This was our first cruise on HAL; we chose the Westerdam 12/6 sailing because of the southern Caribbean itinerary. The following are some observations and opinions of our experience.
Port: Fort Lauderdale is a great port; the airport is only 15 minutes away and there are many hotels to choose from for a pre-cruise visit. We stayed at the Westin, which is convenient; there is a terrific restaurant called Casablanca two blocks away.
Embarkation: we arrived at the ship at 1:30 PM and were in our room in less than 15 minutes. If you can resist the urge to board early, this is much easier than check-in lines and waiting for your room to be prepared.
Cabin: we booked an SY cabin (#6058). What a great value; the room is a nice size with a spacious bathroom and balcony. My wife really enjoyed the whirlpool bath and appreciated the shelf under the double sink for storing her cosmetics. The room was a little worn and the carpet stained but these issues were easily overlooked; the bedding was very nice.
Food: the absolute best of any of cruise we have been on. The MDR entrEes are tasty, fresh and very appetizing. We normally do not care for the Lido type dining but the food in this venue is also outstanding. There are many choices for meals and snacks, which are prepared to order and very tasty. We did not have one thing in the entire week that we did not thoroughly enjoy; even the coffee and juice is great. We also appreciated the fact that HAL allows passengers to bring their own wine onboard.
Crew: most were cheerful, competent and eager to please. Our room attendant was excellent. The only disappointment was the dining room service. In general, the MDR staff is disorganized and service is very uneven. The open seating did not work well; arriving at 7:30 PM one evening resulted in a 45-minute wait. Other lines, particularly NCL, do this concept much better. However one evening when we arrived close to 9:00 PM, we were promptly seated and the service was very attentive. I am not sure but one reason for the long waits could be that the dining room is under-staffed; regardless it is a weak point. One thing we really appreciated is the crew is not constantly pressuring you to buy drinks, sticking a camera in your face or pushing jewelry and souvenirs.
Casino: the casino staff is cheerful and well trained on table games. No issues with keeping the craps table moving and making payouts correctly. The casino is small and like all of them, poorly ventilated and reeked of smoke. We did not care for the slot process, which involves inserting your room card for payouts and charges.
Spa: my wife and I loved the spa and unlike other cruise lines, the staff does not use high pressure techniques to push over-priced products and services. They are very professional and well trained.
Entertainment: we went to a couple of shows and several music venues and all were good. We loved the "Stage and Screen" show; the cast is energetic and very talented. The Vista Lounge is also a nice venue; you do not feel crowded and crammed into a little seat. Ship: the dEcor is understated and reminiscent of older, more traditional style vessels. If you are looking for the 8 story chrome and glass atrium, shopping malls and pubs, this is not the ship for you.
Ports: Half Moon Cay is incredible; the beach is beautiful, the food excellent and there is plenty to do to fill up your day. Aruba - we dined on Eagle Beach at sunset at a unique restaurant called Passions. It was a memorable experience and the food was also very good. Curacao is also a great port with plenty to do and very scenic. Fellow passengers: I expected an older crowd but was really surprised by how much older everyone appeared to be. Some were very cranky, seemed to complain about every minor detail and were abusive and very rude to the crew. It is amazing that these people can endure such poor treatment and still keep smiling. Disembarkation: incredibly efficient; it only took 30 minutes from the time we left our room to clear security at the airport; it enabled us to catch an 11:00 AM flight back to DFW.
We really enjoyed our time on the Westerdam; HAL does all of the important things right.