For sentimental reasons (my husband and I spent our honeymoon on old Volendam, we spent birthdays and anniversaries on HAL ships), Holland America has always been our second favorite cruise line. (Home Lines, where I met hubby, will always be #1, for obvious reasons.)After returning from the Thanksgiving 2006 cruise on Westerdam, I can honestly say that HAL and Westerdam are two separate entities which, other than the great crew, have nothing else in common.
Our SA category cabin was spacious, immaculate, and Uman, our steward, always had us laughing with his towel animals, especially the monkey hanging from the lamp. He kept us in toiletries and plenty of towels. Because of our superior cabin, we had access to the Neptune Lounge where we could eat, drink, play games and read magazines until 8:30 pm. Renchel and Michelle, who staffed the lounge, were very professional, making appointments for the Pinnacle Grill for other passengers (we had already made them for our cruise pre-cruise), scheduling shore excursions, and all around general help.
The weather on the first, sixth and seventh day was sunny and warm, but the rest of the time saw rain, overcast skies, and dampness. Our shore excursions on Grand Turk and Cayman Islands was cancelled and we managed to secure anchorage in another area of Grand Cayman (not in Georgetown) while four other ships were turned away.
The ship's decor was not as luxurious as on other HAL ships and it seems that colors were combined at the last minute with no thought to color coordination. The public areas were, however, spotless and filled with those famous flower arrangements we have come to expect from Holland America.
The crew staff was, as one would expect on HAL ships, smiling, friendly, and very helpful. We renewed acquaintances with many old crew friends on board throughout the ship. I will note that we (along with a few other passengers) found the captain to be smug and arrogant (we went away patting ourselves on the back whenever he came on the PA system, saying to ourselves, "Am I not great or what?" My husband earned his bronze medallion on this cruise, while I have a red pin under my belt, so you can tell we have traveled with HAL before. In fact, we took trips on the Zuiderdam last Thanksgiving and on the Zandam over New Years.
We prepaid for five evenings, our travel agent gave us one evening, and we were going to pay for Thanksgiving (holiday eating arrangements must be made on board) but as events will unfold below, HAL footed the bill for that night. The Pinnacle Grill on board the Westerdam was the worst specialty restaurant we have ever eaten in. Marcus, the chef, is a 26 year old stressed young man (crew comment, not ours), while Peter, the Maitre'd, does nothing but walk the floor, ask how your day was, and look pretty. The food varied every night, and nightly with each course. Sometimes it was perfect (looking and tasting the way it did on the other two ships), sometimes it was cold, luke warm, burnt, and missed some ingredients, and other parts of the meal, as a matter of fact. My husband's diver scallops had the leeks marmalade, but lacked the jasmine rice and seared vegetables. He kiddingly asked our waiter if the shrimp scampi came with shrimp one evening.
My Fragrant Chicken Thai soup was burnt and lukewarm one evening and my husband's button mushrooms cold. The second night, my seasonal greens salad was completely wilted over an extremely spicy salad dressing (cider vinegar) and I had to eat bread to rid my palate of the taste. This preceded the veal chop which was all fat and gristle, again, luke warm. I had two bites of this and it went the same way as the salad. Luckily, I filled up on bread and by that time, was (fed up) not hungry. Peter did absolutely nothing, while our outstanding waiters, Imam and Amelia were very apologetic, and trying to make up for our bad experiences. They got worse. On the first night, I had chicken marsala which lacked raisins and hazelnuts and three nights later, had the same dish again, with the raisins and hazelnuts suddenly appearing. Marcus, who finally appeared after our third evening, said that he had no control over what was printed on the menu, that he could only work with his ingredients. I said if that was the case, change the menu. I also said that he could control how things came out: hot/cold/lukewarm. That was a no-brainer.
Food was good the next two nights but again turned bad once again. They ran out of things (watermelon sorbet, porterhouse steak, butternut squash-apple soup) only to have them appear the next night or in the Lido Restaurant for lunch. (Were we sleeping when the helicopter came on board to deliver new supplies? Hello!)We complained and scheduled an appointment to meet with Mr. Case, the Culinary Top Man in control here, which saw us in the middle of the Neptune Lounge (with people coming and going, listening to us) with no regards to privacy whatsoever. He kept looking at his phone as opposed to us, with such an incredible look on his face that we were making these things up. He would get to the bottom of this, he said. That was the last we heard from him. I wrote up some things which were (supposedly) presented to the hotel manager and you got it, never heard a word from him, either.
Our last evening, the beverage manager came to our table (I had to ask who he was as he never introduced himself to us) wherein he gave us free "designer bottled water" even though we already had opened bottled water in glasses, gave us, compliments of Mr. Case, a bottle of Austrian wine (which we took home as we had opened Dom Perignon and were drinking that at the time) and also gave us a bottle of Muscat dessert wine (which we did open and drank with dessert). I thanked him but told him it was too little, too late. They should have done something for us when we complained the second/third night, not the last night.
The morale of the story is this: when you pay $5000 for a cabin, $2000 for your wine bill (Dom Perignon four nights, Opus One two evenings and Far Niente another night), when you take three HAL cruises in the same ball park monetary figures within one year, when you are constant repeaters as we are, they, like Dean Witter, should listen. Having already eaten in two other Pinnacle Grill restaurants, we know what things look like, how they should be presented, what they should taste like. HAL should have done the right thing in order to keep their passengers happy, but they did not. Our next three cruises in 07 (March, May and November) will be with RCL. As the old adage says, "I can spend my money anywhere." P.S. I also wrote a review on Celebrity Century, so I do not always complain about ships!