My home away from home over the last couple of weeks has been the Holland America cruise ship Westerdam. The Westerdam is not a large ship by today’s standards, but it still has a population greater than each of the hometowns of my parents. With a little less than 2,000 passengers and 800 crew it is considered to be a medium-sized cruise ship.
New Things on the Westerdam
The Westerdam came out of dry dock after a refit in May of 2017 and has some new changes.
As appropriate with the Dutch heritage of Holland America, the Westerdam became the first ship in the Holland America fleet to include a new lounge on Deck 1 that is an extension of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. This area is decorated with prints from some of the famous works of art in the museum as well as two backlit video walls that cycle through thousands of pictures from the museum’s collection. More programs are being planned for hands-on art programs.
If you are looking for a quiet place on a busy ship then you might be interested in the Retreat which is a collection of cabanas on a Deck 11 sundeck that can be rented by the day or for an entire cruise. A single day’s rental for a day bed, two chaise lounges and bottle service starts at $45 per day on port days. There are 12-15 cabanas.
EXE Area in the Crow’s Nest
The old expeditions desk has been moved into the Deck 10 forward crow’s nest area. This means that you can book your tours and get shore excursion advice here, but in addition, they have expanded the kind of advice you can get on touring by yourself.
In addition to help from the staff, there is a library of resources and also two large table top flat screen touch displays where you can bring up some information on each port of call. Currently, that information is a bit sparse, about one paragraph for each of 4-5 highlights for the port. Often those highlights are not for the port city itself but for the nearby featured city (Seville for Cadiz, Rome for Livorno, etc).
Virtual Bridge in the Crow’s Nest
Also in the Crow’s Nest space are two transparent LCDs that display information on the current operation of the ship. How fast is the ship moving and in what direction, how fast are the propellers turning? Geeks, like me, should check it out.
Coming Soon there will be a new display with the ability to see where the other ships in the fleet are. I am not sure where that will be located, but probably either here in the Crow’s Nest or in the LCD panels on Deck 2 midship where you can currently see where the Westerdam is along its voyage.
Question of the Day in the Crow’s Nest
Just behind the Virtual Bridge, there is also a large LCD with a couple of kiosks that ask one question a day. All of the questions are location-based:
What country was the first stamp in your passport?
Where did you have your most adventurous meal?
You get an idea of how diverse the passengers are on your cruise. On the Mediterranean Cruise, I did from Barcelona to Rome in August, there were guests from 44 different countries as well as a great variety of ages.
America’s Test Kitchen
The Westerdam has a partnership with the TV show “America’s Test Kitchen” to bring culinary entertainment and education to the ship’s passengers. In the recent refit of the ship, that space was upgraded to make it a more inviting venue.
The ship’s program has 4 primary musical entertainment venues, including the main stage. All 4 can now be accessed on Deck 2 via the Music Walk. Starting in the bow of the ship they are:
The main stage is a two-story performance venue that can hold around 600 passengers. It is used for the evening stage shows by the Westerdam singers and dancers. It is also used for other performers like comedians and magicians. In the morning it is the primary meeting point for excursions. In the afternoon it is used for a daily movie and bingo.
Lincoln Center Stage
Most days a four-piece piano quartet from New York City’s Lincoln Center plays 3 times from afternoon to evening. Their repertoire is based on but not limited to classical music.
B.B. King’s All-Stars band
For blues, rock, soul and Motown music, visit the B.B. King’s All-Stars band which play in the same space used for America’s Test Kitchen during the day. If you are looking for music that makes you want to stand up and dance and a dance floor to strut your stuff, then this is your spot.
For music that you could have found on the Billboard charts, visit this venue to hear dueling pianists. Their last show of the day is usually a request show and is easily the most popular.
The Westerdam has 3 restaurant spaces but 7 different offerings, not counting room service.
The Main Dining Room
The main dining room is on deck 2 & 3 in the stern of the ship with large windows for a view. It is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and provides a daily changing menu, plus a small standard menu. The food and the waiter service are good. This is a slower less hurried space. I recommend the main dining room for dinner but it can also be a good option for breakfast or lunch on a day you have a bit more time.
The dress code for the Main Dining Room is smart casual. They recommend no jeans, shorts, or swimwear. This is not the restaurant to wear your “I’m with Stupid” T-shirt. So… leave stupid at home. Around one night a week is a Gala night, usually during a sea day, when the dress code is jacket and tie for men and a dress or nice slacks for women.
The Lido is located in the stern on Deck 9 and is a cafeteria service. There are 9 different stations with an array of food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
For breakfast, there are omelet stations. The cold cereal options are fairly limited but the hot options are good. The pastries are wonderful. The ship has 4 full-time pastry chefs.
For lunch and dinner, there are Asian options including sushi, Italian options including pasta and pizza, a great salad bar, really nice pre-made sandwiches, a carving station, specialty salads, hot specials, desserts, cookies, ice cream. Take at least one lap around before committing yourself. There are no trays and portions are a reasonable size… but you can always get more if you would like.
There are waiters in the Lido who can get you a cup of coffee or a glass of orange juice. If you sit in the same section, they may come to know you by name. I sat in Nada’s section on the starboard side.
