DH not ready for another cruise ... so invited my mother on her very first cruise. As a big fan of "free-style" dining, I have been a huge NCL fan. However, since I was traveling with my mother (mid-80's), was looking for a line with an older demographic, but still wanted the choice of open seating dining. Research on CC pointed me in the direction of HAL since they offer AYW dining in addition to traditional. I'm happy to admit I am now a HAL convert. HAL dining staff did an exceptional job. We made reservations day of and next day and took what suited us best ... some meals 5:30, some 7:30, sometimes dining alone, other times with 2, 4 or 6 other guests and it worked well. Perfect opportunity to meet wonderful people and made for interesting dinner conversations. Brought wine on board to enjoy in our stateroom and purchased a wine card making it very easy to enjoy a glass of white or red house wine at dinner. Purchased a coffee card and enjoyed a wonderful selection of flavored coffees and baked goods in the Explorer's Lounge, deck 10. Coffee lovers - don't forget you can order cappuccino or espresso with your dessert each evening at dinner.
TRAVEL TO PORT OF EMBARKATION Southwest flight from Kansas City to Ft. Lauderdale left gate right on time. Southwest's new boarding process is much improved and SW works hard at getting the plane pulled away from the gate right on time ... even if it means rushing passengers into their seats. They strive for punctuality.
HOTEL INFO Hampton Inn & Suites, 2500 Stirling Road, Hollywood, FL 33020 ... very close to airport and cruise port. Slight problem in Lauderdale getting our hotel shuttle due to a miscommunication, but it worked out and we ended up at the Hampton Inn & Suites on Stirling with many other cruisers. Oakwood Shopping Center a short walk from the hotel. Some shops are Jones of NY, Marshalls and Home Goods, Payless Shoes, Famous Brand Shoes, Barnes & Noble, Michaels and quite a few restaurants. Also a BJ's warehouse where you can pick up wine, soda and water for your cruise. Comfort Inn next door has a cozy little Pub & Grill by their pool where we enjoyed a grilled burger, cold cocktail and great conversation with other anxious cruisers.
SHIP INFO Westerdam Captain Peter Harris Cruise Director Kerry Watkins
ACTIVITIES Enjoyed the casino, watched some of the game shows and games by the pool. Had hoped to participate in the Susan G Komen walk, unfortunately another activity interfered. Did not make use of the Spa or fitness center. Enjoyed some of the musical groups in the bars prior to and following dinner. Prior to dinner, the bars served warm appetizers and they were wonderful. Enjoyed the Explorer's Lounge coffee's and the incredible views from the Crow's Nest. Enjoyed Kerry Watkins the CD very much ... excellent at his job. I believe this was his last cruise and will be taking some time off for vacation and returning in a few months.
SERVICE Overall incredible. Our room stewards Harry and Lubis made sure to introduce themselves upon our arrival and took care of our every need. I asked to have the bar stock removed from the fridge so we could chill our white wine and water and it was done immediately. Our room was refreshed twice a day and we received towel animals each evening but the first. I brought post-it notes and always left comments for our stewards as far as our appreciation for the cleanliness of the room or the joy of the towel animals. I believe letting them know how much we appreciated their efforts made them want to please all the more. The dining staff was very attentive and our meals were served in a timely fashion and water and drinks always replenished. Food was outstanding ... the best I've experienced to-date. I was expecting a microscopic size lobster with my surf & turf order, but the portions were as large as I would receive in a restaurant. As a matter of fact our dinner portions were almost too large for us. I don't quite understand how people complain the portions are too small. It's true fellow-CCer's ... the cold fruit soups are incredible. HAL's breakfast room service is better than some lines offering a full hot breakfast. We did not use room service for any other meals, but I understand lunch and dinner items are also the same as the dining room menus. We did not dine in the Pinnacle ... was planning to, but once we experienced the wonderful food in the dining room, saw no need at all.
