A FIVE STAR EXPERIENCE ONBOAD THE WESTERDAM.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION. We are a party of three well-traveled individuals; DH and DW (60) and DS (20). We chose the Westerdam for an Eastern Caribbean cruise based on our previous positive experiences with Holland America. This review compares the Westerdam with our 14 previous cruises on Cunard, Holland America, Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises.
EURODAM 7-DAY EASTERN CARIBBEAN. Departure date: 03/19/2010. Itinerary: Fort Lauderdale, At Sea, Grand Turk, San Juan, Saint Maarten, At Sea, Half Moon Cay, Fort Lauderdale.
PRE-CRUISE. Hyatt Regency Pier 66. We recommend that any travel to the port of embarkation be completed a least one day before the cruise.
EMBARKATION PROCESS. We arrived at Pier 26 at 10:15am. After giving our baggage to a porter, the check-in process took less than 15 minutes. This was one of the most efficient embarkation processes we have experienced to date.
NOROVIRUS. Our sailing began with Norovirus precautions in effect (not a fully implicated Code Red). Self-service was not allowed in the Lido Restaurant on embarkation day. We first noticed the precautions because the beverage stations were roped off to prevent passengers from pouring their own water or coffee. Instead, crewmembers stood inside the rope to hand passengers their requests. The taco and salad bar by the pool was also roped off with extra crew to make tacos and salads from a distance. Additionally, crewmembers handed out all silverware and plates; passengers were not allowed to pick up their own silverware. These precautions continued for the first two days until the captain announced that the ship would go into full Code Red procedures due to a Norovirus outbreak. At this point, all saltshakers, peppershakers and sweetener packets were removed from the tables in the Lido Restaurant. Clear plastic sheeting was placed over the buffet guards to assist in the containment of viral particles. Breadbaskets were removed in the Vista Dining Room. Salt, pepper, sugar packets and milk and cream for coffee were provided only by request. Sanitization was increased all around the ship, including in staterooms. Elevator buttons, railings and tables were repeatedly sprayed with a strong virucide disinfectant that left an obvious residue. Hand sanitizing was required before entering restaurants, when re-boarding the ship and before and after entering the shopping arcade. We observed the cleaning of a quarantined cabin in which crewmembers wore full respiratory masks and placed soiled linens in special plastic bags. According to the Front Office, about 40-45 passengers reported illness, less than 2.5% of all passengers. We appreciated all of these precautions and did not get sick. The Code Red was lifted approximately 36 hours before the completion of the cruise. We always bring Lysol Series III with us on cruises to disinfect the cabin twice a day. According to the product label, Lysol Series III has been proven to kill Norovirus when used correctly.
SHIP CONDITION. The Westerdam was built in 2004 and is in good condition. Shore-side carpenters were onboard on embarkation day to replace the carpeting in the hallway of the Explorer's Lounge. There are no visible signs of wear on the ship except for worn down elevator buttons.
NEWSMAX MEDIA. This group of 350 people was onboard during our cruise. We were very disappointed by the way this group took over the ship. The main pool, the theatre, and the Crow's Nest were repeatedly closed to "regular" passengers for NewsMax Media events. There was a Philadelphia Eagles group on our first Eurodam cruise, which did not reserve public areas or impact our cruise at all. This group was very different. All the members wore name tags, even to the pool and and to the beach to indicate their affiliation. On the second night of the cruise the Maitre'D changed our table assignment to late seating. We were seated with a table of NewsMax Media members on the second deck of the restaurant. Once seated, our table mates asked us why we were sitting with them since we were not "part of the convention." They suggested that we should ask to be reseated. We thought this was horribly rude and promptly walked downstairs to Anytime Dining. We later spoke to two of the entertainers, who said that the NewsMax Media group was very demanding unlike most other groups. We looked to the positive side and forgot about our experience in the dining room.
WESTERDAM DEMOGRAPHICS. Since we have sailed on the Eurodam twice we were aware that HAL caters to a more mature, well-traveled group of individuals. However, the demographics on this particular sailing were much, much older than on either of our Eurodam cruises. We prefer the more laidback shipboard routine that HAL provides so this was not a concern.
SHIPBOARD DÉCOR. The atrium is very quaint and intimate, providing a feeling of exclusivity. The rotating Waterford ship is very nice but we prefer the atrium ceiling of the Eurodam. The Vista Class ships do not have the Silk Den, which was the only disappointment in the ship's layout. The cabin hallways and cabin bulkheads are a light beige color instead of white, providing a more homey feeling.
ACCOMMODATIONS. Our stateroom was large and functional. Everything that was provided had a purpose. Stateroom corridors opened at around 2:00pm on embarkation day, probably due to additional cleaning measures. The cabin had a small sofa with very worn out accent pillows. The bed pillows were very flimsy as well and are in need of replacement. The wicker shoeshine basket provided in the closet was perfect for storing socks. We pre-ordered the plate of 16 hors d'oeuvres and the Bon Voyage floral arrangement to be delivered to the cabin. Both gifts were in the stateroom upon arrival, and both exceeded our expectations.
VISTA DINING ROOM. The quality of the food served in the Vista Dining Room was excellent. The service was good, but noticeably slower than our previous experiences with traditional dining. We were unable to get the late 8pm seating for dinner because of a group of 350 NewsMax Media members booked the entire second deck of the restaurant. This was our first experience with anytime dining, but the experience was not as bad as we had feared. At first, we were very disappointed, but we were able to meet some interesting people and even sat with some twice during the length of the cruise. We usually drink San Pellegrino water with dinner, and because we had difference waiters every night, the waiters would forget and pour flat water in our Pellegrino water.
