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Age: 66


Number of Cruises: 20

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Westerdam

Sailing Date: April 25th, 2004

Itinerary: 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.

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