By Dori Saltzman
Cruise Critic Senior Editor
4.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating: Entertainment

Westerdam Entertainment & Activities

Theater

Mainstage, on Decks 2 and 3, is Westerdam's big production theater. On our 12-day sailing, there were four big-stage musical productions and a number of performances from guest entertainers (think comedians or magicians), including a few local acts brought on to give cruisers a taste of the local culture (in particular Spanish guitar and flamenco).

The talent at the musicals was excellent, particularly among the four singers. The shows ranged from enjoyable revues of themed songs (all love songs, for instance) to a show with a loose plot based on fairy tales that was a bit corny, though it had beautiful costumes and stage settings.

Daily Fun

Westerdam's cruise director and supporting crew do a good job keeping passengers as busy as they want to be (less so on port days, but you'll still find some options) with a variety of activities ranging from a movie in the theater to digital workshop classes to destination lectures, and spa and retail "seminars" (which are really just excuses to sell cruisers something) to daily trivia sessions, extra-fee drink tastings and America's Test Kitchen shows.

Based on the popular public television show of the same name, America's Test Kitchen (Deck 2) is held several times throughout each cruise, with two sessions on a sea day and one on select port days. The set, which was installed during the 2017 refit, is pretty snazzy with several burners and an oven, as well as a shiny display of silvery pots and pans. Two large-screen TVs show what the chef is doing, but unfortunately don't show any close-ups, which could be helpful. A typical "show" consists of two or three themed recipes. On our sailing we could attend "Flavors of the Mediterranean," "New Italian Favorites," "Everything with Salmon," and "Meatless Mondays," among others. During each class the onstage chef walks the audience through the preparation and cooking of each item, including explanations of why certain ingredients work the way they do. Audience members can take home recipe cards at the end of each session.

Another learning option offered most days are classes at the Digital Workshop (Deck 3). Here cruisers interested in learning more about Windows 10 or other Microsoft software can take complimentary hands-on classes. Among the classes that might be offered are: Make Movies with Windows 10, Do More with Microsoft Edge, Store and Share with One Drive, Bring Photos to Life and Get Creative with Photo Gallery. On our sailing the Digital Workshop teacher was also a photographer so she also offered a class on how to get the most out of your digital camera. Classes are free but fill up fast so show up early to get a spot.

Yet another enrichment option is the Explorations Central (EXC) lectures. Lectures are given by EXC staff and might simply be about upcoming ports, what the excursion options are and what some of the must-see attractions are. Other lectures will have a narrower focus and might include basic language lessons or be about local culture or legends. Options on our sailing included "Spanish Tapas," "The Legend of the Pillars of Hercules," "The Legend of La Cara del Moro," and "The Legend of Sibylline Books," among others. Lectures are taped so if you miss it live you can catch it on your in-room TV later.

Many cruisers also while away the time in the King's Room library playing bridge or board games or in Explorations Central on Deck 10 doing a jigsaw puzzle or the day's New York Times crossword puzzle.

At Night

Outside of the nightly theater shows, nighttime on Westerdam is all about music with three venues offering a variety of musical styles. Called Music Walk, this three-pronged experience comprises Billboard Onboard, Lincoln Center Stage and B.B. King's Blues Club.

Billboard Onboard, added during the 2017 refurb, is a bar featuring two head-to-head pianos, lit by funky neon lights. Here you can rock out to all the Billboard hits from the 50s through to today sung by the dueling pianists. Sessions are themed (by decade, Hot 100, Icons, British Invasion, all request, etc.) and the crowd tends to swell when theater shows let out, so grab a seat before that if you can. Most nights there are three sessions, with the first starting in the early evening and the last getting started closer to 11 p.m. or later.

Also added during the 2017 refurb, Lincoln Center Stage is a more sedate, but nevertheless brilliantly executed music experience. Via a partnership with New York City's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Holland America is able to offer a series of classical (and not so classical) chamber music recitals with top musicians. The piano quintet (piano plus three violins and a cello), perform three 30-minute shows most evenings, starting around 6:30 p.m. Shows range from straight-up classical to themes that might include Latin sounds, jazz favorites, American composers, fresh perspectives (which included classical covers of Sting and Radiohead) and specific composers (on our sailing those included Schumann and Dvorak). The performance space is intimate and tends to fill up for later performances (the last show typically starts at 9 p.m.).

