We cruised on the Westerdam Feb 7-14, 2010. Overall a fairly good cruise, but it had certainly gone downhill since we sailed on her in 2007.
Day 1-Sunday: Embarkation—fairly fast, and well done. We drove from Tampa to Ft. Lauderdale on Saturday and stayed at the Rodeway Inn near the port; we had booked this thru Stay123.com so we could leave our car there. Very expensive at $215 because it was super bowl weekend, but we had a nice room and they took us to the port on Sunday morning and provided transportation when we returned, so no real complaints there. We were taken to the port about 10:45 AM, and HAL opened the doors at 11. We were about 25th in line, and were really surprised when we got in the terminal and there were 400-500 people waiting to get on the ship. We later learned that these people had been on the ship the week before and were doing a back-to-back cruise. I do not know why HAL makes you get off the ship and then get back on, but many of those people were ticked off at that process. Embarkation went smoothly and we were on board by 11:45 AM.
Since we are Mariners, we got a special luncheon in the Vista dining room when we got on the ship; nice touch but most of the ship's passengers were Mariners. It was an Indonesian luncheon and very spicy. They only had an hour time frame, so if you boarded later, you were out of luck.
We did not have a good cabin steward; only had one towel and no ice in the room when we were able to get to our cabin about 1:30 PM. He was normally late in making up our cabin all week, and I had to continuously ask for ice since he seldom provided it. I finally followed him to the ice station (which is behind a stainless steel door on most decks) and I got my own ice after that.
Life boat drill—better than the Carnival Inspiration that we went on in Dec, but not great if you have never been on a ship before. When they blow the whistle, you go to your station, WITHOUT your life jacket, and they explain the process to you. On Carnival, you went to a lounge, which, in my opinion was plain stupid. I sure am not going to a lounge when the ship is sinking. Anyway, the process went fairly smoothly. I am surprised that the coast guard allows this since first time cruisers probably do not know the proper way to put on a life jacket. You learn by doing, not by watching.
Dinner the first night was a disaster; seemed that the dining room staff had no clue as to who was supposed to do what. We opted for anytime seating and requested a table for two. They must have had a major problem, because some of the head waiters and maitre'd got into the process, and we were finally served dinner (took over 2 hours to complete dinner). After the first night things got much better. We normally ate between 5:15 and 5:30, so we arrived before the first seating at 5:45. I would guess that 200 plus passengers did the same thing.
The liquor store had a free tasting from 6:30-10; you got almost enough in a little cup to taste!! The liquor prices were much higher than when we went on Carnival in December. For example, Cruzan coconut rum was 3/$24 on Carnival, and 2/$21.99 on HAL. You can still do better at St Maarten.
Day 2- at sea:
Breakfast on HAL is much better than Carnival; far more selections. We ate lunch at the Lido buffet, and during the entire cruise it was good. The seafood selections varied from great to overcooked, but you had a lot of choices. Ice cream selections were great, and they furnished a banana liquor for free that you could pour over your ice cream!
We went to a cruisecritic.com meeting and it gave us an opportunity to meet other cruisers. Joanie had arranged this and we got to meet some nice folks. HAL furnished tea, coffee, and water, but HAL scheduled this for the Crows Nest when they were having a bingo game, so the noise level was bad. It was difficult to talk when the bingo caller was blasting away on a PA system. Celebrity did a much better job of this than HAL did. Hope you are listening, HAL.
Art auction: Park West seems to have a monopoly on these; free champagne, but certainly no deals on the art. You can do a lot better online at some of the auction sites like ebay or bidz (but they don't give you free champagne!).
Day 2 was the first formal night, and most everyone dressed according to code—ties and jackets for the men and dresses or semi-formal outfits for the women. There are always some clods who don't dress properly, but much less than the last Carnival ship we were on.
On most every cruise we have been on (over 25), on the first formal night the ship has a captain's party for about an hour before the first formal dinner, where they give you free drinks and snacks. Not so this time: they had a "Captain's champagne toast" for 15 minutes before the first show. So the first one was at 7:45 pm before the show at 8 pm. My tip: get there at 7:15 pm, and you can drink free champagne for an extra 30 minutes!! You have to go get it, but it is worth it. The HAL singers and dancers were fantastic. The piano bar was great, but crowded, and hard to get a seat.
A guitarist, Zack, played from 7-9 at the Crows Nest, and he was fantastic.
