Westerdam - Eastern Caribbean: Westerdam Cruise Review by nevis92

Westerdam 5
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Westerdam - Eastern Caribbean

Sail Date: March 2006
Destination: Eastern Caribbean
Embarkation: Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
Westerdam Eastern Caribbean Cruise, March 19, 2006

First, some background. Ive been on several cruises over the last 20 years. My last four cruises have been with my wife and two children, ages 8 and 10 and have always been Spring Break. This was our second HAL cruise. Our first was two years ago aboard the Zaandam from Port Canaveral. The other two Spring Break cruises were aboard Costa Victoria and MSC Opera.

We chose to cruise with HAL again because of the very enjoyable time we had aboard the Zaandam. Our children particularly enjoyed Club HAL and we felt the program was well run and had just enough kids, but not so many that the ship was overrun. We are not big party people and like that HAL offers a civilized environment that traditionally has worked well for seniors but is appealing to families like ours.

I chose the Westerdam for this cruise over the Zuiderdam mainly because of the itinerary. I liked having Half Moon Cay as our last stop at the More end of the week. I had never been to Tortola so I was anxious to visit the island. I also have loved St. Maarten from previous visits.

Im 39, my wife is a year (or so) older and weve both traveled extensively our entire lives. We enjoy the whole experience of traveling, expecting pitfalls and bumps and always rolling with the unexpected. We are easy to please and dont ever have unrealistic expectations.

We flew into Miami one day ahead just to play it safe. We rented a car through Thrifty planning to drop it off at their off-airport location near Port Everglades. They offer a shuttle to and from the ships so it is very convenient. We originally were supposed to stay at La Quinta near the port in Ft. Lauderdale but decided to stay on the beach at Best Western Oceanfront in Bal Harbour. I had read mixed reviews of this property but for our family, for one night, it was perfect. The property is very old and very much a motel surrounded by expensive high-rise condos and hotels. But we were on the beach, walking distance to a supermarket, (Publix), and Shops at Bal Harbour. The rate of $93 through Sams Club couldnt be beat and the room was a suite with a kitchen. We would stay there again.

Sunday, we dropped our rental car off and took the Thrifty shuttle to our ship. It was very easy. We waited in line to embark for about 15 minutes. I noticed there was no line for suite passengers. Everyone was very helpful with the process and we were quickly through security and to the Lido for lunch. Within a minute or two past 1pm, the announcement was made that the cabins were ready. We booked two cabins, a deluxe verandah Cat. VA at the aft of the ship and an inside Cat. J across the hall for our children. This was the first year we let them stay alone in their cabin and it worked very well. I was glad we had the extra cabin because our verandah cabin would have been too small for the four of us.

The cabin was great. Obviously, the best part was the enormous verandah. It was large enough for two full size reclining lounge chairs. One thing that surprised me was that one of the lounge chairs was one of the teak deck chairs from the Promenade Deck. There were also two chairs, a small table, and a large cushioned chair with ottoman. The verandah was completely exposed which allowed us to sunbathe. We brought two small umbrellas, which clipped onto the lounge chairs and offered us some shade and a bit of privacy from above. There was also privacy right at the door to the verandah. We could sit there and not be seen from above. We loved watching the wake all week.

We never experienced soot from the stacks and also never experienced trash blowing down from the aft pool. We never experienced vibration common with being at the aft of the ship. We had VERY smooth seas all week so I cant really say weather one would be affected by extra motion being at the aft. One annoyance was that our verandah was wet every morning from the spraying down of the aft pool. After the first morning, we simply moved the cushions against our windows before bed so they would not get wet and put them back out in the morning. Be aware that the deck surface on the verandah gets extremely hot. We had bright sunshine all seven days so we always had to wear sandals on our verandah.

The beds are incredible. I slept better all week than I ever do at home. Im sure the gentle motion of the ship had something to do with it as well but both my wife and I LOVED the bed. The set up of the cabin worked well for us. A huge help was the over the door shoe holder that was recommended by folks on these boards. We actually hung ours on a picture that was well fastened to the wall. It was great to have the extra storage and quick access to items.

We had contacted Ship Services before the cruise and requested that the mini bars in both staterooms be emptied before the cruise and left unlocked. They had done just that for us and we were pleased to be able to use the mini fridges and not have the daily visit by the bar service personnel wanting to check the contents of the mini bar. I was disappointed at how small the vanity in the bathroom was. Our children had a much larger counter in their inside cabin bathroom. The bathroom amenities included the new Elemis Spa products, which I liked because they were not too fragrant.

