April 13-19, 2008. This was an amazing trip for many reasons. Several first for my family traveling with our 2.5 y/o daughter.
We flew from NY to Fort Lauderdale the day before and stayed over at the Marriott Spring Hill Suites. This is our normal haunt for these trips as it is a very pleasant place to stay, free breakfast before we leave for the port and close proximity to most everything we need pre-boarding. A month ahead of time I booked a limo service to pick us up at the airport and then again at the hotel which then delivered us to the ship. There had been times in the past using the hotel free service that we had to wait for long periods of time...this was far more convenient and we felt like movie stars for a short while. I highly recommend it.
Arrived at the port at 11:10 and right away the porters were at the limo taking our bags out of the trunk. After a brief exchange we were inside filling out our health forms then right up to the counter to check in. Very quick and easy. However, once we handed over our two passports and birth certificate for our daughter we received raised eyebrows from the person checking us in. He asked for a government photo ID for our daughter which we did not have. We had the certificate, insurance card etc and we assured him the website from Homeland Security said all that was needed was the certificate. He asked us her name repeatedly, her birthdate several times, held the birth certificate up to the light looking at the NY seal etc. Finally he drew the attention of his own supervisor who looked at the certificate and said it's ok. Needless to say we were nervous thinking we may not board. Once this was done (about 10 minutes) we were able to board. We traveled with relatives who were able to do the same process in only 3 minutes so clearly the delay was not the norm.
This ship did not disappoint. We had previously been on the Zuiderdam and the Oosterdam so we knew what to expect regarding layout aside from some changes made to Westerdam. We were very happy with the ship decor, upkeep (in general) and the wide smiles and heartfelt welcomes we received when we boarded. After a delicious lunch in the Lido Restaurant on deck 9 we went about showing the ship to our family and meeting new friends we had chatted with here on Cruise Critic. Once it was announced our room was ready we quickly made our way up to deck 8. Beautiful SS category room with plenty of room. Comfy furniture, flat screen tv with DVD player, fully stocked mini bar, great bathroom with double sinks and a tub plus separate shower. Only one issue. When the verandah was cleaned before our arrival there was about an inch of standing water that covered the majority of the space. Clearly that needed to be addressed and I did so by calling the front desk. To my surprise a very friendly person answered and in about 10 minutes our cabin steward arrived with a huge squeegee to clear it up. I was surprised because I assumed the front desk would be swamped and that I would receive a half winded person on the phone who would patronize me a bit with this. Not so at all. Very pleasant and understanding. This was truly the experience we enjoyed on the cruise in general. Outstanding service.
We had all but one of our evening meals in the Main Dining room. Our table attendants were so great. The were very friendly, always talked to our daughter, made paper animals and animals out of napkins for her. The experience and service simply could not have been better. Those of you who have experienced dinner with a 2.5 y/o understands that it is difficult to have them sit through all the courses yet with the help of our attendants we were able to pull it off. Also, the food in general was truly great. My wife and I often dine at 4 & 5 star establishments in NY and I would place the food and staff of the Westerdam against those in NY anytime. Many kudos. The main dining room is not to be missed. I do however recommend the set time lower level dining. I do not think my experience would have been as good had I had the AYW (As you wish) dining. This because you are not guaranteed the same table/staff etc. I'm sure the food would have been just as good.
Entertainment was very good for the most part. The tribute to Elton John is simply not to be missed. I would go and see him in Las Vegas anytime and gladly pay. I was a bit disappointed with the singers/dancers yet by no means was it their fault. In all the excitement of the cruise, I went to youtube.com and checked out videos from the Westerdam. Sure enough someone had "smuggled" a video cam into the shows and now those videos are on youtube. So when we went to see the show, I had actually already seen it. So a bit of a disappointment yet not their fault. I mention this only as a warning to others. If you want to see a fresh not seen show, stay away from youtube.
Lastly let me mention the disembarkation. In a word PERFECT. I remember the struggles of going through this on Princess. I suggest that a representative from each cruise line take a trip on Westerdam. They will be amazed by many things especially the disembarkation. What a breeze. The entire process from leaving our cabin to hopping into a taxi couldn't have taken more than 10 minutes. How can you beat that? Again Perfect. Also I truly appreciated having one more opportunity to see hello to our cruise director Jason. Terrific guy and a gem in the HAL crown.
Finally I want to make a comment about other comments made regarding the Westerdam. I think most people see the ship for what it is. HAL is in the service industry. They have thousands of customers cruising each week and clearly try their hardest to accommodate everyone. So when I read that someones cruise was highly effected by the lack of cookies in the Lido, I become disappointed with our reviewers. I want to go on record as saying those considering the Westerdam will not be disappointed. The age geographic was all over the board. Never did I see any one population larger than another. Clearly there were teens, 20's, 30's etc. If I had to guess I would say the largest group was 38 - 55. Don't hesitate, go and enjoy the best vacation at sea you can. Book the Westerdam!