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Holland America Line: Westerdam

Fodorite Reviews

Average Rating
  • New

Jan 1, 2017

Review of Westerdam

david seydler Age: 57 Occupation:construction superintendent Number of Cruises: 1 Cruise Line: Holland America Ship: Westerdam Sailing Date: 2013-09-6 Itinerary: alaska the ship looked great and our neptune room was nice but our toilet would not flush and sewer gas could be smelled almost all the time.the first two days they kept working on it and pronounced it fixed over and over,and i got a plate of strawberries.when the problem persisted i was

told by front desk person Mel that a meeting with senior ship personnel and i would happen next morning to resolve the issue.no one showed up and no reason was given.nothing was ever fixed i even got my foot infected in an unsanitary bathroom.no compensation was ever given food was good very nice except toilet would not work and that's actually kind of important did not do so much plane ride and land on lake in wilderness was very cool it doesn't matter how good the food was or how friendly the staff is if you have to live with an unsanitary bathroom i will not be back

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Jan 30, 2014

alaska

the ship looked great and our neptune room was nice but our toilet would not flush and sewer gas could be smelled almost all the time.the first two days they kept working on it and pronounced it fixed over and over,and i got a plate of strawberries.when the problem persisted i was told by front desk person Mel that a meeting with senior ship personnel and i would happen next morning to resolve the issue.no one showed up and no reason was given.nothing

was ever fixed i even got my foot infected in an unsanitary bathroom.no compensation was ever given food was good very nice except toilet would not work and that's actually kind of important did not do so much plane ride and land on lake in wilderness was very cool it doesn't matter how good the food was or how friendly the staff is if you have to live with an unsanitary bathroom i will not be back

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By Mike_CR

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Aug 31, 2013

Caribbean

Like many others have sald, Holland isn't a premium line like Celebrity any more, sort of a middle of the pack one. Bad customer support, as bought a watch on the cruise that had problems, and never could get any help when it went bad after 8 months. I would probably try Royal or some other line the next time in this location. Adequate, buffet definitely below average in some areas. Didn't like fact that most of the main line food was

controlled by servers versus help your self the whole trip. Bar deals a plus. Above average, decent but a bit dated. Not a lot, but didn't expect a lot on this cruise, more of a destination cruise.

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May 22, 2013

inside passage

This was my first cruise experience. I have always wanted to go to Alaska since I was a child so decided to do that first time on a cruise to be able to see a lot of the landscape. Overall the cruise experience was very positive. We felt looked after and things ran smoothly. One negatvie comment is that on the first day of our cruise after embarkation we went to explore the facilites and it felt a little bit like a sales tour as everywhere we went

we were being offered 'special packages' (i.e. if you want to use the hydroterapy pool you can purchase our special package today of $300) and the second negative comment which will have an impact on my future bookings is regarding how much time we had to explore the town/city we were visiting. It seemed that with the trip the only place we had a decent time to explore the port was Juneau, after that the time window became less and less. It was very frustating when in Ketchikan which turned out to be my favorite place, after our shore excursion I had only 20 minutes to walk through town before we had to leave. And the worst was in Victoria, Canada: we were supposed to arrive at 6pm and our shore excursion would leave at 6.35pm. Bearing in mind, everyone had to be on board again at 11.30pm that did not give enough time, but that was only made worse by the fact that Canadian Immigration took ages to process everyone so by the time we went out of the ship it was 7.30pm! A little bit late for sightseeing. Food was amazing, however there were times where we had difficulty finding a place to sit down and eat. At other times, when for example a barbecue was taken place we had to give up the idea because the queue was absolutely huge! I imagine the all the cruise ships have small cabins, so even though we were in a suite it still felt small, but having a balcony was surely a plus as we were able to spot several whales from our stateroom! I did not participate in a lot of them as did not think they were very interesting. Juneau - photo safari was well worth it as we were able to see the beautiful scenery of Medenhall Glacier and spot some whales and sea lions Sitka - raptor center is a must as you get face to face with beautiful eagles and other majestic birds; bear sanctuary was nice as this was our only opportunity to see bears up close but the place makes you a little bit sad for the bears and it looks a little bit of a dump. Salmon hatchery was also interesting. Ketchikan - miss the excursions and explore this lovely town by yourself otherwise you are left with almost no time to do it and it is a shame! Victoria - Visiting the city is worth but skip the so called castle as it is not a castle at all and it is not that interesting I have always wanted to visit Alaska since I was a child as the landscape is just amazing. This is a huge state and also so beautiful that you will find yourself thinking you are in some type of post card experiment all the time! Beautiful place, nice people, amazing views and wildlife!

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Mar 18, 2013

Caribbean

Summarizing our holiday I would say we had a good time but will not use HAL again. In our opinion not up to five star prices. Would suit families who like cruising and on a limited budget. I did not see much for the children to do but I am not an expert so could be wrong but it is something perhaps parents should really look into before booking. We thought the food was good with good variety. The buffet had a good selection of food

and catered for all or if not most of the guests. The restaurant in the evening was chaos. HAL have the option of either set times or anytime which just does not work when the ship is at full capacity. It was chaos especially the second week when we had new guests aboard. It did not matter whether you had set dining or anytime as the most popular time was between 7.45 and 9pm. On average we waited for over thirty minutes for a table and on one night nearly an hour. We opted after a few nights of anytime to go for set time - no difference total chaos. When we did arrive at our table there was always something missing, cutlery, glasses, serviettes and one one occasion I actually went and found some cutlery. Our meals themselves took on average one and a half hours and on two occasions took over two hours to get the food and eat it and we gave up on the coffee as it just did not arrive. The wine stewards were excellent so we did at least have drinks whilst waiting! Everyone who either spoke to us or us to them experienced the same. We felt sorry for the stewards and they just could not cope it was just awful. If you wanted to see the show it was either eat in the restaurant and take a chance or go for the buffet. The stateroom was clean. The steward was ok but a few times we had to clean up after him for eg. an empty shampoo bottle and body lotion had been left in the bathroom for two days before I actually cleaned the bathroom. I think he simply just did not notice them although they were on the edge of the bath. My friends stateroom she use to straighten her sheets every night and shake her pillows as the bed had not clearly been made properly. Again they are in such a rush they cannot cope. Good I think although we did not participate everyone seem to enjoy them. Unfortunately we did not get to two of the islands. The first island HAL's island we could not tender because of bad weather. Turks & Caicos we could not go to as there was an outbreak of illness on the island and the ship was advised not to dock. We do not go on organised excursions as we prefer to do our own thing and use local knowledge i.e. taxis etc. when cruising. However we did do two in Fort Lauderdale and both were very good and well worth the value. Having paid five star price for this cruise I would have expected better service and the interior to be up to scratch. We arrived on this ship and through the necessary administration which went very smoothly and I thought this is a very good start to the cruise. I went with my husband and two friends who equally felt we were off to a good start. However it went down hill from there. When we were shown to our staterooms I noticed the decor somewhat dated and in need of redecoration. The stateroom was good and everything in order. Overall the cruise was good but certainly not up to five star or up to the standard of Celebrity Cruises or Princess Cruises. A fellow guest commented overall the ship lacked the small detail which makes a ship and the cruise an unforgettable experience. Had we paid four star price it would have been just acceptable and we will not be using HAL again. as the Westerdam does not live up to HAL's advertisements. They really must sort out the restaurant timetable. All four of us are very active people who go on several holidays all types and have been all over the world and will be holidaying for several years to come but this has been the least enjoyable holiday but a few good laughs at the chaos.

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Sep 21, 2012

Alaska

Lovely Holland America cruise through amazing locations absolutely RUINED by a single onboard jewelry purchase. Food was hit or miss, mostly mediocre. Cabin was very nice Cheesy entertainment, but the shows were good. What they don't tell you when you buy duty-free jewelry aboard a Holland America cruise ship anything over $800 gets reported to Customs by the Cruise Ship. If you purchased more than $800 in jewelry you

will receive a notice in your cabin the night before you disembark letting you know that you are REQUIRED to attend a meeting with Customs agents the morning of disembarkation. If you purchased more than $800 in jewelry you are noted in the ship's system as a Customs hold so you are not allowed to disembark the ship until Customs releases your name with the cruise ship. Customs requires all passengers be held onboard the ship until those who made jewelry purchases over $800 are questioned one at a time by Customs agents. Communication between the ship and Customs agents is so bad that even AFTER you have met with and been released by the Customs agent with no additional customs fees required, there is a high-probability that the ship will refuse to allow you to disembark. What should be an easy disembarkation following a wonderful cruise can turn into a bureaucratic nightmare. I know all of this because it happened to me on the Holland America WESTERDAM in August 2012. It was not an exception, this happens on every cruise of Holland America WESTERDAM the Holland America jewelry store employees know it and all ship personnel know it. But, they don't tell you because they know what a nightmare it is and don't want you to reconsider buying their jewelry onboard. In fact, they keep the jewelry store open until midnight the night before disembarkation. Go check it out you'll see people desperately trying to return jewelry because they just learned buying jewelry on a Holland America ship requires a one-on-one Customs meeting before they can disembark. I promise you buying jewelry onboard a Holland America cruise ship, it is not worth it. Buy the jewelry in port. It truly was a frustrating experience and quite embarrassing as thousands of people are trying to disembark and because the Customs agent and ship are not communicating, the disembarkation line is held up because your name is on their Customs list. It truly ruined my experience on that Holland America cruise ship, especially because Holland America knew this would happen and could have prepared me and every other passenger instead of catching us off-guard less than 12 hours before departure. I will never buy jewelry aboard a cruise ship again and I will definitely NEVER cruise Holland America again. I actually had a great time on this cruise right up until the point I made a jewelry purchase on-board, the diamond fell out while I was still on board. When I tried to return the ring, I was persuaded by the jewelry store employees to keep it because I could have it repaired in my hometown for free. He lied. When I got home I was told I had to mail it away for repair and to expect for it to take 3-4 MONTHS before I got it back. When I asked to just return, I was told returns are not allowed AFTER you disembark the ship. I had to make multiple calls and involve multiple customer service reps including the jewelry store manager and national Holland America customer service before they agreed to allow me to return the ring. It has not been two months since I disembarked the ship, they have the ring back and Holland America still has my money. Holland America has yet to return my money for a ring I wore 3 days before it fell apart because they lied to me to save their sale. I had heard such amazing thing about Holland America. Such a major disappointment to be treated this way -- BEWARE this is how Holland America treats their customers AFTER they have your money.

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Aug 3, 2012

Alaska

Our family of three (me, my husband (age 50) and son (age 18)) had a wonderful time onboard Holland America Line's ms Westerdam to Alaska. The cruise, a 7-night roundtrip from Seattle, called on Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Victoria, and also featured a day in Glacier Bay. Despite a few bumps along the way (no cruise is perfect, after all), this was a great getaway for us. We saw fantastic scenery, explored new places in our ports of call, dined

well, were kept entertained, and met some very nice people. I'm hesitant to elaborate on the quality of the food, as that is a highly subjective area. Let's just say that we found most dishes to be very good and some to be superb. I will, instead, focus on the practical. As a pescetarian (one who eats fish but not red meat nor poultry), I was looking forward to trying HAL's new vegetarian menu, announced with great fanfare two months prior to our cruise. While the food was generally very good, there are a few kinks that need to be worked out. For background, there is now a separate vegetarian menu in the main dining room that does not change nightly, and a couple of vegetarian appetizers, soups, and entrees on the main menu that do change nightly. I was surprised and, frankly, somewhat dismayed that items from the separate vegetarian menu needed to be ordered one night in advance. I don't mind doing so in and of itself, yet I didn't want to make selections without seeing the regular menu for the following night -- remember, I also eat fish and there would be other vegetarian items on the regular menu. I solved this issue easily by asking to see the next night's menu and, if nothing suited my fancy, I would then order something from the separate vegetarian menu. It did take me a couple of days to figure this out, though, and there were several times that the waiters seemed to have no idea what I was asking. So -- fellow vegetarians/vegans -- learn from my experience. I will say that the variety of options was greater than I had imagined. We did find dining room service to be extremely slow the first two days of the cruise -- enough so that we contacted the Restaurant Manager. He tracked us down that evening (we had open seating dining) to apologize personally, as well as to thank us for bringing this to his attention so that he could rectify the situation. Sure enough, there were no other issues for the remainder of the cruise. Lesson to all -- take care of any issues while onboard. Our home for the week was a category VD balcony cabin located forward on Upper Promenade Deck. Although situated near the elevators, we heard very little noise once our cabin door was closed. Same was true of the adjoining door to the neighboring cabin. Our cabin was large enough for our family of three in terms of comfort and storage. In addition to three closets, there were two drawers under the bed (although one was used by the cabin steward for linen storage) and two large storage bins above the sofabed. We didn't use the balcony often, yet I can vouch for the comfort of the chairs as I fell asleep in one on one of our sea days! An extra bonus was that the cabin was in close proximity to the bow, which was opened to passengers on Glacier Bay day. As the itinerary was the main draw on this cruise, I didn't participate in many daytime activities. I did attend two afternoon teas that I thought were nice. My main daytime activity while at sea was reading. I will often go to the ship's library to borrow a book for the duration of the cruise. I love to read, yet I don't get as much opportunity to do so as much as I'd like at home. We also limited ourselves with respect to the evening activities onboard. Our mainstay was the piano bar, where the server, on the 2nd night, remembered not only our names but the drinks we had ordered the night before! I hesitate to share accolades about the piano bar as part of me would like to keep it my little secret. Yet, we find it a great way to unwind after a meal, so I do suggest it to those who are like-minded. My only disappointment with the cruise -- one I knew going in -- was our relatively short port time. We handled this by researching and planning our excursions ahead of time. JUNEAU: We'd been to Juneau previously, so decided to do something completely out of the ordinary this time. We visited the Alaska State Capitol (free), and the Alaska State Museum. We enjoyed both, and the museum provided a wonderful overview of Alaska's native peoples. SITKA: This was our first visit, so we opted for an overview tour through the cruise line that also included a stop at the Raptor Center. The tour was called Historic Russian America and Raptor Center, and was a great choice for the first-time visitor. I learned a lot about the American Bald Eagle and other raptors, as well as the history of Alaska. (Shame on me for not knowing more until this trip.) Definitely check out Castle Hill, the site of the October 18, 1867 transfer of Alaska to the United States. KETCHIKAN: Pressed for time (all-aboard time was 12:30 pm), we decided on a nature and cultural tour through HAL called Alaska Rain Forest Sanctuary, Raptor Center, and Totems. This was great. We saw a variety of plant and wildlife, of which the highlight was seeing many eagles in flight not far from us. It was a slow and easy walk through the rain forest, and was beautiful as well as educational. The Raptor Center and master Totem carver are both within the Alaska Rain Forest Sanctuary. This was our second time in Ketchikan -- we had gone on a boat tour of Misty Fjord last time -- and we do recommend this to a first-timer or veteran visitor. VICTORIA: This is where we had very little time, so we planned very little. Armed with a map, we took a taxi into town (CD$9) and walked along the main street. What a beautiful downtown area! I suggest, if you are not taking an organized tour, to have researched the sites of Victoria, map out the ones of interest, and bring your map with you when you leave the ship. We were here from 6:00 pm until midnight, so we had a 5:45 dinner in the main dining room, left the ship (after the crowds) at 7:00, and were back onboard at 9:30 pm. This was the last night of the cruise, so we took care of all of our packing during the day. The highlight of the trip was, undoubtedly, GLACIER BAY. We had also been here previously, when weather conditions -- despite being sunny then -- enabled us to see three of the four key glaciers (Reid, Lamplugh, Margerie).. This time around, we also made it to the fourth -- Johns Hopkins Glacier. It was once again a sunny day, yet earlier in the season than last time, and the waters were filled with huge pieces of ice at times. This was the kind of day in which the rest of the world definitely went away. I remained on deck for most of our time there, despite having a balcony, so that I would not miss a thing. In summary, this was a nice cruise, and my concerns about being on a larger ship (I prefer HAL's S-class ships) quickly dissipated. I would certainly take another cruise on Westerdam, yet I would like to see more of Alaska, including the interior. If you're looking for a lively cruise, this is not it. But, if you are seeking to get away from it all and also meet people from all walks of life, give this cruise some consideration.

