Holland American Lines - Westerdam - Southern Caribbean - January 27-February 3, 2008
This was our second cruise. The first one was on Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas in January, 2007 sailing to Western Caribbean (Grand Cayman, Cozumel, and Costa Maya).
We flew to Ft. Lauderdale a day early and stayed at the Comfort Suites in Davie, FL. The rate was $178 plus tax. Our flight was on Air Tran and could not have been better. It was on-time with connections in Atlanta and no lost baggage! Transfers from airport and to seaport were complementary with Comfort Suites as well as cereal and rolls for breakfast which was OK. A lot of cruise passengers stay at the Comfort Suites. The seaport shuttle ran once every hour, and we had to book a pickup time after we arrived.
Embarkation didn't take long even though we arrived at the terminal around 11:00. We were able to board the ship around 11:30, and our cabins were available at about 1:30. We ate lunch in the Lido and thought the food was fine. We walked around, took pictures and had a drink sitting on the deck with Gary and June - two Cruise Critic people we met online.
Cruise Critic Meet and Greet: One of the leaders of our thread had requested a meeting room for our initial "Meet and Greet" aboard the ship right after the "lifeboat drill". The Hotel and Beverage Managers of the ship went way above and beyond when approximately fifty of us showed up. They provided champagne, assorted beverages and loads of hors d'oeuvres. Both of them stayed to mingle a while, to answer questions, and pose for pictures.
Ship: The Westerdam is a beautiful, sophisticated ship - lots of art work and well-maintained. We loved the wooden deck chairs with nice comfortable cushions.
Cabin: We loved having a balcony, especially for those days at sea. We will never book anything less.
Ship Personnel: They were all fantastic, nice, courteous people. We enjoyed Shane Einspahr, the Cruise Director. He was a nice young guy with lots of personality. Rhia was our favorite bar server in the Oceans Bar. We wish we could have taken her home with us. She was very friendly and even made us a special gift on our last night.
Cabin Steward: Always pleasant and spoke to us. Our room was always freshened while we were gone.
Dining Room service was disorganized. Sometimes half the table had their appetizers and the rest waited. Then the salads and the rest of the appetizers were served. The waiter never called us by name and only occasionally put the napkins on our laps.
Food in Dining Room and Lido: Not out of this world, but decent.
BBQ dinner on pool deck when we were in Aruba for the evening was OK but very limited selection. We stopped at Iguana Joe's before going back on the ship for the BBQ. We should have stayed at Iguana Joe's for dinner. The refreshments there were great!
Room Service: We ordered breakfast once and it came on time and was warm. Everything was very good.
Pool deck food: We usually had hot dogs and fries which were fine - not very warm and the buns were a bit too big for the hot dogs. After we got our food we had to go back into the Lido for a beverage - nothing was available close by.
Entertainment: The shows were fair. The Amazing 88's were the best. The Marriage Game was funny, but not really a show. It was entertaining nonetheless. It would have been nice to have an early show for the late diners instead of just one at usually 10:30 p.m. There were a few nights when things were moved around so we had to make sure to read the Daily Program. I thought the programs were excellent and very classy. They always had a lot of good information about the ports and personal stuff about the Captain and Cruise Director.
Culinary Center: Watching the head chefs prepare dishes was fun. Especially how fast they can chop! A lot of people attended and seating was limited. Sometimes we got samples, if there was enough to go around.
Excursions: Half Moon Cay We rented a clamshell and booked the snorkeling by boat excursion. We probably could have gotten by without the clamshell as some of the lounge chairs could easily be put under trees. The excursion was OK. We were the only cruisers on the boat! The snorkeling wasn't that great, but it was fun. The lunch on HMC was nice. There were plenty of tables to eat at in the shade.
