As way of background information I am a single female in my mid 50s and I travel solo most of the time. This was a solo sailing and my first cruise with Holland America. My previous 3 cruises were all on Princess. This time, as in the past, I fly to the port the day before the cruise from my home in SC. I arrived in Ft. Lauderdale at around 10:30am via Spirit Airlines. If you are in a city served by Spirit, please check them out for your travel plans. The planes are modern and clean, the flight attendants helpful and the prices, by taking advantage of their specials are unbeatable.
My pre-cruise hotel of choice in Ft. Lauderdale is the Hampton Inn on Stirling Road. They allowed me an early check in and upgraded me to a king suite. The room was ultra spacious with a small kitchen and dining area, living room, bedroom and large bath with dressing area. That particular location has complimentary shuttles from the airport and to the cruiseport. They also offer a full, hot breakfast. Regular check in time is 3pm and check out is at 11am. I highly recommend this hotel based on cleanliness, service and amenities.
I left the hotel on the 11:30am shuttle and was deposited at the cruise terminal at 11:45am. Porters took my one bag and I was in a quickly moving line into the terminal. Perhaps because I had completed my paperwork online prior to the cruise, the check in itself lasted only a matter of minutes. I was on my way up the gangplank with my purse and one carryon a few minutes before noon. Rooms were not ready yet but we were welcomed aboard and invited to enjoy lunch in the Lido.
First, let me say I'm not much on ship buffets but this one seemed to be laid out well and wasn't extremely crowded at the early hour that I boarded. The food was as good as a cafeteria at home and the service was excellent with stewards offering to carry trays for passengers who looked like they needed assistance.
From the Lido, I went directly to the Greenhouse Spa to purchase my week's pass to the Hydrotherapy Pool and Thermal Suites. Perhaps the best investment I've ever made at $139 for both areas for one person for the week.
Shortly after 1pm, the announcement was made that the cabins were ready. I was anxious to see my first other than inside cabin and rushed to find it. All along the way there were stewards who were very helpful. I had booked a Category H (fully obstructed view ocean view cabin) and was upgraded to a Category GG. My first impression of the cabin was its spaciousness. As I entered there were closets on the right and the bathroom on the left. The bath area had one sink, a roomy medicine cabinet, and the holy grail of cruising a tub with a handheld shower massage. Truly excellent.
The closets held floor length hang up items and had ample hangers. There was one closet with shelves for folded clothes and a shorter hang up item area. I was impressed with the storage space. The sitting area comprised a loveseat length sofa and a small chair with a cocktail table. Directly across from that was the vanity area which was mirrored and included a lighted, magnifying makeup mirror. The vanity stool was hollow and worked well as a dirty clothes hamper. Although flat screen TVs were listed as part of the cabin amenities, mine was not changed yet so was an old style television but still completely serviceable. The chill box was stocked as a mini bar but I had the steward remove those items so that I could store my wine and sodas I had brought onboard. The bed was 2 twins in a queen configuration and had to be the MOST comfortable I've ever slept in. The mattress was a pillowtop and the sheets were a high thread count making for a cozy night's sleep.
After unpacking, I cruised around the ship to find the different places I'd been hearing about through Cruise Critic message boards. I finally settled in by the Lido pool for my first tropical drink and for the sailaway party. Running into some of my fellow roll call posters was fun and of course it's always great to hear the sounds of air horns from the apartment balconies as I sailed away for a relaxing week on the Westerdam.
Shortly after sailaway I met with Hans Becker, the beverage manager of the ship to confirm arrangements for the CC Meet and Greet the following day. What a charming young man! He sent special greetings to LaughinVegas and talked about his fondness for the Cruise Critics groups on all his sailings. He was a tremendous help and his staff were all terrific.
Dinner was great and I very much enjoyed the table of solo cruisers I was seated with. This was my first time with fixed seating and I really enjoyed getting to know the same diners and wait staff every night.
