We did the five day Bahamas cruise on the Westerdam January 3 8, 2006. I apologize for the length of this review, but I wanted to give every tidbit of information I could, in case other cruise rookies happened to be looking for more specific details.
This was our first cruise. Im an event planner, so I researched this cruise to the hilt, getting most of my information from the good people on Cruise Critic and Cruise Clues. We wanted an upscale line, with excellent service, large luxurious cabins and a relaxed atmosphere. We just arent party people, so we didnt want a booze cruise by any means. We had been to Atlantis before and loved the Caribbean water, so this was a good fit for us. Five days didnt feel like as big of a commitment if we werent pleased (oh boy, were we wishing for extra days by the end of the cruise!). Id like to commend HAL on making this cruise an absolute favorite vacation of ours.
Embarkation: We arrived at FLL and had to wait 45 minutes for our bags I dont know why. Lots of cruisers at the airport, but most seem to be using transfers, so we paid $15 for a cab to the cruise terminal (which was more of a crude airplane hangar, but did the job). There was some confusion about what to do with our bags, but at the door, a porter did grab them and whisk them away ($5 tip). If I didnt already know what to expect (from the boards!), I would have appreciated a little more information from her. We went inside and joined the suite line (again, I knew to look for it, no one directed us to it). We stood in a very short line for ten minutes while we filled out credit card forms and a health form (are you sick? have you been in close contact with anyone who was sick?). They had us sign our cards and took a very informal photo for the identification system. This photo pops up when you scan the card as you board the ship. The check-in clerks were very friendly. We went through security, up the gangplank (looks like a jetway), took a very quick photo and were on the ship. Tip: you can freshen up before this photo if you want, but rest assured, you will have many more chances for photos.
Cabin: I knew we were on Deck Five, so we took the elevator, and a steward met us at the elevator door on five to take us to our suite (5186, an SC cabin). On the way down the hall, my husband looked in open cabin doors and I could tell he was a little disappointed in the size of the regular balcony cabins and downright scared of the inside cabins. Keep in mind he is 64 and 235 lbs. I assured him our cabin would be fine we walked as far as the hallway would go to the very back of the ship. The cabin didnt let me down. The first thing I saw was the dressing area with a vanity, a stool and a lighted makeup mirror. Also three small mirrored closets, one with shelves and one with a large umbrella. Two nice waffle weave robes hung near the door. In the bathroom, there were double sinks, two medicine cabinets, a glass shower and a Jacuzzi tub (my favorite thing!). No need to seek out that hot tub! Water pressure was awesome and we never ran out of hot water. Heres a great tip the stool is also a canister and can make a great dirty laundry container (drawers are scarce, but shelves are plentiful). Free laundry service is still a suite perk, but we didnt need to use it this trip. In the main part of the cabin, there is a magnificent king size bed with crisp white linens. There is a fluffy comforter (heavenly!) in one of the three additional closets (the one with the lifejackets and one has a safe). There are four pillows on the bed. One wall is mirrors, with two nightstands, each with two small drawers and a reading light. There was a couch, two chairs and a coffee table, along with another canister type stool (they store the bed cover in this at night).In the corner is a shelf unit with your TV and DVD player. Look closely there is stationary with your name on it a nice touch. There is a large clock on the wall above the TV (ours was 10 minutes slow). There is also a TV channel that will tell you the ships exact time. Tip: If you have mail, check to see if you received an invitation to the captains reception and a tender pass. We forgot to check until the next day! Read the daily program carefully it has a weather report, the dress code of the day, and a schedule of the days event. Youll also find a dining room menu delivered to your room each day.
Our room steward, Ramses, dropped by to introduce himself. We tipped him $20 and asked him to keep the ice topped off and the room as cool as it could get all week. He was an absolute delight for us, always there and always cheerful our room was spotless all week. We finally turned to the aft balcony and, even though I knew it would be great, it blew us away. It was as large as the cabin itself, with two loungers, two small tables, four chairs and a dining table. It wraps around the cabin and has a small overhang. Be warned turn around and look up there are four decks above you that can look down into your balcony if you are more than four feet away from your door. We really didnt mind and had breakfast (in our robes) delivered to our balcony every morning. There was no debris, but we did get a good mist every evening when they washed down the upper decks. You can hear some noise from Deck Six (chairs scraping) but little else. There is no traffic in the halls by the room. Even though this side (ironically, the port side) doesnt face the port all the time, we did get a great view in the Bahamas (we backed into port) and in Key West, where we faced the sunset. Best of all, we had the moon, the wake and the open sea without a stiff breeze the entire trip. Tip: Keep the drapes closed. This room will heat up quickly in the sun.