B.B. King's has been on Westerdam for some time, but the lounge, which it shares with America's Test Kitchen, got a face lift during the refurb. The most popular spot on Music Walk with the most varied crowd, B.B. King's offers a live band doing a variety of blues and Motown tunes, as well as rock 'n roll. People were up on the dance floor till about midnight most nights. As with the other Music Walk venues, B.B. King's offers three sessions most nights with the first set starting between 8:30 and 9 p.m.

If you're not in the mood for live music, there are several bars open late, or you can try your luck in the casino.

Westerdam Bars and Lounges

Ocean Bar (Deck 3): A sizable bar decorated in golds and dark browns, Ocean Bar wraps three-quarters of the way around the upper atrium and the spiral staircase that leads to Deck 2 (the remainder of the staircase down to Deck 1 was eliminated during the 2017 dry dock). It's is a popular spot for cruisers to gather before and after dinner for drinks and small talk. You'll also find live piano music most nights from 7:15 to 8 p.m. On select nights, music trivia is offered here as well.

Gallery Bar (Deck 2): A somewhat whimsically designed cocktail bar, added during the refurb, Gallery Bar is a unique blend of museum gallery and private social club reading room (think the Yale Club or the New York Yacht Club). On the walls you'll find an eclectic mix of artwork from traditional-looking portraits and landscapes to more modern and abstract pieces. It's a friendly, busy place in the evening, especially at the 7:30 p.m. trivia session. Look for cocktails with names like "Another Shade of Greyhound," "Gallery Gimlet" and "Slightly Less Than Perfect Perfect Manhattan." Wine, spirits and beer are also available.

Pinnacle Bar (Deck 2): Not a wine bar, per se, the small Pinnacle Bar nevertheless is framed by displays of wine bottles inset in wooden cubby holes. It's most commonly used for pre- and post-dinner drinks, and you'll find a variety of signature, tropical and classic cocktails, as well as wines and spirits.

Explorer's Lounge (Deck 2): Located at the back of Lincoln Center Stage, this space seems to be mostly used as a spillover spot during performances. There's no bar service here and it seemed to go mostly unused the rest of the time.

Lido Bar (Deck 9): This poolside bar serves people hanging out by the Lido pool or dining in the Lido Market.

Sea View Bar (Deck 9): Another poolside bar, this one is for people hanging out at the aft Sea View pool.

Explorations Central/Explorations Cafe (Deck 10): Located in the Crow's Nest, Holland America's popular forward observation lounge, Explorations Central is a multi-faceted lounge designed both for learning and relaxing. It's a lovely spot, with nearly 300 degrees of floor-to-ceiling windows for phenomenal views, and comfortable furnishings in neutral shades of tans, sky blue, browns and rusty orange. Popular throughout the day is the Explorations Cafe, presented by The New York Times, where cruisers can come for extra-fee specialty coffees and free pastries. And while the large lounge is popular with readers and those who like to gather to do jigsaw puzzles or play cards, Explorations Central is much more than just a place for passive relaxation.

It's here you'll find the EXC desk for cruisers to book tours or get help planning self-directed tours. EXC guides are more than happy to spread a map out and sketch out a rough itinerary with you. You'll also find touch tables with information about most of the ports on the ship's current itinerary; typically, for each port of call there are three articles, each highlighting some attraction of note. Nearby is also a small library with fiction, nonfiction and photo books related to the ports on the current itinerary, as well as maritime and Dutch history. On the port (left) side of the lounge is the small Explorations theater, a lecture space used for themed presentations including basic language lessons or talks on local culture or legends.

Cruisers can also come up to Explorations Central each day to answer the interactive, travel-based Question of the Day and see how others have responded. The digital screens animate your answer (i.e., highlighting the country you've chosen), then list other peoples' answers so you can compare. Another digital display mimics what the captain sees on the bridge -- azipod status, propeller rotation rates, speed, ocean depth, etc.