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By Adam_CR

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Jul 9, 2012

Alaska

This was the worst cruise I've been on by far. Ever since being acquired by Carnival, Holland-America line has been steadily declining. This was my second HAL cruise. 6 years ago, I cruised on the Veendam and had a wonderful experience. ALOT has changed since then. When Carnival "updated" the ship in 2010, they removed most of the common areas from the 9th deck. The library and internet center were moved to the Crow's nest. The movie

theatre was removed entirely and movie showings were in the Queen's Lounge, deck 2, which was very inadequate given the number of people on the ship. All of this was done in order to make room for more staterooms on the 9th deck. So instead of carrying 1500 passengers like the ship used to, it now carried close to 2000. The ship was very crowded. The first night we went to dinner in the Vista dining room, we were made to wait 45 minutes before being seated. Once seated, I noticed at least half of the tables in the dining room were open, yet hundreds of people were still waiting to be seated. It became very apparent that the ship was understaffed. Lines in the Lido restaurant were ridiculously long. Service overall was terrible. There simply were not enough staff to take care of the number of passengers. It was very obvious to me that the staff were not happy, probably due to being overworked. When you called room service, it would take at least 45 minutes for someone to show up. In typical Carnival tradition, I felt like HAL was nickel and diming us the entire cruise. You want popcorn with your in room movie, sure, it will be $5. They even started charging $20 per passenger for carrying your bags off the ship at the end of the cruise. Hotel service charges were tacked onto the bill for each person staying in a cabin (they used to charge one service charge per cabin, regardless of number of guests) Shore excursions were ridiculously overpriced. For example, 6 years ago, we went whale watching in Juneau for $40 per person. It now costs $140 per person to book on the ship. Need internet access? That will be 75 cents per minute plus a $3.95 activation fee. The majority of the ships activities each day were designed around the idea of selling your something(art, jewelry, etc.) And then there were the little things we noticed. No more ice sculptures. No more fresh fruit in your stateroom basket. No more chocolate extravaganza. I guess those activities were affecting the bottom line. The food was mediocre at best. The food in the lido was okay if you could tolerate the long lines. The main dining room food was very disappointed, with some nights verging on being edible. One night, I tried 10 different options from the menu in an attempt to find something decent. I gave up and ordered a hamburger from the stateroom. When the hamburger arrived, you could hardly recognize it as such. It was burnt beyond recognition. We noticed that our time in port was much shorter as compared to six years ago. Then we discovered the cause. HAL has decreased energy consumption by 10 percent in the last 4 years. Now, they will tell you that it is all in the name of "going green" and being environmentally friendly, but in reality it is all about the money. By slowing the ships down, they save alot of money in fuel costs. Also, the shops onboard have to be closed while in port. If the shops are closed, they can't sell you something, and they would rather you spend your money on the ship rather than at the port. So spending more time at sea helps accomplish that goal. This was our last Holland-America cruise. We will now be trying Celebrity or Reagent. It is sad that Carnival has ruined what was once possibly the finest cruise line around.

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May 20, 2012

Alaska

This was the worst ship I have ever been on. The crew seemed like this was their first cruise. They were unprepared and some could hardly speak or understand English.The dining room was frequesntly out of staples like iced-tea, cream and orange juice. When you'd ask for something they didn't have the answer was always, "maybe tomorrow!" Some of the employees (shops and shore excursions) were rude and not at all helpful. I returned to my cabin one

day to find my room door open becuase the room steward hadn't checked to make sure the door was closed after he cleaned the room. It took fifteen minutes for the water in the shower to get hot. I was told that it was just the way it was. The host in the dining room fequently tried to seat my self and two female friends either by the bussing table or the door to the kitchen. I will never cruise on Holland America Lines again. Food: The food was the only thing that was good but only in the dining room. The lines at the Lido buffet were way too long and by the time you got your food back to your table it was cold.The Pinnacle Dining Room had good food but it should be when they charge $25 per person. Room: It was small and the bathroom was cramped and dark. We had a balcony but it too was small. Entertainment: There were lots of activities but there was a line for everything. Ports: We went to Juneau, Sitka and Ketcikan.

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Nov 28, 2011

Hawaii and Tahiti

This cruise was like a floating Assisted Living facility. Average age of passengers was close to 80, with entertainment geared toward that age group. If you are in your 60's or younger, you might want to consider another line. I would say that this cruise ranks lower than other cruises we have taken in the same price range. Food was generally good with varied menus. Open seating worked well. We requested a table for two and for

the entire duration of the cruise our request was honored. Lido Deck had a good selection, and the quality was good. Inside Stateroom was very small. If you book an inside room, you will probably not want to spend much time there. Plenty of on-board activities. The ususal. Some of the entertainment was excellent, and some shows were awful, but it is hard to have great shows for all 30 nights. Booked a shore excursion on Nuku Hiva in the Marquesa Islands. On the morning of the excursion, there was heavy fog and pouring rain. Since this was a sightseeing island tour, we requested to cancel and were told we could not. As a result, we took the tour and could see nothing. We appealed to the shore excursion desk upon returning to the ship and they told us that we would receive a written response to our request before the end of the tour. On the last night of this 30 day cruise, we were notified in writing that the tour "ran as advertised". This was a sightseeing cruise which went high into the mountains, and we could see nothing. Upon returning home, we notified Guest Relations. After their review, they sent us a $100 shipboard credit on a future cruise. This was nothing special since we are past cruisers on this line, and they give this to all customers. Interestingly, the same sightseeing cruise scheduled for the afternoon was canceled by Holland America due to complaints from our tour, but they refused to give even a partial credit for this tour. I guess they do not need our future business. The trip was average. It was 30 days. As I stated previously, it was geared to people much older than us. The crew was friendly, but our word of caution is that if you book a shore excursion in advance, you can only cancel 24 hours before it departs, regardless of the weather. Shore Excursions were priced very high, about twice the local tour cost once you reached the tender pier. In French Polynesia, you could do much better by taking the tours available at the dock or tender area. (Raiatea, Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora). Would recommend you consider another cruise line if you plan on visiting Tahiti.

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Oct 2, 2011

Pacific Coast Van to San Diego

This was the worst cruise of the ten we have taken over the years! Weather which was of course beyond the cruise line's control forced closure of all swimming pools and hot tubs and prevented the ship from calling on the one port included in this short repositioning cruise. I found service on this ship was not up to the standard we find on Cunard. Most of the staff are Indonesian and in many cases there was a language problem especially in

the dinning rooms. Honestly I have no complaints with the food in the Vista dining room. The service left a great deal to be desired but on the whole with few exceptions the meals were very good indeed. The dinning room is under staffed and we felt servers pushed the soda and bottle water too much. Food on the Lido deck was a little iffy. For the most part sausages and eggs were stone cold but the orange juice appeared to be freshly squeezed. Burgers and Sausages at the pool side bar were wonderful as were the french fries. Food in the specialty restaurants was excellent as was the service. We booked a superior stateroom on the Navigation Deck 8. The stateroom is spacious with a large bathroom and outside deck...sadly the room was located directly the Lido deck and we heard the rumbling of carts and scraping of chairs in the wee hours of the morning. Workers also chose to do construction on the Lido floors starting at 11:30pm and lasting until 5AM making sleep rather difficult for two nights. I would recommend you NOT BOOK any stateroom on deck 8 located below the Lido or the pool area. Onboard activities appeared to be geared toward seniors and were of little or no interest to us. Anything that was of interest seemed to be slotted for the time we were having dinner. It was a very strange schedule of events. There was an excellent guitarist singer in the Crows Nest bar, a funny magician comedian in the main show room as well as an action packed all dancing all singing production show that was rather good. Because of the age of most passengers on this ship...the decks were very quiet after 10:30 pm as most people retired to their rooms. The hop on hop off trolley in San Diego is a must do...For $34 dollars this tram will take you to everything you want to see in this beautiful city. Although the cruise was just four nights long it felt like we were on this ship for a lot longer. There was very little to do and because of the inclement weather we were confined to the ship's interior for two days. There is not enough merchandise in the shops to keep one occupied for long. I must say I found the Westerdam boring and staff seemed unwilling to address any of our concerns as they came up...especially the noise complains from the construction. In the end the front desk gave us 50 dollars for the inconvenience of being kept awake for two nights in a row.... I realize this is just one cruise and I can not judge the whole line by a few bad experiences on the Westerdam. We have booked another cruise with Holland America this December and I am now instead of looking forward to it I am worried and wondering if any on these problems will surface on the Zuiderdam....in the Caribbean. I sure hope not.

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Jun 25, 2011

alaska

The service was great and the cabin stewards were wonderful however I will not be going on another Holland America cruise. Our cruise was a 7 day cruise to Alaska. The food was horrible. I equate it with poor hospital food that I see given to patients. The food appears to have been frozen and then reheated. The buffet was not edible in my opinion, I did go to breakfast every morning because that was the only meal that was decent. The shore excursions

were very fun but overpriced. We booked dog sledding on our own, not through the cruise and saved $500! Entertainment was poor, and we didn't spend much time in the ports of call, but that seems to be the norm with cruise lines. Very poor quality! Stateroom was nice, comfortable. The stewards were fantastic! I think they cleaned our room about 3 times a day. The bed was comfortable and the balcony was a nice plus. Not much activities. Not much for teens compared to other cruise lines. Bingo was the only fun activity other than the casino. Excursions were very fun! Book your own excursions, you will save tons of money. There is no hassle, they pick you up at the same place as those who booked through the cruise line. The cruise line takes advantage of passengers in this way. You will pay double the price by booking excursions through the cruise line.

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Mar 18, 2011

caribbean

This was the first cruise for my husband and i. It was a wonderful experience. Everything on the Westerdam was elegant . The food was well prepared and presented in the main dining rom. We especailly enjoyed to relax in the Crows nest and enjoy the guitarist. The view was magnificent. Activiies were available for all ages and interests. There was a vriety of age groups on cruise but primarily 50+ Food was well prepared and presented. We dined

in all the venues. only problem was finding a table in buffet style restaurant Wonderful!! We were pleasantly surprised at the size. We had a verandh room I would recommend this There was something for anyone. Or you could just relax and do nothing but read and rest The glass bottom boat ride at Half Moon Cay was worthless. We saw two kinds of fish and some coral that was very plain. $30. apiece was over priced. Free would almost be over priced. The Boat and bus tour at St Maarten was very good.

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Feb 17, 2011

Southern Caribbean

Holland America is way out of our age range. The average age was around 75-80. So we were very out of place. We had Royal Caribbean to compare to this as we had been on them twice before. Royal leaves HAL way behind in food, entertainment, shops, ship decor, activities, pretty much everything. I would NOT do HAL again. They did a good job in getting us to our destinations as scheduled, but that was about it. Otherwise HAL just mails it in on

just about everything else. Half Moon Cay is their "private island" that they purchased and basically is a wasted stop. It cheats you out of a stop and seeing a real country or inhabited island, so we really only saw 2 places on this trip. Aruba and Curacao. The ship decor is very dark, everywhere you go inside it was very dark everywhere. The dining room was only fair, the presentation was good, but the quality of the food was not. I've had MUCH better on Royal. The Lido was ok for breakfast, but not letting you serve yourself was very discouraging. You couldn't even grab your own carton of milk in the Lido. They had to hand it to you, that annoyed me. The best part was the ice cream that was available, but how hard is it to mess up ice cream. Plenty of food, just was not very good. Very nice stateroom, but had a terribly loud door going out to the verandah and had to ask to get it oiled on the 2nd to last day. Very few things for young people. I did the ping pong tourney and the volleyball game, which only happened once. And the basketball game was cancelled due to no one showing up. The shows at night were standard fair, nothing special, you forgot about it 5 mins later. Royal totally outshines HAL in the shows. My wife liked the cooking demos but that stuff bores me. Stay away, do your own thing on stops. Excursions are too expensive. If you want to tour the islands, rent a car or make a deal with a cab driver. I relaxed a lot, when I could find a deck chair, but most were already taken up by the old folks who claimed them at 7am or earlier. I enjoyed the relaxation but not the food or entertainment or being 45 years younger than 95% of the passengers.

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Oct 7, 2010

Eastern Mediterranean

This was our 22nd cruise and our eighth Holland American Line (HAL) cruise since 1995, with each cruise on a different ship, except that this is our second cruise on the Westerdam. Our cabin was a super verandah suite (Category SY) on the Upper Verandah Deck mid-ship. We sailed on a 12-day eastern Mediterranean cruise from Greece, to three ports in Turkey, to two ports in Israel, to one port in Egypt, and back to a different port in Turkey again,

before returning back to Greece. Plus, there were three days at sea when going between two Turkey distant ports, from Israel to Egypt, and Egypt to Turkey. Every port was most interesting. In addition, we enjoyed a three-day pre-cruise in Athens staying at the Holland America approved hotel - the Athens Ledra Marriott Hotel. The main one is the Vista (decks 2 and 3), and the others are the Pinnacle Grill (deck 2), Canaletto and Lido (deck 9), and Exploations Café (deck 10). In the Vista dining room, at our assigned table, the overall and service food was good. For some unknown reason, HAL’s famous Baked Alaska dessert was not offered anytime. The Pinnacle Grill is only available by making a reservation. Service was very good and the food was much better than the main dinning room. There is a $20 per person surcharge. Our cabin was larger (384 square feet) than on our previous 2004 Westerdam cabin (254 square feet) when we sailed the western Mediterranean. Plus, we were on one deck higher. And like on the previous cruise, we had a nice large verandah. Our cabin had air conditioning, bottled water, comfortable king-size bed with four pillows (actually two single beds placed together, with room to place your suitcases under) with two night stands, safe, bathroom amenities, bathrobes, hair dryer, three chairs, small coffee table, two desks with eight drawers, three closets, toilet, bath and shower, a separate shower, two sinks, fresh fruit, etc. Both 110 and 220 volts electrical outlets. HAL previously provided a special luggage tags containing our cabin number and our luggage arrived in our cabins before we did. Because of these long tours, we didn’t visit the spa, library, Movie Theater, evening entertainment, etc. There are ten ports and here is the most interesting thing in each port. Greece: Athens - Acropolis and the changing of the guards at the palace. Turkey: Istanbul - Blue Mosque, Antalya - ancient Roman city, Iskenderun - the cave church of St. Peter and the Roman mosaics, and Kusadasi - the house of the Virgin Mary. Israel: Ashdod - the tomb of the Virgin Mary and the Sea of Galilee, and Jerusalem - a museum to the Jews who died in World War II. Egypt: Cairo - the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Every port was most interesting. Many of the tours were long - some lasting up to 12 hours. Because of these long tours, we didn’t visit the spa, library, Movie Theater, evening entertainment, etc. However, the meals on the tours were very good; frequently served in the dining rooms of five-star hotels. There is a problem when the shipboard personnel are assigning the passengers to various tour buses, etc. The problem is that they gather all the passengers into the ship’s auditorium at the same time and then call them to leave by their tour name. HAL should assign the passengers to sit in designated sections of the auditorium at specified times to avoid the mass confusion and large groups of passengers attempting to leave all at once, etc. I'm impressed with the Westerdam since it was remodeled a couple of years ago. And the tours were very interesting.

