Westerdam - Western Caribbean: Westerdam Cruise Review by Jenniferheart

Westerdam 5
Member Since 2006
11 Forum Posts

Overall Member Rating

Westerdam - Western Caribbean

Sail Date: February 2006
Destination: Western Caribbean
Embarkation: Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
This was my third cruise, the first one for my partner and just one of many for his parents. Even though my previous experiences were very good, this one far exceeded my expectations, especially as I had read reviews that were not always very complimentary. So here I am to put the record straight. For ease of reading, Ill break down my comments by category, as several other reviewers have done before.

Embarkation: Went very well. We had flown into Miami the day before and spent the night in a hotel in Hollywood. Our coach drove us to the port around 12 noon and having read other reviews about the importance of arriving early, I was expecting long queues. Instead, embarkation was smooth. It was incredibly quick and efficient, and we could benefit from a virtually non-existent queue at the immigration desk for non-US citizens. We were then directed to the ship that was waiting for us. Our baggage was handled beautifully and was duly delivered to our cabin later on as More expected. We were told to help ourselves in the Lido Restaurant, on Deck 9, which we did with no problem and no further queuing in spite of the many passengers following the same advice.

Cabin: We had a deluxe veranda outside stateroom. I confirm that our beds were exceptionally comfortable: only ours at home could match them! This was particularly convenient on our cruise as the first day we had a rough sea and spent most of our time in our cabin resting. Our choice of clothes fitted perfectly in the wardrobes, provided with lots of hangers. Our bathroom had a bath tub, which I found very comfortable for either a bath or a spacious shower. We liked the veranda, where we could sit to enjoy the view or communicate with our relatives next door thanks to the mobile dividers. Unlike what I had read in other reviews, there was neither a rumbling noise, like an engine noise, in our room, nor a sewage odour anywhere on the ship.

Customer service: Was quite effective. We made our reservations as soon as we boarded the ship, but even later on the front desk staff answered all our questions with a smile.

Public areas: The main theatre, the Vista lounge, hosted the evening shows. There were comfortable leather chairs (armchairs!) and sofas and I did not find that there were many seats with an obstructive view. Columns were few. The theatre may have not been the biggest one I had ever seen, but was designed to contain half the passengers (there were two shows for the four dining sittings). A few seats had tables for drinks and waiters came and went for half an hour before the show to fulfill the guests wishes. Not that one would need any other drinks to gulp down immediately after dinner and before a performance. There were a small atrium mid-ship, more for decoration than anything else, plus another nice lounge for various functions, and a number of nice bars with different features. We especially liked the one just outside the Vista dining room, where classical or traditional music was played (violins and piano live music). Music was also played elsewhere, such as in the Northern Lights, a small room used for Karaoke or special theme nights and generally for late night dancing. The Lido Deck was quite nice, with a small swimming pool and lots of chairs and round tables to sit down and enjoy the sun and/or drinks and food or just some live music. There was another swimming pool on the aft deck for adults only, which was also pleasant and less crowded. The gym was good, although we didnt take full advantage of it. I did find it odd that some classes (advanced Pilates, yoga and some others) were for a fee. That had never happened to me on other ships. Most people tend to spend more time in restaurants than in the gym and this would be a further deterrent! This time, it was a deterrent for me as well  and I do normally tend to exercise! There was also a spacious internet room which could be used for a fee. Quite a high fee, actually, to use the internet (not that I wanted to see a computer during my holiday!) or to have lessons. We passed by the library, which I found well equipped, although we didnt use it as we had our own books that we enjoyed reading in other areas or on our balcony. There was an art gallery (a real one!) which was nice to have a look at on our way to the dining room. For those who liked it, there were also art auctions. The photo gallery was OK. I didnt find the photos particularly good. Photographers should maybe be a bit more professional. In any case, we took our own pictures, so that was pretty irrelevant. The very first general impression I had when boarding and touring the ship was that there were many corridors, too little natural light and quite low ceilings. Later, though, I got used to this, learned to find the nice spots with a view (or outdoors) and to appreciate the cosy feeling given by those  elegant  corridors. Food: The Vista dining room was round, quite big without looking like an airport. Organised in a circular way, it had rectangular tables for two, four or six people as well as some oval tables. Nothing like the refectory style of other ships, with very big and long crowded tables. The decor was carpet and velvet, golden railings and gave the atmosphere of a luxury hotel in spite of its size. The food was simply extraordinary. It was served in an impeccable way, always with a smile. The quality of the food was very, very high  and I, being Italian, am very fussy about food!  Some of the best food I have ever had, in fact. Presentation was imaginative, the choice ample, sophisticated and varied each day, quantity perfect (and for those with hollow legs second helpings could be asked for, which is one of the reasons why I dont understand how other critics could say portions were too small!).

