Background information - This was my 10th cruise overall but the first with Holland America. Previously I have sailed only with NCL and Royal Caribbean. When researching this vacation, we considered all cruise lines leaving from Miami and Port Everglades and ultimately decided on Holland America mainly because of the itinerary, the pricing, and the size of the cabin.
Hotel information - We stayed in Fort Lauderdale the night before the cruise at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina. It was just okay. We were in a room on the intra-coastal waterway far from the main tower building. The property looks older and although it is updated, the building we were in looked pretty beat up.
Travel to embarkation Port - We rented a car from Avis and dropped it off at their small facility just over the causeway near the Port. Drop-off was disorganized and the staff seemed flustered and rather overwhelmed. Avis does, however, offer shuttle service from their facility to the port and that was very convenient.
Embarkation - Very easy and uncrowded compared to some of the check in areas we saw for Royal Caribbean and some of the other mega ships in port on that day. From the time we entered the building to check-in for our cruise, we were processed and walking on-board in probably less than 15 minutes. We were on-board before 1pm and were told our cabin was ready and we could go to it immediately if we wanted to.
Ship information - It's hard to believe that the Westerdam is considered medium sized when compared against some of the mega ships that we saw in port that day from Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Princess. However, it is modern, impeccably clean and well maintained, and more than spacious and comfortable enough for a week's vacation.
Activities - There was a great deal of activities to choose from every day, many definitely geared towards an older set of passengers. We were looking for a week of rest and relaxation and we had no trouble finding that on the ship, with plenty of deck space and lounge chairs, very comfortable and quiet public rooms, and more than enough places to kick back and enjoy drinks and views of the ocean.
There is a fitness center located at the front of the ship on one of the upper decks. It was pretty well equipped and very well utilized. I was surprised at just how busy it was on some days. The Promenade Deck is also available for walking (or jogging) around the entire ship but jogging requires some dodging around people who are leisurely strolling along.
We took advantage of the Greenhouse Spa for the thermal suite and hydrotherapy pool. This was not cheap but we enjoyed it very much. Other spa services offered were similar to what I have experienced on other cruise lines, generally quite expensive.
Fellow passengers - Holland America is known for catering to older or more senior passengers and this was definitely the case. I'd say that 85% of the people on-board were significantly older than we were so wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, etc,. were the norm. This really didn't detract from our overall experience, we were just looking for a relaxing trip.
Service - Really quite excellent everywhere we went. Service in the main dining room, bars, and public areas was very good, and the service in the Pinnacle Grill was outstanding. The staff on-board was friendly, smiling, and very accommodating of pretty much any request or question.
Port & shore excursions - Many excursions to choose from in each port, most were pretty standard i.e. snorkeling, shopping, or walking tours. Very few excursions required much exertion or much physical activity which was a little disappointing as I would have liked some more interesting options to choose from.
Cabin - We booked a Neptune Suite cabin and it was excellent. The cabin was very nicely appointed, more than comfortable enough for two people, a huge bathroom with double sinks, balcony, living area, etc. Our cabin stewards were excellent.
Dining - We ate a few dinners in the main dining room and I was pleased that Holland America offers the option to not have a structured seating time and also to request tables for two and not forced seating with other groups. The meals were quite good with many creative choices available daily. For the less adventurous, there were some regular options available every day including steak, chicken, soups, salads, etc.
We booked the Pinnacle Grill twice for dinner (once for the Le Cirque evening) and enjoyed both so much that we booked to eat there for a third night. There is an up-charge for dining there but it was worth it. The Pinnacle Grill offers a beautiful dining experience and the food and service were outstanding. Something to note is that the Pinnacle is also available for lunch (also with an up-charge) but we did not take advantage of that. It is also available for breakfast for suite guests (no up-charge) and the food was delicious.
We had a few meals at the buffet on the Lido deck. Food and service were good, the only thing that really detracted from the experience were the occasional crowds and the unfortunate behaviors of some of our fellow guests.
Entertainment - There were many options to choose from including singers and bands in some of the lounges, a dance club which was very subdued, and also a large main theater at the front of the ship. We saw one show in the theater put on by the ship's performers that we enjoyed. There is a casino on-board as well which was okay. There were plenty of machines and table games to choose from.
Disembarkation - We took advantage of an option to have our bags transferred directly to our airline at Fort Lauderdale, so after we placed the bags outside of our room on the last night of the cruise, we were told that we wouldn't have to clear them through customs and wouldn't have to touch them again until we picked them up at the baggage carousel at our destination. The fee was $20 per person and it worked exactly as advertised. This was really great! This service did require that we had to be out of our cabin by 815am so the morning was a bit rushed considering our flight wasn't until just after 2pm.
The lines in the customs hall were long and only two customs officers were on duty so clearing took a bit of time. Holland America personnel outside of the customs hall were minimal and the buses to the airports were not marked so finding which bus to get on was a bit disorganized. Once on our bus, however, the trip to Fort Lauderdale was quick.
Summary - The ship, itinerary, food, and service were all very good so my first experience with Holland America was a good one. I would book with them again, but only if I was traveling with a larger group of friends or family on-board. As I mentioned, the clientele on Holland America is generally much older so I think the chance to interact with people more in our age group was rather limited.