What a pleasure to sail again with Holland America. Our previous
sailing with Holland America was on board (the former) MS Westerdam
for a special 11 night millennium sailing from December 1999 into
January 2000 and it was a once in a lifetime experience. While the
old Westerdam always looked a little nondescript when docked in
port alongside more modern mega ships, the classic and elegant
interior of this ship was truly beautiful and the service we
experienced and cuisine we were offered during that cruise was
Early in 2005, we decided that we would like to have the
opportunity to cruise onboard HAL's "new" MS Westerdam, one of the
newest ships in the fleet. (The old MS Westerdam I believe has been
renamed and is now part of the Costa fleet.) The itinerary was of
less importance to us than the ship herself, and it happened that
MS Westerdam would be sailing the western Caribbean during a New
Year's cruise. So, although we had visited all of these ports only
a few years previously, we booked an outside statement with balcony
and counted down the months and then weeks until
our cruise began.
"We" consist of a family of three. I'm a 47 year old Executive
Assistant, my almost 18 year old son is in his final year of high
school and my daughter is a 13 year old in her final year of middle
school. We live in Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto Canada, and
this was our 4th cruise in the past 5 years. Our "second home" is
the Island of Aruba which we have visited 15 times in the past 12
Getting to the Ship: This turned out to be almost ridiculously
pain-free (especially since exactly one year ago to the day,
December 26, we had a horrific time getting from Toronto to board a
cruise ship in Puerto Rico). This time, everything went perfectly.
The flight was on time, we were met by representatives of Holland
America at the baggage claim area of Fort Lauderdale airport, and
we were escorted to a bus that quickly delivered us to Port
Embarkation: I had taken advantage of the opportunity to do the
pre-boarding information on line and brought the required copy with
me. Once inside the terminal, we were directed to the line for
those who had done the pre-boarding info electronically. At that
time, approximately 10:45 a.m., the line was fairly short. Within
15 minutes our photos were taken and we were given our ship's ID
cards. As we stepped onto MS Westerdam, we were immediately greeted
and informed that our cabin would most likely be ready by about
1:30 but that we were very welcome to go to the Lido in the
meantime. By 11:30 we were seated in the Lido restaurant having a
Around 1:15 p.m. we ventured to find our cabin and it was in
fact ready for us. 2 of our 3 suitcases were there, and within half
an hour the third one arrived.
This is absolutely the smoothest embarkation I have experienced
to date. Very impressive and stress-free. The Cabin: We had booked
a triple Cabin, Verandah Deck, #5036. It was well laid out and
quite adequate for our needs. The closet space was ample and
included a programmable wall safe. It had 2 twin beds (which I
understand can be made into a queen, though this wasn't of interest
to us) and a sofa bed that our cabin steward made up for my
daughter every night and then re-stowed in the morning. Under the
two twin beds are drawers which cabin stewards use to store
blankets, etc. Other reviews had given me the impression that we
might not be able to store luggage under the bed. We had 2 very
large suitcases, and we had no difficulty putting one under each of
the two twin beds. The drawers do not take up all that much
The night tables each have 2 deep drawers, and can be locked
with a key, so this is useful for extra storage. We didn't open the
mini bar at all. We did enjoy the complementary fresh fruit in a
small basket that the cabin steward tops up daily.
The bathroom had a bathtub (which I personally enjoy). The
toilets, when flushed, are VERY loud (more so than we recall from
any previous ship) and we found that toilets flushing could even be
heard from the hallways. It would be loud enough to wake another
sleeper in the cabin.
The vanity in the cabin had 2 electrical outlets (great for
charging all these electronics that travel with us these days), a
make-up mirror, and a hair dryer in addition to the requisite
The balcony was large enough for 2 chairs , a small table, and
an ottoman. We enjoyed the balcony, especially when the ship was
tying up or casting off. It was a great vantage point for viewing
sunsets, or for sitting outside on "at sea" days to read when some
of the other outdoor areas might be a bit busier than usual.
The Ship: We all thought it was quite beautiful, with gorgeous
sculptures and artwork everywhere, and we especially loved the
size. At about 1850 passengers, it seemed "just right". It was
always possible to find places to sit, nothing ever seemed crowded.
There was never any difficulty finding a table at the Lido, even at
the most "prime" meal times of at-sea days, and the food line ups
were never painfully long.
It seemed to me that the ship had the intimate feel of a smaller
ship and yet with a vast selection of public rooms and areas so
there would be something for everyone. The exterior glass elevators
are a special treat and give a wonderful panoramic view. However,
it's my understanding that this might not be a good thing if one
has over-indulged at the bar, so do govern yourself
It always seemed as though we were fairly close to one or
another bank of elevators and generally there wasn't any
significant delay moving up and down the decks. I felt this was one
of the most "user friendly" layouts of the ships we have
Cuisine: Food at the Lido was generally very good. Our biggest
complaint was that almost nothing was self-service. I think Holland
America's philosophy is that they would prefer to serve the guest,
and I can understand it, but this method has some shortcomings.