Room service was good. We ordered one early breakfast and were happy with the vast choice of food and drinks offered and the timeliness of service. Croissants were still warm when they arrived!

The Lido restaurant had a buffet-style and provided different sections with great variety of food: Italian, salads, sweets, bistro, oriental, deli, etc. Lots of drinks were also offered free of charge, such as teas, coffee and fruit juices. I found any extra drinks ordered at the bars very good value, and not just because I had London standards! On the Lido Deck there were also burgers, hot dogs and tacos at hand, in addition to a bar.

The only disappointment  and a big one - we had was the Pinnacle Grill. A disaster, in fact. Having read all the very good reviews about it, I decided to pre-book a table for us for Valentines Day. I called the number specified on HALs website and an American girl told me that she could help me, but that for a large party I needed to fill out a form. She sent this by email. I filled it out and sent it back. Her answer, four days later, was: Unfortunately, we are not able to pre-book any Pinnacle Grill reservations for February 14th (Valentines Day). All guests wishing to dine on that day will have to make arrangements to do so once they are onboard. We regret to disappoint you in this matter, however, we hope you may understand the reasoning behind this policy. When I asked for a more elaborate explanation, the answer was: The reason we do not pre book special days such as this, is because there would be no reservations left within months of the cruise. For special days, such as this, we were receiving requests months and months ago. If we were able to pre book them, they would have all been booked months ago. I thought that was precisely the reason why you pre-book. Very unimpressive. We then resigned ourselves to book immediately upon boarding. The maitre d was there and told us that he couldnt book anything for us yet (it was Sunday, February 12th) as the menu was not ready yet. The day after, the same scene occurred again. They could not take out booking as they would have to charge us then and they had not yet decided upon the accompanying wines  or the final menu, for that matter! The maitre d showed us the rough draft of the menu and said he had been let down by the management. We tried to reason with him, but anything he said was an insult to our intelligence. On Feb 13th early in the evening we saw the manager and he said there was no problem for our booking. Later on, we went to verify our booking with the maitre d. Guess what  he hadnt booked anyone in yet because he was still thinking about whether to have a normal menu or a special set menu as originally scheduled! We didnt believe a word of it. He promised he would book us in if we confirmed our reservation at 8 on the following morning. We said that we wanted to confirm it there and then, but to no avail. Feb 14th was the day we were on an excursion very early, so we asked somebody else to try and confirm our reservation, which finally happened. After all this, we thought we had well earned the grandest meal on earth. But more was to come. We were presented with a set menu for $ 75 pp including wine, which we said we wouldnt drink anyway, except some champagne. The staff was less than unimpressive. We later learned that exceptionally there were two sittings that evening and the staff obviously could not cope at all. Not even a smile. But the food! Oh, what an appalling experience! The foie gras was obviously inserted to impress, but failed to do so (also, I would not have put it in a set menu with no alternative options as there are several people who would not like it). The fish was undercooked and as near a Dover sole as I am. The lemon sorbet was a glass full of inedible or undrinkable bits of ice  very weird; the meat was the only good thing. The ginger cake at the end was average. We really tried to give the restaurant a chance, but with poor results. As to the atmosphere, there was no touch of romance, we didnt feel *special* and there was absolutely nothing that remotely reminded of Valentines  not a single decoration, a rose, a chocolate or a heart-shaped anything or romantic music. The staff was distracted and arrogant. And, after all those difficulties to book us in, we found two female members of the crew sitting at a table next to ours. Either to fill the last table or to enjoy the privilege of being the maitre d favourites. So much for a special evening! I did hope that this would be just an isolated case, but the following days we exchanged our opinions with other passengers who had visited the Pinnacle Grill on other evenings and they also were not satisfied. We also learned that the Vista dining room had been improved. Well done! It was fabulous there. The Pinnacle Grill now needs a serious overhaul if it wants to be superior or even just match the quality of the main dining room. If I can give some advice, do not waste your time and money in the Pinnacle Grill (there is a $20 extra charge per person to have dinner there), the other restaurants are on a different, far more superior planet!

