Before I get to the specifics of the Westerdam, I need to share something deeply disturbing that happened just prior to this cruise. But first, by way of necessary context and background for those who are new to my blog, you should know that I love cruising more than anything else in life (my dog would argue that I love him more based on the number of kisses he endures in a day, but I put him at a close second). You should also know that my kid, now ten, has been cruising regularly since he was an infant and will easily achieve platinum (or the equivalent loyalty status) on every cruise line before he turns 18. And he’s always loved it as much as I do. Well, almost.
But a few weeks prior to our sailing on the Westerdam he told me he didn’t want to go – he didn’t want to miss school. Upon hearing this my jaw detached from my face and fell all the way to China with enough force as to prompt fears of an attack by the United States, promoting WWIII: “Let me get this straight son, you’d rather go to school than go on a cruise?!?!” So I, pending a willing family coming forward to adopt him, was in the unprecedented position of trying to convince my kid that he was going to have fun. On a cruise! Stay tuned…
Anyway, to the Westerdam. Ms Westerdam was my third Vista class ship on Holland America, having previously sailed on the Zuiderdam and the Noordam and, to make a long story short (honestly, you could save yourself serious time and eye rolls if you just stopped reading at the next period) solidified my love for this class of ship and for Holland America in general.
ms Westerdam Ship Tour
Before I get to all the things I loved about the Westerdam and a few that I didn’t, here is a full ship tour (please subscribe to my YouTube channel so you don’t miss additional Westerdam and Holland America content):
Things I LOVED about ms Westerdam
Here are the many thing I loved about the Westerdam…
Ship Size and Layout
Ms Westerdam and I have two obvious things in common, our small stature and our outsized personalities. While that second one is somewhat subjective (be kind in the comments), there’s no doubt that ms Westerdam is on the small side for a cruise ship in the era of “bigger is better” and I’m on the small side for a full-grown adult woman (I enjoy ample leg room in coach class on airplanes and save money on clothes by shopping in the children’s department). And while there are some advantages to being a tiny human (I still get charged child prices at museums and amusement parks), there are advantages to smaller cruise ships too (even though every non-luxury cruise line is moving away from them). What, you ask? Fewer steps from one dining venue to another, for one. I am NOT on vacation to burn calories between my second breakfast and my mid-morning snack!
At 936 feet long, 82,500 gross tons, and able to accommodate 1,964 guests and 800 crew members, I found the Westerdam the perfect size! She was also extremely easy to navigate even though it still took me two days to locate the Crow’s Nest and 7 (out of 7) to head down the correct hallway for my stateroom coming off the elevator.
Outdoor Wraparound Promenade Deck
Wide, wraparound outdoor promenade decks are one of my favorite features of Vista class ships on Holland America and I spent my usual time each day on the Westerdam walking while listening to an audio book and scanning the horizon for wildlife and UFO’s (since I have a better track record of seeing those than the whales and dolphins every one else always sees that I NEVER do).
The main pool area on the Westerdam features a retractable roof for temperature control, keeping rain out of your giant frozen cocktail, and preventing the wind from turning deck chairs into projectiles (except when revenue is down in the medical center, then they leave it open). And it’s pretty cool to watch it open and close. Honestly, it was better than much of the entertainment in the main theater at night (we’ll get to that later).
Holland America is known for having beautiful fresh flowers onboard and I enjoyed them on the Westerdam. Even though I knew they were real, I still had to smell and touch them to confirm (with all the cuts happening across all cruise lines, I’m bracing myself for the day they smell like plastic and dust).
This was the first time I’d seen one of the newly retrofitted libraries on HAL and I LOVED it. So did Mr. Cruise, a man who can polish off an entire Stephen King novel in the time it takes me to watch one episode of Teen Mom. His packing list for a cruise looks like this: 5,000 books. If I want him to have clean underwear, deodorant, and something that won’t get us turned away from the dining room on formal night, I have to pack it for him. Seriously, he brings so many books that when they weigh his checked luggage before a flight, they charge him the going rate for an overweight bag AND whatever it costs to replace their scale.
While the whole world has fallen in love with pickleball, there are three groups left on earth who remain skeptical. Tennis courts, 10 year-olds who love playing basketball on Holland America ships, and the mothers of 10 year-olds who love playing basketball on Holland America ships. Can you imagine what it must be like to be a one of the few surviving tennis courts right now? It’s like being the rotary phone of racket sports. And as the mother of a son who used to do two things on HAL cruises, eat ice cream and play basketball, I wasn’t initially a fan of the new pickleball courts taking up time and real estate on the sports decks. You mean I can’t just send my kid up to play basketball while I fall asleep in the Crow’s Nest (see next section)? But we (occasionally) embrace change in our family and decided to give pickleball a try. And…we liked it! Not as much as ice cream and basketball (and school), but enough to give us one more cruise activity we can enjoy together as a family.
