DH and I are in our mid-50s. DH has back and neck problems, which limited our activities somewhat. This was DH's first cruise, and my first on HAL. The only other recent mainstream cruise experience I have was a 7-day to Alaska on Celebrity in 2004.
We arrived at the dock at about 1:00 p.m. (after a precruise stay in FLL which we arranged on our own), and there were very few people boarding and no wait of any kind. There was a little confusion when we told one of the greeters that we were in a deluxe veranda suite. He nonetheless directed us to the regular boarding area, and then someone else came back and fetched us to go to the other area while we were in the middle of filling out our illness questionnaires. I was carrying a very heavy tote bag with our wine in it, and also pulling a rolling briefcase, and at no time did anyone offer to assist me with luggage, which I found a little disappointing. Other than that, embarkation was very smooth, quick, and easy. Due to our relatively late arrival, we were able to proceed to our cabin immediately upon boarding.
Our stateroom was 4185, an aft corner deluxe veranda suite (SC) on the Upper Promenade Deck. Although smaller than some other cabins in this class, it has ample room for a king bed (or two twins), sofa, chair, small oval coffee table, and desk. Storage space includes closets in the dressing area as well as the cabin proper; storage areas under the desk and end tables; more storage inside the stools at the desk and vanity, and drawers as well as luggage space under the bed.
There are three regular US (115V) 3-prong outlets at the desk, as well as a 220-V outlet; one of each by the vanity in the dressing area; and one for shavers only in the bathroom. I heeded the advice given by some folks on CC and brought a power strip, but it blew the fuse for the desk outlets and TV - twice - so I gave up and stopped using it. It was a cheap one that I had bought specially for the trip and had not used before, so it's quite possible that the problem was with the power strip rather than the ship's electrical system. We didn't really need the power strip, anyway; we just plugged in different items one at a time. Both times that I blew the fuse, it was fixed promptly and cheerfully by a member of the maintenance staff.
Flat screen TV and DVD player were in place, along with a CD player (which seemed rather superfluous since the DVD player presumably would play audio CDs, though we did not check this). The room was clean except for some ashtrays on the veranda, which the steward quickly disposed of on request, and a packet of unused toddler wipes left behind on the highest shelf in one of the bathroom cabinets. Everything was in perfect order except for some minor routine wear-and-tear that did not interfere with our enjoyment of the accommodations.
The beds had been made up as twins - perhaps (giving HAL the benefit of the doubt) because my husband and I have different surnames. The steward agreed to correct this when he stopped by to deliver the luggage, and it was fixed by the time we returned from dinner. Not a big issue, but I think HAL could save itself some trouble by asking about bed preference when you fill out your online registration, as Celebrity does.
Food and Dining
We had room service breakfast most mornings. We called for breakfast rather than putting out the card the night before, because we didn't want to commit ourselves to a time frame in advance. Breakfast arrived reasonably quickly after we called in the order, except for one very busy morning in Grand Cayman, and we consistently received what we ordered. My only disappointment was that room service did not offer hot cereal prior to 8am, and we generally wanted breakfast earlier than that. We only ordered cereal, croissants, yogurt, and fruit, so I can't comment on the eggs or breakfast meats, but what we did order was fine, if a bit pedestrian. The coffee was entirely drinkable, though nothing to write home about. The coffees from the Neptune Lounge machine and the after-dinner capuccinos in the dining room were all delicious.
We ate breakfast in the Pinnacle Grill twice. The ambience was very pleasant and the food was fine, but the service, though friendly, was a bit slow. One morning when I got up very early and DH was still asleep, I went up to the Lido to sample the waffles. I liked them, but was not blown away. I was pleasantly surprised by how quiet and uncrowded the atmosphere was, at least at that early hour.
Lunch in the Lido was quite decent - not overly crowded, fairly well organized, and with some nice touches such as stewards coming around to refill iced tea and water glasses. We were pleasantly surprised by the fact that the salad bar, besides being ample and varied, was billed as organic, because we try to eat organic produce at home as much as possible, but had not expected to encounter any on the ship. I was disappointed that there were no fat-free salad dressings, or at least, none that were labelled as such. Oil and vinegar, including balsamic, were available. The bread pudding was delicious!
Westerdam was still on an all-traditional dining system at the time of our cruise. We were given a table for two at the main upper (8pm) seating, as requested. (We were in a suite, and booked 11 months in advance, so I would have been surprised if our request had not been accommodated.) We asked for a quiet location, and received a table against the railing looking down into the lower dining room, which turned out to be just fine. Our waiter, Muli, and his assistant, Achmad, were charming and efficient. Our special request for crudites instead of bread was accommodated willingly and (after the second night) consistently. We did not experience any undue delays in the pacing of the meals.
Standout items on the dining room menu included the caribbean fish cake and mushroom vol-au-vent appetizers; the mango gazpacho soup; the rack of lamb; the famous parmesan crusted chicken; and the warm chocolate pudding. We were also pleasantly surprised by the fact that the available-daily salmon was wild Alaska rather than farmed; DH ordered it once, and reported that it was delicious. Standout cocktails were the mango mojito and the cosmo cubana. I ordered the nasi goreng, but was not terribly impressed with it; I found it dry, and less interestingly flavored than I would have thought.
