We were sailing for the first time aboard the Westerdam with a group of 14 that included mostly family with a couple of good friends thrown in for good measure.
This would be our 11th cruise, all with Holland America. I can honestly say that on all 11 cruises, we have yet to be disappointed by the service, food, or accomodations on a HAL ship.
Having sailed on two other Vista Class ships, we were very comfortable with the layout of the Westerdam. We always book our next cruise while onboard the current one. We had booked this cruise back in June '10 while on board the Zuiderdam on an Alaska Inside Passage cruise r/t Vancouver. We had originally booked an SS Category cabin, but when HAL dropped the price on the SB cabins over the winter, we jumped at the opportunity for another 'Suite' experience.
We love the perks of the Deluxe Verandah Suite cabins. The free unlimited laundry is always a plus as you can pack way fewer clothes and we can fit everything (formal wear, too) into one piece of checked luggage. The savings in airline luggage fees can help offset the difference in cabin prices. The Neptune Lounge is a great asset that we love. We utilize the concierges for most of the items that come up over the course of the cruise and having access to the snacks and drinks is always welcome.
We always fly to the port city at least one day early to avoid the frustrations of today's uncertain airline travel. It's a good thing that this trip was no exception to our standard procedures as we experienced every travelers nightmare on our flight into Atlanta. Dense fog required that we divert to Chattanooga where we sat on the tarmack for well over 2 hours waiting for the weather to clear for us to continue. As a result, 4 of our party missed the connecting flight to Fort Lauderdale. After being bumped on 3 subsequent flights, and Delta announcing that it may be 3 days before they could guarantee a flight, those 4 brave souls rented a car and drove the 600 miles to Fort Lauderdale, arriving in the wee hours of the morning of embarkation.
After a brief few hours sleep, we arrived at Port Everglades around noon and were greeted by a very efficient terminal crew who soon had us aboard the Westerdam. Cabins were ready when we boarded, so it was off to our SB cabin and then a trip up to the Lido for lunch.
The Westerdam cast off her lines approximately 15 minutes before 5:00PM and with the captain echoing the air horns in the high-rise condos with the ships whistle, we sailed out of Port Everglades and on towards our first port of call - Half Moon Cay. Our group was at the rail on the Observation Deck, mimicking the words of the host of 'Fantasy Island' "Smiles, everyone, Smiles!!"
Our Cabin Stewards, Petrus and Putu, greeted us warmly and assured us that they would do their best to make our stay in our cabin the best it could be. They did not disappoint. Every request was fulfilled, the cabin was immaculate, and the ice bucket stayed full the entire cruise.
Abdul greeted us in the Dining Room where our group of 14 was assigned to a 10 top and 6 top that were adjoining near the rear of the Vista Dining room on deck 2. Abdul has 28 years of service with Holland America. He was very comfortable with serving a group as large as ours, and never missed a beat when we requested extra appetizers, entrees and desserts. He remembered how each of liked their steaks, whether we wanted coffee with our desserts, and was never lacking for suggestions when we would ask "What's good tonght?".
We ate breakfast in both the MDR and Lido and the food was equally good at either place. Most of us ate every dinner in the MDR with one exception with the four who missed their flights eating the Pinnacle one night. They reported that the meals and service were outstanding and raved about the Chocolate Volcano cake.
We truly enjoyed our stop at Half Moon Cay. It was a beautiful sunny day with mild temperatures and water temps that were cool at first, then enjoyable once you took the plunge. The stops at Aruba and Curacao were enjoyable to those who took the shore excursion at De Palm Island for snorkling. Those of us who only made a short trip to explore and shop found the weather a little warm and humid. As our stay in Aruba was from 1:00 PM til 10:30 PM, some took advantage and enjoyed a wonderful seafood feast at a local establishment later in the evening as the temperatures cooled.
The three relaxing sea days on this cruise was the main attraction for our group, and we took full advantage. DW and I purchased the Hydro Pool and Thermal Suites package. We certainly did not regret that decision as we treasured each moment relaxing in the HydroTherapy Pool and the heated lounges. It was sheer bliss! The rest of the sea days were filled with enjoying the activities such as Team Trivia and Name that Tune. We also had a lot of family time hosting parties in our cabin (Thanks to Shirley in the Neptune Lounge for coordinating these), playing cards on the Lido after dinner, and just relaxing.
We took a chance this cruise and booked an earlier than normal flight back home (11:05am). So, we took advantage of the expedited disembarkation. We were off the ship with our luggage in tow before 8:00 AM. We caught a shuttle to FLL and were through security and sitting in front of our gate before 9:00 AM. We were a little anxious about this after our nightmare on our flights down the week before, but each flight home was on schedule and we touched down at our home airport just after 5:00 PM local time.
We were happy to mark out comment cards with high marks (9) for each of the reporting categories that were applicable to us. I would not hesitate to recommend the Westerdam and HAL to anyone who wants a traditional cruise experience with superior food, serice, and accomodations.