Westerdam cruise 2-15-14 We booked this cruise as a get away from winter, relax and enjoy a warmer climate for a week trip. If you are familiar with C S Lewis’ Narnia series, we feel like this has been an endless winter in Pennsylvania – “Always winter and never Christmas.”
All week we were nervous – would we make the ship or not? A major winter storm hit our area on Thursday the 13th. All flights heading South on the 13th and the morning of the 14th were canceled. Being Presidents day weekend, all flights were completely booked – so if your flight was canceled you would pretty much be out of luck. We had a 5:25 PM flight on the 14th and it left Philadelphia essentially “On time.”
Upon arrival at FLL airport, we called the airport Hilton where we had reserved some three months before. It took them 20 minutes to pick us up. Since the Hilton is 1.5 miles from the airport terminal, I thought that to be an unacceptable long amount of time. Imagine our surprise when others in the van said they had been waiting ninety minutes. The Fort Lauderdale Airport Hilton is the worst Hilton I have stayed at in years, and I would not consider staying there again. The restaurant was ill-prepared for the many guests wanting their overpriced breakfast and a long line developed.
Transfers to the cruise port were available for $9 per person. 14 passengers were squeezed into a 14 passenger van for the transfer to the Westerdam.
This was the worst-ever Holland America embarkation we have experienced. We arrived at the terminal at 11:45. We were queued four times. #1 for the security check. #2, a much longer queue for checking in. The check in lady apologized as said there were disembarkation delays and that was holding up embarkation. By now its 12:15, and they haven’t started letting anyone on board yet. The third queue was waiting for boarding number 12 to be called. Finally at about 1:00 boarding number 12 was called. Up an escalator to the last queue – waiting for the photographers to take a “Welcome aboard” photo. Although it seemed like half the passengers were turning down the photo opportunity, the queue was carefully constructed to prevent anyone from bypassing those wanting to have a photo taken. At 1:15 we were aboard.
Later in the cruise we learned that there were eight ships in FLL that day, and US Customs assigned only two people to disembark the near 2,000 passengers from Westerdam – thus, the delay in the prior cruise’s disembarkation.
As we carried all our clothes in our carry-ons (first time ever) we headed straight to our cabin to deposit our cases. Next we headed towards the dining room and found the maître de taking dining change requests. While only two parties were ahead of me in line, they were very slow and it took ten minutes to speak with the maître de. As expected, the “Fixed dining is all full” story was relayed; they gave us a 5:30 reservation for that evening, and said we were on the wait list for fixed dining.
At this point, it is 1:40 and despite the delayed embarkation, the dining room was already closed for the mariner’s lunch. We headed up to the lido and I enjoyed a burger and dog from the terrace grill. DW had an assortment of salads. At 2:30 there was supposed to be a “Social media” get together in the digital workshop. We went and met Jill, the techspert, but no one else was there. We headed back to the lido for ice cream, before guest services began to shut down for the muster drill.
The muster drill was at 3:15, which seemed early to us. Roll call was taken and it really seemed like a very long drill. After all the standing in the prior queues, this about did us in, another 35 minutes or so of standing in place. At the drill’s conclusion we headed to our room. We unpacked and changed for dinner, and then headed to the lido for the sail away party. We went to dinner at 5:30 and enjoyed the service of our “Anytime” waiter and assistant. Including dessert, we were through with dinner in 75 minutes.
After dinner we visited the spa and signed up for the thermal suite package. We decided to buy the thermal suite package as this President’s week sailing has a much higher than typical (for HAL) contingent of children. We witnessed the closure of one of the hot tubs mid-afternoon and could only imagine why. Lots of relatively small children in the hot tubs and the main lido pool is certainly a center of activity for them.
We took advantage of the hydro-pool and the thermal loungers immediately. Later in the night, we caught the last three numbers of the first set being performed by the BB King Blues group. This is certainly something new for HAL. While I would prefer just a little less volume, the group is very talented. We attended the opening night show in the theater. I thought the first 15 minutes was really good, and was very impressed. Regretfully the show did decline in attention holding as it went on. We were back in the V lounge for the BB King’s group 10:30 performance, but left during the second song as we were overcome with tiredness. We slept extremely soundly, but not before putting a room service breakfast order on the door knop.