On the first night, we brought our welcome aboard champagne with us to the dining room, and the wine steward kindly swapped it with a better-chilled bottle. The second time we ate in the dining room, it took them a while to locate the bottle of white wine that we had given our steward to take down, and it had not been chilled. However, the problem was quickly remedied; the wine was located and placed in an ice bucket, and was soon at the proper temperature. The champagne that we gave to the wine steward on Tuesday was waiting in a bucket for us on Wednesday, and our unfinished bottle of white wine from Tuesday was returned to us on Friday as requested. We were never charged corkage for either of the bottles of our own wine that we drank in the dining room, even though I reminded both the wine steward and the bar waiter about it. (Needless to say, this courtesy was suitably recognized when tipping time came!)
We had a somewhat unusual itinerary, with Half Moon Cay as the first stop on Monday, and sea days on the third (Wednesday) and last (Saturday) days of the cruise. Formal nights were held on the days we departed ports relatively early, which were Monday and Thursday. DH did not wish to dress up, so he and I had room service dinner, ordered from the dining room menu, on those nights. Our room service dinners arrived promptly at the requested time, as ordered, with everything at the correct temperature. Desserts had melted a bit by the time we got to them, but I suppose that's unavoidable when eating on the veranda in the Caribbean.
Service was generally very good. Our steward, Nyoman, was very responsive to requests made either directly or via leaving a sticky note on the mirror. He did his job thoroughly without ever invading our privacy, which must have been a challenge as we spent quite a lot of time in our suite. We did not get any towel animals until after I mentioned the issue at the Cruise Critic gathering on Wednesday, but I really did not mind, as Nyoman was clearly working very hard and I didn't want to complain about something so trivial. And for the rest of the cruise, he positively showered us with them, each one more adorable than the last. Laundry came back nicely done, and hung or folded as appropriate.
The Neptune Lounge concierges were just as helpful as they are generally reported to be, though I did not ask them to do anything particularly onerous. We celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary on board, and the ship put balloons and a sign on our door, sent us a card, and gave us a cake at dinner. I told the Neptune Lounge concierge that we did not want the staff to sing or make a fuss at dinner, and that request was honored; they quietly wished us happy anniversary, and left it at that.
Westerdam is a lovely ship, and generally very well maintained. I enjoyed the art collection more than I had expected to, as I am not generally particularly interested in paintings. Many of the architectural details are also very impressive. In particular, the marble mosaic floor insets near the Explorer's Lounge and Pinnacle Bar are strikingly beautiful.
I had not been on any HAL ship before, so I cannot comment on the difference between the pre- and post-retrofit versions of the Crow's Nest. I rather liked the way the Explorations Cafe flowed into the Crow's Nest, so that one could pick up a book or coffee from the former and enjoy them in the latter. The library was very well stocked, but some of the labels on the shelves were inaccurate.
I was somewhat disappointed in the gym. The machines, though plentiful, were old and somewhat outdated, and several of them were not working. They did not have personal video screens or headphones. Instead, there were several televisions scattered through the gym, but it was difficult to hear them, and I did not feel free to select a channel since others were watching. I ended up bringing my own CD player, audiobook, and headphones. The staff seemed more interested in selling various treatments and classes than in helping those who were there just to exercise. For example, I could not figure out how to turn on the stationery bikes, and no one offered to help.
Demographics and Dress Code
The onboard population ranged from infants to quite elderly, with the vast majority appearing to be between their late 50s and late 60s. As I had hoped, there were only a handful of children, since this cruise was the week after the Thanksgiving holiday. They were generally very well behaved, as far as I observed. My experience was that the passengers were polite and well-mannered, though there were a few isolated exceptions. Some appeared friendlier than others, and there were a few whose conversational voices were louder than ideal, but I did not encounter any chronic complainers or rude drunks.
I did not see anyone dressed inappropriately. As already mentioned, DH and I did not "do" formal nights, but on the second one, we had a cocktail at the Ocean Bar at around 5:15pm, when the early dinner seating folks were starting to gather. We were dressed in smart casual, because I thought that would be all right since it was before the dinner hour. We ended up feeling quite out of place, however, and took our drinks outside to the promenade deck. As far as I could see from that very small sample, and from what I saw going to and from the gym on the first formal night, the men were mostly in suits, with about 25 percent in tuxes, and the women all looked very done-up and quite smashing. Incidentally, while we were still in the bar, waiters were passing out small plates of hot hors d'oeuvres to the people at the tables.
We did not attend any of the shows in the Vista Lounge. The movies in the theater and on the TV were varied and quite recent, but none of them struck our fancy, so we watched the DVDs we had brought with us. There was a jazz group playing in the Ocean Bar when we were there, and they were quite pleasant, playing popular tunes in a smooth jazz style. We also spent one evening listening to the string quartet in the Explorers Lounge. We would have preferred a little more straight classical music and a little less pop classics, but they played well, and we enjoyed their performance very much.