DRESS CODE ADHERENCE. Formal nights were on the sea days. Adherence was probably 85%-90%.
THE PINNACLE GRILL RESTAURANT. We did not dine in the Pinnacle Grill Restaurant because the Vista Dining Room sufficiently suited our needs.
LIDO RESTAURANT BUFFET. The Lido Restaurant was noticeably less crowded than on the Eurodam. Plenty of tables were always available, even on embarkation day. The tables were also spaced with wider walkways than on the Eurodam. Fruit punch was available all day for free at the beverage stations, a touch we have not seen in years.
GENERAL ONBOARD SERVICE. The general service onboard was very good. Our cabin stewards called us by our last name a few times. Something as simple as remembering your name really makes a difference on a cruise. As mentioned before, dining room service was slower in anytime dining than in all of our other experiences in traditional dining over the years.
PORTS OF CALL. We were so pleased to make port calls in Grand Turk and Half Moon Cay. We missed Grand Turk last March, and missed Half Moon Cay in December. It was nice to visit Saint Maarten again instead of the typical Saint Thomas. The captain opened the bow to passengers for the arrival to San Juan. A bar was placed on the bow for passenger comfort.
WEATHER AND SEA CONDITIONS. The weather was wonderful all week. The ship wasn't affected by waves of more than 6 feet, so the ride was very smooth. The only significant movement occurred in the Straights of Florida.
ENTERTAINMENT AND SHOWTIME. The two production shows, Stage and Screen and Grand Tour were very good. However, we missed having three full-length production shows as we did on the Eurodam. To make up for the third show, a Broadway Hits night was held in the Queens Lounge called "Broadway Moves to Queens." In this show, the four singers performed the well-known Broadway hits. It was most enjoyable! The four singers that are currently on the Westerdam: Jonathan Hawkins, Robert Byrd, Rebekah Steenkampe and Jenna O'Boyle are among the best performers we have seen in years of cruising. Most of the current singers and dancers are freshly out of college by two or three years and are fun and very entertaining. It's obvious that the singers and dancers have one of the most glamorous shipboard jobs. Unlike other crewmembers they are free to use most passenger spaces during non-peak times of the day.
JOEL MASON: Do not miss the headliner show with Joel Mason! He is the single best performer we have ever seen onboard a cruise ship. He does an Elton John Tribute show and a Tribute to the Eagles show. He is a true entertainer and is incredible. In addition to the Tribute show, the Farewell Variety Show was the best show we had ever seen outside of Las Vegas and New York City. The Farewell Variety Show was centered on Joel Mason, but creatively included performances from all four singers, most of the dancers and the other two headliner entertainers. This show was the most creative and integrated show we have seen and was certainly not the usual recap show where each performer plays for 15 minutes. Even the captain had a part in the show by means of the public address system.
SHIP SIZE. We love the size of the Westerdam. We think that ships of 85,000 GRT are perfect, as they are large enough to include all the amenities of the large ships, but with fewer passengers. Pool towels aren't strictly regulated and the ship is small enough to see some passengers more than once. The only disappointment, as said before, was the missing Silk Den.
SMOKING POLICY. The guests who chose to smoke onboard were very considerate of Holland America's smoking policy. With the exception of the casino and the piano bar, we did not notice the smell of cigarette smoke in the public rooms.
SHIPBOARD HINTS. The only areas of the ship that remain busy after 11:00pm are the casino, the sports bar and the Northern Lights. Occasionally the Piano Bar would be open until midnight, which was fun. Music in the Ocean Bar and the Explorer's Lounge would stop at 11:00pm. The Promenade Deck is a great place to sit and read in the shade.
DISEMBARKATION PROCESS. We chose expedited disembarkation, along with 100 other passengers. We were off the ship by 8:30am. No lines, no waiting, just up and out!
CAPTAIN HENK KEIJER. Captain Henk Keijer extremely professional but was not present in the public areas of the ship as was Captain Jonathan Mercer of the Eurodam. Announcements were given at 1:30pm each day and when sailing from from a port of call.
CRUISE DIRECTOR MATT ALLEN. Cruise director Matt Allen was very disappointing. He was very unprofessional and has horrible diction and grammar. He made so many mistakes on the public address system that we repeatedly shook our heads. We have never experienced a cruise director like Matt Allen. Usually we would never even think to comment about the cruise director, but this cruise director was the exception to every past cruise director we have had. He began his career as an elementary school teacher and some how ended up as a cruise director in a few short years.
THE BOTTOM LINE. We loved our trip on the Westerdam, and the value of the cruise could not be beat. This cruise was one of our most enjoyable vacations ever. We always travel with an open mind, not expecting the Ritz Carlton, but not expecting the Hampton Inn either. Westerdam more than satisfied our needs for an Eastern Caribbean cruise on a mass market/premium cruise line. It is obvious that Holland America Line is not a luxury line, but HAL does provides some special touches that make you feel like more than just a number. There is a huge difference between a cruise ship with a 3,700 guests, a rock climbing wall and an ice skating rink, and a cruise ship with a 1,800 guests, a intimate lobby and quaint public rooms. We will definitely sail on the Westerdam again!
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