It is always my desire to give honest reviews, without bias. A review should never be VINDICTIVE. No vacation will ever be perfect, so just because one waiter may have served me the wrong drink doesn't mean the entire staff was bad or that the whole cruise was a disaster because of it. Little inconveniences, accidents or errors in the customer service world will occur everywhere we go in this life, and that's just a fact of life. But when a long list of these inconveniences and errors occur, to the extent that it truly frustrates an entire voyage, then something must be said.
To be fair, there are in fact many good things to be said about the MS Westerdam. For instance, the ship itself is lovely inside. Intricate details are everywhere and truly pleasing to the eye. The glass elevators are wonderful, for those who have the nerve to ride them. The staterooms are attractive. For me, the bed was perfect. Stage performances were well presented. Dining room food is diverse and very tasty - I even tried some things I'd never eaten before, or was certain I'd dislike it, but was delightfully surprised.
But for all that, my overall experience aboard the Westerdam left me anxiously waiting for the cruise to end. We boarded the ship at 11am on Friday and headed for the ship's Lido Restaurant, which is the buffet area. Our troubles began immediately. Unlike the Princess Cruise Line that I had traveled previously, where all of the food is set out in the buffet and everyone serves themselves (thus allowing everyone to move around freely), nearly all of the food in the Westerdam buffet must be served to you by staff, creating very long and very slow lines. What makes it worse is that there is only between one to three staff members working at each buffet at any given time, and because food is often made to order, this completely holds up the line when a guest is overly picky. The server must put everyone else on hold while they cook the picky guest's food. Breakfast and lunch was like this every single day. This made it extremely frustrating because you also have to find an available table to eat at (seating is extremely limited)and you have to get your own drinks at yet another buffet. If you get your coffee first, it will be cold by the time you get your food and find a seat; and if you get your food first, it will be cold by the time you get your drinks.
Incidentally, I was outright REFUSED a diet coke with my breakfast, unless I was willing to leave the buffet room and locate an open bar somewhere on the ship that might provide me one. Dinner in the buffet is only slightly less hectic, since most people are eating in the dining room - though I should mention that on days when we did not, or forgot to, make reservations for the dining room between PRECISELY 8am and 4pm (not a second before or after), our wait time for a table in the dining room exceeded 30 minutes - and when this happens on formal night and your sweating in your suit and there is only two love seats available to sit down (which the women always grab first, and the men are treated as cads for not surrendering it to them), well, it very nearly made us want to quit the dining room altogether and order room service instead. Furthermore, we were not permitted to make dining reservations the night before; so, because we had to be up and off the ship very early for our excursions and returned in the afternoon and got out of our sweat soaked clothes and then bathed, very often we could not call for reservations during the strict designated times.
After that first brunch on the day we boarded, we were scheduled to start the cruise at 5pm. We were to be at sea that evening and all day Saturday, to arrive at Grand Turk Sunday morning. But that's not what happened. As it turned out, the Coast Guard inspection discovered that the back up generator was not functional. The captain announced that we would be delayed two hours while a new one was installed. By 9pm the captain made an announcement: the crane operator was not able to get the generator into the ship and the delay would continue. Now, mind you, this is the exact same week that the CARNIVAL SPLENDER had lost power in the Pacific off the coast of Mexico, leaving the entire crew and guests without working toilets, refrigeration, lights, or air conditioning for several days - and this news was being broadcast on every TV channel and newspaper leading up to the day of our cruise, and we were quite unnerved, to say the least. TWENTY FIVE HOURS LATER, at 12:30pm on Saturday, the Westerdam finally began the voyage. Because of the delay we had to totally bypass Grand Turk and head to our next destination, San Juan Puerto Rico, which we did not reach until Monday morning, by which time I was nearly ready to jump overboard for claustrophobia.
