We took back to back cruises on HAL's MS Westerdam, sailing from Ft. Lauderdale. We first took the Southern Caribbean route, followed by Eastern. I will give my honest opinions on what we encountered, but understand that we enjoy the HAL experience. I probably echo much from schplinky's in-depth review, but from the viewpoint of a long-term HAL fan. We have taken 12 cruises, 9 of them with HAL. We also years ago took an NCL Bahamas 3-dayer and more recently did a Costa cruise in the Mediterranean and a transatlantic crossing on the QM2. I've seen posts which say that the average HAL audience skews to the older passengers, that the public rooms are smaller than other lines, that there few activities for children, etc. We mostly agree with those characterizations, and are O.K. with that, because we are looking for the slower-paced, refined pampering of HAL. We might be the ones schplinky was thinking of when he wrote, "Someone who loves great food and a subdued and sedate environment would be well served by HAL and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to that sort of person." I agree, if you are young, constantly on the go and looking for a lot of activities and a party hearty atmosphere, you may want to take a different line. That said, this was our first experience with the new Vista class, and we understand that HAL is trying to diversify a bit into the family and younger cruiser markets. We did indeed find many more 20 and 30-somethings and children among the "more mature" set on both the cruises we took. It also was our first back-to-back cruise, and we were curious to see how that would work. Looking for info a couple of weeks before the cruise, I Googled "Westerdam," and discovered Cruise Critic. I admit to lurking on the site a bit, reading the reviews, and visiting the boards to see if someone had asked/answered a question I had, and decided to join after our cruise. I gained a lot of good info from Cruise Critic, and am very grateful for it, and I offer some details below for others who may be searching for similar info.
Back to Back, how it worked: We booked several months before the cruises, and I called HAL rather than reserve online because I wanted to make sure we had the same cabin for each cruise so we would not have to move. Those who did move, we found out, did have stewards to help them, but it was easier not having to pack anything. We did not have to do anything with our stateroom on the turn-around day, although our steward had to clean the vacated cabins before he could do ours, so it was a bit later than normal but no problem for us. A day or so before the end of the first cruise, the maitre d' in the restaurant asked our preferences for table seating for the second cruise, and we had a note delivered to our cabin the next day with our table assignment. We had asked for one nearer a window, and got the premium table, at the back, at the window, overlooking the wake! The menus for the second week were almost identical to the first week, but there were enough choices that appealed to us that we did not have to repeat if we didn't want to. After everyone else had left on turn-around day, the two dozen or so of us that were doing B2B met in the Queen's Lounge at 10 a.m. A member of the front office staff had our new cards for us - the digital photo was already on file from our previous cards, so we did not have to stand in line for another photo. A ship's officer then led us off to the terminal, where we were cleared by U.S. Immigration. We then waited while the ship got a "zero passengers left on board" report and was cleared by Immigration, at which point we reboarded the ship. There was a delay while HAL reps found and rousted a passenger who apparently thought "everyone must depart" did not apply to him, but even so the entire process was about 45 minutes. Back on board, I went to the front office to buy the unlimited laundry package again, and found several fellow B2B'ers - several who had moved cabins needed their new cards re-keyed for the new rooms, an apparent oversight by the person who created the new cards. It appeared that the front office staff were quickly solving the problem after the one person on duty realized it and called for extra staff to help process the new cards. It was great being the monarchs of the ship, wandering about and pretending it was all for us, for about an hour before the new passengers started boarding. We then went to the Lido to stay out of the way of our steward, and started our new cruise. All in all, it was a pretty painless and efficient process.
