EMBARKATION: If you are departing from Rome, keep in mind that the port of Civitavecchia is a good hour drive from Rome. As our driver approached the port, I was craning my neck to get a glimpse of the Westerdam. And then, suddenly, there she was! Embarkation was a snap. We were aboard by 12:30 pm, had lunch in the Lido and our cabins were ready by 1:30.
CABIN: We had booked a verandah cabin as I can't imagine doing a cruise without having a balcony. What I was not prepared for was the amount of storage space; we had packed tons of clothes and found room for everything with storage space to spare. (Hint: the round stool beneath the desk has a removable lid even more storage space.) The bathroom layout was amazing for a cruise ship with full-size tub/shower, plenty of storage and good water pressure.
WESTERDAM: The ship is beautiful, if only very slightly worn around the edges. I had read here that she had recently undergone a makeover while in drydock with the installation of flat screen tv's and DVD's. We did not find this to be the case at all. Indeed, the desktop tv would swivel back and forth with the movement of the ship. Some peeling wallpaper in the corridors, minor fraying of carpet seams in elevator lobbies and some burnt out bulbs among the countless light fixtures aboard all indicated to me that things were not quite as up-to-snuff as they could have been.
FOOD: I cannot say enough about the quality of food in the dining room. We had late seating and the food was absolutely First-Class. As mentioned here, portions are small, but requesting a second appetizer or entree was accommodated with no questions asked. The Lido was a different story. I don't know how to put this. Breakfast was adequate with an omelet station and the usual sides along with fruit, yogurt, breads, scrambled eggs, etc. One would certainly never start the day hungry, but it was average buffet food to say the least. Except for the inedible hash brown patties. Just awful. We did order breakfast with room service a couple of mornings and it was fine except the first morning when our meal was accompanied by those horrible hash browns. For other meals there is a sandwich station, an Asian station, a pizza and pasta station and the Terrace Grill with hamburgers, fries and a Mexican buffet. While the hamburgers were passable, the fries were terrible. The Mexican buffet was tasty, but not well stocked. The evening offerings in the Lido looked appetizing. Walking through one evening, I saw prime rib offered which I did not experience in the dining room unless we missed it one night. Most frustrating of all was that the fact that our party went to the Lido for dinner at 9:45 on a Saturday night and the only option available to us was the pizza and pasta station.
DRINKS: If I recall correctly, cocktails were $5.25 plus a 15% gratuity. Nothing more than an even shot was ever poured and served in 12-16 oz glasses which resulted in a very diluted cocktail. Of course, ordering a double made the drink more palatable, but doubled the price. What you may not know is that if you specify any brand other than well, there is a $1 upcharge per shot and if it is a premium brand, add another 50 cents. Again, all of this is served in a tall glass. The best bargain was ordering the drink or martini of the day. You can't go wrong with a Bombay Sapphire martini for $5.25. Surprisingly enough, the prices of the cabin mini-bar were comparable in price to drinks elsewhere on the ship. Trying to convince our cabin steward to keep the mini-bar stocked, however, was another matter. Which leads me to...
SERVICE: I have read so often on these pages of the personalized service offered by the staff of the Westerdam. Friendly, yes. Incredibly efficient, there is no doubt. BUT. We returned one day at 6:45 pm after touring all day to find our cabin still being cleaned. A couple of days later we returned at 8:00 pm and again found our cabin in the midst of being cleaned. After our second or third night in the dining room, we ended up with a server who embodied everything I have read about service aboard the Westerdam. By our second night with him, he knew our names and preferences. If you ever voyage aboard the Westerdam, ask for Herdi in the dining room; you won't be disappointed. We still keep in touch with him via email.
THOUGHTS: Traveling to the Med in August can be a challenge. Weather is hot, humid and there are hordes of tourists from all over the World. I packed way too many long pants and not nearly enough short pants. Forget what everyone else says on these boards about looking like an American. Dress for comfort. I bought more clothes for this cruise than I even packed and would have been far more comfortable in my everyday shorts and tennis shoes. While everyone we dealt with was helpful and friendly, I might still caution against wearing the red white and blue, rah-rah, my country right-or-wrong type of apparel.
IN CONCLUSION: While I might not consider doing such a port-intensive cruise again in the near future, I would not hesitate to sail with Holland America again. We had a great time with good friends and wonderful food. We got to see so much. Even with ten days there was not nearly enough time to see everything. The whole trip remains a blur, but this cruise is one that will be remembered for a lifetime. And that is exactly what we had hoped for.