DW and I are both retired, S.Fl. residents. This cruise on Holland America's Westerdam was our third "Smooth Jazz" themed cruise.
We partnered with another couple to get to the ship, dropping off our vehicle at an area parking facility which has a shuttle to the Ft.Lauderdale port departure point.
We arrived at 12:15PM and were aboard within 45 minutes, good timing considering the fact that it appeared that nearly the whole passenger content had arrived at nearly the exact same time frame!
Our cabin, 7134, "Deluxe Verandah" was ready for us so we were able to drop our carry-on luggage and head to the Lido cafe, 9th floor, for lunch. It became evident immediately that this ship's management takes any possible viral based illness very seriously, as signs were posted, that for two days, there would be service by the staff exclusively in the food lines, to avoid possible contamination by the bringing aboard of a potential illness by any passenger. Staff also wore latex gloves; this was also the case with what would usually be self service drink service. Two or more stood behind a marked off area, taking verbal orders for tea, coffee, water etc.
Food was of excellent quality and staff, mostly Indonesian, were smiling, helpful and eager to please. Even though this was, per earlier comments, apparently peak arrival time, we were able to find a table easily and enjoy our meal. We returned to our cabin and found it to be well laid out and immaculately clean and orderly. Our verandah was the perfect size for a couple, with two chairs and a small table. The cabin per se had our requested Queen bed configuration, small sofa, dressing table/desk, TV and ample storage. Hint; If you haven't found it in any other recent review, there is hidden storage at the foot of the bed in two large pullout drawers. Unlike an earlier voyage on this ship, this was partly taken up by extra linens but we were able to easily use a considerable part of it. There is also a bit of extra space in an Ottoman, with the top being removed showing space to easily accommodate clothing such as socks, underwear etc. where wrinkling would not be a concern. Fortunately, our suitcases fit under the bed and out of sight. Adjacent to a convenient safe at the verandah end of a cabinet/closet area is a split wardrobe closet, half for DW and half for Sparkle, with space aplenty for a seven day voyage.
Our smiling steward (regret name not at hand) kept the cabin clean and well tended throughout the voyage, and it was near impossible to get by a staff member, housekeeping or otherwise, without a greeting accompanied by a generous smile.
Our next step was to tour the ship; we had read the Westerdam had recently been in drydock and we saw no evidence of problems anywhere that had not been well taken care of. DW was impressed in particular with both the quality and chosen colors of the new carpet in the gym and the Lido.
We were assigned late (8:30PM) seating, freestyle and were simply told by the Maitre d' to sit wherever we chose. We usually sat with the couple we were traveling with, only two nights having a table for six and on only one of those nights being joined by another couple. The two story dining room,the "Vista" is well laid out, clean and orderly, service was always excellent and food was very good. Staff competently and happily handled several requests with deviation from the menu.
This being a theme cruise, comments on entertainment would be different than most. The "SmoothJazz" cruise is under the auspices of the TimeLife umbrella; this was the 10th anniversary of this endeavor. Similar affiliated cruises are offered and seem to be in an expansion mode. Numerous well known entertainers are on board and in addition to a main show in the Vista Lounge nightly, perform individually or in tandem at the several other lounges throughout the ship at various times. In fact, it soon became evident that it became near impossible to be without musical entertainment without locking yourself in your cabin! But then, that's not what you came for, is it?
The theatre itself is well laid out with only a few seats having obstructed sight lines. Seating is on white leather (?) couches and is the most comfortable I remember on any ship.
Where the entertainment differs from any "regular" programming is the fact that the (most nights) two shows are on average two full hours long. The first hour can be any mix of the numerous entertainers aboard, and the second a completely different group. The (why would it not be, with nationally known talent and recording artists) shows were so good that we (both couples) often returned for what we could see after our late dinner. The only show not two hours long was headlined by George Benson and was an hour and a half.
Well known and very funny comedian Alonso Boden entertained twice; DW pronouncing him "The funniest comedian I have ever seen!" Boden, in a long discourse on the gemstone Tanzanite: "I don't think there's any such thing as Tanzanite; I think its real name is 40% off..."
Ports: There were three ports covered in this Westerdam voyage, Cozumel, Belize and Key West. We did not debark at Cozumel having been there several times before. We tendered into Belize, a brief 15-20 minute ride, and landed directly into the central area of shops, restaurants, etc. We visited the "MOHO Chocolate Factory" directly at dockside, and enjoyed it very much. It is both a retail and distribution center for organic chocolate bars and derivatives made on premises, where you can watch the process through large windows, directly abutting the showroom. A friendly associate circulates with dishes of free samples with their own specialty exotic flavors, such as lime, native coffee, and the like. For a nominal fee you can purchase a brief tour, for quality control reasons not including the manufacturing center itself. Numerous varieties of large bars of the tasty confections are available, as well as chocolate themed accessories such as T-shirts (embossed "Don't Fall In Love: Fall In Chocolate!"), chocolate colored polo shirts, caps, and more. We were very glad we went and took the tour, hosted by a charming young lady, Nicole.
At Key West we were, arriving back in the U.S. from foreign ports, greeted by Customs&Immigration for a quick and courteous passport inspection, had our boarding passes stamped with a punchhole device to show we had been cleared, and then, off to town we went. We took a brief look about at the dockside shops before returning to the ship.
Debarking in Ft. Lauderdale was quick and efficient, with the usual presentation of custom forms showing purchases abroad and were on our way.
Final thoughts? The Westerdam is a clean, comfortable ship staffed with friendly quality staff. We highly recommend this themed cruise, offered with its variants several times throughout the year. WWW.SmoothJazzCruise.com is where you can book your voyage, and has full details on upcoming trips. We found other passengers to be exceptionally friendly and easy to talk to, perhaps as all are there because of a common interest and in fact, may have met each other before. There were no young children aboard, other than those of the entertainers, as being a full charter, HAL was not providing staff for them. Sponsors provided several good will gifts to our cabins, themed to the voyage and all highly useful and`appreciated. All in all, this is a class act on a beautiful ship.