This was our first HAL cruise and, in general, I was very impressed. Although my opinion is influenced by the fact that we were upgraded from SZ guarantee to SA suite. Great upgrade. SA suite was very nice, though furnishings were a bit tired and dated. On the one rough sea night there were a few drawers that wouldn't stay shut and would slide open and closed with the movement of the ship. If we had rough seas every night this could have been a big deal.
Best Suite perk? Free laundry and dry cleaning. Made packing light a lot easier.
Best HAL feature that sets it apart from other major market lines? Disembarkation. Being allowed to remain in our suite until 9:15 and have room service breakfast that morning was wonderful! No sitting (or standing) in common areas waiting for our "color" to be called like on other lines. Walked off at our scheduled time, no crowds, no problems, off the ship and in a cab with our luggage within 15 minutes or so. Its so much nicer when your last memories of a wonderful cruise aren't standing around waiting for your group to be called and then fighting crowds rushing to get off the ship.
Most lacking feature: AYWD. I did not enjoy the AYWD dining at all. Eventhough as a suite guest the concierge was able to get us a reservation for a table for 2 each night without our having to call each morning, it was not a good experience. We received a card each afternoon telling us our table number (it was a different table each day) but we still had to wait in line to be shown to our table. We had a different wait staff each night. Service was ok but not what you'd expect on a better cruise line and not personalized at all. We tried dinner in the Lido one night and did not enjoy that at all. I enjoyed most other aspects of HAL but I think if traditional dining is not available, it could be a dealbreaker as far as future bookings go.
On the other hand, dinner in the Pinnacle was excellent. Enjoyed that 2 nights and couldn't be more pleased. Also took advantage of dining there for breakfast most mornings as a suite perk and enjoyed that as well. Most mornings we were the only ones there.
The Westerdam itself was in great shape and is a beautiful ship. Again, some of the furnishings, in the Crow's Nest for example, could use to be updated. Everywhere we went there were crewmen cleaning, vacuuming and polishing the ship and keeping it in good repair.
Some reviews I read on CC in the months leading up to this cruise reported that the crew on the Westerdam seemed to be unhappy and had an "attitude". I didn't find this to be the case at all. To a man, or woman, every crewmember or staffmember I had dealings with were very friendly and helpful.
We did not participate in a lot of the "activities" but the few we joined in on were fine, typical cruise fare. One thing lacking, a minor point, was the "Love and Marriage Game". A standard cruise activity which changes little from cruise to cruise, cruiseline to cruiseline, but it is usually fun and entertaining. On this trip the Cruise Director rushed through it, constantly reminding us that he would get us "out of here" in time for line dancing.
The Cruise Director staff in general seemed a little young and inexperienced. The Cruise Director's disembarkation speech which we watched on TV the last morning seemed somewhat cynical and demeaning. I don't believe it was intended that way but just not presented well. They did get the ENTIRE crew up on stage to say goodbye which was nice but I wonder who was steering the ship or serving drinks at the time.
There seemed to be a lot of overlap in activities which made it hard to go from one to another. You had to pick and choose.
Another minor point. They seemed to schedule movies in the Queen's lounge at times when you wouldn't be able to see them. For example one film, which ran 2 hours plus, was scheduled for one showing only at 6:00 PM. Which means you couldn't catch either early or late seating dinner and see the movie. Not a big deal but it just seemed strange that they would go through the trouble of scheduling a showing when most people wouldn't go to see it. Another movie was scheduled at 12:00 noon, so you couldn't see the movie and eat lunch in the dining room. There were no multiple showings.
If these couple of issues I raised seem minor, they absolutely were. The cruise itself was wonderful and it was only these minor things which come to mind as negatives.
Among the positives:
Getting on the ship was mostly quick and painless. Although the computers did go down while we were being checked in which held us up 10 minutes or so. But these things happen and once it was resolved we were on our way and escorted to security and onto the ship.
We enjoyed wonderful service from our suite steward and from the concierges in the Neptune Lounge.
With the SA suite we had a wonderful veranda which we used as much as we could on an Alaska cruise. Didn't have any meals out there though I could definitely see doing that on a warmer cruise. We did stay out there for all of Glacier Bay, which was very nice.
We did not encounter any high pressure sales pitches for drink cards or wine packages like you do on other lines.
I didn't find the stereotypical "HAL is full of old people" wisdom to be true at all. The age demographic was about the same as other cruise lines we've been on. In fact, I believe it was younger than the recent early December cruises we've taken on Princess and Celebrity.
Since we planned this cruise to start after school started in most places, the halls were not full of running children slamming cabin doors, as we've encountered on other cruiselines.
Announcements were unobtrusive and kept to a minimum.
For the most part we had no problems getting on an off the ship at the ports. It was much appreciated that the HAL photographers did not hold up the line of passengers getting off the ship by taking photographs at the end of the gangway, as is done on some other lines.
Elevators were usually very quick and most times were empty. Enjoyed the mid ship outside elevators for the views.
Note: Along with our comment cards we were given a survey form about smoking. The survey is only three questions and obviously geared to support a non-smoking policy. Look for this within the next year or so.
I would certainly consider HAL again, especially if we were able to get traditional seating. HAL has some features which other lines (X) would do well to adopt.