Arrived at the pier around 12.15pm, second in line at registration desk, very fast, on the ship at 12.45pm. Noone permitted to go to cabins until around 1.50pm. This caused a huge crowd to gather in the Lido -- some people had been on board since 11.30am. Difficult to find a table -- had to save one first then we took turns getting our food. By the time we finished our meal, our cabin was ready for occupancy.
Very nice cabin -- plenty of room, full size king bed with the most comfortable mattress we've ever had on a cruise ship. Pillows were inadequate -- too soft to support head properly. Good size bathroom with a bathtub, spa soaps and lotions and the thickest bath towels I've ever had on a cruise ship (this was my 20th cruise, my wife's 17th). But medicine cabinet lacking and shelves were inadequate to store toiletries. Cabin lighting was very bright over the head of the bed but dim in the rest of the cabin, particularly at the dressing table, even with the lighted vanity mirror. Bathrobes were a nice touch. Cabin was immaculate -- steward vacuumed every day and changed the sheets in mid-cruise. Cabin makeup was a little slow -- sometimes not ready until after 11am. Movies shown on TV were mostly old stuff you would never watch -- forcing you to pay to rent DVD's at the library. Closets lacked an area for long gowns and evening wear but overall closet space ample. Drawer space was at a premium however, and we had to stuff them full of clothes to empty our suitcases.
We had assigned late seating dining (8pm on Upper Vista). Although the restaurant is at the stern of the ship, there are no windows on the port side (where our table #6 was situated against a solid wall). We had asked for a large table and wound up with a table for 4, with our dining companions showing up for dinner only 2 of the 7 nights. Don't know if they asked for assigned seating, but if they did, I don't know why. Although the ship had an announced passenger total of 2,050, it seemed the Upper Vista was not full for the 2nd seating. Our waiter Tulu and his assistant Prad were excellent, remembering all our little quirky preferences, like 2 glasses of skim milk each and whole wheat rolls and breads only from the 2nd night on. Food overall was good, although not consistent. A steak available every night wasn't very tender, although the same cut of steak ordered the next night 'au poivre' was tender and delicious. We felt cheated -- the last night there was no second seating because of the weird port time in Victoria (6pm to midnight). Our only choice was to go to the buffet or try and get into the Lower Vista at 5pm if we wanted to eat before our 6.30pm tour. So we wound up eating at the buffet very late (9.30pm), and got there just in time to get the last of a very tasty Yankee Pot Roast (we got the last several slices). When I returned for more, they said they were out. When I asked how they could run out, the servers said I should have eaten earlier (5pm?). Not our style and not what I thought was a proper response.
We caught every show. The schedule was set so that we had to catch the 7pm show each night before our dinner. Being on deck 1, we were able t o merely walk forward on our aisle and come into the main show lounge on the lowest level, an entrance that only people on deck 1 forward apparently knew about, since there was never anybody in front of us waiting to enter the lounge. Maybe the 9pm show was better attended, but at 7pm it seemed the entire balcony level was empty or almost empty and we never had any trouble getting a good seat in the 4th or 5th row back from the stage, even when we entered after the show had already started. The song and dance group were excellent and presented three very lively shows, including the short intro the first night. Both the juggler and the magician were provided plenty of laughs during their prime time shows. We didn't catch any of the late night shows, so we can't account for their behavior at those shows. A lively piano duet performed one night and had the entire theater rocking half way through the show -- excellent.
We're not into engaging in activities. But we did like having a Catholic mass everyday, having been on NCL twice in the last 3 years when they didn't even have a priest on board. Also had a late afternoon mass on the last day (Saturday) so church obligations were taken care of for the travel day home (Sunday). Attendance at first was sparse, but on the last day, the culinary arts center was used for the mass to accommodate the larger crowd that came for that mass. HAL needs to move out on limiting smoking areas on board. It seemed that just about every public area permitted smoking or was within inhaling range of some area that did allow smoking. It looked like it was basically a problem with how the ship was laid out. We couldn't view pictures without taking in the second hand smoke from the bar nearby. We even had to smell smoke when we went to the shore excursion desk or the front desk because of the bar that was between the two.
Captain did a fantastic job in Glacier Bay, literally parking the ship for a good 45 minutes within a 1/4 mile of a huge glacier. If you don't have a balcony, I recommend going forward on deck 6 -- there is a small outdoor area in front of that deck which gives a much better view than the bow area on deck 4 where most people not in balconies seemed to converge. We had an almost private viewing area on deck 6 until some people noticed us and a few other passengers looking out over the railing and it got a little crowded later in the afternoon. All-in-all, Glacier Bay makes the cruise all by itself. We had been to Juneau and, fortunately, Ketchikan. The port times in Ketchikan (7am-1pm) don't allow for any time in town if you take the Wilderness Explorer catamaran tour to Misty Fjords. Recommend a flight seeing tour to the fjords if you want to go there. I would not recommend signing up for any city tours in Sitka, the town is small enough and the areas of interest they show you on the tours are within walking range of the tender pier.
Very smooth. We signed up for a 9.30am disembark. When our color code of tags was called, we left our cabin, took the elevator up to the disembarkation deck, and talked off the ship. Limiting the crowd in the luggage area made it easy to find our bags, and porters were readily available. Immigration never even looked at our passports -- just flashed them the book covers and we were through. Thrifty has a car rental kiosk in the terminal but don't use it if you have a Thrifty rental. Just take the shuttle to the Pier 48 location where the cars are and do your paperwork there. Otherwise you will have three long waits instead of two (the van takes a while since they wait until it's full going to and from the ships).
I would definitely cruise with HAL again and would cruise on the Westerdam again. I would ask right away for firm pillows and make sure I had assigned seating late for dinner and make sure we had a large table. I wouldn't give the Westerdam 5 stars, but I would give it a solid 4 Stars, leaning to 4 Stars +, and definitely put it ahead of NCL, Princess and Carnival experiences we've had. They don't have the fancy gimmicks that RCCL has, but they offer a refined, sophisticated cruise much like Celebrity.