Day 3—Grand Turk
Not much to do at GT; Carnival built the pier and the village; ok beach with lots of lounge chairs, but a so-so beach if you are used to Florida beaches. The shops were way overpriced (i.e.—a t-shirt was $19 vs. 4 for $10 at St. Maarten). Liquor prices were slightly less than the ship; if you take a picture of the price on shore, the ship will match it if they carry that brand.
Day 4- San Juan
We arrived about 11:30 am, and we were allowed to go to the bow of the ship to watch the ship go into port—nice touch—and if you can do that, do it. Great view of the fort El Morro.
There was supposed to be a golf putting contest at 2 pm—very stupid since most people were in port; wake up HAL.
Don't pay the high price of the walking tour of Old San Juan or the other tour. Get an AAA book and they tell you how to go on the walking tour. Or take the free trolley which takes you around Old San Juan for FREE! There are 3 different tours, depending on where you want to go. We opted for the open-air trolley that takes you by the two forts and brings you back to the stop at Pier 4. You can go online and find these pretty easily. You can get off at any stop (and there are 20 some of them) and then re-board when the trolley comes back around. We opted to stay on the trolley the entire time (which took less than an hour). HAL won't tell you any of this because they want you to book the high priced tours.
When you get back on board at San Juan, the security is in the terminal, not on the ship. There is a duty-free liquor store in the terminal where you can buy booze at really cheap prices. At least on this cruise you can go thru security and they don't care what you put thru the scanner! Sure HAL will fix this, but some of you may take advantage of it!
Day 5- St. Maarten
Our favorite island—friendly people and lots to do, plus super cheap prices on things like booze, hats, and bags. We did not price jewelry, so cannot comment on that; normally it is cheaper in St Thomas, but we did not go there. We bought some rum at St Maarten, and HAL took it from us when we got back on the ship—no problem since that is their stated policy. We got it back the last day of the cruise.
HAL has another golf putting contest when we were on shore—dumb move HAL.
Day 6—at sea
HAL had a Mariners luncheon—nice touch-you got one glass of champagne, and if you wanted more, you had to pay for it. For the people that had done a back-to-back cruise the week before you only got one of these luncheons—pretty cheap for HAL—an "F" for that—that is a failing grade HAL, if you are listening.
This was the second formal night—much like the first one. Dinner was great with excellent filet mignon and lobster tail.
Seas were very rough with 15 ft swells; the captain had to put out the stabilizers it was so rough. Fortunately we are not prone to get sea sick; others were not so lucky.
Day 7—Half Moon Cay
Because of really bad weather the captain decided not to anchor out at this private island—a wise decision in my opinion since we had 15 foot seas and 40-45 mph winds, plus it was only in the 60's. We then proceeded very slowly back to Ft Lauderdale and I don't think the captain had any choice because of the safety of the passengers and ship. We were not far from Nassau, and I think we should have been allowed to dock there, but my guess is that HAL did not want to pay the port charges to dock there. We then proceeded very slowly back to Ft Lauderdale.
We did get a free glass of champagne at dinner plus a refund of $14 for the port taxes since we did not go to this port—nice touch.
