Westerdam Review April 6-13, 2008
Background: Myself (53) and DH (48), veteran cruisers and second cruise on Westerdam. My sister (45), BIL (55) and their 7-year-old twins, also veteran cruisers
Precruise: We spent two nights at Hyatt Pier 66. We thought it was a very nice hotel, but for some reason, we like the former Marriott Marina Hotel (now Ft. Lauderdale Grande) better. I'm not sure why. The Hyatt is beautiful, the grounds are lovely, the pool area is larger, and we had a wonderful corner room. Maybe it's just the wonderful memories we had at Ft. Lauderdale Grande, where we spent many precruise stays with our children (now all grown). My sister and BIL and the kids only spent one night precruise at Hyatt. They were due to arrive early in the day Saturday, but missed their flight and didn't get in until about 11 p.m. the night before the cruise. We had plans to take them on the water taxi to Las Olas, but because of their late arrival, those plans got nixed. We had pre-ordered 20 bottles of wine from Total Wine in Ft. Lauderdale. HAL allows you to bring on an unlimited amount of wine with a $15 corkage fee. Fair enough. Total wine did a great job. Everything was boxed and they were going to deliver it to our hotel, but a friend met us in Ft. Lauderdale and dropped us by the store so we didn't have to wait around the hotel to sign for the wine. They got our order complete and the prices were very good. Would highly recommend them. They also sell other spirits, but HAL allows only wine and champagne to be brought onboard. In the morning, we had the concierge at Hyatt arrange for a shuttle to take us over to the ship. We had a 20 passenger shuttle to ourselves and they charged $35 for the 6 of us. I thought that was more than fair, since we would have needed at least 2-3 taxis with all the luggage we had. We pre-arranged for the same shuttle service to pick us up after the cruise to take us all to FLL and that worked out great.
Embarkation: (Grade A+) My sister's family had an SA suite (Cabin 7077), so they were entitled to priority embarkation. The staff at the terminal told us we could check in with them as well (we had VD verandah cabin 4142). That was an unexpected treat. We bypassed all the lines and were onboard in minutes. Only complaint is that when they take the embarkation photo, I wish they'd ask people to step back. In all of our photos, the people standing behind us are in our picture. There was cold water, lemonade, and cookies in the terminal. The staff was wonderful and we were getting a good feeling that this was going to be a great cruise.
Cabin: (Grade A) Cabins weren't ready (we got onboard around 1 p.m.), but they told us we could put our bags and our wine in my sister's suite and then go upstairs to Lido for lunch. It was bedlam at the Lido buffet, but we've come to expect this and it was no surprise. Around 1:30 there was an announcement that cabins were ready, so we headed upstairs.
Our cabin (VD 4142) was very nice, but since we had the same cabin type last year, we weren't surprised. Balconies on Deck 4 verandah cabins are larger than other floors, which is why we selected this particular deck. At first glance there doesn't seem to be much storage space, but look around. There are pull-out drawers under the bed and sofa. The cushioned stool has storage inside it. Between those areas and the closet, there was more than sufficient storage space. Thank goodness HAL got rid of those large T.V.'s that used to take up half the desk/vanity space. They've been replaced by suspended flat screen T.V.'s. There is a hair dryer inside the vanity, but it's the kind that stays attached to the drawer, so I brought my own. There is a very nice lighted vanity mirror that extends and it has one side that is normal and one side that is magnified. No need to bring along a mirror for applying make-up. The bathroom has sufficient storage space. One long shelf under the sink and a medicine cabinet with 4-5 shelves. I love that HAL has bathtubs. Although I always shower, it's so much roomier and easier to shave legs in a tub. The water pressure was so-so. Actually, the day we debarked the ship, our shower didn't work at all. Water came out of the bathtub spout, but not out of the shower. Elemis shampoo, conditioner, bath gel and body lotion, as well as bar soap are provided and plentiful. The cabin was clean and well appointed. Verandah had one regular chair with a small table and another, more comfy chair with a cushion and ottoman. More than sufficient room for 2-4 people (but only seating for 2). The bed is outstanding. Very comfortable. Pillows left a lot to be desired, but I requested some extra feather pillows and they were wonderful.
