This is such a simple review. There is no bad or ugly. We are "later 60's" seniors from California and evidently easy to please. This was only my second cruise on HAL, the third for my better half. The most recent previous cruise was Celebrity Solstice in the Med last year in October, a great experience. Previous to that was the Maasdam in June last year, Boston to Montreal, also a great experience.
Having spent two and a half glorious days in London we took the Eurostar train from St Pancras station (beautiful) to Brussels, then Thalys to Rotterdam, the departing port. We spent the night there, as we usually do. It makes for a very relaxed no-rush boarding. Again, as we usually do, we checked out of the Manhattan Hotel at 11 and taxied for ten plus minutes to the port for 12 Euro. Boarding was a non-event, no long waits whatsoever, and we were having lunch in the Lido at noon. Perhaps we are just lucky, but this timing has always worked for us. And YES, I had read the horror stories about boarding in Rotterdam. Not true!
We lunched with new-found friends, having been welcomed to join them at a table for 8. Finding a seat was no problem though many were onboard already. As a new custom, food was served by the ship's staff for the first 48 hours. This, too, was a non-issue. Just point at want you want. It is very quick. Lunch provided the opportunity to evaluate the service staff of mostly Filipino and Indonesian staff. Good grief, incredible! Perfect English, smiling faces, bending over backwards to be of service. This portended of good things to come!
At exactly 1:30 the cabins were available. We immediately encountered our cabin stewards on deck 5, Cabin 5048. Sodig and Harris were delivering our luggage! As I warned, there is no bad or ugly. All is perfect! To say that these two provided superior service would be an understatement. More on that later but, yes, there were animal critters provided each night and impeccable cabin housekeeping. Everything worked as promised, including the A/C, except a "drooping" shower head which was replaced while we were at dinner. Again, great service.
As we did on the Maasdam, we elected "open seating" for dinner. Now I know you won't believe this but we went to dinner every night in the MDR (Vista) at about 6 and never waited (not a minute) when requesting a table for 6 or 8. We enjoy meeting new people and boy did this work. HAL is amazing, given their data base, to seat like people together given age and language. In every instance we were seated at the window overlooking the aft wake or nearly so. We met wonderful people and just flat had a giggle at every dinner. Later in the cruise we managed to hook-up with many of those folks as 6 became the time for chow,
Speaking of chow, hot was hot and cold was cold. We have never had better menus or better food. The service staff, though many, were simply incredible. How is that for a simple review! Of interest was the galley tour we did, more than interesting. I had no idea that HAL is attempting to do "cook-to-order." Perhaps that accounts for our pleasure with the cuisine.
To back up a bit my better half selected this itinerary, a genius move in retrospect. I had not been to any of locations save for Rome. Okay, so I am sheltered! As said, London was wonderful. Never have I met such courteous fun-loving people. We thoroughly enjoyed the play "Deathtrap!" at the Noel Coward Theater. See it! It is terrific. To be honest the train trip to Rotterdam was a struggle for me, having to do with schlepping luggage on and off the trains. I guess I am just to old and tired for that! Once onboard however the trains were wonderful with beautiful views of the country side, excellent food and wine, all gratis. Of interest was Brussels. I smoke (no stones please) so went outside for same where the taxis arrive. We came back inside the terminal with our luggage and found our way to the platform. There were no English signs, no English speaking staff and ZERO security. We literary had a free pass to do bad things. Very scary in my view.
So we shoved off from Rotterdam with great fan fare and headed for Guernsey (St Peters Port) with a booked tour with HAL there. Too good, great value, beautiful, very English driver (and very funny), and a great crab sandwich. It was the "Guernsey Island Drive" in a fairly small bus and highly recommend. The tides there are significant so seeing boats a half mile from the sea sitting on the harbor sand (it was low tide) was remarkable, certainly different than boring old California where we always have access to the sea! Being an airplane guy I found a bonus of watching two biplanes with wing walkers and four Extra 300's flying formation practicing for an air show the next day. The Guernsey air port is beautiful and very busy with small commuter aircraft. Too cool!