Sunday Feb 17:
Our light Breakfast was delivered within the 7:30 – 8:00 time frame requested, and the order was accurate. The tea water was not quite hot enough to make good tea, but no real complaints. About our room… Thanks to the helpful members of the cruise critic Holland America board, we had booked cabin 1034, an oversized inside on the main deck. The location is convenient to the forward elevators (for the thermal suite), the showroom, and the main atrium. DW especially enjoyed the extra room “We are not bumping into each other walking around the bed.”
We again used our thermal suite passes enjoying the facilities very much. It is a beautiful day, 79 degrees sunny with a slight breeze on deck. We went to visit the future cruise consultant and learned that they had missed the ship due to flight issues. They won’t be onboard until San Juan. Next we signed up for the smallest internet access package and found a table by the lido pool. At 11:30 the steel drum player was to play at the pool at there was also an advance photo editing class in the digital workshop. DW stayed to listen to the music while I attended the class.
After the class, we met up and went to the dining room for lunch. This was a great lunch! I enjoyed a calamari appetizer, “French dip” roast beef sandwich, and Apple Pie. We walked the promenade deck and noticed the significant temperature difference between the southern side of the ship and the northern side. After a few laps, we sat and relaxed on the lovely teak lounge chairs. At 3:00 we stopped in the dining room for tea.
We were surprised upon returning to our room that a note was left from the dining room that we were moved to fixed early dining, at table 53. Table 53 is in the rear corner, a table for eight. Our dining companions are very friendly and one couple at our table is celebrating anniversary #65 later this week. We look forward to this!
We visited the Ocean Bar where the Halcats were playing. Two of our new dining companions joined us and we were able to dance a nice waltz. They left to attend the show but we stayed to support the concept of the Halcats continuing to play during the show. After a while however, it was time to call it a night.
Monday, February 17, 2014
We set the alarm on my I-phone for 6:45 so we could be at breakfast in the dining room at 7:30. Today we visit Grand Turk with an 8:00 arrival. Breakfast in the dining room was a pleasure. We were out in about 45 minutes, went back to our room to change into swim gear, and headed out to explore Grand Turk.
I had discovered on cruise critic that the resort immediately adjacent to the cruise center ran a “Grand Turk tram tour.” We went there and purchased tickets for $25 each. We were able to sit in the front row of the tram, and enjoyed a near two-hour tour that took us all around the island. We enjoyed the brief “Shopping” stop in Cockburn town and also the stop at the lighthouse where a number of the “Wild” donkeys appear to live. The vistas from the lighthouse grounds are very picturesque and lots of photos were taken.
We arrived in Grand Turk along with the Carnival Breeze. When returning from the tram tour, we found it hard to locate chairs in the shade anywhere around Margaritaville or the main beach. Eventually we did, and I will report that the water was delightful as we took turns enjoying the February dip in the Caribbean.
We returned to Westerdam at about 1:15 and enjoyed burgers from the Terrace Grill. Another round of hydro-pool and thermal loungers brought us to a little after 2:00. As a sail away party was planned with the Halcats at the lido pool, we made our way there and shared a table with a very nice couple we met.
After getting ready for dinner we went to the crow’s nest to listen to the guitarist, Gina. Of all the entertainment on the ship Gina is the weakest. Dinner in the dining room was again very enjoyable. A note on dinner; we are always done within 90 minutes, at least thus far on the cruise. The assistant Maître de’ (Ricco) has come by each night to check to see everyone is happy. Very pleased with the dining room service thus far.
No music at the Ocean bar this evening! The Halcats are playing back-up for the guest entertainer. We went to the show, Tricia Kelly, and I would say she was a 5 out of 10. After a while we had a hard time staying awake, and were too tired to try the B B King band as they were starting after the show.
Tuesday, February 18
We enjoyed breakfast in the dining room again this morning. We were seated with a couple who did the world cruise on Amsterdam in 2007 to kick off their retirement. For the second consecutive day, about 45 minutes for breakfast, a very nice pace.
Next we took advantage of our thermal spa pass which took up most of the remainder of the morning. After cleaning up, we headed up toward the Lido for the sail in to San Juan. We were almost late as the Westerdam was a bit ahead of schedule! We did make it in time to photo and video this, one of the best “Sail in” experiences in the Caribbean.
