|Ship: HAL ms Westerdam
Dates: Sunday, January 6-11, 2002
Ports: Ft. Lauderdale, Nassau, Half Moon Cay, Key West
Sorry about the photos... PhotoPoint closed and took my pix with 'em. I'll fix 'em soon.
Prior to embarkation: We left early enough to allow for security delays at the airport, which was fortunate in that our car was stopped and inspected inside and out before we were allowed to enter the airport driveways. We checked our luggage and got our boarding passes at the curb, had breakfast, waited in the security line 4 minutes, and boarded the plane. Our connecting flight in Atlanta was delayed just 20 minutes due to illness and replacement of the co-pilot, but was otherwise painless. We landed in Ft. Lauderdale, found our luggage within 10 minutes, got a taxi immediately, had a 10 minute drive to the pier, dropped off our luggage and headed into the terminal. Plane to terminal took 20 minutes, and I strongly suggest a taxi ($13 total, one way) over the transfer bus ($18 per person, one way).
Embarkation: At the cruise terminal we waited 5 minutes for the security screen and 5 minutes in line for check-in where we showed identification and received our Ship IDs and boarding number (4). This boarding procedure was extremely well-organized... they have even moved the obligatory embarkation photo bottleneck to the doorway to the escalator before you go upstairs. Normally I would use this time to sign up for hair and spa appointments at the Steiner table, but that (and the wine selection table) was discontinued for security reasons that make little sense to me. In this particular terminal (29 I think) there was also no duty-free shop, and the only soft drink cooler (owned by a private company, who was not there) was locked. There seemed to be some confusion regarding the Bahamas immigration forms, and we all have many thanks to HAL terminal staffer Dave Chiras for straightening it all out. Taxi to boarding took 45 minutes. We boarded about noon, went to the Embarkation Luncheon, and found our luggage had already been delivered, so we took a nap to make up for lost sleep the night before.
Cabin: Our outside deluxe cabin, category CC, on the Main deck, amidships, was large and very comfortable. The two twin beds (up against the walls with two small nightstand and window in between) were curtained for privacy. The loveseat, 2 chairs and coffee table made a nice sitting area, and the mirror, dressing table, closets and drawers were very generous. The cabin seemed bigger than last time, because they replaced the sofa with a loveseat. Two feet makes a big difference! Luggage was stored under the beds. The bathroom was large enough for two, and had a shelf for personal accessories. Air conditioning was ample and easily controlled and we could hear nothing from the hall or adjacent cabins.
Ship facilities: In general, beautifully decorated with fine art and fresh flowers.
Deck & Pools: There were many deck chairs available in the sun almost everywhere. The weather was cool this week, so there were more than usual available, but I know from experience that deck chair availability on this ship is not usually a problem. The Verandah pool, with its retractable roof, was more a place for lounging, eating and visiting, whereas the Lido pool (Caribbean steel band here) was more for sunworshippers like me. Both pools were spacious and easy to access. I prefer the Lido pool for the sound of the ocean and the band. The temperatures ranged from 60-68 during the day, so we weren't out there too long.
Spa: This Steiner Spa is small and very oddly configured. Services include:
Dining Room : The Amsterdam Dining Room is spacious and attractive, offering a variety of seating arrangements. A variety of courses was available (including steaks, prime ribs and double lobster tails); the food and service in the the main seating non-smoking section were very good..
Buffets: Both the Verandah and Lido Restaurants served meals cafeteria-style, which is not as elegant as your classic buffets, but the variety and quality of the food (and lots o' lox and salmon in other shapes and forms) makes up for it. There is so much food on the buffet (they both have the exact menus), that the menus are posted at the beginning of the line, so you have a few minutes to decide while you're waiting. I like to run ahead and peek while Jim holds our place in line.
Admiral's Lounge Showroom: Seating is more than adequate, with a good view for everyone, even in the Admiral’s Terrace (showroom balcony). Here there are a few obstructed views, but nothing bad. Overall, the entertainment was pretty good.
Movie Theater: Movies shown were:
TV: Cabin TV movies included:
Laundry Service: Not including dry cleaning, for $45 you can have laundry service for up to 100 pieces; for $30 you can have unlimited pressing only. You must sign up for this service the first day.
Shops: There was one for clothing and souvenirs, one for jewelry and perfumes/cosmetics and a duty-free shop. All were adequately stocked and offered good values.
WebSite: Unlimited time 24-hour internet access is available... sorry I didn't get the rates. Children can be blocked from this service if desired.