The ship's cruise director made it quite clear in each of his speeches and announcements that he had no interest in hearing about any one's discomfort for any reason whatever and that anyone who was dissatisfied on his perfect ship with his perfect staff must be totally daft. Interestingly enough, he stated that most passengers have reported that the interaction of the staff on a cruise ship is one of the chief keys to the guest's pleasurable experience. In my own cruising experience, this is absolutely TRUE. the attitude of the staff can literally make or break your entire vacation. They can make it a voyage to remember or a journey to the seventh level of hell. The staff of the Westerdam didn't take us to the seventh level; there elevator took us to about the second or third level. The bulk of the staff on the Westerdam (which the cruise director repeatedly brought to our attention) was made up of people from the Philippines and Indonesia, with the Filipinos staffing the food services and the Indonesians staffing the hotel duties, such as stateroom maintenance. And there was a marked difference in the attitude between these two groups. Since it is the cruise line's own venture to continually point out the racial services we received, I will take the same liberty here to critique them. While the Indonesian staff was jovial, delightful, spirited and dedicated giving us a wonderful experience with a smile, the Filipino staff were the exact opposite, easily offended and outright annoyed by every attempt to communicate with them. Most could not understand English whatsoever, did not understand Western culture in slightest (I was even treated as a lunatic for asking for mustard for my hot dog), and acted like the guests were nothing but a burden to them. At breakfast they appeared with disheveled hair and sleep in their eyes, and quite literally useless to anyone. On more than one occasion I witnessed them mock other guests behind the guest's backs, giggling amongst themselves and even pointing. At the buffets they fumbled, became easily frustrated with guests, and literally slacked off. In my opinion, the entire food service staff was incompetent and thoroughly untrained to deal with those of other cultures. With the exception of our wonderful and friendly cabin stewards, we made not one friend among the staff. This stands in stark contrast to our experiences aboard Princess ships, on which we ALWAYS made easy friends among the staff, and the staff went OUT OF THEIR WAY for our satisfaction, even memorizing our names and greeting us everywhere we bumped into one another, and sincerely desiring our happiness. We experienced NOTHING of this on Westerdam. The staff was generally discourteous and even confrontational at times. This came to a head when we visited the burger buffet, where the cook always seemed angry and insisted on breaking apart hot dog buns and serving totally stale buns. Unlike the Princess hamburger buffet which featured a wide variety of toppings, such as relish, onions, cheese, chili, sauerkraut, pickles, sauteed mushroom, ketchup, mustard, mayo, etc etc - THIS burger buffet offered only two things: ketchup and mayo, which were supplied in large pumps near the buffet. When I requested mustard, I was told that they only place I could get it was in the Lido Restaurant buffet - literally half a ship away from where my table at the far side of the pool was! When I asked for something to pump the ketchup into, I was looked at with shock and told there was nothing to offer - as though no one had ever asked such a question before. the cook then began barking at me in his very unintelligible English that I must go find a kitchen staff member to find something for me. This happened THREE DAYS in a row, this hellish service. I finally brought the matter to the Lido Deck manager - a pompous swaggering blob of a man who spent the entire time having a dual conversation with me in front of him and a laughing chitchat with someone on his walkie talkie. I literally handed him my hot dog bun, which I first tapped against my plate to demonstrate how rick hard it was. He completely shrugged us off as trouble makers, summoned a chef, handed him the bun and rambled something to him in a foreign language, and then walked away, leaving us standing there.
I am not exaggerating when I tell you that nearly every interaction with staff members was like this. Again, the cabin stewards were wonderful. The staff at the guest relations desk (which they refer to as the Main Office), were polite and smiled often and spoke in broken English, promising to take care of our complaints, but did NOTHING. Let me give you an example of this. Each time I travel I bring a combination clock/room thermometer with me. From day one our stateroom was steamy 78 degrees, and our mini-fridge did not work (we had it filled with water bottles that never got cold). We informed the Main Office, they sweetly informed us that it would be promptly repaired, and then we never heard from them again. By day three we went in person to the Main Office and demanded that our air conditioning be fixed because we had to prop our door open to let in air. Within two hours a repairman came, fiddled with the system, and for about two days we were able to get the air down to about 72 degrees (comfortable during the day but totally unacceptable for us to sleep in) and again we began to wake up in pools of sweat as the air conditioner rose to 80 degrees. Broken again? We raised hell at the service desk, were they told us, unbelievably, that they shut down OUR air system because a guest several doors down complained that her air conditioner made too much noise - and since the whole row of cabins were supplied with cool air through the same air pipes, everyone had to lose their air to stop the noise in her cabin!
I'm also sad to report that certain areas of the ship - entire hallways - assault the nose with a rather putrid stench.
We made the unfortunate decision to book and pay for two Holland America cruises in a row before we took this cruise, so now we'll have to endure another cruise aboard a dam ship, this time aboard the Maasdam, the day after Thanksgiving. We will see whether these problems are company-wide or isolated to the Westerdam. But we will never again sail with Holland America. We should have stayed with the much more superior Princess Cruise Lines, especially the Emerald Princess and her three sister ships.