We had a great quick lunch (Roast Turkey!) in the lido and exited Westerdam shortly after noon. We turned left after exiting the pier and at the next pier bought two round trip ferry tickets for $1.00 each to cross the bay to take the Bacardi factory tour. The ferry ride was very pleasant. Upon arrival we found a van which quickly filled (there were at least 30 Westerdam passengers on the ferry) for the short transfer to Bacardi at $3.00/person.
Bacardi has an immaculately maintained facility with a very nice visitor experience. We were handed tickets for “Two free drinks” each and tried concoctions which were new for us. They also offered free internet access while waiting. Soon enough our tour color was called. We very much enjoyed the tour and purchased a few shirts at the gift shop. No, no rum was bought as we are not checking bags and have no way to take home large volumes of liquids!
We shared a taxi back to the ferry with another couple for the same $3.00/person. We were back before 4:00 and made a necessary stop at the CVS immediately across the street from the ferry terminal. CVS was very popular with both cruise guests and crew members. The Celebrity Silhouette had arrived in port while we were away. Taking a scenic route back towards Westerdam, we came across a number of sidewalk vendors. A purse was found that couldn’t be passed up, so DW now has a nice “Prada” bag.
Dinner was again very enjoyable tonight. It really makes a difference having nice dining companions. After dinner we headed up to the aft pool for the “Dancing under the stars” sail away party. The Halcats were at their best and we did, indeed, dance under the stars. Two of the other three couples from our table joined us. We stayed up late (for us!) and enjoyed the Piano bar for Jimmy Buffett night.
Wednesday, February 19
Up early for St. Maarten today! Or, so we thought. I had set my I-phone for an alarm. I knew that the phone had reset to Atlantic time in San Juan. What I did not know was that when I accessed the ship’s internet it re-reset the clock to Eastern Time. When seeing on the bridge cam on TV that we were docked, we checked the TV time and found out we were an hour behind schedule!
With a 9:00 sailing time for the Lord Sheffield sail excursion, we had little time to waste. We had a quick Lido breakfast and gathered our stuff to head out. We made it to the Lord Sheffield at 8:55 and found that only four passengers had booked for this morning. We were treated to a rare winter St. Maarten visit with only two ships in port, and as a result has almost a private charter!
The great captain and mate made our morning terrific. We did an hour of snorkeling, an hour of sailing, and an hour of motoring back to the pier. A chicken and rib lunch was barbequed and endless beverages were available. A five star outing to be sure!
After exiting the Lord Sheffield, we walked into town. A pair of flip-flops were purchased, and at about 12:40 we found the Yoda guy exhibit. We browsed the store but decided we did not have enough time with a 2:30 all aboard to do the museum justice, so we did not go through it. Something to save for next time…
Back on Westerdam, we used our thermal suite pass, and found a table just vacated for the sail away party on the lido. The Halcats did a good job. After cleaning up, we visited the crow’s nest for happy hour and a check of e-mail.
Dinner was very special tonight! One couple at our table were celebrating their 65th anniversary today! They graciously provided a bottle of sparkling wine for the table. After dinner, a special anniversary cake with “65” noted was provided by the dining staff. They came and sang the Indonesian celebration song. A very great time was had by all.
After dinner one of our dining companions taught us a card game, and we headed to the showroom for tonight’s show – Rocking Roadhouse. I am not a fan of the “Singers and dancers,” but they are truly a “Step up” on Westerdam from what we’ve seen on prior cruises on HAL and Celebrity. I really enjoyed the show.
Thursday, February 20
Thursday was a relaxing sea day. We enjoyed a dining room breakfast followed by a little shopping at the lido pool sale. Today was the mariner’s lunch, held at 11:00 and 1:00. We were in the 1:00 group. The mariner’s lunch is a disappointment, as it has been for several years. The trout was recommended as the best option by our waiter and it was okay. Our dining room lunch on Sunday was much better. We appreciated receiving the Dutch tiles and noted they are exactly the same as the ones we were given 13 months prior on Zuiderdam, so we now have a set of four of these.
