Special by Dennis Cox
ABOARD the WESTERDAM – Our first day at sea is an opportunity to investigate the ship’s similarities and differences with its sister ship, the Zuiderdam, that I wrote about last year for All Things Cruise.
One of Holland America’s four Vista class ships, the Westerdam, like the Zuiderdam, carries 1916 passengers and 800 officers and crew. It is also similar in many respects to the 2,137-passenger Signature class Eurodam, our verandah stateroom being one, which I previously wrote about for All Things Cruise in 2015. There are few notable differences to the Zuiderdam that I discovered. One that I noticed immediately is that the Westerdam has one fewer specialty restaurants than the other ships.
The main Rembrandt Dining Room is just Dining Room on the Westerdam. And the Zuiderdam’s Gallery Bar with its eclectic art collection is absent. Nevertheless art is not neglected on the Westerdam.
Nautical themed reproductions and old photographs of cruise ships can be found throughout the ship and a huge mural of ships landing at Nieu Amsterdam, as well as original paintings by Stephen J. Card, are well placed for viewing.
In addition, in the art category, one new feature not seen on the other ships is Rijksmuseum at Sea, displays that surround the Guest Services area. Reproductions of paintings and drawings from the famous Amsterdam museum, particularly by Rembrandt, are presented on a large digital panel and wall exhibits.
While the Westerdam is rated highly by both cruise critics and customers, it receives especially high marks for dining, entertainment, public rooms, service, and value of the money from customers. The ambiance and clientele on this cruise are completely different from the
Quantum cruise. Passengers are from 44 countries with approximately 700 Americans, 400 Aussies, 400 Canadians, 100 Brits, plus Dutch, Germans, Kiwis, Ukrainians, Russians, and only a few, mostly overseas, Chinese. The demographic is also decidedly older. There is little evidence of the fact that the cruise originates in China (700 passengers are staying on from Westerdam’s trans ocean cruise that originated in Vancouver).
Jialin and I like the familiarity cruising on Holland America’s ships. This is our fourth HAL ship on five cruises; Maasdam to Alaska, Eurodam on both the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, and Zuiderdam in the Caribbean. The service, quality of food, ambiance, entertainment, and conviviality all make for a positive cruising experience for us, and others we have met on board. Many passengers have been on several HAL ships and exhibit a strong loyalty to the brand.
One of my favorite familiar aspects, which I checked out right of way, is that the Westerdam’s Dive In grill by the Lido Pool also has the same world’s greatest French fries as I experienced previously on the Eurodam and Westerdam. Love those crispy, crunchy, double-fried delights.
Originally launched in 2004, the Westerdam was one of the first HAL ships to undergo substantial interior updating and additions with a 2016 refurbishing. A new concept introduced at that time was the ship’s Music Walk where music-loving passengers have a choice of classical (including modern hits in classical style) at Lincoln Center Stage, blues and rock ‘n roll in the B.B. King Blues Club, and lively sing-along sessions of pop hits at Billboard Onboard.
The anchor to Music Walk, the Mainstage Theatre, seats 645 in plush ambiance and features new acts nightly. Technical innovations that were made to the Mainstage include sliding panels containing one million LED lights capable of making ongoing changes of the background throughout performances to enhance the visual experience.
Our first day at sea is an opportunity to avail our selves of the unique Explorations Center in the Crow’s Nest to research the upcoming ports on our cruise. The center is equipped with tabletop screens that display tour information and maps that range from world wide down to street level. If help is needed, a member of the tours staff on the EXC Tours desk is available to point out directions and arrange shore excursions if requested.
Our cruise will be a series of island hops from north to south roughly between the Pacific Ocean on the east and East China Sea on the west. We will be visiting four ports in Japan beginning with Sakaiminato on the main Japanese island of Honshu, a bit northeast of the city of Fukuoka that we visited on the previous cruise. Nagasaki on the island of Kyushu, south of Fukuoka, is next, followed by Naha on Okinawa, and Ishigaki Island farther south, nearly to Taiwan. Keelung, the main port near Taipei to the north and Kaohsiung near the southern tip are the two ports to be visited on the island of Taiwan. Cruising due south, Manila, on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, comes next. The final leg of the cruise then turns back northwest across the South China Sea to Hong Kong, partly an island and partly on the mainland of China (Kowloon).