Staff (Grade A): Okay, here is where HAL shines. I know their staff, for the most part, is Indonesian and Filipino. These people are among the nicest I've ever met. Everywhere we went, they had a smile on their face and were quite charming. The Yum-Yum man outside the dining room was so personable. Right after we boarded, we were at the back of the ship for sailaway and my DH looked up and saw the young man who was our cabana attendant last year. At the same time he noticed us and gave us a big hug. I was shocked that he actually remembered our names! We've been on other cruiselines numerous times and nobody has ever remembered our names. That got high marks from us. How in the world he remembered us is beyond me. It's one thing to recognize a familiar face, but to know our names! Impressive!
Not so impressive was our cabin attendant. It was 3 days before we ever met him. He never came by and introduced himself. We just happened to run into him on day 3. He kept the cabin clean, but nothing outstanding. If a dirty glass was left by myself or DH, it occasionally was left sitting there dirty and not picked up.
But our cabin attendant was the only staff that I thought was lacking. All others, from front desk to maintenance workers, were all very congenial and helpful.
Food (Grade A-): We're not big breakfast eaters, so we generally ordered coffee to be delivered to our cabin around 8 a.m. and then we'd head to the gym. That was pretty much our routine. That was our only use of room service. It was prompt and the coffee was delivered hot and with linen napkins and china. Very nice touch. My sister, in the suite, ate breakfast most mornings in Pinnacle Grill and they enjoyed that.
We didn't make much use of the buffet. We're not big buffet eaters, so generally I would get a small snack or some sushi. I did splurge and have a cheeseburger and fries one day, and they were wonderful. I had a very good omelet at buffet one morning and it was very good. Oh, the Asian station was very good. Among choices include (for breakfast) continental breakfast, omelet station, waffle station, assorted fruits, cereals, hot oatmeal, and other assorted breakfast foods (sausage, potatoes, bacon, etc.). Since I only had one omelet the entire week, I can't speak for the rest of the breakfast buffet, but it looked (and smelled) good, especially the waffles.
I did splurge a couple of times during the week and stopped by the ice cream station. That was very good.
For lunch, there was the assorted daily buffet, pizza and pasta station, deli, and Asian, and assorted salads and fruits. There was also the grill, which served hot dogs, burgers, grilled Italian sausage, grilled chicken and fries. On various days the menu changed up a bit (veggie burgers, bratwurst). Every day there is a taco/nacho/fajita (beef and chicken) station at poolside. That was very good.
We had AYWD, which appealed to me because my sister is never on time for traditional seating. We brought our wine to dinner the first night and were informed there would be a $15 corkage fee. We knew this ahead of time and it was no problem. Our food was outstanding and service was excellent. The wine sommelier was wonderful, and she was very attentive. She didn't just uncork our wine and leave. She continued to pour for us the entire evening. We frequently brought 2-3 bottles/night and she was very gracious. The second night we ate at Pinnacle Grill. Service here was lacking. The kids ordered off the children's menu, and while the food was good, I didn't think it was all that much better than the regular dining room. The service, however, was awful. Our waiter wasn't in the least bit attentive. I can't blame it on the fact that we had the kids with us, because they required very little....a bowl of soup and chicken nuggets. The kids were so quiet you wouldn't have even known they were there. But our waiter just didn't seem to want to be bothered. He never came by and asked if we wanted fresh ground pepper. He never came by to see if we needed anything. We were so disappointed in our Pinnacle Grill experience, we decided to cancel our second reservation for later in the week.
The third night of AYWD we were placed at a lovely window table for 6. It was tucked away in a corner, which was nice in case the kids acted up (which, fortunately, they didn't, thanks to Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys!). Whenever the kids were done eating and we adults opted to linger, they pulled out a book and read! They must have gone through 20 books in one week. Which does remind me of one issue. While the library on Westerdam is very nice (I think they had the largest selection of any I've ever seen onboard a ship), they had absolutely no children's books. We checked both libraries, as well as Club HAL. None to be found. I would like to see HAL have some series of children's books. Anything. It surprised me that they didn't.
