I took a 7 day Alaska cruise on the Westerdam this past May. Embarkation was very smooth and took no longer than an hour to get through all the hurdles: ticketing, photographers, etc. Received an 8 category upgrade from outside stateroom to a verandah. I later met many more passengers that had also received generous upgrades. There were countless rumors as to the reason and by the end of the cruise the main rumor centered around the fire on the Princess ship the previous month displacing a lot of passengers. Whatever the reason, I was pleased with my accomodations.
Food was excellent in main dining room and Pinnacle, where I ate twice and found to not be crowded at all. I couldn't believe more people did not choose this dining option. Even though you had to pay 20 bucks, the serving sizes and amount of food was incredible. Lido was about what you'd expect for what I called "the mall food court" since that is what it resembled right down to the children in strollers. I avoided the Lido as much as possible but it was good if you were in a hurry.
The hydrotherapy suite in the spa was my favorite part of the ship and I bought a pass good for the entire cruise. No children under 18 allowed anywhere in the spa although there seemed to be few children on the ship.
Bottom line was that I loved the Westerdam and would sail on her again, but naturally there are areas that they could improve on. Some of the highlights are below:
1. The unorganized tender operation in Sitka. It was ok going from ship to shore but not the other way around. The photographers would block the only gangplank to nail the people coming off the tender and by the time it was clear and you made your way down the gangplank the tender had already left, empty, for the ship. I asked the attendant and he seemed perplexed on what to do about it. I finally made it to a tender but only by running down the gangplank and practically shoving aside the arriving passengers.
2. The overemphasis of shopping. Flyers left at my stateroom door. One entire channel on the tv devoted to the great buys on shore. Daily talks in one of the lounges by "the shopping ambassador".....there just seemed to be too much of the promoting of the various stores at each port stop which made many of us wonder if HAL received some sort of kickback on purchases or even owned some of the stores; all of which centered around jewelry, my fellow passengers informed me that they were the same stores found at the port stops in the Caribbean.
3. No stewards serving the Oak Room despite daily write-ups in the bulletin about the various cigars, cognac, brandy, etc. But the room was not even set up with the correct size ashtrays and the nearest liquor was in the adjacent Crow's Nest.
4. Language barriers. The indonesian crew was charming and attentive and most of the time I was greeted in hallways, etc. But their English is less than perfect. Perhaps classes can be offered below decks on off days. It certainly didn't create huge problems, only misunderstandings like when I asked for melted butter on my fish up in the Lido, the cook insisted the fish was cooked in butter and had none to provide even though the sign clearly said fish WITH melted butter. I also felt language issues contributed to the Sitka tender nightmare (see #1 above).
It was not always possible to go around photographers when they were located in the middle of the gangway.
I cruise strictly for r&r and prefer to spend a good deal of time in my stateroom whether it be to watch tv or read a book. As a longtime member of cruisemates I respect everyones reasons for cruising whether it be to party 24/7 or take golf lessons. If I was retired like a lot of you I'm sure my needs would be different. Plus, it is still winter in Juneau in May....this was not Aruba....all shipboard activities were indoors. I spent one whole day in my stateroom curled up with a book and enjoyed every blissful moment of it.
And last, nobody required me to attend the port talks and I didn't once I learned what they were really about: surprise!, shopping. I understand they get paid to promote the shops on shore but there is such a thing as overkill: flyers included with the daily program, stuck under the door, on my bed in the evening along with the little chocolate, a shopping ambassador on each cruise. And if anyone really thought they were getting a bargain for some cheesy piece of jewelry, I got a bridge I can sell ya!
What cruise line doesn't overemphasize shopping at their "recommended stores", they should, they get paid by the store's to tell you they are the best. As I recall you are not forced to attend those meetings and they have more than one channel on the TV's and why are you watching TV on a cruise anyway?
I am not familer with the situation on Sitka, but we had a simular situation in Cozumel and we just walked up to the photograher and said no pictures and walked right past them. You are not required to have your picture taken. It was not a problem.
Don't let the cruise staff pressure into something you don't want to do!
As far as language barriers, with more and more cruise lines, ie more and more ships, it is harder to find english speaking employees, most have english classes but it's mostly on the basic phrases they would use on the ship.
Steve & Donalee
HAL Zaandam 10/07
Language barriers. The indonesian crew was charming and attentive and most of the time I was greeted in hallways, etc. But their English is less than perfect. Perhaps classes can be offered below decks on off days.
HAL's staff, especially the Indonesians, because the Filipinos are taught English in their schools, do have English classes on board ship, usually taught by a Senior Officer's wife. They also have English classes during their training period at Hotel Jakarta, HAL's training school in Jakarta, Indonesia.