This was my first HAL sailing and I chose it because of the itinerary. Check in was very painless and we were onboard by noon. The ship was very clean and the land-based crew very polite. Trying to get through the detectors was a bit difficult, it was then I realized we would be sailing with an older-than-expected crowd. We headed to lunch then to our VA mostly aft cabin -- nice size bath with tub and the much needed balcony.
Unfortunately we got caught in Tropical Storm Olga's path and this ship rocked and rolled, more than I've experienced on other ships of this size. Captain got us close to Grank Turk, then decided that the winds were too high and took us back to sea. So much for our new island experience. We did get reimbursed the port charges and offered a glass of champagne.
Dinners were pleasant, food mostly good but the fish dishes were the best I've had on any cruise ship. The headwaiter made sure my husband had his roasted chicken every night, a simple request our first night, and it was taken care of forthe remainder of our cruise. Service was excellent and our waiter, Puto, was superb (we were a group of 11).
The shows were mediocre, comedian Phil was good. The illusionist was better at humor than illusion, fun to watch. Cruise Director Shane Einspahr was the hardest-working CD I've ever met. He had a very small staff (2) to help with all of the activities.
Disembarkation was smooth, waited at one of the lounges. We used the Signature Express Baggage service, worked out great and all breakables arrived safely to JFK.
HAL's service was very good, my room steward was very late in making our bed every day but had a great attitude. Tips are automatically added to your shipboard account. Everyone onboard works really hard to make your cruise adventure a pleasant one.
Not to be missed -- HAL's Half Moon Cay Grand Oasis Cabana: Our group rented the Grand Oasis Cabana and it was the highlight of our trip, and a wonderful place to spend the day. For $1200 for up to 12, the cabana comes equipped with bar, bartender, butler, personal chef and food choices of steak, mahimahi, ribs, chicken, burgers, and hot dogs, along with salads and fruit. Brownies, cookies, snacks and dips are also provided. It did take us an hour to locate some mint for our mojitos, but worth every minute. The cabana has 2 bathrooms, full shower, 8 person hottub which we so loved! Also, snorkel gear and floaties, and lastly a great slide.
We traveled independently and took the train from Rome Termini Station to Civitavecchia. The cost of the train for 2 people was 9 Euros (about 13USD). We found other people at the train station in Civitavecchia and shared a cab with them to the ship (2.50 Euros each). Embarkation was very smooth. We had done online check-in previous to arrival. All documents were processed in less than 2 minutes at the pier. There was no line when we arrived. Note: The brochure notes that it "strongly suggested" your passport not expire for 6 months after travel date. However, in reality, HAL will not let you complete embarkation if your passport expires within that period. Trust me: my partner's passport expired in October and he had to run to Philadelphia 2 days before we traveled and get a new one.
Overall: At first, as many of us are, I was not overly impressed. But as the 10 days went along, I really came to enjoy the layout and feel of the ship. The corridors had a nice flow. It was very clever the way the gift shops open up to one largearea. The glass elevators overlooking the sea are so much nicer than those on other ships that merely overlook an atrium or public area. It was great to see a real wood Promenade Deck, which was used by many of us for walking and jogging. Of course, HAL has those great deck chairs on that deck. Put me in one with a book, look at the sea, and I'm asleep! My only concerns were the atrium and some of the décor. The atrium was clearly too small and always seemed tight. There is a bar on Main Deck right in the center, which obstructs traffic flow. Some of the décor is eclectic, at best. While the elevator doors are designed with beautiful metal designs, the interiors are modern with strange colors and the areas in front of the elevator also had a mixture of classic and modern styles.
Dining Room: The dining room is very attractive. Get a table near a window; part of the dining room is windowless. The service was wonderful, as it usually is on HAL. I did my best to learn some basic phrases in Indonesian and Tagolog, showing the wait staff interest in their culture.
Spa/Gym: While I didn't use the spa, I did use the gym every day. It's not the biggest and is missing cross-training machines, which I prefer. Nearly half of the gym floor was taken up with exercise classes, which did not often take place.
Cabins: Nicely decorated, though the art work was a bit strange. There was plenty of "secret" storage space. I discovered midway through the cruise there were drawers under the cushion portion of the couch, and on the last day realized that there were very large drawers under the bed. The bathroom was attractive and offered sufficient room. The ammenities were plentiful and of high quality.
Activities/Shows: I participated in many trivia contests, although I was disappointed that many occurred during late "main" seating dinner. I would suggest having them very late 10:30, or before late seating. The shows were much better than I expected. The house is large, but there are many poor sight lines. I always have trouble with canned singing on cruise ships, but the dancing was excellent.
Breakfast: We ate most meals in the dining room, planning our day, so that we gave ourselves enough time to enjoy it. Nearly everything that was offered in the Lido buffet was offered in the dining room.
Lunch: This we had to take in the Lido, since we were off the ship during lunch hours. I was impressed with fact that there was an Asian station, which stayed open throughout the afternoon. There was usually a vegetarian meal. Occasionally, we ordered sandwiches in the room when we returned from touring. They were tasty and presented with class.
High Tea: One of the highlights of the day. Between trips to the gym, we indulged on pastries and scones with clotted cream at high tea. The service was white glove and a very professional string quartet entertained.
Dinner: We took this in the dining room each night, except when we stayed in Santorini for sunset. (On that night, there was a barbeque buffet poolside. We returned at 9:15 and it seemed disorganized and sloppy.) Dinner was always presented with style and was prepared and plated well. I usually had 2 appetizers, since portions were small and some were just wonderful! Kudos to the Head Chef for having an abundance of mango and papaya selections. I couldn't get these in the Caribbean!! Not being a meat eater, I cannot speak to those dishes, but I can tell you the fish was excellent, particularly the sea bream and Dover Sole.
Ports of Call
I must preface all ports by saying there was a heatwave. It was 100 degrees or higher many days and touring was just tiring. I carried liters of water with me and still looked like I just ran a marathon.
Dubrovnik -- This was one of the highlights of the cruise. We shared a taxi from the ship to the city walls. I think it was 5 or 10 Euros for the cab. Cab drivers will try to sell you tours. That's your call. We walked the entire city walls. Well worth it—the highlight of the city. We visited churches and synagogues in the city and stopped for a beer (a daily ritual).
Corfu -- The weakest port. We walked to town. Big mistake (well, I got lost!). We should have taken a cab. (HAL had shuttle bus service, but it was always more than sharing a cab.) Corfu had little to offer. We stopped for a Greek (Turkish) coffee and beer and visited St. Spyridon Church, paying respects to the saint and icons. A priest blessed all who saw the crypt.
Katakolon -- I had been here before, but didn't go to Olympia. We found a well air-conditioned new train that goes from Katakolon to Olympia for 1 Euro (yes ONE euro). The ship did not mention this. We found some other cruise passengers who joined us. We visited the Museum in Olympia, before seeing the ruins. The museum is well worth it; those on the tour who did not see the museum were disappointed.
Santorini -- We took the donkeys up the mountain. Faster (and smellier) than the cable car, whose line seemed to wrap around the island). Hint: go after 12 pm, most people have made the assent by then. We enjoyed the shopping and tiny streets. We found some churches and took tons of pictures. We stopped for a beer (surprised), high above the harbor. 3 cruise ships were in. We returned to the ship at 1pm and came back to Santorini (tendered) at 7pm for sunset and another drink. Do this—all the visitors do.
Athens -- We walked to the Metro (mistake—take the #845 bus) and then took the Metro directly to Monastiraki, where we shopped, visited the Agora and Temple of Hepheastion. We had been to the Acropolis, so we skipped it this time. Besides, it was 8 bi-zillion degrees. Again, we stopped for a cold local beer. (Beer note: I'm a dark beer drinker. It's very hard to find any dark beers in the Med and on the ship, there are NONE for sale.)
Kusadasi -- We enjoyed shopping in the city. I bought a 14k ring and some cheap souvenirs. Everything is walkable. We found the mosque and visited it. A local showed us the proper way to wash our feet. We took a shore excursion to Ephesus – the only shore excursion we took. We really enjoyed it, even with the extreme heat. It's really spectacular.
Messina -- We really wanted to go to Taormina (having been there before) and would have taken the train, but the ship departed at 2pm. Therefore, we walked around the city, visiting 5 churches. The most fascinating (and we found it by accident) was a monastery where we saw the preserved body of a female saint. (I'm sorry; I cannot remember her name). We found a way up to pay respects, high above the alter.
Rome -- We stayed in Rome one night before the cruise, and again, one night after the cruise. On the first day, we saw (via bus and Metro) all of the major sites, except for the Vatican Museum (line too long). As tired as we were, on the return to Rome, we took a train to Assisi for a quick 3 hour visit. The train ride was worth it; Assisi is truly unique. Our hotel in Rome was the Diocleziano, near the train station. Well worth the $120 euros. We could walk to and from the train station.
nothing like an nlv outbreak to make a cruise
and the preparedness, training, and procedures left a lot to be desired.
isolated in a cabin - no mask!!
if it's so contagious from person-to-person - why no mask
first reaction - blame the passengers
with the volendam having an outbreak just a week or so before - port everglades for both - why not heightened procedures up front for - for at least the first 55 hours (typical incubation time for person-to-person contact.
even after tougher procedures - worker sneezed into plastic gloves and did not change gloves.
beyond simple job relatd tasks - the crew, overwhelmingkly from developing nations have little functional english.
a dteriment in this situation - makes one wonder about other emergencies.
For sentimental reasons (my husband and I spent our honeymoon on old Volendam, we spent birthdays and anniversaries on HAL ships), Holland America has always been our second favorite cruise line. (Home Lines, where I met hubby, will always be #1, for obvious reasons.)After returning from the Thanksgiving 2006 cruise on Westerdam, I can honestly say that HAL and Westerdam are two separate entities which, other than the great crew, have nothing else in common.
Our SA category cabin was spacious, immaculate, and Uman, our steward, always had us laughing with his towel animals, especially the monkey hanging from the lamp. He kept us in toiletries and plenty of towels. Because of our superior cabin, we had access to the Neptune Lounge where we could eat, drink, play games and read magazines until 8:30 pm. Renchel and Michelle, who staffed the lounge, were very professional, making appointments for the Pinnacle Grill for other passengers (we had already made them for our cruise pre-cruise), scheduling shore excursions, and all around general help.
The weather on the first, sixth and seventh day was sunny and warm, but the rest of the time saw rain, overcast skies,and dampness. Our shore excursions on Grand Turk and Cayman Islands was cancelled and we managed to secure anchorage in another area of Grand Cayman (not in Georgetown) while four other ships were turned away.
The ship's decor was not as luxurious as on other HAL ships and it seems that colors were combined at the last minute with no thought to color coordination. The public areas were, however, spotless and filled with those famous flower arrangements we have come to expect from Holland America.
The crew staff was, as one would expect on HAL ships, smiling, friendly, and very helpful. We renewed acquaintances with many old crew friends on board throughout the ship. I will note that we (along with a few other passengers) found the captain to be smug and arrogant (we went away patting ourselves on the back whenever he came on the PA system, saying to ourselves, "Am I not great or what?" My husband earned his bronze medallion on this cruise, while I have a red pin under my belt, so you can tell we have traveled with HAL before. In fact, we took trips on the Zuiderdam last Thanksgiving and on the Zandam over New Years.
By way of history, my husband and I are both New Yorkers and freely have access to fine restaurants, great Broadway plays and concerts in Manhattan. On board the ship, we forego the shows in order to eat in the Pinnacle Grill where the ambience, food, and spaciousness erase all the stress from living in a high-powered city. We are always the last passengers to leave the Pinnacle. We take our time, enjoy our food, savor our wine, and have great conversation. On both other HAL ships, we ate at the Pinnacle Grill at the Odyssey Restaurant every night and planned to do the same on the Westerdam.
