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Cruise Ship Information

MS Westerdam is a Vista Class cruise ship owned by Holland America Line. She is the third ship of the class to be operated by the line, as well as being the third ship to bear the moniker Westerdam. It is sister to MS Oosterdam, MS Zuiderdam, and MS Noordam. The names of the four ships translate to the four directions of the compass in Dutch.

Atmosphere on board

Holland America Line's Westerdam (it means west) is the third of four Vista Class ships, and a decade into its existence, it continues to do what the line does best -- balance the traditional cruising experience with updated, contemporary amenities. Westerdam keeps up with the times in two major areas, entertainment and dining, and recent refurbishments and programming additions reflect that.

Nine LED panels were added to the Vista Lounge stage in 2013, allowing the introduction of six edgy, high-tech, production shows, a nod to an increasingly more youthful audience. B.B. King's Blues Club also takes center stage five nights a week in the cozy Queen's Lounge. And traditional ballroom dancing has moved into the 21st century via the line's hugely successful "Dancing with the Stars at Sea" dance classes, contests and performances.

Dinner menus have been streamlined and signature dishes introduced by a Culinary Council of renowned chefs. There's a new vegetarian menu, and only sustainable seafood is served, showcasing the line's support for the environment. Casual dining has been enhanced at the new Dive-In at the Terrace Grill, where an enticing array of gourmet burgers and hot dogs are made to order.

Ultimately, it is the warm, welcoming attitude of the crew passengers will appreciate. A smile and "hello" go a long way in making you feel at home on a ship that's ample but not too large. With just under 2,000 cruisers, Westerdam excels in yet another balancing act. There's enough variety in daily activities to keep you entertained, but you won't feel you've missed something. The same goes for dining. On a weeklong cruise, you can sample every restaurant and still return to your favorites.

Family with Kids/Teens

While some cruise lines beef up kids' programs to attract business, Holland America's program for youngsters is related to demand and season (school holiday or not). Club HAL is an area devoted to the youngest passengers, with separate supervised sections for the 3-7 and 8-12 sets, and is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on port days, lunch included. The Loft is a teen (ages 13-17) dance, video and movie area.

Group after-hours activities take place from 10 p.m. to midnight for kids 3 and older. The fee is $5 per child per hour. Individual baby-sitting is available on sea days (fee) for kids 5 and younger. The service is provided by staff on a volunteer basis and might not always be available. Check with the front desk.

Past Passenger Programs

Explorations Cafe, which was added to this ship after it was built, occupies the starboard half of the top-of-ship Crow's Nest area and is truly the heartbeat of Westerdam. At any given time, from morning until late evening, passengers are clustered there, playing board games, putting puzzles together, reading, sipping specialty coffees (extra charge) while reclining in comfortable chairs, hovering over Internet terminals and, in Alaska, scanning the horizon for whales. This area is also the ship's library, and while there is a librarian, books may be checked out on the honor system.

Next to the Explorations Cafe -- there's no wall separating the two -- is the Crow's Nest bar, the ship's observations space. Activity from Explorations, particularly during the daytime, tends to spill over into this venue.

Otherwise, public rooms are primarily located in one two-deck grouping on Decks 2 and 3.

You can't miss the vast shopping area, which is an open concept with a series of counters selling a range of cruise line merchandise, from duty-free alcohol and cigarettes to logo wear and evening clothing. A small section is for necessities, such as toiletries and snack food. The many jewelry counters cover all tastes, from relatively upscale to trinkets and watches. For gems and fine jewelry, the luxury boutique Merabella occupies a separate space. The Digital Workshop for computer classes is next door.

A passenger services area is located on Deck 1 at the foot of the atrium. You'll find the purser's desk, shore excursions and future cruise booking. There's also a small bar.

There is no self-service laundry.

Fitness And Spa

Westerdam, like its Vista-class siblings, has eye-catching pool areas. The main pool, housed under a sliding glass magradome roof that can open on sunny days, sports a sculpture of leaping dolphins and wicker-like lounges with padded cushions. The area features three whirlpools. Separate men's and women's saunas open to all are found down the hall leading to the spa.