Next stop was Brest, France. We booked "Mythical Coast" with HAL. This was a large bus with an excellent tour guide, including the wonderful French accent.. The history was interesting but only included 3 stops for pictures. Again the tide was low and the differential between low and high tide was reported to be 40 plus feet. We couldn't even see the sea from one harbor stop, with hundreds of boats patiently waiting to be "floated" soon. Again, too cool!
After a day at sea we arrived at Lisbon. This was special as a colleague where I work has a sister living there who plays the flute for the Lisbon Symphony Orchestra. It was a very short walk (just across the street) from the ship to the hop-on-hop-off bus booked through Viator. We toured all of beautiful Lisbon before meeting the sister and her 8-year old daughter who is learning the Cello. What great fun, seeing her home and driving about, eventually arriving at a wonderful restaurant I had selected from the internet. There we met her "boyfriend" and had a fabulous Portuguese lunch with a fine local red wine. We walked about, finally entering the opera house through the performer's door, where she plays with the symphony. While the exterior is a bit (very?) common, the interior is gorgeous and particularly the "royal suite."
After another day at sea we arrived at beautiful Cartagena, Spain. Not much was offered there so we took the free shuttle to the city center. It is spotless and quite beautiful, with many excellent shops. Being a bit under the weather required an early return to the ship, but worth the short visit.
Barcelona, Spain, was next. We had booked "Picasso and the Gothic Quarter" with HAL. This is a short bus ride to a fairly long walking tour, including the Picasso Museum where no photos are allowed. Bummer! This is not to be missed if you appreciate art. As I have bum feet the walking was a bit much but I survived and throughly enjoyed old Barcelona.
Do you appreciate absolute wealth? So do I, but have none... Monte Carlo was unbelievable, exactly as I have seen on the TV while watching the Formula 1 race there. We had booked the "Panoramic Riviera" with HAL and had a great tour guide, replete with lots of history. The bus climbed to the top of the adjoining mountain for great views, then on to Eze for a stop. Beautiful by any account with great shops. Then on to Nice, which has become a large problem for me. The better half wonders why I can't buy a villa there... Just for summers of course. This was by far the best tour of the cruise... Absolute beauty and extreme wealth at every turn.
Though the cruise continued for 3 more days we elected to depart the ship in Rome. This required advanced permission from HAL, which was granted after several days. As said, we had done the Med last year and had little interest in departing in Athens. Why you ask? My better half has a new grandchild at home. It was a simple priority, with which I completely concurred. We had lunch onboard and departed in Civitavecchia via a private car (Romecabs) at 2 to spend the night near the airport for an 11 o'clock flight home. Remember Harris, the cabin steward? He caught us coming from our cabin with 4 rolling bags and immediately offered to escort us off the ship. What can I say? Two old (older!) folks with this young man doing the bags all the way to the waiting car at the dock was more than pleasant. Well, I can say this... Harris got a big and well deserved tip!!!
We stayed at the Hilton GARDEN Airport Hotel. I emphasize garden as there are two Hiltons near the airport. This was not a great choice, so I mention it. While they do provide a free shuttle to the airport we found the bland soup for 11 Euro a bit much (other prices to match!) and for 235 Euro a night they provide no bag services (porter?) for the older folks (or anyone else). Well, welcome to Rome. We should have shopped better and the Marriott Park Lane in London was far superior. As a funny aside (so I think), we when checked in, loading our large bags on a cart I found, the elevators didn't work. After suggesting I could not lug the bags up five floors the manager got the elevators working after several minutes. Too funny! Well, or not. Shame on Hilton!!!
There was no more drama, leaving the hotel the following day at 8 by shuttle gave us a relaxed time to the airport for boarding at 11:10 on our United flight to Washington Dulles, then on to Los Angeles. Actually, we missed our first connection at Dulles but got lucky with seats on the next bird out. Be sure to allow at least 2 hours at Dulles if continuing. Thanks to the better half for getting those seats!
In all, we have never had a better trip. The Westerdam was beyond every expectation in all respects... service, food, entertainment (Vista Lounge, usually quite good), DANCING (Ocean Bar with Robert, Zach and Zach) and comfort (that would be the cabin). As I said, no bad. No ugly. Did I mention the weather? Perfect! Thank you HAL (though HAL just got lucky with the weather)!