The Westerdam is a beautiful ship with understated, elegant décor. Art displayed throughout the ship is generally nice with few garish pieces in evidence. Most art is labeled as to artist and history. Nice music plays throughout most parts of the ship, both in the background as well as live in several venues. This is a user-friendly size vessel. It's easy to find your way around without too much walking. There are many places available during the day in which to find privacy and quiet to read, journal, play cards or simply relax. On Observation Deck 10 adjacent to the Crow's Nest lounge you'll find a nice sized library with a fair selection of books as well as Internet access, all with a view to the sea. Librarians are on duty during most of the day. Seating in this large area is very comfortable, as well, with an ample number of plush leather chairs and sofas. And the convenience of having the Explorations Cafe coffee bar nearby cannot be beat.
Throughout our cruise room stewards were unobtrusive bordering on invisible, with no service carts to be found in the corridors that would impede traffic flow. The staff on the Westerdam is very friendly, with few exceptions. Most staff encountered in dining venues and bars were quite attentive and pleasant to talk with.
Service in the main dining room, where we dined three times, was usually efficient. Some meals, both in the main dining room as well as on the Lido deck, were quite good. Breakfast on Lido was always a treat, with a great variety of quickly prepared to order dishes, including freshly made omelets and several types of Eggs Benedict, accompanied by a generous selection of juices, teas and very good coffee. Much to the credit of the kitchen staff, this is the first ship we've been on where the scrambled eggs actually taste like real eggs and the mashed potatoes taste like real potatoes. Later in the day we always found a large choice of salad items to accompany our entrees as well as a fairly good selection of desserts. Even the barbecue lunch that was held on Half Moon Cay, Holland America's private island, was well organized and delicious. Due to the ingenious setup of the serving area lines there were short to non-existent most of the time.
Rarely was there a problem with cigarette smoke aboard the Westerdam, inside or outdoors. Most passengers seemed to be very considerate of others.
Unlike previous HAL cruises, we found that age ranges of passengers on this particular cruise were quite varied, ranging from infants to folks in their 80's and perhaps 90's. We actually saw fewer motorized scooters and walkers than we observed on recent cruises with other cruise lines. Being in our 50's, we definitely did not feel like the “young ones” on this HAL cruise. There were many children aboard, but most of them were quite well behaved and tended carefully by their parents when they weren't in the childrens programs. It seems to us that Holland America clientele may be a bit more sophisticated in their attitudes and behavior than with some other lines that will not be named. We found that polite behavior was definitely the norm rather than the exception on this cruise.
Not So Positives:
There is little to no accommodation made for the handicapped at the lifeboat drill. Those who could not stand had no option (believe me, we asked) but to sit on the bare deck behind the standing crowd, which was difficult at best and painful for many, not to mention hazardous for everyone. This position made the entire drill pointless for the handicapped since no demonstrations could be seen through the legs of the crowd. Handicapped passengers on other ships are often shown their lifeboat station but then taken to an adjacent lounge to receive safety instructions and watch a life jacket demonstration from more comfortable seating OFF the floor.
Air conditioning in the staterooms as well as the entire ship seems to run hot and cold. It seems there is no uniform temperature to be had anywhere aboard. Sometimes water in the shower only runs cold, as well.
Staterooms can be very noisy due to inadequate sound insulation, particularly in the ceilings. This problem led to a severe lack of sleep in our particular location. Our stateroom was also very cramped and had too little storage. Despite our category being classified as a "large" outside stateroom, the spaces next to the sides of the bed were far too narrow to enable placing our luggage beneath the bed, thus reducing our closet space even more. The end of the bed was inaccessible due to built-in drawers that held extra blankets. Storage in the bathroom was less than minimal. And, it seems like a petty complaint, but the light on the magnifying mirror attached to the stateroom vanity was so dim as to make the mirror useless. A non-lighted magnifying mirror hanging in the bathroom would have been a far better choice.
Our room steward never introduced himself, so we never did learn which one was ours. Regardless, our steward never provided ice in the afternoons, when it is most needed, and often forgot to provide items such the daily schedule, which meant another trip down to the front desk to wait in line for one.