We prepaid for five evenings, our travel agent gave us one evening, and we were going to pay for Thanksgiving (holiday eating arrangements must be made on board) but as events will unfold below, HAL footed the bill for that night. The Pinnacle Grill on board the Westerdam was the worst specialty restaurant we have ever eaten in. Marcus, the chef, is a 26 year old stressed young man (crew comment, not ours), while Peter, the Maitre'd, does nothing but walk the floor, ask how your day was, and look pretty. The food varied every night, and nightly with each course. Sometimes it was perfect (looking and tasting the way it did on the other two ships), sometimes it was cold, luke warm, burnt, and missed some ingredients, and other parts of the meal, as a matter of fact. My husband's diver scallops had the leeks marmalade, but lacked the jasmine rice and seared vegetables. He kiddingly asked our waiter if the shrimp scampi came with shrimp one evening.
My Fragrant Chicken Thai soup was burnt and lukewarm one evening and my husband's button mushrooms cold. The second night, my seasonal greens salad was completely wilted over an extremely spicy salad dressing (cider vinegar) and I had to eat bread to rid my palate of the taste. This preceded the veal chop which was all fat and gristle, again, luke warm. I had two bites of this and it went the same way as the salad. Luckily, I filled up on bread and by that time, was (fed up) not hungry. Peter did absolutely nothing, while our outstanding waiters, Imam and Amelia were very apologetic, and trying to make up for our bad experiences. They got worse. On the first night, I had chicken marsala which lacked raisins and hazelnuts and three nights later, had the same dish again, with the raisins and hazelnuts suddenly appearing. Marcus, who finally appeared after our third evening, said that he had no control over what was printed on the menu, that he could only work with his ingredients. I said if that was the case, change the menu. I also said that he could control how things came out: hot/cold/lukewarm. That was a no-brainer.
Food was good the next two nights but again turned bad once again. They ran out of things (watermelon sorbet, porterhouse steak, butternut squash-apple soup) only to have them appear the next night or in the Lido Restaurant for lunch. (Were we sleeping when the helicopter came on board to deliver new supplies? Hello!)We complained and scheduled an appointment to meet with Mr. Case, the Culinary Top Man in control here, which saw us in the middle of the Neptune Lounge (with people coming and going, listening to us) with no regards to privacy whatsoever. He kept looking at his phone as opposed to us, with such an incredible look on his face that we were making these things up. He would get to the bottom of this, he said. That was the last we heard from him. I wrote up some things which were (supposedly) presented to the hotel manager and you got it, never heard a word from him, either.
Our last evening, the beverage manager came to our table (I had to ask who he was as he never introduced himself to us) wherein he gave us free "designer bottled water" even though we already had opened bottled water in glasses, gave us, compliments of Mr. Case, a bottle of Austrian wine (which we took home as we had opened Dom Perignon and were drinking that at the time) and also gave us a bottle of Muscat dessert wine (which we did open and drank with dessert). I thanked him but told him it was too little, too late. They should have done something for us when we complained the second/third night, not the last night.
The morale of the story is this: when you pay $5000 for a cabin, $2000 for your wine bill (Dom Perignon four nights, Opus One two evenings and Far Niente another night), when you take three HAL cruises in the same ball park monetary figures within one year, when you are constant repeaters as we are, they, like Dean Witter, should listen. Having already eaten in two other Pinnacle Grill restaurants, we know what things look like, how they should be presented, what they should taste like. HAL should have done the right thing in order to keep their passengers happy, but they did not. Our next three cruises in 07 (March, May and November) will be with RCL. As the old adage says, "I can spend my money anywhere." P.S. I also wrote a review on Celebrity Century, so I do not always complain about ships!
We enjoyed ourselves on this cruise and thought it might be helpful to share our experiences with everyone. My wife and I are both in our mid thirties and we have two young children. We decided to leave the kids at home with grandma and have an adult only week. We have been on a total of 9 cruises, but this was our first on HAL. We have sailed on RCCL, X, and NCL. We prefer X and even after this cruise will always pick them as our first choice. We will definitely cruise with HAL again someday, but not with our kids.
We chose this cruise because of the ports. We have heard great things about Half Moon Cay and were enchanted with the opportunity to go to Grand Turk. We have sailed the Caribbean four times previously and found this itinerary unique. We were originally supposed to go to Half Moon Cay, Grand Turk, Grand Cayman, and Costa Maya, but for some unknown reason they replaced Costa Maya with Key West, which was quite fine with us.
We flew to Ft. Lauderdale from LA the day before the cruiseand had a direct flight that was easy. We chose to stay at the AmeriSuties because of the easy location and good price. They picked us up at the airport promptly and our room was ready for us when we got there. The real problem was the room! It was small, smelled of mildew and was really run down. We made the best of it and went out to dinner at the Tex-Mex joint next door before turning in. We ate the complementary breakfast in the morning which was pretty good tasting but was in a place that was far too crowded. The Hotel took us to the ship at 1:00 after a late check out time and we were in line for embarking.
Embarkation was a long process. It seems that we arrived at the most hectic of times. We have never waited this long in line for a cruise before (around 1 hour). I don't think that the wait was HALs fault; it was probably just the time we arrived. At any rate they processed our paperwork and we were on board shortly after. On our way up the gangway I noticed that our room number was different then the one I was originally assigned and instead of going to our room I would have to go to the front desk of the ship. We did and was informed that we were upgraded from an inside Cat. L (#5022) to an Outside obstructed view (#4087). I was wondering if we were ever going to see our luggage because our tags were marked with our old room number. We went to the lido for lunch and when we got back our bags had indeed made it to the right place.
The Cabin was nice. We were quite pleased with the upgrade and found the layout of the room to be the same as a veranda type room without the balcony. The entire back wall was glass and we indeed had a big old lifeboat in front of it. I still liked the fact that we were able to see outside and had a larger room. The best part of the cabin was the bathroom. It was by far the best laid out design we have had. The shower actually had a tub! Quite nice! The beds are great and we slept very well! Our room attendant was named Wagi and he was great.