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Jun 16, 2010

Southern Caribbean

We traveled as a group and the virtually unanimous conclusion is that the cruise aboard the Westerdam was a wonderful experience. Rough seas precluded stopping at Half moon Cay, but it certainly did not put a damper on fun. Really enjoyed the many on-board activities, such as "Name the Oldie" and trivial pursuit contests, as well as the most entertaining evening shows. Only criticism/recommendation would be with respect to smoking, especially in

and near the casino, which definitely dissuaded our group from spending much time (or money) in that area. STRONGLY suggest that Holland America introduce smoke-free cruises. Food was outstanding and featured waitstaff that went out of their way to memorize your name. Would definitely cruise with Holland America again. Outstanding, in terms of quality, quantity and selection. Ate lunch in the Pinnacle Grill one day and its was absolutely fabulous. We had a room with balcony that was reasonably spacious, but kept immaculately clean. As noted above, activities offered numerous choices and were msot enjoyable. Entertainly director was first-rate. Took island tour shore excusions in both Aruba and Curacao. Satisfactory, but should not be considered as "don't miss."

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Mar 7, 2010

Eastern Carribean

We took back to back cruises to Eastern/Western Caribbean.The second leg we were joined by our daughter, son-in-law and two of our ten grandchildren. All of us thoroughly enjoyed both the ship and the experience. Both the Boarding and disembarkation went smoothly. The kids LOVED Club Hal. Would recommend to all. Everything but the barbecue's were excellent. The barbecues were awful. Clean and well serviced. Didn't offer much. Would prefer

some lectures, especially on sea days Stayed away

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By Lisa_CR

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Dec 30, 2009

Eastern Caribbean

My experience with Holland America Westerdam was alright. It wasn't anything spectacular. There were certain things I liked and certain things I didn't like. This cruise itself was more geared towards Seniors and those who are single or married with no children. I found the entertainment was not kid-friendly and there were no on board activities that the children could do nor did they try to involve them. They do have a Camp HAL which both my

children did attend but was not over thrilled. My 7 yr old son was separated with his 9 yr old sister placed in a younger group of children that ranged from 3 to 7 yrs old. So basically my son was the oldest in the group. The service of the waiters, steward, hostess, etc, was awesome! They were very helpful, friendly, courteous and very patient. No complaints from me. Personally I think the food could be better however I do understand that they are serviing to an older crowd and they 're playing it safe by serving traditional food. I found the food to be overcooked at times especially the vegetables. Our stateroom was clean when we arrived. The Stateroom Steward was very efficient and very polite when we needed something from him. Being that I was on board with my children, I didn't find any activites that caught my eyes that both my children and I could attend and enjoy. We found the excursions to be very overpriced. We were able to find tours off shore on our own for half the price.

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Jul 19, 2009

Alaska

My husband and I greatly enjoyed our Alaskan cruise on the Westerdam. The itinerary was very good and we went on fantastic excursions to enable us to capture a true Alaskan experience. The service on the Westerdam was excellent. We enjoy Holland America cruises. Although Holland America offers programs for children, Holland America is primarily a line that caters to adults that are not cruising with small children. We prefer this to cruise lines that

offer more of a young family atmosphere that create a noisy "Disney-like" experience that we choose to avoid. The food in the main dining room was very good. We also ate at the Pinnacle Grill for 5 nights. They have a good menu with a great staff and we enjoyed that experience very much. The Lido buffets for breakfast and lunch were good too. We were upgraded from a verandah room to a small suite and it was great! It was very roomy with a double balcony and separate tub and shower. Our cabin stewards were the absolute best. I took 3 pilates classes that I loved and also used the fitness facilities on a daily basis. They have excellent fitness equipment and I never had trouble getting a machine. We also took both of the wine tasting classes which we enjoyed very much. We attended a cooking class that was good too. We enjoyed an Alaskan wildlife seminar prior to arriving in Glacier Bay that was very informative and educational. We enjoyed the entertainment, which is typical cruise entertainment, but the HAL singers and dancers were good and the comedians were good too. Don't miss the Mendenhall Glacier and whale watching excursion in Juneau! We also enjoyed the high speed rafting and 4x4 adventure in Sitka where we saw numerous sea otters, whales and brown bears. The crab excursion in Ketchikan was unbelievable! We ate the best dungennes crabs you can imagine after taking a beautiful boat ride to the crab pots where they showed us how the crabs were caught. I would recommend these excursions to anyone. We had a great trip from beginning to end. We arrived in Seattle the afternoon prior to embarkation and stayed at the seafront Marriott just down the street from the port. This was a nice hotel with a great seafood restaurant directly across the street (Anthony's) that was a treat in itself. Embarkation on the boat was fairly quick. We had a nice lunch on the Lido deck and the room was ready by 1:00. I was able to sign up for my Pilates classes when we embarked and check out the fitness facilities. On sea days we spent a lot of time in the Crow's Nest with fabulous views of porpoises, whales and beautiful scenery. The Lido buffet was a bit crowded during lunch hours. Honestly I don't think I ever saw a larger group of obese people in my life. HAL doesn't dispense trays any longer probably to avoid people loading up on everything in the buffet line so if you want seconds you can go back to the buffet line for additional food. This seemed to be an issues for folks with huge appetites. It wouldn't be a problem for people who eat healthy portions of food. There was an eclectic array of food to choose from each day and everything was fresh and well-prepared. The main dining area did a good job. We elected "as you wish" dining and we made our reservations each morning for a table for 2 and we never had any problem getting a table for the time that we chose. We elected to eat at the Pinnacle for 5 nights because we really enjoyed the great staff there and we liked the menu. It's a very good steak house and it's a very quiet and refined atmosphere. The cruise through Glacier Bay was fantastic! We had awesome clear weather and we were treated to expert commentary by members of the National Park Service throughout the Glacier Bay experience. We witnessed numerous glacier "calving" and I'll never forget the thunderous sound! We also saw many species of wildlife in and around Glacier Bay. It was an unforgettable site! Juneau was a fun port. We enjoyed some of the interesting shops there and then went on our excursion to the Mendenhall Glacier an whale watching tour. We took a bus from the port to the Mendenhall Glacier, which is truly spectacular. We had ample time to hike out close to the glacier and the beautiful waterfall next to it. We then got back on the bus an we arrived at the seaport to get on the whale watching ship in a beautiful small harbor in Juneau. This trip was fantastic! We saw a whale before we left the harbor! We saw at least 2 dozen humpback whales which was highlighted by a baby whale who continuously breached for about a half an hour to our delight. We then were taken to lunch at a beautiful resort on an island in the harbor for a fresh salmon bake lunch that was delicious. This was a great tour and well worth the $. Sitka was a very pretty small city surrounded by islands with beautiful homes located on the islands. It was distinctly Russian in appearance with much Russian influence readily seen in the building architecture. We went on a very fun rubber raft and 4x4 expedition for 1/2 a day. We saw whales, many gorgeous sea otters with their offspring and when we were on the 4x4 expedition we saw a mother bear with 3 cubs and 2 half-grown brown bears! It was fantastic! When we got back to port we had lunch at a nice restaurant that offered fresh (I mean very fresh) Alaskan King Crab. What a treat! I never had such delicious crab. We next went to the charming town of Ketchikan. We booked a crab feast excursion. We went by bus to a lodge about 20 minutes from the port and then boarded a boat on a beautiful tour of a pristine waterway. They took us to an area where they place the crab traps. They pulled up the crab traps and about 20 very large dungennes crabs were trapped. It was very interesting. They bait the traps with salmon. When we got back to the lodge we were treated with a lunch of fresh, right out of the water, dungennes crab. It was so unbelievably good that I didn't put anything at all on the crab. It was naturally sweet and tasty. There were about 10 tables of 4 and they had a contest of which table could pile the crab shells and claws the highest. We all ate a lot of crab that afternoon! After eating crab in Alaska as fresh and as good as it was I don't think I'll eat anything quite like that again. This was a fun excursion and it also was well worth the price. We elected not to disembark in Victoria. It was after 6:00 p.m. and we decided to have an early dinner and pack because we were leaving the next morning. We enjoyed the shows after dinner. They were typical cruise line performances as to be expected. I'm not sure why people think that they will see Las Vegas style and quality performances on a cruise ship but the Westerdam entertainment met my expectations for cruise line performances. I think that the HAL singers and dancers were better than other cruise line singers/dancers I've seen on other ships. Disembarkation was a bit slow. We figured out why when we got off the ship as we saw two police officers escorting one of the passengers off the ship in handcuffs. There must have been a myriad of paperwork for the ship and the police department to sort through which slowed us down a bit. However, we took advantage of the HAL service that sends the luggage from the ship directly to the airline so when we got off the ship at about 8:00 a.m. we got a taxi very quickly and efficiently at the port and went to the airport without worrying about our bags. The bags were checked through to our final destination and they were there when we arrived home. I truly enjoyed this cruise and I think that the Westerdam is a beautiful ship with a great crew. We are Mariner Society members and enjoyed a very nice lunch with the Captain and the other Mariner Society members on the final day of the cruise. HAL does a very good job of taking care of their frequent cruisers.

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Jun 7, 2009

Alaska

This was our first time on a cruise. Glacier Bay was a most incredible experience and well worth the trip. As to the ship, we were not impressed. The staff who cleaned our room and served us in the dining hall were excellent. They were over worked and not supported by their managers. We avoided the Lido dining area, it was over crowded and seemed to be always out of cups, tea, a juice dispenser that did not work the entire trip and during

dining hours short on tables. We found that the meat dishes were tasty and the sea food poorly prepared. We avoided the Lido, too busy and average. The cabin and food staff were very friendly and very over worked. The managers need to be more engaged and support their staff. It was quite frustrating to see the food staff being overworked and not supported by their managers while the managers stutted around in their suits disgaged from both their staff and their guests. On several occasions I saw food handlers needing supplies and not able to get anyone to help and having to leave their position to get dishes and other food items. It gave the impression that the ship was under staffed. Prior to the cruise we heard how wonderful the food was on a cruise, we concluded that they were referring to the quantity not the quality of the food. We will probably not do another cruise. The towns we stopped at were tourist traps, we walked out of the tourist shop areas - you can only stand so many jewelry and trinket stores. Before we would consider another cruise we would need to be convinced that all shipboard services are included in the ticket price and we would not be subjected to endless sales pitches. The rooms were small, if you want to sit in your room be aware the furniture is not comfortable. We had a good bed and enjoyed the veranda. The entertainment was poor. We really got tired of all the commercials under the guise of a class or entertainment. Alaska was very impressive and well worth going. HAL was not so impressive. We got very tired of all the commercials. Tired to take several on-board classes, they were sales pitches. Be aware that HAL recommended on-shore stores paid to be promoted. Glacier Bay was most impressive. It was the most amazing sight I have seen. Be aware that the towns of Juneau and Ketchikan are overly commercialized tourists traps, I have never seen so many jewelery stores in one location. Would we cruise again? Probably not. We decided we would fly to a location and take a local tour. If we cruised again it would probably not be HAL and I would research the amount of infommercials they submit you to on the ship.

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Jun 3, 2009

Alaska

I was very disappointed with cruise. Positives: The room and staff were wonderful. The trip started off with key not fitting door. When I would go to Lido they had no trays, no good desserts, half the time the kitchen was out of items and very unorganized. The food was regular restaurant good, the food ok and the service excellent. Pinnacle grill was like a steak house. I was not impressed with rest of fare. There was a cigar smoker who

ruined Glacier Bay. No hot chocolate or Chai tea was available anywhere. There were not enough activities for me, they seem to schedule good ones when you are in port and about. Great for people who stay on the ship while in ports. Everything was about the ship making money...bingo and alcohol, the spa was not even relaxing...pushing products and trying to get me to book more services. (They all seem to do this now, very irritating). The excursions were very expensive. My daughter did dog sledding and we all did Sea Otter which was great, otherwise the ports were just full of junk shops. We found Sitka to be the nicest. We are all foodies, and are used to eating gourmet. We couldn't help comparing the food to Celebrity food. Overall we were very disappointed. There were lots of seniors who loved it. They called it laid back, I called it boring. I went to shows, played bingo and did some trivia. I was disappointed as I found myself bored. I don't usually run around doing everything, but the few cooking classes they had were booked before we got on board. I was very disappointed as I like to go to napkin folding, etc. I went to flower arranging and fell asleep from boredom. Nothing hands on. I was grateful I didn't have teens or younger with me. I had 20 somethings who don't drink but went to Martini mixing because they were bored. If you can afford it, go to the dog sledding. We called around and booked/found before trip on our own to make sure we actually got to participate, scenery was spectacular. The Otter and Wildlife in Sitka is a don't miss too. (boat with binoculars, bathroom, snacks pleasant staff...saw otters, whales, eagles, and bears) All of the excursions are very expensive. Probably would have booked less nice of a cabin if realized earlier. Seattle very expensive also. Did aquarium and Pikes Market. Cabs very expensive...I would advise people to book at the Best Western Executel at airport and go to Fox rental car. Book online ahead of time for 30. and drive and park yourself. Cheaper than cabs. Shuttle takes to airport and other rental places. The food was not horrible, but for example I tried to get noodles at the Asian stand and they had no noodles. There was something like that everyday. For example, there were Pannini sandwiches offered but no pannini press. There was no organization, no trays made for the food making it very difficult to carry food and drink, especially when hot. Regular restaurant food was nothing to write home about, but the service there was excellent. We ate at Pinnacle Grill twice, same menu, like a steakhouse where the meats were good, but rest of fare, again was nothing to write home about. We had the suffle and laughed, it hardly had any flavor! The volcano cake came out like raw batter with cream on top. The wine was expensive even by the glass. I actually felt this was a good thing for me (joking...) because I did not gain the five pounds as I usually do when the food is wonderful. I had cabin 8050 which was a small suite. It was wonderful and spacious, balcony was nice on port side. I was very happy with the room until the last day when the toilet conked out. Overall, I was still happy to sail Glacier Bay and see Sitka. I was not happy with cruise, but chose it to sail the Bay. If I go back I would have traveled up higher and went into Denali. Juneau, Ket., and BC. This would all be a waste of time unless you can do DogSled in Juneau. This is definately a trip for seniors.

