This was our 20th cruise. Our most recent trips were on Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and Princess, so I've provided comparisons where I think they are appropriate.
Embarkation was very smooth. There was a shorter line for those who pre-filled the immigration forms on line and brought a printout than for those who did not. We missed the champagne welcome from Celebrity and escort to our cabin, although we had no trouble finding the cabin on our own.
Cabin. The new beds on the Westerdam are great - as good as Concierge Class on Celebrity. Lots of closet space, lots of hangars. Verandas are average size; we were with a group that had five cabins in a row and were especially pleased that part of the veranda dividers would open so we could freely move back and forth. We had bon voyage and farewell parties out there, and many nights "met" for a pre-dinner glass of wine.
The sewage odor we'd read about on the Zuiderdam is present on the Westerdam, especially outside the forward elevators and in the hallways. Some days we could smell it in the hall outside our cabin and on the veranda. The front desk was pretty rude when I went there to inquire about it ("an engineer is working on it," "don't know when it will be fixed," tone of voice implied "don't bother us, we're sick of hearing it"). They acted like this was the first cruise where it happened. It stated the second or third day and never went away!
Customer service is very poor. The front desk staff was rude. When we asked for a deck of cards, they said, "we're out of them." We weren't looking for anything for free, and they didn't tell us we could buy them in the casino for $1. There is no equivalent we could find to future cruise/Capt. Club manager, social hostess, etc. To book a future cruise, they ask you to call Seattle (free of charge) from your cabin. I tried once, but got tired of holding. I don't think I'll be back on HAL any time soon, anyway.
Public areas - Celebrity Century and Millennium classes beat HAL Vista class by a mile. Westerdam theater had lots of poles and places where it was hard to see. Theater is small and not very attractive. There is a round box on either side of the upper level that the comedian appropriately dubbed "ashtrays." Very few seats had tables to include drinks; seldom saw a bar waiter before the show anyway. The ship as a very small atrium. Didn't like the décor nearly as much as Celebrity's.
Dining room didn't have that open, expansive feeling you get on Celebrity ships or even older HAL ships. Service was the worst we've had. We didn't even have the same waiter and assistant every night! Dining room food was mediocre. Steaks and other entrees can't compare to Celebrity. Lobster tails were small and part of surf-and-turf. No one removed the meat from the tail for you like they do on Celebrity and there were no seconds available. Food was mostly bland and sometimes overcooked. Desserts were pretty good though.
Westerdam left a note in each cabin discouraging people from ordering room service breakfast on port days. Although they said there would be delays, our traveling companions found that some mornings breakfast was too early and once it didn't arrive at all! Room service was OK at other times of the day.
The best food was in the Lido buffet, which beats Celebrity, RCCL and Princess by a mile! Great variety and traffic flow. Separate areas for deli, oriental, Italian, salad bar, and regular lunch foods. At the pool, you could have burgers, hot dogs and taco bar. Liked the flambé desserts in the Explorer Lounge and the Chocolate buffet.
Entertainment was excellent, but schedules were all geared to early seating. Karaoke was well run, but always in the smaller lounge, which was firetrap - people standing in aisles, sitting on floor. This was inexcusable when finals were held at a time when main theater was empty! The Elton John impersonator and the illusionist/comedian were both exceptionally good. Cruise Director and staff did a nice job (it was Jason's last cruise on the Westerdam; assistant CD was promoted and Jason moved to Oosterdam).
The Steiner Spa is not as well laid out as on Celebrity (and on M-class, thalissotherapy pool is free!). However, Westerdam had great port day specials, including 50% off all services over $79. I've never seen such good specials before; guess the passengers weren't booking without incentives!
Shops are not as good - mote crowded and less selection - then on Celebrity. I didn't buy a thing on the Westerdam - a first!
Private island - loved Half Moon Cay and our pink cabana. Service was excellent. Our friends who did the stingray and horseback riding excursions on HMC were very pleased. Tendering went smoothly.
Disembarkation went very well. We loved the fact that we could wait in our cabins or on our verandas and weren't crammed into the lounges until our color was called.