Casino: Lots of slots, blackjack and 21, roulette and one crap table. None of the tables seemed crowded, except for a short time when the late show is over. I doubled my money at craps, and Jim won the slots tournament and did pretty good at cards, so we really enjoyed the casino this time!
Ship Activities: Each day we received a Daily Program (not as extensive as in the past) listing all planned activities, meals, movies, etc. This is most helpful when there is so much to do! CNN brought us up to date on the real world. We had two whole days at sea (due to one skipped port) with plenty to do...or not. Production shows (the comedian Jack Wilkes was very good... we didn't see the singing Thomas Brothers), bingo (although pricey), volleyball, ping pong, basketball, water games, newlywed game, Pictionary, Scattergories, The Match Game, dance lessons, gambling, dancing, even daily AA meetings are available to fill your time.
Excursions: We did not attend the Shore Excursion Manager's talk the first day regarding available port activities. There were 54 shore excursions on the list--plenty from which to choose.
Staff: Daniel Gomez, our Cruise Director, was OK. We only saw her introducing the shows and once at the Moose March. That may not have been her fault, though, because we didn't participate in activities as much as usual.
Su, our cabin steward, was OK. Since we slept in on three mornings, he didn't clean the cabin until we were at dinner on those days. I thought he would slip in sometime in the afternoon, but he apparently had many cabins to clean and didn't have time or was off duty. He filled the ice bucket and kept our cabin neat and clean the rest of the time.
Yada, our waiter, and Anif, his assistant, were attentive and always remembered our names and our beverage preferences.
YooHoo, our wine steward, was the best of all. Our gift wine was chilled and waiting at our table every night. He was not the least bit snooty, not even when he opened our dealcoholized wine (one bottle had a screw top). He remembered drink orders for the whole table and we rarely had to wait for refills. We also saw him at the casino and lounges, and he always recognized us and brought our drinks quickly. Big tip.
Buffet staff: Servers were most competent and helpful (one even chased me down with a serving of salmon). The busboys, however, stood around a lot talking, and left dirty dishes on tables for a long time. Several times I had to sit at a dirty table and find someone to clear it.
Passengers: Average age looked to be about 50. I don't know if the ship was full or not, but there were only a dozen or so children and a few infants... either that, or they kept them hidden very, very well.
Motion: The stabilizers made the entire trip smooth and
The slightly perceptible motion was just enough to rock you to sleep at
You can skip this section if you don't care how we didn't do anything. We decided this would be a restful cruise and we would not have to adhere to our usual excursion schedule. We traveled without our usual cruising buddies, and were able to sleep, eat and use the spa facilities as much as we cared to. We spent as much at the spa as we would have on side trips.
Nassau: We considered the Atlantis tour, but decided to just hit the new straw market (which is just like the old straw market) and return for another nap. Whatever you do, take small bills and change so you don't end up with a pocketful of Bahamian Whatevers.
Half Moon Cay: This is an outstanding island... beautiful clean beach and water, nice protected dining area, little shopping area, bar and ice cream bar. Tendering takes only a few minutes and if you're the only ship at the island, there are a great many things to do (or not do). We thought about reserving our usual raft, but the weather was too cold and, as it was too choppy to tender, the ship didn't stop there anyway. That's really a shame, since it would have been the high point of our cruise.
Key West: This was the warmest day yet (about 68º) and as many passengers chose to go ashore after two days at sea, we stretched out on chaises by the aft pool and got some sun (faces only... pretty windy).
Disembarkation: We had received luggage tags and disembarkation numbers (we got #4) the previous night. This very well organized colored tag system moves passengers in shifts to avoid crowding. We had our coffee, pastries and fruit delivered to our cabin, as usual. At 9:00 we moved up to the Queens Lounge, just as they were calling the first numbers (1,2,3,17,24). We were in the next group to go at about 9:10. We handed in our immigration form, found our luggage and were in a taxi by 9:30. By 9:45 we left our luggage at a special area for the Westerdam (no wait), went upstairs for boarding passes (5 minute wait) and went through security (10 minutes... would have been less, but Jim had to be inspected). I really feel, from the few people I talked to, that those who took the busses had the longest or most congested waits at the airport. We arrived in a cab, no crowd, and it took just minutes. That's it! We were able to have a snack before boarding, but in all the times we have gone through that terminal, we have never gotten a decent-tasting snack from any of the places we tried. I recommend a full breakfast that day.
This was our seventh cruise, but the first one alone. We really enjoyed the rest. The ship is in beautiful shape, and has all kinds of little private spots. The crew was friendly, for the most part, and most seemed to be eager to serve.
Among the missing: