I was on the Westerdam for the 12/16/07 sailing. Purplenorway, J Alex's Mom, Ssantow and others have already done such a great job reviewing this same cruise that I almost don't feel the need to add anymore, but thought I would add my perspective. This is a long review, so if you want the short version here it is - - Overall I was very pleased with the cruise, with just a few areas I thought could improve. Now on to the slightly more detailed version:
Background - My DW and I went on this cruise. We are in our mid 20's. This was her first cruise, my first with HAL, I have previously been on cruises with RCCL. We booked through an online agency, and really had no problems booking this way. We wanted a cruise that wasn't as much of a party environment, while providing a slightly refined cruising experience with still plenty of fun. HAL delivered on what I was looking for and really met a niche I was looking for.
Pre Cruise Hotel - We stayed at the Renaissance Hotel on 17th street right by Port Everglades. We had originally booked at a different hotel, but found the Renaissance on hotwire for $99 before taxes and fees, so we took it. The hotel was ok, good for the money. We flew into town late and didn't get to the hotel until 1:30 in the morning. The man who checked us in was not friendly, and almost made me feel like I was robbing him or something. The rest of the staff was fine. I wouldn't really want to pay $300 for this place, though others may think differently.
Embarkation - We arrived at about 11:45. I think we were on the ship by noon. It was quick and painless. We had done all of our forms online before we left, and it really made the process quick.
Ship - The ship was beautiful and well maintained. I always saw the crew cleaning and keeping the ship in top shape. The public rooms were very comfortable and all felt welcoming. I liked the size of the Westerdam, as it wasn't so big that it was hard to get from end to end, but still had lots of public rooms and amenities. The one negative I would comment on the ship was that it seemed to rock a lot more than the other cruises I have been on. I am not sure if that is due to the Westerdam being a smaller ship that I have been on before, but there were some nights we really rocked. I am a very deep sleeper (wake up in the night very rarely) and the last night we were on the ship I was woke up continually as I almost rolled out of bed due to the ship rocking. The first day or two were also pretty bad and I don't think the seas were really that high, so I wonder why the ship rolled so much. Didn't really make me sick, just hard not to notice.
Stateroom - We had a fully obstructed outside room. It was very roomy and comfortable. There was plenty of storage space for everything we packed, as well as the suitcases we brought under the bed. I enjoyed that the room had 3 closets that could be shelf or closet space. It was nice having a bathtub that provided some room in the shower. Also enjoyed the flat screen TV, which also freed up some space at the desk. Overall the room was a great value for the price we paid.
Crew - The crew was very good. They all seemed to work hard and did a great job. Our room steward kept our place spotless and always did a good job of coming and going while we were out of the room. My only complaint, which was minor, is that we only got 2 towel animals the whole cruise. My DW was quite excited to see these as it was her first cruise, and I kept expecting to get more. Again that was very minor. Our dining room steward, assistant waiter and wine steward were all great. They were able to pick up on our preferences and understand that we were not the lengthiest dinners. We had early upper (5:45 pm) and most nights we were out by 7:00 pm which was perfect for us. None of them really seemed interested or really had the time to visit with us except our wine steward. This is fine, but it is always fun to get to know the crew. Overall I would rate the crew as A+, and one of the best parts of the cruise.
Dinning - The food was all over the board. Room service was always great. Breakfast was always great. Lunch was good, but the Lido got crowded which can be expected on a holiday cruise. The nacho bar in the terrace grill was a bit of a lowlight. About half of the time I went to go try it they didn't have any chips. One time they had crushed up stale taco shells, and the one time I did get chips the cheese was cold. They did have good hamburgers and fries at the Terrace grill though. Also the Lido food was always pretty good.
The dining room was a nice environment and we had dinner there each night except for the BBQ on the pool deck. The food was always good and I never ate anything that I didn't like. However I must say that about half of the nights certainly didn't overwhelm me. There were about 3 nights that I really, really enjoyed. The prime rib (two different nights), filet, and lobster were all very good. The best desert was actually going to the ice cream bar with their chocolate sauce.
Final note on the dining. The BBQ on the Lido deck was rough. It was the day we stopped in Tortola. We were suppose to be in port from noon to 9 at night. We ended up not getting into port until about 2:30 or 3:00. Due to this, by the time most people got back on the ship they had missed their dinner, and everyone else must have also decided to go the BBQ. According to the staff, it was apparently much more crowded then usual. Well when we arrived 25 minutes in, there was no steaks or ribs, with no were to sit, and the pool area packed very tight with people. When we finally got food it was burnt. Again, this may not be a normal experience do to the late arrival in port, but it was somewhat disappointing.
Other passengers - The demographics on this ship were very young. One of the ship officers told me it was one of the youngest if not the youngest passengers they have seen on the ship. This was fine with us as we are in our mid 20's, although others may have been surprised by this. Overall the fellow passengers were polite and fun. I am however amazed at how some people don't seem to understand the concept of a line. I don't think how many times I see someone cut in the middle or front of a huge line will it still will continue to shock and amaze me. I don't think this has anything to do with HAL, but just there will be people who do this everywhere. Overall the fellow passengers were great and actually much younger than I expected.
Shows - We saw about half the shows. The ones we saw were very good. The illusionist was by far the best, and the best show I have seen on a cruise ship. Very very good. The comedian was also good, "philly" I believe was his name, but he might be offensive to some. The one singing and dancing show we saw was also good. The stage movement and lights I found to be very impressive for a cruise ship.
