This was my 2nd cruise overall and my 1st cruise with Holland America. (My 1st cruise was with the Carnival Conquest and I compare the Westerdam to the Conquest a few times below).
When I saw this cruise pop up on a "flash sale" I knew that I wanted to go there. I sent out an email to my family and friends and invited all who wanted to join the "Legendary" cruise. We ended up with 20 of us total ages ranging from Newlywed to Grandma and Grandpa. I am somewhere in between. We all left the kids at home.
Booking: I will never book directly with Holland America again. I am new to cruising with a group and I was told that I could reserve rooms and then change names later. I booked all the rooms I could and then asked family and friends who wanted to join us. Then I called to put their names on the rooms within the amount of days I was told to do so. It was then that Holland America told me I couldn't do that. It was very frustrating and I spent HOURS on the phone trying to work it out. We settled and when I say settled....half of my people had to pay a higher price because it was considered a rebooking. The other thing that was maddening; I received not ONE perk for setting up this party of 20. I didn't get my room, or anyone else for that matter, free or discounted. I didn't even get a thank you from Holland America...just headache. Next time I will book with a travel agent.
Now on with the good parts:
We had to come out 2 days early (we were flying on Southwest Vouchers and it was blocked out the day before the cruise left). We stayed at the Marriott Spring Hill Suites Fort Lauderdale Airport. Wonderful hotel! I would be happy to stay there again. The front desk was helpful and the breakfast was a great bonus. The rooms are larger than standard hotel rooms and easily shared. The front desk has complimentary water bottles just ask and you shall receive. The free shuttle service picked us up from the airport and it was also free to the cruise port. As far as what to do in Ft. Lauderdale...I have no idea. We thought we would take a bus to a mall, the front desk gave us directions...it took an hour and a half!
Boarding the Westerdam: Embarking was smooth other than a few bumps again with the name change/reservation situation listed above, however, this felt like the first time that someone from Holland America was trying to help me instead of giving me problems. We arrived at 11:30 and the lines were there but moved very quickly.
The Ship Overall: Beautiful. I felt that things were very clean. Everywhere you looked you saw someone cleaning or painting or maintaining of some sort. One thing I missed was the pool area not being set up for activities. On the Conquest, there was stadium style seating looking down to a large patio area by the pool where the Conquest had TONS of activities. Not so much on the Westerdam. While Shawn (Cruise Director), DJ Clark (DJ) and Matt (Assistant Cruise Director) were fun, friendly, men; there were FAR less activities on the Westerdam vs. Conquest. However, I know that is the cruise line, Carnival is more of the "Party" boat. The Westerdam made up in the "Classy" department. The one thing that did encourage people to come to the activities were the dam dollars. Our group collected a lot of dam dollars, although we would have participated even without the dam dollars, we are just an active type of group. One note: I felt like some of the best activities were on port days. When I am at a port...I am at the port seeing the sites. The sea days felt more laid back on the activities...I think that should be switched.
My Room: We were in room 4023. Inside cheapest. Fine room...I really don't spend a lot of time in the room. It was always cleaned promptly. I only got 2 nighttime towel animals and that was after I said something at our CC meet and greet. I heard that my room steward was sick so someone was helping out. My nightly fruit didn't get replenished but once. However, others in my group got towel animals every night and new fruit so it sounded as if my room steward may have been out for a few days. Only concern about my room, it is was right over the vista lounge. If you are planning on sleeping before 11:30 when the show ends, pack earplugs (I of course didn't go to sleep before then).
The Food: WAY TOO GOOD! I ate far too much. The lido buffet was top quality (and I am from Vegas...land of the buffets). I only had 1 thing that was just OK and that was the deli wraps, however my Dad was a big fan of the deli sandwiches. My favorite was the waffles in the morning. Make sure you ask for the whipped cream for the top. The Italian sausage from the grill was the best dog I ever ate! The dining room was magnificent. Each night we couldn't wait to go! We had the early seating and we had 2 tables of 10. Our tables were not right next to each other, there was another table of 10 in-between us. That was kind of silly. Our waiter was Joko and I miss him. The dinner choices every night were creative and enticing. I of course ordered many items each night. The mushroom pastry appetizer was my favorite. I loved the late night evening buffets. Carnival only had 1 night buffet, the chocolate night. However every night at 11:00 on the Westerdam, there was a small but yummy dinner selection on the Lido. They also had hand dipped ice cream. I got addicted to my evening meal and ice cream (this was a hard post-cruise habit to break).