1. The TV channels were very limited; we watched the super bowl, and they only showed ESPN ads—not any of the Bud Light or other good ads. I don't know why they did that, but it sucked. 2. Steaks were excellent, but the seafood was sometimes good and sometimes horrible. I ordered grilled tuna one night and I should have brought my hack saw to cut it! I then ordered salmon and half was undercooked and half was ok. 3. Debarkation was great—best I have seen if you choose to have them take your bags off for you. You get a color and numbered code, and you get off the ship at a pre-assigned time—they don't announce it, but it worked very well. Our debarkation time was 8:30-8:45, and we proceeded off ship to the terminal with ease. We found our bags and were ready to leave by 8:50 am. 4. You can also opt to carry your own bags off like Carnival does, but I could not find that in HAL's literature. If you do that, you can get priority debarkation. 5. HAL has the best booze policy of any cruise line. You can take any amount of wine or champagne on board, but not liquor. They also have a policy that is not on their web site (or at least I couldn't find it) that if you buy wine or champagne in a port, you can also bring it on board. There is a sign when you get off the ship at the ports that says that. 6. Overall, we would give this trip a grade of 3 on a 1-5 scale, which is what most cruisecritic.com ratings are. I do not know if this is because Carnival bought HAL or not, but is was not nearly as good as when we sailed on her 3 years ago. 7. You can not get trays to carry your food on at the Lido buffet. One waiter told us that was because people were dropping their trays. As a result you had to make several trips to your table—a major pain in the rear. That may be true, but I think it is because HAL saves money by not having to wash trays. 8. HAL has increased the tips from $10 to $11 a day. HAL, why don't you pay your employees rather than having the passengers pay it for you—are you listening, HAL? Probably not. 9. Most ships have the daily newsletter in a time format; not HAL this time. It was very confusing trying to determine what was going on when. They had four basic categories: Explorations, Culinary Arts, Digital Workshop, and The Greenhouse, and listed items by category, and then by time—a major pain in my opinion. HAL, follow Carnival's format, please. 10. Time in ports: 7am-2pm at Grand Turk; way too long in my opinion since there was little to do there. San Juan, PR: 12 noon - 8pm; way too long; should cut it off at 6 pm. Philipsburg: 7am-3pm—the length of time is ok, but not the timing because the shops don't open until 9 or 10 am, and neither do the casinos. Half Moon Cay: 8am-4pm—way too long since there is not much to do there. We did not stop because of the weather. Why not spend more time in ports like St Maarten where there is something to do rather than Carnival-HAL's private island? Got to be a matter of money—not in the passenger's favor, but HAL's. 11. Definitely an older passenger group, which was ok with us since we are in our 60's. Very few kids onboard, which you would expect this time of year when kids are supposed to be in school. We were told that the average age was 70, but this was by a passenger, not by HAL. We had never seen so many people with canes, walkers, scooters, or wheelchairs; my hat is off to those folks since they are still able to travel. I hope we are able to do so when we are in our 80's, like these folks were. 12. Linens and towels—excellent; the Egyptian cotton bath towels were 3 feet by 5 feet! 13. Our cabin was on deck 4 forward on the port side. You get the best view going into San Juan, St Maarten, and Grand Turk if you are on the port side. Our balcony was 2 feet deeper than balconies on higher decks. However the lower panel was steel, not glass like the higher cabins, so you had to stand up to see the sea. The lower part of ours was rusty—hopefully HAL will fix this. 14. We opted to buy a wine card for $41.40 that was good for 10 glasses of house wine. That is cheaper than buying individual glasses of wine, and the wine was pretty good. 15. I think HAL could do a much better job of planning activities that don't conflict with the times most people go ashore. I mentioned the 2 golf tournys held while the ship was in port. The first night they held a wine tasting at 6 pm, and we left port at 5 pm—that was a major conflict with people either at dinner or getting ready for dinner. I do not know who is responsible for this absurd planning, but my best guess is the cruise director. 16. Photos-There did not seem to be as many photographers in your face like the last Carnival ship we went on, and we liked that. The photos are very expensive, and we opted not to buy any. 17. Cabin: Category VF, port side forward, verandah. Lots of closet space, and storage under the bed(2 drawers), plus you could slide your luggage under the bed. The cabin had a love seat which was not comfortable to sit on, a chair and a stool that was under the small vanity. Bath was nice with a shower in the tub, vanity, and toilet. Difficult to control the temperature of the A/C, and there was no adjustment to the fan speed. A/C was very noisy--I finally put in earplugs so I could go to sleep. Bad design of the tub; it needed a higher lip so the water would not get on the floor when you are taking a shower. Fortunately there is a drain on the floor. After the first shower where I flooded the bath, I built a little dam with the shower curtain at the back of the tub, so the water would not get on the floor of the bath. Overall a nice cabin. Unfortunately the cabin steward was not very good.
17. Cabin: Category VF, port side forward, verandah. Lots of closet space, and storage under the bed(2 drawers), plus you could slide your luggage under the bed. The cabin had a love seat which was not comfortable to sit on, a chair and a stool that was under the small vanity. Bath was nice with a shower in the tub, vanity, and toilet. Difficult to control the temperature of the A/C, and there was no adjustment to the fan speed. A/C was very noisy--I finally put in earplugs so I could go to sleep. Bad design of the tub; it needed a higher lip so the water would not get on the floor when you are taking a shower. Fortunately there is a drain on the floor. After the first shower where I flooded the bath, I built a little dam with the shower curtain at the back of the tub, so the water would not get on the floor of the bath. Overall a nice cabin. Unfortunately the cabin steward was not very good.