The culinary demonstrations and courses were interesting, too. Shame that such good food seemed to have deteriorated between the kitchen and the dining room of the Pinnacle Grill!

We also appreciated the so-called Chocolate extravaganza, a late evening buffet on the Lido Deck with every chocolate variation possible and ice sculptures. Entertainment was excellent, the best I have ever had on a ship. Our cruise director, Drew Murdock, was incredibly welcoming and pleasant and funny and, above all, competent. I do not know if he is the one to thank for the choice of guests, but if that is the case, then bravo! a big applause for him. We could see performances by Alfreda Gerald (her last cruise on this ship), a very good singer; a ventriloquist who was extraordinarily good and made us laugh to tears; an old acquaintance of mine, Jeff Trachta (remember Thorne in The Bold and the Beautiful?), who sang and impersonated a million people  there was also a much appreciated Q&A session where he answered questions and signed free photographs. I met him about fifteen years ago and, well, he hadnt changed one bit! And, of course, there was HALs dance staff  not the best dancers (but I am a former ballet dancer, so I have a right to be harsh), but the music and costumes made up for it. I heard that Karaoke and other events and competitions we didn't attend were well run.

The casino was relatively big, varied, well equipped and always full. Shame that people could smoke there. I found it a bit strange that while minors were not allowed entrance, there was no real entrance as one corridor passed right through it. No problem, though, as no minors were ever in sight. CLUB: the Club for children of various ages (till seventeen, apparently) did a great job: we didnt see any children for the whole duration of the cruise  and there were some  except when they diligently gathered to watch a show or have an ice-cream in the Lido restaurant or a swim on the Lido Deck pool. No screams, no infringement of the adult-only areas. I heard that the Club staff was very well liked. Children of all ages were all taken care of, there seemed to be something for everyone. I saw the golf practice, basketball/tennis court and table tennis tables, but there were also board games and all sorts of extra activities and tournaments organised by the crew.

The Spa: Well, for the first time in my cruising experience I felt like treating myself. The massage and mini-facial I had (my partner also had one!) were relaxing and well prepared. The Spa/treatment area itself had several rooms laid out, at first sight, in a confusing way; changing rooms were spacious and after a while it became easier for me to get my bearings. The hairdresser deserves a special mention: Vladimir, tall and smiling, polite, funny and competent, was a turning point in the life of my hair! I had a cut, colouring and re-styling which were absolutely stunning. I let myself be talked into buying some products; I am using them now and I must admit that they are very good.

Shops: Good size rooms. There was a good selection of clothes, souvenirs and especially jewels and very good-value watches. I dont know if we went at the right times, but we never found the shops crowded. There were jewelry and drinks events during the cruise and some real bargains available.

Crew: Simply exceptional (save the people in the Pinnacle Grill mentioned above). And I do not pay compliments just for the sake of being nice. We were mightily impressed with the staff, particularly the Indonesian ones: Deddy and Ketut who served us in the dining room, Tony the beverage expert, and Yoko for dining supervision. They were very friendly, always smiling (that genuine smile so rare to get nowadays), ready to chat if we liked to, extremely good-natured, always available and even anticipating our needs (they seemed to remember every single preference we had!), without being imposing; nothing was too much for them, everything was possible. And not just in exchange for a tip. We made real friends and felt very special (Pinnacle Grill, learn from them! Id advise to change all of the staff and use Indonesian one instead!). We appreciated HALs tradition to let the Indonesian and Filipino staff have their own evening show for us guests, it was funny and sweet! We learned that they had to rehearse at night, after their twelve hours working day, yet in the morning they were alert and smiling again. Our cabin steward Syam was a smiling wizard. Invisible, but always present and super-efficient. Our room was miraculously made up whenever we were out of it, turn-down service had the touch of chocolates on the pillows and attention to details. Each evening a new animal was created with the arrangement of some towels: ingenious! We agreed on HALs tipping policy. We could tip the staff we met whom we thought particularly good, but the daily fixed $10 tip went to help all the rest of the staff, the invisible hands who cooked, maintained and cleaned the ship so well. They were so good that we wanted to take some of our Indonesian crew back with us! I do hope that this review will be read by the HAL management: in an effort to save us time or the bother (it was all to their credit!), our cabin staff handed in our forms left on our table before we could add our last comments.

