This was my 7th cruise having cruised 5 times with Royal Caribbean and once with Azamara. I wanted to try a different cruiseline and am so glad I chose Holland America. I had a wonderful cruise on the Westerdam to the Southern Caribbean 20th January 7 nights. Boarding in Fort Lauderdale was really easy and took about 20 minutes. We went to the Lido for lunch and as expected, it was really busy and hard to find a table. Staff were serving from the buffet to prevent the spread of Norovrus, although this slowed things down a bit, it is to be applauded as makes you feel safe. After 48 hours you could serve yourself more items but staff still served the hot food.
CABIN - I booked a standard interior and this was fine. A large enough bathroom (more space then some balcony cabins) with Elemis toiletries and plenty of towels. The cabin attendant, Jani, was excellent.
FOOD - The food was excellent. We had breakfast in the Lido and there was a vast array to choose from. The buffet staff were wonderful, particularly Renato and Eva, really friendly and so helpful, as was the lady wearing glasses, didn´t catch her name. The orange juice was freshly squeezed, what a surprise that was - RCCL take note, there was no supplement to pay! We also had lunch here and once again we were spoilt for choice. There was a roast of the day along with pasta and pizza, several hot dishes and an Asian station serving Indonesian specialities. One thing that put me off a little were the amount of staff eating in the Lido, whether they be spa or shop staff or whatever, there seemed to be a lot of them and I think they should have their own place to eat.
We took dinner in the main dining room and everything was first class. W were on open seating and never had to wait for a table, maybe as we like to eat at about 8.30 which was late for a lot of people. Service was always with a smile and the food was varied and imaginative. Eddie and Hendra usually looked after us and did a great job.
BARS and CASINO - This was the busiest casino I have seen so far on a cruise ship, probably because the slots actually paid out, for the first few nights anyway! We spent most nights in the Piano Bar where Randell did a fine job of keeping us entertained. There was also a sports bar, the Crow´s Nest with a guitarist playing, and a disco (never that busy).
SMOKING - Yes I know most people hate it but apart from the Casino, you wouldn´t think anyone smoked. HAL allow smoking in cabins and one bar, I hope they keep it like that. There was never a smell of smoke in the passageways by the cabins at all so nobody was inconvenienced.
POOL AREAS - Plenty of sun loungers and never had a problem finding one, even late on in the morning. There were waiters coming around to serve drinks and there was also a hamburger bar, along with salads etc.
INTERNET - Pricey at 75 cents a minute but packages available. As slow as any other cruise line.
ENTERTAINMENT - This is always very difficult as they cannot please everyone. I wouldn't usually bother going to the shows but a friend wanted to and they were, on the whole ok. Julie Barr had people in hysterics and there was a really good piano showman as well. The cast were ok but I don't like to criticise as they must put so much work into what they do. It is a difficult job to keep everyone happy. The first night we had the usual endless questions of where everyone came from (who cares!!!) and waited for the various cheers. We went all over the USA and Canada, the UK and Europe, Asia etc, yawn yawn. There were activities during the day as well for those who wanted them.
PORTS OF CALL - We missed the first call into Half Moon Cay due to rough seas, I couldn't have cared less and we were refunded about $19 in taxes. We called at Curacao and did an Island Tour independently and then went to the beach, same in Aruba. Not much shopping and certainly no duty free prices on alcohol and cigarettes, St Maarten it ain´t!
FELLOW PASSENGERS - I am 48 and think I was one of the youngest, made me feel great! Most passengers were very nice and all seemed to enjoy the cruise. There was not a lot of strollers or wheelchairs as some have mentioned though and I wouldn't say everyone was old at all. I would say it is more sedate than some other lines which is fine for me. You can still let your hair down if you want.
STAFF - They really stood out. They were excellent and always so helpful and friendly. I am referring to the Indonesian and Filipino staff. I have mentioned some staff above but would also like to mention Ice at guest relations who went out of her way to help. The few Dutch were not so friendly, a surprise as they are usually so nice. There were 2 head waiters in the Lido who never cracked their faces the whole week, not very welcoming.
Holland America still has the extras that other cruise lines have dropped. Daily news sheet, chocolate on pillow etc. Little things that make a big difference.
Disembarkation was as easy as boarding, we were through in minutes.
I would like to mention one experience that could be upsetting for some. When we had disembarked and cleared customs, we went to get a taxi and were approached by who we thought was the dispatcher. He asked us where we were going and we said the Hyatt Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale. He showed us to a taxi and put our bags in and spoke to the driver. We got into the car and commenced our journey, assuming the driver knew where we were going. After a while he asked us what airline, to which we replied we were going to the hotel. He then began to yell at us that we should have told him, I pointed out is usually the driver who says, where to sir!!!! Be careful of this as it turns out the "dispatcher" was just another driver waiting for better fares to West Palm etc.
I would highly recommend Holland America and will certainly be cruising with them again.