I booked this cruise less than 3 weeks before sailing. I was vacationing on the West Coast and decided to hop on a reposition of a ship leaving Alaska headed for the Caribbean. This was my first trip through the Panama Canal and I was looking for a cruise that had a great itinerary and that would end in FL where I live. Because of a scheduling conflict, I was not able to book a departure from Seattle, but instead we had to fly down to San Diego to start the cruise. For whatever reason, Holland America didn't give us any break at all on price for selecting this 18-day voyage, as the price from Seattle for the 21-voyage was the same. I was traveling with my friend from Seattle. It was my first trip through the Pamama Canal, and my friend's 3rd voyage. This was also my 9th HAL voyage, and 18th cruise overall. I have traveled on Princess, NCL, RCCL, and Azamara.
Our early morning flight down to San Diego was uneventful and we arrived in plenty of time to take the inexpensive public bus right to the cruise ship terminal. Two other cruise ships were in port along with the Westerdam. Embarkation was very quick, no lines, and we were checked-in and onboard before 12 noon.
We had an inside cabin in the aft of the ship. We liked this location because we were very close to the lido dining and pool area. The stateroom was a good size, there was plenty of storage room for clothing, but the room lacked drawer space, especially at the desk. There was a nice flat-screen TV that we used sporadically, turning it on to get views from the ship's video Cam. The bathroom was an adequate size and everything worked as it should during our voyage. The room also had a small frig that we used quite a bit. Our stateroom steward was very efficient and friendly. He and his assistant introduced themselves within minutes of check-in. He removed all the contents of the mini-bar and bottled waters on the desk as instructed. This gave us a bit more room to work on the desk with my laptop. The room was always cleaned and in good order each day and evening thanks to our cabin stewards.
This is a Vista class ship, and a nice size for getting from point A to point B without spending too much time in transit, but large enough so that you never feel too confined. There are many bars and lounges suitable for informal gatherings. We especially liked the lounge off the main dining room where there was classical violin quartet playing each night, and even tea served on those days when the main dining room was closed. We also attended several parties and meetings in the Piano Bar, that was suitable for groups up to 40 persons. There are plenty of shops on the ship. The Digital Workshop on the ship, sponsored by Microsoft, was a real treat. It was also a very popular room and could have used even more computers and space for classes. The dining room is similar to most other HAL ships with two levels connected by a spiral staircase. The main entertainment theatre was spacious, but still retained some intimacy. The stage is large enough to host the largest professional productions. The front desk, shore-excursion desk, and future cruise desk were conveniently located at the bottom of the atrium. The Crowsnest Lounge was very busy with activities day and night. It had a fantastic view out the bow of the ship. The lounge was oddly attached to the library and Internet station, so you would rarely find a quiet place to read or work if using the Internet or library.
Some of the aspects of the ship we really enjoyed included the friendliness of the crew and staff working the front desk, dining room, housekeeping, travel guide, digital workshop, port lecturer, and hotel manager. We made quick friends with many of these individuals, and it really made our trip special. We enjoyed tea every afternoon, violin music around dinner time, and late night snacks at the Lido, including ice cream.
Unfortunately, we also had several things happen on the ship that we found particularly disappointing. We had fixed main dining on the upper level, at a nice table for 6 next to a window. On several evenings, we experienced long delays in food service, sub-standard entrees, and many times just told that the kitchen had run out of food ordered over an hour before. We missed evening entertainment in the theatre after dinner several times because of the problems the kitchen had in servicing our area of the dining room. Finally, after numerous disappointing meals, all 6 of us switched to a table down in the Open Dining level and were not disappointed with the meals or service provided. The head waiter and assistant dining manager made sure we had the best experience possible, as we were able to reserve the same table and waiter for the rest of the voyage.
We really enjoyed all of the guest entertainers on the ship. Even the dancers from the ship's entertainment staff were excellent. However, the vocalist from the ship's staff were not up to professional standards. The lead male singer was so bad, that I asked one of the dancers if he had lost his voice. Apparently he was singing well outside his range, and it was very evident and distracting to the point that it adversely impacted the enjoyment of the main shows. Fortunately, the ship's entertainers put on only 2 shows during our 18-day cruise.
A major disappointment with the ship concerned the Lido aft deck and pool area. We like to hit the pool late in the afternoon after a long day of touring onshore. The main lido pool was not appealing to us because the space is too stuff and warm and smoky at times. The aft pool was perfectly located from our cabin, so that we could get there and back in just a few seconds. Unfortunately, the aft deck was also directly downwind from the ship's engine stacks, and on several occasions, the worst being in Santa Marta, Colombia, and on every night, fly ash from the stacks would rain down on the aft deck and pool area, making it filthy and unsuitable for recreation. To further magnify the problem, the pool was left contaminated with stack emissions for days without changing the water and cleaning the area, even after several complaints were made. Friends that had an aft balcony directly under the Lido deck had fly ash land on their deck every night. When I took this complain up with the Environmental Officer, he pointed out that it was not within his duties and that the ship was meeting or exceeding all applicable standards. We were not able to use the aft pool the last 6 days of our cruise.
To HAL's credit, after I filled out the survey at the end of our cruise, and sent a couple of letter's directly to Guest Relations in Seattle, I did receive indications that the company would look into the problems that we experienced on the ship, and they did offer us some compensation. Until some of the problems on the Westerdam are corrected, I probably would not choose to sail on her again.