First day: We ran to the Lido for a quick late lunch. We didnt quite know what to do, but grabbed some pasta and a salad. Here was the biggest disappointment of the cruise: the drink glasses on the ship hold about six ounces. My husband drinks abut a gallon of water and tea a day, so I had to get him five glasses of tea all at once before he got over the shock. I cant figure out why they are so stingy with the liquid they only offer coffee, tea and quasi juice to drink for free. Why not larger or paper cups? Tip: the OJ is horrible and made from concentrate (funny they have a port in FL!). I thought the coffee was good and hubby liked the tea. You purchase a soda card (sticker) if you want cokes, but they only have Coke and Sprite, and they come in the same ridiculous small glasses. Tip: pack a plastic glass and help yourself to the tea. We didnt really enjoy the Lido, although the pizza was good. To be fair, we really arent fans of buffet dining. I did see some great looking baked chicken, but it was after I had already eaten the pizza. They had sandwiches made to order and Chinese food as well, but we didnt sample those.
When we got back to our room, they were making announcements about Muster Drill, so we put on our life jackets and followed the crowd to our assigned spot (it is printed on the lifejacket). Tip: Take some bottled water, a hat and sun glasses. This is the hottest we got all trip. It only takes 15 minutes or so, but seems like a lifetime.
We took a leisurely tour of the ship before sailaway. The pools looked nice and the bars were pretty and cozy, but our favorite place was in the Crows Nest, in the recliners facing the bow. Nice views. We made it up to the Neptune Lounge for appetizers (veggies and dip, salmon on toast points, egg salad on crackers). Same small glasses for tea and juice here. The wonderful part was the cappuccino machine. I had at least two cups every day. There are also sweets (cookies, doughnuts, fudge). We sat and watched CNN while sipping drinks for awhile, and played a short game of scrabble. They have a small selection of magazines. If you have questions, the concierges can help you out. They were nice but seemed very young and not so knowledgeable during our trip. Maybe this was a training cruise for them. The majority of the staff around the ship was outstanding. The room stewards and dining staff are from Indonesia. The casino staff is from eastern Europe and Australia.
Back in our stateroom, we were surprised to see that we had left the dock (no motion yet). Out on the balcony, we were even more surprised to find locals standing on the shore, waving as we left. How nice. It was a dreamy site as the sun set and we pulled away from Florida.
Dining Room: Our dinner seating was main lower (8:30) for a table of two. It seemed very late to us, but we never went hungry on this ship (the fresh fruit in the cabin helped). My husband was worried about the dress code, but his nice shirt (button front, khaki slacks) fit in well for casual night. Saw only a few sports coats on men. Women were in everything from semi-formal dresses to jeans. On informal (read this as semi formal) and formal nights, men wore jackets and women dressed to the nines. Our waiter was Ananta and he was pleasant but not overly attentive. No complaints, but not top-notch service either. Thanks to the boards, we expected small portions, but the first two appetizers were still surprising in their tiny (but extremely tasty) size. Our waiter never encouraged us to order more of anything, but I knew we could from the boards (thanks, guys!). Please pass that information along to everyone. Thanks to the filling and delicious soups and salads, we were always satisfied. Our favorites were the bean soup and the Italian wedding soup. Memorable entrees were the Mushroom Ravioli and the New York Strip. Surf and Turf was great, but the lobster only had four good bites in it. The best dessert for us was the berry crisp. The baked Alaska was beautiful, but if youve had it before, you know it isnt as tasty as it is showy. They do an excellent job of presentation, though, with the Baked Alaska parade.
We ordered room service for breakfast most days. While portions arent as small as the dining room, everything is ala carte, so be sure to order butter, jam, cream, milk and toast separately. They dont bring anything not ordered, even ketchup.
We attended the Suite Luncheon in the Crows Nest during our at-sea day. It was great to meet the captain and other suite guests. The food was lovely but was more reception food than lunch (shrimp, canapEs, cheese bites, spring rolls, even caviar).
Suite guests can eat in the Pinnacle for breakfast and lunch. We were in port most lunches, so we tried breakfast in the Pinnacle during the immigration inspection at Key West. While the surroundings are beautiful and the food was delicious, I was disappointed with the aloof service not what Id heard from these boards. Maybe our waiter was having a bad day. My husbands eggs were great. My pancakes were delicious, but were only three to four inches across. Luckily, the delicious croissants filled me up. We didnt try the Pinnacle for lunch or dinner
Motion/seasickness: We never had any sea sickness or came across anyone with it on this trip. Seas were four to six feet most days, and on our at-sea day, rose to ten ft swells. While we could feel the sway of the boat, it was never a problem. It was most noticeable in the Vista Dining Room and the Crows Nest. Our sea day was the roughest and we did the funny drunken dance down the halls at some times. We were gently rocked most nights, but not ever tossed about. Nothing ever spilled that I could see. I did see plenty of patches behind ears. I was concerned about the Norwalk virus, since you never know when it will pop up. I never saw anyone sick, or heard of anyone sick on the ship. Tip: There are plenty of hand-sanitizing stations around the ship (mostly outside dining rooms and elevators). Use them.
