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mhshapiro

Review of Ft. Lauderdale to Rome Cruise on Westerdam

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We are just back from our 15-day cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to Rome on Westerdam. While on the cruise I posted a running description of our activities, but this is intended to be a more retrospective review of the cruise and the ship.

 

Embarkation: The ship had just come out of a 10-day wet dock so embarkation was a breeze. We were checked in and on the ship in under 15 minutes.

 

Disembarkation: Almost as smooth. HAL's new policy of letting passengers wait in their cabins until their color/number is called is much appreciated.

 

We were in a standard verandah cabin (5088). The cabin was reasonably comfortable, but the layout was not very efficient. While there was adequate storage space, the lack of drawers made organization a bit of a challenge. The bed is really high off the floor. This makes it possible to store even a large suitcase under the bed. The bed itself was comfortable but both my wife and I would have preferred pillows that were not so overstuffed. Temperature control in the cabin was at times a challenge (either too warm or too cool). The hair dryer and vanity mirror are located in the main part of the cabin rather than in the bathroom, which seemed a bit strange. The TV was large, but took up most of the desk.

 

The ship itself is quite beautiful. There is artwork of various kinds throughout the ship, most of which is quite good. I spent several hours during our sea days photographing some of the more interesting pieces. If you are on Westerdam I highly recommend taking the time to view the artwork.

 

The ship also rode well. We had a lot of sea days on the open ocean on this trip, and the sea state technically was "rough" on a few of those days, but Westerdam took it well in stride with no really bad motion. We didn't come close to needing the Bonine on this trip.

 

We had early, early dining (5:45 upper). We would have preferred the 6:15 sitting, but this was made up for by a very interesting table. The other three couples at the table all were in their eighties, but were lively and sharp. So our dinner conversations were fun.

 

Some other posts had suggested that the Westerdam dining room food was not very good. However, we did not find this to be the case. Overall I would rate the dining room food as "very good" (it's not in the same class as Crystal, which we have sailed on frequently, but nevertheless quite good). Our table consumed something like 115 diners in total on the cruise, and out of that there were only two or three complaints about something not being done right or not tasty. The only drawback from my point of view was the lack of a "light" (low sodium, low fat) choice on the menu.

 

We ate once at the Pinnacle Grill. The service was excellent, but we thought that the food was not enough different or better from the main dining room to be worth the $20 extra per person. The signature dishes in the Pinnacle are mostly steaks (including some very large cuts); however, my wife (who ate more beef than I did) thought that the beef dishes served in the dining room were every bit as good. HAL might consider a more alternative menu for Pinnacle (French, Italian, Asian, etc.) to differentiate it more from the main dining room.

 

The Lido on Westerdam was excellent. There was lots of variety for both breakfast and lunch. Overall, I would rate the Lido operation on Westerdam to be one of the best I have seen.

 

The evening entertainment on Westerdam was quite good. Some of it was outstanding (see my other thread for details), and some of the daytime programs during sea days also was very good. I enjoyed the question and answer sessions with several of the ship's personnel in Queen's Lounge and the informal presentations by some of the entertainers there.

 

There were two destination lecturers on board. One, David Pasta, was a geologist who gave outstanding presentations on earthquakes, tsunamis, oil production, and global warming. I had a couple of interesting conversations with him at lunch. The other lecturer talked about American and European culture and art. He was not so good.

 

The Queen's Lounge is well-suited to these kinds of informal presentations; however, because of the semi-circular layout and low pitch it does not make a very good movie venue. While I didn't watch any movies on this trip, two of our tablemates did. They reported that you needed to get a seat in front to have a good view of the movie. On the other HAL ship that we have been on (Rotterdam VI) there is a separate movie theater. I think that on Westerdam that space has been taken up by an expanded shopping arcade.

 

The large shopping arcade seemed very tacky to me -- too much schlock merchandise for my taste.

 

The Westerdam was carrying close to 1800 passengers on this trip. With this relatively large number of pax, I was pleasantly surprised by the smoothness of the shore excursion operations both at tender ports and at ports where we docked. Except for our stop in Punta Delgado in the Azores, where all the tours returned to the ship at about the same time there were no long lines either to get off or back on the ship.

 

I used the gym fairly frequently, and found it to be quite good. The equipment is in good shape and there seemed to be enough of it to accommodate everyone with no waits. I did not take part in any of the organized gym activities (those cost extra), and there did not seem to be a genuine sports director on board. The basketball and tennis/volleyball court were not really usable for much of the cruise because of the wind conditions. On other ships I have sailed on these areas have been better sheltered.

 

Many of the pax on this cruise were frequent HAL cruisers (including our tablemates), and we did hear some grousing about the cutbacks in service and the "nickel and diming" that seems to be prevalent on HAL ships these days. It did seem to me that the crew was being worked very hard to keep up with everything, and that service in some areas was not as good as it could have been. Our dining room service was slow initially until one of our tablemates complained to the head waiter. It was better after that, but it was clear that our waiter and assistant waiter just had too many tables to cover.

