We could not wait to leave Chicago! Following a very long snowy winter, our spring break cruise was just what we needed. We left Chicago the day after another 12 inch snow fall. Leaving the night before our cruise departure was a wise decision with all the flight cancellations Ohare had to deal with. There were 20 travelers wait-listed to go standby on our flight due to the snow storm. We were fortunate to leave on time to arrive in rainy Ft. Lauderdale, but it was warm and no snow! We were happy to be there, so we were patient with our 90 minute wait for the hotel shuttle bus to pick us up at the airport. We would have paid and taken the taxi had we known the wait was to be so long.
We choose to stay at the Marriott SpringHill Suites near the airport. The hotel was very nice with free shuttle from the airport to the hotel and the next morning to the cruiseship. A light buffet breakfast was also complimentary.
Embarkation: Holland America has the check in procedure very well organized, even with our arrival at the busiest time. The hotel brought us to the ship by 11:15 a.m. and we were on board on the Lido deck in line for lunch within a half hour. The lines for lunch were very long and moved very slowly. People were complaining when they ran out of food and silverware. It took a while but eventually they replenished their supplies, but by then the lines were very long and tables were all filled. I did find out later that the health inspectors were on board during this time for the Westerdam's routine biannual inspection. The Westerdam passed with the highest score in the fleet!!!!The Ship: The Westerdam was spotless and looked brand new. The decor was very elegant and the ship was laid out very well. We had no trouble finding our way around this beautiful ship. Our favorite spot on the ship was the Crows Nest/Exploration Cafe/Library area. Located on the observation deck at the front of the ship with glass all around, the view was beautiful. The library was one of the largest we have had on a ship, the chairs comfortable. We enjoyed the large puzzle table, daily game sheets, magazines, and DVD rental area. Only wish we had more time on the ship to spend here. The sweets in the cafe were very good and complimentary.
Cabin: We had a balcony cabin, which we found to be larger than on other cruises. With a bathtub, the shower was a more comfortable size. There was plenty of storage space in the room. There was even two large drawers under the bed, and still room to store all our luggage. The beds were comfortable and having a soft comforter with a duvet was a pleasant surprise and most appreciated. The towels were always soft too! The fresh fruit delivered to the room was a nice touch. Our room steward opened up the divider on the balcony between our two cabins, so we had one large balcony. We were the very front cabin, so our balcony had more wind noise than we would have liked, and more shade.
Entertainment: The shows were some of the best entertainment we have had on a ship. One was an Elton John impersonator and a comedian. Both were very good and stayed on board all week, participating in the game show also. We never had time for the Culinary shows. We saw several pieces of art we liked at the art auction. Bingo on the last day was packed as they gave away a prize of $3,000.00. The day before they gave away a free cruise. EVen the gift shops were entertaining with raffle prizes in the evenings.Food: The food on the Westerdam was very good. In fact we all thought it was some of the best food we have had on a cruise. We had open seating which worked out well for our schedule. Each day we reserved dinner for 7:00/7:30. We were always seated at a table for four so we missed meeting other people. When asked to sit at a larger table we were told it was not available at the 7:00 hour. So the last three nights we did not make a reservation and just did a walk in and were seated at a large table. We never had to wait more than 5 minutes. We ate most of our breakfasts in the dining room. The lines at lunch hour in the Lido were always a bit too long for us so we often ate at the grill. Most of the food in the Lido is served by staff, which leads to longer lines, but is probably best for health reasons.
Pool and Spa: We found that there are plenty of chairs on the decks, but they often ran out of towels for the chairs. The health club was of good size, but no need for your headphones, as there are not audio units on the treadmills to plug into. There are a couple of hanging TV monitors in the gym.
Excursions: In Grand Turks we took a cab on our own downtown. Downtown is small but charming. We quickly visited the shops, walked along the main street and then were ready for the beach. Our cab driver misunderstood our instructions and took us back to the beach right by the ship. It worked out well though, as there were plenty of chairs and places for refreshments right there.
In Tortola we booked the excursion to the Baths. We highly recommend taking the walk with the guide through the rock formations to the beach on the other side.
St. Martin was our shopping day. We took the water taxi and shopped. We have found the prices to be better than in St. Thomas.
Half Moon Cay we all agreed is the most beautiful beach we have ever been to in the Caribbean. The spectacular shades of blue of the clearwater is amazing and the white sand so soft. We rented a clam shell which I highly recommend for shade and for storing our gear. Holland America has done a wonderful job landscaping the island, providing lots of shaded areas for dining. Unfortunately the buffet lines are very long.
Debarkation: We took the early option for departing the ship (we had to carry all our luggage off the ship ourselves) since we had an early flight and no pre-arranged transportation. This worked out okay, but we should have done the pre-boarding check in for our flight that Holland America offers. We could have gone straight to the gait at the airport without having to check in luggage, but by the time I had given this more thought I was told it was too late to sign up for this option.
In summary: we thought our first Holland America cruise on the Zandam (5 years ago) was just okay, but we enjoyed the Westerdam so much that we look forward to another Holland America Cruise in the near future. Our only complaints were the slow moving buffet lines, running out of napkins and silverware in the Lido and a shortage of towels on the pool decks. This being an Easter Holiday cruise with a full ship, 200 children on board we never felt crowded. All of the staff on the Westerdam tried very hard to please everyone. It was a pleasure to travel with the Westerdam crew taking such good care of us. All the guests we spoke to also seemed to be having a restful and relaxing vacation!