The aft pool is a fun space with a whimsical, colorful ceramic dog sculpture and great views. No longer only for adults, the pool and two whirlpools may be filled with kids (supervision by an adult is required for the 16-and-younger crowd). Plenty of mesh-type lounge chairs are available for relaxing and sunning.

Another Holland America distinction is its promenade deck, which goes all the way around the ship. It's host to walkers and joggers and the once-a-cruise "On Deck for a Cause" event in which participants make a $20 contribution to support six international cancer organizations and undertake a 5K walk which is more fun the more friends you can recruit.

A basketball court and volleyball court are on Deck 11.

The Greenhouse Spa and Salon is the core of the ship's spa, fitness and recreation offerings. Operated by Steiner Leisure, which helms spas on many cruise lines, it occupies the forward area beyond the main pool.

The salon covers the basics, from hair styling to manicures and pedicures, and its wall-to-wall windows overlooking the sea offer a pleasant ambience. At the spa, a host of treatments range from usual (Swedish massage and facials) to intriguing options like a bamboo massage and acupuncture. On port days, the spa is creative in offering specials; $139 for a 75-minute massage and facial combination that normally goes for $208.

The highlight of the spa is the hydrotherapy pool. Located inside (one glass wall looks out to the main pool area, but the view is obscured, both inside and out, by dreary-colored shades), it's got bubbling warm water and various sprinklers and showers that gently pummel your body. A separate steam area melts away stress with heated, blue mosaic loungers, scented showers and a steam room. Entrance to these two facilities is pricey at $40 per person per day. The areas are not available free of charge to passengers pre- or post-spa treatment, which seems rather stingy.

The fitness facility, open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., is well equipped and generally busy but never overwhelmingly so. A morning stretch and abs classes are available on a complimentary basis. Pilates, yoga and spin workouts cost $12 per session.

Food & Dining

The ship's two-tiered Vista main dining room serves breakfast and dinner daily. Lunch is offered on sea days and, in Alaska, most port days, too.

Breakfast and lunch are always open seating. In the morning, regular menu offerings span a vast range from healthy choices like yogurt and muesli to delicious blueberry pancakes or Eggs Royale (Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon instead of Canadian bacon). Drinks include fresh-squeezed orange juice and free cappuccinos. Lunch features four courses: appetizers, soups and salads, entrees (choices include sandwiches, burgers, a fish, vegetarian plate and perhaps an Indian or Indonesian curry) and dessert.

The Vista really shines for dinner, in part because of dramatic menu changes, offering just three courses. Starters, soups and salads are grouped together, and most passengers choose just one dish, though you are free to order as many as you like. Mains include a pasta, fish (or two), meats (prime rib, pork buco), poultry and usually two vegetarian dishes. Gone is the "always available" menu. Sustainable seafood is the rule, and the pacific salmon, in particular, is a cut above that served by other large cruise lines. The new menus also feature recipes by HAL's Culinary Council, a group of top chefs from around the world who work with the line's Master Chef Rudi Sodamin to create superb dishes. Desserts cover the spectrum from chocolate cake to creme brulee to ice cream and an excellent cheese plate.

A separate full vegetarian menu is available. These dishes are in addition to vegetarian items on the daily menu and must be ordered one day ahead. Other dietary needs can be easily met with advance notice.

There are two dining options for passengers. Those who prefer traditional fixed-seating can opt for set schedules and tablemates on Vista's Deck 3 level. Times can vary by itinerary. On the Alaska cruise, the seatings are 5:30 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. The alternative choice is "As You Wish" dining. Deck 2 of the Vista is dedicated to a more restaurant-style scenario, in which tables are available, via walk-in or by reservation, from 5:15 p.m. to 9 p.m. When we had the occasion to try the walk-in route, there was no waiting for a table for two.

