We made our own flight arrangements & flew Spirit from Atlantic City the morning of the cruise. We arrived in Lauderdale at 9:30AM & although we had made arrangements with Holland America for transfers to the ship, their rep at the airport told us that we would have to wait until 11:00AM to be picked up by their service. Rather than wait, we took a cab at our own expense ($13)to the port & after a short wait, boarded the ship by 11:15AM. Everything was very efficient and professional.
We were really looking forward to our cabin, #7129, since it was along the rear (aft) of the ship with an oversized balcony. We were not disappointed. It was a great location with a beautiful view of the wake of the ship as we sailed; the balcony had a lounge chair for sunbathing plus 2 chairs & small table. Our cabin steward was the best we have ever had;discreet, pleasant & always left our cabin spotlessly clean. He made sure we had our coffee delivered to our cabin every morning as well. Two negatives about the cabin: no drawer space whatsoever & the Signature of Excellence upgrade of a flat screen TV/DVD player were not yet completed on this ship even though it is only 2 years old. Also, compared to other ships, almost no channels on TV. However, the decor was inviting,with shades of pale gold, rust & burgundy & the bed was very comfortable.
Of all the newer ships that we have been on, the decor & design of this ship was our least favorite. The public spaces (atrium, bars, shopping, library, casino, etc.) at the center of the ship are small, claustrophobic, dark & rather uninviting; very disappointing. The dining room was also drab, with atrocious lighting which felt like we were eating at McDonalds. The dining room walls (dark grey paneling), upholstery on the chairs & the carpeting added up to a decorating nightmare of mismatched & uncomplimentary colors & fabrics. The decor of The Pinnacle Grill was even more frightening. Overall, it was the least visually appealing of all the cruise ships we have sailed with the least amount of natural light in the public spaces.
The food in the main dining room was good to excellent; service was shaky for the first two nights, then much better. The food & service at the very busy Lido was always good for breakfast & lunch. Went to the Pinnacle Grill and had a great meal there as well. Overall, we think that the food on Holland America is better than Celebrity, which we know everyone raves about but we found to be just okay. The food on HAL's Maasdam was much better than this ship, however. We requested a table for two in the main dining room, which are hard to come by. Emailed Ships Services the week before to confirm..contact is Margaret Knight@Holland America.
The eastern Caribbean had a beautiful week of cloudless skies & warm weather, so we were very lucky. Our first stop, Turks & Caicos, has a Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville right where the ship docks, along with a swim up bar & small beach. The service at Margaritaville was possibly the worst we have ever seen in all our travels. One waitress for the entire place who I think may have gone for a swim because the place was packed & no one was getting any food or drinks. The tables had piles of dirty dishes on them (from the day before?) when we did see food served we were told it was an ice cold hamburger that took over an hour to get. Despite all this,we had fun. Roadtown in Tortola BVI, our second port, is essentially a typical Caribbean dump with a few marinas but not much else.Don't stay in town, go to the beach. We were looking forward to St. Maarten, particularly the French side, so we took a shore excursion bus that toured the island & went to Marigot. What a disappointment. After having heard about the fabulous restaurants & shopping,all we saw were filthy streets strewn with smelly garbage, poorly maintained buildings that looked like they needed a deep cleaning & restaurants that looked like you might get severely ill if you ate anything cooked in their kitchens. If you want French, go to St. Barts. The Dutch side, in contrast, was great & we loved walking along the new boardwalk & stopping for a drink on the beautiful beach. It is obvious that the cruise lines are pumping money into the economy of the Dutch side of St. Maarten while the French side seems to be behind the times. Last stop was HAL's private island, Half Moon Cay & it was like a dream..soft sand, clear water, great barbecue & bar area..much better than RCCL's private island with no one hawking drinks & hair braiding every two minutes.
Entertainment on the ship was poor & perhaps the worst of any cruise we have been on. One great singer (who sings backup with Celine Dion) but the rest was laughable. In addition, the bands that played at the pool area or at the various bars around the ship were atrocious, like something from a high school dance. We thought it might be because it was the holiday week & they couldn't get anyone, but I guess that's no excuse since we paid top dollar to sail this time of year.
Disembarkation was quick & we were taken to the airport by HAL. One of our pieces of luggage was ripped when we claimed it in the terminal & a HAL rep took the information & told us to send them the repair bill.
Overall, we enjoyed the cruise but we do not plan to go on another Vista class ship since we did not enjoy the layout or design as much as we would have hoped. Although HAL's Maasdam is a "relic" by cruise standards (launched in 1993)she had been drydocked & had Signature of Excellence upgrades all over the ship & was the perfect size & nice design compared to the Westerdam. Although there were a few nice touches on the Westerdam,overall it is not a visually appealing ship once onboard.The Crow's Nest was probably the nicest public space...check out the recliners.
As for celebrating Christmas on board a cruise ship, there were over 30 trees throughout the ship that were nicely decorated. On Christmas Eve, we were invited to watch the lighting of the main tree in the atrium. There were professional carolers singing Christmas songs while everyone gathered around the railings of the atrium to watch. Before long, a few hundred people were singing along, which was nice...then they dropped fake snow from overhead & we were all covered in white as they lit the tree!
Overall a nice experience but we will be sailing with another cruise line sometime in the future since HAL's newest ship design did not live up to our expectations & we were somewhat disappointed. We had thought that if we liked the Westerdam we would sail the Noordam (sister ship) out of NY but we've changed our minds. Happy sailing!