My wife and I have cruised almost exclusively with Holland America and have sailed only with them since we retired several years ago. We have just turned 65, but we are as they say "active adults" and we find that Holland America is a good fit for us. I run 5 to 10 miles a day and the fitness centers have always been a welcome amenity. I would not suggest running on the sports deck, at least in good weather, as the deck chairs often create an obstacle course that kill your stride. Using the equipment in the fitness center plus walking and taking the stairs instead of the elevators helps counter the caloric intake that is hard to avoid.
Living in South Carolina, we drove down to Ft. Lauderdale, stopping at Jacksonville and Palm Beach Gardens. On the morning of the cruise we drove from PBG to Ft. Lauderdale - about 50 miles - and arrived at the port at 9:45. We parked in the Midport Parking Garage, directly across from where the Westerdam was docked and brought our luggage over to the terminal where it was swiftly loaded onto the luggage containers. Having a Deluxe Veranda Suite we would have priority boarding, so we thought this time would work out well.
There was some delay, as the previous cruise was a "Smooth Jazz" themed cruise and the "last night" party caused some of the guests to sleep in a bit too long. However, we were brought into the terminal, checked in and brought to a "lounge" to wait. Some refreshments were served and it was an opportunity to meet and mingle with some of the other Suite guests. At about noon we were escorted onto the ship and able to go directly to our rooms. Fresh fruit, fresh flowers and chilled sparkling wine were nicely displayed in the room. We dropped off our small bags and cameras and went over to the Neptune Lounge, which was almost directly across from our cabin, to check in.
Here comes the really good part. We met Hazel and Bong, the two Neptune Lounge concierges. They were absolutely fantastic. Throughout our two week cruise (we did both the eastern and western) they were professional, efficient, informative, helpful and very simply a pleasure to be around. Holland America should be very proud to have individuals of this caliber on their staff. My wife and I cannot say enough good things about them and we would hope that we would meet them again on a future cruise. They are the best!!! Additionally, the two stewards in the lounge, Made and Su, were likewise a pleasure to be around and could not be more accommodating. This Neptune Lounge, with Hazel, Bong, Su and Made went a long way in making this such an enjoyable cruise.
Our Room Stewards, Achmad and Gede, were also excellent. They asked if we had any special requirements or if there was anything that we needed them to do. There wasn't, but they delivered outstanding service and we couldn't have asked for more. Again, two individuals that Holland America can be proud of.
Overall, the staff seemed fine. The only less than sterling performance was in the dining room. We typically like the early seating and a table of six. We find six to be good for conversation and allows for everyone to be heard by the others. Sometimes with eight or more, separate conversations have to take place, because not everyone can hear everyone else. We were fortunate to have wonderful table mates on this cruise and we enjoyed their company very much. Dining with them was something to look forward to each day that we dined in the dining room.
I won't mention our head steward's name. He never introduced himself to the table and always seemed somewhat confused. His assistant the first week was Wayan and he was excellent. He introduced himself and was always pleasant and efficient. He was moved to different tables on the second leg of the cruise and replaced by an assistant who was more like our head steward. Honestly, if it weren't for their name tags we wouldn't have a clue as to what their names were. The tables that they had were always the last to be served and the last out of the dining room. The gong was always sounding when we were finally able to finish our diner and leave. The service was, as previously stated, less than sterling.
On the second leg, we were unable to go ashore at Half Moon Cay because of strong winds, so the Captain announced that everyone would receive a glass of champagne that evening at diner. Our table noticed that the champagne was being served with coffee and dessert at all of the other tables, except the ones being served by our steward. None of us really cared - the champagne was a nice gesture, but we could live without it. Again, these tables were the last served and so the last out of the dining room. As we exited we saw our steward carrying the champagne glasses from the kitchen to the serving station. Again, he had that look of bewilderment, but said nothing and neither did we.
We thoroughly enjoyed the "Night at Le Cirque" held at the Pinnacle and also dining at the Pinnacle on other nights. We always set aside some evenings to dine at the Pinnacle and we have never been disappointed and the Pinnacle on the Westerdam was no exception. Both the Le Cirque night and the others in the Pinnacle were excellent. The serving staff and the quality and preparation of the food made for very enjoyable evenings. Special mention for our server, Su. Yes, the same fellow who served as steward in the Neptune. My wife was having the ribeye, but mentioned that the lobster mac-n-cheese sounded interesting. So, he brought her a rather generous portion, in addition to the steak, so she could see if she liked it. Of course, she did. Just a nice touch, which made her feel good.
The only negative comment would be about the maitre d'. Normally, at least on other ships, the Pinnacle chef and the maitre d' make a point of coming to each table to inquire about how the guests are and if they are enjoying the meal. The chef the night of Le Cirque, did just that, but the maitre d' each of the nights that we were there went to a few tables, but not all. It seemed very hit or miss and below the standards one would expect.
Two shore excursions standout. Stingray City off Grand Cayman, which my wife and I both thoroughly enjoyed (which was recommended by friends of ours who lived in the Caymans for several years) and the America's Cup Regatta in Cozumel. I did that one and it was just a great experiences and a lot of fun. The fact that our racing yacht, the Stars and Stripes, won, was an added benefit - although one might surmise these wins go back and forth between the two racing yachts. Still, a great time was had by all.
One other item worth noting was the Customs clearance at Ft. Lauderdale between the two legs. As the ship returned to Ft. Lauderdale after the first week and some passengers disembarked and others embarked, we, who were staying on were told that we would have to get off the ship and clear customs and then get back on. All passengers staying on for the second week had to meet at the Vista Lounge and would be escorted off, go through customs and get back on. Not a Holland America requirement - strictly government.
Because the terminal we were using had only two stations for US citizens we were backed up with those folks who were disembarking that morning. After finally getting through we had to line up in the terminal to be escorted back on to the ship. The ship had to have a zero passenger count before anyone could get back on. Apparently, one passenger, didn't get off and couldn't be found, so we stood in line in the terminal while he was being searched for. After a half hour or so, some of the elderly guests were having difficulty standing so wheelchairs were sent for. After some more time the wheelchairs arrived. Really felt sorry for these folks. Eventually, the missing passenger was found. We were told he got tired of waiting in the Vista Lounge to be escorted off the ship and left and fell asleep in the Queen's Lounge. Once found, he was escorted off the ship, past all of us waiting passengers so he could clear through customs. We all got a good look at him and although we know he was on the ship for the second leg, none of us ever saw him again.
We opted to do early disembarkation. We had our car at Ft. Lauderdale and were going to be staying in Orlando for a while. You do have to carry all of your luggage off the ship yourself with early disembarkation, but it wasn't a problem and we were on the road within 45 minutes of leaving our cabin.
All in all it was a good cruise and we enjoyed it enormously. Calm waters, good weather and the pleasure of meeting Hazel and Bong in the Neptune - life is good.