The Ship was really beautiful. From the moment we walked on board, we felt that this was a classy looking and feeling ship. The carpets are dark rich colors and the common areas have great artwork that features HAL's cruising traditions. The ship was exceptionally clean and well maintained. Though this ship is a good size vessel, it never really felt like a large ship because of the unique layout.
The Food is always a tough subject to review because everyone has such a different palate. The Lido Buffet is probably the nicest buffet I have seen on a cruise ship. It is well maintained and looks very nice. The functionality of this area is questionable. It is really confusing because they divide everything up into serving stations and in order to get your meal you seem to be waiting in five or six different lines. I actually gave up on eating breakfast there because it took to long and was far too confusing. The only thing I can say is that the food was of much better quality then I have seen on other buffets on any other brand of ship, but the layout was poor. Also we found service in the Lido poor. We were never asked for help with our trays and even during slow times tables sat uncleared for a long time.
The main dining room was nice and the food was just O.K. We certainly have had better on RCCL and Celebrity, but we were still able to find good selections each night for dinner. I feel that the Dining Room service on this ship was not very good. Our waiter didn't seem to be overworked yet service was inconsistent and unorganized. Our assistant waiter was not very good at all and he never really ever remembered our ice tea orders or any other preferences. Dishes were slow to arrive and slower to be cleared. It felt like they just didn't have things in good working order. I found that I ate a good deal of beef dishes and most of the time they were good and arrived cooked as I requested, however they were rarely served hot! The soups, salads, and appetizers were all pretty good, but the deserts were not. In my opinion HAL needs to work on the dining room service! We enjoyed our meals and always found things edible, but they certainly can improve!
Room Service was great! Because of the confusion in the Lido Buffet, we opted to eat breakfast each morning in our cabin. We filled out the card the night before and our orders arrived mostly on time and correct. We really were quite pleased in this area and found the room service food to be pretty good!
Pinnacle Grill was just alright! Our T.A. had given us a free evening at the Pinnacle so we made reservations and went. It was nice but I don't think I would pay the cover fee for the experience! The meal was good and the service was much better than in the dining room however.
Entertainment was for the most part good! The standard singing and dancing group was on the ship and they performed quite well in the production shows. There was a comedian on board who performed the first night and also an adult only late night show and he was terrible. I think he must have been someone's brother in law or something to even get the job! There was a ventriloquist and an illusionist on board, both did excellent shows! We found the cruise director Billy to be little more than a host and though he was polite and sometimes informative, he really was not of the caliber that we have seen on other ships! We don't do too many ship activities, but other then the galley tour their were few that were very interesting! We saw a cooking demonstration in the Queen's Lounge/Culinary Art Center, but the room was overcrowded and we simply had to watch it on the T.V. monitors.
Ports were good! We came on this cruise to rest and hang out at the beach. Unfortunately the weather was not so great in the first few ports and we were limited to shopping and strolling. Half Moon Cay is great, but when it is raining there is nothing to do so we went back to the ship after a few hours. Grand Turk is very small and I suggest that if you go there you take an excursion. The small beach by the pier is nice, but the beach is rocky and it was hard to get out to swim without scraping your feet or twisting your ankle. I could have skipped this port! We love Grand Cayman, but again the weather was poor and so we walked around town and shopped. Key West was fun! We had never been and the weather finally cooperated so we had a nice day. This is a great last day of a cruise port.
Disembarkation was a snap, it was very well organized! We had an early flight out of Ft. Lauderdale, so we were off early and made our 11:00 flight easily and comfortably.
Bottom Line I would go on HAL again! We had a good time and found our overall experience a good value! We got a great deal on this cruise and were pleased with the overall experience. I know I sound critical on many aspects of the cruise, but I also realize that every cruise and line have their challenges. I believe that our T.A. did a great job getting us perks and HAL has a good product for what you pay!
"And Robert, what did you do for your summer vacation?" My imaginary teacher asked. "Well, I took an Alaskan cruise," I responded. "An Alaskan cruise, Wow! Would you care to share your experience with the rest of the class?" "You bet!" I belted out.
Well class, I guess I should start at the beginning. Twenty years ago my wife and I decided to get married. To make a long story short, I woke up one day a few months ago, and realized that twenty years had passed by. In fact, twenty years had shot by in the blink of an eye. After this realization had set in, we both felt that this milestone needed a special acknowledgment. Neither of us had been on a cruise, so it was decided - a seven-day Alaskan cruise leaving from Seattle, would be a fun way to celebrate our twentieth anniversary.
Before we embarked on our journey, there were questions that needed answers. Through which agency should we book? How much is this going to cost? Which cruise line should we take? On what date should we leave on? What should we pack? What side excursions shouldwe book?
We booked on the ms Westerdam, which is a Holland America Line ship, leaving May 7. This was the first sailing of the season. And, this was to be the inaugural sailing to Alaska of Holland America's "new" refitted ms Westerdam.
We arrived in Seattle a day early, which gave us some time to see the city. After walking through the downtown area and going to Pike's Market - a bustling market with fresh fish stalls, food, handicrafts, entertainers and an upbeat energy, we both agreed that Seattle has a unique charm, and along with the surrounding area, deserved at least a week for exploring.
The next day, we arrived at our embarkation terminal at 1:30 p.m., for a 4:00 p.m. sailing. Embarkation took about an hour. There were lines, security checks, luggage checks and room assignments. Our room was on the first deck of a nine-story ship. Being on the first deck would prove to be very advantageous. We were midship and had a room with a large window. Midship and lower down is the most stable and smoothest place to be. In fact, I can't recall ever feeling like the ship was moving even when we hit some rough seas on day two of our trip.
The ship sailed at 4:00 p.m. and before we knew it, it was 5:30 and time for dinner. We had elected to have an earlier sitting. This was determined at the time we purchased our cruise tickets. An earlier sitting allowed us to have time do a little exercising after dinner (six laps of walking around Deck Three - two miles) and still have time to catch a show.