Embarkation process for first cruise: We had the luxury of time and, since we don't like to fly when we can avoid it, we drove from the D.C. area. We spent the last night in the Orlando/Daytona area, and drove to Ft. Lauderdale, arriving just after 11 a.m. HAL had told us that the port would not let us in until then. The port entrance was easy to find, at the end of I-595, just past the airport exit. We drove to the Westerdam at pier 29 (if I remember the number correctly), a short distance away from the port entrance; the port did have directional signs to all the ships, so it was easy to find. I dropped the bags at the entrance with the DW, who arranged with the porters to take our larger luggage. I parked the car in the mid-port garage across the street ($12 per day, payable with cash or credit card) and walked back to rejoin her to enter the check-in process. Like others noted before, we also had filled out immigration forms online and found ourselves in a line whereas those who had not done so had a very short line. However, the process was smooth and well-organized, and we only took about 10-15 minutes to complete check-in and receive our boarding cards. We were on board before noon and were able to get a nice lunch in the Lido. This is a vast improvement over the old way of waiting in a large holding area for your number to be called to board. We are very willing not to be able to get to our cabins until later if we can board right away. As it turned out, our cabins were ready by about 1:15. Our bags arrived about 4, before the lifeboat drill. Cabin: We had a VE-class verandah cabin on the fifth deck, just a few cabins aft of amidships. We chose that location, and forewent the option to upgrade, because there were only cabins above and below (no weights from the gym being dropped over our heads or the disco sounding off below us), no sounds from the engines, and a minimum of movement. Even though neither of us suffers from seasickness, we still prefer a cabin near the center of the ship. The cabin was well-appointed and met all our needs. It was about 9 feet wide and 20 feet long, with a deck that was an additional about 4.5 feet by 9. The first six feet of the cabin were comprised of the bath (with shower tub) on one side and three closets along the other. The bed area was about 9 by 9, and a small sitting area of 5 by 9 included a sleeper loveseat, adjustable-height coffee table and a small desk with a lot of the surface area taken with the TV. All in all, it was not expansive, but comfortable. There were floor-to-ceiling windows and a glass door leading to the verandah. The Vista-class ships have an inset in the center section, so our cabin was set back a bit. The verandah overlooked the tenders, but they did not block the view; the top of the tender was just below the level of the deck, so the view was blocked only directly down. Verandahs on higher decks, or on the fifth deck outside the tenders, were about 1.5 feet deeper and did not directly overlook the tenders, but we found that it really didn't affect our view or enjoyment. For cruisers of Statendam (S-class) ships, the VE is slightly shorter than an "A" or "B" class cabin, mainly in the sitting area, but the difference is not all that significant. The VE room also may be a couple of inches wider. Storage: The closets were quite large, and I think a little deeper than on S-class. I did not have a problem hanging a size 48 suit jacket without angling it. One closet had shelves that could be raised or lowered, allowing for hanging full-length formal gowns. There was also a self-programmable safe in one of the closets. In the bath, there was a small medicine cabinet and a shelf under the sink, which had some counter-top space nest to it as well. There are drawers at the end of the bed, and plenty of room under the bed to store suitcases. There also were cabinets over the sleeper loveseat that contained extra bedding. You might be able to ask your steward to take the bedding away for extra storage there, but we found we had ample for our two weeks without using those cabinets.