The Entertainment: Not the strong point. The pianist was AMAZING! Julie Barr: hilarious. The illusionist who didn't do magic but instead did comedy: not good...leave the funny stuff to Julie. The dancers/singers: got better each night however, being from Vegas, they were not Vegas quality, more like a Jr. College production. The "Divia", Alfreda Gerald, I was not a fan. I love 50's-70's R&B and I felt like she ruined a lot of good songs by changing them to try and show off her talents. I would have enjoyed her talents more if she just sang them and we could enjoy the great songs there were. If you do decide to go to this show, I recommend sitting in the back, so if you want to slip out, DO. Time is precious on a cruise...don't waste any of it!
Half Moon Cay (Cay is pronounced Key...I learned)- Peaceful. This was the perfect first stop. If you were stressed getting ready for the cruise or in everyday life, this island helped you forget and relax. The sand was like baby powder it was so soft. I was on the 2nd tender over and took the last tender back. We just got some chairs and relaxed and snorkeled and swam. The snorkeling was just OK but it was a good place for "newbies" to learn for later ports. The BBQ lunch was great. I loved the ribs and fresh fruit! In my future cruises I will look for ones with stops at private islands.
Grand Turk: 8 of our group rented scooters from Tony's Car rental. You need to walk out of the cruise port and up the street a bit. Another CC member arranged for a discount ahead of time. However I was not able to work that out. We went out to the Lighthouse but didn't go up. The beach there was just OK. We then found a secluded beach just North of Governors Beach and we were the only people in sight. We stayed at this beach for more than 3 hours. The snorkeling was wonderful and the water was warm (especially for November).
Grand Cayman: Stingray City! We went with Moby Dick Tours and they were great. Their website is www.mobydicktours.com. They were friendly and priced lower than other tours and FAR lower than going with the ship. They also recommended a place to snorkel afterwards. Staying in touch...as you exit the cruise terminal go left to that first light cross the street and on the left hand side there is a souvenir shop UPSTAIRS in the building on the corner. It has FREE phone calls to the US and FREE internet access. They ask you to limit your use if others are waiting but it was nice to check e-mails for free.
Cozumel, Mexico: The ship was 1 hour late to start the tendering process (we were docked with plenty of time to start on time). This was frustrating because we were dealing with a bit of a time constraint (see more info below). For Cozumel we went and toured Tulum. Everyone warned me that this was a 6 hour tour. We didn't go thru the ship for this tour either, we went with www.helamantours.com. Helaman gave a religious emphasis on the ruins tour. Helaman was excellent! Highly recommended! Now note that this is how the timeline actually goes: the ship docks at one of 2 ports in Cozumel. Both have shops right off the ship. We had to taxi to the main terminal where we caught a ferry to Playa del Carmen. The ferry runs almost every hour on the hour. The ferry ride takes about 45 min each way. We met Helaman at Playa del Carmen, rode in a bus for about 40 min then arrived at Tulum for about a 2 hour tour. The 6 hours include estimated transportation time. When people told me 6 hours I was a bit panicked because I didn't know that the transportation time was included in that time. We ended up with plenty of time so I shouldn't have panicked, however, it would have been nice if HAL could have started the tendering process on time.
Leaving the Ship :( All good things had to come to end. Sadly we needed to leave the ship. It was organized just OK. The closed the breakfast buffet quite early and then we were just all sitting around waiting and waiting. I felt a bit like, the staff was done with us and it was time to get ready for the next group which is true.
Overall, I loved our cruise time. The negative things listed here are not to complain but to give fellow Cruise Critics knowledge for their future cruises. I would be happy to sail with HAL again (but I will book with a travel agency) & I would go on the Westerdam again, however, I am the type of person that wants a new experience so I think Princess or Royal Caribbean is my next adventure ship to try!
Good Luck and Happy Sailing!