The Crow’s Nest, located on deck 10 at the very front of the ship offered the perfect spot to sip a cocktail while reading a novel. At least that was always my plan. In action it looked more like half a cocktail and a two hour nap. Every 20 minutes someone would poke me to complain of my snoring and I’d awaken to gaze out at the gorgeous, sweeping (and hypnotic) ocean views only to return to merry (and loud, as I was repeatedly told) slumber. My tip for the Crow’s Nest? Stick with espresso drinks (available at the bar) and a genre like romance or mystery/thriller. This is NOT the time to tackle Kant’s thesis of transcendental idealism.
There’s a full bar in the Crow’s Nest, plentiful seating, and a huge selection of board games and puzzles.
Elemis Bath Products
Those sailing in interior or obstructed oceanview cabins (as was our case) will enjoy the same high quality Elemis bath products, including separate conditioner, on the Westerdam as those in much more expensive cabin categories. My hair, used to my husband’s Head and Shoulders, was like, “finally I get to be pampered on vacation too!”
I love the towel animals and bed chocolates that were provided with our nightly turndown service. But I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why the animals weren’t just gobbling up the chocolates taunting them mere inches from their mouths. Well, duh, because they have no eyes! Seriously though, it’s these little touches that really set Holland America apart.
The overall quality of the food on Holland America is superior to every other non-luxury line in my opinion (which is generally questionable, but the food really is good) and our dining experience on the Westerdam was no exception. Here were some of my favorites…
Dive-In: Is it the Dive-In Sauce? The extra crispy fries? The numerous vegetarian options? The app-based ordering? Yes! All of that and more make Dive-In my favorite burger/dog joint at sea and I ate there every day on the Westerdam (sometimes for first lunch, sometimes for second lunch, and sometimes for snack fries). Hot top for Dive-In: As you’re getting back on the ship from port, open HAL’s Navigator App and place an order for Dive-In. By the time you drop your stuff off at your cabin your order will be prepared and waiting for you at the counter (the app will alert you when it’s ready). No lines!
Lunchtime Taco/Nacho Bar:
I affectionately refer to this one as “Qdoba at sea.” I say “affectionately” because Qdoba is my favorite land-based fast food restaurant. This complimentary taco/nacho bar, with an extensive selection of premium toppings, is located near the main Lido pool on the Westerdam and open for lunch. Unlike Qdoba and almost any other food option on the Westerdam, it’s self-serve, so you can construct your dream nacho tower and won’t have to keep asking for, “more cheese please!”
The yogurt bar located in the buffet at breakfast offered a delicious selection of yogurt, fruit purees, and toppings (nuts, seeds, dried and fresh fruit, oats). I made myself a custom yogurt parfait each morning after the gym as a pre-breakfast while I waited for my family to get ready. Now should that last sentence leave you with the impression that I’m healthy and disciplined on a cruise, well, keep reading before you accuse me of being completely nuts (see what I did there).
Hard Ice Cream at the Buffet: For those who read my review our of 16-day New Zealand sailing on the Noordam, you’ll recall that we finally settled an argument parents and children have been having for generations where the parent says, “you can’t survive on ice cream alone!” And the child says, “yes I can!” It turns out our kid was able to survive for 16 days on ice cream alone. Which also makes me wonder if he’s right about other things like that I’m soooooooo embarrassing when I wear ankle weights to the grocery store. Anyway my son, once again, loved the hard ice cream (available in chocolate, vanilla, a rotating daily flavor, and sugar free) on the Westerdam buffet. And if you’re wondering why I wear ankle weights to the grocery store, it’s because I loved the hard ice cream too and now find myself in the position of needing to melt some of it from my thighs before my next HAL cruise on the Zuiderdam in just a few days. #cruiseproblems
Beecher’s Mac ‘n Cheese: Even though I live two blocks from the Beecher’s flagship store in Pike Place Market and, should I get a craving for some mac n’ cheese, can walk over there in under five minutes where I’ll invariably hear from some tourists about how lucky I am to live so close, I love that Holland America ships offer Beecher’s mac n’ cheese and I order it everywhere it’s offered (regularly on the buffet at lunch and dinner and at lunch in the main dining room). And still, every single time, I say, “this is last meal worthy” and “this would have cost me $12.89 at home.”
Buffet Sushi: Let me apologize if those two words in sequence prompted a sudden episode of involuntary retching. The same thing happens to me when the words “raisin” and “cookie” appear in close proximity. But I assure you, the buffet sushi on the Westerdam was fresh and delicious and included at no extra cost. There are even vegetarian rolls available (you just have to ask).
Bread Pudding: Speaking of raisins, if Holland America would just start offering raisins as an optional add-in for their signature bread pudding with the necessary warning label “WILL ruin this otherwise perfect dish,” it might just surpass Carnival’s chocolate melting cake as the best included dessert at sea. It’s available at the dessert stations on the buffet (but you have to ask for it at the counter).
