simple breakfast in the Neptune, said our goodbyes and left. Our luggage was easy to find and we were standing on the taxi line for 15 minutes and then off to the airport.
A few closing comments. As far as cutbacks, I truly did not see any. Bar service was prompt except during Happy Hour when they were swamped. There was no lack of service in the MDR. The ship is not dated and was immaculate and well maintained. The service was on par with Azamara, Cunard and Oceania. I am not a cheerleader and have no ties to any line as we have sailed on 11 lines so far. HAL service and professionalism is on par with any of them. Of the mass marketing lines, HAL, in my opinion leads the pack. Again, we are more mature, do not travel with children any more, have sailed on a lot of lines, and entertain ourselves. I like the size of their ships and they fit our bill.