Services: Laundry. We purchased the unlimited laundry for $45 per cruise and got good value from it. The unlimited package is good only for regular, not express, service and the ship advises allowing two days for return. That was fine with us, and once it actually came back the next day. There was also an option of buying a couple of "all you can fit in this bag" deals for (I think) $16 each, but only if you bought in the first day or so. You buy both options at the front desk. Room service. We did not eat in the room, but asked for a pot of coffee to be delivered every morning. We took it out on the verandah to watch the sun come up while sipping our drinks. On those days when our cabin faced east, we had some spectacular pink and blue sunrises, and even when we were going the other way, there were nice views, especially of the nearly full moon reflected in the water and the sky slowly getting lighter. We never called for a tray to be removed, but never returned to our cabin after 10 a.m. and found it still there - the elves must be getting very efficient, but I suspect it was the work of our cabin steward calling room service for us. Steward. Top notch, as we have come to expect from HAL. He introduced himself the first day, and we were able to discuss with him our preferences and he took it from there, always meeting our needs in a professional, friendly yet unobtrusive way. I would recommend that if your steward does not introduce himself the first day, seek him out and introduce yourself, and then go over what you would like him to do for you. Service overall. I have heard that HAL has the rep for having the best service at sea, but that some have argued that while it may not be the highest quality, it certainly is the friendliest. I tend to lean to the latter view, although I have only NCL (a long time ago), Costa and Cunard to compare it with. HAL service beats Costa and NCL, hands down. The service on QM2 was absolutely impeccable, first-class and white glove all the way. But, it was pretty impersonal as well. Even at the end of our 6-day crossing, no-one in the restaurants, bars, shops, etc. knew our name. HAL's level of service is very close to QM2's - it may have a small glitch here or there, but what wins it out for me is the incredible friendliness and good cheer of all on board, not just the hotel staff, but the entire crew from Captain Peter Harris to the boatswains on the tenders. Our names were learned within 24 hours by nearly everyone we dealt with, our preferences noted and remembered, etc. No doubt, the staff is trained in how to do this, but I will take HAL's eagerness to please with an occasional lapse over impersonal perfection any day. This is what I was talking about at the beginning when I referred to the "refined pampering" of HAL. Gifts. We purchased the rum package to be in our stateroom when we arrived. Although it probably saved us money over time, it was mainly for convenience that we ordered it. We could mix our rum and Coke drinks much lighter than in the bars, and would enjoy them while sitting on the verandah in the afternoon watching the flying fish or occasionally dolphins going by on at-sea days, or taking in the views of the port after returning from shore excursions and before getting dressed for dinner during days in port. Photography. One improvement I've seen over the years, and for which I commend HAL highly - they have apparently told the photographers to back off. I used to hate that they would have the Dutch girl or pirate or whatever blocking the way onto or off the ship to take everyone's photo. Now, the photographers are available, but only for those who want them, allowing those who just want to get on or off to do so without backing up the line. In the restaurants, the photographers generally ask before taking your photo - a marked improvement over a few years back. Those who want their photos taken now can do so, but those who don't are not inconvenienced. That said, we have had our photos taken from time to time, and have actually bought some in the past. It's just nice to have the choice.
Activities: Fitness. The gym was fairly well stocked with treadmills, cycles, etc., but we rarely used it except for the free weights occasionally. Several times, we walked the Promenade deck (3 laps to a mile). The deck is broad, but narrows at several points. Once a cruise, we also signed up for the On Deck for the Cure walk to benefit the Susan G. Komen foundation for breast cancer research. We are habitual walkers, and have family members who are survivors, so it was a no-brainer for us to participate. The cost was $15 or $20 each (I forget exactly which), with most going to the foundation. We received T-shirts and pink bracelets, and were led each time by survivors on board. There were also several classes, such as pilates and aerobics, for which a charge was made, and several fun and not really taxing events like golf putting, for which you could earn points (Dam Bucks) to redeem for things as drink holders and T-shirts. There were two main pools and a hydropool, but you couldn't really do laps or anything like that in them. The aft, outdoor pool was marked for adults only. Shows. Sorry, we had planned to see a few, but as it turned out, we didn't take in a single one in the two weeks. We are not fans of Vegas-style reviews, but generally try to catch the comedian or magician if they have one. They did have both, but we somehow were always busy or turned in early (see the sunrise coffee entry above). Judging from the comments from our table-mates, the Elton John imitator was a hit. Kids/teen activities. Again, we did not use the facilities, but we noticed that there was a HAL club for the younger ones and a teen club with no-one allowed who was not aged 13-17. We would occasionally see children and teens on board involved in such activities as a scavenger