Some of the counter staff either did not have a great command of
English OR perhaps weren't aware that passengers need to be told
about all their choices.
So, for example, there was a Belgian waffle station that had
wonderful toppings available for the waffles (fresh fruit,
strawberry sauce, maple syrup, whipped cream, chocolate sauce). But
all of this is "behind the counter", not self serve. If you asked
for a waffle, then a waffle was put on the plate and handed to you
- plain, with no toppings offered. When I asked for syrup one day,
perhaps a tbsp was put on top of the waffle and quickly
disappeared. These kinds of condiments need to be self-serve as we
all have our preferences.
My daughter is a big fan of Belgian waffles and she found it a
never-ending battle to get the toppings she wanted, in the quantity
she wanted, and in the location she wanted. She never quite
achieved success and eventually would just give up and eat what was
handed to her. At a self-service counter, she would have put
whipped cream on the waffle, then strawberry sauce on top. At the
Lido, when she asked for whipped cream, about a tsp was put on the
edge of the waffle, and when she asked for "more whipped cream",
maybe another half tsp was added. Strawberry sauce was put on the
side, not on the waffle. Small things, but if the toppings are
available, why not get it right?
It does become a little frustrating when every food station is
participating in the same program. Finding out what toppings are
available is the responsibility of the passenger, and asking for
them in the desired amounts each time gets somewhat wearying,
especially when the desired result is seldom achieved. Additional
signage would be a benefit throughout the grill area.
My son found the process of assembling a breakfast rather
cumbersome and felt that a more straightforward self-serve buffet
arrangement would have worked better for most of the items.
Sometimes gathering up the usual components of a meal (bacon,
toast, eggs, coffee and juice) took quite a lot of walking and
lining up as they were all over the place.
Of course, custom items (like omelettes) will always need to be
cooked and served to order (and actually the Lido was quite
efficient with these items) but routine breakfast items like
porridge, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes ... these can
easily be handled by a self-serve counter and the lines would move
Having said that, none of us lost any weight on the cruise (!)
and we found the selection and quality of food in all areas of the
Lido to be consistently very good.
It seemed that, after the first couple of nights, the dining
room was only half full during our seating (6:15 p.m.) presumably
because they had drifted to the Lido for a more casual experience.
We stayed with the dining room every night and enjoyed the
experience. Our two stewards, Mario and Purnama were excellent and
made good recommendations when I asked for input about the entree.
Purnama also kept us entertained with a "table trick" each night
for the last 5 nights, when the dining room was less busy and he
had a little more free time. Our head steward came by every evening
to greet us in a friendly manner. Unfortunately his very poor
command of English limited his greetings to the same two sentences
every evening, and he was not capable of much conversation.
Our wine steward I found to be not especially friendly or
forthcoming and if I ordered a wine by the glass, he was unlikely
to return when the glass was empty to enquire if I wanted another.
I solved this problem on New Year's eve by ordering a glass of
champagne and letting him know, upfront, that I might well want
another. In this instance, he did come back and ask when my first
glass was almost empty.
The dining room menu changes every evening and it seemed to me
that there was nearly always a good selection. I think there was
one night when we were a little hard-pressed to choose an
appetizer, because nothing really appealed, but most evenings we
all found selections we would like. I have read in other reviews
that the entree portions tend to be small, and I would agree with
this (although personally I found the portions fine since I
wouldn't normally be consuming 3 or 4 separate courses). Hearty
eaters might need to order a second appetizer or second entree in
order to feel satisfied. At no time did I hear a server suggest
that this could be done, but my son (who is 6'5") did this several
times and was cheerfully accommodated.
Generally, the dining room fare was nicely presented, served at
an appropriate temperature, and of good quality. The room was very
pretty, with a special highlight of the 2nd floor ceiling being
graced by an enormous piece of glass art which was spectacular. I
intended to photograph it but never remembered to bring my camera
There was the usual assortment of formal / informal / and casual
evenings. I am always a little bothered by people who can't conform
to these codes. Formal evenings DO require a jacket, and some in
the dining room chose not to wear one. I was also a little
disappointed that some families whose young children were simply
not capable of sitting through the dining room meal didn't opt for
the Lido Restaurant instead. However, these things weren't enough
to interfere with our enjoyment of the experience.
