We just returned from the Westerdam- Eastern Cruise and I thought that I would pass along a few comments that relate to many of the questions that have come up on the board over the past few weeks, along with a brief description of our experience on the Westerdam.
Pre-cruise. We selected the Hyatt Pier 66. Recently remodeled and close to port. We did get a port view room as requested. They took our cell phone number after we checked in so that they could call us when our room was ready since we were very early. They stored our bags and allowed us to use the spa to change clothes. It is about a 15 to 20 minute walk east to the beach area. If you walk west over the bridge you'll get to some shopping centers but not many restaurants. Overall a nice stay but overpriced. It's a 15 minute cab ride in heavy port traffic to the ship.
We arrived at the ship around 11:15 am and had a fairly quick check-in prior to being placed in a waiting room. On previous cruises departing Ft Lauderdale, we have found early embarkation to be fairly rapid to the ship with a short wait. The ship was being cleaned after a Norwalk outbreak the previous week. We boarded the ship about 1215 PM. The extra cleaning was appreciated and you could see other changes on the ship related to the extra care necessary to keep Norwalk at bay on this cruise. One note about the land operation, during the holding period the HAL contracted 'cattle herders' were rude and not helpful in the least. Many people had questions and once I even heard a 'herder' say to the simple question of when people will be allowed to board..."You'll go upstairs when I tell you, go sit down". Not a smile in sight. Many people were having a bad first impression of the service to come...just because of these contractors. Too bad.
Post Outbreak Cruise: Don't worry about a cruise that follows an outbreak. They handled it very well. As Brian indicated a couple of weeks ago, for the first 4 days of the cruise- they hand you everything. You'll feel less likely to get Norwalk than on any other cruise. This by far was the cleanest cruise ship in the world for our cruise. It had been cleaned from top to bottom by crew and special contractors on Sunday morning. After 4 days we were able to use salt and pepper shakers, select our own fruit etc.
Cabin: We were allowed in our cabins about 3pm (in the past it was around 1:30). The SY Superior Veranda Suite as on other Vista class cruises in the past is just fine for us. We were on the Starboard side and this worked out. We were on Upper Veranda just AFT of the glass elevators. The ride was smooth, no noise.
Formal/Casual: The cruise had 2 formal and 5 casual nights, no informal. We did not see many tuxes. We saw many suits and blazers with ties on formal nights and no shorts in the dining room on casual nights.
Dining Room Table: We had early dining and a table for two requested. We were assigned table 186 Lower. Upon boarded we turned left and went to the Explorers Lounge where they had seating charts. We confirmed that 186 is a table for two. Others were able to talk with the 2nd Dining Room Mgr at this time if they were not happy with their assignments. Traditional Dining: 4 seating's.
Food: Very Good to Excellent. The only thing we ordered that we sent back and replaced with something else was the salmon one night. The steward did not recommend it; I went against his advice and ordered it. He was great about replacing it.
Pinnacle Grill: A very good experience. Better than any other Pinnacle Grill dinner in the past. When you board, go left and you can make your reservations and even select your table. We had steaks. Very good service and the experience exceeded expectations.
Lido: The Bistro section seemed to have the best lunch selection and quality. We enjoyed a fish dish, vegetables, bread etc. each day at lunch. Asian was good too. One visit to the 'deli' sandwich section was a disappointment. Ice cream is available. Each night at eleven they have a section open for one hour. Italian was good one night. We did not have dinner in the Lido, but it seemed popular and was the same food as in the dining room. Breakfast was popular and very good. They even have turkey bacon, turkey sausage and egg beaters- so I was happy.
Art auction: At no time did we see any art stacked in aisles or hallways.
Room Service: We used it one night, 3 breakfasts and one lunch. We also ordered appetizers via room service on 3 occasions. For the dinner we selected from the dining room menu. We could select and order anytime during the dining room hours. Food was hot and accurate. Breakfasts were selected the night before and hung on the door at bedtime with the exception of one morning when we called in. It was not a problem to order in the morning, despite no breakfast menu in the room service menu. Lunch from the room service menu had a lot be desired. Room service always said they would deliver within 30 minutes. They met this estimate all but two times. Those two times they were about one hour.
Large Group on Board: This did not present any problems for non-group passengers.
Casino: I won! The casino had one smoke free day (Tortola, so it was only after a 10pm departure before this advantage really came into play). We did not find the Casino to be too smoke filled at any time. Friendly staff!
Entertainment: Cruise Director was Billy Rogers. The Elton John impersonator was good and a fun show. The ship entertainers were talented and very enthusiastic. Dancers were good. The lead male singer does not have a strong enough voice and was a bit of a let down each time he began to sing. Julie Barr was on board for an 'Adult' comedy performance at 11:30 one night. Yes, it is adult comedy. ADULT COMEDY. With that being said, she was really funny. The only issue we had with any of the entertainment was a few jokes by a comic from the UK. He made jokes about the disabled. Why? What was this about? Many in the audience were uncomfortable with these jokes and I would guess complained to staff (we did) and we left early.
Westerdam Idol Contest: If you get the chance, go to the Queens Lounge and see this show at 930PM several nights and the finals are in the Vista showroom. It was really fun.
Captain: Captain Peter Harris. I have never seen a Captain so visible on a cruise. We saw him many times visiting with passengers in many parts of the ship. He got his lunch most days in the Lido. I asked a crew member if he was as good with the crew as he is with passengers and she said yes that the crew really respected him and he was the best Captain.
Staff: HAL at it's best. Yes, they remember your name.
Ship: Of the 3 Vista class ships we have sailed the Westerdam is the best of the 3. (Zdam and Odam were the others). She seems more refined. I think they may have gotten things better with each successive ship. The Westerdam goes to dry dock in April for 21 days. They are adding 30 feet to the Lido and a few of the other decks at the Stern. Each cabin will get the final upgrades including the flat panel TV's.
Ports: Grand Turk was not very enjoyable. We wish we had taken an excursion. Margaritaville was nice but really expensive. A Bloody Mary and 16oz water was over $12! Don't bother to take a cab in town. There is not much there. The people that snorkeled seemed to enjoy it. Leaving Grand Turk, you have a nice cruise around the north side of the island and a good view of the lighthouse. We were the only ship in port.
Tortola: Westerdam does not get in until 2pm. We were planning to go to the Baths, but went to Pussers instead (we have been to Tortola before). We visited with some folks who went to the Baths and they got back after dark. 2 pm is too late of a stop for this port. There is not much night life in Tortola. There was one other ship in port.
St. Maarten: We immediately went to the French side (Maragot). $6 each if you have atleast 3 people in the van/taxi. Enjoyed walking around, seeing the shops and the market near the water. We went to a wonderful French bakery. From there we took a cab back to the Dutch side and enjoyed the beach near the port. Many bars and restaurants here. There were 4 ships in port.
HMC: Aqua Trax was a blast! We rented a shell and enjoyed the beach and the cook out. Tendering is much better than on our last visit. The tenders are huge and very quick. We were the only ship in port.
Disembarkation: Because of a relatively early flight we elected to keep our luggage in our room with plans to early disembark. We had a fairly good number and were able to get off the ship at 9am in a very orderly manner from the 3rd deck. Again, the HAL ground contractor left something to be desired from a customer service standpoint. We are not cattle.
A quick ride to the airport (taxi was easy to get just across the bus lane). Once at the airport, we checked our bags with the porter. There was a short 10 minute wait instead of the 45 minutes inside to check your luggage. I would not want to get to this airport much later.
We really enjoyed our cruise on the Westerdam. Generally, in talking with other cruisers on the Westerdam, everyone seemed to have a very good cruise.