Anyway, getting back to the dining room, we had the same wonderful sommelier. However, at this new table we had the absolute best waiter, Agus. He never stopped smiling and every request was met with a response of "but of course, no problem." We liked him so much we asked if we could have his table for the rest of the cruise. He took care of making a standing reservation for us for the rest of the week. It took away the option of showing up whenever we felt like it (which is appealing to us), but we were assured of a great table with a great waiter, so it was well worth it. A couple of nights we had a 7 p.m. standing reservation (which is the time I prefer), but the other nights the only thing Agus had open was 7:45 p.m., so we took that. I remembered the food as being good (not great) last year on Westerdam, but this time it was outstanding. The presentation was very impressive, and the food quality was terrific. In fact, we're big Celebrity fans, and I actually thought this food (selection, presentation, and quality) was better than our cruise last month on Celebrity. To anybody who is concerned with AYWD, I would do it again in a heartbeat. I really loved it. And the nicest thing is you don't feel rushed. Since there is not a second seating coming in after you, you can really linger. I asked Agus how the waitstaff felt about it, and he said they prefer traditional. But as far as service goes, I thought AYWD was outstanding. One night, an elderly gentleman was leaving the dining room and he stopped by our table (I think he was sitting at the table behind us, but I'm not absolutely sure). He said, "I have to compliment you on how well behaved your children are." I replied, "thank you, but they aren't my children." I guess he thought I was kidding because he told me not to be shy about taking credit for their outstanding behavior. He went on to say that he was reluctant to be seated at a table next to young children, but he was pleasantly surprised to see he needn't have worried. I thought that was very nice of him to take the time to make that comment. I know it takes a lot of diligence on my sister and BIL's part to ensure their kids are well-mannered, but it's nice to have it validated!
Entertainment: Sorry I can't comment here. We're not show people, nor do we stay up late at night. The HAL Cats played around the pool in the afternoon, and while they were good musically, I thought the volume was way too loud. You couldn't talk to the person next to you if you were within 50 yards of the band. Their lead singer, Helen, was annoying. I'm not sure why, but I just didn't care for her. She didn't dress up at all. Wore the same black slacks and a long-sleeved oxford shirt every day. She didn't look at all like an entertainer. And if it was too hot, she left. I thought the other band members would have looked better if they had matching Hawaiian print shirts. The entire group looked like they had just been thrown together, with no thought as to how they presented themselves.
We did happen upon a string quartet one evening after dinner, and they were absolutely captivating. Very talented and such a nice way to end the evening. The 7-year-olds were mesmerized listening to them.
Ports of Call (A+): Aruba, Curacao, Half Moon Cay. We did this same itinerary last year and loved it. The weather was outstanding. We rented the purple cabana at HMC and it didn't disappoint. I miss that there are no longer cabana attendants, but the purple cabana is well placed. Right near the restrooms and not too far from the food! It was a perfect beach day...so perfect, in fact, that the next morning I saw a lot of sunburned bodies!
We got off the ship in Aruba and just walked around. We had gone to the beach last time, but skipped it this time. We did a little shopping and then stopped by a little French cafe for lunch.
I think Curacao is our new favorite island. It is just so lovely and the people are so personable. We found a little, off the beaten track cheese shop owned by a young Dutch man. If you want to pick up some phenomenal cheeses and champagne to bring back to the ship, this is the place. It's called "Say Cheese" and it's down one of the little side streets as you exit the Floating Bridge. If you ask for it by name, I'm sure anybody can point you in the right direction. The young man who owns it is in his mid-20's and from Holland. He moved to Curacao a few years ago and loves it. His enthusiasm for his shop is remarkable. He was more than willing to let us sample so many of his wonderful cheeses. We had cheese with black truffles, gouda that had been aged for several years, Manchego, cumin cheeses, Italian sausages, etc. He was so gracious and I would encourage anybody who visits Curacao to stop by and say hi to Boi Van Munster. He is absolutely delightful and you will love his assortment of cheeses and sausages. He also sells various flavored dressings and olive oils. It's a very small shop, but if you ask for it by name, I'm sure you won't be disappointed.
Misc: It's a very nice touch that the bars serve hot and cold appetizers. We liked to stop there in the evenings before dinner for a cocktail and each night they brought us a plate or two of various appetizers (Cajun shrimp, mushroom empanadas, fried mozzarella, stuffed mini raviolis) and, of course, an assortment of nuts.