On this particular cruise the Westerdam was not stable in moderately rough seas, leading to many passengers suffering from sea sickness. This was the first time in years of cruising on a large variety of vessels, larger as well as smaller than the Westerdam, that we experienced this debilitating malady. It could probably go without saying that spending hours and even days of one's cruise in bed does not make for an ideal vacation. Fortunately for us, after the first day at sea the ocean and the ship calmed considerably.
Lines for meals on the Lido deck are usually quite long and not managed well, leading to many passengers cutting ahead of others who have been waiting their turn. Sometimes this occurred simply because there was no easy way of telling which direction the line ran. And, now, because passengers are no longer given trays for their food, you must find a place to set down your plate and then return to several separate areas for beverages, bread, salad, desserts and so forth before being able to sit down to enjoy an entire meal. Finding available tables on Lido at breakfast and lunch time was almost always difficult and frustrating. Often we had to stand next to a dirty table and wait for staff to notice that it needed to be cleared before we could sit down. As a result of all this waiting and going back and forth for items, most hot entrees were lukewarm or even cold by the time we were able to begin eating.
The Dutch tea that was featured one afternoon was served by dining room staff at the entrance to the main dining room, not at the table. This seemed inconvenient at the time, as one could not return for a missed item or try anything different than the few things initially chosen for the tiny plate that was provided. It was also difficult to tell what the individual items being served actually were, as nothing was labeled and the lines for the tea were such that we didn't want to inconvenience those waiting their turn behind us by asking the serving staff about every little thing. To top it off, we were seated at a severely cramped table that was extremely difficult and actually unsafe to access. Once we did manage to squeeze through to our chairs, as a result of the shortage of space we literally couldn't use more than one hand to reach our tea or our plates! Then when we tried to leave the table, squeezing through the many chairs left us bruised as some passengers were unwilling to budge. Due to these problems, this Dutch tea was a memorable one, but definitely not in a positive sense.
Seashells found at the beach are not allowed on the ship. This would not have bothered us so much except that the gangway by which we left the ship did not have a sign stating such a policy and the other gangway, which we had to use to return to the ship, did. Thus, upon going through security, we were forced to leave the ship to discard the shells before coming aboard again. We've never been on a ship that didn't allow clean seashells back aboard. These (2) shells were bleached by the sun and clearly not taken from live creatures. In addition, we had taken care to wash all sand from them prior to entering the ship. At the port we'd hiked quite a ways over rocky terrain to find them. Had we known of the ship's policy in advance, of course, we would never have made such an effort and instead enjoyed the port of call in other, less strenuous ways.
During the entire cruise we were not able to secure even one of the teak deck chairs as there are too few in number to meet demand. We were also never able to find any of the many photographs we had taken during our cruise because the ship's photo gallery was too small for the staff to put up the majority of photos taken. There is no computerized face recognition system on board to make the task easier.
Finally, most of the entrees for lunch and dinner were overly spiced, some combinations of spices turning out very badly and leading to uneaten meals as a result. Service in the main dining room was extremely slow on the first night, resulting in cold entrees and melted ice cream for dessert. Later in the cruise we were told that a crew change had recently taken place, which could account for some of these problems, but we didn't know this when we decided after the first night that we would avoid the main dining room most of the time. Other passengers complained of slow service on subsequent nights, as well, but we experienced much better service on the other two nights we dined in the MDR.
Despite the deficiencies, the Westerdam actually did provide us with a fairly nice cruise overall. Because we cruise the Caribbean quite frequently, the ports of call were nothing special for us. We cruise mainly for the ambiance of the ship and the niceties on board that can make for a relaxing time. For the most part, the staff and amenities of the Westerdam provided this. Should we cruise this ship in the future, however, we will avoid signing up for a category guarantee type of stateroom and instead choose our room location quite carefully. Being under a crew work area that is noisily active all night is not conducive to getting a full night's rest, nor does it provide the energy needed to partake in many activities the next day.