Joanie's Review 7-21 Feb Westerdam: Westerdam Cruise Review by IRL_Joanie

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Joanie's Review 7-21 Feb Westerdam

Sail Date: February 2010
Destination: Eastern Caribbean
Embarkation: Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)

Friday 05 February 2010 Preparing for take off:

Took our baby girl, Mid Night, to the kennels at 7:30 a.m. so I could finish the last minute packing. Made final note for the cruise and cruise critic posts, turned computer off and waited and waited and waited.

Thoughts of the final day of preparation: I hate the last day. It is BORING!!! You want to be on the road or in the air already !!

Saturday 06 February 2010 Leaving Home

Flights from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Ft. Lauderdale via Houston's Hobby Field: Got to the airport and checked in. Sat at the gate with 3 other cruise couples. We were all on different lines and compared our thoughts on what we'd been on and came to the overall conclusion that cruising is what you make of it, no matter what line it is on. It is the attitude you have going into the cruise and how a person lets the little things add up More to make them miserable. Also learned that most of the cruise lines have gone to E-Docs and Print your own Luggage Tags!

Houston's Hobby Air Field was a mad house due to Super Bowl Fans heading to the Super Bowl. But they were fairly decent and not as pushy as some other sports fans can be. Plane was late in departing because the starter switch did not work and the 1st blower they brought to the aircraft also decided to not work. I volunteered to blow all my hot air into the plane but that offer was declined. They brought a new blower and we were off.

Arriving in Ft Lauderdale: Arriving in Ft. Lauderdale was a breeze!! No HAL representative to meet us, but we did not expect one since our HAL PCC and I had already devised a private rental car for us since we had to drive from Ft. Lauderdale to our HAL provided hotel in West Palm Beach. We now know not to book our cruises out of Ft Lauderdale the day of Super Bowl since hotels locally are nigh unto impossible to get for less than $450. per night. Drove to West Palm Beach Hilton with no problems. We were met with a letter from the HAL representative Leslie and told where and when to meet along with Luggage Tags.

Sunday 07 February 2010 Departure Day!!!! The REAL Vacation begins!!!

Met with Leslie the HAL representative at about 8:20 a.m. instead of the 8:00 a.m. scheduled time. Seems she had to drive up from Miami both yesterday and today. She'd been at the hotel the day before from 8 a.m. until nearly 10 p.m. but had only been scheduled to be there until 9 p.m., to meet with us, the arriving passengers, since we were not in a regularly scheduled HAL hotel. There were some disgruntled people already waiting to lambast her for there not being a HAL rep on hand at the Ft. Lauderdale airport when they arrived at 11 p.m. the night before or on hand to greet them when they arrived well past midnight at the hotel. I guess some people think HAL caters to them alone and that HAL personnel do not have a life away from work. They had to hire a taxi for the 60 mile drive and were very unhappy. I asked them if their TA had advised them of the reason and they said no. I explained to them why the problems and they were more understanding and calmed down.

Ellen at HAL Shore Operations and Leslie had already arranged for hubby and I to be picked up by Towncar and taken to the port since I cannot do steps into or out of a bus easily. Towncar came at 10:15 with driver having a sign with our last name parading through the hotel lobby, when I said, "Oh, that's us!" Everyone (around 20 others) stood up and started to follow us out the door. LOL, scared the driver as he asked how many in our party as he only had room for 2 not 20 (I have to add that the very disgrubntled couple were very upset that hubby and I were getting the limo and they had to share an 85 passenger bus ride with everyone else to the pier) and we were off to Pier 26. Got there in great time, picked up my scooter at the entrance to Terminal 26 from Special Needs at Sea and breezed right through customs etc and boarded the ship in less than 5 minutes! Loved the embarkation process!!!

Got to our stateroom right about 1:30 p.m. VA 8104 is directly under the aft Lido port side where the HAL Cats set up to play. Was pleasantly surprised the entire cruise how little the deck noise bothered us after what we'd read on the boards! Also we were met in our stateroom with gifts from the ship/HAL thanking us for our comments on our last cruise (May 2009) and a dinner for 2 to the Pinnacle Grill. All I said on the survey in May was written in huge letters AWESOME!!!! So if that is all it took to get free gifts from HAL, I will continue to express my delight *GRIN* All most every night we'd return from dinner to find a new plate of chocolate hearts, roses and little balls on our coffee table, compliments of the HAL personnel on board.

Delivered all of the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet invitations to those that I had stateroom nmbers for. Went to the Front Desk where Kathleen assisted me with those that I had last names for and said she would have them delivered by the crew. She also told me that if I brought the invitations for the next week before 10:30 a.m. the 15th of February she'd make sure they were all delivered before 6:00 p.m. the same day. They were!

Made an appointment early and had my hair cut and styled at 5:15 in the salon. Had Cheryl, my beautician search hard for gray hair, but she could not find any. Drats!!! I am a 57 year old Grandmother, I deserve gray hair!!!

Dining Room Service:

Have late dining upper Level 8 p.m. table for 10. Eight people showed, good time had by all. Stewards right there from the moment you are seated. Wine and drink orders taken almost immediately, water server within seconds. Food orders taken within five minutes. Appetizers arrived within 5 minutes of orders being taken. 2nd course arrived after all at the table had finished their appetizers with main entrees arriving after all finished their 2nd course. And desert orders taken and delivered within 5 minute of entrees being removed. Over all time from entrance to leaving MDR was approximately 2 hours, which in my experience is about the same length of time for a fine restaurant on land. I'd rather have a nice leisurely dinner than one at say a Fast food type restaurant. On Holland America Lines you get the experience of a top notch restaurant to include the ambiance.

Thoughts of the first day: Loved the process and being back on the Beautiful Westerdam. Had so many crew members that saw me and hollered out "Welcome Back Just Joanie!!" Love it Love it!! I just love it when the crew remembers you, in a good way from a previous cruise!! It definitely makes you feel like you are back home again!