Our table had ten people assigned to it. This would be our nightly table and dinner companions for the trip, unless we chose to go up to the ninth floor which served a buffet dinner (or lunch or breakfast) all day and evening. Or we could also opt for the Pinnacle Grill which was a fancy — pricy wines - type of restaurant. Our first stop was Glacier Bay, Alaska. Glacier Bay was a magnificent sight - approximately 65 miles long and filled with fjords and inlets. It was a cloudy, drizzly day, perfect weather for hot Dutch pea soup (a Holland America tradition) served on the observation decks. Three Glacier Bay park rangers came on board to give a talk on the area.
Juneau was our next stop. Juneau is the capital of Alaska, although at first glance, one would think that it was a mining and lumber town by the general look and feel of it. Holland America offered a number of side excursions at each port of call. For example, in Juneau one could take a helicopter flight to a glacier, book a dog sledding adventure, go whale watching or take a sea coast nature walk. All of the side trips were a bit pricy for our budget, so we opted to hop a local bus out to Mendenhall Glacier which was well worth the effort. We spent the afternoon gazing in awe at this incredible work of nature.
Then we were on to Sitka for our next port of call. By now our routines were set in place - laps around Deck Three after meals, walks up the staircase to the pool area on Deck Nine. On the first day we had agreed not use the elevators, to burn off calories. There were nightly pilgrimages (by my wife) to an American Idol type of contest (which culminated the last night of our cruise), and the Jacuzzi for me - on Deck Nine later in the evening. This was a lifestyle to which I had no problem adapting.
Sitka was a beautiful village/town nestled in a forested inlet. Sitka was the only port where we "tendered" to get ashore. In other words, we docked in the bay about a mile out from the town and rode in on one of the Westerdam's life boats.
Rather than book a tour or excursion in Sitka, we again opted to walk through town, stopping at Sitka National Historic park, and a local coffee house to check e-mail.
Our next port of call was Ketchikan. Ketchikan, along with Sitka is home to the Tlingit ("klin-Kit") tribes who first inhabited the area. Because of the abundant fishing, the Tlingits set up a fishing camp at the mouth of the Ketchikan Creek. The town was later incorporated in 1900. It wasn't long after, that Kitchikan, became known as the "Salmon Capital of the World." Today, Ketchikan's economic base is tourism.
From Ketchikan we headed south to Victoria, Canada. We had a short stay in Victoria (about six hours), but it was long enough to realize that along with Seattle, Victoria is a place we'd like to come back and revisit. It's quite beautiful - on an enclosed bay with the majestic Empress Hotel as its centerpiece, looking out over the bay.
We sailed out of Victoria about 11:00 p.m. and arrived in Seattle the following morning at about 7:00 a.m. Cruise complete, it was time to reflect on the experience.
This was out first cruise, and we both agreed that it was a very positive experience. There are a couple areas of the cruise experience that stand out- that made the trip so positive. First, the staff of the ms Westerdam, primarily Indonesian, were committed in body and soul to having this be a great experience for us. Our cabin attendant was genuinely friendly, making and remaking our bed every time we left the room. The bed was turned down each evening with a chocolate on the pillow and the following day's itinerary was placed in view.
The food on board the ship was superb. The menus varied nightly. And the dining room staff was, again, committed to having this sailing be the best possible experience.
The ship itself, offered a variety of nooks and crannies, from coffee bars to casinos to libraries to cater to just about any interests.
In Ketchikan, we talked to some people who were booked on a competitive cruise line. They were less than pleased with the food and the service on their ship. "Less than pleased" is a polite way of saying that parts of their trip were nightmarish. For example, an initial embarkation process in Seattle which should have taken an hour, took about seven hours. And no food or water was available while they went through this process. They were also charged extra for steaks or lobster. And according to them, the ships staff was, in general, unfriendly.
These negative comments about this particular cruise line were echoed by others. So for me, if I take another cruise (which I hope to do again), it's definitely going to be on a Holland America ship.
Robert Ross can be reached by e-mail at: SanDiegoRoss@hotmail.com Copyright 2006 by Robert Ross, all rights reserved
Just completed a 7 day cruise on the Westerdam. The ship is new and attractive; service was discreet and pleasing; food uniformly good. Passengers tended to be older but there was a good collection of children and teenagers who seemed to be with grandparents.
Enjoyed the ports; toured the Baths in Tortola and raced with the regatta in St. Martin, which was a highpoint of the trip. The water at Half Moon Cay was too cold for much swimming, but the island was beautiful and the facilities and activities excellent. Overall, the experience was laid-back and relaxed. Entertainment at night was best in the theater; we did not care much for any of the bands in the lounges; however. Purchased a precruise Marriott package from HAL-ended up at the facility at Hollywood Beach; service there quite poor and disappointing.
Back-to-back cruise, 14 days, Western and Eastern Caribbean
These were my 10th and 11th Holland America cruises.
The Westerdam is approx. 85,000gt, and 950 feet long, it is the 3rd in theVista class series and was launched in 2004.
Embarkation was smoother than expected, given the 1,848 passengers had to leave and roughly the same number had to come onto the ship, with the disembarkation starting just before 0900 and the ship setting sale around 1700. The check-in was rapid once we were in the building.
I was in a cabin by myself, aft (rear) of the ship, but forward of the aft staircase, the couple I travel with were beside the forward staircase; both cabins were starboard (right) side on the upper-promenade deck (above the open Promenade or "walkies" deck). This meant that there was some minor motion in rough seas, but nothing unpleasant. I was in outside cabin F4121 which can sleep 3 and whose sea-facing wall was the window, my friends were in a verandah cabin VF4041.
We docked first in Half-Moon Cay, Bahamas, Holland America's private island, found on maps as Little San Salvador. Many people left the ship, ontenders for there are things to do on this island mostly involving water, such as scuba, snorkeling or snuba diving, para-sailing and some sea-do and boating activities. There is also a nature walk - Holland America has only developed a small part of the island. Bring both sun screen, and, something less obvious -insect repellent! This was followed by a day asea.
