My husband and I were aboard the Westerdam for the March 4-11th Southern Caribbean cruise. We flew into Miami the morning of the 4th, rented a car from Thrifty at the airport (a very tedious process), drove to Ft. Lauderdale and returned it to their off-airport location near Port Everglades. Their free shuttle took us to the terminal, arriving a little after 12:30. There were no lines, and we got through security and checked in very quickly. I asked about the Mariner lunch in the MDR, and was handed an invitation but told that it was only being served between noon and 1; by the time we were on board and dropped off our hand luggage in our cabin, it was too late.
We noticed that most of the public spaces seemed small, and there is no grand atrium as on many other ships. However, it is a beautiful, elegant ship, reminiscent of its sister ship, the Noordam, on which we sailed a few years ago. Our Verandah Deck midship stateroom was comfortable, with an excellent bed, plenty of closet space, and a spacious bathroom with shower and tub. There were no drawers, except for those in the bedside tables, and it would have been very helpful to have at least a few. Our suitcases fit easily under the bed, freeing up floor and closet space. The "entry hall" area between the closets and the bathroom was extremely narrow, requiring a little planning in order for two people to move around comfortably.
Our room steward, Gede, and his assistant, Sugi, were outstanding. Everything was kept spotless, with cleaning and bed-making happening as if by magic. There was always a cheery greeting for us, and Gede called us by name from the first day.
We were excited because we'd never been to the ports visited on this cruise. I had been pretty neutral about spending time at Half Moon Cay, but we both loved it. We had been "waitlisted" for a clamshell, but were surprised to receive a ticket telling us to claim it by 11 am, as they were limited. We were off the ship by about 9 or so, and were astonished that - with the Maasdam also sharing the beach that day - we actually managed to get one! It provided shelter from the sun and a cozy, private place from which to enjoy the gorgeous beach. The beach BBQ served was well organized, and a good selection of food was offered; there was no wait, as the 4 food lines kept things moving quickly.
On Sunday morning, we enjoyed a get-together with about 50 Cruise Critic members, with refreshments provided by HAL. It was great to put faces with screen names, and all had fun. (It did seem that the great majority of folks had fled the Michigan winter...not that I could blame them!)
Sailing into Willemstad, Curacao, was impressive; it is a beautiful port. We did the "Fascinating Curacao" excursion to a Dutch estate and a "botanical garden" which was more of an herb farm; it was pleasant enough, but I admit that the most enjoyable part was the ride in the air-conditioned bus.
We had reserved a rental car in Aruba, but there was no one manning the booth, and no cars to be had. (Avoid Royal Car Rental!) Two Aruba tourism employees were most helpful, even calling Royal and chewing them out!!! So, we just explored Oranjestad on our own, and had a lovely day. We enjoyed the Aquarius restaurant's lunch buffet in the Renaissance resort after a recommendation from their friendly food and beverage manager, who struck up a conversation with us. It is an elegant restaurant, with a wonderful and reasonably priced buffet, frequented by locals - a very serendipitous find.
We had breakfast in our cabin several mornings, a couple times in the Lido, and twice in the Main Dining Room. Room service was on time, and every order was exactly right. Lunch was mainly taken in the Lido, and we found the quality and selection to our liking. My husband particularly appreciated the sugar-free desserts and ice creams that were available, and I was a big fan of the truly delicious pizza. There was always a good selection of vegetables and meat dishes, and the breads were - as always on HAL - divine.
We had selected the "As You Wish" dining option, and it worked beautifully for us. Showing up at the MDR at various times throughout the week, we stated we were glad to share a table, and never had to wait longer than it took for a steward to escort us to our seats. We never made a reservation, and we met a delightful group of other guests. The variety of menu items was good, and I had some of the best beef I have ever had on a ship. Soups, both hot and cold, were always outstanding. Portions were fine, and I preferred not feeling overstuffed, as I was then able to enjoy appetizer, soup or salad, entrEe and dessert without feeling too much guilt. The only complaint we had - shared with other guests at our tables that week - was the consistently slow service, especially while waiting for dessert. There was certainly plenty of hustle and bustle in the dining room, so I wonder if they were somewhat understaffed.
We stopped in at the Dessert Extravaganza, which was fun, with a good variety of cakes, pastries, fruit and chocolate. The last afternoon, we finally made it to Afternoon Tea, a very pleasant way to spend some time. The Mariners Lunch, held on Wednesday, was pleasant, and we were interested to hear that fully 3/4 of the passengers on board were Mariners!
The shows that we saw were good; the singers and dancers were very talented (we took a couple dance lessons, conducted by some of the dancers - a very popular and fun activity.) Tony Pace, the singer and impressionist, was outstanding. We didn't see the magician's first show, but did see his brief "Farewell" performance - just OK, though he was funny.
We spent some time in the Ocean Bar, where the trio played a variety of dance music. There was a ballroom dance club traveling together, and they were entertaining to watch on the dance floor; the floor was very small, however. Only once did we manage to get seats in the Piano Bar, as Tim Kelly was justifiably popular. One evening, we took advantage of the daily recently released movie in the Queen's Lounge; loved the popcorn provided.
We avoided the Casino and surrounding area whenever possible, as the smoke was pervasive and disgusting; when we had to cross through the Casino, we would hold our breath and hurry through. On one occasion, my husband vacated our verandah, as a nearby neighbor was smoking; it only happened once, thank goodness. There was never a problem in any public areas other than in and near the Casino, and we rarely encountered smokers on deck.
Something that we very much appreciate is HAL's having a (legitimate) Catholic priest aboard; as Catholics must, lacking a serious reason, attend Mass on Sunday, this is something that would always make us consider HAL when cruising.
Cruise Director Drew Murdock was, simply, the very best we have encountered yet. He reminded us of a young Johnny Carson ... quick, smart, funny, and he enhanced our cruise experience.
We wish that there had been a "big band" and larger dance floor on board; it seems that, given the demographic, it would be a popular addition. Things got quiet very soon after the last dinner seating; though we don't like "fun ships", a little more to do in the evening would have been welcome.
To sum up ... we had a very enjoyable week, spent in beautiful, spotless surroundings, with good food, and pleasant company.