Never having sailed on the Westerdam we chose this cruise (Mar 10, 2013) partially because of the ship's rankings, but also because we wanted to try the Holland America experience. If I had to select a ranking for it now, it wouldn't be any more than a three, and that would be a stretch.
We arrived at the ship around 2 pm and were quickly through security and in our cabin by 2:30. No hassles, no lines and when our bags arrived before 3 pm, we thought it was a perfect start to what we expected to be a wonderful cruise. Unfortunately, much was in store for us.
Our cabin -- Although somewhat small by today's standards, we were able to get most of our belongings into the closets and storage areas provided. Although, my wife found that leaving one of our suitcases on the sofa was more convenient than the drawers provided. The cabin appeared clean enough but the furniture and rugs were showing their age. And, as we were to find out over the succeeding days, so was most of the ship. We understood that the ship had recently been in dry-dock (Apr/May 2012) for upgrading and renovations. Shame on us because it seems that the "upgrading and renovations" were only some much needed mechanical repairs (stabilizers), hull cleaning, paint and a new pool deck. And given the malaise of the passengers during the 1stt two sea days, it didn't appear that the stabilizers did much good.
Cabin Service -- It took two days until I could get the steward to bring clean towels at the evening turn-down, the squeak in the bathroom door hinges never did see any oil and the verandahs were rarely cleaned, if ever. Over the succeeding days we managed to finally get clean towels, even if some of them were a bit ragged. Oh, but the folded-towel animals were cute!
Dining -- If HAL has a "Training University", as they claim, this bunch must have been the wash-outs. Getting a meal, especially the 1st two days, was an exercise in patience, patience and more patience. You had to have been there! Breakfast in the Lido was a disaster! At the start of the cruise there was a 48-hour moratorium on self-serve, meaning everything you wanted had to be handed to you by the staff. So, not only are the lines extraordinarily slowed, one had to fight the language barrier to get or find something they wanted. There was virtually no help in finding a table and little or no help for a passenger with a cane or infirmity getting their selection back to the table. And what's with the "no trays" policy? You got it, more trips back and forth to carry your breakfast only added to the melee. Are we having fun yet? And, I haven't even gotten to the quality of the food!
The first two nights in the main dining room seemed to be O.K., but just barely. The menu selections were varied, but when served were generally luke warm. Then it seemed to all go downhill from there. Not in any particular order but the seafood was always over cooked, the vegetables were cold and the two or three steaks I had were tasteless, even after sending a couple back because they too were very, very overdone.
We decided to try one of the "up charge" restaurants, the Canaletto. While the offerings were not bad, the restaurant location was sliced out of a section of the Lido and didn't have much in the way of ambience. My "Cod Puttanesca" was the only sea food dish that was served at the proper temperature. My wife's "Cheese Tortellini" was not very "cheesy" and the pasta was, may I say it again, way over cooked. Another aspect of the Tortellini not mentioned on the menu, was the addition of potatoes into the dish! Maybe it was way to add volume to the plate?
Service in the Canaletto was poor. We arrived for our 8 O'clock reservation to find no one at reception. Finally one of the servers came to ask "what did we want?" When the ma'tre' d arrived it was another 10 minutes 'til he had a table cleared and we were seated. (Seated, yes, but on what? I didn't realize until later that my chair seat cushion was absolutely filthy, stained and discolored from too many spills.)
When we were finally seated and served, the table next to us hadn't been cleared of dirty dishes and it took nearly an hour for that to happen. $10 per person cover? I don't think so! Scratch Canaletto.
And so it went, not much improved. We decided to "graze" our way through the cruise, finding selections that we thought would not be too challenging, like cereal for breakfast, burgers for lunch and salads for dinner!
If cost-cutting is the object, I certainly think they should have succeeded. I even believe they've come up with a novel approach to "portion control", by constantly running out of certain food, drink or supplies. When the tea dispensing machine ceased functioning, that was it for the morning. Lemons? "Don't have any this morning". Want some ice cream in the afternoon? (Probably the busiest spot on the ship) Stand in line because there was only one staff working and scooping the ice cream (maybe the people in line would leave and we wouldn't have to scoop so much). Hamburgers at the Lido Grill functioned in about the same way -- only one employee taking orders, cooking the food, plating and serving the passengers.
Formal Night, "Captain's Gala Dinner". I know that the "Midnight Buffet's, Ice Carvings and Food Parades through the Dining Room are long gone, but there was a quote by a writer that said:
"Formal nights (on the Westerdam) are particularly memorable, with chairs covered in linen and passengers all dolled up in finery. The kitchen really shines and makes an extra effort -- don't miss these evenings if you want lobster or chateaubriand."
I guess we got on the wrong ship! Our experience was nothing special.Suffice it to say it was more of the same. We were with two other guests at the table, getting acquainted and making our menu selections. Several times our conversations were rudely interrupted by the waiter, who insisted on telling us he had too many tables and was really rushed, so he needed to get our orders. When they arrived, and brought by a different server, he didn't know who got what! So it was "Who has the beef?", "Who has the fish?", etc. Just like the Diner back home.
Somewhere in amongst all of this was the "convenient" cancelling of the stop at Turks & Caicos due to the Novovirus. This added a second, consecutive sea day and putting a lot of passengers in their cabins sooner than they anticipated. And, for this inconvenience the Captain grandly ordered a glass of "free champagne" for all, which was both undrinkable and insulting.
And to be sure that we hadn't had enough, disembarkation in Fort Lauderdale was a disaster. I was awfully glad that we were driving back home and didn't have to worry about connections or other important schedules, because it appears there was very little concern for the people that did once you were off the boat. Many, many people were frustrated and angry. If you had more than one carry-on bag which you could carry yourself, you had to fight to find a porter to help get your bags through customs and passport control. I'm guessing it took us nearly an hour to get through that torturous process. Near the end I risked arrest for being a terrorist because I dared to use my cellphone to let our ride know we'd neared the end of the pain. (Apparently, to make everybody feel safe, one is not permitted to take pictures nor talk on the phone inside of the terminal building, or maybe outside as well or maybe even in all of Fort Lauderdale!)
Bon Voyage to HAL.