Fruit Crisps: But if I could, in good conscience, elevate a dessert that contains fruit to the position of best included dessert at sea, it would be the warm fruit crisps with vanilla ice cream offered at dinner in the dining room on the Westerdam. I can’t, I just can’t. But that didn’t stop me from ordering them every single night. While they all look identical in the approximately 2,000 photos I took of them, the flavor was different every night.
Dining Room Breakfast:
Continuing to give out food awards, if I had to choose my #1 favorite food-related feature of the Westerdam (and HAL in general), it would be the dining room breakfast. The menu is extensive, delicious, vegan friendly (with coconut yogurt and vegan eggs as recent additions), and has a large selection of international offerings you won’t find on any other line. We ate there every morning, ordering multiple items each, and still didn’t make it all the way through the menu. While I can think of many reasons to book a longer cruise, getting to sample all the delicious breakfast items is definitely among them. Here’s the menu if you haven’t sailed on HAL yet:
Itinerary Specific Features
While many cruise lines have shifted away from itinerary specific menus and programming (because it’s cheaper to standardize everything), on our Alaska itinerary onboard the Westerdam we experienced Alaska at port and onboard. “Alaska up Close” featured new Alaska-themed dining and beverage experiences (including cocktails prepared with real glacial ice), Alaska-focused EXC Talks, wildlife viewing and educational opportunities with an onboard naturalist, and locals brought onboard at several ports to offer presentations about local wildlife and native culture. Guests could even participate in “On Deck for a Cause: Alaska’s Parks,” a 5k fundraising walk to raise money for a nonprofit dedicated to Alaska conservation.
One of my family’s favorite activities onboard the Westerdam were the EXC multi-media lectures given by our cruise director. My 10-year-old even loved them (maybe because they reminded the weirdo of school?!?) They were highly engaging, well-written, fascinating, moving at times, and most of them, as mentioned above, were specific to our itinerary. Some of the topics included: The Iditarod, whales of Alaska, and pioneering women of Alaska.
Things I DIDN’T LOVE about ms Westerdam
Here are a few things that missed the mark for me on the Westerdam…
Evening Entertainment in the Main Theater
The Westerdam fell short when it came to nightly entertainment on the main stage. While I enjoyed the two performances I saw of the Step One Dance Company (Humanity and Move), they just don’t compare to the production shows on other lines.
And while the guest performers were fine (comedian Jose Sarduy and two performances from Major Fourth), there wasn’t enough variety of high quality entertainment offered (a few evenings movies were shown instead of live performances). Also…
No Lincoln Center Stage
I know, I know, Lincoln Center Stage has been gone for months and this wasn’t my first HAL cruise without it. And, sadly, this wasn’t my first cruise without seeing it on the main stage as was promised by HAL when they announced the elimination of the intimate nightly performances on the dedicated stage. But once again, we had no Lincoln Center Stage performance on the main stage during our sailing. Has anyone else seen these recently on other ships? Or should I just give up on them to avoid disappointment?
We did enjoy 3rd Avenue West, a trio comprised of a pianist, bass player, and guitarist who performed regularly in the Ocean Bar, but listening to music in a crowded bar area with people talking and walking through wasn’t an equivalent experience to Lincoln Center Stage.
No Waffle Cones
If my list of complaints strikes you as increasingly petty, you’re right. Honestly, it was challenging to come up with enough negative things to counter the possible accusation that I’m a HAL cheerleader (although if I were to become a cheerleader for a particular line, it would have to be HAL or NCL only because they have the shortest number of letters and require the least amount of lung capacity and fewest number of high kicks). But, unlike on every other HAL cruise we’ve been on, the Westerdam didn’t offer waffle cones for the buffet ice cream. Why does this matter? Because a waffle cone is a dessert in itself, not just a receptacle for the real dessert allowing me to more easily eat it with one hand en route to a table on which to deposit the three additional desserts in my other hand. With a cake cone I always contemplate whether I should eat it or just sacrifice the remaining ice cream in the bottom and get back in line for another two scoops (better make it three to account for the lost half a scoop trapped in edible cardboard).
We ate at both the steakhouse, Pinnacle Grill, and the Italian speciality restaurant, Canaletto, on the Westerdam and enjoyed them both (I especially appreciated having vegetarian options). However, because the quality of the MDR food was so high, I didn’t find the speciality restaurants a good value. Unless we have onboard credit to burn though (as we did in this case), we usually skip speciality dining on Holland America cruises.
Would I sail on ms Westerdam Again?
Yes, unequivocally yes! But the more salient question is, would my kid miss school to sail on her again? Shockingly, no. While he enjoyed numerous aspects of our cruise, if given the choice, he held firm that he’d still rather have been in school. Which proves to me that neither nature or nurture can explain this kid. A hospital swap is my only viable explanation at this point. Who out there has my real kid (who probably has no visible eyebrows and an overdeveloped sweet tooth) and can I please have him back before our next cruise? And with that…
Homework (10 points): Post to the comments any questions you may have about the Westerdam or share your own experience sailing on her.
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