Eastern Caribbean Cruise on the Holland America Westerdam
3/1/14 to 3/8/14
Due to the length of the review, it is in two parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top and bottom of the page.
Page 1 - Embarkation; Ship Restaurants; Lounges; Other Venues
Page 2 - Cabin; Dining; Entertainment; Activities; Ports of Call
Ports of Call: Ft. Lauderdale, Florida; Grand Turk, B.W.I.; San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. Maarten, Netherland Antilles; Half Moon Cay, Bahamas; Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
We had heard for years how Holland America was supposed to be a very good cruise line; but to be perfectly blunt, we had also heard HAL called the old folks’ cruise line. We wanted to see if what we had heard was true. We had just never taken the time to try them, but since I retired this last year, we now had much more cruising time available. When we found a good deal on the Westerdam, we decided the time had arrived. Even though it was an eastern Caribbean cruise, which we had done many times, there were a couple of islands we had not previously visited. However, our main goal was to find out for ourselves why so many people are loyal HAL cruisers. We now know.
I had been given permission to board early to take photos of some of the areas of the ship that I wouldn’t have access to after passenger boarding started, so we arrived at the terminal just before 10:00 AM. We went to the main terminal to go through the normal process to obtain our key cards. Carol decided to wait in the terminal until the normal boarding; since she had no desire to run all over the ship with me while I was snapping away.
I was met on board by a very pleasant and helpful Guest Relations Associate named Michael, who works in the Neptune Lounge and other areas.
He gave me the first taste of the exceptional HAL service we would receive during the rest of the cruise. He was so nice to take time out of the very busy turn-around day to help me get photos.
After I got on board, Carol sent me a text message that everyone had to evacuate the terminal, because there had been some smoke in the building. Even with all that excitement and having to go back through security, she was still able to be on board and in our cabin by 11:30. We were pleasantly surprised.
It is always a pleasure to sail out of Port Everglades. Come to think of it, most starting ports are a pleasure to sail out of. In addition to seeing the large yachts, it is fun to wave at all the people lined up along the water watching the big ships leave.
This sail away was even more special, since the captain believes in really tooting his horn as he leaves. In addition to several shorter blasts, he had one long blast that lasted over a minute. Since we love to hear the horn blowing, we were thrilled. With this being the last cruise for the Captain before his vacation, he threw in some extra toots.
With the Westerdam being a ten year old ship that was scheduled for an upcoming dry dock, our expectations were set lower than normal. There was no need for us to be concerned about the ship’s condition. The Westerdam has been well maintained and didn’t appear to us, to even need a dry dock.
With it being a smaller ship than we had recently been cruising on, we thought it would be relatively easy to get our bearings and be able to find where we wanted to go easily. Not so, we have never gotten so turned around so much on a cruise and gone the wrong way as often as we did on this one. Part of it was due to there being three areas with elevators and stairs. One area had two elevators in the hall facing the front of the ship, and also four outside elevators facing the middle of the ship. Another area only had four elevators with all of them facing inward toward the middle. We enjoyed the convenience of multiple stair wells; but it was very confusing knowing which way to go and what side of the ship we were on because the elevators faced different directions. Plus in the area toward the front of the ship on deck two, there were several hall ways and multiple entrances into the rooms that were confusing. It really got to be rather comical and we laughed at ourselves.
But we did find the ship to be very comfortable with the nice old world and nautical style decorations. It was a statelier feel than many of the ships we have cruised on.
Carol and I were fortunate to be able to meet with the Hotel Director, Simon Tanner. I have always felt that, as far as the passengers are concerned, the Hotel Director is the most important person on the ship. They are responsible for all the cabin and food service staff on the ship. After meeting with Simon, we understood why the staff were so pleasant and efficient. The attitude does start from the top and Simon’s concern for quality and management style showed during the entire cruise. We found the whole crew to be happy, not just content in their jobs. That always makes for a more enjoyable cruise.
One of the major concerns we had with HAL was the smoking policy. It is the only line that I am familiar with that allows smoking on cabin verandas. They also allow smoking in the casino, several of the outside decks and Seaview Bar. I was quite surprised to never smell any smoke during the cruise other than a small amount when passing through the Casino. We were pleasantly surprised and smoking turned out not to be an issue for us at all. The various public rooms are shown below by category.
Vista Dining Room – This is the main dining room and is located on two decks with an open area in the middle of it partially enclosed by a circular staircase between the two decks.
Above the staircase is a lovely glass decoration. During the day, you can see some of the color; but at night it looks like very dark glass because it is not lit up. It is really a shame since it is quite pretty. The photos below actually bring out the color much more than it is in person. Back lighting of this lovely decoration would really add to the beauty of the room.
Lido Restaurant – The Lido is the ship’s buffet. There are long serving stations on each side of the center section of the room which require you to walk around both sides of the restaurant to see what is available. Most items are available on both sides; but there are also specialty areas that are only on one side. We prefer ships with the open island style individual serving stations, since it allows for faster serving.
With the long stations, one slow person can hold up the whole line. Since we mainly ate breakfast and a few days at lunch in the Lido, it didn’t inconvenience us too much.