hunt, and they seemed entertained and well-behaved at the same time. The total number of the young people on board was small, though. Internet. It was available, and the basic cost was 75 cents a minute, with slightly cheaper rates if you bought a package. The package we bought on the first cruise rolled over into the follow-on cruise, so we did not have to buy another package. Yes, it's more expensive than a shore-based net cafe, but we got it for the ability to send and receive email at sea. We did not have our own laptop, but noticed that there were some hot spots on board, notably the Windstar cafe, which is a coffee shop. We used the machines in the Internet center. Connectivity was generally quite good. They also offered classes in Microsoft Office applications and Photoshop, which probably was good for those with new digital cameras. They also allowed folks to print out their airline boarding tickets near the end of the cruise for a small fee. Shore excursions. I will talk about specific ones below, but the general info: We booked all ours online a few weeks before embarking, and we found the envelope in our cabin with all the correct tickets for the first cruise when we embarked. We had until that first evening to make any changes without charge. Tickets for the second cruise were delivered on turn-around day and again we had until that evening to make changes or cancellations free. Thereafter, each port had a deadline by which you could make changes or cancellations, for a fee which I think was 10%. I've seen many posts describing where people went on their own and got less expensive prices. We prefer to go with the ship-arranged ones for more-complicated ones like snorkeling, mainly because if a HAL excursion runs late, the ship will wait for you. Saving 20 bucks is not worth it to us to run the risk of having to get ourselves to the next island. And, we have found the HAL-arranged excursions to be professionally run and enjoyable, so have no complaints. Just taking a taxi or walking about town, of course, doesn't require an excursion. Art auctions. I've never understood why these are at sea - who decides one day "Honey, we need a nice painting, let's go on cruise."? But, there were a couple dozen people at the one I noticed, so someone wants them. That's fine with me, but we did find it strange that they would stack the paintings four and five deep along the main passageways on preview times. Not only are they trip hazards, it seems to me to run the risk of damage to the art. The actual auctions were held in relatively small spaces, usually one of the bars. The one in the Ocean Bar was an unfortunate choice of location - it could be heard by anyone in the Atrium area on all three decks. Perhaps the Hudson Room would be better, but that seemed popular with classes and meetings. Bingo, etc. There were several bingo sessions, but we only went to the ones where a free cruise was the prize. We came close to winning the second week - the woman across the aisle from us won. There were also other activities such as team trivia, port talks, wine tastings, a scavenger hunt for adults, special jewelry presentations in the shops, etc. There were also religious services and group meetings such as veterans, single/solo cruisers, and Friends of Dorothy. In general, there were usually several activities a day, but not four or five at any one time. Although we found something to attend now and then, we did not fill up our day with onboard scheduled activities. As I said up front, if you need constant organized activity, perhaps HAL is not for you. One thing I will say for HAL is that the cruise staff are not constantly exhorting you to join in, asking you to shout out, or otherwise being generally obnoxious. If you want to join, they are happy to have you, but don't try to browbeat you into it.
Public Rooms: General. As noted above, HAL tends to go for smaller, more intimate spaces instead of grand ballroom style rooms. On the QM2, the main hall and the entry into the restaurant were grand spaces, and the pub was easily twice the size of some of the pubs I had been in in London. Not so on HAL. Even larger spaces, such as the Explorer's Lounge and the main restaurant, are broken up into smaller groupings of chairs, tables and screens to create the impression of smaller, cozier places. However, on the Vista-class, we noticed a few odd things that seemed to go against this - the Ocean Bar and the Pinnacle Restaurant seem to flow into and even across the Atrium and encompass what are fairly well-traveled pathways through them. There are still many works of art, although the prints along the passenger decks are copies and not originals. The colors and appointments are still generally subdued and reflect the nautical tradition with wood veneers and brass, but the Westerdam also has added splashes of color, like the carpet and benches in the elevator lobbies, the blond leather in the show lounge, and the wild carpet in the Lido. The ship still has that old HAL elegance, though. Library. This was well designed, but smaller than you might expect. They put a $25 per book charge on your account, but refunded it when you returned the book(s). One of the library staff explained that they had had too many books not being returned and with a smaller library were quickly running out of books, so they instituted the charge. They also continued the HAL tradition of having the "daily quiz" trivia contest, which we won a couple of times and got such swag as a coffee mug and key chain. Queen's Lounge/Culinary Arts center. I attended a couple of cooking demonstrations, and enjoyed them, especially those offered by the guest chef on the second week. They also showed movies there daily, and offered free popcorn. Night Club. Next to the Queen's Lounge. We never made it up late enough to go while the DJ was playing, but we looked it over