The next stop was in Ocho Rios, on the northern coast of Jamaica. There are many tours of Jamaica offered from the ship, which safety dictates is the best way to do it; although 'Ochee' now has little crime, it is wise to pay attention to recent guidebook advisories concerning this country. There was an interesting shore expedition to 'Firefly', Sir Noel Coward's spartan Jamaican estate. This trip is not mentioned in many brochures and I have only seen a few reviews of the site. To get there one travels 20 miles East in an air conditioned bus on steep winding roads, some of which are not paved, to the cliffs above Port Maria; this is a short journey and is well worth it for coastal views, a glimpse of rural Jamaica, and a look at the eccentric English playwright's well-maintained garden, where he is also buried (he died in 1973). The grounds are a national monument cared for by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust. The house has been preserved largely as Noel Coward left it: There are 2 grand pianos in the living room on which he composed some of his tunes, and his gramophone and some records are on hand, along with clothes still in the closet (!) and a modest library which may have suffered from pilfering over the years.
On our return from the tour, we went to Margaritaville near the port; this is an area restricted to tourists with a minimum of aggressive hustling. Blue Mountain coffee was available at the Plaza for U$25/lb., as are Caribbean shirts, dresses (and other things). We had lunch which was pricey, but the service was good and the drinks were very large and relatively cheap. We walked from Margaritaville to the port without incident although one of the souvenir vendors asked my friend if he wanted to buy some "smoke". (--No!)
We were supposed to go to Cayman Island next, but rough seas prevented use of the tenders for getting ashore (there are no port facilities for a ship as large as ours). Since there were at least 4 other ships that were visible, and 3 more coming in, it would have been fairly crowded.
On to Puerto Costa Maya (PCM), very far south on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico in the state of Quintana Roo, just North of Belize (formerly British Honduras). This is a new facility which does not appear even in recent guidebooks but is described in some on-line reviews; built only in the last few years in a very isolated and undeveloped area near Majahual. Two of us joined an all-day expedition to the Mayan ruins of Kohunlich in the tropical jungle, which consist of a large city of which about 85% is not excavated; but what has been, is spectacular and includes a Mayan ball-court, several pyramids, a large number of dwellings and other ruined buildings, spread over wide open spaces. It is also famous for its six-foot tall statues in the Temple of the Masks, which represent the sun god of the Mayas. A decent lunch was provided on the way to the site, and the toilet facilities on the bus worked fine. This is worth doing, although for those not interested in such a long trip, it was possible to go to places much closer to the ship (the ruins at Chacchoben for example). There was a lot of walking involved, and people should remember hats, sunscreen and insect repellent.
At our arrival in port there was one other HAL ship, the Ryndam and one of the very large Royal Caribbean ships. The actual port shopping centre here needs some re-thinking: Several cruise lines were involved in its development and construction as a 'restricted' shopping port, and as an alternative to overcrowding at Cozumel further North. The isolation of PCM has led to very excessively priced not very good quality items being available, including very obnoxious and aggressive salespeople who follow (harass) potential clients from store to store (this has been mentioned in some reviews of the port). It is clear that some of the people who set up shop were given too many empty promises from either the government or the contractors who built the place. Even the extra added influx of passengers as a result of hurricane Wilma reducing traffic to Cozumel has not satisfied the need or greed of some of the merchants here. The pharmacy was two to three times more expensive than back home, the drinks were outrageous and lousy, and there was no point in eating there since the ships are right there. A Cozumel this is not, but with some effort it could be made into a nice place.
After two days at sea, we were back to Fort Lauderdale. Going back-to-back on the same ship is not very complicated. In essence we were in transit because we were heading out on the second leg in a few hours on the same ship. This was over quickly but might be difficult for those who are not able to stand for long periods; transit people should have been told to assemble in one of the lounges where seating was available as opposed to lining up by the Front Office.
Our first port of call on the second leg was Nassau, Bahamas. 0700 to 1200 is not sufficiently long to do much sight-seeing. It would be nice if HAL would increase the amount of time spent in Nassau. Their pier area has some old colonial buildings which are still used as the seat of government and there is a market (the 'straw' market) very close to the port where you can get some good deals by doing a bit of humming and hawing. The Caribbean shirts are attractive and if you get a reduced price for one, you can get a second or third one for a lot less; the thing is to be prepared to simply walk away if the price is too steep - it comes down quickly!
The next stop was Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Having been there before, we did not go on any of the expeditions. There are trips to nearby islands, water sports, and glass-bottomed boat tours of the reefs outside of the port; you can also get as good a tour from the locals for a lower price than that provided by the ship. The three of us headed off the ship to sample a British navy rum concoction known us "Pusser's Painkiller" at a local bar. There are souvenirs to be had, but attire is quite expensive on Tortola compared with Nassau or Philipsburg.
Philipsburg, located on the Dutch side of St. Maartin/St. Martin is the hub of the Netherlands West Indies. It was quite crowded, there being at least 4 large and 2 small cruise ships in port. Side trips are available here and on the less travelled French part of the island whose capital is Marigot. Philipsburg is full of shops of all kinds especially jewelry stores; pay attention to the cruise ship's handouts because some stores have very similar names. The big cruise lines have their recommended shops, and these should be used since if there is a flaw discovered later, this can be fixed through the ship-board guarantee.
Two days later and we were back to Half Moon Cay, Bahamas before arriving in Ft. Lauderdale.
During the cruise there were some occasions when the wind was strong, up to Force 9 on the Beaufort scale, but there was only a little pitch (front-to-back) and roll (side-to-side) movement. There are free motion sickness chewable tabs available. While those amidships and lower down experience less movement, I did not regret being towards the back of the ship for equipped with stabilizers, the Westerdam is able to sail comfortably in high seas.
The Lido, the casual dining area of many cruise ships, was a vast improvement over that on several previous HAL ships. The omelette station at breakfast includes an assortment of fruit, juices and bacon or sausage; at lunch, there were 'food stations' for Italian (pasta etc.), custom sandwiches, wok (stir-fry), and sushi was available at one place- all of which meant fewer multiple-line-ups. Given the number of people on the ship, at breakfast and lunch, you still have to send someone to guard seats in the Lido while the others of your group make their selections.