Monday 08 February 2010 At Sea aboard ms Westerdam:

Woke quite early and as not to disturb hubby (who slept late) I went up to the Lido aft to get coffee and smoke my life away in contemplation of what a great life I have and was enjoying. Met a couple fellow passengers with interesting lives, one was named Steve who is an Honest to God HONEST LAWYER!!! I swear he was, he had to be since he lives in a double wide trailor on 40 acres in North Eastern Kentucky. How honest can you be if you live in a double wide?? Pretty darned honest in my opinion!! Met another gentleman from the Naples Florida area who is semi retired and averages over $10K per month servicing newspaper machines a couple hours a day. Met a lady who's hubby is a retired Air Force 2 Star General who has cruised HAL for more than 20 years and adores the Westerdam. Wandered the ship renewing old friends and meeting new ones. Sat out on the Lido Aft deck and really enjoyed the sun!! Met some really great preople and discovered parts of the ship I'd not seen before.

Cruise Critic Meet and Greet was held in the Crow's Nest in a small alcove on the Port side. It was well attended by most of the 43 CC members who'd signed up on the Roll Call board and a couple of people that I'd mentioned CC to who were interested in joining. We did have one couple, Tampaart1 and his lovely wife who did have one small complaint about 2 rust spots on their verandah railing. I explained to them the reasons for the rust, sea air and waters create constant abuse on the ship and since Westerdm is going into drydock next month the little things like 2 small spots on an inside area like that will not be dealt with util then, they seemed to be understanding.

No ship officers were present, but afterwards I made an appointment to interview the Hotel Manager Ron Bontenbal the following day for my review. It will be at the bottom of this review, along with my interview with the HAL Cats Band Leader David Brady.

Before I forget we had 14 children on this leg of the cruise and everyone of them were perfect ladies and gentlemen!!

Views of the ship: She is in EXCELLENT SHAPE!!! Contrary to other reviewers stating she was in poor disrepair, she IS NOT!!! I noticed lots of new furniture and carpeting. The only noticable damage I saw was Deck 8 Aft Elevator Banks had a bench with what I assume were Mer Babies that some idiot had decided to scrape the paint off of the tummies, and in the Main Dining room there was one pole that had 2 holes in it from where it had been hit with a scooter, and no it was not I that did that damage!

Quality of service: EXCELLENT!!!!

Quality of food: Lido Embarkation (chose not to do Mariner's Lunch though it was available and suggested as we boarded) and Main Dining room evening service was wonderful!! Rizal was our Head MDR Steward for our first week and remembered us from May 2010. From 1st meal to the last, 2 weeks later they remembered our quirks, both big and small. Main Dining Room Service was once again wonderful and nice and leisurely. The appetizers were so good sounding that I ordered 2 Pate de Foi Gras, 1 soup and the entree with the cheese plate as my desert. Oh My God!! The cheese plate was delicious!!

Thoughts of the second day: Relaxing!!

Tuesday 09 February 2010 Grand Turks, Turks and Caicos:

Boy was this a big mistake for me!!!! I decided that since it was a beautiful day and the waters were just so calm and peaceful and the beautiful mezmerizing water color, to stay on board and just wander around. I was on the Verandah around 10:40 a.m. when our Stateroom Stewards Lu (Lufki Hanurdi - Stateroom Steward) (as an aside beginning 21 February Lu becomnes Lead Stateroom Attendant on Deck 4 of the Westerdam) and Jo (Johannes Hutauruk - Lead Stateroom Attendant) came into clean the Stateroom. I have no idea why, but decided to go back into the stateroom for something and decided to try and use my left hand as a doorstop..... DUH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Can we say they heard my screaming and swearing all the way to Cuba??? My WONDERFUL stewards reacted so professionally with speed and expertise! Their emergency training kicked in as mine went downhill fast ( I am a former Firefighter/EMT and forgot everything I had trained for). They got a face cloth and held direct pressure while calling 911, getting an ice bucket filled with ice and transporting me to the Medical Center AND kept my mind off the intense agony by cracking jokes and showing me their fingers, or lack there of. All of this took less than 5 minutes!! Let me add that the verandah doors are super heavy and spring loaded, so as the door latched shut ......All thoughts were that I'd amputated the 2nd finger of my left hand and I would have to be evacuated off the ship.

As we arrived in the medical center, we were met by the Chief Nurse Jennifer, a young Gorgeous Canadian Lass who immediately went into action and the Chief of Security Jeffrey Duran who was extremely concerned. Jennifer informed me that the Passenger Doctor was a Trauma Surgeon from South Africa and if she was ashore the Crew Doctor was available and was an Emergency Room Specialist so, either way I was going to be in great hands! She was so right!!!! Dr Tanya Engelbrechht MD, the Passenger Doctor was still on board and arrived a few seconds after I did and immediately set to work examining my finger. She thought that there might be crushing injury to the bone, which would require evacuation and surgery, but x-rays proved no crushing injury or break. The finger was cut to the bone at an angle and required 6 stitches (shaped like Half Moon Cay) and bandaging with antibiotics, pain medications and follow up dressing changes every day.

Poor Jeffrey, it took lots of reassuring from me to convince him that no one on the ship other than myself was responsible for my injury. Even the ship was at a dead stop with no wave movement what so ever, not even a gentle roll. It was sheer stupidity all of it on my part and to this day I cannot remember why it happened. But I did learn just how qualified everyone on this ship was in the case of an emergency!! I also learned a few days later that because the injury, even though 100% my own fault, there was no charge! If I'd had to be evacuated and an operation had to be done even that would have been at HAL's expense. BUT let me suggest that you NOT try to find out the hard and definitely painful way as I did.

I decided to bypass the Main Dining room tonight and instead ordered a double meat rueben with coleslaw from room service. Hubby did the Main Dining room and told me we had 2 new tablemates. Our MDR steward, Rizal was concerned about me as I was not present, but was understanding of the reason.

Before retiring to bed for the night, I went down to the front desk and asked for comment card to fill out my experience of today and to make sure that everyone involved received the special recognition of what they had done and how well. I cannot thank everyone involved and will be typing up a letter to send to HAL in the next day or so.

Before the finger incident, I met with Ron Bontenbal, the Westerdam's Hotel Manager for about 90 minutes. It was not the typical interview, then again being I was doing it, it would never be normal LOL. I wanted his views of what we, the passengers, could do to make our cruising experience more enjoyable for all. He knew what Cruise Critic is and stated he'd not attended a CC M&G in more than 2 years because of how some of us present ourselves during them when a Senior Crew/Staff member is present. He did accept my invitation to attend our 16 February M&G with the comment, "I'll give it another try," when I told him their were new members such as myself who were a bit kinder and could be more gentle with him *Smile* It will be at the bottom of this review, along with my interview with the HALCats Band Leader David Brady.