Canaletto Restaurant – This is the Italian specialty restaurant that shares a section of the Lido for dinner. There is a $10 per person charge and it is truly a bargain. I have included menus and food photos in the dining section of the review.
Explorations Café – This is a coffee bar that is located in a section of the Crow’s Nest at the front of the ship on deck 10. It is very convenient to grab a cup of coffee and some small snacks while relaxing in the Crow’s Nest. The snacks are free; but there is a charge for the various coffees.
Pinnacle Grill – This specialty restaurant is located on deck 2 and surrounds a section of the Atrium. The décor is like an elegant restaurant with a very comfortable and quiet environment. There is a $29 per person charge and it is worth every penny. I think that the Pinnacle Grill was one of the best specialty restaurant we have experienced on all the cruises we have been on. And this was our 34th cruise.
Terrace Grill – This is where everyone goes to get a hamburger or hot dog. It is located just outside the Lido Restaurant next to the Lido Pool. It has a very limited menu with the only other choice being regular or sweet potato French fries. I don’t understand why it took so long to get a hamburger or hot dog. It just seemed to take much longer than it should have. Even when the line was short there was a longer than expected wait. The hamburgers were just OK; but both kinds of French fries were very good.
Adjoining the Terrace Grill area is a serving table that normally had various Mexican food items.
Lounges (Link to Menus)
Atrium Bar - This nice looking bar is located on deck one with a view up to the Atrium.
Crow's Nest – With the Crow’s Nest being at the very front and on the uppermost interior deck, the view is very nice. The windows that wrap around the entire lounge provide an excellent view. I am sure that this is an even more popular area during an Alaskan cruise, where one can enjoy the beautiful view without the cold wind.
As it was, there were plenty of people enjoying the view while reading in the comfortable chairs. This was Carol’s favorite place on the ship, especially when she found an unfinished jigsaw puzzle on one of the tables. It didn’t stay unfinished long.
The library is also located in the Crow’s Nest. It is quite an extensive library and was well utilized. There were computer stations in the library also.
Since the Crow’s Nest is a lounge, there is a bar on one side along with a dance floor and area for a musician. It did seem strange to have a singer next to the library; but they normally didn’t start playing until later in the day.
Explorer's Lounge – This lounge is just before the deck 2 dining room, so it is convenient for before dinner drinks. It is in two separate sections next to each other. It was also where Adiago, the violin and piano duo, played between 6:00 PM and 10:00 PM. Since it is open to the hallway it was convenient for people to just stop in the hallway and listen.
In the hallway in plain view from the lounge is a very large nautical painting of New York City when it was New Amsterdam. The first photo shows how large the picture is, in that it fills the wall from floor to ceiling.
Below is what the picture looks like from straight on. Just a beautiful work of art.
I really liked the two floor decorations outside Explorer’s Lounge.
Lido Bar – This is the main pool bar; as well as the one used for the Lido buffet restaurant. The metal fish bar stools are the most striking feature.
Neptune Lounge & Concierge – This is the private lounge that is reserved for passengers in the Neptune Suites or above. It is a very comfortable room and I am sure that it is a very popular benefit for those suite guests.
I am including a lot of photos of the Neptune Lounge, since most people won't have an opportunity see it. From my understanding, free drinks and some food items are served in this lounge.
Ocean Bar – This bar is on both sides of the Deck 3 atrium. It was probably the most popular bar on the ship. The curved bar was quite distinctive. The nautical decorations were also a nice touch.
There was an ornate sitting area right outside the bar that looked out to the Atrium.
Pinnacle Bar – This bar is across from the Pinnacle Grill on deck 2. I liked the shadow box walls.
Sea View Bar - This bar is at the back of the ship next to the aft pool. The sun bathers made good use of it.
Vista Lounge – This is the main theater on the ship. It is located on three decks. The design is such that there are no seats in the middle of the upper level. That area is used for the sound and light technicians. That was a shame, since there weren’t that many seats in the middle of the main section on deck two. I noticed that on the two newer HAL ship deck plans they have modified the floor plan to take advantage of that area with more seating.
The seats themselves were of a comfortable white leather. These seats are to be replaced with a different style during the upcoming dry dock.
A staircase connects decks two and three, which makes it convenient to easily go to a different floor if you can't find a seat on the first floor you go to.
Queen's Lounge & Culinary Arts Center – At night this was used for the BB King’s Blues Club group. Most nights it was packed and standing room only.
During the day it was used as the Culinary Art Center for various food preparation programs, which were also quite popular. It was also used for some other functions, such as the Dancing with the Stars program and activities like the Love and Marriage game. Most times they had to set up folding chairs to handle the larger groups.
Northern Lights Night Club – This is a bar where the late night entertainment is held. They play music each night for dancing. Because it is positioned behind the Queens Lounge and Casino, you have to go down long hall ways to get there. Kind of like going into a cave. The disco design of the room is interesting.
Piano Bar – This bar is only open at night when the musician is playing the piano along with a different trivia game each night. When open, it was the most popular place on the ship. Whenever I went there, it was standing room only and even that was hard to find.