The dining room was good, 3 of us were at a table for 4, at the late seating, (table 151). Service was above average. Unfortunately, Holland America appears to have discontinued an important feature of the Wine Navigator programme: You can no longer pre-order your wine from the package you have bought, on the day you are having it, instead you must order it at the meal itself. This means a running-around wine steward taking soft drink orders (and serving them), while dealing with having to fetch wine for dinner! I am told this was the old practice before 1993. For some years, because the dinner menu is posted and available in the morning, you could visit the 'wine desk' and your wine would be at your table when you arrived in the evening. HAL should re-think about how reverting to the older practice overworks the wine steward and how really inefficient it is to have any wine steward dealing with soft drinks.
The Pinnacle restaurant was very good, impeccable service. The layout is different, being more 'open' than on other classes of ship. The 3 of us went on the first day of the second leg of the cruise, so only had to pay half of the surcharge (normally $20 per person). The beef is as good as the Alberta Grade A which used to be served on all HAL ships until restrictions on exporting Canadian beef to the U.S. made that impossible.
The pools, one outside, aft, and the other near the Lido were well maintained. The Promenade "walkies" deck does not extend the full length of the ship, and, in some areas clear sight lines are lacking, obstructions (which are not shown on the ship's plans) include space for raft stations and zodiac rescue boats, however the deck from ahead of the forward and to the rear of the aft staircases is very wide, leaving enough space for those walking and for those using deck chairs at the same time. The televisions are of a better make than on earlier ships, there was a minimum of signal-fade from some networks on the satellite feed.. There are no washing machines, but for $12 you can cram a large bag; I would rather not be doing laundry anyway! The room stewards (a different one for each of the two cabins) were high end HAL and knew their work. There were no plumbing problems which have affected the Statendam class and some other ships in the Vista class.
The three of us attended two wine tastings, presided over by the head wine steward who was from Quebec. HAL started this a few years ago and the ships have been expanding and improving them since; there is a fee for this activity, and the wines are all sampled with food. There were also (free) cooking demos in the Queen's Lounge and Culinary Arts Centre where a variety of things from the ship's menu are prepared; a couple of TV cameras are used including one giving overhead shots which are projected onto large screens. The shows are re-played on one of the ship's internal television channels. For either the wine tasting or the culinary demonstrations, plan on eating less lunch.
I preferred this ship over the Zuiderdam, possibly because the service was better, but it could also be that the ship was so new.
I sailed on two back-to-back cruises totaling 14 days, through the Western and Eastern Caribbean. These were my 10th and 11th Holland America cruises.
The Westerdam is approximately 85,000 tons and 950 feet long; it is the third ship in the Vista class series and was launched in 2004.
Embarkation was smoother than expected, given that 1,848 passengers had to leave and roughly the same number had to come onto the ship, with disembarkation starting just before 9 a.m. and the ship sailing around 5 p.m. The check-in was rapid once we were in the building.
I was in a cabin by myself, in the aft part of the ship, but forward of the aft staircase. The couple I traveled with had a cabin beside the forward staircase. Both cabins were starboard (right) side on the upper-promenade deck (above the open promenade deck). This resulted in some minor motion in rough seas, but nothing unpleasant. I was in outside cabin F4121, which can sleep three and whose sea-facing wall was the window; my friends were in a verandah cabin VF4041.
We docked first in Half-Moon Cay, Bahamas, Holland America's private island (found on maps asLittle San Salvador). Many people left the ship on tenders for there are things to do on this island -- mostly involving water, such as scuba, snorkeling or snuba diving, parasailing and some jet-ski and boating activities. There is also a nature walk. Holland America has only developed a small part of the island. Bring both sunscreen, and -- something less obvious -- insect repellent! This was followed by a day at sea.
Noel Coward's Estate
The next stop was in Ocho Rios, on the northern coast of Jamaica. Many tours are offered from the ship; safety dictates this is the best way to go. There was an interesting shore expedition to Firefly, Sir Noel Coward's spartan Jamaican estate. This trip is not mentioned in many brochures. To get there, one travels 20 miles east in an air conditioned bus on steep, winding roads, some unpaved, to the cliffs above Port Maria. This is a short journey and is well worth it for coastal views, a glimpse of rural Jamaica, and a look at the eccentric English playwright's well-maintained garden, where he is also buried (he died in 1973). The grounds are a national monument cared for by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust. The house has been preserved largely as Noel Coward left it: There are two grand pianos in the living room on which he composed some of his tunes, and his gramophone and some records are on hand, along with clothes still in the closet and a modest library.
On our return from the tour, we went to Margaritaville near the port; this is an area restricted to tourists with a minimum of aggressive hustling. Blue Mountain coffee was available at the Plaza for $25 per pound, as are Caribbean shirts, dresses and other things. We had lunch, which was pricey, but the service was good and the drinks were very large and relatively cheap. We walked from Margaritaville to the port without incident although one of the souvenir vendors asked my friend if he wanted to buy some "smoke."
We were supposed to go to Grand Cayman Island next, but rough seas prevented use of the tenders for getting ashore (there are no port facilities for a ship as large as ours). Since at least four other ships were visible and three more were coming in, it would have been fairly crowded.
We proceeded to Puerto Costa Maya (PCM), very far south on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico in the state of Quintana Roo, just north of Belize. This is a new facility that does not appear even in recent guidebooks but is described in some on-line reviews. It was built only in the last few years in a very isolated, undeveloped area near Majahual. Two of us joined an all-day expedition to the Mayan ruins of Kohunlich in the tropical jungle, consisting of a large city, of which about 85 percent is not excavated. But what has been is spectacular; it includes a Mayan ball-court, several pyramids, a large number of dwellings and other ruined buildings, spread over wide open spaces. It is also famous for its six-foot tall statues in the Temple of the Masks, which represent the sun god of the Mayas. They gave us a decent lunch on the way to the site, and the toilet facilities on the bus worked fine. This is worth doing, although for those not interested in such a long trip, it was possible to go to places much closer to the ship (the ruins at Chacchoben, for example). There was a lot of walking involved, and people should remember hats, sunscreen and insect repellent.