Today was also the Royal Dutch Tea! So it was quite a day for eating. The Dutch tea was as nice as ever and we enjoyed that a great deal. Talking with one of the waiters when the crowd had dispersed, I asked if Friday would be the Indonesian tea as we also look forward to that. He sadly told us they no longer offer the Indonesian tea on Westerdam.
The second formal night happened and we greatly enjoyed dinner. After dinner we had a chance for some dancing at the Ocean Bar. We attended the B B King Blues Band show in the Vista lounge. Based on the glowing comments on cruise critic, I expected more. We were disappointed as we did not consider that a variety of music was played; it seemed all blues. The lounge was not packed and was likely only at about 70% capacity. We headed back to the Ocean Bar for a few more tunes to close out the evening.
Friday, February 21 – Half Moon Cay
With no plan to “Rush” this morning, we enjoyed breakfast in the dining room. We then ended up gathering our towels and were on the first tender to Half Moon Cay. We found a couple of shaded loungers and relaxed on the powder sand beach. At 9:30, Jill, the techspert, offered a photo safari of the island. I participated in this and was treated to views of Half Moon Cay not seen on our prior visits.
At the close of the photo safari we stopped in one of the chapels and came across a couple who had just finished a vow renewal ceremony. This was very nice. We took some time to enjoy the crystal clear water and truly enjoyed our morning.
At about 12:15 we decided we would return to Westerdam for lunch and to use our thermal suite passes. We spent a lot of time in the thermal suite today. We cleaned up and began the chore of packing for disembarkation. We visited the crow’s nest for happy hour and to check e-mails. Finally, we headed to the dining room for our final dinner on board.
We had forgotten that the last evening is the “International dinner.” Some may like it; I don’t. The menu selections are limited and in my opinion this is the worst meal of the cruise. Why HAL does this I don’t understand. Not a single one of the appetizers or salads appealed to me. The waiter was able to bring me a plate of sliced fruit.
Everyone at the table ordered the “Baked Alaska.” What we were served was NOT baked Alaska. This wonderful dessert has deteriorated into a bowl of meringue, not heated, served over about 1 sq. inch of one quarter inch thick sponge cake with a couple cherries on top. YUCK. This is what baked Alaska is supposed to be: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baked_Alaska
I was happy I had also ordered a chocolate cake offered that evening. After dinner six from our table visited the Ocean Bar for music and dancing. The Halcats played until 8:00. From 8:00 until 8:45 there was no music anywhere. We went to the B B King’s group at 8:45 but left after two numbers. We enjoyed the piano bar until it was time to go to the showroom for the Dancing with the Stars finale. This was a great show although I did not agree with the outcome of the competition.
After the show we bid our farewells to our new friends and completed our packing.
Saturday morning we enjoyed a quick breakfast at the Lido. We gathered our luggage and went to deck two to wait for the ship is cleared announcement. We were among the first 10 couples off the ship at 7:15. We were through customs, a taxi ride, printed boarding passes and cleared security at the FLL airport and at our gate by 8:00 AM.
A note however about the airport – Terminal A for Southwest. When we arrived in the security line it had three rows queued up. In the ten minutes it took us to get to where “The shoes come off,” the entire queue filled up AND the entire supplemental queue was also filled. So, in the 10 minutes it took us to clear the queue, the queue grew by 300%. Making an early flight means being one of the first off the ship and wasting no time!
Overall, the SERVICE on the Westerdam remains excellent. We were very pleased with the consistent service we received. At the Mariner’s lunch, the captain’s brief comments included the fact that HAL has the highest amount of repeat customers of any cruise line. That is great – but does HAL think that these repeat customers will not notice when long-enjoyed aspects of cruising on HAL go away? Not hosting an Indonesian tea – what does that “Save?” They still offer “Tea” daily.
We learned our lesson and will not cruise again during president’s day week. While we were not directly affected, we counted no less than FOUR hot-tub closures during the week, and witnessed small children spending hours on end in the hot tubs (what are their parents thinking?)
On the other hand, the addition of a photo safari on Half Moon Cay was greatly appreciated. Entertainment overall has been turned up a notch, so Kudos to HAL for that. They just need to find a way to cover the Ocean Bar on those evenings that the Halcats are needed in the showroom. We had a nice, quality, relaxing winter getaway. It’s a close call, but due to the high service level, four and a half stars to the Westerdam for this Eastern Caribbean cruise.