It is important to note that we are British, and therefore were in a minority on this sailing. It also impacts upon our viewpoint of the service and the food as we are clearly not the target market for this line. We also travelled with our 11 year old son. We are also in our 30's so were young guests on this sailing.
We stayed at the Diplomat Country Club in Hallandale for one night before the cruise which was absolutely perfect. Service was outstanding and we had the best breakfast you can imagine in their restaurant. The evening we dined in a FLL restaurant "Josephs on the Water" where we sat outside and enjoyed wonderful food.
The Westerdam is a beautiful ship. We have however sailed on larger ships before and felt that the Atrium was too small for the large glass ship sculpture which overdominated it - but overall the ship itself was lovely and the decor whilst quite dark was elegant.
The only activity I participated in was one of the cooking demonstrations in the Culinary Center. This was entertaining. However it was extremely disappointing that no hands on cooking classes were offered during our cruise.
Perhaps this was because we are British but we felt that the service on this ship was extremely erratic and in many cases downright awful. Our cabin steward Argus was the exception to this and was efficient and helpful. The complementary laundry service was excellent, as was the shoe shining service. Overall we had much better service on Carnival and Princess than on HAL which was really disappointing. Let me offer some examples:
We were led to believe that we would be led to our suite - but we were not - at embarkation as suite guests we were rushed on - but without continuity and just pointed the way to go.
We both celebrated our Birthdays whilst on our cruise. Our TA had informed HAL of this. On a day furthest away from both our Birthdays the waiter in the Vista restaurant said "I have a surprise for you". Well it was a surprise all right. The waiters presented us with a "Happy Anniversary" cake and sang "Happy Anniversary" to us. This was somewhat embarrassing because we are actually not married and in fact do have different surnames. We also didn't correct them on the Anniversary cake as this clearly wasn't a waiter problem and did find it rather amusing but it might have been very awkward - what if we were only friends? After we had received our fraudulent Anniversary cake we were delivered 2 birthday cakes to the table as well. The waiters in the Vista called my partner by the wrong name all week - but we were too polite to correct this. I was also called "Mrs" which grated a bit.
It took 45 minutes to get 2 bottles of mineral water from room service.
On occasion we had to hold for 10 minutes to get room service on the phone.
In the explorations cafe I ordered a cafe latte with skimmed milk on the first morning. I was told - we don't have any milk (not just skim milk - no milk at all). I asked how long it would be to get milk and was told "an hour". The following morning I tried again - no skimmed milk and it apparently would take an hour. I tried one more time - this time I could see the skim milk on the counter but the coffee bartender refused to use it saying that he wasn't ready to use it in the machine. Now I am not being funny but I don't think that skimmed milk is an unusual request. I complained to the Neptune Lounge and was told that this would be rectified (I had actually bought a coffee card specifically so I could order skim milk lattes). Needless to say 2 days later I tried the cafe again and there was no skim milk. I ordered a cafe mocha and was told - only white chocolate. It was a joke. I complained again and was sent a bottle of red wine - a nice gesture but actually I just wanted a latte or mocha with skim milk. HAL just didn't seem to care - for example the coffee bar actually offered daily specials on the menu - but I asked what the daily special was - and was told - we don't do them - no reason. Some of the smoothies on offer on the menu in the explorations cafe could only be purchased on deck 3?????
We felt that on many occasions on this cruise we were trying to enjoy some quiet time/privacy and this was invaded by the staff. Staff members kept coming up to us and with a beaming smile just standing there with nothing to say and made no effort to initiate conversation. If they did initiate conversation it was inane and nothing necessary. This happened regularly at dinner with the little men in white suits. They did not introduce themselves. We had no desire for these unnecessary interruptions - is this what is interpreted by many as friendly? To Europeans the idea of service is for staff to be invisible until the guest requests their assistance - or to remove plates for example. This happened in the dining room and also in the cabana in HMC (more on that later) which was particularly annoying. I don't like my personal space to be invaded by people who have no part to play in offering us service. Perhaps this is something that the elderly American demographic enjoy? But we didn't. Good service is about recognizing passenger needs and HAL failed with this 100%.
