Review of European Crossing Holland America Westerdam October 4-21
Arrival and Transfers
We flew from Austin to Rome via New York (JFK) on Delta Airlines. The Austin-New York leg was fine but the transoceanic flight to Rome was terrible. We flew a Boeing 767-300 in coach class. There was absolutely no leg room for anyone over five feet ten inches. We were cramped beyond belief and thus got little sleep on the flight. Our arrival at Rome's Leonardo De Vinci Airport was uneventful as all our checked baggage arrived safely. Holland America (HAL) provided for transfer to the Westerdam at the port of Civitavecchia. After a long uncomfortable flight, it took close to two hours to transport all guests to the ship.
Check-in at the ship was pleasant and efficient. We were provided our passkeys and other documents quickly and cheerfully. Our baggage arrived in our cabin within an hour or so of boarding which was very quick based on other cruises we have made.
Ports of Call
The Westerdam sailed from Civitavecchia and stopped in Livorno, Monte Carlo, Marseilles, Barcelona, Valencia, Almeria, and the Azores. The only complaint was that the port visits in Monte Carlo and the Azores were on Sundays and most of the shops were closed. Ship tours were informative and interesting. In some ports we chose to sightsee on our own and this worked out just fine. We did have a final stop in Half Moon Cay, a HAL island in the Bahamas. This is one stop that could have been skipped as it offered very little to guests.
We received a cabin upgrade to one with an obstructed window view mid-ships. The cabin was quite large with adequate storage space. The bath included a bathtub as well as a shower. Location on the 4th deck was perfect. During some days when the seas were a bit rough, we barely noticed the roll when in our cabin.
The Westerdam entered the HAL fleet in 2004. The crew has done well to maintain the vessel. There were some minor issues such as jammed exterior doors and non-working sinks in public toilet areas but overall the material condition of the ship was excellent. Crew members were observed painting, scraping and polishing each and every day.
The Westerdam food was ordinary and average for a cruise ship. The Vista dining room menu was varied but portions for many entries were very small. Many of the selections were over salted and required a substitute in some cases. Salads in the dining room were uninspiring to say the least. The Lido buffet was better than the dining room in many cases. The Lido layout facilitated diners and long lines were the exception. Desserts are the hallmark of HAL ships and the Westerdam was no exception. Desserts were varied and delicious. We also ate one meal in the Pinnacle Grill, the high-end restaurant. The steaks were outstanding but the entire meal was not worth the extra $30 a piece to eat there.
I discovered several sanitation issues in the Lido. However, when I brought these to the attention of the Food and Beverage Manager, he willingly discussed them in person and promptly rectified the situation. He deserves a emphatic well-done for his customer service response.
The Philippine and Indonesian crewmembers were simply outstanding. Food service in all dining areas was prompt, cheerful and efficient. Our waiter and assistant waiter were the best we have ever experienced in twelve years of cruising. Not only were they attentive to our needs but also they went out of their way to know our names and recognized us when they were working the buffet as well as the dining room.
Our room steward was rarely visible but the room was always clean. And any requests were promptly filled. One negative was the shipboard laundry service. Clothes were cleaned, pressed and returned to us within twenty-four hours; however, HAL raised their prices by over 100% in the past six months so the service was very expensive. There were no coin-operated laundry facilities on board so guests were captive audiences.
The Cruise Director, Rebecca, and her staff left a lot to be desired. Except for introducing the evening entertainment, we rarely saw her about the ship. Her staff members were on occasion rude and condescending to passengers. More activities could have been planned, especially for the at-sea days. The guest lecturers were boring and dull in their presentations. The duplicate bridge instructor/host was the worse I have seen since I began cruising. Rather than host duplicate games, he ensured that he and his partner played in every game, even turning away other guests in the process.
Holland America is not known for outstanding entertainment. However, this cruise was a pleasant surprise. The HAL singers and dancers were below average for cruise ships. However, the Three Tenors, David Copperfield, and Amy Abler were outstanding, and gave memorable performances. The other entertainers were very good as well. This was by far the best evening entertainment we have ever seen on a HAL ship.
The Westerdam fitness center is barely adequate for a ship of her size. It was made worse when staff members decided to use the equipment during peak morning hours. I brought this to the attention of the Greenhouse Spa and Fitness Center Manager as well as the Office but no action was taken. To add insult to injury, staff members never wiped their equipment when finished with disinfectant wipes.
Debarkation in Fort Lauderdale was a complete farce. Many passengers had HAL transfers to either the Miami or Fort Lauderdale airports. There was mass confusion with the buses. No one seemed to be in charge and people were boarding buses based on the amount of luggage they had rather than where they stood in line. Some guests were put on a bus while their spouse was asked to board a different bus! HAL needs to review their debarkation process and institute significant improvements.
Overall the cruising experience on the Westerdam was positive. There were problems which I enumerated above. I have seen similar concerns with other ships and cruise lines. I felt the positives far outweighed the negative. We would do a few things different to mitigate some of the concerns such as taking a cab to the airport rather than rely on the HAL transfer. We plan to cruise Holland America again in the future.