Sitting for the Lido overflows to the center of the ship to the tables by the main pool as well as to the fantail, aft of the Lido dining room where you can be in the open air. Smoking is permitted on the fantail but is limited on most of the ship.
There is no dress code for the Lido so it is preferred by some people. I recommend at least trying the main dining room once at the beginning of the trip because I think the experience is superior.
On Deck 2 there is a 3rd dining room which is the Pinnacle Grill. Eating at the Pinnacle Grill is an additional cost while the main dining room, the Lido and even room service are included in the cost of the cruise. The Pinnacle has a primary menu most days but also is the location for two popup restaurants (Sal de Mer and De Librije) which happen around once per cruise.
The menu for the Pinnacle Grill features food from the Pacific Northwest of the United States and both the steaks and the seafood are quite good. This is, in my opinion, the best dining experience on the ship, not to take anything away from the options at the main dining room.
Sel de Mer
Around once per cruise, the Pinnacle Grill becomes the Rudi’s Sel de Mer (Sel de Mer means “sea salt”, in French), featuring a particularly seafood laden menu. While I am not a seafood eater, many of the other participants for the recent press trip I participated in found this to be their favorite night of the cruise.
The second pop-up restaurant in the Pinnacle Grill is based on the menu for a well-known Amsterdam restaurant. This pop-up did not receive as many high marks from our press group. The menu consists of 5 courses, each with a choice of one of two options. De Librije is trying to surprise you. They are experimenting more with food so you will find items like deconstructed Apple Pie or lobster covered with avocado. If your favorite magazine is Bon Appetite, then this might be the right dining experience for you. It wasn’t the right one for me.
Each night a corner of the Lido turns into a separate Italian restaurant with a collection of small plates, pastas, and main plates. The intention is that you would order family-style, but do what you prefer. This restaurant is also a separate cost but we quite enjoyed the experience.
Just outside the Lido and also for no additional cost is a small grill window that serves very good burgers, hot dogs and grilled chicken or mushroom sandwiches. There is also a taco bar set up just outside the Dive In. This was one of my favorite options for lunch. To my surprise, the crispy fries are better than most of the restaurants from home. You order at the window and get a pager. While you are waiting for your order, make yourself a taco.
Water, ice tea, coffee, and tea are available at meals for no additional charge. Soft drinks, specialty coffees, wine, beer, and specialty drinks can be purchased at one of the ship’s 8 bars. You can purchase a variety of beverage plans ahead of time or on the first day of the cruise from one of the bars.
I had a non-alcoholic beverage card which can be purchased for $25 but is worth $50. That was enough to keep me in Diet Coke for the rest of the trip.
All the bars will have happy hour specials like buy one drink and get the next for $2. You are allowed to bring on one bottle of wine per person per cruise without a corkage fee of $18. Some of the excursions to wineries will include an exception to that policy where the wine you purchase can be brought back on the boat without additional fees.
The Usual Suspects
While some things are new on the ship, much of the ship will be familiar to someone who has cruised on a mainline cruise ship.
As you would expect, the Westerdam has a casino that operates when the ship is at sea. It includes table games and slot machines.
Shops and Art
Westerdam has the usual complement of shops selling t-shirts, captains hats, and expensive jewelry. There are also art auctions. I like some of the art, but even if I were in an art-buying mood, it’s not why I cruise.
The Greenhouse Spa & Salon and Fitness Center
There is a spa, salon and a fitness center on Deck 9 forward of the pool.
I can’t tell you much about the spa or salon. I had a $100 credit and never used it, but I heard great things from my fellow passengers who could not understand why I wouldn’t get a massage, acupuncture or at least a haircut.
The fitness center is free, although there are also paid classes and consultations available. It is well equipped and I am sure that when I return home the scale will tell me I should have used it even more than I did.
What we found was that the spa was busier at the beginning of the cruise and offer more specials at the tail end of the cruise.
Holland America has a nice web app that you can get to using the shop’s wi-fi without purchasing internet access. You can use it to see more information on tours you have booked or book additional tours. You can book reservations for dining. You can also create a custom schedule by selecting which of the many activities you want to participate in. You can also book an internet package. The speed is still not what I would say is fast, but Holland America no longer charges by the minute or by the Mb of data, that that makes internet connection much more practical.
There are religious services, happy hours, trivia contests, bingo, AA meetings, bridge player meetups, port talks, and the usual array of activities. There is always something on the ship to hear, do, eat, or drink. If you run out of that, there are hours of movies and TV shows on your TV in your cabin and some live TV channels.
If you are sitting quietly reading a book, it’s because you want to sit quietly reading a book.
Jude Day, the Westedam’s Cruise Director says of the Westerdam specifically and Holland America in general, “The crew is our strength.” This was my 3rd Holland America cruise and I understand what she is saying. Fancy menus are nice, high tech displays are cool, but what makes a cruise ship really work is the tireless work of her crew. They work long hours and remain pleasant.
Much of the crew is from the Philippines and Indonesia. We learned on a galley tour that the most important supply on the ship is rice. Run out of that and the crew just might get grumpy. The 800 crew members consume 500 pounds of rice a day.
Day also said, although I cannot verify it, that “turnover with their crews is less than any other company.“
Holland America Westerdam is a good product and made even better by some of the recent changes.