I also have to make note here that the Lido Starboard side cooking staff decided to start calling me Sunshine today!! I kid you not, everytime I'd pass by their station (nearest to the Starboard Lido aft) they would holler out Good Morning Sunshine every single time. I stopped after about the 3rd or 4th Good Morning Sunshine and thanked them and asked why they gave me the nickname and they said because I was always saying good morning to them and had a smile on my face. After that They started singing Good Morning Sunshine, which of course drew everyone's attention *LOL* Can we say, "Joanie Loves the Westerdam Crew?"

Quality of service: EXCELLENT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Room service was perfect to include the Chocolate Croissants (which you can write in on the menu along with waffles, no more having to order them after the Lido opens) and eggs cooked to perfection.

Thoughts of the third day: Painful!!! Important lesson learned though. NEVER put a body part between the verandah door and door frame! (LOL) It will also be a birthday hubby will never forget. He turned 65 on this day and after all the balloons, gifts and other birthday goodies arrived we thought that would be the most memorable day of the cruise, or reason to remember the birthday. Boy were we wrong LOL

Crew is so well prepared for everything and respond with surprising speed. They are great!! And no, even my injury did not stop me from being happy and having a great cruise!!

Wednesday 10 February 2010 San Juan Puerto Rico

While waiting at the gangway to disembark there were several other people, passenger and crew alike around me. An interesting comment by a gentleman directly behind me perked my ears when I heard him tell his wife and everyone in listening area, that the reason the Lido and Sports deck were wet every morning was because the Ship Security was out there every night keeping the high pressure water hoses going in order to keep pirates at bay... Joanie BIT HER Tongue very hard not to laugh and correct him, I just shook my head a couple of times in disbelief...... BUT I could not hold back on his next statement to his wife when he stated he could not wait to get to the top of San Juan Hill. I asked him how good a swimmer he was and he looked at me strangely. I then explained to him that San Juan Hill was in Cuba not Puerto Rico. He told me he was a History teacher and knew that El Morro was built atop San Juan Hill. I corrected him and informed him that San Juan was named after Juan de Batista and not the hill which is in Cuba. I also explained the true reason for the Sports Deck and Lido decks being wet every morning. LOL this was an American teacher?? Good Lord, no wonder our kids are having learning problems in school....

We were met at port by a dear friend we'd met 2 years ago aboard the Oosterdam. They are a couple equal in age to hubby and I, 65 and 57. They are native Puerto Ricans and took us driving all over the island and showing us places most tourists on Cruise Ships do not get to see. They also took us to a local restaurant where we ate local food such as Ma Fongo, fried plantains and spiders (plaintains shredded and double friend) YUMMMMMMMYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!! They then took us out beyond the airport where the locals all go to buy gifts for family and friends before we went to their house for a coupke hours of relaxation and sharing photos of our cruise together. Loved seeing the mini alligators of San Juan, though must admit when ne jumped right beside me it scared me half to death! An amazing island with lots of history, steep streets, very few stop signs and lots of wonderful people.

Went to dinner tonight and met our 2 new table mates, man are they a blast!!! Joeseph is a CC lurker! He reads but has never joined or posted. He was a blast as a tablemate and as a travel companion. Very intelligent man with one heck of a dry sense of humor. Tamara is a Dr with 5 degrees and was also a blast to have as a table companion. I never saw her outside of dinner, but loved her tales of her life!! The others at our table never returned after the first night so it was usually the 4 of us at a table for 10. But that was OK as we enjoyed the fun we had. Both of them have cruised many many cruise lines over the years and were avid HAL fans now.

Thursday 11 February 2010 Philipsburg (St. Maarten), Antigua

I did not go beyond the duty free area right at the dock as they had everything I wanted right there!! Bought 3 beautiful scarves, a gorgeous white tiger sun dress and a HUGE 5 kilo round of Gouda cheese for $30.00!! As luck would have it back on board the ship in the shops there was a beautiful jacket that matched my new sun dress to perfection. I swear they were perfect matches, and of course I had to buy it and wear the set to dinner tonight!!

There were 2 other ships that came in after we arrived. One was a Carnival and the other an X. After my 10 minute shopping spree in the Duty Free area, I went back on board and relaxed at the railing watching the passengers and ships docked in St. Maartens. I also got one heck of a sunburn, which turned to a suntan by the next morning.

Thoughts of the fifth day: Will happily do another cruise of the Caribbean if St Maartens is involved!!

Friday 12 February 2010 Second Day at Sea aboard the ms Westerdam

OH Boy, very rough seas and winds!!! Waves were approximately 20-33 feet and coming at us from 2 different directions and the winds were gusting from 45-60 knots. As the Captain told us the next day the waves got as high as 33 feet and winds were Gale Force 8. It was really really really rough!! But my sea bands worked well and I never got seasick!!

Did Formal night tonight and ordered 2 Appetizers of Escargot, one soup and double lobster, no turf. Since I could not use my left hand to cut my lobster, my MDR steward Rizal cut my lobster into bite sized pieces for me. Boy is he ever an amazing man!! About 3/4 of the men were in their Tux's and and all the women were also in their finest get ups!! The other 1/4 of the men were in suits and ties. No signs of what I'd call inappropriate attire.

OH MY GOD!!! I learned today after 39 and 1/2 years of marriage that my hubby is a Watch a holic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I cannot believe how many watches he loaded up with at the Lido Deck Sea Day Watch sale. LOL, we went with the intention of getting one watch for me, one for our granddaughter and one for a lady he works with... Well about an hour before the sale started he was in the shops and picked up 3 watches for himself at $10.00 each. Then he told me of the $19.95 sale beginning at 11 a.m. and that there were some pink heart watches which he thought would make a nice birthday present for our 11 year old granddaughter and a lady he works with. We went up to the Lido Midship pool area and Alex, one of the salesmen, pointed out to me the area where they were located under the coverings and helped me stake out my spot since there were only 2 in pink and 1 in a powder blue. I stayed in place and as soon as the coverings came off passed 2 pink heart watched to hubby, found one watch for myself and went to a quiet spot away from the area in order to let others shop. 30 minutes later hubby rounds the corner with his arms loaded with 7 watches!!!!! We get back to the room and he shows me all the different watches he has picked up..... All I can do is ask who is getting the watches and when and he has no answer other than well they were a good price... DUH!! So in less than 2 hours time we have purchased 11 watches. BUT now he realizes that some of the watches are the same and he cannot give the women he works with the same watches, so off he goes again.... We ended up with having to declare 15 watches at customs and the poor customs guy laughed his head off when I told him I only bought one of them.

