Westerdam Treks Eastern Caribbean with Grace
When it comes to length, Holland America's Westerdam wins in a long stretch over her seven running mates and most other cruise ships. That's because she literally was stretched in 1988, shortly after the former Homeric, the two-year-old pride of defunct Home Lines, was acquired and added to Holland America's expanding fleet.
To accomplish this, the ship was cut in half and a complete pre-constructed, 130-foot section was dropped in and connected to the two halves. This increased overall length to 798 feet and gross register tonnage to 53,872, and put her at the upper end of the midsize ship scale.
The addition meant more public space and scores of bright new cabins that matched the better-than-average size, convenience and comforts of the existing upscale accommodations. The mix of suites and (mostly) outside and inside units berth 1,495 (two per room), and are available in 21 categories. These include cabins with one or two additional beds plus a few that are wheelchair accessible. Many units also have been refurbished with twin beds convertible to queen-size, which seems to be particularly popular on seven-day Caribbean sailings.
One example of their roominess was our "C" category cabin on the ship's eastern Caribbean itinerary last November, which, though furnished with twin beds, sofa, several chairs and tables, vanity and sizable closets, still left ample space to move about. Fine herbal soaps and lotions, a (refilled daily) fruit basket and TV programming that includes satellite news feeds, several movies and onboard events, are among standard amenities.
The Westerdam's interiors refreshingly echo the classic look and feel of yore, when quiet elegance was the watchword. Combine that with the $1.5 million worth of museum-quality antiques and outstanding artworks spread throughout the vessel, and you vacation in a truly luxurious setting long typical of the Holland America experience.
Her longer length further allowed for almost all of the public rooms to flow conveniently along Promenade Deck, which simplifies getting arond. The main exceptions are the three restaurants, fully-equipped fitness center on Navigation Deck (you sign up here for the "Passport to Fitness" program to earn prizes) and the theatre on Sun deck, where fairly recent flicks, plush seats and free hot popcorn make for a couple of relaxing afternoon and evening hours.
On an easy stroll you can check out the main show lounge, five various-sized and themed lounges and bars, including a cozy sports bar that features big-screen ESPN programming; three dance floors; a beauty parlor; photo center; video game room and a jangling casino full of popular games. And the hospitality desk is near the middle, should you need information.
A peek into the far-forward Admiral's Showlounge will reveal a large and gracious balconied venue with predominately theatre-style seating and a large stage that most evenings showcases either great hoofers in uniquely choreographed production numbers, or seasoned specialty acts. One special treat that's fun for everyone is the energetic ethnic song and dance shows put on by the Indonesian or Filipnino crew.
The adjacent decorous and expansive Queen's room is where many of the more than 40 (active and passive) organized activities take place. Aerobics, beauty demonstrations, singalomgs, game shows, bingo, dance lessons, art auctions and a hootin' western night are among the numerous happenings.
Two cruise highlights are also staged here. One is the Sunday evening captain's welcome party. Dressup and glamour are the evening's watchwords and champagne and canapes are on the house. The other is the Mariner's Club party. On each sailing the 350 or more Holland America repeat passengers aboard are honored for their loyalty to the line, and those who have sailed in the thousands of miles are presented certificates and medallions by the captain, which they very proudly show off at each of these events.
When you reach the comfortable club-like Explorers Lounge, you're sure to be drawn in by the sweet, rich sounds of the Rosario Strings. A Holland America hallmark on each of its eight vessels, the room is a particular favorite for those who like to relax with a specialty coffee or liqueur, and be served delicious chocolates on a silver tray.
Speaking of chocolate, don't dare miss the "outrageous" Thursday afternoon Dutch Chocolate Extravaganza. No need to be a chocoholic to visually as well as literally fill-up from this irresistable display. And don't be bashful about taking some of your favorites to your cabin. A waiter will even wrap them. (On Monday afternoon at a Royal Dutch tea, more eye-catching gastronomic treats are laid out in the Amsterdam Dining Room.)
Fancy Rosenthal China and fine silver and stemware are standard table settings in this gracious dining room, where the highest quality food creations and extensive menus, currently created by internationally renowned Corporate Executive Chef Reiner Greubel, are a compelling reason for the line's continually rising popularity. Expanding "Light and Healthy" offerings and adding specialty classics to complement the line's long-standing continental menus are an ongoing process. Curious how all the food is handled? Go on an escorted kitchen tour.
Most passengers have breakfast and lunch at either the Lido or Verandah Restaurants, where the spreads, arguably the most extensive in the industry, include some 20 desserts. Ice cream and yogurt, toppings, a big bowl of raspberries or other fruit and cookies are also dished out at various hours during the day. Both restaurants front an outer deck full of chairs and lounges set around a pool. Verandah Deck is also the site of a fun evening Caribbean party. The food flows, music bounces, games bring laughs and the ice carvers evoke amazement.
According to repeat passengers, the Indonesian dining room staff and cabin stewards are a main reason why they return. "Warm, soft spoken, unusually courteous and highly service oriented" are universal comments. To a degree these are natural traits, but the staff is also well schooled at the line's training center.
The roundtrip itinerary from Ft. Lauderdale every Saturday includes two full relaxing sea days and calls at San Juan, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas (Virgin Islands), British-accented Nassau (Bahamas), and Holland America's new private Bahamian island, Half Moon Cay. A spate of excursions offer memorable experiences. On balance, it's a schedule that appeals to a spread of age groups, including families whose youngsters are carefully supervised in the Club Hal program.
Overall, the shipboard experience is more on the classy (not stuffy) side, and evening dress, other than on two formal nights, is informal or "elegantly" casual (meaning no grunge).
Standard Inside Cabin
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Jeannie and Bernie Block have been roaming the worldwide travel beat for nearly 30 years. Jeannie is widely recognized for her insight into the cruise industry. Her articles and reports have appeared in an array of publications such as Cruise Travel, Onboard Services, and Travel Agent magazines as well as newspapers throughout the United States.
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