The shops are all located on deck 3. Rather than a bunch of separate shops, there are two large open areas that contain various types of products, like a small department store.
Chocolate Seduction - This was one shop that I was curious about. I assume that they sold chocolate items; but I never saw any staff in the shop.
Atrium – The main focal point of the atrium is the glass sculpture of an old sailing ship.
Looking down into the Atrium from deck's 2 and 3 gives different views of the Atrium Bar.
Basketball/Volleyball Court – This is a large area enclosed in netting that is used for basketball and volley ball. It is probably the largest area of this kind I have seen on any ship.
Casino – The casino was the only inside area on the ship where smoking was allowed and only for people that are actually playing. There must not have been many smokers on board, since there was just a minor smoke odor when we passed through to get to the theater. There is a good selection of casino games and they even had penny slot machines.
Meeting Rooms – The three meeting rooms on the ship are the Stuyvesant Room, Half Moon Room and Hudson Room. They are all basically the same and can be used for a variety of private functions set up during the day.
Fitness Center – I was quite impressed with the Fitness Center. In addition to having a very good selection of equipment to use, the room was very well lit and bright. Even though I didn’t use the gym on this cruise, it looked like a great place to exercise with a nice view of the ocean.
Front Office – The front office is located on deck 1. The staff was very friendly and helpful; and apparently very efficient, since I never saw long lines there. Somehow I missed getting a photo of the Front Office. I guess I have a reason to cruise the Westerdam again.
Future Cruises – This area was very small and could only handle one person to assist in booking future cruises.
Greenhouse Spa & Salon – I was surprised at how active the spa area was. There were people always talking to the receptionists and sitting around waiting for their appointments. I was lucky to get there and take photos before everyone boarded the ship.
The Thermal Suite area was very nice and had a good view of the ocean while lying on the ceramic loungers.
Inside the Spa area was the Greenhouse Relaxation room.
At the very front of the spa area is an observation area that can be accessed by one door on the starboard side of the spa. I never saw anyone out there, so it is probably a very good place to go when on an Alaska or Panama Canal cruise to view the action.
Hydro Pool – I really liked the elegant look of the Hydro Pool area. The stirring water looked quite inviting.
Lido Pool – This area is very nice in that the roof can be closed when inclement weather is approaching; or if there is cool weather. The lounge chairs were nicely padded and quite popular most of the time.
Microsoft Digital Workshop - This was the Westerdam computer center. They had regular classes on using Windows 8, photo editing and camera usage.
Observation Deck – This is an open deck just above the Crow’s Nest. There are lots of lounge chairs for sunning or just relaxing. The view from the deck is the best on the ship, since it is the highest point with viewing to the front and both sides. My only problem with it was the high glass walls all around that were not good for taking photos through.
I much preferred the unobstructed views from the sides of the ship on deck 10, where there are lots of lounge chairs also.
Photo Gallery – As with most ships, there were racks of photos lined up for viewing. When the gallery was closed the racks closed into the walls making the hall wider. The photographers did an outstanding job. So much so that there were too many really good photos; but at $40 per page, they were just too expensive for us to buy.
Promenade Deck – One of the unique features of HAL ships is the promenade deck that goes completely around the ship. Most lines just have promenades on sections of the sides or possibly the back of the ship.
The teakwood decks on the Westerdam were a great place to get some exercise or just relax in the comfortable lounge chairs. It had been a long time since we had been on a ship with a real promenade deck and I liked it a lot.
Sea View Pool – This is the largest pool on the ship and unlike the Lido Pool, it is in the open all the time. With it being at the back of the ship, you can also look out to the ocean from there. I liked the colorful statue in the pool.
Shore Excursions – The excursion office is located on deck 1 across from the Front Office/Guest Relations. I thought the curved shape made it look rather classy. Since we purchased the one excursion we booked on-line, I didn’t use this desk or deal with their staff. But based on every other HAL employee we dealt with, I am sure they provided great service too.
Outer Decks - On deck 10 there are large expanses of open decks. It was also where I was able to see how the roof of the Lido Pool looked from above.
I also liked the lovely area right outside the Crow's Nest. It looked like what you would find on a large private yacht.
From deck 10, there was a great view of the twin HAL emblemed smoke stacks.
The Loft – This is the area for kids. We were surprised to learn that there were 60 kids on our cruise, especially since it was not Spring Break.
Club HAL – This is the area for teenagers. The game room was small, but crammed with exciting looking games.
Artwork & Decorations
I was quite impressed with the artwork and decorations around the ship. Many had an old world and/or a nautical feel to them. Prior to the cruise, people were telling me to make sure and walk around the ship to see all the artwork that is on display. Well I did and I took a whole lot of photos. I was going to try to cut down on the number of them; but decided that if I did, I would forget what they looked like. Plus I hoped that the photos would bring back fond memories for those who have previously cruised on the Westerdam.
Even the elevator doors were unique and elegant.
Next to the jewelry store, there were these two pieces of art work that just seemed very appropriate. They were small figurines in a glassed in shadow box. Quite unique.
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