Thoughts of the sixth day: Rough sea day which was handled well by most of the passengers and all of the crew!! And that I need to keep hubby occupied during watch sale days!!!

Saturday 13 February 2010 Half Moon Cay, Bahamas:

Weather and seas were miserable!!! Captain Henk Keijer attempted to stop but had to make the decision that it was just not going to happen as we were being pushed by both the waves and extremely high winds directly into the Cay. Smart move by the Captain! So we left and proceeded slowly onto Ft Lauderdale.

Later in the evening I was talking to the Chief Officer Noel O'Driscoll, and he told me just how bad the weather had been both the day before and today and I am so glad the officers of the Westerdam are on board!! He stated they had never in any of their careers seen the waves and winds coming at a ship from 3 different directions. As I stated previously the waves were anywhere from 20-33 foot high (I was on Deck 8 and woke this morning to the sea salt wave remains on my verandah) with wind gusts up to Gale Force 8. From my calculations we literally had hurricane category 1 force winds and waves. We did the Pinnacle Grill tonight. I was disappointed as I thought with the Flambe Skewers the food might have improved but.... The Lobster Bisque had lobster in it, but tasted like black bean soup to me, I love black bean soup but not with my lobster. The flambe skewers looked really good but only 2 shrimp on mine and they were over cooked. The volcano cake was delicious though. Hubby has a different palate than I, of course, and he tuly loved the Pinnacle Grill and every course. Next cruise he can eat there and I will eat in the Main Dining Room or Lido.

Views of the Island: Not applicable since we were port side of the ship and did not leave the stateroom to view the island from afar today.

Thoughts of the seventh Day Cold, miserable weather but still a great day to be on the Westerdam!!!

Received an Invitation to make a reservation for a Special Valentine's Day lunch at $89.00 per person in the Pinnacle Grill. I was upset that it was only an invitation to pay an outrageous amount for this special day. Sorry, but HAL did wrong on this one offering!! No other special offerings or flowers or any announcements wishing Happy Valentine's Day to any of us... Bummer, but still did not let it ruin my cruise! Just ate lunch in the MDR instead. Unfortunately, it did cause many upset passengers to believe it was a free luncheon because of the way the invitation was worded.....

Overheard at the front desk 2 elderly ladies who had booked their cruise through a Travel Agent complainng to the front desk that they were supposed to be transported by HAL to their front doors from the ship....I stepped in to help explain that they ship could get them from the ship to the airport or to a hotel, basically from point a to point b, but could not gt them to point c. They were furious and demanded a refund of their cruise since their Travel Agent had promised them that they would be assisted with their travel arrangements once they were on the ship... I wonder how many other TA's out there just out and out lie to their clients..... By the way, we received another plate of chocolate goodies courtesy of the front desk thanking me for stepping in and assisting to explain to the ladies what they would have to do to get home.

Sunday 14 February 2010 Ft Lauderdale, Florida:

Cold Cold day!!!

Views of the Turn Around Day: We arrived right on schedule but it was to dark still to take photos (though I did take some)

Stayed in our stateroom and had room service breakfast again (Love room service!!) then went to the Vista Lounge at 9:45 a.m. to follow the Customs officer off ship so that the ship could be zero passengered out. Of course there will always be those people who think they do not have to follow the rules and think they can stay until just before the ship leaves port before they have to get off. All passengers getting off were supposed to be off by 9:30 and we were to be off by 9:45 and back on by 10:15... NOT!!! We were finally allowed to reboard at around 11 a.m. after the customs and ship personel rounded up the last 6 stragglers from their beds and off the ship. We were free to return to our staterooms or go anywhere else on the ship.

I started to panic this morning when the Captain announced that due to lack of port time in Aruba he had made arrangements to switch our ports from Aruba on Wednesday the 17th and Curacao on the 18th which would give the best possible times for everyone concerned in both ports. Unfortunately, that meant that my planned Swim with the Dolphins at the Dolphin Academy in Curacao which I'd booked independantly for the 18th at 2:00 p.m. was now screwed!! However, after contacting my cell phone carrier, Verizen, I was able to not only get international calling added to my cell plan but they also connected me to the Dolphin Academy, where I was able to rearrange my swim for the 17th at the same time. I later learned from the Front Desk staff on the Westerdam that they would have made the changes for me if I'd asked. Lord the staff and crew are so awesome!!

Went to the Mariner's Indonesian Lunch and loved most of the food served, though 2 of the meats were a tiny bit spicy for me, but that's OK because I supplemented in the Lido.

Discovered passengers new to this leg of the cruise who were just plain rude and obnoxious, and no they were not New Yorkers but for the most part were from our Northern Neighbor. Not all of them were rude, but a vast majority were, which was unfortunate for those who were really nice people. I also stopped a little girl about 9 years old from climbing the railings on the Lido Aft deck to wave hello at people below us. Her grandmother was not paying attention to her but her aunt saw me stop her and thanked me profusely. I shudder to think what might have happened if I had not stopped her.....

Had a Fantastic group of gentlemen dressed alike with logos on their shirts. Of course me being me, I asked them what the Logos stood for.... MHBC = Mean Hateful Bi****s Club. BUT they were a great group of gentlemen of varying ages and I loved them to death!!! They acted as my big brothers for the last week of our cruise and treated me with respect and great friendship, to include making a special presentation to me our last formal night of a pink tiara which matched the ones they were all wearing at our table (actually they were being obnoxious to 2 of our table mates who'd been rude to them about their being gay.)