Cruisers: They were mainly adults, or at least that is the feeling the expert crew gave us! For the great majority they were American, some Canadian; it was announced that fifteen nationalities were represented on our cruise, but we did not notice the other ones  apart from ours!

Shore excursions: After one day at sea (a rough sea, so remember to take tablets against motion-sickness!), we stopped at Costa Maya (Majahual), Mexico. Unlike in the rest of the country, especially the northern parts of it, there were no signs of the past hurricane. The area was undeveloped, but apparently the fastest developing one in the world. The port was only opened to tourists three years ago. After reading so many good reviews and exploring different local sites, we decided to organise an independent tour of the Chacchoben Mayan ruins with local guides. We were docked, so disembarking was easy, although the meeting point for anyone going onshore was a narrow landing on Deck One. Maybe it was meant to speed up access to the gangways. We found the stop a very good choice, although a bit too quick.

George Town, Grand Cayman: We had checked that there would be seven other ships in port, so we eliminated certain excursions that we thought would be too crowded. In the end, we decided to go on an independent tour with a local driver/guide who took us around the western part of the island  we saw Hell, the Turtle farm and got an idea of the general landscape as well as some rum cakes to take home and a taste of pineapple rum and other types of drinks. Unfortunately, by the time we docked and disembarked it was too late to go to Rum Point, at the other end of the island, which I had been recommended for spending a relaxing time. On our way back, we stopped at a surprisingly good restaurant on the pier called The Big Black Dick, where I could eat some of the best crab cakes ever. Tendering back was very easy.

Montego Bay, Jamaica: Our two main activities here were horse-riding (on healthy former polo and race horses) in and out of the water  a trip organised with the ship - and relaxing on the beach of a private resort. Rum punches and Jamaican music were really good! I was amazed at how friendly locals were. We obviously docked in the safest part of the island, I know that other areas may be very rough.

Half Moon Cay, Bahamas: After another day at sea, we arrived in this paradise island owned by HAL. The weather was beautiful, the water clearer than in a swimming pool, all sorts of activities available, including snorkeling either near the beach, for beginners, or off-shore by boat; a BBQ was organised  food was simple and not incredibly varied, but good nevertheless. We saved lots of money by renting (pre-booking at the ships excursion desk) clamshells on the beach instead of cabanas. We had the shade and everything else we needed anyway. The beach was large and very long, a white crescent hugged by the sea with a backdrop of lush vegetation. There was a bar called I wish I could stay here forever  that was what all of us thought!

Disembarkation went very smoothly. We liked the fact that we needed to put our suitcases with our coloured tabs outside our staterooms only by 1 a.m. on the day of disembarkation. In the morning, we had the choice of remaining in our cabins or on our verandas until our colour was called, but we suspected that, given our flight times, we would be among the first ones to be called (which was the case), so we went downstairs and waited with our hand baggage in one of the many bars. Nobody needed to be crammed into the lounges, as I read in past reviews. There was plenty of space for everyone, it was possible to wait virtually anywhere on the ship, and colours were announced both on channel 43 of our room TV and in all corridors. Unlike what I read in other reviews, we disembarked in Fort Lauderdale very quickly and with no queues, and immediately found our suitcases in the baggage claim area, so I guess HAL has improved in this department!

The obvious conclusion is that we adored this holiday and are already planning the next one! With HAL, of course. Less

Published 03/31/06

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