Grand Turk - Some people may not like this island because there didn't seem to be much there except beaches and Margaritaville. I personally thought it was a great port. The snorkeling was among the best, if not the best I have seen in the Caribbean. We did the Ultimate snorkeling adventure through HAL and thought it was excellent. It was snorkeling by boat and the company that took us was top notch. We saw a huge barracuda along with many other interesting fish. After a few hours of snorkeling we went to the beach by the dock and enjoyed the beautiful water there. There was actually pretty decent snorkeling right at the beach, and upon my initial submersion into the water at about waste high water I was surprised to see a decent sized stingray near my feet. There was an abundance of fish in this area, and for someone looking for a calmer introduction to snorkeling; they may find this area a great place to start. We found Grand Turk to be a great port if you are interested in beaches, Margaritaville, and snorkeling. If you are looking for much else, it may disappoint.
Tortola - We didn't really get a chance to enjoy this port as much as I would have liked. We were due into port at noon, but couldn't dock due to no room at the port. We were originally told we would get a spot at 2, but it was closer to 3 by the time the ship was tied up and we could get off the ship. I found this slightly frustrating because I looked on cruisecalender.com 3 months ago and could see there was 5 ships due into port that day. I would assume (and hope) that HAL would have known this too, and easily could have selected a different port since there are lots of other stops in the Virgin Island area. Upon arriving at 3, we grabbed a taxi and went to Cane Garden Bay. The beach was a nice place to relax, although very crowded with so many ships in port. Really the highlight of the trip was the taxi ride both ways. The taxi is an open aired truck with benches. The ride was very steep but was really fun and provided beautiful views of the virgin islands. Due to it getting dark we returned back to the ship by about 6:00 pm.
St. Thomas - We arrived to very heavy rain. It lasted for about 30 minutes, and the rest of the day was clear blue sky with plenty of sun; just another example of how a rainy day can turn into a beautiful day in the Caribbean. We took HAL's Trunk Bay Beach excursion to St. John. We were very pleased with this excursion, and would also recommend it to anyone. The tour group was fantastic again. We boarded a boat right next to the cruise ships and we were off very quickly. HAL put everyone on this ferry who had booked the Trunk Bay snorkeling excursion, the drive around the island excursion, and the hiking excursion in St. Johns. Our ferry ride over was narrated with our guide talking about the different islands, homes, and history of the area. When we arrived at St. Johns we had taxis waiting for us that drove us straight to Trunk Bay with a couple of quick stops for photos. At Trunk Bay there was a quick introduction to snorkeling for those who wanted it, and equipment was provided to those who didn't have their own. We had our own snorkel gear so we quickly claimed a spot on the beach and headed into the water. There were lots of fish and the trail was pretty fun. The beach is beautiful and we really enjoyed being there. We spent a little over 2 hours at the beach and then headed back. There is always a lot of talk on the boards whether this excursion is better to do on your own or with HAL's tour. My opinion is that I would rather do it with a tour. I don't mind being adventurous at islands and doing things on your own, but I don't really want to worry about catching a taxi in St. Thomas (the ferry isn't right next to the cruise ship, only HALs tours is), then figure out the ferry schedule and possibly wait for a ferry if we missed the first one ( I believe every hour or so), then catch a taxi at St. John to Trunk Bay, and then do the whole thing in reverse coming back. To me it is just not worth it, and was only about $15 more per person from the cost of doing it on your own. Also, we arrived at the beach much earlier then those who caught a ferry on their own as our boat was right next to the cruise port and everything left very quickly. We were I believe the third or fourth people on the beach when we set foot on it that morning. The only negative of doing the tour with HAL was that we only had about 2 hours of beach time, but for us that was ok, because it then allowed time to go shopping back in St. Thomas.
Half Moon Cay - I will keep this one short as everyone knows about this island. We rented a clamshell, and we enjoyed it. It provided a place if nothing else to keep our stuff tucked away when we were out in the water. The beach is spectacular, the island is spectacular, the water is spectacular, this place is almost perfect. The locals on the island were not the most friendly - such as the ones I claimed my clamshell from or that were renting out the floating mats. But it wasn't anything so bad as to ruin my wonderful day there. DW and I went on the aquatrax tour. This was in all honesty the highlight of the entire cruise. We were taken on a truck to the backside of the island and were met by our instructor (who was a local but was very friendly and a lot of fun). We spent about an hour on the water. About 40 of the minutes were in several lagoons of the back side of the island. They were breathtakingly beautiful and had the calmest water to allow for max speeds on the jet skis. We saw some secluded private beaches and even stopped at one for a few minutes. The other 20 minutes or so was spent on the open ocean, with the waves. This was great as you can get up high speeds and jump off the waves. This tour really was the highlight of our trip and I would recommend it to anyone who wants a little rush and adventure. Finally, the BBQ was very nice and the food was excellent.
I would give this cruise about a 4 to 4 ½ star rating. I was very pleased with it, and would definitely sail with HAL again. I really enjoyed the crew, the fellow passengers, and loved the size of the vista class ships. One thing that I think HAL definitely does better than other lines is whom they organize their excursions with. With RCCL it seems that about half of your excursions are with very dissatisfactory tour guides. I saw nothing of this nature with the companies HAL contracts out with. This is important for us as we really enjoy the islands and the excursions.
For the price we paid for this cruise, I would give it 5 stars for value. I paid about half the price per person as I paid for my last RCCL cruise for the same room category and found it to be right on par if not slightly better then their product. You have made it to the end of this very long review; if you made it this far you deserve some sort of award. I am happy to answer questions if anyone has any.