Discovered before we sailed that we had 128 children on board our ship. BUT the ship behind us had 1501. I know they did because they were doing an introduction about their flow rider and how many kids they had aboard. YIKES better them than us.

I did not do dinner tonight as I wanted to try the Lido for one night. Boy am I ever glad I did!! I dressed (Casual Country Club of course) and rolled on up the one deck to the Lido and was met by the Matre de/Dining Room Manager Sanjay Nariam and the 2nd Chef Emerson, who escorted me around the Lido to tell me what the foods were and took my food for me to a nice window table. Chef Emerson then asked me if there were any special foods I'd like and we talked for about 15 minutes on German baked goods that I'd not had in 30 years. He informed me that since the head chef is German he'd see if he could make German Brotchen (a German breakfast roll) and Berliners (a German jelly filled doughnut) could be made for me. He came back less than 10 minutes later asking my cabin number and what day I'd like them. God, Westerdam is awesome!!! I then mentioned the Lobster Mac and Cheese I'd heard so much about on CC and he said he'd make it for me on our next formal night and would have it delivered to table 19 along with everyone's entrees. He did and it was AMAZINGLY DELICIOUS!!!!

Monday 15 February 2010 Half Moon Cay, Bahamas:

Beautiful clear day, clear beautiful water, temps mild sun blazing and very enjoyable if only to view.

Views of the Island: Disappointed. Sorry guys and gals HMC was a let down for me. I do not know why, other than I could not get to the Clam Shell I'd rented because there was no transportation for me (remember I am in a scooter and a walker) and none of the so called sand chairs were available. I could not get off the sidewalks, though I was able to extend one foot out far enough to feel the sand betwixt my toes. By the way do you know where the sand is from? We found out later from a naturalist that the sand is not true sand but is parrot excrement.... Kind of makes me glad I did not spend more toe time in the sand.

Quality of food: I have to be honest once again. The food was horrible on HMC!!! Cold burger with a slice of cheese on top, no flavor like the onboard burgers have. Potatoe salad was plain and almost tasteless. But that said, I went back to the ship and had another wonderful day enjoying the food on the Lido, OMG!! The Pizza and Pasta Alfredo are to die for!!! The Pizza/Pasta guys are fantastic and such happy guys!! Ate a very late lunch at the Hamburger bar so did not feel like dinner tonight. I love the Cheeseburgers on the Westerdam, they are so full of flavor and cannot be matched anywhere in the world in my opinion and the fries are huge!! The knockworst was tasteless though, so I do not suggest them to anyone else. Later in the day I went to get some Nachos for hubby and there were no chips left, so I asked the Hamburger guy for a plateful of chips, when he saw I was in a scooter he said no plate for me and gave me a new unopened bag of tostitos and a huge bowl of cheese to take to my stateroom instead. Needless to say, hubby was in Nacho heaven *Grin*

Thoughts of the ninth Day Next time I get to Half Moon Cay I will stay aboard the ship and relax there and enjoy the staff and crew.

Tuesday 16 February 2010 Third At Sea Day:

Since I can not get my finger wet as I still have the stitches in until the 18th I had made an appointment once again for Cheryl in the Salon for a wash and style. She found several grey hair this time, most in my temple area. She states it was most likely caused by my body going into shock at the traumatic injury to my finger. That's OK with me! I've been saying I deserve grey hair, but what a way to get them!!!

We had 85 signed up for the Cruise Critic M&G and figured with the 4 couples that signed up on the Roll Call Board who were never ever on the ship manifest (my guess is they had the wrong month) 4 couples who were unable to make the ship because of bad weather, and a few who either forgot or were tied up enjoying other parts of the ship's activities, that we'd have 68 or so show up. We actually had according to my hubby approximately 45 CC members and one CC lurker, our tablemate Joseph. I knew that the Hotel Manager Ron was coming, but then this cute young man came up and introduced himself as Shane Michaels the Cruise Director and then as I was talking to him, my hubby and a couple other CC members my hubby pokes me in the side, I turn to him and ask what I'd said wrong this time, he says, for the first time ever, nothing but look who is behind you... I turned and there was Ron and the Ship's Captain Henk Keijer!! I was floored!! I knew I'd asked if the Captain could be present months before but... WOW!!! What an honor to have all 3 of the top dudes!!!! Shane and Captain Henk told us a little of themselves and their history, they then answered a few questions and then had to leave to do ship business. Ron then sat down with us relaxed and quite at ease and chatted with us for about half an hour or so. He had to leave when his wife, Vladka, now a passenger as opposed to being the Future Cruise Consultant, called and needed him in their cabin. Ron also explained the dress code and why HAL will not enforce it to the letter if it is in good taste and not offensive. What he said made very good sense and I think we were all happy with the answer.

One thing before I forget, on 16 February during our Meet and Greet, Shane the CD mentioned that HAL does listen to the passengers and Cruise Critics and showed us the new format for the Daily Program which had gone into effect that very morning. No longer do we have the months old format that was hard to read and very disjointed! The format is extremely similar to the old original format that we all liked and is once again perforated for easy detachment. So HAL does listen to us after all!

It was wonderful to meet everyone from CC and to discuss the ship and other things.

I do have to add a statement here to the CC member who made a comment regarding her feelings about the Culinary Arts Classes being a waste of time and space on the ship and prefering to have games instead, but the Culinary Arts Cooking Class was quite good and of the 12 in attendance when my husband did 2 of the classes, 7 people left because they felt the classes were disappointing due to they: a) did not understand the directions, b) were upset the chef tried to show them an easier/safer way to use a knife and or c) thought they were going to watch and not do hands on. Hubby loved the classes and even after being a good cook after all these years he learned a lot!

I decided to do dinner in the MDR tonight as hubby had been telling me that our new tablemates, a lady from Sioux City, Iowa and a couple from Montreal did not believe he or Joseph that I existed. They told them both that I must bve a ghost as I had not been there yet. Also my decision was made for me when hubby informed me of the Canadian couple's views on America.... You can insult me, you can insult my hubby... BUT do NOT insult my country!! Especially when you have stated that you once considered moving to it but changed your mind when you found out you'd have been eligble for the draft if you became a citizen.

