The main reason we chose HAL for our 3/18 cruise was the itinerary - we wanted to go to Aruba and Curacao and it was the perfect blend, for us, of ship days (3!) with port days. We also had heard good things about HAL and wanted to try the line as we still consider ourselves somewhat new to cruising. This was our fifth cruise overall (on Princess, Celebrity (2) and Royal Caribbean) and our first "going Dutch." We read every review and every post before leaving and still weren't sure what to expect -- boy, do the comments and reviews run the gamut on this line and this ship! There seemed to be more negative comments and complaining.
Why do we cruise? Primarily to get away from it all -- it's the perfect vacation -- and relax, chill out and to connect with each other. The phrase we repeated over and over all week, whenever we'd hear the whining, was "You're on a beautiful ship in the middle of the Caribbean with lots of edible food! How BAD can it be?!?" In short, HAL and the Westerdam exceeded our expectations.
On the last night of the cruise I made a list of all the good points and all the not-so-good points. The good took up 1.25 pages, single spaced, bullet points. The not-so-good - a quarter of the page max. Here are the highlights:
-- Completely uneventful. Arrived at the port before the doors opened, was on the ship by 11:45 and enjoying the day by noon. Perfect, smooth, easy.
-- BIG kudos to HAL for having staterooms available when you board! Wow! Why isn't every line doing this? Point to HAL.
-- The whole thing did feel a little unremarkable - no greeter when you got on board, just a steward pointing the way to rooms. Didn't feel really "special." Celebrity's glass of champagne is usually wasted on us, but I did feel like the welcome aboard on the Westerdam was missing. MINOR issue!
-- Aft cabins are the way to go. HUGE balcony, completely enclosed (only on deck 5 on Westerdam -- all other decks are staggered and can be seen from above), which does make it a little stuffy sometimes but the complete privacy is terrific;
-- PLENTY of storage space - love the fold-down shelves in the closets so you can fold or hang clothes. Drawers under the bed and the sofa are a clever addition, as is the empty stool under the desk;
-- Pillow top mattress is worth the hype - much more comfortable bed than other lines;
-- We love the white noise sound of the wake - as well as the view -- and didn't feel the motion of the ship in the aft any more than anywhere else. But if you don't want the noise of the wake, don't book in the aft;
Lot of complaints about the food before we left. If HAL's gone down hill in recent years, it must have been AMAZING before. We found the food uniformly good in all places.
-- The buffet not being self service for the first 48 hours is a non-issue. It really wasn't bad at all.
-- However, people really seemed to ignore the lines and how things were structured, so there was a lot of cutting in line or jumping in front and then loudly complaining about not getting served. We never had a problem.
-- The ONLY negative about service in the Lido was it was a little confusing -- were they pouring drinks or get your own? Just a little disorganized from the crew, but not a major problem;
-- Sandwiches at lunch in the Lido - terrific. Very good wraps and they changed every day. Nice variety; good quality.
-- Loved the cheese platter and fruit put out between service in the Lido. Too much Gouda may not have been good-a for my waistline, but it was enjoyable.
-- The Asian area of the Lido was delicious - plenty of variety of different cultures, really decent sushi. Can't recommend it enough. (Same can not be said of the gentleman who complained that he didn't want his "Spicy Chicken" to be spicy).
-- Breakfast in the Vista -- with the birdsong playing -- lovely. Do it. Have the Dutch Breakfast of Gouda, ham and eggs on toast. And raisin buns. Totally addicted to raisin buns now.
-- Dinners in the Vista -- generally good, but my partner (AriesLV) had a couple of beef/pork dishes that were a little lacking. Not bad, just not good. Soups, appetizers and desserts delicious.
-- Pinnacle. Astounding. Wonderful. Delicious. An absolute MUST-DO
-- We don't really go to the shows so can't comment on any of the specialty acts or other entertainment. We did see one production show and it was the best I've seen at sea -- which is saying a lot. I'm a former actor/dancer/director so hyper critical of these shows and I enjoyed this one. Another big kudos to HAL if I enjoy a show. ;-)
-- So uniformly friendly and helpful - from our cabin steward (BEST we've ever had) to waiter to front desk, uniformly friendly and service focused. I won't say any more so than any ship we've been on, but very good
-- BIG bonus is having the Tour Guide on board --- not a shopping "expert" and not an excursion person --- just someone to do a few talks about ports and history and be on the gangway at each port to offer advice and "must-sees." Ours was lovely and helpful and without her I think we would have missed some good stuff in Curacao.
-- Half Moon Cay is wonderful, delightful, gorgeous. Best private island we've been on (compared to Princess Cays and Labadee). Got the clam shell and it was so worth it.
-- Aruba -- it was a little disappointing to us. Spent the afternoon (we docked at 1:00 p.m.) at Eagle Beach and the afternoon poking around Oranjestad -- everything closed at 6:00 so we were back on board LONG before we left. If I had it to do over I'd do an excursion here. But definitely don't get the hype about Aruba.
-- Curacao is astounding. Definitely be somewhere you can watch sail in to port; it's beautiful. We did the Beach Express excursion to Blue Bay for snorkeling. It was really remarkable. And crossing the Queen Emma bridge into the Punda (see what the Tour Guide taught us?!?) spending the afternoon strolling and shopping was delightful. It really does feel like you're in the Netherlands.
-- Definitely recommend purchasing the spa package - the hydrotherapy pool and hot stone benches (and sauna and steam room and cool mist aromatherapy showers) are wonderful and we used them 2-3 times a day. Perfect place for escape, quite and soak those hot, tired muscles.
-- They offer some treatments we'd not seen anywhere else (Thai hot poultice massage anyone?) - really nice
-- Very well laid out and easy to manouever. It is, in general, in pretty good shape - oh, a few paint scrapes here and there, but clean and well presentable;
-- We didn't like the decor - it's a bit jarring. But the art work is really neat and shows the history of the HAL line. And who chooses a ship for the color of the carpet anyway? (purple in some places; orange in others. Wow.)
Overall -- loved it. Fantastic vacation and definitely recommend HAL and the Westerdam to anyone. Hey, it's a terrific ship in the middle of the ocean with plenty of food, lovely people to cater to your every whim, lots of activities to do (or not, as you see fit) --- sounds like the definition of perfect to me.