Enjoy our newest cruise line ship review - Holland America and the ms Westerdam- written by Travel Team 360 contributor Gordon:
Holland America Line has a reputation for catering to an older demographic than most other cruise lines – a reputation that is not undeserved, but shouldn't put you off from cruising on their ships if you're not part of the older crowd. Holland America has by far the highest return passenger rate of any cruise line, so you'd have to expect that folks get older as they keep coming back. I took my first cruise on a Holland America ship when I was 11 years old – and have enjoyed every Holland America cruise I've taken in the 38 years since, so trust me when I say that Holland America caters to cruisers of all ages.
From their Club HAL on-board programs for the pre-teen crowd, to the activities in the teens-only space know as The Loft, to the team trivia contests, culinary arts programs, the digital workshops and other educational opportunities, movies, high-energy production shows, musical lounge performances, and on-board “Dancing With The Stars”, Holland America's ships provide something for everyone – and that's just on board ship. The excursions available at their ports of call range from athletic action adventures to historic and cultural learning experiences – you're bound to find something you'll enjoy no matter where your tastes in vacations run. They're not party ships, or “fun” ships – but you can certainly party and have fun on them, while at the same time enjoying the highest level of service, harking back to the line's historic roots in the classic age of ocean liners. Holland America's slogan is “A Signature of Excellence”, and that's certainly what you'll find on any of their cruises.
I recently returned from a seven-day Eastern Caribbean cruise on Holland America's ms Westerdam – one of their larger vessels, though at only 1,900 passengers, she's still only moderate-sized compared to the ships of other major cruise lines. The Westerdam's crew of 817 – Holland America maintains one of the highest crew-to-passenger ratios across their fleet, at approximately two crew members for every five passengers – provided the high level of service I always expect aboard HAL's 'dam ships. Cabin stewards who almost-magically maintain your stateroom without being seen unless you need them – and then miraculously appear when you do. Dining stewards who go out of their way to meet your every need – supported by a behind-the-scenes food preparation team that can provide for any dietary concern. Having a food allergy myself, and traveling with two friends, one of whom has several food allergies, this was an important factor in making this trip such a wonderful experience for us all. And needless to say, the food was fantastic – from the casual buffet in the Lido, to the service in the main dining room, to the specialty steak and seafood dining experience of the Pinnacle Grille.
The live music in the various bars and lounges – from the piano bar to the string duet Adagio to the up-tempo songs of the house band The HALcats to the world-class jazz musicians of the B.B. King Blues Club – provided a variety of quality sound to dance to, to sing along with, or just to chill out. Combined with the performances in the main lounge – from Broadway-quality song-and-dance productions to live comedy to the magic of illusionist Leon Etienne (from Season 8 of America's Got Talent) – there was always something wonderful to fill the evenings with entertainment.
Westerdam Lido Pool
And then there are the ports of call. The first stop after leaving Ft. Lauderdale was the island of Grand Turk, the capital of Turks and Caicos, believed to be one of the landing-spots of Christopher Columbus. A tiny jewel of an island, barely two miles wide at its widest by seven miles long at its longest, Grand Turk had its financial heyday as a major source of salt back before mechanical salt mining, and later served as a base for the retrieval of John Glenn's Friendship 7 space capsule. Long since overshadowed by the larger Caicos islands when it comes to the tourist trade, Grand Turk nonetheless is home to many beautiful beaches and quaint historic buildings.
Next up was the dual-flagged island of Saint Martin/Sint Maarten – one half ruled by France, and the other half by the Netherlands. A tour of the picturesque capitals on both sides – Marigot on the French side, and Philipsburg on the Dutch – quickly showed a common theme – colorful shopping! Whether it's clothing or jewelry or spices, brightly colored items were everywhere for sale! And in the natural spaces between the capitals, rich colors of flowers and grasses and trees and ocean abounded as well.
Of course, there are also the at-sea days, which are perfect for catching up on sleep, and relaxing at poolside – either at the mid-ship Lido pool or at the aft pool overlooking the back of the ship, with a gorgeous view of the ocean.
And finally, there was Half Moon Cay, Holland America's private island in the Bahamas. Whether you're into snorkeling, horseback riding, volleyball, downing a few cool ones at the bar, or just chilling out on a lounge chair, you'll never find a more beautiful beach than the one on Half Moon Cay. And of course the food and service there are every bit as excellent as on-board ship.
We returned to Ft. Lauderdale far too soon for my tastes, and it was time to return to the real world... but at least I knew the I'd already booked a fifteen-day Holland America land and sea adventure in Alaska and the Yukon for 2015, and would have that to look forward to!
To move, to breathe, to fly, to float To gain all while you give To roam the roads of lands remote To travel is to LIVE!
- H.C. Andersen
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