Got to our table and was seated with Joseph to my left and hubby seated across from me with Iowa lady next to my hubby (I always sit on the end because it is to hard for me to get into the other seats with my mobility issues) A few minutes later the Canadian couple arrived and proceeded to oust Joseph and Iowa lady from their seats and moved them one seat down so that they could sit next to hubby and I.... WRONG MOVE!!!! Joanie is already ready to go on the attack/defense of the good old US of A, but to remove my table mate without a by your leave.... I think not!! I asked what was going on and the man stated he felt like sitting beside the ghost. I informed him that I am trully not a ghost as he could see and was enjoying Joseph's company, his comment was, well you have a Joel instead......................... Joanie bites tongue very hard......Before I could say another word my new big brothers arrive in the dining room. They spot me on their way to their table (94) and stop to say hello and wish us all an enjoyable meal. These gentlemen are not dressed flamboyantly or drawing attention to their being gay, they are just being themselves and saying hello dahling to me. As they walked away there were 2 comments made by the Canadian couple about Only in America.... WRONG thing to say in my presence!! I asked, "what you have no gays in Canada?" and the wife says no, but the blowhard of a husband of hers proceeds to tell us all where the largest contingents of gays are in the world, London, San Francisco and then Montreal. She was fliustered and decided to try and talk about American Politics. I asked about Candaian Policies and was lambasted with a dissertation of all that is so wrong with the USA. After telling her that until you live in my country do not even attempt to tell me about my politics as our politicians are just as crooked as hers are. I then decided the best choice of action for me was to beat a hasty retreat and made my apologies to the MDR steward and explained the situation. I felt it best not to be locked up in my stateroom and put off at the next port was the best option, so room service once again for me. This couple was the closest I came to having my cruise ruined. But I decided to blow them off and remember that they were only 2 of over 2000 people on board the Westerdam.

Wednesday 17 February 2010 Willemstad (Curacao), Antilles

Got to the head of the line for disembarkation at the gangway accidentally. LOL, Leave it to Joanie to decide to stay in the glass elevators and just ride the elevators up and down until the A deck was unlocked. Imagine my surprise when on the 3rd trip down, sitting at the very back of the elevator, nowhere near the buttons, the elevator stops on the Main Deck and lets everyone off, doors close and whoosh, down I go!! Needless to say the elevator opened and I got out but not before being told it should not have happened as we were not ready yet. LOL. I swear I did nothing!!!!

Taxi for 1 person to the Dolphin Academy was $20.00 and a group of 4 was $5.00 per person. Tried to do the swim but could not get my legs to go under the water, doggone it, I had learned to swim in the Great Salt Lake, Utah, many many years ago and my body wants to float and not work properly as others do. So I ended up doing the Dolphin Encounter instead, which while fun and enjoyable, left me severely disappointed, but..... Did not ruin my cruise!!

Went back to the ship immediately after the Academy and stayed on the verandah until bedtime.

Views of the Island: Dolphin Academy was Amazing!!

I was very disappointed in Curacao itself. It is a filthy slum area and I was scared to venture further than the ship once back to her.

Question for all who have done Curacao before..... WHERE were the misters hidden?? I felt misting from the tree area next to the ship but could not spot anything that even remotely looked like a mister.

Thoughts of the eleventh Day: Not a place I want to visit again. We were at the Mega Pier by the floating Pontoon Bridge and though colorful in some spots.....The Slums just overshadowed the entire area.

Thursday 18 February 2010 Oranjestad, Aruba

Went down early to the Medical Center to have Doctor Tanya remove my stitches. She and I both were surprised at how well my finger has healed. It looks amazing. Security Chief Jeffrey came in and we all started joking around and I learned a new side to this man. Good Lord his jokes are so funny and he had Tanya, Jennifer and I laughing so hard even the Captain (who was there to see the Crew Doctor) came to see what the fun was about!! When he heard the reason Geoffrey preferred the last Passenger Doctor, Larry, over Doctor Tanya he laughed as hard as we were!

I had not planned on getting off the ship in Aruba, out of respect to Natalee Holloway and her still grieving family, but after Curacao and this being our last Port of Call I had to get off to buy all my souvenirs. I was very pleasantly surprised at the cleanliness, quality and prices on Aruba!! It is a pretty little town to be sure and the shopping areas to include the Mall and Little Switzerland are great. The only downside was the local sellers along the dock area did not accept credit cards and I had no cash. But I was able to find a few other shops a couple blocks away from the port that had great things and prices!

By the way before I forget to mention, I asked Dr Tanya if we had any Noro onboard and she said not one case!! There were several passengers with colds, bronchitis and some who had severe sea sickness but not one Noro!!

Friday 19 February 2010 At Sea fourth Day

An enjoyable day spent relaxing on the Lido Aft deck and my verandah. Sat with my big brothers for much of the morning and a few other couples who gathered around us to enjoy the sun, the sea, the views and the company.

I almost forgot that today was our Mariner's Brunch in the Lower Main Dinng Room. It was well attended and was the first of 2 to be held today, 11:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. HAL does things differently now, they break you down by single week cruisers mixed in with people on their final week of cruising, for example we were not invited to last weeks Luncheon since we were doing a B2B, though we did get a notice last week that we'd be getting an invitation to this weeks... We were seated at a 10 top near the back with an older couple and their 2 grandchildren ages about 12 and 14. As soon as it became apparent that no one else was joining us the grand parents had the children scarf up the 4 tiles left on the table. The Captain was very refreshing and made his toast and mentioned that we had one Mariner with more than 400 days at sea, but she was not in attendance at this luncheon. I was a tad disappointed in the food, the salmon was dry, plain white rice, tasteless veggies and a chocolate dessert that had to much alcohol in it. That's still OK and did not ruin my cruise as I went straight up to the Lido and had Pizza and Pasta Alfredo!