Decks and Pools: One of the best things about Hal this ship was spotless! The staff is constantly cleaning and we really loved that. Because of our Jacuzzi tub and our ports (we did the snorkel adventure), we did not use the pools. The grill at the pool smelled delicious but we never got around to trying it out. Something to look forward to next time. We didnt have to do the deck chair dance since we had such a lovely balcony, so I dont know if there were chair hogs or not. Not very many children were on this ship, although the cruise was sold out. I never even came across ClubHal except for the deserted playground at Half Moon Cay. You can take a great walk around the entire ship on the Promenade Deck. It gets windy after dark and the crew washes it down after sundown, so watch for slippery surfaces at times. There is a basketball court on the top deck, but we didnt see anyone using it. The pool roof was closed for our at-sea day and during the Key West port, since it was chilly. Other times it was open for sunbathing.
Casino, entertainment and lounges: We spent lots of time in the casino (open whenever we were at sea) and we got to know the friendly staff (from Croatia, Hungary and Australia). The slots are really tight, so only play for fun dont expect to get your money back unless you get terribly lucky, which my husband did (5,000 nickels doesnt go too far, though). They have four blackjack tables, a three card poker table, Let It Ride, a roulette wheel and a craps table. Only the BJ tables were crowded at times. The BJ tournament ($20) was popular. I only saw a few people in the slot tournament (also $20). They had nickel, quarter, dollar and a few five dollar slots. I won one $400 payout but didnt hit much else. There was plenty else to do. The sports bar had the football playoffs going the whole trip nice, since USA news was scarce (CNN is the world version, not the US version). Other bars were almost deserted most of the time. The Piano Bar was hopping some nights, but the Explorers Lounge and Ocean Bar never seemed to have a crowd. Several had live entertainment. The Nightclub did have a large crowd for Karaoke, but we couldnt find a place to sit, so we left. We only saw the Illusionist Show in the Vista Lounge, but he was great. We missed the 10:30 show on the other nights. We played Snowball Bingo on the last night (for some reason, they didnt have a late show that night). Bingo is $20 per three game session and jackpots ($200 - $300) werent really big enough to warrant anything but the snowball game ($2600). They showed a movie in the Queens Lounge each day and served popcorn. They also show the movie on TV in your cabin. The Queens Lounge also held cooking demos and fun activities (photoshop class, game shows) but they were not well attended. I heard that the deck activities and the Crows Nest had a better crowd, but we didnt get up there after dinner. With only five nights, time flies. The photo gallery is crowded on the last night try to find your photos during the day if you can. It isnt open all the time, so you have to check the daily program. We played Pictionary and Team Trivia on the at-sea day.
Ports: Half Moon Cay was everything youve heard. Crystal water, white sand, pristine beaches. The BBQ was pretty good, although it was crowded. We rented a clamshell although we had debated about the cabana. I think we made the right choice for us, since we did an excursion, played in the non-existent surf, and made sand castles. The water is unbelievably clear and turquoise colored. There is no coral but some fish. Take some bread into the water and they find you immediately. The cabanas near us got surrounded by lounge chairs and didnt have any privacy (the ones farther down the beach probably fared better). They did look wonderful, though, and if you had a larger party with the food and the butler, Im sure they are worth it. We did the horseback riding (Ok, but I wouldnt recommend it the horses are pony-ride trained for the trail ride and the ocean ride was a wild free-for-all that scared even me and I spent 20 years on horseback). Im sure it is different some days and for some people hubby liked it and he is a novice rider. We rode at 11am, so maybe the horses are better on the early ride.
We had been to Nassau before, so we didnt need to tour the island. We chose the Snorkel Adventure. HAL booked way too many people (40) onto this tour for one boat. We took a shuttle bus to Stuarts Cove (45 minute ride). We piled onto the boat and went to three sites (a large reef with some fish, a plane wreck and the shark swim. The water was chilly but the day was nice. Our crew was friendly and seemed to enjoy their job. Only the shark swim really stood out as memorable. They dropped a box of fish to the bottom and you swam out on a line as the sharks fed below you. Most people climbed right back into the boat when the sharks appeared! They were 4 7 ft sharks, so I cant blame them. After everyone got back to the boat, the crew fed the sharks from the back of the boat and we really got a scary show. That was the best part, being 3 feet from a feeding frenzy. That night, we went for dinner at Atlantis. Weve stayed there before and it is one of our favorite places, so it was nice to visit for awhile. The Bahamian people are so wonderful and beautiful it is amazing to see them each time we go. You can tour the hotel lobby, casino and shops at Atlantis free of charge. Tip: If you go during the day, you can see the beautiful grounds from the windows, but you cant get to the aquarium dig or the water park portion without a room key.
Key West was chilly, so we just did a short tour and ate lunch at the Hogs Breath Saloon. We visited the Aquarium($10) but it isnt worth the money. I did enjoy a large Dr. Pepper in Key West, which was a treat after the tiny Cokes on board. For some reason, we docked at Navy Pier instead of the pier near downtown, so we got a nice trolley tour of the town both ways. Tip: a great photo shot is the zero mile marker of Highway 1 on the main street downtown.
Well Ive written an entire book and just scraped the surface. While I noted some things that were mildly annoying, this cruise experience was absolutely fabulous and we would highly recommend it to everyone. On our next cruise, well be sure to book at least seven days so we can take advantage of everything the ship has to offer. Read Less