 

Although I didn't experience it personally, we did hear from some pax that special requests generally were not being accommodated like they had been in the past.

 

We did get very good service from our cabin steward (Dani). He went out of his way to take care of our requests (usually tracking down laundry that had not been returned on time). Speaking of laundry, it would have been nice if HAL had included self-service laundry facilities on the Vista class ships. We used the $95 unlimited laundry option for the cruise. While I had no problems with this, my wife was not happy about a lost button and a damaged zipper on two items that went through the Westerdam laundry.

 

One thing we could have done without on this cruise were those annoying bingo announcements.

 

We have cruised mostly on Crystal ships where the level of service (and the cost) is much higher than on HAL ships, and it is not fair to compare the two because they aim at different markets. Taking that into account, I gave the cruise an overall B+ rating. My wife, who cruises more than I do and who likes to be pampered, was not so charitable in her rating.

 

I took a few hundred pictures on this cruise. I should have the best ones up on Webshots in a few days.

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mhshapiro

We have thoroughly enjoyed your reports from sea. Thanks for an excellent review. We will be on the Westerdam in July for a Baltic sea cruise, our first on a HAL ship. Overall, it would seem that we have a lot to look forward to. We were considering a Pinnacle Grill reservation for a night when our excursion won't get us back to the ship until after our main dining room 6:15 dinner time. Maybe we will just go with the Lido instead. There will be three generations of our family on this cruise, ranging from mid twenties to early eighties, so we are hoping that the "youngsters" don't find the demographics too exagerated upward for their comfort. We are glad your experience was a mostly positive one.

Ginny

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Mark, who was your captain? (I'm looking for Capt. Dirk van den Berg - the one with the "watch the finger") Thanks!

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Dear Seadrifter,

 

On the day when many of the tours got back after the normal early dining hours, there was a BBQ on Lido deck as well as the regular Lido service. So you may have that additional dining opportunity (there never is a shortage of dining opportunities on a cruise ship).

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Dear Copper10-8,

 

We didn't get to any of the Captain's parties, so I can't remember his full name. But it was not van den Berg. His name started with a C.... as I recall.

 

Our cruise director was Jason Venner. He is only 25, but he really impressed me with his maturity and rapport with the entertainers. This really worked to the benefit of the pax, because we got quite a few "extras" beyond what was in the entertainers' contracts.

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Dear MHShapiro

 

Thanks for your info regarding late returns to the ship. Having cruised on Princess in the past, we are used to "anytime dining," which we find very convenient. Even on days where we are just enjoying being at sea, the ability to arrive at the dining room whenever we wish makes for a very relaxing cruise. The BBQ sounds interesting; we never had that option with Princess. Thanks again. -G.

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Our captain was affectionately called (by my cabin mate) Dr. Kevorkian. He is a long timer, Dutch, raised in Indonesia, and speaks both Indonesian and Dutch, not to mention English and probably several other languages. His management style is said to be old-style.

 

I noted my dissatisfaction about him in my cruise survey in that he only made one announcement the entire cruise and we only saw him at the Captain's reception and the Mariner's reception. Other than that, you'd never know there was a captain on board. That's my personal opinion, maybe others think that style is just fine.

 

I am going to be posting my own cruise review within a few days. I came home sick as a dog (we spent 2 extra days in Rome) and I'm barely feeling able to sit up for long periods. I think I just wore myself out. I also took GREAT photos of the cabanas at Half Moon Cay, so I'll get those posted as well.

 

--sherita

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Dear Sherita,

 

I hope you feel better very soon. I picked up a cold on the way home (two miserable flights from Rome to California), but I'm pretty much over it now.

 

I've been working on the pictures I took (over 300) trying to pick the best ones to post. Hope to have that done in a few days.

 

It was a little strange that we did not hear from the captain more, but on the other hand I did find that the cruise director (Jason Venner) did a great job of keeping everyone informed about what was going on during the cruise.

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You mentioned that your table consumed something like 115 "diners" during the cruise....Good grief, I didn't know HAL was into cannibalistic entrees.

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Ooops.... I must have still been jet-lagged when I wrote that!!!!

 

It was about 115 diNNers that were consumed, and I do have to say that almost all were very good to excellent in quality. One night one of my tablemates said that his fish was dry, and another night someone's steak wasn't exactly medium rare, and there might have been one other instance of something not being quite up to par. But I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food in the main dining room.

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Mark, I enjoyed the pictures. We are taking the reverse trip on the Westerdam in October following an 11 day tour of Italy. (We definitely will use the unlimited laundry on the ship). Thanks again for your postings. It has helped us look forward to the cruise.

 

Cheers

 

General Max

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