Chef Emerson, came up to me in the Lido this morning and asked me if I was ready for more Brotchen and Berliners, I of course said yes (they were delivered the last day at sea with room service) and he also asked if I was still wanting his Lobster Mac and Cheese, now of course I said yes to that!! My new big brothers informed me to be prepared for their Grand Entrance into the dining room tonight, LOL. The boys made a late entrance all wearing pink tiaras with fur at the base and looked dashing gentlemen in their black tuxedos. They stopped at our table and made a formal presentation to me of one of the tiaras which I proudly wore for the rest of the evening *Grin* Utterances were made by the Canadian couple under their breaths (but could be hear by all around) to which one of my big brothers replied with a clever retort of, "What Ever!" I forgot to mention that when I arrived in the dining room tonight the Lead Steward informed me that he had rearranged the table mates back to their original places so that I could enjoy my dinner and not have to leave early once again, and that if there were any problems to please inform him so the Maitre de could deal with blow hard and his wife personally (seems they had made their feelings known in a way that irked the staff the night before.) God I love these guys and gals on the Westerdam!!! Menus came and I ordered both the Pate de Foi Gras and Escargot and reminded my steward I was having the Lobster Mac and Cheese instead of the regular entrees. Mr Rude Canadian Tablemate asked if I always ordered off the Childrens menu and I replied only when it is special, but watch out I might order pizza for my dessert. That shut him up for the rest of the dinner *GRIN*

Wonderful day aboard ms Westerdam!!

Saturday 20 February 2010 At Sea fifth Day

Started the day off at 2:50 a.m. with the Lido deck all to myself. Coffee in one hand and cigarette in the other it was really nice to just sit, relax and enjoy the peace and tranquility of where I was. Life is so good!! Watched as we rounded the Haitian and Cuban coastlines and noticed the stars that seemed to shine so much brighter out at sea. Crew arrived right at their normal time of 5 a.m. to start cleaning the pool and decks. It is fascinating to talk to them and with them as they go about their jobs. You learn alot about them, their familes, how hard it can be for them to be away from their loved ones, but also how much they receive in return from HAL. As the Pool man told me one morning, he makes a living on a cruise ship. He gets to go to places he never in his wildest dreams thought he'd do more than read about as a child. He gets to meet new people every week and he gets paid to do so! His words, "Life is Great!"

Hubby and I decided to do the Lido this last night on our ship. We met up with MDR tablemate Joseph and sat and enjoyed talking without someone else trying to dominate the table conversation or being disagreeable. We said our goodbyes to all the people we'd met during the past 2 weeks and promised to keep in touch. I hope we do as there are some really nice people out there!!

Thoughts of the forteenth and final full Day:

I dread that this is my last day aboard the ship! I DO NOT WANT TO GET OFF!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday 21 February 2010 Ft Lauderdale, Florida

We've chosen late disembarkation so went to the Lido for breakfast and to say goodbye to everyone who has made this such an enjoyable cruise. The Lido cooks came out and gave me a big hug and Chef Emerson carried my plates and our last serving of brotchen and Berliners out to our table. Back to the room by 8:30 and watched as 2 masked crew members in white coveralls started the deep cleaning of the cabin next to mine (they were also smokers) Called the front desk as suggested a couple days before for assistance getting off the ship and by 9 a.m. had the Deck Stateroom Steward Head there at our door with a luggage dolly packing us up and getting us off the ship. Unfortunatelky, hubby had forgotten to grab our 5 kilo round of Gouda Cheese from beside his Carry On so he had to go back to the ship while I picked up a porter and our luggage. Got the cheese, luggage, turned in my scooter back to Special Needs at Sea and proceeded to the taxi line. Curb side porters hailed a handicapped van with a lift which took us to our hotel.

Views of Disembarking from ms Westerdam: Fast and very efficient. Took less than 10 minutes to include the return for the cheese!!

Views of getting from Port Everglades to Hotel: Taxi driver had to use his GPS to find our hotel as he was not very familiar with the Dania Hotels, but only cost $26.00 plus the tip.

Thoughts of the final Day: I wanna be back on my ship!!! Sea Legs are still in use and land legs are gonna take a while to come in.... Did I mention I wanna get right back on board my ship??!!!!

As you can see I made no mention of any games or Bars as I did not attend any of them. My idea of a relaxing cruise is to laze away the day not run around drinking (I'm allergic to alcohol anyway) or playing games. I want to lay back, sit back and relax. God I love HAL!!!!!!

We did make another Future Cruise Booking/reservation for the Western Caribbean Feb 16, 2011 on the Noordam, but I think we may change it as soon as the Alaska Iteneraries for 2011 become available in April.

Interviews with Westerdam Staff

Ron Botenbal, Hotel Manager

Ron has been in the industry for more than 27 years. He started out as a dishwasher and worked his way up the ladder to his present position as Hotel Manager of the Westerdam in 2004, 1 year befor the Westerdam took on her first passengers. He has been with the Westerdam since, along with his wife, Vladka, who also happens to be the Westerdam's Future Cruise Consultant. They have been married for 11 years and this is their life and they love it! (note from IRL_Joanie: Vladka started her vacation away from the FCC desk on 14 February 2010 and became a blue jean wearing passenger, right along side the rest of us. *LOL* As a special note, it took 2 people, a husband and wife team to replace her during this vacation time of hers!!)

Ron works 7 days a week, 10 hour days. He strives to be available to all guests, but this is a complete impossibility as there are over 2000 passengers and more than 700 crew members that he has to care for 24/7. On average it takes him approximately 90 minutes per passenger and with only so many hours in a day..... I was very happy that he did take the time, not only for me to interview him for this review, but also to meet with Cruise Critics at our Meet and Greet for such a long time on the 16th.

I wanted to get Ron's views on what we, the passengers, can do to make our cruises a much more enjoyable and pleasant experience, not only for ourselves, but what we can do to help the crew in making everything right.

When asked how we should make our needs/wants/complaint(s) known he replied use the front desk. The front desk has the ability to contact HAL Corporate Offices immediately, whereas he must first listn to the needs/wants/complaint(s) of the passenger, write a report, submit the report to the front desk/office (which they then transmit to HAL Corporate Offices), await HAL's response and then act upon HAL's recommendations.

The Westerdam has been in service for six years now. She was last refurbished three years ago in dry dock and is showing very little need for her scheduled dry dock in March 2010. This is because Ron and his staff keep close eyes on her and takes immediate action to fix little problems before they can become major ones. New furnishings are being added on a weekly basis and new carpeting is also being laid.