My daily routine onboard would be a little boring to recount so I'll just do it once. Breakfast from room service was terrific. Hot or cold as appropriate with punctual and very polite service. I dined in the Lido for one breakfast and in the dining room once but my preference was room service. I wrote in some items and they came as I requested. Be sure to include everything you want specifically. I mostly ate in the dining room for lunch although I hit the Lido once to sample the bread pudding, very very good. The only night I did not eat in the dining room (I had the early upper seating) was the night I reserved at Pinnacle Grill.
I had been given a dinner there by my colleagues and it turned out to be the best meal I've ever enjoyed. (And I've enjoyed a few let me tell you LOL) For those who think that $30 per person is pricey let me assure you that for the ambience, service and quality of food I would have to pay at least $100 for the same meal at a land based restaurant. The filet mignon was the best I've eaten and the accompanying veggies were perfectly cooked as well. The chocolate volcano cake was fabulous. I enjoyed my meal there so well I went back the next day for lunch. Please try it.
Following dinners, I would spend a good bit of time in the casino and then head to the piano bar for entertainment by Kory Simon. This young man is a great entertainer and the bar was full every night with folks singing their way down memory lane. His voice is melodic for the most part but ask him to do his Bocelli impression... his voice is powerful and beautiful, and he can play very well too. A treasure for the ship.
My major activity, other than the ones I've mentioned, was the thermal suite and hydropool. The hydropool is about 4 times the size of a normal hot tub and the water is more bath temperature but lots and lots of jets generating lots and lots of bubbles. There is an area in the center of the pool that produces the largest amount of bubbles and then there is a lounging bench made of pipes across one end of the pool that is wonderful too. The room that houses the pool is glass but shades are drawn during the cruise for privacy. Chilled water and fruit punch along with fresh fruit are available in this room. The thermal suite has a sauna and steam room along with aroma therapy showers and my favorite the heated ceramic loungers. It was so relaxing to sit and get warm to the bones while watching the ocean through floor to ceiling windows that I frequently nodded off. These are the best naps I've ever taken.
Since I'm more a ship person than a port person I'll give brief information on the ports of call for this cruise. Grand Turk: large developed shopping and water fun area at the cruise center. I took the hop on hop off iguana bus tour and enjoyed the remainder of the island which is very undeveloped and peaceful. I took a long walk down Front Street (as the natives call it) and enjoyed chatting with the locals. Interesting point is that for "belongers", those who were born and raised on the island are entitled to free education through the junior college level and assistance with education past that point. Many folks just stayed at the cruise area and enjoyed that but I loved the island. Tortola: I didn't get off the ship at this stop but it looked lovely from a distance. St. Maarten: I enjoyed the tour of this island (Delightfully Dutch) but I'm not much of a shopper and would have just as soon taken a taxi or water taxi into town and hit the local casinos. Half Moon Cay: very, very pretty. Sand like powder. Nice little snack and shop area. I hear the BBQ was terrific but I opted to tender back to the ship and hit the hydropool.
General observations: Ship was beautiful and well maintained. Cabin was roomy and kept spotlessly clean. Public areas were lovely but the layout was a bit confusing at first. Entertainment was terrific but I'm only judging by the piano bar as I didn't attend the shows. If you are on the Westerdam, be sure to stop in and see Kory Simon he is a kid with a bright future. The small trios and string quartets were excellent in the dining and bar areas. Boarding was a trifle disorganized but pretty normal. Disembarking the ship was a pleasurable experience (even though I didn't want to leave at all of course) and being allowed to stay in your stateroom until your number and color is called is brilliant. Food was good to very good and excellent in the Pinnacle Grill in taste and presentation. Service and staff were above reproach. I have to give HAL top marks for their service and the friendliness of their staff.
Like everything else I judge my life experiences by whether I would repeat them and I would definitely repeat this cruise. I was so impressed by the overall experience that I booked an open cruise for the future. Can't wait to get on a "dam" ship again.
Thanks to the many people on Cruise Critic who were so helpful and answered so many questions for me in advance. I hope that now that I'm a HAL veteran, I can do the same for others.