Overview: Our little cruise group this year consisted of 4 women; 2 from New England and 2 from California. Our husbands were minding "the forts." Our age range is 40's to 60's- 3 of us have cruised many times before. However, this was our first HAL cruise- a fantastic cruise on the beautiful Westerdam. I usually don't use the words fantastic and beautiful in the same sentence, but take exception with the Westerdam, which I describe as many works of art within a work of art. Overall, we gave this cruise an A. The ship, the ports, the cabins, the cuisine, and the service all exceeded our expectations and we had high expectations before we sailed. The entertainment had many good offerings, but we only rated it a B+, on this cruise, as most music was too loud for us.
Pre-Cruise: My sister and I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express on 17th Street. We had stayed there in 2005. The hotel is clean, quiet, and now offers many extra amenities such as a complimentary full hot breakfast, free chilled bottled water, and a mini-fridge and microwave in each room. My daughter and her horseback riding friend flew in late from CA and stayed at the Courtyard Airport in Dania, which they liked.
Cabins: We had 2 Oceanviews on the Main Deck. They were roomy, comfortable, well-designed, with a blue & yellow decor and orange touches. The rooms were fresh and clean. We would have enjoyed more drawer space, but the pull-down shelves in the closet were fine. The vanity lighting was dim, but the bathroom mirror was well-lit. The Oceanview bathrooms were of a good size and the tub prevents those shower floods which cause wet bathmats etc. The mini-bar, the flat-screen TV, and the sofa were all reasons to give an A to the Oceanview cabins. Service: Our experience of the service on the Westerdam was 5 star*****. Our room steward was excellent, the wait staff attentive and kindly, the wine stewards well-informed, and the general crew polite & efficient. (My daughter's room steward was not as good as ours, but, hey, he might have been new.) The smiles and greetings and the above mentioned all earned an A from us.
Cuisine/Food: Oh my, HAL shines, and we have experienced excellent food on ships before. Every single dinner of ours, at As You Wish Dining, was an A or A+ meal. WOW! The chicken was so interesting that I ordered it for 4 meals: Ginger Chicken, Jerk Chicken, Parmesan Chicken, and even plain Chicken Breast was tasty. I had grilled shrimp with rice one night, and the Lobster Tails with Fillet on the second formal night. Others in our group had the Prime Rib, Peppered Steak, Perch, Crab Legs, and Unicorn fish. For Appetizers, we enjoyed the Crab Tower, the Tomato & Mozzarella, the Thai Spring Roll, and the Lobster Bisque (which was a creamed soup, not a true bisque as New Englanders know it!) Desserts were good to very good. I enjoyed the Mango Sundae, chocolate birthday cake for my sister, and Pear Compote to name a few. The Entrees were so good and so filling that we hardly needed dessert. We had a good wine with each meal-discovered some new wines.
We ate at the Lido Buffet for all breakfasts, most lunches, and one quick dinner (on Aruba day.) I have read diverse comments about the Lido Buffet- we all have our varied tastes- but we gave this HAL Buffet an A when comparing it to those on other cruise lines.
The movement of foot-traffic is a concern in most ship buffets. Is there a ship on the seas now which has mastered the engineering of buffet foot-traffic? Please let us know! One needs good "body-driving" skills to maneuver in a ship buffet- and the level of body driving skills is pretty diverse.
We had one lunch in the Pinnacle Grill. (B+) The service was good, but too fast. NASCAR service. The offerings were uneven. My sister had a St. Bernard portion of Haddock Sandwich, while my daughter and I had mini-Poodle servings of crab cakes! (Good flavor though.) Oddly, the tomato appetizer I had was a St. Bernard portion- a gigantic tomato sliced in thirds with little lettuces and a designer dressing in splotches. We laughed so much at this giant tomato- so it provided humor. It needed some zest- such as bleu cheese. We will try the Pinnacle Grill for dinner on our next HAL cruise. It must be better.
Entertainment: (A-) We listened to piano music at the Crow's Nest one night, did sing-along piano music at a bar one night, and listened to the dance band on the second formal night. All were good, but too loud, thus the A minus.
At my daughter's urging, we went to the Karaoke Finale in the Vista Lounge (acoustics were good here.) Six finalists entertained the crowd, as did the 3 judges (Am. Idol style)- Jason the Cruise Director, an assistant CD, and the Illusionist Leo. What a fun time. The winner was too good, doing a Billy Joel tune.
Activities: We were busier on this cruise than on any other! We sunned by the Aft Pool, spent time at the Explorations Internet Cafe (the best I've experienced so far on a ship), relaxed in the Crow's Nest, went to the Wine Tasting, sipped at an Afternoon Tea, shopped in the shops, read in the Erasmus Library, talked to the nice couple at the Future Cruise Desk, watched 5 good movies in our cabin in the late evening, and walked, walked, walked around the ship for fun and exercise.
Ports: Half Moon Cay and Curacao get an A rating from us; Aruba gets a B+.
On Half Moon Cay, we sunned, swam, and enjoyed the BBQ. My daughter and friend did the Horseback Riding Excursion. The weather was great, the swimming excellent, and the BBQ good. We lucked out. Some folks had a hard time finding the BBQ Pavilion- they kept asking us where it was. There are good maps of HMC available.
Aruba was our second port stop. It's just our opinion that Oranjestad does not compare to Willemstad- which is a World Heritage site. Oranjestad is fun, but not a handsome port. However, the Eagle Beach and Palm Beach areas are still beautiful in spite of the over-growth of hotels. (I say still beautiful because I (with husband & daughter) did 2 land vacations on Aruba some years ago.) My sister had not yet been to Aruba, so we signed up for the Town & Country tour which stopped at the Aloe Factory, the Casibiri Rock Park, and the collapsed Natural Bridge. This tour covered about 2/3 of the island, passing the big beaches, Noord, the North Coast, and Santa Cruz. My daughter and friend again went Horseback Riding-they love it. In the evening, we went up to Palm Beach- to the Radisson, to walk the 14 acre gardens, have a drink at Gilligan's Bar, enjoy the evening beach, and play in the casino.
Curacao: Our final port stop was Willemstad. My sister and I took the HAL Excursion Beach Express to Blue Bay Resort for a morning of swimming and sunning. The resort has restrooms, a bar, palapas (beach shades), beach chairs, and good snorkeling. My daughter and friend took an island excursion, as her friend had not been to Curacao before. They like it. In the afternoon, we did our own excursion to Fort Nassau, for a panoramic view of Curacao and some refreshments at the restaurant there. Our taxi then took us back to town where we walked around enjoying handsome Willemstad and many photo ops. A great day in Curacao.
We will be back on HAL. We signed up for the Future Cruise option. Looking forward to the Eurodam or Noordam.