My Wife & I along with our 16 year old son & friend (separate cabin) sailed the 7-day Thanksgiving week Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard the Westerdam. We're experienced cruisers & 3-Star HAL Mariners (90+ sea days). This is a somewhat exhaustive but hopefully entertaining & informative account of our voyage.
Embarkation: Some studdering here. The first line outside the terminal slowly moves inside where our party is given a number & directed into a holding area, this one for the X-ray machine - only. Takes a half hour to be called. Once through, next herding, er, ... holding area is for check-in, again, wait a half hour. Check-in is smooth, but then yet another sit & wait to actually board. Finally on the ship after 1 p.m.; hey, what the heck, we're on our long awaited vacation. At least by the time we board the cabins are ready. Grade: C-.
The Ship: Ahh, HAL, where every vessel is the same in layout, only slightly different in decor, like seeing an old, welcoming friend. The Westerdam is over 10 years old & a little worn in spots, but she is kept absolutely spic n' span. And no cruise line tops the Indonesian service staff. Grade A+.
Our Cabin: Our 30th Anniversary, we sprang for a Cat. SY Superior Veranda cabin & in hindsight well worth it. Large balcony (table & 2 chairs, 2 recliners & ottoman), large bathroom (double sinks, hydro bathtub with separate shower) & the cabin space itself just noticeably easier to move around than a standard stateroom. T.V. (flat screen) a tad archaic: no interactive capabilities for account status or excursion booking or movie rentals, but there was a free CD movie library & CD player in the cabin. Grade A.
Dining; & Food as Entertainment: Food was good, especially in the Lido, not so much room service. We had anytime "open" seating dinner & the first nite presented ourselves just after 8 (20 minutes in line to get to the Maitre' D), table for 2 please. Immediate seating if you'll dine with others, but we're given a beeper & retreat to the adjacent Explorer's Lounge & enjoy the soothing Adagio strings. We're beeped a half hour later & enjoy a leisurely dinner for 2. Waiter surprisingly chides me for double appetizers & entrees, seemingly in good fun (?).
For any T.V. food show even semi-afficiandos, the Culinary Arts Center put on several well attended cooking demonstrations. The Culinary Arts Center features a dedicated stage with full kitchen, with overhead cameras & T.V.s throughout the venue (NFL games were also shown here). Each is a recorded production played later on T.V. The banter between Host Kirby & Chef Fred makes for an entertaining & professional show.
9 means 9!! or you won't dine!! Wow, does HAL whiff here & ruin our evening the second nite, the Gala Welcome Aboard dinner. To avoid the prior evening's wait we show up at 9:15, but I misread the cutoff time of 9 (I swear it was 9:30 the first nite). Alas, "we are no longer serving". 15 minutes?? Would not a so called 5-star, premium cruise line have served us? It was not a "Signature of Excellence" moment; HAL blew it here & we succumbed to room-service hamburgers - bummer.
It should be noted the dining room wait-time became non-existent the second half of the voyage.
We dined once in Canaletto, the alternative Italian Restaurant inside the Lido (no additional cost but reservations required); good, rich Italian fare. Grade: B+ with one glaring F-.
Activities: This was an unexpected highlight. Port & especially sea days offered an impressive array of enrichment activities from fitness (yoga, Tai Chi, acupuncture; a rather small gym) to cooking (DW did the hands-on culinary class, $29) to camera and computer classes. 4 clinics of each type daily. Grade A+.
A Little Port Talk: We really enjoyed Grand Turk, our first visit there, a sort of scaled down version of the Costa Maya cruise port in Mexico, where the dedicated cruise dock is a destination unto itself. Steps off the ship in grand Turk is the world's largest Margeritaville, plenty of new & modern shops (Ron Jon Surf Shop & clothes boutiques) & a Flowrider wave machine. And of course a beautiful powder-sand beach with a million beach recliners under palm trees in every direction. The thought occurred to me that if Disney put a cruise port together this is what it would be. St. Marteen gets better & better each time we're there. Shops, restaurants & hotels line the main street & upscale to hole-in-the-wall bars along the beach just behind them. Some of the friendliest people in the Caribbean. Always a favorite. Puerto Rico is also fun with a charm of its own. Grade: A.
Miscellany and Voyage's End: HAL goes to great efforts to prevent neauro illness: antiseptic palm dispensers everywhere & Lido personnel serve all food & drinks so passengers don't touch a plate or glass until it is handed to them for the first 2 days.
For imbibers, various lounges have a 1 hour Happy Hour each evening (second drink $1) which can really add up (or down ship-board account wise) over the length of the cruise.
The boys quickly made friends & said the teen program was good & they had a great time. As expected, we didn't see much of them.
I will end by imparting my version of Nietzsche's "Eternal Recurrence" idea: it's just after 7 a.m., me with a Grande Americana Expresso coffee in the Explorations Cafe (Crow's Nest), perusing the N.Y. Times Digest & ship's program for the day, while the deep blue sea slips by outside, the vessel gently swaying as she sails along. A more pleasant way to start another day on a cruise vacation cannot be imagined.
Bons voyages always. extom.