The 2013 International Master Gardener Conference was held on board Holland American's Westerdam in September. The organizers of the event, which is held every other year, determined that the cruise package offered by Holland America would be at least as economical as the usual "destination" venues, with the added convenience of having all attendees and seminars on the ship. The cost of travel and the cruise is particularly important for Master Gardeners. We are volunteers who receive no compensation for our services as educators, and bear the cost of our own continuing education including the bi-annual conferences.
The cruise was a fantastic choice, and by far the best conference venue I've ever experienced. Logistics were a snap, our cabin was comfortable, and breakfast room service made it easy to attend even the earliest seminars. The options for shore excursions were plentiful. It would have been nice to have a little more time in each port of call, but we opted for whale watching and nature hikes which took a bite out of our shopping and sight-seeing. My travel partner did not attend the conference seminars, but found no shortage of entertainment on board. I managed to catch a couple of the culinary demos, a floor show and the big finale of their "Dancing With the Stars". I could not have been better entertained!
The staff were as friendly as can be, though a bit less formal than on other cruises. They treated us with origami at dinner (in addition to towel sculptures greeting us in the cabin), and consistently displayed a wonderful warm hospitality. The food was plentiful and well-presented. The evening meals in the dining room may not be a match the haute cuisine on the Royal Caribbean line, but they surpassed many pricey restaurants.
Our cruise package was virtually all-inclusive, and topped off with a complimentary $50 beverage card. At the end of the week, our attendees voted in favor of holding a future conference on board a cruise. Overall, the conference and Holland America cruise combo was an excellent value, and I will definitely sign on again.