Let me start by saying that it's been 20 years since I've cruised, so I've pretty much forgotten everything from back then. At any rate, here are my comments on my 7-day Southern Caribbean cruise aboard the Westerdam, which I'll divide into categories. Here goes!
PRE-CRUISE: The Southwest flight from Midway to Ft. Lauderdale wasn't bad, except for the part where I overpacked, exceeded the 50 lb. weight limit and ended up having to make a $50 "charitable" donation. I used early-bird check-in and ended up with a boarding position of A22. I stayed at the Renaissance on 17th Street in Ft. Lauderdale. Decent hotel - not the greatest nor the worst. After walking around a bit I picked up some Diet Coke from the Publix in the Harbor Shops. From there I hopped on the Sun Trolley and took a scenic ride down A1A to get a look at the beach area, after which I got off right near my hotel. The front desk staff was very nice and, after asking them for a dinner recommendation, I ended up eating some pretty good eggplant parmigiana at Bravo's, which is located across the parking lot from the hotel. EMBARKATION: This was extremely well-organized. Uniformed HAL staff were everywhere, directing us where to go and what to have ready. We did have about a half-hour wait in the boarding lounge, but the boarding process also went pretty smoothly once we were given the green light.
THE SHIP AND CABIN: Very pretty public areas and some nice Christmas decorations. I did get to experience the torn rattan balcony furniture that had been brought up in previous posts and reviews first-hand. I called guest services to see if I could swap it with some furniture from another balcony that wasn't in use, but was told that the ship was sailing at full capacity and it wasn't possible. Oh well, no big deal. There were many times when it was too windy to use my starboard balcony anyhow -- perhaps because the balconies on the upper promenade deck where my cabin was are slightly bigger and thus more exposed. I think that it probably isn't a necessity for me to have one unless I cruise to Alaska. The cabin was more than adequate. More closet space than what I was expecting (I was only one person but used both closets - go figure!) with the extra bonus of the shelves behind the third door and sufficient under-bed storage space for luggage. The shelf under the bathroom sink was a handy catch-all. I just wish I didn't have to step so high (I'm "vertically challenged") to get into the bathtub. The bed was very comfy and the air conditioning worked just fine - both which made for good sleeping.
FOOD: Very good on the whole. I didn't eat quite as much as I had anticipated. Although mostly everything was good, there weren't all that many standouts except for the chocolate croissants (addiction!). The bone-in ribeye steak at the Pinnacle Grill specialty restaurant was also very good, although there was much more meat than any one person should be able to eat in one sitting (too bad they didn't have doggie bags). The chocolate volcano cake at that same meal was also particularly good. Generally I agree with those who mention desserts as not being Holland America's strong suit, although the marble cake at afternoon tea (to which I managed to go twice) was moist and yummy. I never did make it up to the lido for late-night snacks, so I can't comment on their quality. Being a confirmed chocoholic, I was slightly disappointed that there wasn't a chocolate or dessert extravaganza during this cruise.
ENTERTAINMENT: The production shows were extremely well-done. The performers were very energetic and talented (especially the male and female lead singers), and the costumes and sets were gorgeous. I don't know if it was because it was the first week that the cast was on the ship and there was another show that was still being rehearsed, but we ended up getting a double dose of Joel Mason (tributes to Elton John and The Eagles). On the remaining nights the headliners were comedienne Julie Barr and magician/comic Greg Buss. They were both pretty good, although I was a bit disappointed that Julie didn't do her own late-night show as has been mentioned in other reviews. In addition I hung out at the piano bar and did some karaoke. I never did get to check out the Neptunes (dancing music) and only heard The Adagio Strings (classical) in passing. The one negative is that there were some entertainment staff that were out sick for the first few days, so some entertainment activities were run by substitutes and nobody bothered to inform us that there was nobody available to host The Ultimate Game Show on (I think it was) the first night, so there we were sitting in the Queen's Lounge twiddling our thumbs. I finally got up and left.
ACTIVITIES: Daytime activities are somewhat important for me since I'm not one for sunning by the pool all day, so I have to say thank goodness for trivia, or I might have been really bored. I don't know what I was hoping for, but there didn't seem to be all that much to do during the day. Of course this wasn't as much of a problem on port days.
SHORE EXCURSIONS: I probably picked all the wrong ones, but I thought they were kind of lame. My excursion in Aruba included a trip to the aloe factory, which I didn't think was that big of a deal. The trolley train in Curacao was kind of ho-hum as well. I will say that my disappointment might have been colored by the fact that my camera battery ran out in Aruba and, when I did have a working camera in Curacao, I was sitting on the wrong side of the trolley for picture taking. Half Moon Cay was gorgeous and the barbecue lunch was pretty good, too.
SERVICE: This is where Holland America shines. The Indonesian crew is VERY gracious and will just about always greet you with a smile. Except for a small miscommunication in the beginning regarding my in-cabin bathrobe, my room steward team did an excellent job. Service in the main dining room was generally good, although it could be a bit spotty. I had open seating, so there were times when the service was prompt and efficient and then there were a couple other times when dinner took more than two hours. I do have to mention that one day during breakfast in the main dining room I had asked for a chocolate croissant and the waiter told me they were all out. He must have taken note of my crestfallen expression, because a few minutes later he somehow conjured one up for me, making this chocolate croissant addict a happy camper!
DISEMBARKATION: Once again, a breeze. My flight wasn't until 1:40, so I was in one of the last groups. Things were going so smoothly that they were 15 minutes ahead of schedule. It got to the point where our cruise director, Keith, was practically begging people to leave so the ship could be officially cleared.
IN CLOSING: All in all, a good experience. I'll try to find more interesting shore excursions next time and hunt down some shade so I can hang out by the pool more than I did. I almost forgot - prior to bingo on the last day they sold chances for a drawing for a free 7-day Caribbean cruise. Guess who won? That's right, me! So I will definitely be sailing on Holland America at least one more time.