during the day. It looks like a good place, but the big touch was the passageway leading to it from the midships elevators, passing to the port side of the Queen's Lounge. There are 10 reproductions of Andy Warhol's painting of Marilyn Monroe, and they unexpectedly light up as you pass them. Atrium. This is the largest open space on the ship outside the show lounge, and extends from the first to the third deck amidships. On the first deck are the front office, purser and shore excursions office, and a bar. Andy Warhol's painting of The Netherlands' Queen Beatrix is near the front office. This is also where the cruise advisor sets up. The second deck has the Pinnacle Grill and Bar on the port side and the Windstar Cafe on the starboard. The third deck has the Ocean Bar across the entire breadth of the Atrium. The keynote of the space is the revolving crystal rendition of Henry Hudson's ship The Half Moon suspended from the ceiling. Vista Lounge. The show lounge. Although we did not take in any shows, we were there often for bingo, the Mariner's reception, shore excursions, etc. It is a large and pretty place, and lighter than ones on other ships. The bench seating had blonde/white leather coverings, for example. Casino. This was not huge, but seemed large enough. There were a few dozen slot machines, and many tables for card games and roulette. We only played the slots when we were there, although they offered classes on how to play other games like blackjack. At least one night per cruise, the casino was smoke-free, although we found that most smokers were considerate enough to leave the gaming area for a smoke, generally going to the adjacent sports bar. Shops. These carried the usual watches, jewelry, logo T-shirts and caps, and duty free items. One thing that did not occur to us at the time was that people who purchased duty free liquor or perfumes, either on board or ashore, would not be able to hand-carry it onto aircraft because of the new security measures. If you are flying, you should think of that. I don't know if they can package it well enough to go into the checked luggage; I'm not sure I would trust it in my bags. Like the Ocean Bar, the shops seemed to go across the main passageway leading to the casino and Vista Lounge. Some people would be heading forward, enter the shops area and turn around, thinking they had gone astray. Again, somewhat odd.
Restaurants: Main dining. This is different in scheme from other HAL ships (they all are different in detail), but with the same level of elegance -- this one with Chihully glass. There were four seatings. We had the 6:15 seating at a table for 6, with congenial table-mates each cruise. The food was very good, but not cordon bleu. The portions were thankfully small but if you wanted, the stewards cheerfully would serve you a second entrEe or appetizer. The dinner stewards and assistants were up to the usual HAL level of excellence, and the wine stewards were superb. Except for the first day, we found we could no longer pre-order wine with dinner from a table on the Lido or elsewhere on board. What we did was ask the wine steward to bring the wine menu to us at the end of dinner to order for the next night. We've heard of NCL's free-style dining, but we think we prefer to have a table that is ours at a set time, even if we don't use it - we are not compelled to eat in the dining room if we want to eat elsewhere like the Pinnacle Grill, but it is there if we do and we don't have to wait in line. Lido. The Lido was great, and somewhat improved over the S-class, which already had a high standard. Breakfast and lunch are in stations, so you don't have to go through the main line if all you want is a waffle at breakfast or slice of pizza at lunch. Of course, if you want pizza, a salad, a deli sandwich and a bowl of fried rice for lunch, you may have to visit several stations. We did not find the lines too bad, although we may usually have been earlier than the heaviest rush. The first day, before everyone could get to their cabins, was the heaviest, of course. The Lido also has casual dining for dinner with the same food as the main dining room. Just outside the Lido is a taco bar and a window where you can get cheeseburgers, hot dogs, grilled chicken breasts and fries. Once each cruise, they had a barbeque on the Lido deck with steaks, ribs, chicken, etc. We ate there after our late excursion in Tortola, as we did not want to rush to our 6:15 dining room seating. It was very good for barbeque food, and about the same as what is served on the private island at lunch. Pinnacle Grill. We did not eat in there this time, although we have enjoyed it in other HAL ships. Some of our table-mates, also HAL Mariners and previous PG users, said it was as good as ever. It offers a premium menu with Northwest cuisine such as Dungeness crab cakes, top of the line beef, salmon, etc. On Westerdam, there is also an adjacent Pinnacle Bar. Windstar Cafe. This is a big improvement over the older Java Cafe in the S-class ships. It is a real coffee bar with real espresso machines, and they use Seattle's Torrefazione coffee (a subsidiary of Starbucks, I think). The crew may not be Seattle barristas, but they make very good lattes and cappuccinos. There is a charge for these premium coffees, about half of the going rate at a Starbucks, but the pastries are free. I was also able to get a cold bottle of San Pellegrino mineral water, which hit the spot on a hot day. The name of the place became obvious when I saw the painting behind the bar of the sailing ship from HAL's sister corporation Windstar Cruises. Dress. Each cruise had two formal nights and five informal, but no informal. On formal nights, many men wore suits or sports coats, although there were many in tuxes. It looks like, at least in the Caribbean, the dress is turning more towards "With Jacket and Tie" and "Casual".