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Apr 5, 2009

Caribbean

The cruise was pleasant, but the ship was struck by the Norwalk Virus while we were aboard. Some parts of the ship were closed, including, the sports deck, the hydo-spa, hot tubs...you could not touch the buffet or drink stations. They even removed the salt and pepper shakers off the tables. Staff was doing their best to control the outbreak. People need to wash their hands !!!! HAL is not a cruiseline for kids or teenagers, the average passenger

is elderly. Beware of the electric scooters and walkers aboard. Food was above average. The dining rooms serve very small portions, yet good. Ask for extra food. Buffet was excellent and always hot, good variety. Midnight buffet was good, very few people attend....elderly go to bed early. Had incorrect room service food twice, but was tasty and hot when delivered. BBQ around pool was great, make sure and get the steak fries with your food!! Beautiful room, except for the pull-out couch bed....this was horrid. Suits won't fit in closet unless turned sideways. Beware of the upper pull down bed, a/c unit will blow on you all night. Room was very clean, bathroom was large, tub was suited for children, not adults. Flatscreen t.v was a nice touch. Internet access is expensive and very slow. Bingo, movies, a few shows. Funny magic show. Stay away from Grand Turk....this place is recovering (or not recovering) from a September 2008 hurricane. Govt is corrupt, the place is a mess. Looks like a 3rd world country once you venture past the duty free. Other than the rough seas and Norwalk virus, it was a good time. Since we have kids, I think I would find a cruise line that caters to the younger crowd.

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Jan 6, 2008

Eastern Caribbean

We flew down to Fort Lauderdale on Sunday morning, January 6, 2008, with Jet Blue from JFK. The flight arrived early. After a quick baggage return and a short taxi ride to the cruise ship terminal, we were ready to board the ship. Embarkation was easy and we went on board and zipped right up to the Lido Deck for lunch. The Westerdam sailed right on time at 5:00 P.M. The ship: Anyone who doesn't like this ship has a problem. It is beautifully

appointed, clean, with large staterooms, a great layout that won't get you lost, and all reasonable facilities any cruise passenger could want. Of course, we didn't want a rock climbing wall or a bowling alley, just an adult swimming pool and good food. At 1,968 passengers, we found the size just right. Although the requested 6:15 P.M. dinner seating was not guaranteed in advance, a short visit to the dining room made our request quickly honored and we were seated at a table for 6 with interesting and enjoyable people. I wish our cabin was more towards the center of the ship because the ship had a roll to it that could be easily felt. The two category upgrade we got was appreciated. Ships elevators were always easy to find and board without any crowding. Lots of towels and lounges at the pools. FOOD: Quite good. There is a tendency to overcook meat dishes so order "rare" if you want "medium". Lots of food choices and all you want. Lido buffet better than average with good choices of Asian, deli and other foods. Stops: Grand Turk & Caicos is an effort to offer some new stops in the Caribbean. There is nothing there except some nice beaches. So we went to the beach and had a nice swim. Tortola was more interesting but not a good shopping stop. We took a tour that was nicely done. Went back to the ship's pool for a drink and some rest. St. Maarten/St. Martin is always a nice place to be. We took an island tour and went back to the ship. If you are a first time visitor, be sure to get to Marigot. The Private Island is perfect. A great beach and a barbeque. Just relax and enjoy. The Passengers: A somewhat older crowd with lots of people from the U.K. and Canada getting good value for the favorable currency exchange. Favorable to them, that is. I'm 66 years old and they called me "sonny". Couples and family types would do better to use Princess or Carnival or Royal Caribbean. Those who want a :classier" or more "traditional" cruise experience will get it on Holland America. Crew: Asian crew well prepared to please and smile. Good service from nice and caring crew members. Very pleasant to be aboard with this crew. Casino: Forget it. Want to gamble? Go to Vegas. Slot machines can give 35 spins without a winning payoff. Casino seemed mostly empty much of the time. Stay away. Shows: Good production shows. Singers and dancers with nice costumes and scenery. A magician with a few good illusions and some funny lines. A string quartet in a lounge that played sweetly and a piano bar. Comfortable public lounges. Disembarking: Westerdam honored our request for "Express" disembarking so that we could catch an 8:50 A.M. flight to JFK with Jet Blue. We made it with time to spare because we were willing to handle our own baggage and didn't check it with the ship the night before. The Westerdam deserves a four star rating. True, the days of a Maitre 'D preparing a Crepe Suzette at your table are gone but at least they still have wine service. Pricing: Book with a good on-line cruise service like Best Price Cruises or Vacations To Go. They got us the two category upgrade, a $25.00 per person room credit and sent a bottle of champagne to our cabin. Shop around for a deal and don't go right to Holland America to book. I will use Holland America again, perhaps on the new Eurodam or a Mediterranean crusise. They are going to offer open seating or traditional seating for dinner. Fort Lauderdale is a very friendly place to sail from. I've been with most all of the well known cruise lines over the years. Holland America is still good, avoid Norwegian.      

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Jul 19, 2007

Mediterranean

1.      Embarkation 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. 2.      The ship a.      Entire ship 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 large area.  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. b.      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. c.      Spa/Gym While I didn’t use the spa, I did use the gym every day. It’s the 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. d.      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 amenities were plentiful and of high quality.  e.      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.  3.      Food a.      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. b.      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. c.      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. d.      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 an 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.  4.      Ports of Call. -- I must preface all ports by saying there was a heat wave.  It was 100o 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.  a.      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). b.      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. c.      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. d.      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 e.      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.) f.      Kusadasi – we enjoyed shopping in the city.  I bought a 14k ring and some cheap souvenirs.  Everything is walk-able.  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 g.      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. h.      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.    

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Jun 8, 2007

Mediterranean

We elected to try Holland America outside of US waters, and chose this 10 day cruise, with four days in Rome.  We have taken similar cruises to this particular itinerary in the past on other cruise lines, and it is one itinerary that we love. Arrival at Rome was as awful as the flight.  Hot, humid, smelly and dirty was the arrival area.  We felt like we were in San Juan, not Rome.  Princess and Royal Caribbean had sailings the day

of our arrival, and all porters were tied up with the cruise lines.  We finally found a a young man who was willing to help us get to our driver.  Point:  if you need to get a cart in Rome, you must have 1.00Eu COIN.  Nobody, not even the money exchange will make change. Our we went, and were met by our private driver, Luigi. We pack heavily, often paying extra our bags are so heavy.  Before we left Virginia we agreed to an SUV, rather than a sedan for us and luggage.  Glad we did!   We had a Mercedes SUV, small by US standards, barely acceptable for our five huge bags, and us.  We booked another  "boutique" hotel that I found on line, Hotel Veneto, not to be confused with Grand Hotel Veneto.  Our little gem was a mere $195.00 US per night, with breakfast.  I can not stress the importance of using a land based travel agent, with an office, a real person you can have to handle all your travel plans.   The Hotel Veneto was so perfectly located, Spanish Steps, Villa Bourghese, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, all within walking distance.  The rooms at the hotel were very comfortable, equipped with smoke alarms, the hallways had alarms and sprinklers, and were serviced by three elevators and stairs.  Inside our rooms, marble, marble everywhere, plasma TV, very Italian fancy bathrooms.   Luigi picked us upon, and we sped to Civitechia.  The bustle of Rome gave way to rolling hill, vineyards and small towns, as we flew down the Auto Strada.  We spotted the twin "trash can" funnels of the Westerdam looming ahead.  The Regent Seven Seas Navigator was docked , with serval ferries.  We had priority boarding, and were on the ship in less than 5 minutes. Our stateroom was not ready, so we went to the Lido Buffet for lunch. More on Lido dining later on. There is the famous line from  the movie Forest Gump, I may misquote it.  Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you'll get - well, I have found on Holland America you know exactly what you'll get.  Went to the Vista Dining Room, our "guaranteed" late seating table for two, on the upper level, was wrong, wrong time, wrong level, and for four.  I went to the maitre d' hotel, Johnny, as it turned out, a grand man we have sailed with several times with before, and he graciously remade our reservation.  In the stateroom our bed requirement, as usual, was wrong, and our steward had it configured to king size without any hesitation.  We immediately went to the Green House Spa and made our massage appointments. No big surprises in the stateroom.  Tub, lots of storage and good lighting.  More than ample closet room, and a large verandah.  Our stateroom could hold four, with sofa, and pull down upper berth.  There is no internet access from the stateroom, as there was on the Queen Mary 2.  Our mini bar was well stocked.  Two bottles of Mumms, one from our TA, one from HAl, were iced, waiting.  Contemporary ships cabins are basically all the same, however, what sets HAL ships apart is the mattress, a cocoon of marshmallow comfort.  Bath amenities are provided by the spa, Elemis products, indulgent, as are the towels and robes. First dinner, and there is only chance for the perfect first impression, was exceptional.  Our waiter, Johnson and his assistant, Citra, were beyond excellent, as was Randy, our wine steward, and table captain Edys.  Johnny stopped by to chat throughout the cruise.   Other wait staff we knew from previous HAL cruises also stopped by. The menus and the food and presentation were outstanding. We wandered around the port area of Monte Carlo, then took the blue "train" on a sightseeing trip, a small jitney, with muli-language headphone.  Just enough to sample this beautiful city.  Docked was an old friend we sailed many times as Home Lines mv Atlanti, the now MSC Melody.  It was great to see her, and in excellent care. To get to the blue train, follow signs to Vielle Ville, city tour, its 7.00EU's each.  There is climbing, and there are elevators and escalators. After lunch we strolled around and came upon Restaurant Saint-Nicholas.  Escargots, a dozen per order, delighted, followed by petit pasta, sautéed in garlic and extra virgin olive oil and basil pesto, and roast duckling, accompanied by a local Bordeaux.  Saint-Nicholas is a member of de la Chaine de Rotisseurs.  Lunch 59.00Eu's. sans tip. Bottled water and sodas are available throughout Monte Carlo for  purchase.  Monte Carlo is one of those rare places that make you feel elegant, grand, giddy and filled with delight.  On to Livorno. I awoke at 4:30am to the stench of oil fumes seeping into our stateroom.  We were entering Livornos harbor.  Vast oil tank farms, cargo ships of all sizes,  ferries and cranes made up the skyline.  The dawn brightened, ahead lay the handsome Grimaldi ferries, the Melody, and the Voyager of the Seas.  The Westerdam made her way, on a pea soup sea, to the dock. Livorno is a drab city, the gateway to Tuscany. We took the shuttle bus into town.  We found a bustling farmers market, and some butcher shops, cheese shops - much like Boston's North End, or New York's Little Italy, only much larger.  We returned to the ship for lunch. Here I will review the Lido Buffet once, For lunch as well as breakfast.  It is crowded, pushy, sloppy, messy, and smells of scraped garbage from dishes.  On occasion you may have a steward take your tray to a table.  I stress "may".  If you like buffet, or mall food court dining, I guess you'll fit in here.  The smoked salmon was superb, the omelets OKAY, no fresh melon, fresh squeezed OJ, coffee that was good some days, bitter others, Asian precooked or over-cooked, and all tasting the same.  Salads Okay, nothing great.  Ice cream still complimentary.  Enough. Prior to my first massage, I set about to see the Westerdam in full, and to video her interiors.  The ship is gorgeous.  Rather than do a deck by deck, here are the highlights of this beautiful ship.  During a three week dry dock in Naples, the Crows Nest was expanded and totally redone.  The room is beyond handsome.  Leather sofas, sofettes and swivel chairs offer comfort, the view over the bow commanding. Explorations Cafe, the cyber cafe, with pasty and café bar, was added, as well as a branch or the Erasmus Library.  This glorious space works perfectly, and is unlike any space found on the Maasdam.  The Piano Bar is a sea of graphite and school bus yellow leather couches and chairs, the bar surrounding the piano.  As with all HAL ships, the Ocean Bar is THE place to have pre-dinner drinks, in an expansive, circle-the atrium  venue.  Underused on the Statendam Class vessels, Explorers Lounge was well used, again pre-dinner, and is highlighted by a full wall painting of the early Dutch sailing in New York harbor. The Queens Room is awash in a sea of royal red velvet.  There wasn't enough time to visit this room, but it sure is eye catching, it doubles as the theater and culinary arts school. The casino is large, and no odor of smoke was detected.  At first I found the Vista Lounge to be cold, austere, not inviting. It grew on me, and I recanted my feelings, and liked the decor, dark and light grays with white accents. Deserving of its own special paragraph, the Vista Dining Room is one beautiful place, worthy of the excellent meals served there.  A grand stairway cuts through the center of the room, linking upper and lower levels.  The upper level has an intimate feeling.  The ceiling is, I assumed, Murano glass, muted-multi colored morning glory style ceiling fixtures, which cast a serene rainbow glow.  Dark walls, tons of highly polished brass, banquettes and open seating areas offer a feeling of intimacy.  The view aft, incredible, out to sea.  We did not dine at the Pinnacle Grill.  The menu has barely changed in five years, the meals are ok, not special enough to take us away from the main dining room.  Passengers in the suites could have breakfast in the Pinnacle.  The room, however, is beautiful, a mirror copy of the Pinnacle we did enjoy on the Zuiderdam. There seems to be less genuine art on the Westerdam, than say, on the Maasdam and other HAL ships.  What is found everywhere are handsome, rich floral arrangements, and potted plants and live orchids. The first sday at sea offered scenic cruising off Corsica, with the bow open to passengers.  I spent hours there taping grottos, soaring snow capped mountains, coastal towns and villages, and Roman watch towers.  Corsica was one of the places Napoleon was exiled to. I want to visit Corsica some day. One more morning the stateroom was cloyingly thick with fumes.  Robbed, I went onto the veranda to be greeted by dozens of screeching gulls, circling the ship, bidding welcome to Barcelona.  Past the oil tanks, with slums beyond, the fumes were gone, I saw acres of new automobiles, waiting for the ferries or cargo ships, dozens of new and old passenger ferries, asphalt silos, piles of hot tar hissing, acre upon acre of cargo containers, this, a real working port.  The Westerdam slowly made her way in a sea of murky thick brown water, a pall of pollution hanging over the city. It has been a while since my last visit to Barcelona, and I did not miss it.  The city has one thing going for it, the Gaudi Cathedral.  In the old city sector, open sewers erupt from under the sidewalk, spewing unmentionable liquids onto the cobble stone streets.  We had an excursion here, lots of driving, not much to see, sped past the 1992 Olympics site, went for an over view of the city, took pictures through the smog, and gladly got back to the Westerdam.  I can not see what makes people wax poetic about Barcelona.  I just don't see it. OOOOOH, tonight is BBQ on deck dinner, with a Spanish flair!  Not for us, we headed straight for the dining room.  Second of two days at sea, then  Malta. Palma de Majorca was canceled, and Malta and the order of the day at sea, rearranged. We enjoyed the ships cast of dancers and their costumes, Bob Mackey designs,  were incredible, as were the sets, and staging.  We had a "diva" who parodied the great divas, Alfreda Butler, on board.  What a voice and stage presence.  She was a cross between Mo'nique and Diana Ross.  Excellent performer, was she.  As for the rest, the usual comedian, and so on.  Nothing new, nothing to write home about. A tour in Tunisia is a must. Don't even think about going ashore by your self.  We opted for Carthage, since we've been to Tunisia before.  The highlight here was Sidi Boo Said, a lovely town all white with  azure blue rococo trim, and some neat local crafts shopping.  Tunisia has changed from a once stuffy Arab country, to a democracy, and our guide was proud of his countries accomplishments.  We saw a street where a mosque, sits next too a Catholic Cathedral, next to a synagogue.  Carthage itself was fascinating.  Lots of lovely homes, on canals, reminding of Florida.  Carthage itself was second only to ancient Rome.  The ruins are of a massive spa, an old Roman bath.  Our last stop was Byra Hill, offering expansive views. Local restaurants? Don't. The menus on the Westerdam were exhausting, and very difficult to order from, at least for us, because they were well planned, and offered too many good  selections.  The fruits and the shrimp and other appetizers were all well chosen as  were the soups.  The salads were the freshest, finest, and were interestingly different each night, all dressings made on board.  Always available were oil and vinegar.  Breads and rolls, artisan quality, all made on board. Main courses with accompanying starches and vegetables were as expected and demanded, excellent, as well.  Dover sole, boned at table, venison, all cuts of beef, lamb, pork, duck and Cornish hens, to chicken, and Asian specialties, all wonderfully prepared, a treat for the palate, and served at proper temperature.  Lobster (tails), scallops, clams, muscles, snails oysters, fresh and delicious.  And, always available, salmon, steak  chicken, and  vegetarian.  Desserts were wonderful, as was the cheese plate.  Sauces that accompanied the entrees and appetizers were excellent. Each night a different flambé dessert was prepared in the dining room, and often two sugar free or no sugar added desserts were available.  An onyx sea, a periwinkle sky beckoned the Westerdams entry to Malta.  Malta is a place we love, and to visit again was unplanned, since the Westerdam was due to call at Palma de Majorca, and Malta was substituted at the last minute. We sailed the long inlet to the inner harbor, passing ancient buildings built into limestone cliffs, a city and a sight unlike no other.  Valletta is an awesome sight by sea.  Ahead, the Costa Victoria was docked, a nice looking ship.  We took our own taxi into Valetta, 10.00 Maltese Lira, NOT Euros, Malta is not part of the EU, US and Canadian dollars are not accepted, in cash, credit cards are. We entered St. Johns co-cathedral, at 5.20 Maltese Lira.  The Cathedral is breathtaking inside.  NOTE:  if you visit on your own, walk up the steps, stay to the far right, and enter and avoid the huge line with booked tour passengers.  Valletta is not a shopping city, per se.  We did buy some baby clothes for our one month old grand son, and we had a nice lunch in the square at Leon Cafe, which made excellent hand tossed pizza, a fresh salad nicoise, and a perfect cannelloni, all for a mere 10.20 Maltese Lira, plus tip. Back at the dock is where the best shopping in Malta is.  Bristow Potters and Monica Glass have beautiful items, and are government approved shops for the pottery and Maltese glass.  They will ship. The approach into Palermo was nothing short of dull.  The usual pristine white ferries and drab neo-modern apartments rose skyward.  Dock workers clanged and trucks roared as we passed.  On the dock, dogs happily barked at our approach, racing in and out of  the  ferries, nipping at the dock workers heels.  After breakfast we waited for our tour to be called, in the Vista Lounge.  Today, we would tour Cefalu, pronounced CheFaloo. This town is ancient, and magnificent.  Cobble stone streets, old, worn buildings, housing numerous flats, with balconies filled with fresh, drying laundry,  dogs, again happy dogs, and vespas and bikes filled Cefalu.  Cliffs with pounding surf, fish stalls, and beaches, another world, unlike any  resort you could hope top find in the US.  The center of Cerfalu, the Dumo, housed an ancient cathedral.  Since this was Sunday, holy mass was being celebrated upon our arrival, an a visit was out of the question.  Chairs filled the square, with  restaurants lining the square.  Lunch was definitely in order. The name was, of course, Duomo Trattoria, next to Dumo Gelataria. Cefalu had an amazing effect on us.  The town mesmerized us, it seemed to want us to stay, and stay we wanted to.  Well, the best gelato is all of Italy is reputed to be in Cefalu, at Duomo Gelataria.  Know what?  It is! Time came to leave this la dolce vita town, with its lidos, cabanas, and tidal pools, its laundry flapping in the breeze, the old women in black, the young men in skin tight pants, young women in skin tight shorts and halters.  Palermo is no shabby city, either.  The opera house, that gave Enrico Caruso fame, the Mussolini era post office, huge beautiful parks and massive fountains and a beautiful symphony hall, gave promise for a tour at a future time. What could possibly top Palermo, Sicily, with its enchanting village, Cefalu?  NAPLES.  Oh, my, Naples, after Cefalu,  it was almost heart stopping.  But before we get to Naples, we had the Mariner party. Boy, was this a dud.  Nearly 10 whole minutes, the Mariners repeat party was truly duller than dirt.  White wine and champagne, no bloodies, tough and tasteless hor d'oeurves, about one minute for a quick dance, one new honoree at 100 days, a brief mention of the new Eurodam, and that was it.  Not like the grand, splashes HAL puts on for Mariners.    Sailing on Westerdam,  Costa Fortuna, and Voyager of the Seas, and another old friend, Thomson Cruises Thomson Voyager, the former Swedish America Liner ms Kungsholm,  and once P&Os Sea Princess, and first Princess Cruises Sea Princess.  It was almost as though Macy's had its Macy's Cruise Ship Parade, with Costa Fortuna, MSC Musica, Voyager of the Sea, and Thomson Voyager all sailing past, passing muster to the Westerdam. Now, Naples is one heck of place, more Italian than Rome, really. Dogs barked and played, running in and out of the shops  dockside.  Ferries constantly arriving and leaving the port, churning up trash, garbage, and more trash, to be scooped up by a garbage  barge.  Beaches at the filthy harbor, and a careless, carnival feel in the air.  The place was intoxicating. Our tour took us up into the hills, over looking Napoli Bay.  Vesuvius stood at attention, one day ready to blow its stack, ferries to the outer islands and Capri tooted below.  The view was just incredible.  Our tour was Piazza and Pizza.  The pizza, hand made and of the highest standards, was the best pizza during the trip.  The pizza on the ship should not be called pizza, not after the one we had in Naples.  Our tour was hosted by a wonderful guide, Rosario.  He wore a white linen suit, pink polo shirt and smart shades.  He was so proud of Naples, and eagerly told of its history. There have been changes made to the Westerdam.  The Crows Nest, as noted.  Other changes:  Forty new cabins and suites were added in May to the fan tail sections of Upper Promenade to Navigation Decks.  New deck chairs have replaced those dreadful white plastic chaise lounges.  The shopping arcade seemed larger, and the Northern Lights Disco was pleasant, however, the same old golden 70's disco and the line dancing are to, well, awful to have to listen to. A couple of things that really aggravated me are the following.  Passengers refusing to us the hand sanitizer, out of ignorance, or arrogance.  Some boasted their refusal, the "I washed my hands, thank you".  Then those pushy, cut-in-skies at the Lido, that claw though the food with a spoon, shove to get ice tea, and then, this is a new one, those filling thermos bottles with coffee, or refilling used water bottles from the Lido.  If I had to pick, or rate by ports, I would have to do it this way: the best bar-none would be Naples, capturing the very soul of Italy, where O solo mio was written, home to Sophia Loren.  On the chic, Monte Carlo, unquestionably.  Unique, why Tunisia, with its North African Flair. Where will we be sailing next?  We have the Queen Mary 2 in September,  Oceania Cruises Insignia in March, South America, then Oceania's Regatta for two European cruises, June and November.   Will we sail Holland America again?  Without a doubt, yes.  