Our cabin steward, Septo, was very efficient and pleasant. His English was almost non-existent but he managed to always smile and fulfill every request. We had a towel animal waiting for us every night at turndown. He was always available and nearby when we needed him.

The public areas were very nice and the ship has been well maintained. There was some worn carpeting on the stairs but I noticed someone installing new carpeting one day. Its a beautiful ship and laid out like the standard HAL ships. I didnt feel like I was on a huge ship. The only time it ever felt crowded was lunchtime in the Lido Restaurant.

I noticed a huge improvement in the level of service versus our week on the Zaandam. I cant say enough about how wonderfully we were treated. I am amazed that they can keep smiling and be so warm and friendly. If you consider that the ship is like their home, we were made to feel like welcomed guests in their home. I was less impressed with some of the passengers and their rudeness toward the crew and others. The toughest job on board must be Guest Relations. As I stood in line and listened to some of the ridiculous complaints, questions, accusations, I watched them calmly and politely try to fulfill the passengers request. Whatever they are paid, it is not enough.

While our kids were at Club HAL, my wife and I ate dinner the first night at The Pinnacle. They were offering the first night half-price deal which wasnt expected but was a nice surprise. I had read about dreadfully slow service here and was concerned because our 8:00pm reservation meant we had to be finished in two hours to pick up our children from Club HAL. I mentioned that to our waiter and we were finished at precisely 10pm. The service was OUTSTANDING. Our waiter, asst. waiter, and wine steward were all friendly, never stuffy, extremely efficient and greatly added to the enjoyment of our evening. On a scale of 1 to 10 for service, definitely a 10. Food was also excellent, well prepared, and the timing of the courses was seamless.

The food in the main dining room was much improved over our cruise two years ago. I found it to be very well presented, and very tasty. I had read mixed reviews about the lobster tail and the beef in the main dining room. Our lobster tail was generously sized and moist. The beef was very flavorful. Our waiter and assistant waiter did a wonderful job all week. My wife ordered an iced tea our first night and every night after, it was waiting for her when we sat down to eat. Decaf coffee for the both of us the first night; never again had to ask the rest of the week. They seemed to really enjoy pleasing their guests.

The Lido had excellent food with lots of selection. My kids loved eating there but Im not a fan. Gluttony turns me off and there seemed to be a lot of it there. As I previously said, it was the only place on the ship that ever felt crowded. I was elbowed, rear-ended and cut in front of in line more than once. I wanted to ask each time what the rush was and if they were worried that the food was going to run out? I never quite figured out the layout and traffic flow, maybe that annoyed others. Some high points were the sandwich wraps, much improved desserts, and all the fish offerings. A low point; the ice cream served was tasteless and definitely not up to the same quality that was served on the Zaandam. Someone at HAL decided to save some money here and it definitely showed. Im still scratching my head trying to figure out who thought the size of the drink glasses in the Lido was appropriate? They were like shot glasses. Fortunately, we had brought sport bottles on board which I would HIGHLY recommend. I bought them for $1.99 at Wal Mart and could have sold 100 of them on board for $10 each based on the number of people that asked me where I got mine.

The entertainment on board was what I expected. Some good, some embarrassingly bad. Standard cruise ship entertainment. We do not vacation for entertainment. If we did, wed go to Vegas or Broadway. Ive seen better on other cruise lines, particularly, last year on MSC Opera.

Regarding the soda cards, I would not buy one again. It was a complete waste of money. A small glass of ice with a third of a can of soda at best. It was really bad on Half Moon Cay as it was in a small paper cup, all ice very little soda. Stick with water. Its free and much better for you anyway. My kids ordered Shirley Temples one night at dinner and when I later learned they were $3.50 each, I told my wife we should have ordered REAL drinks for that price.

We found the facilities of the Greenhouse Spa to be top-notch. Its a beautiful facility and like most cruise lines, they are looking for every opportunity possible to take your money. There was even a fee for most of the exercise classes. To use the steam room cost money, the dry sauna was free. Figure that out. My wife had a massage which she raved about but in the middle of it, the massage therapist said, Would the lady be interested in upgrading her massage to the hot stone treatment for an additional $35.00? Come on! That was beyond tacky.

Some thoughts on Club HAL. My kids are very independent and love to meet new friends and adapt well to new environments. Part of the reason why we choose to cruise is they so enjoy the childrens programs. As I previously said, our experience with Club HAL aboard the Zaandam was very positive. Our kids loved the counselors on the Zaandam and we found them to be very enthusiastic and enjoying their jobs. We figured it could only be better on the Westerdam because of the Signature of Excellence improvements, and the efforts of HAL to attract families.