Bars: There are several on board. The Crow's Nest is on the 10th deck, forward, with expansive views. The pro staff was congenial, but the draw to this one, of course, is the view. I never saw a designated smoking area or anyone smoking in the main bar area. The Lido Bar is on the 9th deck, amidships. It has brass seats formed as the tails of fish, which comprise the bases of the stools. I think this one is non-smoking, with smokers being directed to the Seaview Bar aft, which serves the aft pool. The Ocean Bar is on the third deck amidships. The small enclosure around the actual bar is a smoking area, and the rest is smoke-free. There is a dance floor and stage for a band in the larger area. The sports bar is next to the casino on the second deck. It allows smoking, and is used by smokers from the casino a lot. It has ESPN on the TVs, but most of the time it was tuned to international ESPN, which meant a lot of Latin American and European soccer games, so there rarely was anyone actually watching sports. The last day of the second cruise they had NCAA basketball playing, so there were more people in the bar watching the TVs. There seemed to be a casino game table in one part of the bar's area for most of the cruise. The piano bar is forward of the sports bar. We never made it there while the piano player was performing. The Atrium bar is at the base of the atrium. It is attractive with blue marble and gold accents. It often featured martinis, so we thought of it as the Martini Bar. One bizarre thing was that the gold-colored sofas were very wide. Even an NBA player would be hard pressed to fill the area from the knees to the back on these couches. So, we tended to perch. The chairs were fine. One thing we missed was the afternoon hot bar snacks, a HAL tradition. Apparently, they have gone to cold snacks only, and are trying to upscale them - examples included salmon tartar with diced capers and bell peppers, piped Brie, and bresciola (air-dried raw beef), served on rounds of bread or toast.