Aruba Before we left on the cruise, we emailed ATOA.com (Aruba Tour Operators Association) to book a ½ day jeep tour because it went to all the places we wanted to see including the California Lighthouse. We received a reply from Marco at Wixtours that he could provide the tour for us. Apparently Wixtours was part of ATOA. He told us we could pay $53 each online (non-secure) or pay when we arrived in Aruba. We should just go to the booth with the people in blue shirts. We decided to pay when we arrived. We also printed and brought with us our entire email discussion with Marco, just in case. When we got off the ship we saw the Visitor Information booth and the people in blue shirts. We went up the lady there, showed her the email and said we had a reservation for the ½ day jeep tour through Marco at Wixtours. There was quite a lot of confusion and numerous people talking in a foreign language and showing each other our email. Eventually we were told to go with a fellow in a bus to pick up our tour. We ended up at ABC Tours. At that point we didn't have much choice except to take the ABC Tours ½ day jeep trip. The itinerary wasn't what we had originally planned. There were 3 jeeps with bench seats in back and we were able to drive one of them with a broken clutch. This was truly an off-road experience. We stopped at the Natural Pool, a Thirst Station, an old fort, and a back alley as we waited for a jeep exchange when the clutch would no longer keep us off-roading. After we were finished we drove the jeep back to our starting point at the ABC Tours building. The tour operator drove everyone back to either the seaport or to their hotels. He promised to take us to the California Lighthouse, but it was just a drive by and no stopping. At least I got a picture out the bus window!
In retrospect, I wish we would have known more about this tour. Maybe we should have booked something else through the cruise line. It certainly wasn't what we intended, but we did see Aruba - that's for sure!
Curacao: We got off the ship in search of a cab to take us to the Curacao distillery. We were told by the people in the Tour Information booth it would cost quite a lot since the fare would be running during the time we were at the distillery, but we could take a morning tour of Curacao which included the distillery for $15 per person. We were told we would be back at the ship by 12:30 which was fine since we had a beach excursion at 1:00. The tour was nice and it was interesting to see the Curacao distillery, have a few samples and buy some liqueur. Curacao Liqueur is also sold at the pier as well as many other souvenirs.
After we got back to the ship, we checked our purchases, changed clothes and went back out to the pier to start our next adventure. We booked the Beach Express through HAL online before we left on our cruise. This was partly see the city on a fun bus and partly rest and snorkel at Playa Porto Mari Beach. At least that's what I thought. I was really looking forward to snorkeling on Curacao. We even brought our own masks and breathing tubes. The tour director was nice and told us a lot about Curacao as we drove around. We ended up at Blue Bay Beach Resort for our beach and snorkel stop. This was not where the online description from HAL said we would be stopping. We were given a "chip" to turn in for a beverage (water or soda) at the beach bar. There was an area for us to get snorkel equipment - fins, masks, air tubes - but no life jackets. I asked the tour director where the life jackets were and he said there weren't any. I was very disappointed and disturbed about snorkeling without a life jacket. There was a dive shop right on the beach, but no life jackets. I was concerned for my safety and opted not to snorkel at the reef. I can't believe HAL would have allowed this as an excursion. I have sent them a letter voicing my concern.
Spa: Each of us used the spa services - I had a facial and my husband had a massage. It was wonderful! A little pricey at $119 each, but that was our splurge. My only complaint was the sales pitch to buy all the products which were way over my budget. A small sample size pack would have been a nice touch to offer people though.
Photographers: I was glad they weren't always "in your face" constantly taking my picture. We bought a few of the photos. They did a nice job.
Cruise Critic Friends: The best! Can't wait to sail with them again sometime!
Disembarkment: HAL allows passengers to wait in their cabins instead of in the public areas. A "GREAT MOVE" on their part! Our color was called about 15 minutes early and we collected our luggage, went thru customs and we were on the curb getting into a cab within half an hour. If only the airlines could be that efficient!
Conclusion: Would we sail HAL again? Possibly, but first we are going to try Carnival in June to Canada. The more cruises we go on the more we will be able to see what each has to offer and become a more discriminatory traveler.