One policy that I think HAL should enforce is that the dining
doors will be closed 15 minutes after the seating begins. Near us,
there was one table that consistently arrived 30-40 minutes after
the meal began. This obviously creates a lot of extra work for the
servers who have one table out of step with everyone else, and it
also gives them little time to re-set those tables before the next
seating. A dinner seating time is just that, and people who wish to
simply dine casually at whatever hour can be accommodated in the
Lido Restaurant. To have people walking in at any time they choose
seemed rather disruptive of the flow of the dining room
Club HAL: Because our sailing was during a school break, there
was a higher than usual complement of children on board. Holland
America scales its child and teen programs (Club Hal) up and down
according to the numbers on any particular cruise. I believe for
our cruise, something like 35% of the passengers on board were
under the age of 18. Thus, they were fully staffed to handle this
kind of crowd and, except for the period from about 5 p.m. to 10
p.m. (Dinner and show times), they had a lot of programming for the
13-17 group (to which my daughter belonged).
Teens could come and go as they pleased and my daughter said the
staff running the teen program were "cool", had lots of activities
going on, and were laid back with this age group so the programming
was enjoyable and fun. Often my daughter returned to the cabin
quite late at night, long after I fell asleep, and then in the
morning she would report on the results of the scavenger hunt or
contest in which she participated until midnight! She has indicated
that "cruising is her favourite way to travel" and I think the teen
program is one of the reasons for this. There's always something to
do, and it's a great way to meet other teens onboard ship.
Ports of Call: I tend to think of these as individual
preferences and not entirely the responsibility of the cruise line
or ship. We did not use a lot of ship excursions but we enjoyed
what we did use. We took an excellent bus tour on Cayman that
included Hell as well as the Turtle Farm. The Turtle Farm was
interesting and both of my teens thought it was a highlight.
We very much enjoyed the Dolphin Cove swim in Ocho Rios although
the "for purchase" video of our Dolphin Swim was incredibly
expensive! Not HAL's fault however. The swim itself was a lot of
fun. The Dolphin Cove facility was well organized for groups and
while we waited for our group to be called we toured their nature
Before heading back to the ship, we wanted to take advantage of
the opportunity to enjoy some wonderful Jamaican cuisine. We had
been given the name of a small restaurant in Ocho Rios that was
highly recommended. "Bibibip's Jerkin' @ Taj" The place seemed full
when we arrived but magically a table and 3 chairs appeared and was
put in position and voila, we were seated and handed menus. We were
almost sitting on the sidewalk, but no matter. We almost licked our
plates clean that day and all this from a kitchen about the size of
my desk in the office. Absolutely delicious!
We had a surprisingly wonderful day at Costa Maya in Mexico. Due
to the hurricanes earlier in 2005, the port of Cozumel was closed
to our ship months in advance of our sailing so our excursion in
Cozumel was cancelled and refunded. That left me to figure out
"what there was to do" in Costa Maya (a port I'd never heard of). I
got on the internet, did some research, and learned that Costa Maya
is a very new port basically build to attract the cruise ships. It
has a Mayan Village (freshly constructed, go figure) that offers
some insight into the Mayan culture as well as a small beach, pool,
bar, restaurant, and tourist shops like Diamonds International.
This didn't seem a very authentic experience to me so I researched
further and found that there is a fishing village (Mahahual) only
about 5 minutes away from the Dock by taxi.
We pre-booked a beach day with one of the small (and I do mean
SMALL, like maybe a dozen rooms?) hotel properties on the beach.
The taxi driver delivered us to the beginning of the street and
told us to "walk to the end of the main street". The main street is
a dirt road and there were various vendors along the way. We smiled
and kept moving until we saw the small hand painted sign indicating
that we had reached our "beach party" destination.
In addition to a warm welcome at the bar which was festooned
with loveseat sized swings hanging from ropes (a charming novelty),
we were given wrist bands indicating we had paid for use of the
beach and unlimited beverages from the bar including sodas, bottled
water, beer, and mixed drinks. The best part, though, was that
Mahahual is located on a pristine sandy beach, sheltered by a coral
reef, with shallow, clear, beautiful water.
A table, beach umbrella, and chairs were set up for us, our
pre-ordered lunch was served at noon, and we had a very enjoyable
beach day indeed. The surf near the port was very rough that day
and when we returned to the ship, we learned that all water sports
had been cancelled which disappointed many. In fact, you could hear
the ship crashing rhythmically against the pier and I suspect those
who spent their day on board became heartily tired of the sound!
From our vantage point at Mahahual, we wouldn't have known there
was a ripple in the water. It was almost perfectly smooth and
Summary: This cruise absolutely met our expectations. Overall we
found the service to be friendly, professional, and nearly always
enthusiastic. (Interestingly, when we cruised a few years ago on
RCI we found the service in most respects, while certainly capable,
was not enthusiastic at all.) We enjoyed our Western Caribbean
cruise on Westerdam so much that we plan to sail in August of 2007
on Westerdam's sister ship, Zuiderdam, from Vancouver to