On both levels of the Vista dining room, there are more tables for two and four than previously found. Larger tables are available for groups (or families) of six, eight or 10. If you're flexible and friendly, you may be encouraged to dine with other passengers at larger tables, but the choice is yours. The difference between this and fixed seating is that you're not committed to the same folks at dinner night after night.

Holland America's Lido buffet venues rate among the most well organized at sea, and Westerdam's doesn't disappoint. Open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night snacks, the room's bright, jazzy colors are a mood-lifter (and don't forget that there's seating on the adjacent aft deck and in the main pool area under the magradome cover). Food is arranged in theme-based stations that serve up salads, sandwiches made to order, pizza, sushi and stir fries and the typical hot fare. This way, you don't have to wait behind someone picking through the salad bar when you want to move on to the meat-carving station.

Operating hours for the Lido are generous. Though not fully open round-the-clock, there are usually a few self-service stations available for light snacking. A full buffet breakfast service begins at 7 a.m. and runs until 10:30 a.m. Breakfast is impressive. While many cruise lines offer pancake, waffle and omelet stations, Holland America offers eggs Benedict at the Asian station. The numerous varieties of the dish include eggs with smoked salmon, crab, mushrooms or spinach as well as Canadian bacon. The cooks there will make yours just about any way you ask.

Lido lunch is from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Again, food for noshing is available in the afternoon. Lunch choices include a pizza special, a pasta bar (with a variety of noodles and sauces), an Asian corner with sushi and stir-fries, sandwich specials (such as a Reuben or Thai chicken wrap), a range of salads, fruits and soups, and then entrees such as fried chicken or pan-seared salmon.

For passengers looking for a strictly casual dinner option, the Lido fills the bill. Dinner starts at 5:30 p.m. and closes down -- here's a quibble -- at a relatively early 8 p.m. Casual dinner is similar to lunch, with self-service from various stations. A menu is posted daily, so you can decide if you want to dine there, in the Vista or order room service. The Lido reopens again for a "late snack" from 10:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.

Operating times in the Lido can vary with the ship's schedule. If, for instance, a number of tours are returning to the vessel after the normal lunch time, it'll stay open later. For early morning excursions, it opens earlier.

In the main pool area is the newly conceived Dive-In at the Terrace Grill. The grill window features gourmet hot dogs and burgers with catchy names. The Cannonball is a one-third pound beef patty with Gouda, applewood bacon and caramelized onions. The Freestyle is a portabella mushroom with cheddar and avocado. The Dog Paddle is a Nathan's all-beef dog with sauerkraut and bacon bits. All have special sauces. You're given a beeper so you don't need to stand around waiting for your order to be cooked. Judging from the lines, it's a popular lunch option. An adjacent food counter is usually stocked with fixings to make your own tacos.

Beyond main dining venues, Westerdam has two for-fee restaurants -- one upscale and one casual. Best known is the elegant Pinnacle Grill, the fleet's Pacific Northwest-themed restaurant. Well worth the $29 per-person cover, the ambience is hushed and service superb, featuring Bulgari dinnerware and Riedel stemware. Highlights from the grill are steaks (from Double R Ranch Northwest), lamb chops and double-cut pork chops. In the seafood category, the shining star is broiled Alaskan king salmon, but you might prefer king crab legs ($20 additional) or cedar-planked Pacific halibut. The lobster bisque appetizer is outstanding. Vegetarian choices include roasted pumpkin risotto or wild mushroom ravioli. You order sides to share, which are ample for two. Save room for the dessert souffle or Grand Marnier chocolate volcano cake -- it's worth it. If you're a fan of the Pinnacle Grill's version of baked Alaska, be aware it is no longer served flambeed.

The wine list features an excellent selection of Pacific Northwest bottles (along with other New World and Old World choices) and is a bit on the pricey side. If you're not in the mood for a splurge, ask for the dining room's lower-priced wine list.

