Westerdam Cruise Review by WrittenOnYourHeart: Alaska is absolutely stunning!!
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Alaska is absolutely stunning!!
Hands down, Alaska is probably the most stunning place I have ever been. You are surrounded by natural beauty wherever you go. So... :)
Background: Solo traveler, but I was with a group doing a staged marathon throughout the cruise. Previously cruised on Disney twice.
Hotel: I stayed two nights at the Hampton Inn Seattle/Southcenter, and it was fine. Standard Hampton Inn, which is fine with me.
Ship: Being accustomed to Disney's "neighborhood" approach to layout (not to mention their little tricks like arrows hidden in the carpet pointing forward and fish mail holders on port side/starfish or seahorse nail holders on starboard), it took me the better part of the week to figure out where some things were on the Westerdam. Overall she's a beautiful ship, but there were points of obvious wear - especially where differing carpets met and on stair edges that were surprising to me on a ship three months or so out of dry dock. Be aware, smoking is allowed in the More casino and it is not in any way enclosed. In fact you have to walk through the casino from the forward section to the dining room if you are entering on the second deck - I generally opted to walk aft on the third deck and go downstairs at the last possible moment, but the smell does permeate anywhere close to the casino. There is an expansive observation deck, and the Crows Nest also has wonderful views - BUT the glass is all tinted, making it useless for taking pictures. In my opinion, that makes the observation deck pretty useless.
Activities: On ship, I only participated in the Alaskan Beer Tasting and the Polar Plunge, both of which were fun. My group activities took up most of the rest of the time.
Service: Service was good. My cabin stewards were friendly. Dining room service was hit or miss depending on which table (our group had 8-10 tables and we rotated among them) I was seated at for the evening. Some servers were amazing and others struggled to get the orders correct (there is an obvious difference between French Onion Soup and Escargots, yet he had great difficulty figuring that out for one example).
Ports and excursions: We had runs in each port, so our excursion time was limited, but I did a great whale watching excursion in Juneau and a fun 4x4 excursion in Sitka. Glacier Bay was incredible - because of fog, we went towards Johns Hopkins glacier first, and I believe I heard someone say we were the first ship to get to the glacier all season. Margerie glacier is as beautiful as you hear. So inspiring to see. The hop on hop off trolley with luggage service in Seattle was good, BUT there was no notification in advance that we would be required to go to the airport at 4pm if we were using the luggage service and not luggage direct - not cool when you have a flight that leaves at 9:20pm. The shot excursions rep I spoke with when asking if I could go to the airport on my own (yes, but luggage had to be picked up right with the 4pm shuttle) indicated this was an ongoing issue - could be easily solved if they corrected the description but as of this writing it still reads "hourly Shuttle Express service",
Travel to embarkation: I handled this on my own. Took Shuttle Express from the Seattle-Tacoma airport and had no issues. I am accustomed to giving my luggage to a porter curbside and then waiting in line to check myself in, but at Seattle we had to walk our luggage all the way into the building, waiting in line to check that in and then waiting in another line to check ourselves in. That seemed to be a Port of Seattle thing though and not a HAL thing.
Cabin: I'd opted for a balcony cabin, not being fully aware that HAL still allows smoking on the balconies. I got lucky, however, in that while there was a smoker next to me, it was in the cabin aft of me, so I only smelled the smoke once or twice if we happened to be on the balconies at the same time while in port. One night I did smell pipe smoke from below, but for whatever reason pipes don't bother me the way cigars or cigarettes do. It was slightly smaller than the cabins I've had on Disney, but not tiny. I definitely miss Disney's split bathroom thing - so amazing even for a solo traveler as the sink and toilet area doesn't get steamed up from the shower. The bedding situation is two twins which are pushed together if requested - fine, but there is the little dip with bumps where the beds meet. There is really no privacy curtain between the bed and the sofa (which could be made into a bed for a third person), so that could be awkward for families. There is a curtain there, but it barely goes to the end of the sofa. There was some rust (to the point of a hole at one place) on the balcony, which surprised me as again, the ship is recently out of dry dock. And as on the observation deck and in the Crows Nest, the glass was tinted, making it necessary to stand for a clear view and taking pictures.
Dining: Limited hours for breakfast and lunch - there would generally be an hour or two with limited to no food between breakfast and lunch and lunch and dinner. Challenging for a group with activities that make you hungry but timing-wise doesn't fully match with those times. The Dive-In did provide a bridge, but you do get tired of burgers and hot dogs. Food in the lunch buffet (really more cafeteria as even after the mandatory 48-hours of "thou shalt not touch anything" was past) was often much fancier than I like for lunch and I actually found myself craving chicken fingers - likely because I simply couldn't find them on the ship anywhere. Dinner was generally good - the prime rib was tough the first night, and the Baked Alaska hadn't really been baked that time (after that, no one in our group dared to order it, so I don't know if it got better) - not fantastic, but good. I didn't eat in the Pinnacle Grill at all. I would have considered Canaletto, but they really make it solo unfriendly by flat-out stating that the food is intended for sharing.
Children's Clubs: n/a I don't have children and no one in our group had children old enough for the clubs.
Entertainment: I only went to a tiny bit of the Dancing with the Stars at Sea final cruiser competition - enough to see the entry number by the ship entertainers. I've seen better shows at Six Flags theme parks. Not too sorry I missed the other offerings on board.
Disembarkation: Fairly easy as I had an excursion (discussed above). The only issue was that when I cleared my account, the guest services rep didn't click the button I'd been cleared, so I had to dash back to the front desk and wait in line for them to click the button.
Summary: This trip was really all about destination and the running group I was with. The ship was merely a way to get there. While HAL would not necessarily be my first choice of cruise line, if the itinerary was right or a group I was traveling with was on it, I would not say no to a return voyage. But given a similar itinerary and choice in ships, I'd likely choose one that's a little more "me" than HAL is. Less
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Cabin review: Westerdam
Smaller than what I'm used to on Disney, but it was fine, particularly as I was solo. I'm not sure I'd try putting more than 2 people in the cabin. The balcony metalwork did have some rust issues, even a hole around one of the screws, and the glass was tinted, which made it challenging to see through. Still, it was generally fine.
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