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, or, during "Dancing with the Stars" theme cruises, dancing by some of the TV show's celebs. 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.
Westerdam Public Rooms
Explorations Cafe, which was added to this ship after it was built, occupies the starboard half of the top-of-ship Crow's Nest area and is truly the heartbeat of Westerdam. At any given time, from morning until late evening, passengers are clustered there, playing board games, putting puzzles together, reading, sipping specialty coffees (extra charge) while reclining in comfortable chairs, hovering over Internet terminals and, in Alaska, scanning the horizon for whales. This area is also the ship's library, and while there is a librarian, books may be checked out on the honor system.
Next to the Explorations Cafe -- there's no wall separating the two -- is the Crow's Nest bar, the ship's observations space. Activity from Explorations, particularly during the daytime, tends to spill over into this venue.
Otherwise, public rooms are primarily located in one two-deck grouping on Decks 2 and 3.
You can't miss the vast shopping area, which is an open concept with a series of counters selling a range of cruise line merchandise, from duty-free alcohol and cigarettes to logo wear and evening clothing. A small section is for necessities, such as toiletries and snack food. The many jewelry counters cover all tastes, from relatively upscale to trinkets and watches. For gems and fine jewelry, the luxury boutique Merabella occupies a separate space. The Digital Workshop for computer classes is next door.
A passenger services area is located on Deck 1 at the foot of the atrium. You'll find the purser's desk, shore excursions and future cruise booking. There's also a small bar.
There is no self-service laundry.
Westerdam Spa & Fitness
Westerdam, like its Vista-class siblings, has eye-catching pool areas. The main pool, housed under a sliding glass magradome roof that can open on sunny days, sports a sculpture of leaping dolphins and wicker-like lounges with padded cushions. The area features three whirlpools. Separate men's and women's saunas open to all are found down the hall leading to the spa.
The aft pool is a fun space with a whimsical, colorful ceramic dog sculpture and great views. No longer only for adults, the pool and two whirlpools may be filled with kids (supervision by an adult is required for the 16-and-younger crowd). Plenty of mesh-type lounge chairs are available for relaxing and sunning.
Another Holland America distinction is its promenade deck, which goes all the way around the ship. It's host to walkers and joggers and the once-a-cruise "On Deck for a Cause" event in which participants make a $20 contribution to support six international cancer organizations and undertake a 5K walk which is more fun the more friends you can recruit.
A basketball court and volleyball court are on Deck 11.
The Greenhouse Spa and Salon is the core of the ship's spa, fitness and recreation offerings. Operated by Steiner Leisure, which helms spas on many cruise lines, it occupies the forward area beyond the main pool.
The salon covers the basics, from hair styling to manicures and pedicures, and its wall-to-wall windows overlooking the sea offer a pleasant ambience. At the spa, a host of treatments range from usual (Swedish massage and facials) to intriguing options like a bamboo massage and acupuncture. On port days, the spa is creative in offering specials; $139 for a 75-minute massage and facial combination that normally goes for $208.
The highlight of the spa is the hydrotherapy pool. Located inside (one glass wall looks out to the main pool area, but the view is obscured, both inside and out, by dreary-colored shades), it's got bubbling warm water and various sprinklers and showers that gently pummel your body. A separate steam area melts away stress with heated, blue mosaic loungers, scented showers and a steam room. Entrance to these two facilities is pricey at $40 per person per day. The areas are not available free of charge to passengers pre- or post-spa treatment, which seems rather stingy.
The fitness facility, open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., is well equipped and generally busy but never overwhelmingly so. A morning stretch and abs classes are available on a complimentary basis. Pilates, yoga and spin workouts cost $12 per session.