Reservations are required for the Pinnacle Grill and can be tough to get, so make plans as soon as you can. Dinner is 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Here's a tip: The restaurant opens for lunch (hours vary) on some days (the fee is $10 per person) with a different menu. It's got one of the best burgers, and the experience is equally fabulous. If you're a passenger in the Neptune or Pinnacle suites, you may dine here for breakfast and be thoroughly pampered.

One night each cruise, the Pinnacle Grill is transformed into "An Evening at Le Cirque," named for the restaurant of New York fame. The illusion of being at Le Cirque is achieved by the use of Le Cirque china (orange rimmed with cute monkeys -- remember it's the circus) and a menu of dishes served in New York City. The four-course dinner begins with a choice of appetizers. Don't miss the lobster salad. Next up is a soup, and your main course might be chateaubriand, rack of lamb, seared Alaskan black cod, chicken under a brick or three-cheese ravioli. Desserts include chocolate souffle and creme brulee. Reservations are essential, and the charge is $49 before wine.

Canaletto, located in a forward corner of the Lido, is the for-fee ($10) casual eatery. At night, it's quite attractive, lit by faux candles and adorned with white tablecloths and fresh flowers. Fortunately, it's separated from the main buffet area by partitions. The sea views are great, but the newly changed menu is confusing. Billed as a sharing menu (the former menu offered typical Italian dishes), it works best with a table for four or more. The suggestion is to order two small plates, one pasta and one main dish for every two diners. That way, everyone gets a taste of many items, much like a Chinese restaurant. Some dishes -- sauteed veal piccata -- are hits. Others, not so much. Order your own dessert of tiramisu, gelato or cheeses. Advance reservations are highly recommended, especially if you want a particular time. Hours are 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

For light fare, such as pastries in the morning and small sweets and sandwiches throughout the day, head up to the Explorations Cafe, the ship's coffee bar/Internet center/library/card room. Food items are complimentary, but there is a charge for specialty coffees ($2.50 latte). Chocolate Seduction, created in 2012 and tucked into a space near the meeting rooms on Deck 3, sells individual chocolates for less than a dollar, coffees (with or without a libation) and hot chocolate drinks. Westerdam is the only ship in the fleet to have this venue.

In-cabin meal service is available around the clock and is prompt and efficient. The in-room menu offers a comprehensive list of snacks, salads and sandwiches. More substantial items, such as shrimp cocktail and salmon steak, are available from noon to 10 p.m. At breakfast, a full range of hot items -- and they are delivered hot -- are available. There's no fee to use the service, and the crew never asks for a tip. You can, of course, offer a small cash tip to the delivery person.

Entertainment

The Culinary Arts Center, housed in the Queen's Lounge, the ship's secondary theater venue, features a fully operational demonstration kitchen and is among the highlights of Westerdam's daytime programming. You'll find cooking demonstrations from both ship chefs and guest chefs onboard for limited sailings. The classes are always on the light side, as well as informative. They are hosted by a Culinary Arts Center host, the new title for the party planner. Holland America has added an On Location focus to cooking shows, creating regional dishes, such as halibut or blueberry smoothies, while cruising in Alaska. You'll receive samples to taste plus copies of the recipes to try at home.

When The Culinary Arts Center reverts to the Queen's Lounge during the day, it's usually for a talk on the cruising area or game of bingo.

When it comes to learning about beverages, the Culinary Arts host offers pre-dinner Sip and Savor appetizers and wine pairings in the Explorer's Lounge. Martini samplings happen in the Atrium Bar on the Main Deck. Wine tastings take place in the Pinnacle Grill. On Location treats include an Alaskan beer fest in the Crow's Nest. Expect to pay fees for these. The martini samples are $3 each for four flavors. Sip and Savor costs $5 for a glass of wine. Draft beer runs $4.75. A more serious wine tasting is $50.

Holland America also offers a computer education enrichment program, through its Digital Workshop in partnership with Microsoft. The dedicated computer lab located near the Deck 3 shops offers classes ranging from an introduction to Windows 8 and computer security, to classes in digital photography and editing. The ship's "techspert" is also available for individual guidance at designated times. All programs are free and usually filled to capacity.

