EMBARKATION: In that we live in the South which requires an overnight stay to Florida, we chose the Spring Hill Suites by Marriott in Dania Beach. The hotel provides free shuttle service from the airport and also provides free shuttle service to the cruiseport. The hotel and staff were excellent and our room was spacious and spotless. Immediately upon checking in they offered bottled water at no charge and were happy to provide it whenever someone wanted it. Also, a full breakfast buffet is included and was quite a good variety.
The shuttle service dropped us right at the spot for handing off our luggage for transfer to the Westerdam. It was a very easy process and pleasant baggage handlers. We then made our way into the terminal and filled out a short form indicating we had no sickness and then proceeded quickly thru the Express Check-in line and we were on the ship and heading to the Lido for a relaxing and delicious lunch. Just as we were finishing lunch around 1:15, they announced that all cabins were now available.
STATEROOM: We booked a Superior Verandah Suite and specified the cabin and that is exactly what we got. No upgrade but we were not counting on one either. We were certainly hoping they wouldn't take us to a SS category that is located under the Lido area since there have been many reports of noise from moving chairs around very early in the morning. Our cabin was extremely clean and Aris kept it that way the entire cruise. He was also very friendly and introduced himself as soon as he saw us. Aris kept us entertained with his expertise with the towel animals. He also made sure we had fresh ice in the early afternoon and late evening while we were at our Late Upper Seating. The bathroom and verandah were very nice and both quite large and comfortable. Our cabin was ideally located to mid-ship elevators and also an easy walk forward on our deck to reach the Spa and Crow's Nest and aft to the Vista Dining Room. Using Deck 6 as a route, avoided going thru other spaces that could wind around or possibly be congested even though we never experienced that except on Formal nights.
DINING: We enjoyed all the dining venues which for us included the Vista Dining Room, Lido and the Terrace Grill and of course on a few occasions breakfast and one lunch in our cabin. We found the choices to be quite good and tasty and we made sure we tried several of the dishes that had been suggested by other cruisers. We had booked a table for two and as it turned out we actually had a table for four, Table 2. Somehow the Westerdam misunderstood the transfer of our request by our travel consultant but we really enjoyed our tablemates from Lansing, MI, and we decided we did not want to change the arrangements.
Eko was our Vista steward and his assistant was Zaki and they were exceptional and always efficient and wanting to please our every request. My wife is quite a Disney fan for more years than I can normally remember but since this will make 37 years marriage, I can recall that she has been to Disney World with or without me every one of those years or almost all of them. She might stand to correct me if she sees this review before writing her own humorous review. Anyway, she took along a Penguin that created quite an interest in the Dining Room since she dressed it in many different outfits including a tuxedo on Formal night and I am ashamed to say he was better dressed than I was. We also enjoyed talking with Rahman, our Head Steward, who made sure he was helpful at all times. We learned where each of our stewards is from in Indonesia and expressed interest in their beautiful country. Of course, each encouraged us to visit Indonesia and that would be another wonderful experience.
SHOWS: We only attended the first night's entertainment with the Westerdam singers and dancers and the comedian. We enjoyed this but we never found the time to attend other shows with the exception of Alfreda who didn't turn out to be our cup of tea but unlike some others, we stayed to the end as we felt it rude to leave in the middle of the show. My poor wife was in agony, however.
CREW: We felt from Captain Henk Keijer on down that the Westerdam must have the best complement of Holland America personnel. Everyone was pleasant and always so quick to want to help in all regards. My wife loved the Captain's Dutch accent and entertained me with copying his announcements in a lovely way that was always be remembered. I met with Hans Becker, Food and Beverages Manager, the first evening so we could go over the Meet and Greet event for the next day which was our first sea day. Hans did a great job with the planning of our separate space and fortunately we had a good turn out of Roll Call members. My wife designed a special souvenir button and name tag for all the members and we also made up extra buttons to pass out to special crew members including the Captain and some of his senior officers who each were game to wear them.
SHORE EXCURSIONS: We did not go ashore in Cozumel and Grand Cayman since we have been there before and preferred to explore the Westerdam since it is a beautiful ship and time gets away too quickly with all the port activities. On Grand Turk, we had arranged to visit the Grand Turk Inn which is owned by two sisters that came from Australia by way of a stop for a number of years in Key West. They renovated a property that had been seized by the government due to money laundering which made for an interesting history. They spent four years on this project which now offers four suites and one cottage for resort stays. In our case, we had access to part of a suite for changing clothes and relaxing. We also were provided with beach mats, snorkel gear and floats to use at the nice, secluded beach right across from the Inn. Sandy and Katrina provided a great lunch that was shared with a party of four that also chose this excursion. We were very fortunate with the timing of this visit because the next day the beach was covered with high waves breaking over the seawall. Half Moon Cay is as beautiful as all the previous reports have stated. We chose only to have a clamshell which was ideal for us because I got first pick of the location and had it right below a shade tree and close to a Watersports outlet. We rented large yellow tubes and enjoyed floating for a few hours before going to the BBQ. I had a steak sandwich and my wife had a cheese burger and we were both pleased with the lunch and relaxing time. We left to go back to the ship around 2:30 to rest up from such a strenuous day that someone had to do.
DEMOGRAPHICS: Many times I have read about the older crowd on Holland America ships. I think we never even noticed or commented on the ages of the cruisers and maybe that's because I'm not getting any younger myself. We have always felt you make your vacation what you want it to be and for us that is easy-lots of fun and relaxation and to be kind to others.
DISEMBARKATION: Our flight was on Delta at 12:30 so we qualified for the Express Baggage Service which is worth every dollar. Some have reported that your flight has to be after 1PM, others have reported you never see your luggage again once you put it outside your stateroom the last evening. Neither of these was correct in our case since our flight was earlier than 1PM and you always have to present your luggage with you any time you clear Customs. Once that was done, we rolled our luggage just outside the terminal and to the left was a huge truck, Bags, Inc., that takes possession of your luggage which you then don't worry about seeing until you arrive at your home airport. Also, late in the day on the last cruise day, you receive your flight boarding passes and luggage check tags that you apply to each piece of luggage. You are entitled to two pieces per passenger at the total cost of $15 for each passenger, not per bag.