We chose this cruise for the Panama Canal full transit, and the plus that the ms Westerdam was refurbished earlier this year. I read several reviews before the cruise about the refurb modernizations, mostly people missing what was no longer there. One major change, and one I never saw mentioned, was the addition of 4 USB charging ports in our cabin: 2 at the desk and 1 at each night stand. Had I known, I would have left the mini-extension-cord-with-USB at home. At least I didn't need to use it - ever!
The other changes to the ship's decor and style felt like an upgrade for me, also. I remember the previous HAL style from trips about her sister ship, ms Zuiderdam, and similar styles on the Eurodam and Ryndam, and while I enjoyed those ships repeatedly none of the changes felt "drastic" or "out-of-character" with Holland America's general sense of class and elegance. The public areas were gracefully appointed and comfortable. The background muzak for some areas was unpleasant but that may have only been our take on it. HAL needs to reaffirm her role by bringing the next generation into the ship and my choices may not always be the most popular or current. I'd rather adapt than see the cruise line falter and loose markets.
The food was a better than last year's cruise and that was a pleasant surprise. I expect good food from HAL and am usually only mildly disappointed by a dish now and then. But the current kitchen has surpassed my expectations and on this 14 day cruise I actually was looking to try more new dishes each day rather than resort to those I had earlier in the week and thought were good.
The crow's Nest Bar has changed - the coffee machines are now a permanent part of the bar but that turned out surprisingly well, since I never would bother to walk around the corner with the old layout. I read about people missing the library but really don't understand since any time I tried to find a book (since 2009) the selection was never what I expected and I always just settled for something. I was so grateful to start using a tablet when they were available to bring all the books (and more) that I want.
I miss the teak loungers on the promenade deck. Those aluminum and nylon contraptions they have were not any more comfortable and far less appealing to me. But I bet the maintenance people are pleased with the lower upkeep for them.I would certainly never keep a teak lounger at home for that reason.
We are not big on the shows in the mail showroom. The couple we attended were good and well visited. And the discussions we heard from others on board indication most we're pleased with what was offered. The Lincoln Center Stage was often come-early for seating, and the crowd around the piano duet only got more involved each night.
The ports were different for us and while Guatemala and Nicaragua are still industrial ports, HAL does a decent job of getting you out into the countryside. One word of caution - we talked to vendors at the port, and negotiated for a tour in Corinto, Guatemala only to be told we could not pay with a credit card as we were getting into the van. The bus driver would "take us into town to an ATM where we could get cash" but that had too many red flags for us to find it acceptable. Nothing was said during any of the negotiations that the deals was for cash payment. And our concern was that once away from the port, and stuck, the price would not be the same. And again, inside the "hospitality center" that large room with the musicians and tour desks, we were initially told we could use our credit card only to have the older woman at the counter tell the clerk that no, we could only use the card "in town at an ATM" to get cash to pay. Our advice - either book with HAL or book online before you get there.
Our cabin service was a good as usual, although later in the day than we expected. I feel that HAL is reducing staff to improve margins and that's unfortunate, if they have.
Nice cabin, convenient location and mostly quiet with the Spa above us on deck 9 and more cabins below. The addition of the 4 USB charging ports was a pleasant surprise - 2 at the desk and one at each night stand! Nice sized balcony with 2 loungers and one side table. Locking the doors stopped all wind noise on the couple of very windy nights.
The bus driver and tour guide kept us safe and entertained. I thought I knew what I needed about tequila but learned more. And we sampled some excellent varietals and flavored tequilas. I thought the prices were a bit high BUT the tequila was some of the best I have tried while sober. (Nothing counts if you start drinking tequila when you already have a buzz, man!)View All 85 Tequila Factory Walking Tour Reviews
We recommend adding a tour to elevate this sleepy harbor town to an interesting stop. There's little to do in town but eat, drink and lay at the beach and while that is great for some, we made an early day of it and headed back to the ship.
Again, there is not much here but some shops and street vendors if you do not take a tour. Interestingly, the people while trying to entice you, were not as aggressive as some places we've visited. We bought coffee from a street vendor and checked on local rum prices but failed to find a deal we liked on the rum.
Book your tours ahead of time online, or from HAL. The vendors at the pier accept cash only, though they do not tell you this while negotiating. When you bring out the credit card they only say they can "take you into town to an ATM where you can get the cash you need". While this might assure we get the correct exchange rate, it does not prevent that vendor from adding new fees or changing the rate once he has us away from the ship and unable to return.
On the plus side, there is a sizable vendor market at the pier, with handcrafted originals and not just imported knock-offs. Plus some cultural displays and locals dance and musicians. Staying ashore was pleasant and comfortable, even without a tour.
First up - the tour bus was only for our small group and brand new! The tour guide filled in the time traveling out to the zipline with local information. The trip back was less enjoyable but then, I was hot and tired, too.
The zipline experience was excellent! The guides were thorough in their instructions, watchful and attentive in their care, and the 10 lines we rode well maintained and a joy to ride. I even bought the photo package because I felt they deserved the added plus. The digital photos were in my email inbox just 2 days later when I checked.View All 39 Zip-Lining Reviews
This tour is only available on the ship, I think, provided us a bus ride into the old town, with a short overview of the city's history and short photo stop at a fort, before dropping everyone in a central plaza and arranging a pickup time to return us to the ship.
The old city is packed with shops and restaurants, mostly designed for locals but now available to tourists from the revitalized port. We found an excellent bottle of Columbian rum for $47, compared to $70 at one of Florida's biggest discounters.
While the weather was hot and humid, the city and the shops were delightful and we wish Cartagena well as she tries to build a tourist trade.View All undefined undefined Reviews