Westerdam Outside Recreation

Pools

Westerdam has two pools, both open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Lido Pool, on Deck 9, is domed by a retractable glass roof and is considered the more family-friendly of the two options. There are three hot tubs near the Lido Pool, as well. (Hot tubs are open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.) The Sea View Pool, also on Deck 9 but located at the back of the ship, is an open-air pool; there's one hot tub here. Though kids are not forbidden from using this pool, it is generally considered more of an adult space. No matter which pool kids go into, all children under 16 must be supervised by an adult while in the water and all must be completely potty trained and not in swim diapers.

Recreation

On Deck 11 at the back of the ship you'll find the sports court with a full basketball court, which can also be converted into a soccer pitch or a volleyball court. There are two Ping-Pong tables on Deck 9, near the Lido Pool and two shuffleboard layouts on Deck 10. The ship has no jogging track, but you can walk all the way around on the promenade deck (Deck 3). Three laps equals 1 mile.

Sun Decks

You'll find plenty of sun deck space on Decks 9, 10 and in a little hidden spot on 11. There are also loungers along one side of the Promenade Deck (Deck 3) but there's not often a lot of sun here.

For those wishing to splurge a little, the Retreat offers 12 cabanas (each for two people) and family cabanas (fitting up to eight people). The three-sided canvas cabanas come with a chair and couch inside the cabana and two loungers outside (with little to no shade), as well as butler service, free bottled water, fresh fruit, a snacks menu and cabana room service delivery of anything from the room service menu, the Lido Market and Dive-In Burger. Port days are significantly more affordable than sea days, with a two-person cabana costing $55 for a port day and a family cabana costing $75. On sea days, prices go up to $85 and $125, per day respectively. A cabana day is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Hidden on Deck 11 just across from the Retreat is a sun deck few people know about. There's nothing there except loungers, so it's quiet and peaceful. Perfect for reading a book or dozing off; but keep in mind, there is no shade.

Westerdam Services

The Guest Services desk is located on Deck 1, right across from the onboard Rijksmuseum. In its current state, the Rijksmuseum comprises a wall-sized digital screen on which oversized copies of paintings from the namesake Amsterdam museum are displayed (making it easier to see smaller details you might miss when looking at the actual painting); three walls of reproductions tracing the history of art from the 1100s through the end of the 19th century; and a wall of books and pamphlets about the Rijksmuseum and Dutch artists. There is talk of future Rijksmuseum-branded lectures or evening events "at the Rijksmuseum" but so far none of this has been implemented. Unless you're going to sit and watch the slideshow of digital reproductions (which can take hours), a visit to the Rijksmuseum takes no more than 10 minutes; from what we saw on our sailing, only the most dedicated art lovers have shown any interest in the space.

Shore excursions can be booked at the EXC desk in Explorations Central on Deck 10, and future cruises can be booked with the future cruise office, also on Deck 10 in a corner of Explorations Central.

You'll find several shops on Deck 3 selling jewelry, perfume, Holland America-branded clothing and souvenirs and assorted toiletries and other essentials. Near the shops is the ship's Digital Workshop space. Also on Deck 3 is the photo gallery, where you can try to spot any pictures taken of you among the photos of nearly 2,000 other cruisers.

You'll find three meeting rooms on Deck 3, as well as a small Internet Cafe with four computers. Cruisers with their own devices can connect to the ship's Wi-Fi; there are three packages to choose from. The Social Plan ($14.99/day or $99.99/12-day sailing) provides access only to the most popular social websites and apps including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. The Enhanced Plan ($24.99/day or $149.99/12-day sailing) includes all the social media sites, plus access to email, news, sports, weather, banking and finance, but does not support Skype video calling or music streaming. The third plan, Premiere ($29.99/day or $199.99/12-day sailing) includes access to pretty much everything, as well as faster speeds.

Down one deck is the ship's Art Gallery, where you can peruse paintings, drawings, mixed-media works, sports memorabilia and more. Art auctions are held throughout the cruise.

