The writer being the male side of a retired couple, avid cruisers (more than 3 dozen to date) will, having reviewed the Westerdam at an earlier time, skip the usual ship overview and divide time (more or less) equally between the ship experience, pros and cons, and the details of the charter itself. Firstly, booking was directly through the charter agency and we were, living in the S.Fl. area, taken to the port by private transportation.
BW (for the uninitiated, Beautiful wife) and I also did the Jazz themed charter a prior year and obviously were pleased and impressed sufficiently to return again. The port schedule itself (Nassau, St.Thomas USVI, Gustavia St.Barts, and private island Half Moon Cay) to jazz afficianados (we do not necessarily include ourselves in this demographic) to a true jazz lover could well be almost secondary to the music immersion itself.
First impressions, fellow music lovers/cruisers were noticeably friendly much earlier on, bringing to mind the closeness and familiarity usually seen in a longer period of time. Jocularity reigned early on and never ceased, in fact,the event being promoted as "The Greatest Party At Sea".
A few quick comments about the Westerdam itself must be in order. Hallway rugs appeared new and were very pleasing to the eye. The ship, not new itself, was in excellent repair and no maintenance problems of even the slightest sort noted. Embarkation was quick, efficient and pleasant; we were on board and in our cabin in 45 minutes from curbside. Our cabin, rated as "Deluxe Verandah" though of average size for its class, had the most well thought out storage space we could remember. Note to CruiseCriticers: Look for well concealed (perhaps too much so) storage in commodious drawers under the couch, easy to miss, as well as the same at bed's end. There is adequate closet room for hanging clothes, and requested added hangers were quickly brought by our steward Ari, who, with assistant Woody, left absolutely nothing in the way of service to be desired, including a fruit basket replenished when appropriate.
Ninth deck "Oceanview Cafe", serving of course cafeteria style, is well thought out, though space does not allow the now popular "Kiosk/station" style of food by classification now nearly standard on larger ships. The Indonesian (mostly) crew take excellent care of their clientele, offering to carry trays, and seeing that daily Newspaper digests are available at breakfast. The custom omelet station moves quickly as there are three burners working simultaneously.
Food left nothing to be desired and had excellent variety.
Vista (Main) Dining Room is well laid out and food of good to very good quality. Service, again, outstanding. Above and beyond? Example: and we regret taking the name of the young lady Maitre d' (Actually, I did, but subsequently failed to be as efficient as she, and somehow misplaced or forgot) as we were traveling with three other couples and having a table only for three total, quickly, efficiently and politely took our names and the next day, we were notified to obtain our new keycards at Customer Service as we had been reassigned to a table with proper seating. Well done.
Our waiter Newman was always pleasant and helpful, fulfilling any request.
BW and I always make at least some use, time permitting, of the gymnasium, and found it to be well laid out and supplied with sufficient machines and equipment. The presence of a Blood Pressure machine was a pleasant surprise.
Added since our last Westerdam experience, on Deck 3, a nice touch, a bar and chocolate treat venue appropriately titled "Chocolate Seduction". Chocolate themed bar drinks, and chocolate treats to either have onsite or to purchase for your cabin. If, considering how tasty they looked, they ever made it back that far! BW had a special chocolate based beverage shown as a "Chocolate Kiss" and pronounced it excellent.
Now, to the entertainment. Not, as stated, particularly prone to (or, even familiar with) the "Jazz World" we found as on our prior charter, a large number of well known (well, to others) and prominent musicians who gave it their all and at times, seemingly more. Evening feature shows, in the pleasant and well laid out Theatre, being an example, with the equivalent of two shows each evening, except on certain port days. The specific featured artists doing hour one, and then an entirely different cast in a second hour. Various talent often made an appearance for one or two numbers in the main show, either as a single performer or a small group. Talent also gives performances in the several smaller lounges in the evening, and there are interview type presentations as well scheduled throughout. Different gifts appeared almost nightly during the voyage, including posters with names and photos of the artists, with two autograph signings set up for them or other mementos (CDs etc) to be individually signed. An excellent comedian, Alonzo Bodden, also appeared as both lead entertainer and occasional host.
A hospitality desk was set up with generous hours to assist with passenger concerns, questions or future bookings. There is also an excellent dedicated website: www.smoothjazzcruise.com.
Our only departure from the ship was Half Moon Cay, the highly rated and rightly so, destination. Excellent BBQ lunch served ashore, proper shopping outlets, and even a small Post Office to send outgoing mail. The island is impeccably maintained and well laid out, with staff who live on the Cay itself and without a doubt take considerable pride in its daily appearance and preservation.
I intend to conclude on a very positive note, and one that will forever be with me..an example of both outstanding service and personal pride and integrity on the part of the specific Holland America employee. BW and I had been having breakfast daily in the OceanView cafe but decided on the Vista dining room for our final, before debarkation. Let me set this up: we have found that in all or nearly all instances,there is a very understandable air to this final meal, of politeness and necessary service, but not the sense of "Let me give you outstanding service with my best manner and style" throughout. After all, for staff it is at this point a necessary turnaround and preparing for an entire new group, not a celebratory goodbye with all that entails. Especially so as chances are you are not seated with the service staff you have been with all week. Now: our service with DANANG (upper case accent definitely and on purpose) was not only far, very far, from the usual attitude of having to get through it and over with, but the best and most attentive service I can ever recall at any single meal, anytime, anyplace, any occasion. This veteran waiter (He stated six years on Holland America) could not not have in any way been more polite, caring and helpful, always there instantly on sensing the slightest need or even the hint of need. I took the time at the end of our meal to make sure that he knew this and how grateful and impressed we were. This, Holland America, hope you are listening, is an example of an outstanding employee and a true and even exceptional credit to your line and your brand. VERY well done.
Final note, debarkation handled well, smoothly and quickly. Would we do it again? Without question, absolutely.