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May 13, 2006

Alaska

This was the first cruise for my husband and I- we were with my parents as well as my sister and her boyfriend. My parents had previously sailed on the Westerdam in January so we had a leg up as far as finding things on the ship. Embarkation: We arrived in Seattle the day before embarkation, which turned out well because we got up in the morning and headed to the pier. The embarkation process was rather slow (they only had one metal

detector/x-ray machine!) but we expected lines upon lines so it wasn’t a surprise. Once onboard, we went straight to the Lido buffet for lunch, which was a nightmare, as expected, since it was basically the only place for everyone to congregate. But, all in all, embarkation went pretty smoothly and our rooms were ready earlier than we even expected. Accommodations: My husband and I shared an E class room with my sister and her boyfriend (which is an outside cabin). Tight quarters, to be sure. My parents had a verandah- one with a wraparound corner balcony. Both rooms were nice, although four people in an outside room was a tight fit and I definitely wouldn’t recommend it! One word of caution- the rooms are advertised as having sofa beds, but these are not your everyday sofa beds. They do not pull out. Essentially the part of the sofa that you sit on flips over and that is the sofa bed- it is probably smaller than your average twin bed. Our plan was to sleep two people on the sofa bed, but once we got there, we realized this wasn’t possible. They refused to bring a cot to our room for various reasons (note: we were told by the travel agent that we were allowed to have four people in the room we had, so we didn’t think it would be a problem). Apparently, the opposite was true- they would not bring a cot for us. However, they would indeed bring it to my parents’ suite. So, we took it in the elevator and brought it to our cabin with little to no trouble and it was left at that. Tight quarters indeed, and we left our steward a nice tip for all the trouble he went through working around the cot and cleaning up after four people in such a small room! Anyway, the verandah suite was very nice and I would highly recommend having a balcony, as it was quite handy to have in Glacier Bay. Dining: I am a notoriously picky eater, and a vegetarian at that. However, we all ended up eating quite nicely on the ship. We had most of our dinners in the Vista Dining Room, and the food was always very good- we loved having so many courses. Most of the time, however, we had lunch in the Lido- we generally eat casually at home, so we had our fill of pizza and pasta at lunchtime and left the fanciness to dinner. We also had one dinner at the Pinnacle Grill (which was very nice, although as a vegetarian I would personally not spend the $20/person again…the food is just as good as what’s in the dining room) and one lunch at the Terrace Grill, which was also very good. Towards the end of the cruise we did start to grow tired of dinner taking upwards of an hour and a half, and just wanted to grab a sandwich! But, being able to just relax and be served was really nice and we did enjoy it most of the time. We ordered breakfast to the verandah suite most of the time and it was lovely to eat on the balcony! Breakfast was always pretty good, with the exception of the day they mysteriously ran out of bagels. Also, the milk and yogurt were always lukewarm, never cold. We braved the Lido for breakfast one day and it was nice, although busy. If you have a hankering for pancakes or French toast, it’s worth it, although I prefer to sit in my room in my pjs and forego the pancakes! Also, my major complaint with the dining was that the one time we ordered breakfast room service to our outside cabin instead of the verandah suite, it never arrived. We had to leave for an early excursion and the food did not arrive within the window we selected, so we had to run to the Lido and grab something before leaving. We were very disappointed with this, not only because we had an early excursion but also because the service had never been an issue in the verandah suite. Clearly they focused their customer service on their suite customers- this may be understandable, but not to the point where people in “lower” classes don’t receive any service at all. Later we had a voice message from room service saying they had tried to come to our room at a certain time but we were not there- this is absolute nonsense, considering the time they stated was the time we were in our room literally doing nothing but sitting and waiting for our breakfast to arrive. We think they were trying to cover their butts with this call, and it didn’t work. I filed a complaint with the front office but never heard anything back, probably because again I was in a “lower” class. We did order room service for snacks at other times and it worked out well (again, we ordered it to the verandah suite which I suspect played a large part in receiving good service). However, apparently the whole ship ran out of chocolate chip cookies! They are listed in the room service menu, but they never had them and brought oatmeal raisin instead, even when we specifically asked for chocolate chip. So, I would caution not to get your heart set on ordering certain items from room service, as we were told a few times that they did not have what was on the room service menu. Service: Other than the room service debacle, service onboard was excellent. We occasionally left notes for our room steward making small requests and he always fulfilled them. Our dining steward was likewise very nice and efficient, and he and the wine steward knew after a few days what we liked to drink with dinner. Every staff member we came in contact with was very kind and seemed happy to be there (which was surprising considering some of their back stories! Serving spoiled Americans for a year at a time in order to feed their families, and happy to do it). My dad sent his sweater to be laundered and it ended up being shrunk to the size of a five year old’s sweater- they refunded what money he had paid for his sweater with little or no trouble. Likewise, the activities staff were very kind. We especially liked cruise director Drew and “money man Mark”, aka the senior assistant cruise director. They were all a lot of fun. Entertainment: One thing my husband and I loved about cruising was the plethora of entertainment. Normally when we vacation, we go and see the sights and then sit in our hotel room, staring at each other! This time we had plenty to do. At night we enjoyed the shows in the Vista Lounge- specifically the comedienne, magician, and of course the cast of the Westerdam who put on really great song and dance shows. Also at night they hosted fun little games like Jeopardy or the Newlyweds Game, which were always fun to watch. We ended up in the Northern Lights Night Club probably more nights than we should have, but it was fun. It wasn’t busy at all the first couple of nights but after that it was pretty busy at night. The DJ takes requests left and right so if you want something played, all you have to do is ask. During the day we enjoyed bingo and team trivia (which we unfortunately didn’t discover until the second to last day!). My advice would be if something sounds fun, go and observe at least. They will never force you to join anything, so you can go check it out and see if you’re interested. If not, you can discreetly slip out, or just continue watching. Glacier Bay: The first place we went was Glacier Bay, where the ship didn’t dock, but we cruised through the park. It was really beautiful and we were glad for our balcony, because we saw seals and bald eagles and mountain lions right from our balcony! They had nature experts on board to speak about the sights of Glacier Bay, although we did not partake in this. Juneau: Our first “real” port. We did the Mendenhall Glacier and Whale Watching trip, and we really liked it. Mendenhall was really neat and I would recommend hiking over to the waterfall to the right of the glacier if you’re capable. This left us with little to no time in the visitors center but it was more than worth it. You get right up close to that glacier! The whale watching tour was with Allen Marine and it was excellent, we saw about 30 whales that day. The guide was very knowledgeable and helpful. Juneau itself was a neat little town, reminiscent of the gold rush days. We had the obligatory beer in the Red Dog Saloon (quite a cool place) and then went into some shops. Sitka: We were not too impressed with this little town. There wasn’t a whole lot to do, and the tendering is a pain in the neck. Passengers who have suites get to bypass the tender line, and boy are they lucky. Otherwise, you have to go to a room (on the Westerdam it was the Queen’s Lounge), get a number, and sit down until they call your number. All the while they’re blasting a commercial for some type of jewelry over and over and over again on the TV screens. Then once you get your number they lead you down two floors and you wait in line to get on a tender. All in all quite a pain, especially considering Sitka isn’t really worth the trouble. The one sight we did enjoy was Castle Hill, because it afforded good views of our cruise ship and the mountains around us. We weren’t impressed with anything else, including the shopping. However, the excursion we did was our favorite of the trip- the 4x4 Wilderness Adventure. It was nice because this excursion only allows 6 people, so we didn’t have to wait for a huge group to go everywhere. We took a pretty crazy boat ride out to an uninhabited island, where we road our ATVs at about 20mph. We saw a rainforest and a beach, and it was really pretty. The 4x4s drove over a lot of bumps and through puddles, so it was quite a thrilling ride- highly recommend this excursion if you are so inclined. The other members of my group went on the Sea Otter viewing tour (also with Allen Marine) and said it was very interesting. Ketchikan: We found ourselves wondering why we spent so much time in Sitka and so little in Ketchikan. We had no time to view the town but others in our group said it was really nice. In Ketchikan we did the Misty Fjords boat ride, again with Allen Marine. At this point we were “excursioned out”, so to speak. It was about an hour boat ride to the fjords, and while they were definitely beautiful, we wished we had opted out simply because we had taken long excursions for the past two days and weren’t in the mood for another one. The fjords were worth it, but the two hour boat ride round trip got a little taxing. Once again the Allen Marine staff was very knowledgeable and helped spruce up the ride a little bit. If we could do it over, we would have liked to have done a quick excursion in Ketchikan and left ourselves time to look around the neat little town. Victoria: Again we found ourselves wondering why in the world we spent so much time in Sitka considering Victoria and Ketchikan have so much more to offer! Firstly, we were to get into Victoria at 6pm. 6pm came and went and we were not docked. Finally at around 6:30pm they announced that we could get off the boat. The thing is, every other time we got off the ship, we got off on deck 2. So, everyone was lined up on deck 2, only to discover that we had to get off on 1 or A instead. There was mass confusion, not to mention massive lines due to the fact that we were late getting in. Basically getting off the ship was a nightmare and our excursion left a full hour later than planned. Getting off the ship, we had to pass through the customs building and show our photo ID, which seemed a bit ridiculous. The excursion we did was Victoria: A City Haunted. We have mixed feelings about this. We loved the city tour we got- again our guide was very knowledgeable and pointed out pretty much all of the important sites. We visited the Maritime Museum, which is supposedly haunted, and Ross Bay Cemetery. The museum was interesting in and of itself (it has an old courtroom on the third floor, as the museum used to be the courthouse). However, we were sat down in said courtroom when it was about 75 degrees and stuffy and someone stood up in the front and told stories. Most people seemed rather bored, and I’d have to agree with them. We would rather have been walking around or shown artifacts or pictures or something other than being given a lecture. Ross Bay Cemetery was very interesting and the stories were told quick and to the point, and it was rather nice. It seems as if we could have spent a few days in Victoria, not a short six hours! Disembarkation: We had a few personal snafus, such as someone forgetting their jacket and THEN not being able to locate their key card (which you need to get off the boat, so they know who is on and who is off). The lines were atrocious, as expected. But, once off the boat, it was smooth sailing (no pun intended). We flashed our passports at the customs people, found our luggage in no time, handed over our customs form, and were on our way to the airport. All in all it was a wonderful trip- my husband and I are already planning our next cruise! However, considering we are in our mid 20’s, we are probably going to try another cruise line- Holland America is nice. Really nice. However, we’re a little young to truly appreciate all the fanciness, so we’re going to look for a line that is a little more casual.