Our children made some nice friends on the Westerdam but overall, were not particularly impressed with the Club HAL program this time. It felt as though it had been scaled back from our Zaandam cruise, which I know, cannot be HALs intention. It may simply be that the counselors were less than enthusiastic. They seemed unprepared for the number of kids on board. I had asked ship services two weeks before the cruise and they knew the number of children and the breakdown by ages. So how could the number of kids have caught those on board the Westerdam off guard?

We were not welcomed at embarkation with Welcome Kits for the kids as we were previously. Both my son and daughter said the counselors were both just okay and one of them they called mean. On the Zaandam, we felt our kids were very welcome on board and HAL was very happy to have them. On this cruise we felt our children were tolerated at best. There were only 10 to 15 kids in my childrens 8-12 year old age group. There were 50 teenagers which seemed to take all of the programs resources and the counselors complained about the number of teens being a surprise as they made excuses for different shortcomings affecting our kids. But as I said, if Ship Services knew two weeks ahead that there would be 50 teens on board, why didnt Club HAL? By most cruise lines standards, this is a very small number of children, especially for Spring Break. HAL has a long way to go before they come anywhere close to their competition in regards to childrens offerings. Theyve upgraded the facilities, but without the proper programming and staff to execute it, it falls flat.

I was very impressed with how the crew handled a medical emergency while we were at sea. A gentleman needed to be airlifted off the ship and taken to the hospital. In order to do this; we had to change course and head towards a US Coast Guard chopper, which was heading our way. Throughout the process, we were kept well informed via announcements over the PA system. Because of the changing course, we were put behind schedule and had to switch our port days. We still were able to visit St. Maarten and Tortola, but the days were switched. I was also impressed at how the ships Cruise Director and Shore Excursion team were able to make all the necessary changes in programming and excursions. Unfortunately, while at Tortola, due to the changes, our excursion to Virgin Gorda was delayed and we were left waiting for 45 minutes in a hot, small holding room waiting for our ferry. Obviously, things like this are bound to happen but my disappointment with HAL was that we were never informed of what the delay was or when we could expect to embark. Needless to say, our tempers were flaring but finally arriving at The Baths on Virgin Gorda quickly changed everyones dispositions and we all became very forgiving.

Half Moon Cay is without question the finest private island of any cruise line. Crystal clear water, white sandy beaches and top notch facilities. The lunch served was much improved over our visit there two years ago. We were the only HAL ship there that day and the beach never felt crowded. What I like so much about Half Moon Cay is that such a small area of the island has been developed for the cruise line. It enables one to get away from it all and find a quiet place. The water park had been added since our last visit and although our kids were a bit old for it, it is perfect for the 7 and under age group. Also new, (for us), were the horseback riding, cabanas, stingray experience, and the much needed cobblestone walkways. I liked that it was our last port of call as it was a great way to finish off the week.

HAL has begun using the Henry Hudson to tender folks back and forth from the ship to Half Moon Cay. Although it is a very nice vessel, I found that it actually slowed down the process because it would take so long to fill with passengers and thus, empty passengers. On the lifeboat tenders, theyd fill up quickly and off youd go. Im sure it cuts down on crowds of people waiting on board the ship to tender to the island. But instead of waiting on the ship for a tender, you end up waiting on the Henry Hudson for it to fill up.

I noticed more announcements on board for Bingo and Art Auctions than I had remembered. I think the only person that should be allowed to make an announcement over the PA system should be the Captain. My wife was particularly annoyed with the amount of junk mail we received in our cabin mailbox every day. I hope they recycle because it seems like a huge waste of paper. Everything I needed to know was in the Daily Program. I didnt need to be reminded with flyers.

We were very pleased with our Westerdam cruise. The highlight and most pleasant surprise was the outstanding service we received on board from every department. These folks seem very genuine, were always smiling and friendly, and went out of their way to please. At embarkation, while going through security, I had left a disposable camera behind and didnt realize it until a few hours later after I was on the ship. I called guest relations and asked if a camera had been turned in from the pier. They hadnt seen one but would check with them and let me know. I figured they were just offering lip service and since it was a disposable camera, why go to all the effort? Well just before dinner, after we had departed Ft. Lauderdale, we went back to our cabin and the camera had been placed on our bed! I was very impressed.

The raves for the week are for the great weather, calm seas, our awesome balcony stateroom, excellent service, beautiful ship, wonderful food, and great ports of call. The rants for the week are for the disappointing Club HAL, the annoying bingo and art auction reminders, the soda card and the tiny glasses in the Lido, and the decline in quality of the ice cream served at the ice cream bar.

We plan to definitely sail with Holland America Line again in the future. The number one reason is the wonderful people they have working on their ships. Less

Published 04/15/06

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