IRL_Joanie's Notes: Keep in mind that you get more using honey than vinegar. Be nice and soft spoken and not demanding, loud or rude when you go to the front desk or while speaking with any crew member for that matter. If it can be done, it will be!! If you are loud, demanding and just out and out rude, you are going to have a longer wait, in my opinion, than someone who is understanding of the staff or crew member trying to do their job in the most efficient and best possible way to assist you, the passenger. If the front office does not have an immediate answer, they will get back to you in a timely manner. It might take a bit of time if they have to send an email to Seattle, but you will get an answer! So, give the Front Office and all the HAL staff a chance and be nice about it!

Ron and I talked a bit more about Cruise Critic and what he felt about most of us being really nice people that he loves to have on board, though there are one or two who feel they should get preferential treatment, but as he said those are the rarities. He likes it when we discuss our feelings and state our honest opinions, but I felt he was to nice a man to state the obvious, which is that when some of us have a small problem, we tend to focus on that and make it bigger than it should be. We tend to forget the good things on the cruise and let that one little thing become a mountain and give the cruise a poor performance or rating. I do not think this is right and have stated it before on these boards. The Crew and Staff from the Captain to the lowliest member do their darnedest to make us happy. They are away from their families for anywhere from 3 months to 10 months out of the year (depends upon what monetary currency their contract is drawn up under(Captain Keijer is under a 3 month contract paid in US Dollars) they cannot run right home in case of an emergency. They are subject to the verbal and sometimes physical abuse of more than 2000 passengers each week at 52 weeks that is on average over 104,000 passengers each and every year. If we are disgruntled we tend to take it out on the crew/staff, they on the other hand cannot or they will lose their jobs or worse. So basically what I am asking is that everyone remember that these are fellow human beings who are hard working and hard at work to make our vacation a happy one, try to make the cruise/vacation a good one for the crew and staff also!!

David Brady, Band Leader of The HAL Cats and Supervisor

David has been with HAL for 11 contracts now, which equates to 4 years aboard a Holland America ship starting with the Maasdam until this past November. He and his wife came over to the Westerdam at the beginning of February 2010. David has other jobs on board the ship as do all HAL Staff members, both entertainers and show staff. His jobs include Public Relations, Social Work, giving interviews and assisting in Life Boat Drills. He travels with his wife and considers working for Holland America as a Priviledge and not a right. As he put it, "It is a Labor of Love." He says it is a GREAT LIFE! David feels that this is his greatest personal accomplishment to date!

David came to Holland America from the Off Broadway production of Cats when he decided he needed full time employment. He says that most of the band, entertainment and show staff come right out of schools such as Julliard or other such schools. They are an international group as befits HAL, the HAL Cats are a "Cookie Cutter" group from the US, Germany, Canada and other countries.

He and his wife sold their house when he got the job with HAL and moved aboard the Maasdam where they fell in love with cruising the seas and HAL. They have their own cabin without a bath tub. They are allowed to bring their own small appliances which do have to be approved before use. They have a nice set up fridge with freezer and other goodies, which is about the same size as what we have in our staterooms. As he put it, it is set up basically College Dorm Style for all of the crew and a majority of the staff.

One of the things that I found interesting was that none of the Band knew each other before they came aboard the ship. They each interviewed individually for their specific instruments and met on board where they learned to play together as a group. The band is limited by HAL to 300-400 songs that they are allowed to play and while they can deviate some of the tunes they must pretty much stick to the approved list. Fifty percent of the bands time is spent playing music the other fifty percent is spent in their on board jobs. The music they play and sing is a balance between the Top 40 songs from the 40's through present day, and is representative of the age group on board ship during each cruise. I did tell David that if I heard a rap tune being played, I'd throw him overboard myself *Grin*

Some of the behind the scenes things I learned from David is the Ship/HAL takes pride in taking care of the crew. They have PEP (Personal Excellence Programs) with various things such as DAM Quit for those that want to quit smokng, DAM Fit for those that want to improve their bodies and health (the crew even has its own gym) Our MDR steward for the last week told us he'd lost more than 45 pounds in the last year from utilizing the DAM Fit program. The ship/HAL also provides Computer classes and Conversational English classes but also some College courses for any crew or staff member free of charge. Both at sea and in ports all crew and staff have access to their Religious beliefs and Leaders of their individual religions are provided for them.

Davids' final comment to me was the fact that he is so happy knowing that he has proven his mother wrong, that he can earn a living while playing his music. He also stated his mom wants to know when she can cruise also *Grin* I think his mother is jealous of him, with good reason!!

So, now that the review and interviews are finished I will say only that I had a DAM good time on a DAM good ship and loved every second of my cruise aboard my favorite ship the ms Westerdam!!!! Hubby a.k.a. Crew News and I presented Ron Botenbal a calendar that we'd had made of photos from our last cruise aboard the Wersterdam. We'd planned on giving one to Captain Harris also as he'd been our Captain in May, but he was on vacation and will not be rejoining the ship until Citavecchia (spelling?) Italy

There was only one thing that I feel HAL could improve on and that is still nothing to ruin my cruise over. The Toilet paper sucks!! I hated it, but then again it could have been much worse than the very thin 2 ply TP that came apart to easily when used. Other than that, NOTHING was wrong or could be improved upon.

Good Night, Good Luck and God Bless!!

Joanie Less

Published 02/25/10

Cabin review: VA8104 Deluxe Ocean-View Verandah Stateroom

Stateroom VA 8104 Deck 8 Navigation Deck Great room with lots of closet and storage spaces. Had adjustable shelves in the closets so you could raise them to an upright position and hang clothes properly. Under the foot of the bed were 2 huge drawers. Desk with min fridge/cooler which was emptied by Bar staff at our request for duration of the cruise. Hair Dryer in the desk with lighted vanity mirror attached to desk. Flat Screen tv just above desk was easy to see as slong as you had the drapes closest to it closed during daylight hours. 2 person loveseat with chair and adjustable coffee table but due to small size of the room one person had to sit on the footstool while the other sat on the loveseat to eat or converse. Not enough room for a scooter to be brought into the room so had to arrange for overnight storage and charging in main housekeeping every night. Bathroom was tiny, but was good/fair sized for the category we were in. Overall for 2 people in this stateroom is acceptable, but for 3 NO WAY!! Verandah while not large was also acceptable. Afterall, I got better than I booked originally!

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