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Apr 8, 2006

Western Caribbean

Holland America Line Westerdam Cruise Review Western Caribbean Ellina Our family (my husband, 6-yr-old daughter, and in-laws) just returned from a 1-week cruise on the Westerdam. The only other cruise line I had been on was Disney, which is rated 3 stars, so we were very excited to try a 5-star line such as HAL. My ILs had previously been on Norwegian and RC. Overall, we all agreed that the other cruises we had been on (Disney, RC,

and Norwegian), were all better. More to do, more attentive staff, higher level of cleanliness, higher level of customer service. The Westerdam is new (only 2 yrs old), very pretty and spacious (we never felt crowding), and the food is fairly good, but that's about it, in terms of positives, unfortunately. The staff was slow, uninvolved, and somewhat sloppy. Some examples: * Our room steward never bothered to move any of the items off our bathroom sink, and simply wiped "around them." * The public restrooms smelled. * People were constantly slipping and falling on the wet puddles around the pool area, and no one tried to wipe them up or even put up "Wet Floor" signs. * A dirty bandaid floated in the Jacuzzi tub for a good few minutes before I finally pointed it out to a crew member. * Children were using a dolphin statue as a diving board, and no one stopped them. * Children brought glassware into the Jacuzzi tub, and until I told a crew member about it, no one noticed. * There were only a small handful of activities on the ship during the day. * In spite of HAL's attempts to cater to a younger crowd and families, the average age was still quite high (I'd guess late 40s), and there were very few children's activities in "Club HAL." And, those activities were only scheduled for 2-hour intervals, 3x a day (10 am to noon, 2-4 pm, and 8-10 pm). Basically, everything about the ship, the service, the entertainment, etc., was just "ok." For a 5-star line, I expected a lot more. Better service, a more attentive and involved crew and staff, more activities, etc. While I can't say we had a BAD time, I would definitely not choose HAL again.

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Dec 26, 2005

Alaska

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 until our cruise began. “We” consist of a family of three. I’m a 47 year old Executive Assistant, my almost 18 year old son is in his final year of high school and my daughter is a 13 year old in her final year of middle school. We live in Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto Canada, and this was our 4th cruise in the past 5 years. Our “second home” is the Island of Aruba which we have visited 15 times in the past 12 years. Getting to the (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 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. 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 tablespoon 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 omelets) 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 favorite 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 RCL 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.  

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Dec 2, 2004

Bahamas

Cruising Background: This was my second cruise, first time with HAL. Previous sailing: Carnival Conquest in March '04 to Jamaica, Grand Cayman & Cozumel. Cruise Info: Special 3 day "Sampler" cruise on Hal's newest ship, the Westerdam, (recently delivered from Italy). The Westerdam's normal cruise duration will be 7 days from now on. This was called the "President's Cruise" and the President of HAL was on board, along with other top

notable HAL employees. Itinerary: Day 1: Ft. Lauderdale, departed 6pm on Thursday, 12/2/04 Day 2: At Sea (topic of discussion at our dinner table: how many lazy loops we did in the Atlantic on way to port of call to delay port arrival until 8 am the next morning) Day 3: Half Moon Cay, Bahamas, arrived at 8 am, last tender to ship at 3pm, departed around 5pm Day 4: Arrived back at Ft. Lauderdale port Arrival: My mother & I flew in from Chicago on the early morning flight. I believe we landed around 10:30 am. We had not booked transfers (at $15 apiece) from the airport to the ship with HAL, but were told (very friendly like) by the HAL rep that we could take a taxi for $10 - 15 total. And that is exactly what we did - came to exactly $15 with tip. Arrival at Dock: The Westerdam was docked at #26 & took less than 20 minutes to arrive at by taxi from the airport. You must pass through a Customs checkpoint on way, so have your id's out & ready. Our baggage was immediately checked in at the dock by handlers and we were shown into the embarkation building. Waited in line for less than 5 minutes before being officially checked in, where we received our room keys (Sign & Sail cards), our dinner reservation time & a small deck-by-deck map of the ship (very helpful - don't remember Carnival doing this). They take your picture at the check in desk for identification when you sign in & out of the ship at ports of call. We were then ushered into a line to take the obligatory cruise pictures - the process was quick & the pictures did not turn out as well as I would have liked. We proceeded into the next building (by escalator/elevator) and waited approximately 30 mins before we could board the ship. You are assigned a number at check-in & they call groups to board every 5 to 10 minutes. While waiting, waiters pass orange juice (Tang) and ice water to guests. You can also order boxes of wine for on-board & I believe there was a special discount available. Embarkation: Impossibly easy, much quicker even than the Conquest in March. After they call your group number, it's up an escalator and down a short hallway and you are on-board. We were told staterooms would not be available until around 1:30 or 2pm and that they were serving lunch on the Lido deck buffets. Everyone was more or less herded up there (option to temporarily hold carry-on luggage in piano bar was very nice - would not be delivered to room, but had to picked up by 2pm). When we got to Lido deck, one of the only 2 or 3 snafu's occurred - there was no food out yet. 1,000 ravenous guests with nothing to do for a few hours but eat and there was no food? It was corrected in about 20 minutes, with all of the buffets tables opening one after another; but it was enough time for the lines to wind around the tables & into the elevator hallways. We didn't feel like waiting that long (no one was going to starve) and so just hit the dessert bar (strangely devoid of guests) and had watermelon sorbet and butterscotch pudding with raspberries. (The dessert selection was to die for - but more on food later. . .oh, the food.) Stateroom/Cabin: Since this was a quickie cruise for my mother & I and we had another longer cruise scheduled at the end of the year, we went bottom line with the cabin. It was small and cozy and cute. Yes, cute. But perfectly suited to a 3 day cruise (really 2 full days and 3 nights). We had booked two twin beds, but found a queen in the room (the room attendant split the bed into twins for the last two nights). Even though the room was a small inside cabin, there was an amazing amount of closet space: a larger drawer under each bed, 2 small night tables with 2 drawers apiece, 3 closets (one with a small safe) with plenty of hanging space for both long and short clothing. There was a desk with a large-ish tv and a hairdryer, a magnifying makeup mirror and a medicine cabinet in the bathroom. The beds are wonderful! Very tall and very comfy - my mom, who can never sleep comfortably anywhere but home, said she slept like a baby. I can sleep anywhere no matter what, but the beds were great. Every day the room attendants bring in a basket of fruit. I swear, the stewards must live under the bed, every time we left the cabin & came back, the beds were made & the garbage emptied. 2nd Trip Annoyance: The lights the cabin. There are light switches everywhere and some of them turn on the same lights, just in different orders. Took us awhile to get them straight. # of switches: One set near bathroom, one on desk mirror, two sets by bed, and one near door. Lights were flickering on and off all the time as we roamed around, trying to get them all out or all on. Ship: One of the nicest and most elegant ships I've ever seen. . .not near as flashy as Carnival. Hardwood floors everywhere, wooden deck chairs, beautifully tiled & mosaic floors abound on all decks. There were several bars & lounges - we spent a lot of time in the Piano Bar which was cozy & the pianist was outstanding and sweet, even though people requested the same songs over and over again. The casino was nice, but nothing out of the ordinary. . .you go there to lose money, not to admire the machines. Northern Lights, the ship's night club, was nice, if a bit dark at time. One of the hallways had a neat trick - the walls & paintings light up as you pass them and them dim after a minute. The bar and dance floor are separated by a wall, but there are lots of little nooks to sit & observe. DJ Jazzy provided a good mix of music. Holland is obviously trying to attract a younger crowd for it's Caribbean routes. The other lounges had jazz and classical music with dance floors for those so inclined. The Lido deck's pool has an electronic roof that is put into place at night and during inclement weather. Less actual deck space to sunbathe then Carnival. The Vista Lounge, Hal's theater, is beautiful, and instead of stationary stadium style seats, there are movable chairs, couches, and tables. It is a new ship and occasionally I caught a whiff of some very unpleasant odors - once in the Lounge, while playing bingo, there was a distinct sewer smell for about 10 minutes. I'm sure this will be worked out on future sailings. The toilets did have a tendency to smell like 'diaper.' Food: To. Die. For. You will eat your weight in chocolate, I guarantee. A different menu every night and the appetizers are portioned just right to allow you to enjoy all of your meal. If it sounds like an odd combination, just get it anyway - you'll be surprised how the chef combines spices. I don't think there was a single thing I didn't like. (Well, the carmelized onions had to go, but that's just me. . .I'm sure they were tasty to others.) As on other ships, the Westerdam had a fancy restaurant that cost extra ($20 per person). . .but it was booked solid since such a short trip. Maybe next time. Note: they offer the same dinner menu at lunch time if you don't want to miss sitting with your tablemates during your regularly scheduled time. Our table was wonderful - the people knowledgeable about cruising and so very pleasant to talk to. We'll miss them on our future sailings. Entertainment: Never a lack of things to do on board: trivia contests, bingo, the casino, line dancing lessons, board games, shuffleboard, art auctions (they had a Picasso, several Erte paintings & a full line of Erte jewelry, several Dali's, and a Chagall, amongst others.) We had afternoon tea every day, a very nice affair. Shows: The first night was a musical review of the movies, from Singin' in the Rain to Saturday Night Fever. The costumes were designed by Bob Mackie (and you can tell) and had a decidedly 70's feel to them. The singers and dancers are amazingly talented and the sets are Broadway quality. The second night was a special guest star from Las Vegas - Clint Holmes - who has a versatile voice, is very personable and does a mean impression of Tom Jones, chest hair and all. The final night was a Broadway-inspired grand tour of Europe. Songs were not only Broadway, though - I recognized several pop ones by Shakira and The Corrs. Again, the singers & dancers are extremely talented, the costuming A+ and the set design innovating. But the story line could use a bit of work. Port of Call: Half Moon Cay Population: 10-12 year round. All workers live on a nearby island and take a ferry to the island when a ship is in port. You must take a tender to the island, but these are very fast & efficiently handled by cruise staff. The island, Hal's own little slice of heaven, is beautifully and intentionally only developed about 20%. The beach is endless, with cool-to-the-toes sand with a flour consistency and dreamy, crystal clear aqua waters. I do not swim and have a healthy fear of deep water, but the beach is so shallow and the water so calm, I must have been at least 30-50 feet from shore and still had toes touching bottom. There is a built up kiddie section, with slides and water floats. I highly suggest renting one of the limited cabanas if you are just going to beach bum all day. They are spaced out down the beach and have decks with h2o misters, a fridge, ceiling fans and chairs. You are supplied with chips, salsa & other finger foods throughout the day and can even upgrade to butler service & have someone bring all your packages to & from the cabana and your food. We didn't get one this time, as they fill up fast! Book early through the Hal website. There were lots of water activities & toys to rent - mats, water bikes, snorkel gear, etc. Beach chairs are readily available, but I suggest renting a clamshell for shade - the sun was HOT. Try to get there early to rent it or you'll be waaaaaaay at the end of the beach like we were. The catered lunch was fabulous - hamburgers, hotdogs, steaks, prawns, bbq pork & chicken, and fish. (Even veggie burgers) Lots of fruit and some salads and cookies & cake for dessert. There are bars situated around and on the beach for your convenience & everything on the island is charged to you room since it is completely Hal property. Convenient, but be careful, you can rack up hundreds of dollars in charges very quickly, especially on alcohol. Tip: inquire about the drink & martini of the day, usually a discounted $3.50 to $4.50 compared to the $7+ for normal drinks. The island's vegetation was heavily damaged by the recent season of hurricanes, but is slowly recovering. . .so it may appear bleak for awhile, but the greenery will come back. Excursions: We went on the glass bottom boat tour - which was a little short for what we paid for it, but for one who doesn't swim - it was the only way to see the reef & fish. . .which are used to the boats & expect to be fed when it arrives. Got some lovely up close pictures of them. We went on the earliest tour, which was quite empty (only 1 couple besides us) and felt like a private tour. It gave us the freedom to move around the boat and take pictures easily. I recommend the early time if you are interested in this - it seemed to fill up the rest of the day. We also did the stingray adventure. . .(remember, I do not swim & fear deep water) Now, after saying that: despite what the description tells you & the excursion desk assures you: you will not be allowed to wade in the water to see the stingrays. Everyone is handed snorkel gear and a blow up life vest and told that they must not touch down on the bottom for fear of disturbing the rays, starfish & other creatures. You will have to snorkel to see the stingrays. I tried, valiantly I think - but stayed on the stairs the whole time because the water was about 6-9 feet deep. It is an enclosed space, so you can't float out, but you must float. The diver on duty was kind enough to grab a stingray and bring it to me to touch - delivery! (Note: they feel like dolphins, except slimier). My mom had a wonderful time, she is not an experienced swimmer, but was able to quick off and float a ways & do the snorkel thing. She had a fab time, just loved it. . .said it was very exciting. . .but a suggestion to Hal: perhaps you could string a rope or two across the top of the water to help guide the more inexperienced around. My mom said she was afraid she couldn't make it back to the stairs and got nervous. (Note: stingray adventure is also available in Grand Cayman - where I've heard you actually WADE in the water and there are many, many more stingrays that are very friendly and will swim around you & through your legs and like to be pet). Disembarkation: Wow, what a breeze. I think we were off the boat in under thirty minutes. You are assigned a group number and can either wait in a lounge or in your stateroom until it is called over the PA. Once announced, you sign out of the ship with your keycard and go through security, pick up your bags and away you go. We boarded a HAL tourbus (paid for transfers, about $15 each) to the airport. 2nd Gripe about vacation: online at Hal's site, it listed two different tours of Ft. Lauderdale after disembarkation, each a few hours and all your luggage comes with, that could only be booked on the ship. So we went ahead and scheduled our flight for 7:15 pm, thinking we'd be taking a tour. Once onboard, however, we found that they were not offered so we went straight to the airport from the dock - think we arrived somewhere around 10:00 and proceeded to imitate the movie "The Terminal." If you're flying ATA, word to the wise: they will not let you check your baggage until three hours prior to your flight - so for us, that was 4pm. The security checkpoints were also only processing passengers whose flights were in the next 2 1/2 hours. It was a very long boring day spent walking around, inside, outside, and trying to sleep on uncomfortable couches. Please, call Hal to check for any cruises once back in home port & call airlines to check & see how early you can check in. Do NOT get stuck at the airport like we did. Final Thought: Had a wonderful trip to an absolutely stunning little island & am currently in the planning stages for another one.

