We are frequent cruisers, but had previously sailed only on various ships of the Royal Caribbean Vision class. Overall, our experience on the Westerdam was about equal to those on RCL, which translates to a little less value for the money since HAL costs more.
We spent the night before departure at the Grand Hyatt in Seattle. It was comfortable but a bit pricey. We took a cab to the cruise terminal. The hotel's advice that every cabbie knows every ship's berth seemed to be accurate.
Embarkation went very smoothly. The people-traffic patterns in the terminal are efficiently laid out and the HAL people were very helpful. We were on board in about twenty minutes. We traveled with a group of 14 friends, and no one reported more than thirty minutes for embarkation. Unlike our experience with RCL, the main dining room was open for lunch on embarkation day. Most of our luggage was delivered very quickly, and all was in hand before dinner.
While I'm on the subject of food (one of my favorite subjects), the main dining room menu was more varied than on RCL. At dinner it typically featured about three or four appetizer choices, two soups, three salads, five entrees, and five or six desserts. Service was very eye-appealing, and food quality was good with one exception. Beef was invariably over-cooked. I generally prefer beef medium-rare, but I quickly learned to order rare so that I would actually get medium. This has never been a problem on any RCL ship. Our wine steward was exceptional. He was cheerful and polite and knew everyone's name and preferences after the first night. Our waiter was inattentive. When we needed him, he was usually standing around studying the floor.
Holland America offers a choice of reserved or "as you wish" (unscheduled) dining in the main dining room. This is a fiasco, and was aggravated by HAL's deviating from its stated intent that the second floor of the dining room would be for reserved-dining passengers and the first floor for "as you wish" passengers. We reserved the early seating, but our tables were on the first floor. And a very large number of the unscheduled diners seemed to want to eat at that time. Every evening, we had to thread our way through a large crowd of unscheduled diners to get into the our reserved seating in the dining room and they, as well as the officious person in charge of seating them, all seemed to think that we were breaking in line.
Unlike RCL, HAL still allows tours of the kitchen and that was very interesting.
I understand that HAL caters mostly to a mature clientele, and that was certainly the case on our cruise. We are in our sixties, and did not at all miss the many drunken college students and out-of-control "little darlings" that we have seen too often on RCL.
Consistent with its target clientele, the decor on the Westerdam was more reserved and tasteful than on RCL. However, in a few cases, the reserve was over-done a bit. For example, both the common and stateroom bathrooms featured tile and formica rather than the marble or granite that are more common on the Vision-class ships and add a touch of luxury.
Completely inconsistent with the target clientele, both the cruise director and the person in charge of musical activities displayed frenetic Richard-Simmons-like demeanors that were instantly irritating and barely tolerable after a week.
We had a "Superior Suite" with balcony on the port side. That was ideal for cruising Glacier Bay, as all of the more spectacular glaciers that we passed by or stopped at were on the port side. Our room was spacious, with loads of storage, and our stateroom attendant kept it immaculate. The beds and bed linens were exceptional, far better than on RCL and the equal of most upscale hotels.
With the exception of one illusionist act, the shows were terrible. The comic seemed to break herself up, and I guess it's good that someone thought she was funny. Worst were the "HAL Singers and Dancers". The sets and stage management for their shows were actually quite good, but the songs were apparently chosen mainly to minimize royalty payments, and their amps seemed to be welded on the maximum setting.
A minor emergency occurred during our cruise, a small fire in a crew cabin. The captain was very open and calm, and his efficient mobilization of the ships emergency crews was impressive and reassuring.
The only organized shore excursion we took was the “Mendenhall Glacier and Gardens”. It was enjoyable and well worth the money. One highlight was the Gray Line tour guide Dave. He was very knowledgeable and cheerful, and spoke very clearly. I think that, although he does the same thing over and over, he was actually having a good time. That made it a better time for all of us.
All of the destinations were fun. The best of all was Glacier Bay, but Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka, and Victoria were all pleasant too. Unlike the people in many tourist destinations, the Alaskans and Vancouver Island people were very friendly and outgoing.
The weather was foul. Every day was foggy and misty, although the temperatures were moderate – mostly around fifty degrees in Alaska day and night. I don’t think the sun came out during the entire cruise. However, that was not all bad. Especially in Glacier Bay, the mist and low-lying clouds added a certain mystery and charm to the fantastic scenery.
We had a wonderful time, as we have had on every cruise we’ve ever taken. However, even if the prices were the same, I think I'd lean toward Royal Caribbean in the future.