Though Westerdam has no chapel, religious services are offered regularly with a Catholic mass held daily, an interdenominational service conducted each Sunday and a Jewish Sabbath Eve service held each Friday night in one of the lounges.

There's a doctor's office with limited hours on Deck A.

Westerdam Spa & Fitness

Spa

Westerdam's Greenhouse Spa & Salon is a quiet refuge at the top of the ship (Deck 9), though cruisers we talked to who had massages or facials all complained of a hard sell at the end of their treatments. (To avoid this, let them know beforehand that you will not be purchasing anything and to skip the sales pitch.)

A full complement of treatments are available from facials and massages to ionithermie treatments, scrubs and wraps, as well as acupuncture, hair and nail options, waxing and even several options just for men. Prices are comparable to what you'd find in a big city: a 50-minute Elemis Oxydermy facial is $169; a 75-minute Thai Herbal Poultice massage is $195, while a 50-minute Swedish massage is $119. Salt scrubs start at $155 for a 50-minute half-body treatment and acupuncture is $150 for the first 50-minute session and $125 for each additional 45-minute session. Men's treatments start at $15 for a "Tidy Up" and go up to $129 for a 50-minute Elemis Urban Cleanse Facial. A traditional manicure costs $29, while a gel manicure will set you back $45.

A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to your spa bill.

The spa's thermal suite has a thalassotherapy pool and heated ceramic loungers. Passes are available for a day or an entire sailing. On our 12-day sailing, a day pass was $40, while a full-cruise pass was $149 for a single person or $299 for a couple.

Fitness

Open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Deck 9, Westerdam's fitness center has a variety of cardio and weight machines. Both free (morning and evening stretch, ab workout) and for-fee classes (yoga, spinning) are offered on a somewhat regular basis. Extra fee classes cost $12 each (except for Body Sculpt Boot Camp, which costs $120 for four 30-minute sessions), and personal training is available for $85 for a 60-minute session. Children under 16 may not use the fitness center's facilities.

Westerdam For Kids

While Holland America Line is not a cruise line with a heavy emphasis on families, the line's ships do offer a kids' program for children ages 3 to 17. Club HAL on Westerdam can be found on Deck 10 and is divided into three age groups: 3 to 6, 7 to 12 and 13 to 17.

Club HAL, like the rest of the ship, does not offer anything for children under 3, and all children must be toilet trained to participate; youth staff will not provide any type of restroom service. Nor can youth staff offer one-on-one service to children with special needs.

Limited in-cabin babysitting might be available when the ship is at sea only. The cost is $10 per hour for the first child and $7 per hour for each additional child. Inquire at guest services if you're interested.

Lastly, a kid's menu is offered in the Dining Room and on the room service menu.

Kids

There are two Club HAL programs (3 to 6 year olds, 7 to 12 year olds) operating most days between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., and then again for an hour at night, from 9 to 10 p.m. Youth staff will take kids to lunch at noon and then bring them back to the kid's club.

There is no printed schedule of activities for kids; parents can look on the interactive in-room TVs or go upstairs to the club to see what's available. Most days activities for the 3 to 6 year old set include things like arts and crafts and sports sessions; their space is a brightly colored area with easy-to-use computers and tables for arts and crafts. For the 7 to 12 year olds (which Holland America refers to as tweens, despite younger kids being included in the group), similar activities are offered, along with video gaming; their space is pretty barren with not a lot to excite tweens. In fact, the small tables appropriately sized for the 7 and 8 year olds would probably turn off the 11 and 12 year olds the minute they walked in.

All children 12 years old and younger must be signed in and out by a parent or guardian.

Teens

Teens, ages 13 to 17, have their own space called The Loft. More of a hangout spot than anything else, teens will find a circular couch in front of an oversized TV screen for movie watching and Xbox or Wii playing. There's not much else there and we heard from one 15-year old that he and the other teens rarely hung out in there. Occasional group activities are offered including mixers, scavenger hunts and late-night discos.

Additional Holland America Westerdam Information

Holland America Westerdam Details
  • Crew: 800
  • Launched: 2004
  • Decks: 11
  • Passengers: 1,964
  • Registry: Netherlands
  • CDC Score: 92

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