Cruise Critic Gatherings
Because our first sea day was not until the third day of the cruise, we decided to have two get-togethers. The first was held at lunch on the first day at Half Moon Cay. HAL declined to rope off an area for us there, so some of us saved a few tables together. We had a good turnout, though smaller than expected, and it was nice to get to know one another in person that close to the start of the cruise.
Our second get-together was arranged with HAL's support, and took place in the Piano Bar at 10am on the first sea day. We were provided with iced tea, ice water, cookies, and - a nice surprise - mimosas and virgin marys (there may have been bloody marys too - I'm not sure). The food and beverage manager joined us for the entire meeting, and was kind enough to take group photographs with all five of the cameras offered to him by various members of our roll call. The hotel manager joined us for the latter part of the gathering, after his daily meeting with the captain. Both of them were very responsive to issues raised with them by a few members who had unfortunately had problems with leaks, plumbing, and odors in their cabins.
Half Moon Cay: We were fortunate to have gorgeous weather for Half Moon Cay. The beach and the water are as beautiful as promised. We did not take any excursions, but rented a clamshell, which was a good thing as the natural shade disappears by noon. Based on advice from other CC members, we propped up the back of the clamshell on the chair framework, and it did not get overly hot. The barbecue buffet was nothing special, but it was tasty and abundant. There were brownies, and they were probably the best part! My one complaint would be that they had run out of salad in the line we were in, and no one on the food service staff even seemed to be aware of the problem, much less in a hurry to refill the supply.
Grand Turk: We had high winds and some rain as we approached Grand Turk, so our docking was delayed for a few minutes, but the captain went out of his way to reassure everyone that all shore excursions would leave as scheduled and none would be cut short. The weather cleared soon after we docked, and we soon had another beautiful day. The beach right by the dock was perfectly nice, so we decided just to stay there under one of the free clamshells. Westerdam was the only ship in port that day, so it was not crowded at all, and the experience was very pleasant. Curiously, although the port was listed on the itinerary as a tender port, and HAL confirmed this to me via email twice, we did in fact dock rather than tendering.
Grand Cayman: We docked on time at 8am. The ship's boats were used as tenders. The weather was overcast in the morning, and we were a little tired of beach days anyway, so DH and I decided to spend the day aboard. I spent a very pleasant morning in the nearly-deserted Crow's Nest reading and catching up on writing this review on my laptop.
Cozumel: Cozumel was a replacement port for Costa Maya on this itinerary, and probably for that reason, we had to tender when we arrived in the morning, as all the docks were occupied. The port provided large shore-based tenders, which made the process easier. When we returned to the International Pier at the end of the day, we found to our surprise that the Carnival ship which had been docked there earlier had already departed, and Westerdam was just pulling into the available berth. So, after a brief delay, we were able to walk back on board.
Based on recommendations on the Cozumel board on Cruise Critic, we spent the day at Nachi Cocom. It was wonderful. Even with five ships in port that day - two Carnival, two RCI, and Westerdam - it was totally uncrowded and peaceful. We had good luck with the weather, which was warm and mostly sunny. The beach was lovely, and the water was almost bathtub warm, crystal clear, and calm. The food was plentiful and tasty, though not elegant, and Carlos checked with us frequently to see if we wanted drinks. The snorkeling was meager, as there is a sand bottom and no reef, but I had not expected more than that. I actually saw more fish than I had expected, including some large ones. I suffered a couple of very minor brushes with jellyfish stings, but the pain was slight and did not last long.
On the second-to-last day of the cruise, we received a form letter from the Neptune Lounge asking whether we wanted our baggage picked up the night before disembarkation, or by 6am the last morning. The letter also told us that our tags would be red #1, for suite guests with independent travel arrangements, and that we could disembark as soon as we wished once the process began.
We arrived in Fort Lauderdale a little ahead of schedule, and sat for a while just offshore before docking. There was some delay between docking and the first disembarkation call, but I don't have enough experience to know whether it was out of the ordinary. Once our tag number was called, the process was quick and smooth. Porters were readily available both at the dock and at the airport, and we had no trouble getting a cab. We were at the airport, checked in at the self-service counter (I had used some internet minutes to check in online, so we already had boarding passes), and through security by 9:30am.
We picked HAL for this cruise primarily because of the quality of HAL's beds, due to DH's physical issues, and we were not disappointed in that regard. The mattress was not quite as perfect for us as our Tempurpedic at home, but it was very comfy and DH was entirely satisfied with it. It was also a plus for us that HAL has a relatively quiet and refined atmosphere, larger staterooms, good food, and excellent service. We do not care about glitz, shopping, organized activities, or showroom entertainment, so if there were any deficits in those areas, they did not bother us. This was my husband's first cruise, and he was skeptical about whether he would really enjoy it, but by dinner on the second day he was suggesting that we look into cruising to Alaska next summer! On the last day, we put down a deposit for that purpose, after consulting with the very friendly and helpful future cruise consultant, Joanne.