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Oct 6, 2004

Mediterramean

This was our 13th cruise and our seventh Holland American Line (HAL) cruise since 1995, with each cruise on a different ship. Our cabin was a deluxe verandah outside (Category B) on the Verandah Deck near of the stern of the ship. We sailed on a 13-day Mediterranean cruise from Rome to Livorno (Florence), Italy; Monte Carlo, Monaco (tender service); Barcelona, Spain; Valletta, Malta; Kusadasi, Turkey; Piraeus (Athens), Greece; Dubrovnik,

Croatia; and Venice, Italy. Every port was most interesting. We got an extra three-day pre-cruise package for Rome, but actually stayed southeast of Rome, in the little mountain town where the Pope has his summer residence, with daily sightseeing trips into Rome. FLIGHTS - HAL used Lufthansa Airlines for the flights to and from Italy via Germany. These flights were very long (over 12 hours), the seats were too close together, and half of the video entertainment was in German. On the return flight from Frankfurt to Los Angeles, all of the HAL customers' luggage didn’t get loaded onto our flight but was delivered to our homes two days after got back. CHECK-IN - Faster than usual; a digital camera takes your photograph. Each time you re-board the ship your ship ID card is scanned and your photograph is displayed to the ship's security personnel, eliminating the need to carry a second form of ID with your photograph (driver's license, etc.). Also, every time you re-board the ship, all carry-on items (purses, cameras, etc.) will be scanned. Gone is the express check-in service for Mariners (repeat HAL passengers). SHIP - This was the 15th voyage of this ship -- one of the larger-sized ships that HAL calls its Vista class. It has 11 decks with 11 elevators, four of which are glass-walled and located on the outside mid-ship. The ship carries 1,848 passengers with a crew of 800. CABIN - Our room seemed smaller than the previous non-Vista class ship that we sailed on. In fact, it is smaller - on this ship, our deluxe verandah outside cabin was 254 sq. ft. including the verandah; on the smaller Statendam a similar cabin - verandah suite - was 284 sq. ft. Gone is the long set of three drawers, shelf of glasses, etc. In its place is a cabinet without drawers that barely holds the TV set and ice bucket. There are two drawers under the couch, two drawers in the two nightstands, and two drawers at the foot of the bed, but they are mostly used by the room steward for extra blankets, etc. There are three small closets for hanging your clothes. A hair dryer is mounted permanently in the cabinet below the TV. There is one medicine chest or cabinet in the bathroom. There’s no curtain between bed(s) and couch/TV/chest of drawers. The curtain instead is located between the bed(s) and the bathroom/closets/inside door. The toilet is very loud. Housekeeping services were excellent. With the Statendam, in contrast to this ship, our verandah cabin had a whirlpool bath, a couch that you could lie down on, and VCR. VERANDAH - It has two chairs, one footrest, and a small table. On Previous HAL ships, one of the chairs always had a footrest so that you could stretch out or lie down. The partition between the verandahs on this ship may be folded back for easy access to the adjacent cabin(s) if you travel with other passengers who are staying next door. IN-CABIN TV AND SOUND SYSTEM - There were no separate audio channels into the cabin, nor a special channel for hearing all ship announcements as on other ships. TV channels included CNN/ESPN/TCM/Cartoon Network, plus four on-ship movie channels and 10 other channels showing bow and stern views, ship and port shopping information, etc. Sometimes some of the ship's channels would be playing music without any video. LAUNDRY - There were no self-service laundry or room irons. A ship's bag full of laundry would be washed, folded, and returned in 48 hours for $15. Other laundry and dry cleaning services were available. VISTA DINING ROOM - Some tables have benches instead of chairs. The room has four sittings - Early (5:45 and 6:15 p.m.) and Main (8:00 and 8:30 p.m.). The serving of dinner was slow every day as the servers appeared to be understaffed; frequently the table captains perform some of the server's duties, etc. The overall food seemed bland. The ship ran out of porterhouse steaks, milk in containers, certain salad dressings, and certain wines, very early in the cruise. TERRACE GRILL (Outdoor fast food) – Next to pool; no longer exists. PINNACLE GRILL - The layout is somewhat open as opposed to the other ships; there were some benches instead of chairs. Service was very good and the food was much better than the main dinning room. There is a $20 per person surcharge. TIPS - There’s an automatic assessment of $10 per day per guest and 15% is added to all drinks. EVENING ENTERTAINMENT - At the Greece and Spain ports, local professional dancers and musicians were provided. The other nightly entertainment lacked the "Broadway" type of dance shows; the typical entertainment was a single singer, comedian, or magician. MOVIES - Movies were shown in the Queen's Lounge - it's not a theater. The chairs and tables are movable and the rear area is open to a public walkway. The nice thing is that the sound track was not interrupted by the ship's public announcing system as on other ships. BARS - The ship has nine bars; three don't open until after dinner. The price of a glass of wine varied at different bars from $4.50-7.50. The best price was at the Crow's Nest and the highest price was in the Ocean Bar. CAPTAIN'S AND MARINER'S PARTY - The same as usual. SHOPS - There seemed to be fewer but larger shops. The photo shop will burn a CD from your camera's memory stick for $14. It's cheaper to do it in town. OVERALL OPINION - I'm sorry, but I'm not impressed with the Westerdam. It is a large ship with small cabins. I will not sail again on another Vista class ship. Thank heavens for the Noordam, (old) Nieuw Amsterdam, Statendam, Ryndam, Veendam, and Amsterdam. Now a piece of trivia – the Westerdam was docked at the Athens port earlier this year and served as a hotel during the Olympics.

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Sep 24, 2004

Western Mediterranean

The new Westerdam was a mix of delight and disappointment. What follows is a summary of what was great in our minds, and what wasn't. We have taken 18 cruises. The food, service, and the warm Indonesian staff were lovely. The front desk was beautifully run. The shows were quite entertaining especially the Indonesian Show. The stage is nothing short of wondrous with raised, revolving sections, and fantastic lighting. The bed was the

most comfortable of any ship yet. Lido buffets were delicious. Tours were good but the groups too large and unwieldy, especially in Florence where it is now wall to wall people. Florence was disappointing owing to the overwhelming crowds and it may be that Lucca would be the best tour option at this port.Owing to the large groups, bathroom breaks are too long and in the end, the tour is rushed and you are shortchanged. However it is all about money, so....Tour buses are gleaming but have cramped seats. The negatives come into play primarily with the design of the ship. There is simply no outside space that is quiet. Huge, horribly noisy ventilation fans are everywhere including the promenade deck and there are simply no nooks and crannies on this ship where you can find peace. Even the aft lido pool is noisy as all get out, leaving only the covered pool where most guests relax, as a place of limited noise. Two of the features in public areas that I judge a ship by are its show lounge and the centrum lobby. The show lounge here reminds one of an old studebaker as it is done in heavy, dark grey, art deco. The only charm is provided by the lighted tulip vases. The centrum lobby has all but disappeared, leaving a huge blue chandelier brushing against walls. Instead, we have the a la carte restaurant ( $20 extra per person) taking up space that was once soaring public space for all to enjoy. Although there are many fine art pieces and two floor medallions of inlaid marble to entrall you, the decor is heavy and where it tries to be whimsical, as it does on the aft lido pool, what appears to be a blown- up pool toy turns out to be the pool statue. What were they thinking? There are areas of the ship where the decor is positively tacky, in bright carnival colors, surprising for Holland America. The dining room is dark,intimate and lovely. Again though, the design is heavy, the ceiling low, scarcely giving space for the gorgeous flower lighting. There is no sweeping staircase, no real view of the lower dining room, and none of the drama that soaring windows would provide. Tables are mostly for two's or four's with only large groups travelling together getting a table for 8, it seems. A few new gimmicks have been added to make more money from the passengers. There is no bar other than the lido where you can get a coffee unless you want to pay for it in the Explorer Lounge. The flaming desserts following dinner are offered in this same lounge, but then there is this additional charge for the coffee. The drink of the day, with its special price has sadly disappeared. Many times there is no answer at all when you ring room service, and that is inexplicable. There is no self-serve laundry aboard. The row of outside cabins on the main deck, port side from #1122 to #1106 suffer from unacceptable noise levels coming from the kitchen galley above as well as the manifold deck below where you can hear heavy things being shoved around. These cabins should just not be there and guests should know what they are in for. We had a lovely time with an absolutely stunning itinerary, but I would not sail this particular ship again. You are welcome to email me with questions about tours, touring on your own ,etc. P.S. If you book an aft balcony suite, be aware that everyone looks down into your balcony from the lido deck.

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Aug 29, 2004

Eastern Mediterranean

Review of Westerdam Cruise, 30 August-13 September 2004 In brief: The Westerdam (maiden voyage in April, 2004) is an excellent choice for a cruise. All aspects-accommodations, food, entertainment-are first rate. Accommodations: This is the first time we have had a cabin with excess storage space. Other passengers reported a similar experience. Our cabin had a large bathroom with two sinks, two medicine cabinets, a stall shower, and

a full size ““Whirlpool”” bath, The only minuses: the bed was oriented such that the sitting area could not be curtained off from the bed, and the lounge chairs were uncomfortable wicker chairs instead of the usual sunning lounges. Food: The dining room (four sittings on two level) featured very good food, especially the meat, poultry, and seafood. The fish (fresh frozen, of course) were less successful. The menus were imaginative and varied. When I ordered chocolate souffles for dessert (not on the menu) they were produced without demurrer. But the star was the Lido. Food there was fresh, often cooked to order, not left-overs. There was a great variety from sandwiches made to order, to stir-fries,to conventional lunches of meat of chicken, to salads of the make your own variety to pastas and pizzas. And a wide variety of sweets, including a modest selection of sugar-free desserts. The variety was sufficient to cover most dietary variations. Of course, if you are on a high carbohydrate, high fat diet, you have absolutely no problem-just eat everything. (Some did!) Entertainment: The show lounge had the usual variety of entertainers. The stars were the resident singers and dancers who were first rate (standing ovations) including a soprano (Jill Persig) with an operatic voice. Most of the other entertainers were good to very good. Other notes: There is not a single lounge chair on deck where one can take the sun in a prone position without significant discomfort. There a re plenty of chairs, however, so one need not hunt for a space. One pool can be covered in inclement weather. The port talks are divided between a lecture on the general attributes of the sponsored tours, and a separate talk (usually short) related to shopping. Tours are efficiently conducted, with the usual variability in quality of the local guides. It goes without saying that service is first rate. Lines at the front desk and the tour office move rapidly. There was little in the way of enrichment lectures: three talks by a single lecturer regarding the general area (the Mediterranean basin) we were visiting. Bingo represented the major intellectual challenge! Embarkation was swift, inobtrusive, and efficient. Our bags were inour cabin when we returned from lunch. At disembarkation we waited in our cabin till called.

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Apr 24, 2004

Eastern Mediterranean

MS Westerdam is the third of HAL’s new vista class of cruise ships & also the third one to bear this name. Vista class ships are much larger than the older ships that HAL made it’s name with & are designed to appeal to a younger market segment than has been traditionally attracted to HAL. This review of the maiden voyage is by a mid 60’s retired couple from UK who have cruised with HAL before & on several other lines. Embarkation…..We