I'm not sure how many kids were on this sailing, but there were lots. In fact, staff members commented that this was very unusual to have a sailing with this many children. For the most part the kids were well behaved, but there was a group of 10-12-year-old boys that got quite out of hand. I was a bit disturbed that the adults with them were seemingly ignorant to their behavior and, in fact, at times joined in. On one afternoon, they completely monopolized the pool, to the point where we had to take the twins out for fear they'd get hurt. These kids were running around the shallow area of the pool, throwing each other in, tossing a football around and splashing and running into anybody near them. At one point, there was an elderly man who appeared to have Alzheimer's and he couldn't protect himself from their rowdiness. I finally shouted to one of the kids to knock it off, that they were splashing everyone sitting in lounge chairs around the pool. The kid said nothing, went over to his mother and said something to her, and she sneered at me. I mentioned it to one of the pool attendants, and he told me this was a family pool and I could go use the adults only pool. That wasn't the point. First of all, we had two 7-year-olds with us, so that wasn't an option. And secondly, the signs clearly point out particular rules, such as no diving (not only were these kids diving, they were doing somersaults into the pool). Also, the sign said adult supervision is required for children under 14...this was ignored as well. A second time that same afternoon, my sister reported this rowdy behavior to a second pool attendant, and they said they would take care of it, but nothing was ever done. That was a disappointment. I know kids like to have fun and we've raised four children, so I know how kids can be. But this group was getting completely out of control and nothing was done to enforce at least some of the rules. Another thing that surprised me was that they allowed infants in the pool with swim diapers. I thought no diapers were allowed, but I could be wrong there.
You could see some areas where cutbacks are in full force. Last year (Feb. 2007) on the Westerdam, there were huge fresh floral arrangements all over the ship. They still have some, but nothing like the amount that was there last year. Also, I'm guessing due to staff being a bit overworked, nobody once offered to carry a tray in the buffet area. I didn't need help, but I would frequently go in there to get a cup of coffee, or ice cream, or iced tea and I never saw anybody offer to carry anybody's tray. Certainly a minor thing to me, but for some elderly people, I would think this is important thing.
We never had a problem getting a lounge chair near the main pool. I like that the deck is well laid out and you don't feel like people are on top of you. The pool towels are a bit threadbare and stained and should be replaced, but not a biggie.
One afternoon, the staff removed all the poolside lounge chairs because they were setting up for the evening poolside barbecue. We were told by the pool attendant the children could use the adults only pool that one day, because otherwise there was really no place to sit to watch young children in the Lido pool. We got a lot of ugly stares the minute we walked into the adults only area with my 7-year-old niece and nephew, but after a few minutes, I think the adults loosened up a bit and realized they are very well behaved kids and they didn't have to worry. But I wish they had put up a sign so we didn't feel so uncomfortable feeling like everyone thought we were breaking the rules.
The gym, while small, was more than adequate. We never had a problem getting equipment. My sister and I signed up for 3 yoga classes (3 for $30). I was disappointed that my husband and I had signed up to do the 5K Walk for Breast Cancer and I specifically asked what time that would be. The front desk told me it would be Saturday at 2 p.m. Well, it turned out to be Friday at 9 a.m., the same time as one of the yoga classes. We did contribute the money for the walk, but I would have liked to have done the walk, as we did it last year. But I didn't want to waste the money we had already paid for the yoga class.
I tried to be objective with this review. I wanted to point out the good as well as the not so good. Overall, this was an absolutely wonderful cruise. My sister had done the Zuiderdam last year and was very disappointed, so it took a lot to talk her into another HAL cruise. But she absolutely raved about this one. The negatives, while I feel should be pointed out, are very minor in the grand scheme of this wonderful ship. I would sail the Westerdam again in a heartbeat, as we feel it's 2 for 2 at this point, with both of our Westerdam sailings more than exceeding our expectations. There were some things the second time around that we miss, but there were other things that were improved.
We did a future cruise booking while onboard. It is $100 pp and is good for up to four years. I have no doubt that we'll be on another HAL ship sometime in the near future.
I do need to apologize for not making it to the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet. I have no explanation other than I completely forgot. We were sitting around the pool and suddenly, around 1 p.m., I remembered. I did get to meet a couple of CCers at HMC (hi to Ralph and Bill, good luck planning that exotic cruise!), and Vette .
If anybody has any specific questions (I'm sure there are some points I've missed), please feel free to ask.