PORT & SHORE EXCURSIONS All our tours were purchased through HAL: Grand Turk no land excursion planned for today, just relaxed at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. Laid by the pool for a few hours, walked the grounds, the beach and checked out the shops. Before the sun got too hot headed back to the ship for lunch, back to the cabin to relax on the balcony. As departure time neared, headed up to the aft pool where we had a good view of the gangway, and watched as people returned to the ship. Why are there always those people that return late? Watched the Westerdam depart Grand Turk. San Juan Today's tour would depart at 10:30. Tour guide for the Bacardi Rum factory and Old San Juan was very informative and quite the comedian. Learned a few interesting things about San Juan ... the annoyingly noisy little Coqui frog is their national symbol, the population is 4 million, the island is 110 miles long and 35 miles wide, is ¾'s mountains and rain averages 350" per year. We enjoyed 2 lime daiquiris at Bacardi and learned the factory distills 800,000 gallons of rum per day and they make 150, 80 and 40 proof rum. Following our tour at the fortress of San Cristobal, found a traditional Puerto Rican cafe where we enjoyed a cappuccino and dessert. St.Maarten/St.Martin Tour was great ... lasted about 3 hours, shopped the flea market at Marigot following which our guide dropped some people off at Philipsburg for more shopping and returned the rest to the ship. Browsed the terminal shops/restaurants and took a few more pictures of the beautiful Westerdam and the Carnival Triumph berthed next to us. Let me interject at this point that I know I wouldn't like that outdoor movie screen blaring all day on the Carnival ship. It could be heard throughout the entire port area and was very annoying. Half Moon Cay Half Moon Cay is definitely everything I read about on CC. The most beautiful white powder sand beach and turquoise water, hundreds of chase lounges lined the beach. We rented a clamshell for shade if needed, but the day was absolutely gorgeous. Hammocks were strung in some of the trees while brightly colored wooden cabanas complete with food/drink service dotted the beach. Waiters walked up and down the beach serving cocktails and a great BBQ lunch was served from 11:30-1:00. I enjoyed 2 of the largest prawns I've ever seen ... had to take a picture. After a full day in the sun, tendered back to the Westerdam and headed up to the Crow's Nest for a specialty coffee and enjoyed the incredible view of Half Moon Cay beach.
STATEROOM 7143 VA starboard side last balcony stateroom before the aft facing suites. Purchased a VF Guarantee and received this upgrade. A good size room with plenty of storage, comfy cozy beds and linens, a pull-out love seat, leather arm chair, coffee table, dressing table with lighted make-up mirror and flat screen TV, refrigerator, large bathroom with tub and very comfortable balcony. Balcony whicker furniture was a little worse for ware, but lots of room, large arm chair with pad and ottoman as well as another whicker chair with small round side table.
DINING Covered in Service section. Enjoyed all meals, whether in the dining room, at the Lido buffet, the Lido Grill or room service. I liked the food stations in the Lido and thought they worked very well ... even w/o trays. The table cloths in the evening was a lovely touch. I was particularly impressed with the room service punctuality of food delivery and tray presentation.
ENTERTAINMENT The best I've experienced on 5 cruises. Definitely the most professional ... musicians and singers, comedian, and illusionist. Joel Mason the Elton John impersonator was multi-talented and a joy to watch ... got a standing "O" each performance. His show was so good we didn't want it to end.
DISEMBARKATION The simplest I've experienced. Silent disembarkation works so well for HAL. Colored tags indicate your time of disembarkation based on your needs. There are no annoying color announcements. You're just left to enjoy the ship until your designated departure time and are trusted to leave on time. When time to leave, the process took no more than 15 minutes from walking down the gangway, to claiming luggage, going through customs and hailing a cab.
TRAVEL FROM PORT OF EMBARKATION This was not so much fun and was the only negative to our entire trip. Ft. Lauderdale airport was by far the worst airport experience I have ever had ... ughhhh! With 6 cruise ships arriving in port at the same time and the majority of those passengers taking flights out of Florida ... it was horrible!!
SUMMARY By far my favorite cruise line. Because I was traveling with my mother, I enjoyed the older demographic ... not too many kids on this cruise, even though the ship was at capacity. As a matter of fact Captain Peter Harris announced it was the most passengers the Westerdam has carried to-date. Yet the ship never really felt crowded to me. I'm not sure if it's because they have more common area per passenger or their rooms are just larger ... can't put my finger on it ... but whatever ... it WORKS! I can't wait to plan my next Holland America cruise.