My husband and I booked this cruise last January at a cruise show sponsored by our travel agent. We are in our early 50's and have cruised before (2 Carnival and 2 Royal Caribbean.) Stress levels have been high for us the past couple of years, so our cruise goals were to "get away from it all" and relax and be pampered. Since activities and ports were not our prime concern, we chose this cruise primarily based on dates and ship amenities.
We drove to Fort Lauderdale from the Charlotte NC area, leaving a day early and staying at the Cocoa Beach Doubletree (a "freebie" with my Hhonors points). We were quite satisfied with our overnight stay there. We had a good night's rest, a leisurely breakfast, and finished the drive to Fort Lauderdale. I had prebooked Park-n-Fly through the HAL website at a GREAT rate ($82 for the entire week). They were efficient and courteous, and we arrived at the port about 1:00. This was absolutely the fastest, easiest embarkation I have ever experienced. No lines - and we were not waylaid by photographers as we boarded. We were on the ship within minutes of being dropped off.
Our stateroom (4081) was well-appointed and comfortable, a bit smaller than I had expected, but offset by a larger bathroom with a tub. The luxurious bed, soft comfortable robes and the wonderful Elemis toiletries provided were a great perk and very conducive to relaxation.. Even though this room is a "fully obstructed" (a lifeboat blocks the view), the floor-to-ceiling windows let in lots of light and quite a bit of seaview. Our room stewards Allen and Taufik were attentive and efficient - couldn't have asked for better.
The Westerdam is a lovely ship, well laid out and easy to get around. Travelers who expect glitz and lots of activity (such as we experienced on our last cruise - RC's Adventure of the Seas) would be disappointed, but it was perfect for our cruise goals. Our favorite spots were the Crow's Nest/Explorations Cafe, the aft pool deck , and the quiet observation deck. We did enjoy participating in the trivia and bingo conducted by Jazzy, the DJ. We had fun, met some nice people, and won some "Dam Dollars" . On our first day we had bought a Thermal Suite pass ($250 per couple for the whole week) which proved to be a good value, as we did not spend much time in port
We had main (early) fixed-seating dining, which was the upper level of the dining room. The table layout seemed crowded, and the long rectangular tables impeded socialization among tablemates. Food choices were good , with some entrees better than others (Mahi was passable, prime rib was very good, steaks varied in quality and flavor). I found their appetizers, salads, and soups to be excellent, and truly one could make a meal of these. The dessert menu offered some interesting choices, including a cheese tray. Our dining service team, Waiter Gusti and assistant Eca were wonderful, as well as our wine steward Antonio. We did breakfast and lunch in both in the dining room and the lido - the food was fine both places, with the dining room option offering the opportunity to meet and socialize with new tablemates.. We found the layout of the buffet to be a bit confusing, and the difficulty in navigation was worsened the "no tray" policy. We did okay working in tandem but I'm not sure how solo diners or those assisting children would manage. The best lunch was the hamburgers and fries from the Seaview grill - they were excellent.
Our first port was Half-Moon Cay. We were the only ship in port. There were lots of family groups there; this was the most children I saw the entire cruise. We had pre-booked the Glass-Bottom boat excursion; the view was not as clear as I thought it would be, but we enjoyed feeding the yellowtails. We decided to go back to the ship early and enjoyed the thermal suite. After HMC, the seas became rough and the weather turned bad. I had a bout with moderate seasickness for the next a couple of days (this has never happened to me before). Even though I did not feel up to par, I was determined we would get off the ship at St,.Thomas, as we had pre-booked the Champagne Catamaran to St, Johns. We did get off the ship and visited a couple of shops, but we soon found out that the excursion would be able to go to St. Johns because of the weather. They offered a substitute trip or our money back; we too the money and ran - back to the thermal suite. We were in San Juan Christmas Day. It was raining and most things were closed, and we'd been to San Juan several times before, so we just stayed on the ship and relaxed. By the time we arrived at Grand Turk, I was feeling good again. We thoroughly enjoyed this port. There's not much to do there, but it's great for beach bums. We spent a couple of hours poolside listening to music and sipping drinks at Margaritaville, shopped for souvenirs in the shops, and then laid out on the beach under the palms.
We found there to be adequate entertainment options in the evenings - and they were very good. We enjoyed the nightly shows, particularly the well-staged performances by the talented singers and dancers, several funny comic/variety performers, an excellent string ensemble, and Nathan at the piano bar. We would have liked to have seen some entertainment scheduledearlier in to day, such as a pool band mid-day or some strings or piano in the late afternoon.
Our tablemates convinced us to go to the Pinnacle Grill on the final night. This was truly one of the most enjoyable dining experiences we have ever had. Service was impeccable. I had the fillet, my husband had the ribeye, and our friends had the surf & turf and the lamb - all were superb. We had the to-die-for chocolate soufflE for dessert and THEN the waiter brought out a delicious chocolate mousse cake (It was my birthday) with our coffee. The Pinnacle is not to be missed and is well worth the $20pp upcharge. This was the perfect capstone to an overall great cruise.
Like embarkation, disembarkation was a breeze. Westerdam uses a "silent" disembarkation, with passengers leaving at pre-assigned times. Passengers can move about the ship as they wish until they disembark. No herding into lounges to wait interminably, and no crowded stairwells, etc. Customs was very efficient, and port personal were friendly and helpful. Park-n-fly came through again - their shuttles were waiting for us and handled a heavy crowd with courtesy and efficiently.
In summary, I recommend Westerdam for those who want to relax and enjoy traditional cruising. I give Hal and\ A+ for efficiency and quality service, We will definitely do HAL and the Vista Class ships again.