I was on the 7 night Western Caribbean sailing on the Westerdam for Thanksgiving with my father. This was my third cruise and first on Holland America. We took an early morning flight into Fort Lauderdale the day of the cruise and landed around 9am, got our bags, took a taxi to the pier, and were in line by 10:15am. They opened check-in around 11:00 and since we were one of the first in line we didn't have to wait at all. Boarding started around 11:45 and we were in the first group to get on the ship. We headed straight up to the Lido deck for some lunch. I'm not a huge fan of buffets but the food was decent. We had a few beers and sat outside until around 1:40 when they made the announcement that we could head to our cabins. Both of us had booked VH guarantee staterooms and were upgraded to VA cabins on the Navigation deck next door to each other. However, about a week before sailing I saw by looking online that an aft VA cabin had opened up so I called them and they switched me to cabin 4181. What a great decision! The cabin was easily 6-8ft longer than my dads, a regular VA, and the balcony was amazing. I loved the fact that it was uncovered so I could get some sun and it was very roomy. I received a bottle of wine as a gift from my mom that was delivered to my stateroom. Unfortunately they didn't leave a corkscrew for me to open it. However there was ice when I arrived which was replenished twice a day throughout the cruise. The one thing that shocked me was that the balcony was FILTHY. On my way out I ran into my cabin steward who agreed to mop the balcony immediately. The lifeboat drill was such a headache. I have done it before and it's not a huge deal but this time they took roll! Each station called out the cabin numbers of all the people who were supposed to be there to see who showed up. I felt like I was back in elementary school. Halfway through our drill the Royal Caribbean ship docked next to us rang their alarm to start their life boat drill. A lot people thought it was the signal that our drill was over. You should have seen the staff chasing after the herd of people trying to escape. Overall the embarkation was fairly painless and easy. About 45 minutes after we headed out to sea the captain made an announcement stating that one of the passengers had a medical emergency and that he was turning to ship around to drop him off back in Ft Lauderdale. It took a couple hours but the ship lowered one its lifeboats and they transported the sick man back to shore. Fortunately the captain later announced that the guy was taken to the hospital and he's now doing fine. In addition, the delay did not cause us to arrive in our first port late. When we arrived for dinner I was pleasantly surprised to find out they had assigned us a window table for 6. I had read here on cruise critic that even though escargot is only on the menu one night, it can be ordered at any time so I asked my waiter. However he told me it is by special order only and that I would have to let them know a day in advance. I ordered the cheese after dinner and it took 15 minutes after the cheese and everyone else's desserts had been served for me to get any bread and what they did finally give me was some plain white bread that was mushy like Wonder Bread. Apparently they had run out of french bread. I was not happy and spoke to the Maitre'd about my concerns. The Maitre'd brought me the next nights menu so I could decide if I wanted to special order the escargot and assured me they would have french bread for me the following night. After dinner I headed up to the Crows Nest to check out the night life. It was nearly empty but I had a few drinks and met some nice people.
Our first day was a stop in Half Moon Cay. We had reserved a clamshell for the day and our tickets said arrive before 11am to ensure a clamshell is available so we arrived around 10:30. The attendants had trouble finding space because while there were clamshells not in use, the lounge chairs next to them were all taken. I was a little uncomfortable with them moving someone else's stuff to make room (I didn't want a confrontation when the people got back) but luckily they didn't say anything to us. Unfortunately it started raining around 11:30am and poured for the rest of the day. Even though there was no sun, the clamshell did shelter us from the rain until we finally decided to give up and head back to the ship. I went to the salon and got a hair cut since I didn't have time before I left on the cruise and they did a really good job. The first formal night was this day and I was very impressed with the food. Very good. Quite a few people were in tuxedos. At the end of dinner the Maitre'd brought over a large basket of french bread that had been set aside for me. That I was happy with but I was disappointed that the cheese was the same as what I had been served the previous night, and not what was listed on the menu. I'm sure at this point the Maitre'd realized I was going to be a pain in the butt but he genuinely seemed to want to do whatever he could to make me happy. Again he brought over the menu for the following night for me to look over and I decided I would special order the escargot. Next stop: Grand Turk. I had heard there is pretty much nothing to do here so I laid on my balcony all morning getting some sun and reading. Around noon I headed down for some shopping and bought a few things at the duty free: cigarettes, wine for my cabin, and liquor to bring home. Coming back to the ship I had the bottles of liquor in the boxes the store had packed them in; I put them through the X-Ray machine and was not stopped. I didn't even see a table to declare my liquor. As a side note one of the bottles of liquor I bought is Cave Rum made in Turks & Caicos and it's really tasty, great with coke. I changed into my swim suit and headed down to the beach. While it's definitely not the nicest beach I've been to, since we were the only ship docked it wasn't crowded at all and I was happy with it. It's nice to have a beach right at the pier to walk to rather than taking a shore excursion with a bus ride and a specific time to go and come back. They also had a lot of fun stuff going on at the pool. I know from reading on here some people really don't like Grand Turk but I would definitely go back. It's an easy uncomplicated port. Heading back to my stateroom after the beach I was