Ports and excursions: Half Moon Cay. Anchored. The first stop on the first cruise and the last on the second. We first visited the private island shortly after it opened in the 1990s, and it gets better every time we return. The big changes this time were the completion of the second beach bar (the Half Moon Saloon), and the use of large tenders instead of the ship's boats to bring people ashore. We did our usual and snorkeled in the water sports area, ate lunch and then got the best seats on the island - at the I Could Stay Here Forever Bar overlooking the entire sweep of the beach and water. It's a magical place that never gets old. The second time around, we strolled the length of the beach and back instead of snorkeling. Oranjestad, Aruba. Docked. We had been to Aruba a few times and had snorkeled there each time, so decided to do something different and took the Natural Wonders of Aruba tour. Unfortunately, the Natural Bridge had collapsed since we were last on the island, so we never got to see it in its original state. It is still pretty impressive in its ruins. The dock is in walking distance of the downtown Oranjestad shopping area, although some construction makes the walk back a little longer than normal. Willemstad, Curacao. Docked. We had been here only once before, and then only for a few hours after witnessing a solar eclipse on the Statendam. We never forgot the incredible experience of sailing up Anna Bay between those pastel buildings late in the afternoon! This time, we docked at the nice new MegaPier near the Riffort, before the entrance to Anna Bay. There is a waterfront path from the pier, past the area where the Renaissance hotel and casino is being built, through the Riffort and then along the bay to the footbridge to the Punda section. It is an easy walk of 10-20 minutes (unless you stop in the shops in the Riffort). We took the trolley tram tour excursion for orientation, and then stayed downtown to walk back at our leisure. A beautiful city. Maybe next time we will take an excursion into the countryside. Grand Turk. Docked. This was the first time for us at this port. Carnival Corp. has invested in a grand cruise pier and port at the southern end of the island, with a Jimmy Buffet Margarittaville, pool, shops and a nice beach. The pier can accommodate two cruise ships, and there is a smaller pier for excursion launches. And, there is a bus and taxi area behind the port area. We took the excursion to Gibbs Cay, where we fed the stingrays and snorkeled. The stingrays were fun, just like at Grand Cayman. The snorkeling was O.K., but the big part to this excursion was the stingray experience. We returned to the ship, showered and changed and went back ashore to wander the shops. We did not want a meal, but stopped by Margarittaville for a drink. In our absence on excursion, another cruise ship had docked, and the bar was packed, so we passed by and returned to the ship for a rum and Coke on our verandah. Road Town, Tortola. Docked. We did not arrive until about 2 p.m., and went immediately on the Snorkeling By Boat excursion. We had done this on a previous trip to Tortola, hoping to visit the caves on Norman Island. The winds were unfavorable, so we ended up around the side of the island, where the snorkeling was superb. This time, the winds were again unfavorable for the caves, and we found ourselves snorkeling around a rock formation they call The Indians. Again, the snorkeling was superb. Tortola has probably the best we've seen in the Caribbean, matched only perhaps by Bonaire. Maybe we'll see the caves next time! We got back to the ship later than scheduled (a common occurrence with excursions) and so we showered and changed and went to the Lido barbeque for the evening. Philipsburg, St. Maarten. Docked. They have built a new cruise pier complex in Philipsburg at the end of the harbor that is very well done. There were two other ships in the harbor. We had been here before and snorkeled each time, so we decided to do a shore excursion this time. We booked the Lotterie Farms and Hike excursion. We took our tour bus across the island to the French side and drive up to Lotterie Farm on the slopes of Pic Paradis. We then took a guided tour through the old farm area to a small pool. At that point, one guide offered a chance for those who weren't up to a rigorous hike to turn around with him while the rest went with the on up to the viewpoint. Since we, in our mid-50s, were the oldest couple in the group by a good margin, we noticed a few people looking at us, but they did not know that we routinely hike up mountains in the Shenandoah National Park. We held our own on the spirited hike of about ¾ mile with an elevation gain of about 500 feet (not as challenging as Hawksbill). The payoff was a spectacular view over the north of St. Martin, and Anguilla and other islands in the distance. There were other groups from the other ships doing an adventure trail of sliding on cables among the trees on the lower part of the farm. I think some of the people on our tour would have liked to have done that as well, but it was not offered by the Westerdam, perhaps because there may not have been enough young people to make a go of it. We then went to Marigot for 45 minutes before returning to the ship. The timing was lunch time, and most of the group ate a quick lunch instead of shopping. We think either eating at the Lotterie Farm restaurant, although it was perhaps too small to accommodate all the groups, or allowing a bit more time for lunch in Marigot would have been better.
Disembarkation. Smooth as usual. We received the usual questionnaire on board and selected independent arrangements and requested an early departure. We were allocated numbers that put us in the third group called. We walked off, found our luggage right away, and walked across to the parking lot to the garage and our car, and were on our way in minutes.
Summary. HAL has evolved over the years that we have been Mariners, but there is always that old HAL experience and ambiance that brings us back. Westerdam was no exception, and we look forward to our Panama Canal cruise this fall on the new Noordam!