The Culinary Arts Center, housed in the Queen's Lounge, the ship's secondary theater venue, features a fully operational demonstration kitchen and is among the highlights of Westerdam's daytime programming. You'll find cooking demonstrations from both ship chefs and guest chefs onboard for limited sailings. The classes are always on the light side, as well as informative. They are hosted by a Culinary Arts Center host, the new title for the party planner. Holland America has added an On Location focus to cooking shows, creating regional dishes, such as halibut or blueberry smoothies, while cruising in Alaska. You'll receive samples to taste plus copies of the recipes to try at home.
When The Culinary Arts Center reverts to the Queen's Lounge during the day, it's usually for a talk on the cruising area or game of bingo.
When it comes to learning about beverages, the Culinary Arts host offers pre-dinner Sip and Savor appetizers and wine pairings in the Explorer's Lounge. Martini samplings happen in the Atrium Bar on the Main Deck. Wine tastings take place in the Pinnacle Grill. On Location treats include an Alaskan beer fest in the Crow's Nest. Expect to pay fees for these. The martini samples are $3 each for four flavors. Sip and Savor costs $5 for a glass of wine. Draft beer runs $4.75. A more serious wine tasting is $50.
Holland America also offers a computer education enrichment program, through its Digital Workshop in partnership with Microsoft. The dedicated computer lab located near the Deck 3 shops offers classes ranging from an introduction to Windows 8 and computer security, to classes in digital photography and editing. The ship's "techspert" is also available for individual guidance at designated times. All programs are free and usually filled to capacity.
Since the introduction of "Dancing with the Stars at Sea" on all Holland America ships, dance classes have taken center stage in more ways than one. So many passengers are keen on dance instruction, the classes were moved to the stage in the Vista Lounge showroom. Each class ends with a competition for the best dancer of the day who later competes for the cruise championship. These dancers have a chance to become the ship's overall annual winner and compete (during a free cruise) in a grand finale.
While Westerdam's daytime offerings are generally excellent, more in-depth talks on Alaska (or Caribbean culture and history) would be welcome. As far as nighttime entertainment, it's varied enough to satisfy most cruisers. It includes classical music in the Explorer's Lounge, solo piano music or a sing-along in the Piano Bar and the Ocean Bar's cocktails and ballroom dancing. While a solo guitarist plays two sets in the Crow's Nest, there is so much chatter in this venue, the music tends to get lost. With Alaska attracting a relatively younger crowd, all the bars bustle at night. The Northern Lights disco was hopping into the wee hours.
The ship's evening offerings are by no means limited to music. The casino, on Deck 2, is vast and offers a full range of slot machines (these accept either cash or your ship card) and table games, such as poker and roulette. At night, the Queen's Lounge may be used for showing movies. As of the 2014 fall Caribbean season, on five nights a week the lounge will be transformed into B.B. King's Blues Club, complete with black-and-white photos of Memphis music greats.
The Vista Lounge, the ship's three-deck main theater, features two shows nightly. Holland America made an obvious effort to update the entertainment and on Westerdam has added nine LED panels to the backstage. The panels allow the ship's singers and dancers to perform high-tech, high-energy production shows that appeal to a younger set than the traditional Broadway tunes and 1950s rock. Other shows may feature a comedian, a highly entertaining Los Vegas percussion quartet. Not to be missed (if you can stay up until 11 p.m.) is the Indonesian crew show.
After enrichment programs and nightly diversions, cruising's third pillar of entertainment -- shore excursions -- is well represented on Westerdam. The number of tour choices in Alaska is staggering, with active, recreationally oriented tours available in most ports. In addition to the typical sightseeing, wildlife watching and float plane rides, you can take a fly-out fly fishing adventure, kayak within view of a glacier or go snorkeling. With so many choices, the more pricey excursions are on the small side with as few as 10 to 20 participants.