Let me start with stating that we love cruising and I am normally one of the most positive people on the planet. I really wanted more from HAL, especially since my wife and I had brought 16 friends on this trip with us! I know it was a one nighter and I am hoping that was why HAL did not deliver.
Our trip started on an Amtrak trip from Mount Vernon, WA. If you have not traveled rail, you gotta try it. We had group rates and a train car all to ourselves to play cards and enjoy some munchies. After clearing Canada customs at the station it was super simple to jump off Amtrak onto the $2.50 sky-train for a 6 minute high speed transport to the dock. Once off train, followed signs to the boarding coral with ease.
We cleared USA customs rather quickly in preparation to board only to come into a room FULL of chairs and rather disheartened one nighters. Computer crash led to an extreme backup on boarding. As a past cruiser, we have learned to roll with the punches and HAL did a great job of serving water and hot chocolate in an attempt to alleviate frustration. Even with having to do the entire check-in process manually... yep, hand written, it was still surprisingly quick. On board about 2 hours later than we wanted but 2pm still left us plenty of time to enjoy the Westerdam.
Upon boarding, we dropped bags in a larger than expected outside cabin having been upgraded from a bargain bottom inside cabin. It even had a bathtub! First for us on a cruise... Even our Disney room was tub-less!
Heading to the LIDO buffet our high expectations were shattered. (Let me preface to say that we are doing another 1 nighter to give HAL the benefit of the doubt in case the poor performance was a result of the crazy check in creating an overly crowded LIDO buffet)
There were no plates or silverware to be found. Many of the stations had servers dishing up plates for the guests but there were several areas of self-serve that had no plates so the only option was to have something dished up for you after waiting 15-20 minutes for the express sandwiches, Asian food (which was almost totally gone by 2pm), Italian (pizza was gone as quickly as it was refilled), Mexican (taco shells or tortillas were non existent for the taco bar), and a quarter filled salad bar. Of all the cruises I have been on, this was the worst 1st day buffet I have ever experienced. I understand that this is somewhat typical on embarkation day but this was over the top. Our group of 18 had several veteran cruisers and not a single one was pleased.
Seats were not anywhere in sight. We ended up heading outside to the outside pool. Vancouver rain made it a bit chilly but I loved how HAL provided blankets for warmth. Plates were not collected after we finished and were still on the table when we left even though 4 HAL servers were around.
After lunch we did the typically cruise ship meander. The artwork is crazy cool. Noticed several funky benches with little mythical creatures all over the boat in various colors depending on location on ship. One big difference I noted between this ship and the Disney Wonder or Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Sea was how confined I felt in this ship. The halls are curvy and ceilings feel lower. I am not sure if it is just all the dark colors on the walls and the heavy draping but my wife even felt claustrophobic. The other ships I have been on just felt much more open. I am sure that some appreciate this style but I really did not.
Stopped by the 5pm Culinary display. I was very impressed with the demo kitchen layout and use of cameras. The cook was the party planner on the ship and was entertaining but not super informative for a cooking demo. They served $4 wine during the show and it was definitely $4 wine.
There was a poolside BBQ that smelled so amazing. Smoke even wafted through the inside pool. Past on actually eating but was impressed with the amount of showmanship in the waterman/butter sculptures.
Dinner is always my favorite experience on cruises but this again left a lot to be desired. Seating was awkward for the main dining room as our waiter did not assist with chair or napkin. The waiter made no attempt at conversation. He did not make any suggestions or descriptions of the entrees. He simply walked up, handed menu, left for a bit and then returned and asked if we were ready to order. I am hoping that his performance was simply because we were only one nighters but come on... really?
Dinner service was so slow that it took the full two hours and we had to rush out to make it to the 10pm show. The show quality was excellent. Performers were definitely top quality. Two big difference between our previous experience... the dancers/singers were all about 5-10 years older in appearance... I guess they are just living up to the HAL reputation of being a senior citizen cruise line. The other area we noticed was that this particular show was rather risque. Thongs were used with fully exposed cheeks... some would argue that they had leggings on but from the 4th row it sure seemed like I saw much more skin that I would have wanted. (Happily married, hoping to stay that way!)
Our group ended the evening with drinks in the crows nest which was almost entirely empty by 11pm. (Shops all closed at 11pm so we missed out on that!)
Headed down to hit Casino at 12:30 and it had just closed up. After laughing for a few minutes at those who had consumed way too much alcohol in the dance club, we retired.
After getting to the room, I wanted to order a snack from Room Service but could not find the menu... My wife found it the next morning inside the seat for the vanity. Dang!
Morning buffet was not crowded but was also lacking in quantity. Several picked over, empty serving trays. Had a great breakfast still and plenty of seats available.
After eating, grabbed bags, straight off the ship and since we had already cleared customs in Canada, just walked right out of the building.
Summary: One night cruises are worth the effort especially for the price. HAL was unimpressive. Servers and crew were simply flat. We will try again but I think Princess Cruise might be our next one night before we give HAL another shot. Only drinks ordered was a Tanqueray 0100 Martini (WOW, strong... I totally felt like a secret double agent!) and a Long Island Ice Tea which was one of the best I have ever had.
Feel free to hit me with any questions if you are nice. If you want to tell me how wrong I was in this review, please don't bother. Thanks all and enjoy!