Five Night Cruise on the ms Westerdam - April 8-13
I know there are plenty who read this that will not agree with me and I'm sure there are those who will. This is just my take on the week.
We flew from Atlanta to Ft. Lauderdale on Saturday and were pleasantly surprised when our AirTran flight arrived early. After a quick taxi ride we checked in the Marriott Marina. This is a great place to do a pre-cruise night. Huge yachts (mini-ships) were moored there. They were absolutely gorgeous. The walk around the marina is like a boat show. Everything from a skiff to those mini-ships. A water taxi took us across the canal to the 15th Street Fishery. Pricey but good food.
Sunday morning we arose to find a sunny, beautiful day. After a leisurely breakfast we checked out and took a taxi to the port a little after 11:00. A porter at curbside unloaded our oversized luggage and assured me it would be well taken care of. From now on, even if embarking the same day as our flight, I will use a taxi rather than the cruiseline's transportation package. It was so smooth and we would be to the port way before those taking the bus.
There were no lines at the check in counters but our Holland America Representative must have been new on the job. She kept asking other reps how to use the computer. She then collected our ID's and all of our paperwork and took a walk. We wondered whether she was planning on taking our place aboard MS Westerdam. Finally she returned and up the escalator we went to wait for the boarding call.
This was our first Holland America cruise out of 8 previous cruises. At about 12:50 the wheelchairs started lining up. We had heard numerous times about the wheelchairs on HAL. Not to be disappointed we witnessed quite a lineup. The slow movers and others soon started filling the chairs. One rather large woman plopped into a chair and found out to late that there was not enough room for her and her thighs to both be in the chair. It took two people to pry her out. She then decided to walk aboard. My wife and I commented about the small frame Philippino having to push that chair up the ramp.
We had embarkation number 6. At around 1:10 they started boarding with wheelchairs first. An unfortunate elderly couple tried to board only to find out they needed to check in first. They were very confused and the HAL rep at the doorway was no help at all for them. She just stated that they should return to the check-in area and then return to board. The rep would not even give the couple their embarkation numbers back. I thought this was terrible on the reps part not to help this couple more.
Soon the numbers started to be called. The volume of the speakers was so low that no one heard the announcements. The rep just kept calling more numbers and, as we were sitting close by, heard number 6. Off we went for the obligatory embarkation photo and onto the ship.
As soon as we were aboard a white gloved doorman was commanded by an officer to escort us to our room, unlike Celebrity where the escort stood ready to take our hand luggage and lead us to our room. Half way to our room he offered to help with our bags. I refer again to Celebrity about the escort. When on the Century and the Galaxy the escort pointed out the features of our room and asked if we had any questions. The HAL escort opened our door, set our bags down and left.
We were in room 069 on the Upper Promenade Deck. We had booked an outside guarantee at a "D" rate and this cabin was a category "B". A very nice size room with plenty of storage and a tub in the bathroom. Unfortunately our beds were twins with no way to combine them into a queen. I did not care for this. Soon we found out how bad this room would become. Our room was centrally located to everything. The Lido restaurant was a minute away that made early morning coffee runs a breeze. One flight down were the shops, pursers desk, casino, bars and show lounge. The hall to our cabin was wide and well lighted unlike the narrow passages on lower decks.
Now about the bad part the location offered. The Upper Promenade Deck on the Westerdam is a true wraparound promenade. Our window looked out onto this deck. Passers by would at times try to look in to our room. A quick check outside by me confirmed little visibility in during the day. However at night the drapes needed to be drawn to keep prying eyes away. All of a sudden we had an inside cabin. Pitch black at night. I always kept the drapes open in our other outside cabins.
