This is our 10th cruise. 7th cruise to Alaska. 2nd time with Holland America to Alaska. 1st time was also on the Westerdam back in 2006. We've sailed on Carnival, Princess, Norwegian, and Star Cruises in Asia. As with most of our cruises, we went as a family of 6, myself, DH, 2 kids, and my 2 parents. Our last experience with Westerdam in 2006 was so wonderful that we have been recommeding it to our friends. In 2006, food quaility, service, entertainment was top notch. We have been looking forward to sailing with HAL again. However, this we were sadly disappointed. There have been some positives and negatives, but the negatives outweights the positives.
Embarkation: Check-in was smooth and efficient. We arrived at the pier around 11AM. Didn't wait in line for long since we carried on our luggage and didn't have to go through the luggage service line. At 11:30, we were called to board. As we were about to step onto the gangway, we were stopped and told that the gangway computer is showing that it is unsafe because the automatic tide compensation system (or whatever) is not functioning. We waited outside for 1 hour in line. Some people chose to go back inside the building. After 1 hour, we were allowed to board through the lower gangway the ones that the cruise uses for ports of call. The only difference is those gangways have steps which would make it difficult for the elderly and handicapped passengers to board.
I read somewhere that HAL has a policy in place that rooms are ready by 11:30AM. That was untrue, on this cruise, at least. Our rooms were ready around 1PM per announcement.
Had lunch at the Vista dining room upon embarkation because we were Mariner members. Norwegian opened their dining for embarkation lunch to every passenger. It was nice to eat at the dining room after the hectic embarkation process.
Room: Very decent size for a entry level suite. Best among all the cruise lines I've sailed. Bathroom was clean. It stops here. The wallpaper in the room had dirty scuff marks. The deck blankets had hair on it that doesn't belong to us (different color hair). We only got 1 HAL canvas bag (we got 2 from our last sailing). My parents' never got theirs. They had to ask the room steward, and then he gave it to them. My parents' room only had 1 robe.
Lido Buffet: The usual western hot food was decent, slightly better than cafeteria quality. Plates were very hot to touch, including salad plates. Salads were always the same every day, no variations. Their Asian station is awful. I would avoid it at all cost. Imagine having people that don't know how to cook and asking them to cook Thai, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Phillipines menu. The food ended up tasting horrible. Very salty. (Carnival has the best Asian station in their buffet). Service varies. Some crews were good at cleaning tables, others just pretend they didn't see. Had dinner at Canaletto's once. Food was average. I prefer Olive Garden or Macaroni Grill. Staff there were friendly. But service was very very slow.
Vista Dining Room: Food was generally good. Excellent lobster, crab legs, esgargos, baked Alaska. We started with open dining which was on the lower level (horrible vibration from the ship's engine). We were at table 116 on the first night. Service was very slow, my soup never came, but the server was very apologetic. He was sweating because the room was quite warm. We can see that he was trying hard. Can't blame him. The second night, we were seated at table 128, even worse server and assistant. VERY VERY slow in taking orders. Not interested whether our needs were being met. We overheard that he made mistakes on the orders from other tables. I had a hunch that the ship still needs to improve on their operation in open dining.
After the horrible experiences with open dining we requested to be placed in fixed seating even if it meant eating after 8PM. What a difference it was. The fixed seating was on the upper level which meant no vibration from the ship's engine. The server we had "Erik" and his assistant were excellent. Unfortunately, on the last night, because most guests went to Victoria, they closed down the fixed seating session and only had open seating for dinner. We were seated at lucky table 128 again. Same slow disinterested server and his assistant. His assistant actually poured hot water into a water glass when we asked to have hot water. From all the cruises we've been on including this current cruise, hot water has always been served in a teapot with a cup, not a glass that is hot to touch and can crack. We I asked him to serve it in a teapot, he looked at me as though I am crazy and then reluctantly went to get it. Again, we over heard the server making a mistake on another table's order. So, we made an excuse and changed to another table. The servers at the new table were not great, but they met our needs. However, we witnessed one shocking incident while seated there. There was a glass with a lipstick mark on our table. So, we turned it upside down to let them know not to use it. A moment later, the server collected the glass from the table, checked what was wrong with it, saw the lipstick mark, then wiped it off with his hand. Then he placed that very same glass back on another clean table! That is amazing! I would bring this to the management's attention. But this cruise surprisingly has no maitre D. The only person in charge was the "dining room manager" which didn't seem to have much control over the staff. The so called "managers" standing in the front of the dining room did not seem concerned about the guests needs. Seems like their job is to make sure the guests go in, eat, and get out. Just don't trouble them.
Ports: We've been to all the ports many times. But this time we actually walked all the way to the waterfall at the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau. It was very nice, they've made the path more accessible to everyone including kids. We didn't get off the ship in Victoria since we've seen everything before and it was very cold.
Hubbard Glacier: Lots of icebergs floating around the ship. I don't blame the captain for running into them. When we sailed close to the glacier, our ship was actually pushing the icebergs to make way. We didn't get too close to Hubbard Glacier. I would say Glacier Bay was the closest a cruise ship can get to. We heard 1 calving, but didn't see the action. Very cold day.
Gym: Good treadmills, but only 3 ellipticals. Always had people on them. Our sailing had a good number people in their 40-50's. So, the gym was fully utilized. Sauna was free, but there is a charge for the steam room (Carnival steam room was free).
Kids Club: Both the club rooms for 3-7 yr olds and 8-12 yr olds were small and dark. Counselors were unenthusiastic. It was a clear sign that kids are not that welcomed on this ship. My kids didn't make like the environment and the activities either. The kids club staff called our room one day and said our son had a potty accident and asked us to pick him up. But we told them our son is with us in the room. Interesting!
Summary: If you have already booked with HAL, try to get fixed seating for dining. Go for open seating at your own risk. Don't expect much activities for kids. If you haven't sailed with HAL since 2006, don't expect the same quality of cruise you had before. You'll be disappointed. I don't think I will sail with HAL again even if they have the biggest entry level suites at sea.