The Westerdam, launched in 2004, is one of three in Holland America's Vista class series. It has a passenger capacity of 1916 with a crew of 800. The theme of the ship is Dutch Heritage in the New World and the ship is elegantly decorated with paintings and artwork throughout. Public areas were also adorned with fresh flowers, including a single orchid on each table in the Lido deck. I did find the atmosphere more serious and sedate than other ships I have sailed (Royal Caribbean and Carnival), but it was spotlessly clean and preserved the traditional "ship" feeling versus the "floating Vegas hotel" feel of other lines.
Staterooms were spacious and well appointed. Our balcony cabin provided lots of storage however I missed the drawer space that Carnival staterooms provide. Shower head and bed were the best I have encountered at sea. Our stateroom also had a small bathtub - a nice touch but not overly functional due to its size. There was also a flat screen TV and DVD player. However, the selection of TV channels was very poor and I missed the interactive TV functions that other lines provide, where you can check your account, book shore excursions, and see dining room menus on your TV.
The food onboard the ship was hit or miss. I enjoyed the Lido deck breakfast and lunch. Loved the fresh made to order waffles and fresh squeezed orange juice. There was good variety at lunch - burgers, Mexican station, deli, pasta and pizza, main buffet. There was a dessert station with ice creams and sorbets; however the desserts were disappointing with the exception of the bread pudding. One major inconvenience - no trays. This made to difficult to collect your food at different stations. Dining room food was disappointing. I found the menus lacked variety. Soups that were meant to be hot were served cold, meats overcooked. Overall, there was a lack of presentation with the food. I cannot recall one outstanding meal I had in the dining room the entire week.
Generally, service was good and staff accommodating, though not overly friendly. Room steward was good, our sommelier were excellent. Bartenders were good as well, however there was no bar service on deck the two days at sea. I'm used to bartenders circulating with drinks and taking drink orders. On this ship, I had to go looking for one. The dining room service was poor. Having done many cruises, I got the distinct feeling the staff on this ship were overwhelmed. In speaking to a few staff members, I learned that they were sailing with 400 more passengers than usual due to spring break. I would like to think this was the reason for some of the problems we encountered. Our service in the dining room was so slow (2.5 hours for a meal) we complained to the maitre'd. He was very nice, sent over free champagne but slow service continued to be a problem. We seemed to have a different waiter every evening. I even witnessed the maitre'd clearing tables and bringing out food.
There was not a huge number of activities offered onboard - definitely a quieter ship but there were some interesting and unique classes. We went to the Culinary Arts Center for show cooking and lessons and this was quite good. The wine tasting was excellent - not too long, not too formal, a lot of fun. There were also mixology classes, plus the usual art auctions, bingo, etc. Spa was nice, although I did not like the location - you had to walk through the spa to access the middle Lido deck area so it never felt particularly serene.
Holland America definitely distinguishes itself from the more mainstream cruise lines with some of the little touches it offers. Public washrooms had real cotton towels, deck chairs were very comfy with thick cushion padding, lounges offered complimentary hors d'oeuvres before dinner, room service had great variety including hot items, there was a daily newspaper including a Canadian newspaper, a replenished fruit bowl in your room. When you returned from shore, there was water and hot towels waiting for you at the pier. Embarkation and disembarkation were an absolute breeze. I also found there was a far less pushy sales pitch for drinks, photos, gift shop, etc.
Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos: Enjoyed a beach day. There is a huge Margaritaville there. We walked ten minutes past Margaritaville to Jack's Shack, where a lot of the cruise ship crew hang out. Drinks were cheaper, and we had the beach all to ourselves. If you want to see a little of the island, I would recommend the Dune Buggy Excursion. We did this on a previous cruise and it was enjoyable.
San Juan, Puerto Rico: This is a great port to explore on your own. Love the Old City, with the cobblestone streets, pastel buildings, iron terraces. Try lunch at Barrachina's - the home of the Pina Colada on Fortaleza Street. This stop offers lots of great shopping - from typical souvenirs and jewelry stores to high end outlets (Louis Vuitton, Coach) and art galleries.
St . Maarten: Great duty free shopping here as well. Front street is quite pretty and runs parallel to the beach; about 10 min walk from the pier. For first timers, I would recommend an island tour - in the past used Bernard's tours and it was excellent. http://www.bernardstours.com/. For a beach day, try Orient Beach but beware it is a nude beach.
Half Moon Cay, Bahamas: This is HAL's private island. HAL and Carnival currently make stops her. Amazing beach and water. The crew comes off the ship so you can buy drinks and simply put it on your shipboard account. They offer a big barbecue lunch - hotdogs, hamburgers, salads, BBQ chicken, ribs, shrimp, etc. This is my favorite beach of all time.
Although there was a mix of passengers, the demographic definitely skewed towards older passengers. Due to spring break, there were more children onboard then usual but less than you would see on CCL or RCI.
As a travel agent myself, I would recommend to experienced cruisers/travelers, older clientele, clientele looking for a quieter ship with fewer children, or clientele looking for an upper-scale experience.
Gratuities of $11 day/ pp charged to your account.
Stayed at Crowne Plaza Hollywood Beach pre-cruise. Across the street from beach, great pool, contemporary dEcor. Not too far from Sawgrass Mills. Would recommend if you have a car as there are few restaurants in area. Great Mexican place nearby - Paquitos.