We go to bed rather early for cruise ship hours at about 11:00. The music from the lounges carried directly into our cabin. The din did not let up until 1:00. Ah, sleep at last. Then at 5:30 every morning a cleaning crew washed the salt from the windows, decks and walls. Not uncommon but in this particular cabin it sounded like being in a trash can with a high pressure hose blasting the outside. As the washing passed we were greeted with the hose banging against the wall for 15 minutes or so. As soon as the decks dried a bit the joggers tromped by. We heard soft feet, clomping feet and what sounded like someone in hard heels. Four and a half hours of sleep just isn't enough for my 48 year old body. I don't like naps so I was quite weary during the day.
We kept hearing in advance of our trip how responsive the bar staff is. They should remember your name and beverage choice. Well with the exception of one this never happened. None of the staff behind the bar in any of the bars were friendly or enthusiastic. The exception was Edsel. An excellent waiter who made a point of bringing a dinner menu to us every night to review. The hot appetizers each evening were great. The potato chips offered by Celebrity just didn't make it.
We ate in the Main Dining Room each night. We should have dined in the casual area of the Verandah at least once though. It looked good. We are getting tired of cruise style dining. I know that many of you love it but with us it is over. We just don't like banquet food and no folks, it doesn't taste like a shore side restaurant. It just can't do to the numbers. Service is either slow or rushed. Nothing against the waiters. They work extremely hard. It is just the system that bothers me.
One very sour note the last evening. We arrived at our table noticing every table had a traditional Dutch hat for the ladies and gentlemen with the exception of ours. I had a hat but noticeably absent was one for my wife. I made mention of this to our waiter and he said they ran out. There were a few tables empty that evening and the hats were there. I expected our waiter to get her one but it did not happen. Not a big deal but tacky on HAL's part to have a guest left out.
Formal night was quite casual as far as formal nights go. No more than 5% of the gents wore a tux. I'm glad I took a dark suit. As for informal night it never happened. HAL printed the daily schedule with Casual as the dress for the evening. The extra jacket, shirt and tie was wasted. I asked at the front desk what the dress was for the evening and was told informal. I pointed out Casual on the schedule and the desk clerk looked shocked. Most everyone dressed casual that evening.
There were very few children on board and without exception they were very well behaved. I guess HAL does attract a better passenger mix than some other unnamed cruise lines. They dressed well and seemed to enjoy themselves.
Our first destination was Nassau. We chose not to get off the boat and spent a very nice day aboard. Overheard comments led me to believe that most had a good day ashore. The shore excursions must have been good as well.
Next we were off to Half Moon Cay. It is a very beautiful beach on Little San Salvador Island. We can't say enough about this private island. It is simply gorgeous. Beautiful water, white sand and many activities. The beach, eating areas and bars were very clean. Once again though the bar staff was not friendly.
After a day at sea we end our stops at Key West. Always a great destination. So much to do and see there. Everyone had a good time. The Conch's have a great life.
The ship was very vibration free even when using the thrusters. There was noticeable motion during the early evening letting you know you are on a ship. Unlike the motion free travel on mega liners such as the Explorer.
One other note regarding the ambiance of the ship. The cruise directors staff made numerous announcements over the PA system. The volume was blaring and really cheapened the feeling on board. I liked Celebrity's policy of very few announcements. If HAL would turn down the volume it would be much better tolerated.
Back in Ft. Lauderdale Friday morning and an easy debarkation at about 9:30. Found our luggage easily, grabbed a taxi to the airport. We had a pleasant surprise at the AirTran counter. There was room for us on an earlier flight. Once again our AirTran flight was early. Are you listening Delta. We generally fly Delta but when it was time to make our reservations it was unclear if Delta pilots would be on strike or not.
We had perfect weather the whole trip. 80's during the day and low 70's at night. No rain at all until we returned to Atlanta.
I hope I have not put you to sleep or raised your ire with this review. I think HAL is doing the right thing by sending ms Westerdam to Costa. She is getting tired looking with noticeable rust in many exterior areas of the ship. The painters aren't keeping up. The waterline looks terrible and the area below the anchors needed help badly. The anchors weren't even used this trip. On other ships the painters are out maintaining the hull at every stop. What happened HAL?