Since the introduction of "Dancing with the Stars at Sea" on all Holland America ships, dance classes have taken center stage in more ways than one. So many passengers are keen on dance instruction, the classes were moved to the stage in the Vista Lounge showroom. Each class ends with a competition for the best dancer of the day who later competes for the cruise championship. These dancers have a chance to become the ship's overall annual winner and compete (during a free cruise) in a grand finale.

While Westerdam's daytime offerings are generally excellent, more in-depth talks on Alaska (or Caribbean culture and history) would be welcome. As far as nighttime entertainment, it's varied enough to satisfy most cruisers. It includes classical music in the Explorer's Lounge, solo piano music or a sing-along in the Piano Bar and the Ocean Bar's cocktails and ballroom dancing. While a solo guitarist plays two sets in the Crow's Nest, there is so much chatter in this venue, the music tends to get lost. With Alaska attracting a relatively younger crowd, all the bars bustle at night. The Northern Lights disco was hopping into the wee hours.

The ship's evening offerings are by no means limited to music. The casino, on Deck 2, is vast and offers a full range of slot machines (these accept either cash or your ship card) and table games, such as poker and roulette. At night, the Queen's Lounge may be used for showing movies. As of the 2014 fall Caribbean season, on five nights a week the lounge will be transformed into B.B. King's Blues Club, complete with black-and-white photos of Memphis music greats.

The Vista Lounge, the ship's three-deck main theater, features two shows nightly. Holland America made an obvious effort to update the entertainment and on Westerdam has added nine LED panels to the backstage. The panels allow the ship's singers and dancers to perform high-tech, high-energy production shows that appeal to a younger set than the traditional Broadway tunes and 1950s rock. Other shows may feature a comedian, a highly entertaining Los Vegas percussion quartet, or, during "Dancing with the Stars" theme cruises, dancing by some of the TV show's celebs. Not to be missed (if you can stay up until 11 p.m.) is the Indonesian crew show.

After enrichment programs and nightly diversions, cruising's third pillar of entertainment -- shore excursions -- is well represented on Westerdam. The number of tour choices in Alaska is staggering, with active, recreationally oriented tours available in most ports. In addition to the typical sightseeing, wildlife watching and float plane rides, you can take a fly-out fly fishing adventure, kayak within view of a glacier or go snorkeling. With so many choices, the more pricey excursions are on the small side with as few as 10 to 20 participants.

Fellow Passengers

Holland America is expanding its traditional North American passenger base to attract more English speakers, particularly Brits and Australians. The average age, too, is shifting, in this case downward, and is now around 45. During the summer Alaska season, Westerdam sees more families traveling with small children, and there might be 100 or more kids younger than 18 onboard.

Tipping

The ms Westerdam is the third ship to bear the name of the Dutch capital in Holland America Line's over 135-year history. Built at the Fincantieri shipyard in Marghera, Italy, the ms Westerdam blends the very latest in shipbuilding technology with the artistry, personalized touches and superior service that has made Holland America Line one of the highest-rated cruise lines in the world.

Our recommendation

Our crew works very hard to make sure that every aspect of your cruise meets the highest standards. This includes those crew members who serve you directly, such as our dining room wait staff and the stewards who tend to your stateroom each day. There are also many others that tend to your care that you may never meet, such as galley and laundry staff. To ensure that the efforts of all of our crew members are recognized and rewarded, a daily Hotel Service Charge of US$11.50 per passenger for staterooms & US$ 12.00 per person for suite guests is automatically charged to each guest's shipboard account. If our service exceeds or fails to meet your expectations, you are free to adjust this amount at the end of the cruise. The Hotel Service Charge is paid to Holland America Line crew members, and represents an important part of their total compensation package. A 15% service charge is automatically added to bar charges and dining room wine purchases. In terminals, airports, ports of call and on shore excursions, we suggest that you extend gratuities consistent with customary local practices.