flew with Easyjet from UK on Sunday morning arriving at Marco Polo airport 20 mins early at 10am to find the airport very quiet. Through immigration & baggage collection very quickly in contrast to a midweek arrival last year when it took ages. Out of the terminal we found a queue of taxi’s waiting & so had no chance to share a taxi this year (40E to dock). Almost clear road to baggage reception, then walk across yard to the new terminal (new since last year) up stairs to check in with no queue. Did have a slight problem registering our cc, something about dates being different on a UK cc. Then wait to be called, our group was 3, after 11.30 am they started boarding by group number but there was only one x-ray machine for carry on’s & only 2 immigration officers so a queue soon built up. Handed our passports at the HAL desk & walked down stairs & along the quay to board the ship at 12.15. We were informed cabins would be available at 1.30pm & that there was a hand luggage storage area on deck 3. We did not use this & as we had a very early start to the day went straight up to the Lido buffet for lunch, very good indeed which we ate outside on the aft pool deck, a huge slice of prime rib with some salad was just what we needed. We deposited our hand luggage in cabin at 1.30pm & made our tour of the ship before taking our places on the seating provided dockside for the dedication ceremony. At 3.30pm the entertainers from the Venice carnivale 1754 company who have toured the world with their show appeared to entertain us with juggling, tumbling, elaborate costumes & a small band. In the hot sun this was a real bonus as was the red roses presented to all the ladies as is the tradition in Venice on St Marks day (April 25th). A nice touch was that as well as the usual champagne bottle smash a stylised red rose was also sent up a wire to the ship. Speeches & ceremony began at 4pm & afterwards we all retired to the lido deck for complimentary “Bellini’s” with the Artistes & costumed characters strolling around for photos. We were very pleased to have made it to the dedication ceremony on a superb sunny day in beautiful Venice. The Ship….Brand new & sparkling having only been used for a 3 day TA’s cruise beforehand. We began our tour at the top, deck 11 has the sports court aft and an observation deck forward, this we found good for quiet sunbathing but not for “observing”. Reason being it has a very high smoked glass surround, keeps the wind off but you cannot get good photos, consequently was not well used when arriving or leaving port. Front of deck 10 is the crows nest, used as observation lounge, bingo, dancing & meetings. This is decorated with a mainly purple & orange theme, colours we did not find attractive. There are a dozen semi-reclining chairs facing forward but the outside has bench style seating facing inwards, only of use at night we thought. One of the aft corners of the room is furnished in a totally different traditional style & is really a room within a room, while on the opposite side the Oak room for smokers is situated. Moving towards the aft area there is first a covered area open to the deck with some very nice hardwood furniture. Then comes an area with many teak hardwood steamer chairs with nice soft cushions. From this point it is possible to do a jog circuit of deck 10 if you can avoid the steamer chairs that are presumably there to maintain the traditional image of cruising. There are several sheltered spots aft on this deck to sunbathe but the sun beds are made of heavy duty plastic with no cushions (this type is also around the aft pool deck 10). Indoors aft on this deck are quite large children’s facilities & the Golf simulator, we did try this on one day & found it enjoyable with a number of famous courses to choose from. However if you tried to “play” a complete course I think it would cost a fair sum of money, we only managed 2 holes in half an hour for 30$ but one of us was fairly new to golf. Deck 9 has the Greenhouse salon & spa forward, expensive as usual these days & not used by us. We did inspect the thermal suite & Hydro pool that looked nice but not over large & at 15$ a day each quite expensive, there was an offer on this first day of 149$ for the cruise, still not low enough to tempt us. There is a sauna by the salon entrance accessed from the lido pool area that is free. Lido pool has a sliding cover that is closed at night & in inclement weather, very popular & therefore a little noisy at times. Sun beds here are metal framed & recline flatter than the plastic ones on open decks. Pool towels are available but sometimes ran a little short. A taco/salad bar is in one corner in addition to the usual hamburger/hot dog grill neither of which we sampled. Next is the Lido buffet, we liked this a lot, seating areas broken up into small sections with nice furniture. Tables were a light wood with a tartan insert all covered with a thick clear acrylic resin, unfortunately this was soft enough for circle marks to appear from hot beverage cups by the end of the cruise. A nice touch was that all tables had a living flowering orchid in a small pot on them. Some of the chairs were very comfortable but we did not like the ones with a “Romanesque” look as they had an insert that caught you in the middle of the back. Coffee & Tea are available 24 hours as well as hot chocolate & it seemed to us most of the time juice drinks were there as well. Serving stations are spread out & this can mean a bit of a trek if you wish to sample things from several stations. Two “express” breakfast stations become the “wok” with oriental dishes at lunch with the other being the “Italian” station with pizza pasta etc. Two general b/f stations become “lunch of the day” stations. The continental b/f station becomes the salad bar & the two omelette/eggs stations become deli/sandwich bars, these are the only ones to serve crisps (chips to Americans) at lunch. At breakfast juices i/c fresh squeezed orange juice were available in the area that became the dessert station at lunchtime. The aft pool area has tables & chairs made of a plastic material in a style of cane or rattan furniture with umbrellas as long as it is not windy, we tried t o eat out here whenever possible. Pool has fresh water & enjoyed the swimming here, sun beds are the aforementioned plastic ones. Main entertainment decks are 2 & 3. There is a wrap round promenade on deck 3, which means that anyone dining in upper dining room may have joggers passing the windows. Dining room chairs are quite heavy & solid in a modern interpretation of a traditional style. China & Silverware are immaculate. Forward is the upper level of the vista show lounge, this has good sight lines if you are not behind a pillar!! They must lose 70/80 seats capacity because of the pillars. Seats are faced with white leather & like some of the other light colours around the ship we do not think it will wear well. Stage & lighting are technically superb & up to the best standards anywhere. Apart from the vista lounge & the Dining room the other rooms on decks 2&3 are designed in a smaller more intimate fashion. On deck 3 are meeting rooms doubling as card rooms, internet centre with flat screen vdu positions, library that I was not impressed with the book selection & the shopping area with all the usual areas, spirits seemed good prices by UK standards but did not wish to carry any back. The atrium is compact & over decks 1,2 & 3, on 3 is the Ocean bar with small dance floor & seating way across the Atrium “hole” as well as by the dance floor, décor is fairly restrained compared to some of the other areas & we often sat here to enjoy the trio. Deck 2 of the Atrium has the Odyssey restaurant (extra charge) but this is open to view of everyone passing through the Atrium & while our table mates enjoyed it twice, we were not tempted. Across from the Odyssey is the windstar coffee bar, ”Art” gallery is next with the explorers lounge in traditional HAL style. Three times the flambé desserts offered on d/r menu were served here. Cleverly the HAL designers have grouped the casino, piano bar, sports bar & disco all together on deck 2, presumably thinking those who like one or two of those will also patronise the others, Piano bar has bright yellow seats but seemed quite well attended as we passed. Disco was dark when we saw it & told by a younger person there were no teenagers on board & was quite “dead”. Sports bar is open to casino at front with a secluded quiet area behind. It & the cabin TV show ESPN sports network in Europe, adverts & links are in Spanish but commentaries of some sports are in English. A lot of soccer (the only true football) shown & there will be a lot more of it this summer with European championships being played! Queens lounge is the final public room on deck 2, designed as a meeting, film, cabaret room it has a flat floor with some armchairs & a slightly raised seating area at back all in orange. There is only a curtain to separate it from rear walkway, not very satisfactory for films & we never heard of any cabaret being performed there. Bottom level of atrium has shore excursion desk, a small bar & the front desk. The front desk was very busy as office backroom had not got into gear on this first cruise. Big queues when preliminary bills were posted, we were charged for someone else’s wine in d/r & despite having it confirmed that it would be deducted had to queue in an even longer queue on disembarkation morning to get it finally deleted. Final morning was chaos with very long queues & some irate people. Now it did seem to us that with a total of 10 small bar’s, there were about 2/3 to many & the new policy of adding 15% service charge to drinks did lead to staff being round every few moments asking if you required another drink. Talking of service charges, we were quite happy with the $10 per day added to bill for tips but some did claim that they had not been notified & had been told by TA when booking that tips were included. General décor in the passageways was good & so was the art work, lots of pictures of old ships & some ship models as well as sculptures. Ship is well provided with elevators, 14 being the total & the elevator doors were quite decorative. However we are concerned that the dark blue carpet on the stairwells will cause a lot of twisted ankles or worse. It is so easy to miss a step particularly the first or last, I did it 3 times & others complained as well. The Cabin….We were in a BA grade midships on deck 5 very convenient for either the central or forward elevators. First impression on opening the door was that it is cramped! Entrance was narrow between the closet & bathroom. Liked the quality of furnishing & décor but this was a 3 berth cabin & consequently had a large sofa bed that was much larger than a normal ship sofa. Two lockers over that with top hung doors that provided extra storage (told not in a standard 2 berth) but hinges of ours did not hold door up & you were liable to be hit on the head when open in fact mid cruise one door fell of it’s hinge completely but fixed by carpenter. Dressing table had a large TV that swivelled on it, plus the tray with ice bucket & glasses & the “illuminated mirror” so not much room there, underneath was the mini bar & a triangular cupboard with hair dryer (good) & wine glasses in so no storage there. A round seat was awkward to pull out or push in under the dressing table, there was also a small armchair, so with the large bed, not much room to move around without moving something else! In fact we had to move the bed over a few inches to stop bumping into the closet on way to bathroom. There is also a curtain across the room to separate the two areas if 3 are using it, I would recommend 2 persons avoid the 3 berth cabins if possible as without the extra fittings for 3rd person they should feel larger. The UK brochure say’s these cabins should be 241 sq ft i/c balcony, the balcony was exactly 41 sq ft furnished with 2 plastic chairs in a rattan style with a small “footrest” that we also used for drinks but door could not be opened with that on deck area, it had to be with two legs in the water gutter & therefore on a slope. The balcony door is open type on a strong spring not a sliding door but hanging on the waste bin is a plastic recycled paper holder that if put in the door opening with the “hook” against the door jamb is sufficient to hold the door open for fresh air. We could not measure the cabin at any more than 193sq ft right into balcony doorway, but as we said it did feel smaller than that. The beds are very comfortable, HAL’s publicity says they are “eurotop mattresses” now on last day after beds were stripped we could see the brand name & they were “Sealy posturepaedic europlush” we will be investigating how to obtain those for our own home. Bathroom did not have a lot of storage, just a small cabinet & a large shelf under basin. Bath had a flat bottom, very useful for those of us who prefer to shower, there were also good grab rails. Towels & linen were gorgeous. Water was always hot & consistent. Mini bar prices are about the same as the bars & + 15% service charge. We ordered a bottle of branded spirit from room service for 25$ + 15% & this was delivered promptly, however our morning coffee order sometimes was either 15 mins early or late from the time slot requested, they also did not phone before delivery as we have had on other ships. Food & Service….We thought the food was very good overall, liked the food in Lido buffet but then we never look at “cooked” traditional breakfasts (no one can do sausage bacon eggs as we do in UK) usually fruit, yoghurt & an omelette (10 fillings available) or scrambled egg + smoked salmon- my favourite. Salads & the carvery for lunch with a dessert. Look out for the ice cream station next to desserts & check out which one has the banana & cherry liquor available to put on ice cream, not every day & not both stations! The salad bar, Italian & Deli stations were open all afternoon as was taco bar & hamburgers etc. The Lido also had a casual dinner at night but we never saw that. As rather expected service was slow first night in dining room, we left at 8.30 as late sitting were hoping to sit down, but it improved after that. Busboy’s now fetch the orders & waiter serves & it seemed to us that asst Maitre’D really had to work keeping things going, he sometimes cleared plates & most of time it was he who topped up water glasses. They still have the yum yum man at d/r exit but by time we were out there he had usually run out of the ginger. Food in d/r was good without being outstanding, thought some dishes could have done with a bit more flavour e.g. lamb shanks tender but have had tastier on British Airways! Also slightly disappointed by red snapper & also Dover Sole on Dutch night. On other hand surf & turf , Halibut & all beef were very good. We consider we ate very well of the things we like & were pleased to find on arrival home that we were still same weight as when we left. We had the 6.15 sitting in lower level of d/r, this did mean Baked Alaska parade was done to suit the upper level who had started at 5.45pm & therefore while we were still on the salad course. Talking of Baked Alaska, all cruise ships now serve a concoction that is just a sweet goo that has been blasted with a blow torch & has no relation to a real baked Alaska covered with meringue that has been in a hot oven, not for us but some think it great!! After asking if there was an alternative, had to wait until a menu was produced that only had ice cream based products on it. Our table was upset that a Californian winemaker who had brought some of his wine for the table to try was charged not only a $15 corkage fee but 15% service charge on top to make $17.25, not on in our opinion & no more wine was brought to table! Who goes….The ship was not full, approx 50 cabins empty, with only 4 of the top end suites occupied. Americans may just have been in majority but a large number from Canada with substantial numbers from Far East & also a large party from Russia, a sign of the times perhaps! Rest made up from all over Europe & a good number from UK. Some younger children from Europe but none from UK or America, no teenagers that we saw. http://community.webshots.com/user/ericy102

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By Paul_CR

  • New

Nov 30, -0001

Western Caribbean

This was our first cruise with HAL . We were told there would be a free shuttle from the FLL airport but found it to be running infrequently so took a cab for the short ride to the port. With tip, it was $20 for the 2 of us. I recommend taking the cab back as the ship charges $17 each and you have to go by their schedule. Getting on the ship was easy and we got there early and were lead up a back way to a small waiting area that was first to board.

The ship is rather closed in and is definitely showing it's age. The atrium area is only 2 decks high and halls feel like dark passages. Being in our early 50's we immediately felt like the youngsters of the group. The overall feel of the ship is quiet restfulness. Very few announcements or activities - you won't find any hairy leg contests here! The good thing is you won't find people with buckets of beer at 10 in the morning either. This isn't the ship where you'll make a lot of new friends either, as most of the guests have cruised so many times they're way past the 'hi - we're are you from' conversations. Overall it was a very relaxing week - Hey! we were cruising - and that's always a good thing!! Probably the best food we've had overall. We ate in the Pinnacle one night for the extra $20 per person - completely worth the money. The main dining room was very crowded as my chair was bumping against everyone elses. One formal night they put chair covers on the chairs that looked like they had been bundled up in a hamper somewhere - looked terrible. I use the same covers for catered events at work and would never consider putting out something as wrinkled. The servers were order takers and did very little interacting with us - until the day before the last day when they know it's tip time - which has gone to $11/day per person now. Clean - lacked drawers for clothes - had to use shelves in the closet. The lighting over the vanity was inadequate. Actually had a tub in the room which we never had in only a window cabin before. The shows were geared for older folks - had a vantrilaquist and this guy who was a cross between Wayne Newton and Tom Jones. The opening show is like a bad game show but they did have one production show and the featured singers are all good vocalists. The cruise director is all business and interacts very little with you throughout the week. It was a nice week but we're really not ready for such a snoozer of a cruise. After months of anticipation it was a bit of a let down in some ways but we love cruising and it was great just to be doing it and not at work. The food was good, the casino was old and small, the ship was easy to navigate but seemed dark and closed in. Most of the passengers were older and had no interest in socializing. We told our 27 year old son (who was very unhappy he couldn't go with us) that he probably would have been bored as the entertainment died out by 10 PM and there were very few young women on board. We enjoyed not being bombarded with announcements every 20 minutes or dealing with the party crowd. We'll probably go back to Royal Carib for a while as it has a nice balance of elegance and activities for us.

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  • New

Nov 30, -0001

Eastern Caribbean

Overall cruise experience was disappointing. I had high expectations for HAL and was very much disappointed. The cabins are small, the lido buffet closes early, no trays to carry your food and no lemonade or fruit punch dispensers, and the biggest negative our cabin was not cleaned on two nights and we only got the animal towels one night. We think our cabin steward either missed the ship at Grand Turk or he was fired or quit because our cabin was

never taken care of after that stop. Holland America needs to take tips from Carnival on how to treat the guests. Would not travel with HAL again. The food was great in the main dining room but a very limited menu as compared to other ships I have been on. The Lido Deck buffet could really be improved. It closes early and they do not have trays so you can carry your food and if you take your plated to a table and leave it to go get a drink it probably will not be there when you get back. We used room service for every breakfast and it was just as ordered and always on time. We had a balcony cabin on the 8 deck and it was small when compared to other balcony cabins we have been in on other ships. The cabin was dirty and was in need of a very good cleaning. On the 3rd night of our cruise we took our showers and went to the main dining room and upon returning to our cabin it had not been cleaned and we didn't have fresh towels. I called the purser and someone was sent to put the towels in our room and that was it, no cleaning. On the last night the same thing happened but this time the purser desk did not answer the phone so I had to go find someone to get the towels. On the last night they normally put your suitcases on the bed and put the mat on the bed to lay them on, but not on this cruise we had to get our luggage from under the bed and do everything ourselves. Because we went to the late show and I had to find towels and everything else that goes with the last night our luggage was late being placed outside but it was picked up. We enjoyed the two Vegas style shows but the other nights were not very good. There is plenty to do onboard but it is mainly set up for seniors. I would guess the average age for the folks on this cruise was probably 70 years old. A lot of folks in wheelchairs and using oxygen tanks. We did not use any excursions. We got off at each port and found things to do on our own and had a very good time and didn't have to spend a lot. We went to Grand Turk which is very small and nothing much to do except the beach. Our second stop was Tortola and it is larger with a few more things to see. We did an island tour which was great and it allowed us to see what the island was really like. Our main port was St Martin which is typical cruise stop, crowded, hot and geared to shopping. We again did an island tour with a stop at a nude beach and a butterfly farm. The nude beach was a bunch of fat old men and no younger people. The butterfly farm is great because of all the different sizes and colors of the butterflies.

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