On one occasion the wine waitress poured the "dregs" from one glass of wine into a new full glass. In wine etiquette this is unforgivable. Whilst I did not order high priced wines on board I am actually extremely qualified with qualifications in wine - it was clear talking to the wine waitress that she was not - she kept talking about her son instead. Because we did not order the expensive wines and had wines sent from our cabin to the dining room the sommelier did not speak to us and bypassed our table. Because I had regularly ordered pinot grigio by the glass on the final evening the wine waitress had left 2 glasses of pinot grigio on the table. Actually it was so rough that night that I did not intend to drink - and my partner wanted the merlot - I can understand preempting regular cocktail orders but not for wine - it would have been warm by the time the appetizer arrived.
On one occasion we ordered room service to eat on the balcony of our room and whilst we were offered two entrees we were only given one set of cutlery. We had to share.
The ice in the room ran out - we drink a lot of iced water - and it took an hour to get anyone to refill it. We were told "steward is on break" - well who does his job when he isn't there? There appeared to be no way for guests to get their own ice on the cabin decks.
On the final morning we had been sold the opportunity to disembark at leisure and to stay in our cabin until about 10am (we checked this with the Neptune Lounge). At 830am I was on the lounger on the balcony and without warning a scruffy crew member walked over from a neighboring room and said "I clean balcony you go now". Not pleasant. At 9am a bottle of champagne for the next guests was delivered to our suite (the waiter let himself in). Not great service we felt as if we were being pushed out.
Pinnacle Grill breakfast - very hit and miss service here. If you ordered a breakfast dish which was supposed to be accompanied by grilled potatoes it arrived with hash browns. Hot breakfast was not always that hot. Why can you get strawberry yoghurt in the lido but not in the Pinnacle for breakfast? My partner was unable to get apple juice and was more or less told it was too hard to get as the staff had to go to the lido to get it. So why was it on the menu? They also apparently ran out of grapefruit juice. Yes it was nice and peaceful in there in the mornings but apart from that it wasn't that great. Staff didn't like us arriving at 8am (especially the morning after Halloween when they were all clearly worse for wear).
The library in the explorations cafe had shelves which were all labelled incorrectly. It was hard to find the foreign language books for example.
Neptune Lounge - a nice facility. We ordered DVDs but not all were available and we were informed of this - fair enough. However I ordered a CD and we never heard any more about it. However in the Neptune the ladies did get our names right.
In Grand Cayman we grabbed a cab from Spots Bay to Georgetown and mooched around the shops for about an hour and a half. This was enjoyable.
In Grand Turk we grabbed a cab and went to Cockburn Town and wandered around the museum and town for about an hour - not much there and wouldn't be too keen to return to Grand Turk.
HMC - a very beautiful island. We hired a cabana - the terracotta one which was in a very quiet area. The sea was great for swimming and the sand powder fine. However our cabana had not been cleaned. The table was not clean. The fridge contained "dips" which must have been fairly old as they had mould growing on them. The cupboard contained stale tortilla chips. The trash had not been emptied. Nasty. The staff did not notice this. We pointed this out to the beverage manager who was driving up and down the beach in his cart who arranged for the trash to be emptied and for someone to wipe the table (no disinfectant was used). No apology was offered. Ours was not the only cabana with this problem. Our own food (dips etc) and glasses were cleared away by staff at 130 (seemed a little early to us). Some of the bartenders decided to sit next to our cabana in the morning to have their cigarettes so their smoke wafted right into the cabana - not pleasant. Not customer focused. Our cabana was only provided with 1 floating mat but the 2 others were provided when we asked about this.
The fruit platter provided as part of the cabana package was an embarrassment - it was a single fruit plate for 1 person - 3 mouthfuls of melon and a single strawberry. Not what we expected. It was impossible to order pinot grigio by the glass from the cabana. They brought me house white which was undrinkable (and arrived after we had eaten our BBQ meal). We didn't rate the BBQ on HMC very highly either and the queues were horrendous. The tram service to and from cabanas was efficient and on time.
Travel To Port of Embarkation We took a taxi and it was very easy and quick to get there from Hallandale.
