Background: my wife and I booked an 8 day Caribbean cruise on the Holland America (HAL)Westerdam since this was our first Christmas without our grown children. We have cruised on Carnival and Norwegian several times, but this was our first time with Holland. As a scuba diver, I wanted to take this cruise so that my wife would see my favorite Caribbean island, Bonaire.
Pre-cruise- we originally booked directly through HAL for a Superior Guaranty balcony suite for $1,299. We upgraded from a Superior balcony to a Deluxe balcony room after receiving an Holland email offering a $199 upgrade. (Great upgrade!).
Ft Lauderdale: We flew Southwest airline (bags fly free!) and stayed overnight
at the Sheraton FL Beach resort ($65/nt Priceline) located about 1 mile from Port Everglades. Tip: reserve wine and champagne online from Total Wine & More Ft Lauderdale and pickup your order on the way from the airport or to the cruise terminal.
Embarkation: an easy taxi cab ride ($20) from the Sheraton to Pier 19 at Port Everglades where the Westerdam (and many other ships) was docked. Curb side baggage support was good, but keep an eye on your box of wine/champagne. We only waited 10 minutes in the "Priority" line to check in and immediately boarded the ship.
Cabin: We splurged for a Deluxe Verandah suite on the Rotterdam deck (7th floor) and across the hall from the Neptune Lounge. The cabin was clean and available to us as soon as we boarded the boat at 12noon. The suite was very large (5-700ft) with seating for 6 adults inside and outside. The other benefits of the deluxe suite included the dual sink, bathtub & shower, separate dressing area for my wife, daily flowers and fruit, FREE laundry and dry cleaning and daily breakfast in the Pinnacle Grill.
Neptune Lounge- the lounge was across the hall from our room and was available from 7am-8pm daily. The concierge's Margaret and Jane were very helpful with everything from dinner reservations, excursions and hand carrying our wine to the main dining room. Initially, we were very concerned that the other suite guests would be snooty, but we were pleasantly surprised.
Dining- my wife and I enjoyed breakfast in the Pinnacle grill, especially the lox and bagels! We prefer the main dining room (MDR) versus the Lido deck and the MDR food was fantastic compared to NCL! The service was fast and friendly from the Maitre D, waiter (Kosi) and Wine waiter. We really enjoyed the
formal night (dress varied from sport coats, suites to tuxedos) and the food was fantastic.
Entertainment- we really enjoyed the entertainment variety on HAL, from classical violin's, piano bar, casino, to the Vista lounge.
Ports- we enjoyed the 4-wheel jeep ride excursion on Aruba, particularly since it rained that day and was fun driving through the muddy water. We walked around downtown Curacao and then rented a car for $52/day from Budget car rental in the Renaissance hotel next door to the cruise port. We toured the back roads of the Curacao island and enjoyed the small beaches and Boca National Park. As expected, Bonaire was the best of the three islands since its the best scuba diving.
Summary- we really enjoyed our first cruise with HAL and will definitely choose HAL again in the future. We consider HAL to be much classier than Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) and HAL appears to be focused on serving you rather than up selling you.