disappointed to see my room was never cleaned. While I was in my cabin all morning I was gone for over 4 hours in the afternoon. I let them know that I wasn't that happy with my cabin steward and received two calls of apology, one from my cabin steward (who I only saw in person a couple times on the whole cruise) and the other from the Head of Housekeeping. I was told they put me on the "priority list" and my room should be cleaned as soon as I leave every day. After that my room was cleaned thoroughly every day and my cabin steward even folded any clothes I had left out. At dinner I received my escargot as ordered but they were not good. They served the snails in regular butter rather than garlic butter, a way I had never had before and hope to never have again. Other than that dinner was excellent and they had my cheese and French bread waiting. Tonight was the first night I noticed some people not following the dress code but not any more people than other cruises I have been on. After dinner I met some people around my age and we headed to the disco. It was empty but the DJ was really good. Since we were the only ones in there he played whatever we wanted to hear, like our own private party. The following day was a sea day and I slept LATE after my late night out. I went to lunch in the dining room with my father. I thought the menu was pretty boring but the food was good. The weather wasn't great so I stayed inside and did the usual sea day stuff: eating, bingo, eating, slot tournament, eating, etc... was a nice relaxing day. Same old story in the dining room, good food, cheese with good bread waiting for me, and the Maitre'd continued to check up on me to insure I was happy. My only continuing complaint was that while the cheeses listed on the menu changed daily, I had been served the same cheeses every night. I talked to a woman on the ship whose complaint was with the salads. I didn't have many of the salads in the dining room but she said the types of lettuce in the salad were often not the same as what was listed on the menu and that the same kitchen staff who prepare the salads also plate the cheeses. Makes sense since our complaints were similar.
We were notified the evening before our stop in Grand Cayman that because of high winds, the port of Georgetown was closed and we would be forced to dock at an alternate port on the south side of the island. The captain said we were very lucky since the alternate port only has room for 3 ships and 7 ships were scheduled to dock that day. This alternate port literally had nothing, just a pier for the tenders and a dirt parking lot. We did the Island Tour shore excursion which was nice and when we got back around 2:30pm the lines for the tenders were starting to get long for all 3 ships. The pier was not big enough for all 3 ships to board their tenders at once. I was very impressed that HAL had its entertainers talking to people in line as well as waiters passing out free cups of water and lemonade. Neither Celebrity nor Royal Caribbean (the other 2 ship companies in port) had anything for their passengers in line. When our ship finally departed at 5pm (all 3 ships in port were scheduled to leave at 4) the Celebrity and the Royal Caribbean ships were both still in port and the lines were still HUGE, you could see them all the way from the ship. The next day was another sea day and it was just more of the usual sea day activities except this time the weather was great. Because the last day of the cruise was going to be a port day they did the disembarkation talk and gave out the debarkation forms early. I spent my morning on my amazing aft balcony enjoying the sun and breeze and then went to the spa and had a facial in the afternoon. The guy who did my facial was excellent. He was from Tokyo, very friendly, and actually had a degree in chemistry with a specialty in skincare. At dinner I noticed a lot of people not following the dress code. It seemed that as the cruise went on people saw others wearing whatever they wanted and realized they could do the same. The Maitre d continued to be very helpful and the food was good as usual. We docked right in the middle of town in Key West and it was so convenient. A nice town just to walk around, have lunch and a drink. I did the Conch Train Tour and it was a nice way to see the whole island in just a few hours. That evening was the last formal night and they had escargot on the menu. I decided to give it one more try and they were really good. They were not prepared the same way as when I special ordered them. It seemed like a lot of people made less of an effort to look presentable on the second formal night. There was a guy at the table next to mine wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I couldn't believe it! Our flights weren't scheduled until late afternoon so we received tags for the last group called. We waited about 20 minutes after they called our numbers to head down and the ship was empty; I think we were one of the last ones off. When we got to the baggage hall we couldn't find any of our luggage. We were told by the HAL reps that some of the bags had been put in the wrong area and that we should look around. We found 2 of our 3 bags but my large suitcase was still missing. While I was walking around wondering what to do I saw a piece of luggage just like mine on a cart with a group waiting in the Customs line. I got up close and sure enough the luggage tag had my name on it. When I confronted them they laughed it off like it was no big deal but I was not happy, if I hadn't seen it they would have gone through immigration and probably into a taxi with my luggage and who knows where it would have ended up. I'm not convinced it was accidental. The most important things to me on a cruise are the food and service. The food in the dining room was very good and I was also extremely impressed with the service. The Maitre d checked on me at least twice every night to see how my meal was and also brought me the next night's menu every night. My only other concern was with my lazy cabin steward which was also promptly addressed. The attitude of the management onboard seemed to be let's do whatever it takes to make the customer happy, something you rarely see in the service industry today. This cruise with Holland America was the best cruise I have been on by far and I hope I'll be sailing with them again soon!