Stateroom We could not fault our stateroom. It was an SB wraparound suite and it was wonderful. We enjoyed the comfort of the bed and the size of the balcony. I spent as much time as possible on the balcony and loved it. There was lots of storage and the whirlpool bath and shower were good. We also liked the small dressing area. Our son found the sofabed comfortable. The loungers and table and chairs on the balcony were all used regularly by us and were lovely to have - but we had paid for this extra facility!
We didn't enjoy the food on this cruise. The growing trend in the UK is away from food that has a multitude of ingredients and fine dining experiences (e.g. Gordon Ramsay's restaurants, the Ivy etc) focus upon the provision of excellent quality ingredients and not using unnecessary garnishes and combinations of exotic ingredients just to "show off". IN the UK this approach is seen as very "1980s".
On this cruise the food was in our view prepared to "show off" and this did not result in great tasting meals. Who would want a mango coconut banana strudel made with filo pastry? YUK. What is wrong with apple strudel made properly with proper strudel pastry? Keep it simple and it will be better.
The size of the appetizers was mean, for example, the tower of crab was more of a single story and was tiny and made with crab stick (yuk). The salads was also small if you had wanted them as an entree (also the case on room service). There also seemed to be an essential order by the executive chef to include a piece of fruit as garnish on every plate - however irrelevant to the dish. WHY?
I sent back one entree as the sauce was too complex and tasted disgusting.
We ate dinner at the Pinnacle one night - again a disappointment. The decor in the Pinnacle has those awful lit pictures of banquet tables which in some places clearly needed a good clean. We noted that one table were shown the steak sizes before ordering - we were not. I ordered the tomato salad. 3 very thick slices of tomato with the dressing. Not exactly as described on the menu. The meal was so unmemorable I cannot remember my choice of entree but I remember that we ate very different meals and had the same "pretty but inedible" garnish. My partner ordered the volcano cake - but it was dry - or as he put it "extinct" - shouldn't it have had sauce inside it or over it? It looked terrible. If we had eaten here on the shore and paid serious $ for it we would have complained. The curved banquette seating we were given was very 1980s versace style and was very uncomfortable but I think chairs are more of a British thing.
We also attended the suite lunch. What a disappointment. We were not seated properly by the staff. This was a buffet lunch where there were very few options (if you didn't eat shrimp then you were very stuck). There was a chicken satay that was so overcooked it had welded itself to the stick. There was no salad available. We were seated on the "outside" area of the restaurant in the atrium and basically had to beckon the staff to serve us with a soft drink - poor service indeed.
Children's Clubs Our son is 11 and was combined in a group of 7-12 year olds. As a result the activities tended to be on the young side. However he enjoyed it at the start of the week. I got the impression by the end of the week that he was happier to hang out round the ship with his new friends rather than go to kids club. Our son said that the kids club was better than Princess but Carnival was better. On HMC because our son didn't attend the morning sandcastle building he did not find out that the afternoon activity had been relocated - or perhaps the rep simply didn't show up? So there was no 1pm activity on HMC - there were other kids looking for it too. On Halloween the kids club did some trick or treating but our son had rated the Carnival Halloween kids activities much higher than what HAL had offered.
Entertainment I didn't attend anything. My partner and son attended one show but felt it was standard cruise ship fare. I watched the crew show on the television and was glad I hadn't bothered to attend.It was nice to meet other CCers at the meet and greet which Bob and Melinda had kindly organized. We also attended other receptions/parties - again very standard cruise fare. I used the gym and the staff were very good and the machines up to date. I used the spa - again the staff were good but as on any cruise there was a hard sell on products.
Disembarkation Once we had been "evicted" from our cabin disembarkation was fast. The baggage hall was as crowded as ever but no problems.
Weather At times on this cruise we had rough seas due to the proximity of TS Noel. The Captain did however keep us well informed.
If we could have had the staff from Carnival Valor and the food from Sea Princess on the Westerdam the cruise would have been much improved! A beautiful ship but the reality doesn't match the hype so far as food and service are concerned. The Culinary Arts Center should have offered hands on classes.