At our arrival in port there was one other HAL ship, the Ryndam, and one of the very large Royal Caribbean ships. The port shopping center here needs some re-thinking: Several cruise lines were involved in its development and construction as a restricted shopping port, and as an alternative to overcrowding at Cozumel. The isolation of PCM has led to excessively priced not very good quality items being available, including very obnoxious and aggressive salespeople who follow (i.e. harass) potential clients from store to store. It is clear that some of the people who set up shop were given too many empty promises from either the government or the contractors. Even the extra passengers here resulting from Hurricane Wilma reducing traffic to Cozumel has not satisfied the need or greed of some of the merchants. The pharmacy was two to three times more expensive than back home, the drinks were outrageous and lousy, and there was no point in eating there since the ships are right there. A Cozumel this is not, but with some effort it could be made into a nice place.
The Second Leg
After two days at sea, we were back to Fort Lauderdale. Going back-to-back on the same ship is not very complicated. In essence we were in transit because we were heading out on the second leg in a few hours on the same ship. This was over quickly but might be difficult for those who are not able to stand for long periods; transit people should have been told to assemble in one of the lounges where seating was available instead of lining up by the Front Office.
Our first port of call on the second leg was Nassau, Bahamas. A stop from 7 a.m. to noon is not long to do much sightseeing. It would be nice if HAL would increase the amount of time spent here. The pier area has some old colonial buildings still used as the seat of government, and there is a market (the Straw Market) close to the port where you can get some good deals. The Caribbean shirts are attractive and if you get a reduced price for one, you can get a second or third one for a lot less; just be prepared to walk away if the price is too steep -- it comes down quickly!
The next stop was Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Having been there before, we did not go on any of the expeditions. There are trips to nearby islands, water sports, and glass-bottomed boat tours of the reefs outside of the port. You can get as good a tour from the locals for a lower price than that provided by the ship. The three of us headed off the ship to sample a British navy rum concoction known as Pusser's Painkiller at a local bar. There are souvenirs to be had, but attire is quite expensive on Tortola compared with Nassau or Philipsburg.
Philipsburg, on the Dutch side of St. Maarten/St. Martin, is the hub of the Netherlands West Indies. It was quite crowded, since there were at least four large and two small cruise ships in port. Side trips are available here and on the less traveled French part of the island, whose capital is Marigot. Philipsburg is full of shops of all kinds, especially jewelry stores. Pay attention to the cruise ship's handouts because some stores have very similar names. The big cruise lines have their recommended shops, and these should be used; if you find a flaw later, this can be fixed through the shipboard guarantee.
Two days later and we were back to Half Moon Cay, Bahamas before arriving in Ft. Lauderdale.
During the cruise there were some occasions when the wind was strong, up to Force 9 on the Beaufort scale, but there was only a little pitch (front-to-back) and roll (side-to-side) movement. Free motion sickness chewable tabs are available. While those amidships and lower down experience less movement, I did not regret being near the back of the ship, for equipped with stabilizers, the Westerdam is able to sail comfortably in high seas.
The Lido, the casual dining area, was a vast improvement over that on several previous HAL ships. The omelette station at breakfast includes an assortment of fruit, juices and bacon or sausage; at lunch, there were food stations for Italian (pasta etc.), custom sandwiches, wok (stir-fry), and sushi. Given the number of people on the ship, at breakfast and lunch you still have to send someone to guard seats in the Lido while the others of your group make their selections.
The dining room was good; three of us were at a table for four, at the late seating (table 151). Service was above average. Unfortunately, Holland America appears to have discontinued an important feature of the Wine Navigator program: You can no longer pre-order your wine from the package you have bought, on the day you are having it. Instead you must order it at the meal. This means a busy wine steward taking soft drink orders (and serving them), while also having to fetch wine for dinner! I am told this was the old practice before 1993. For some years, because the dinner menu is posted and available in the morning, you could visit the wine desk and your wine would be at your table when you arrived in the evening. HAL should re-think about reverting to the older practice.
The Pinnacle restaurant was very good, with impeccable service. The layout is different, being more open than on other classes of ship. The three of us went on the first day of the second leg of the cruise, so we only had to pay half the surcharge, normally $20 per person. The beef is as good as the Alberta Grade A that used to be served on all HAL ships until restrictions on exporting Canadian beef to the U.S. made that impossible.
The pools, one outside aft and the other near the Lido, were well maintained. The Promenade deck does not extend the full length of the ship, and in some areas clear sight lines are lacking. Obstructions (which are not shown on the ship's plans) include space for raft stations and zodiac rescue boats, but the deck ahead of the forward and behind the aft staircases is very wide, leaving enough space for those walking and those using deck chairs. The TVs are of a better make than on earlier ships; there was a minimum of signal-fade on the satellite feed.. There are no washing machines, but for $12 you can cram a large bag; I would rather not be doing laundry anyway! The room stewards were high-end HAL and knew their work. There were no plumbing problems, which have affected some other HAL ships.
The three of us attended two wine tastings, presided over by the head wine steward, who was from Quebec. HAL started this a few years ago and the ships have been expanding and improving them since; there is a fee for this activity, and the wines are all sampled with food. There were also free cooking demos in the Queen's Lounge and Culinary Arts Centre, where a variety of things from the ship's menu are prepared. A couple of TV cameras are used, including one giving overhead shots projected onto large screens. The shows are re-played on one of the ship's internal TV channels. For either the wine tasting or the culinary demonstrations, plan on eating less lunch.
I preferred this ship over the Zuiderdam, possibly because the service was better, but it could also be that the ship was so new.
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 memorable.
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 untilour 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 years.
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 Everglades.
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 light lunch.
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 space.
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 television.
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 accordingly.
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 sailed.
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 more quickly.
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 to dinner.
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 service.
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 walk.
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 beautifully clear.
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 Alaska.