This was my 11th cruise, having previously sailed with Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Princess, Carnival, and Celebrity. It was the first with Holland America.
The Westerdam has some imaginative design touches, but the ship lacks open areas and contains many corridors and tight spaces. The shopping arcade, for example, can be difficult to traverse, particularly after the dinner crowd exits the Vista dining room. An interesting feature is the two outside glass elevators midship. And check out the (yet another corridor) Marilyn Monroe entrance to Northern Lights.
I have had interior, outside, and balcony cabins. It was my third solo cruise, which means economizing with an inside cabin, as solo passengers pay anywhere from 150 to 200 percent for the privilege. This was the smallest, most claustrophobic cabin I'd ever experienced. It would be impossible for two people to be comfortable in this space. My clothes filled the three tiny closets, one of which contains the safe, and I don't overpack. After emptying the contents of my one suitcase it had to remain upright beside the bed, since there isn't enough room in the cabin to squeeze it under the bed! But the biggest problem becomes evident only at showtime. Fifth deck forward cabins are directly over the Vista show lounge, and the sound carries right through.
An important part of cruising for most people is the evening dining experience. I looked forward to meeting my tablemates, and hoped we would be compatible. I'm a 50-something female, and couldn't help but be disappointed to discover I had been assigned to a table with five people all over the age of 80. In this computer age, and with the cruise line having our birth dates on file, is it too much to expect to be assigned with a comparable age group? Although these were all lovely men and women, one of whom had early Alzheimer's, efforts at conversation were so exhausting that after the third night I ate my dinners alone in the casual, relaxed atmosphere of the Lido dining room.
This brings up the problem HAL has had in trying to shake its image as the geriatric line. While children, families, and all age groups were represented on this cruise, the largest percentage consisted of HAL's Senior Citizen base. Certainly some seniors are livelier and more fun-loving than people half their age, and I enjoyed the company of some from this category around the Lido pool on some days. In fact, I met wonderful people of all ages onboard, but younger people looking for a cruise should be aware that this particular line carries many elder folks, a number with wheelchairs, walkers, and canes.
The quality of the food was pretty much the same as on the other cruise lines I've tried. This usually means a few things are outstanding, most items are really good, and a few are not so great. I'm not a foodie with a huge appetite, but in my three nights in the Vista dining room I found the portions to be very small. We were not encouraged to order extra, seconds, or even another dessert as has happened on other lines that serve larger portions to begin with. Perhaps HAL is trying to save money on its food. At the Lido buffet only the salad bar and breakfast pastries are self-serve. Passengers must state their requests to servers behind the counter. It's easy to miss something you might like to have tried, because all the selections are not clearly visible behind the glass. And some people are actually embarrassed to ask for "more please", as the servers are controlling the portion size. The worst part is the long lines this style of buffet creates, particularly on disembarkation day when everyone is trying to eat breakfast at the same time.
Despite this drawback, I still enjoyed the Lido restaurant. The server system actually works well around the drink fountains with trays of iced tea and ice water already poured. Don't miss the bread pudding found opposite the salad bar instead of in the dessert section. There is a deli section, wok section, and an Italian section where pizza and pasta are available almost all day. I never regretted leaving my table assignment in the Vista dining room, as I thoroughly enjoyed my evening dinners in the Lido. Four selections are offered each night and are displayed on plates behind the glass. This visual helps with the selection. It can be difficult to find an empty table at breakfast and lunch, but there was often availability closer to the Lido pool end of the restaurant.
Other food offerings were a decent barbecue around the Lido pool one evening. And many ships seem to be following Norwegian's lead and offering a late night chocolate buffet. This was also arranged around the Lido pool, and while it may not have been the best one I've sampled, there's no such thing as a "bad" chocolate buffet.
There's an aft pool in addition to the Lido, and the children onboard freely used both. There's no "adult only" pool as some have said, or at least that rule was never enforced. There weren't enough children on this sailing to make it a problem anyway. I do wish, however, that parents would follow the rule posted by the pool and not dunk their diaper clad toddlers in the water.
On to the ship's entertainment. I found the pool band to be quite good. I wish they had concentrated more on reggae and Caribbean sounds though. Other performers throughout the ship I only heard in passing by. No expense was spared in the state-of-the-art Vista show lounge, except for sound proofing under the fifth deck. I learned in a back-stage tour that one costume worn for one song by the lead female singer cost 10 grand! I went to four of the shows, and of course got to listen to the later version again in my cabin. A first-rate, talented cast performed the two production shows. And illusionist Leo Ward is not to be missed. The final show offers bits and pieces from the week's entertainers.
A strength on this ship was the smiling, cheerful, helpful crew. They seemed to enjoy working with one another, and this was made evident during the disembarkation talk when our cruise director, Steve, announced he was leaving the ship for a new assignment, and broke down and cried while speaking of his onboard friendships. He recovered like a true pro, because the show must go on.
Now for the ports. The highly rated Half Moon Cay deserves its reputation as one of the best private islands. We shared the beautiful powdered sand beach with the Volendam, but except for the elusive vacant lounge chair there was no crowded feel. The barbecue lunch, which included some great grilled salmon, was exceptional and there was always a place to sit in the numbered picnic huts scattered throughout the vegetation in the pavilion area.
In Grand Turk I took the hop on and off bus tour, and explored the lighthouse and prison. After lunch on the ship, I headed back over to check out the overpriced shops and wandered over to the popular Margaritaville pool and swim-up bar. Instead I opted for relaxation at the nearly deserted beach right off the pier, which provided free cabanas and plenty of lounge chairs for passengers.
My Grand Cayman excursion was the Land and Sea combination. It offered a narrated tour past island sights with stops at "Hell", a hokey but fun diversion, the turtle farm, and a semi-submersible boat tour, which afforded us great views of the coral, shipwrecks, and fish. Both the narrator on the sub and the pilot, who doubles as the diver attracting the fish past our windows, were entertaining and fun and all in our group enjoyed the entire excursion.
The Costa Maya pier is so long a trolley runs back and forth saving steps for tired feet. Most of us chose to walk it, even in the brutal heat. All that's in this piece of property carved out of the jungle is a collection of shops, and another Margaritaville pool and bar. The large pool was quite crowded on this day, as we shared the port with the Carnival Miracle. After climbing the tower, looking at jewelry and crafts, and watching Mexican dancers perform it was back to the ship's pools for me. Their beach was too rocky for swimming, necessary on this very hot day. Other passengers who had booked tours to the ruins seemed satisfied with their excursions.
With a late flight home from Fort Lauderdale, after an easy disembarkation with excellent staff directions to waiting buses, I spent the morning on a La Mar Everglades excursion booked onboard. Zipping over the water and grass in an airboat, and seeing two good-sized 'gators, was great fun.
Although Holland America does many things well, with the variety of ships out there I will most likely not book another cruise with them - unless I'm lucky enough to make it into my 70's. Look for me in twenty years in the Lido by the bread pudding.