Wonderful Westerdam ~ relaxing Spring Break Family Cruise
My family and I sailed on HAL's Zaandam in 2005 and we swore would never sail with HAL again. On that cruise, the service on the ship was horrible ~ we were ignored at dinner and the rest of the crew was down-right rude. We think it had something to do with the "automatic" tipping policy that had just been rolled out and felt completely disappointed in that cruise. After much debating and angst, we booked this cruise 100% due to the itinerary. I am IN LOVE with Half Moon Cay, and we had never been to Aruba or Curacao. No other cruise line offered this itinerary during Spring Break and we could not pass it up. We just set our minds to expect rude service ~ and boy, were we wrong! We were BLOWN AWAY by exceptional service all week long!
We drove into Ft. Lauderdale the day before and stayed at a local hotel. We arrived at the port as soon as the gates opened and easily found a parking space in the garage across the street from the terminal. There were only a handful of people ahead of us in line. Embarkation was a breeze. We were glad they didn't "make" us take the boarding photo ~ we always grumble about that! HAL has it figured out: 2 lines to board ~ 1 for those getting their picture taken and 1 for those of us who can't wait another minute to be "officially" on vacation. To us, our cruise vacation starts when the keys, purse, wallets and cell phones get stashed in the cabin safe. Ahhhh ~ now we can relax!
Everything about this ship is amazing. The crew. The service. The ship itself. The food ~ ahhh, the wonderful food! The Pinnacle Grill was so fantastic we ate there twice. Divine service and food ~ we cannot say enough about how much we enjoyed both meals there. For the other evenings, we were on the "As You Wish" dining plan because the reserved seating was full when we booked our cruise. This was one of the biggest worries we had before the cruise. Again, we were wrong! HAL has this all figured out, also. You can make a "reservation" for a scheduled time or you can just "show up". We did both and we never had to wait more than 2 minuted to be seated. We met new people each night ~ and loved it! The buffet was very good at breakfast, lunch and dinner. The lack of trays and the placement of the drink stations could be improved, but once we got used to the layout of the buffet and figured out which sides had the shorter lines, we were all set! We LOVED the eggs benedict station and the pasta station and the sushi station and the fact that the menu was new every day. Best cruise ship buffet we've experienced. We also loved that the fellow passengers never touched the food in the buffet ~ the servers plated everything. Less germs ~ yea!
Another thing we worried about before the cruise was our cabin. We booked an inside cabin for the first time and it was on the lowest deck. We usually book oceanview or balcony cabins in upper decks. Wow! What a surprise and what a great room! Who needs a window or a balcony when you have a very large SQUARE room? The category J on the bottom deck is the way to go if you like to stretch out when you are in the cabin. We never once had to say "excuse me" when moving about. We would book this category cabin again in a heartbeat. We simply turned the TV cahannel to the "web-cam view" when we were in the cabin and pretended it was a window! We saved $800 by booking an inside compared to a balcony and were glad we did!
What blew us away the most was the crew and the entertainment. Not going to say too much about the Elton John impersonator and the illusionist BECAUSE you've GOTTA see their shows ~ especially the finale on the last night!!! We would have easily paid an entrance fee to each of their shows ~ they were top-rate!!! Now to the crew. Oh, my goodness! We were called by name all week long by our room steward, our servers, the pool-side wait staff, the front desk, and crew members that we couldn't figure out how they even knew our names! How do they remember everyone's names? Amazing! Constant greetings and smiles and courtesy everywhere. Another thing: we felt like we were not nickeled-and-dimed to death. We got more than our money's worth and adjusted the tips higher than the recommended amount.
The itinerary lived up to our expectations! I wish I could move to HMC ~ my heart aches to be there now! We relaxed on the beach all day and swam in the crystal clear water! Aruba was simply lovely ~ we hired a private cab for the day and toured the whole island. After he dropped us off, we ate appetizers at a restaurant/bar located just across the water from the cruise pier. We watched the most amazing sunset we've ever seen before heading back to the ship. In Curacao, we made advanced reservations through Bazz Fun Rentals for a dune buggy tour! What a blast! There was just one other family (in their own 4 seater dune buggy), us (in our own) and the tour guide (the owner, I think) in his own buggy. We went out for a half day trip and it was the most fun we've ever had on an excursion ~ and we know fun! We drove to the remote side of the island, saw amazing sights, stopped at a scary bat cave, drove past the flamingo sanctuary and ended up at a local hidden beach with a secluded cove. There was a small snack stand and we were joined by about 25 locals. The water was amazing! Wish I knew the name of that beach! We also enjoyed taking the long way back to the ship through town. We got so covered with the red clay dirt that we had to go back to the ship to shower after our tour! In the afternoon we walked around town. We found a wonderful small, hole-in-the-wall cheese shop and were treated to a private sampling of cheeses by the owner ~ divine!
Our son loved the kids club. He and a few of the other kids also teamed up for swimming and ping-pong. The pool area was set up so we could relax in our chairs reading and playing Scrabble while keeping an eye on our son and his new friends nearby. Our son is getting to the age and maturity level that we allow him some freedom to move about on his own. On our cruise all of the kids were very well-behaved. I've read some other reviews about kids running and jumping all about, and that was not the case at all on our cruise. We are rather strict and controlling parents and were very pleased that the other kids were as well-behaved as our son. We did encounter a few folks who "scowled" at the very sight of our child. Too bad that we humans can't all get along. Our son loves to interact with people of all kinds and all ages. I think the people who "don't care to be around children" are missing out on a wonderful opportunity learn about the next generation of our planet. After all, these "bothersome people" are going to be their doctors and bankers and lawyers one day! Enough of the soap box ~ just wanted to point out that we did experience a bit of "child discrimination" from a few of the other passengers. No big deal ~ there is enough ship to share!
Lastly, about the ship. We read many reviews that the ship was dark and felt cramped with low ceilings. We humbly disagree. This was the most beautiful ship we have ever sailed on ~ and that includes both the gorgeous Disney ships and the old RCL Nordic Empress, which are very classy ships. The art work is incredible. All the attention to detail and the niches with artifacts and treasures ~ everywhere you turn there is a visual feast for the eyes. The color scheme is dark, but it is wonderfully dramatic and there are so many quiet private areas to sit and enjoy conversation. And it was nice to see that people actually were enjoying and using these areas. So many times on different ships we have seen several public areas go unused all week long. That is not the case with the Westerdam ~ these spaces are inviting and beckon you to sit and enjoy the view or the quiet solitude.
We cannot wait to sail on Westerdam again! By the way ~ we even had a few "mishaps" during the week (like no hot water in our cabin 2 days in a row), that could have put a serious damper on the vacation. We are happy to report that the front desk staff rectified each issue in a timely manner. On a big ship with thousands of people, things are bound to happen. We were very pleased that the Westerdam crew went out of their way to ensure we enjoyed every minute of our cruise vacation!