"Cruise plan great, ship fine, pity about the food”
We took a 14 day Panama cruise from San Diego on the Westerdam in October, 2013
During the booking progress, we found the HAL website clear and informative. We used an agent to make the booking, but arranged the excursions and additional restaurant bookings on-line. The process worked smoothly.
Embarkation in San Diego was efficient as well as disembarkation in Fort Lauderdale, especially considering the size of the ship. Going on to the ship, the emphasis on personal cleanliness was immediately apparent - a good sign.
Our suite was as described, very comfortable and with plenty of storage space. The balcony was well appointed. One small problem was that for the daily announcements from the Captain and ……, one had to go out into the corridor to hear them; they were not transmitted into the suite.
The emergency drill was rather chaotic, largely because too many guests seemed to have no idea where they should be, and when. It made us wonder what things would be like in an emergency. The crew managed the process with patience.
We had access to the Neptune Lounge. This was a real plus. Not only was there always someone available to deal with requests or questions, but it also offered light snacks throughout the day and a place of calm and peace for a wi-fi connection. The service there was excellent.
The shopping area was rather like being in a Middle East bazaar. Not that carpets were offered for sale, but we were regularly hassled to take money-off vouchers, enter competitions etc. In my view such intrusive behavior has no place on a cruise ship.
The fitness center was very well equipped, but not so well managed. A team of two were often not to be found, when advice was needed. I had hoped to learn a little about Pilates (announced on the pre-cruise program), but discovered that it would only take place three times, and involved a "modest” charge of $12 per session. The team offered some interesting talks, but it seemed that underneath was a selling objective. We listened to a talk about detoxing the body, and in a subsequent discussion they tried to sell us a detox "capsules” for $900 for my wife and $300 for me (clearly I’m less toxic than my wife…). It seems the gym is outsourced and I had the feeling it is run more as a profit center rather than simply as a service for guests.
There was a good range of entertainment, and briefings on the ports we would visit. These were informative and helpful.
The major problem for me on the cruise was the quality of the food in the main restaurant, a restaurant where the tables are very close together and where the service ranged from excellent to haphazard. The food reminded me of a factory canteen; the quality did not reach that of a standard Californian diner. But from the menu you would not have guessed that.
Perhaps because the management knew the food was no so good, they tried to make it mouthwatering on the menu, with the excessive use of meaningless adjectives. Examples of this genre: "tender lobster” - who would want tough lobster?, beef "grilled to perfection” and "slow-roasted to exquisite tenderness”, "savory goat cheese”, "tender artichoke hearts”, mozzarella "under a basil chiffonade” - whatever that is. That’s enough to make the point. It brought to mind the cliché "No matter how much lipstick you put on a pig, it’s still a pig”
By contrast the Pinnacle restaurant (surcharge levied) was excellent - great food, and superb service, from a team who had time for you. We ate there on half of our evenings aboard.
However, aside from the food, the Westerdam did a great job, especially given the large size of the ship (around 1900 passengers). And the trip through the Canal was sensational. But in future we would certainly look for a far smaller ship for cruise holidays.