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Cruise Neophyte

Westerdam - Expectations Exceeded

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A month or so ago, I posted a note asking for feedback on my expectations for our upcoming cruise. Several of you responded (thanks!) and the consensus was that we would be pleasantly surprised. On the whole, the consensus was right on.

The following is a recap of our expectations (from my original post) versus our experience:

 

Based on our research, we expect to:

 

  • Wait in line during embarkation – patience will be tested.

Experience: No line whatsoever as we were "gold starred" as a result of being in a suite. The non-suite line looked pretty long but seemed to be moving quickly.

 

  • Be harangued by photographers taking pictures we will not buy.

"Harangued" is the wrong word. The photographers were always around but weren't particularly annoying -- more comical than anything else. And we actually bought one of the dozen or so pictures they took!

 

  • Occupy a room that isn’t as big as it appears when photographed using a wide angle lens but is still larger than those offered by other cruise lines.

The suite was pretty big and the verandah was great. However, as one respondent noted, any space will start to feel a little cramped when you're sharing it with your 9- and 7-year old sons (that has nothing to do with HAL and everything to do with having kids).

 

  • Not be able to book a spa appointment for an “at sea” day.

Unfortunately, this was the case. My wife blames herself for waiting too late to make an appointment. My impression is that if she'd decided early on when and what she wanted to do, she'd have had better luck.

 

  • Eat food that is comparable to that served at a banquet in a good hotel – nice enough but not haute cuisine.

The food was better than expected! I was impressed with the quality and variety of food. The quantity of food was a little overwhelming -- I understand why people gain weight when cruising.

 

  • Be served by a waiter who is struggling to keep up with his 20 passengers and must rush service to ensure the food is served and the table turned in time for the second seating – nice guy but a little stressed out.

Our waiter (steward?) and his assistant were great. While they were very busy, they always seemed to make time to ask how our day had been. After the first evening, when one of my sons ordered chocolate milk, wine glasses with chocolate milk were waiting at the table at each meal (the boys really like our waiter!). The service was brisk but not rushed.

 

  • Be told that the restaurant has run out of the most traditional dishes – chicken and steak – by the fifth day.

This did not happen. In fact, we weren't aware of any shortages of anything.

 

  • Select wines that, while reasonably priced, are on a list that is underwhelming in its variety and quality.

The wine list was pretty good and the prices were very reasonable. There were also some higher end wines in the "bin end" selection that were fairly priced relative to what we would pay in a Toronto restaurant. The "purchase before 4 pm" 10% discount helped keep the total cost down to a level at or below what you would pay at a restaurant.

 

  • Watch entertainment that is of mixed quality (but then again, if you want Broadway, what are you doing on a cruise ship?).

The juggler was great. The magician was great. We went to one other "broadway musical"-type show that we left as the singing, costuming and choreography was OK but not great (I'm not a big fan of musical theatre so don't read too much into my criticism -- I'm sure others would love it)

 

  • Smell the occasional sewage-like odor (this has appeared in at least 3 reviews over the last year).

I don't claim to have any great understanding of plumbing or engineering but I think there must be some fundamental flaw in the venting or stack arrangement of the ship's "vacuum" toilets (the boys found the incredible sucking action quite entertaining). There was a noticable odour that wasn't overwhelming but always present when you stood next to the toilet. It's intensity changed over the week with no notable pattern (i.e., it wasn't necessarily worse after anyone had used the toilet). It wasn't a huge deal but now I know why there were so many postings on this topic.

 

  • Wait in line to disembark for a day trip (if we want to be first ashore, suggesting that it might make sense to wait to go ashore a little later in the day).

There wasn't a huge line and the baggage retreival process was pretty smooth.

 

  • Be in reasonably diverse company – if we include the crew in our definition of “company”. Otherwise, our company will be made up of mostly white, mostly “mature” (i.e., 50+), mostly middle- and upper-middle class people from all across America. We don’t expect to see a ton of kids (200 out of 1800 passengers?).

My kid guesstimate was right on. According to the concierge, there were about 200 kids on the ship. My demographic expectations were realized with the exception of the average age -- there were more 40 somethings aboard and fewer retirees than I had anticipated. Also, this cruise ship seemed to have more Canadians aboard than usual (?) - not a big deal for us as we're from Canada.

 

  • Become a little irritated at the “nickel and diming” that takes place in an attempt to make up revenue lost due to fare discounts. We’re aware of charges for booze, soft drinks (but not juice or milk?!?), use of spa facilities, bingo cards, internet access, phone usage, video games. . . what else?

We knew what we were getting into and I don't think we were "nickel and dimed". All in, including one shore excursion, one Pinnacle dinner, 4 passengers x 7 days worth of gratuities, one massage, various odds and ends from the ship store, 7 bottles of nice wine and more cocktails/beer than I should admit to, our end of cruise tab was about $1500 US.

 

 

A couple of other observations:

  • tendering was pretty easy (a little exciting in mildly choppy seas) and, again, having the "gold" suite card enabled us to skip any lines or waiting
  • the Neptune Lounge was great and the concierge really helped out
  • the staff was consistently helpful and great with the kids
  • if you can afford it, get a suite. The extra space, service, etc. are worth it.

We had a nice time; however, we don't expect to go on another cruise in the near future. After 7 days with 1800 other people in relatively tight quarters (I know, I know, it's a big ship), we felt a little like we were in an extremely luxurious prison. We went ashore every chance we got and that helped a little. In Grand Cayman, after we arrived with six (!) other cruise ships, we opted to rent a car for the day and drive as far away as humanly possible from the rest of our fellow cruisers (Georgetown felt like 5th Ave in NYC just before Christmas!). I guess we're just the kind of people who need our own space.

 

Thanks again to everyone who responded to my request for information. I hope my comments help other neophyte cruisers who might be wondering what to expect.

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What a helpful "comparison", especially for newbie cruisers (which I also was before our November cruise)! Expectations vs. reality. Thanks for a very thoughtful review.

Cheers

MarkB

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A good take on your experience. I especially like that while you appear to have enjoyed yourself you readily admit that cruising is just a once-in-a-long-while thing for you. My suggestion is to wait 10 years, then try it again without the kids.

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I am so glad HAL excided your expectations. I agree that it was a great cruise and many things did go quite smoothly. We too were in a suite and were there quite early to check in and were probably one of the first passengers on board. I am glad you had a good Dining Room Steward. Unfortunatly ours was very slow. I think over all HAL does a wonderful job with food the only down fall this cruise was the Surf and Turf night IMHO, other wise there was some wonderful dishes served and presentation was as good as always.

 

As far as feeling like being in crowds, I felt like the ship was empty half the time. This was the first time that everytime we went to the Lido we could find a nice table by the window with no problems. Most of the time we tried to figure out where everyone was especially sea days.:confused:

 

I agree any more with the Green House Spas it is getting harder and harder to get appointments especially for massages. I think their massage therapists have improved. I was able to get an appointment for the last sea day but ended up canceling due to getting a bad sunburn on my back and did not think a message was what I needed.

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What a nice review to help other first time cruisers. Thanks for sharing your cruise with us! :) Welcome Home!

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