Diary of a Some-Time Cruisaholic and Her Cruise-Shy Husband
(Part 1. Days 1-5 Aboard the Westerdam)
Traveling by cruise ship means different things to different people. To some, it’s a haven for the lazy and shallow. To others, it’s the only way to go. For me, it’s something I would like to do more often, without completely giving up the way we have been traveling by land. This post is being written aboard Holland America’s Westerdam, as Simon, Otto and I cruise our way from Civitavecchia in Italy to Fort Lauderdale.
Over this and the next two posts, I’ll be sharing with you our impressions and experiences. But before diving into my accounts of life aboard the Westerdam, I’d like to put this trip into context.
First, this is my third cruise, while Simon has never set foot on a cruise ship before. My first cruise was in 1975, out of Malaga on the Delphi, cruising the Mediterranean for two glorious weeks. My second was a three-day Bahamas cruise with a bunch of fellow rowdy women aboard the Norwegian Sovereign of the Sea. The former was memorable in more lovely ways than I can count, and I will be referring back to that trip from time to time. The latter wasn’t memorable at all, with the exception of some of the amusing escapades perpetrated by my friends and me. This will be the last you’ll hear about that trip.
My idea of cruising was exploring fascinating destinations, and coming back to the same room to sleep, knowing where I’ll be eating my meals, meeting all sorts of new people and enjoying a bit of pampering. Simon’s idea of cruising was being tossed about in a sailboat measuring less than 40 feet in the middle of a big, blue ocean.
Simon softened his position when we found a fabulous deal on a Holland America cruise aboard the recently refurbished Westerdam. This seemed to be the perfect end to five hectic weeks visiting Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Our cabin is comfortable with a large window, a desk, small sofa and coffee table, refrigerator, TV, safe and even a hair dryer. Neither of my previous cruises included any of these luxuries. The space may be on the small side, as cruise ship cabins tend to be, but the space has been arranged well to contain furnishings without making the occupants feel cramped.
There is plenty of hanging space and shelving, so we were able to completely unpack for the first time in weeks.
Our cabin steward delivers fresh fruit to us every morning. He also draws the drapes, and leaves us chocolate while we’re at dinner.
We’re both having a hard time getting used to calling room service, but it was convenient to have breakfast in our cabin on our shore days, and we can enjoy hot tea (for me) and cold milk (for Simon) late in the evening without having to go out and look for it.
I dare anyone to say, “I’m bored,” on the Westerdam. The assortment of activities – lectures, games, sports – are geared to a wide variety of ages and interests.
You can take yoga and/or fitness classes for an extra charge, or work out in the gym. Then unwind with a relaxing sauna or sit in the hot tub. And if weights and machines aren’t your thing, we learned that if you walk three times around the Promenade Deck, you will have walked a mile with an ocean view all the way.
For some serious pampering, the spa has an assortment of treatments to make you feel brand new. Spa treatments come at an additional charge, but the rates are reasonable, and well worth it. Acupuncture is also available to Westerdam passengers.
For entertainment, you can watch a movie on the big screen, dance and listen to live music at the B.B. King Blues Club, wind down with gentle piano music, or take in a live show on the Main Stage in the evening.
Is Windows 10 giving you headaches? You can attend one of several sessions on how to untangle the latest Microsoft mess. Meanwhile, we Apple users are doing just fine; thank you very much.
Traveling with your kids? There are supervised activities just for them, so you can feel comfortable leaving the little darlings for a while to take in some or all of the above.
There’s much more, and we’ll be checking out some of what’s available between naps during our eight day Atlantic crossing.
There is so much food available on a cruise ship, it’s easy to eat yourself into a coma. I kid you not. I’ve actually seen people attempt to do this on the cruise that shall not be named.
Dining aboard the Westerdam offers countless options. The main dining room serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with several choices for each course. Linen tablecloths and napkins, fresh flowers and impeccable service compliment the excellently prepared food. Vegetarian options are always on the menu, and food allergies are discretely handled on an individual basis.
A 24-7 buffet on the Lido Deck offers variety and flexibility. Breakfast includes an omelet station, lunch brings fresh sushi daily and dinner options are similar to the food available in the main dining room. One of our favorite areas is the Asian bar. Along with the sushi we’ve enjoyed Chinese-style salads and hot curry dishes.
Burgers, fries and hot dogs can also be found on the Lido Deck. The buffet serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night snacks. The pizza and pasta bar is open all day.
All these amazing edibles are included in the price of your cruise, but if you want a more intimate setting, you have two options. The Pinnacle Grill serves up steaks, chops and seafood, while Canaletto offers an Italian menu. There is an additional charge for your meals at these venues.
The Westerdam has no shortage of bars, and if you enjoy a drink or three, plus wine with dinner, you may want to consider purchasing a beverage package. Since Simon and I aren’t heavy drinkers, paying as we go works best for us. Coffee, hot and cold tea, lemonade and juices are included as part of your cruise rate.
Room service is a good option if you’re a bit under the weather, or you need to work in a quiet space. However, we prefer company, so we keep this service to a minimum.
Those Special Touches
The old saying, “Little things mean a lot,” appears to be taken seriously aboard the Westerdam. Everywhere we look there are delightful little surprises that brighten our day. Here are just a few.
- Our cabin steward appearing with a lifejacket for Otto
- A small vase of flowers on our room service breakfast tray
- Whimsical towel animals on our bed when we return to our cabin in the evening, which Otto especially loves
- Hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the ship
- Mats that are changed daily in the elevators with the correct day of the week, because it’s easy to lose track of time when you’re cruising
- The retractable clothesline over the bathtub for our hand-washed clothes
- Being recognized and called by our names after our second night in the dining room
- A cold wet towel, iced lemonade or water and a, “welcome back,” on the dock when we return from a day ashore
There are more, but this should give you a feel for how well Westerdam passengers are treated, right down to the smallest detail.
Another, far more important feature of the Westerdam that was missing in 1975 is Holland America’s commitment to accessibility.
Ramps lead from the interior of the ship to the decks, and elevators make it possible for all passengers to travel from deck to deck. Wheelchair accessible staterooms are also available. Contrasting colors on the top and bottom step of each flight of stairs and changes in floor texture provide important cues for people with vision impairments or who are blind.
Not only are people in wheelchairs and vision impaired passengers accommodated, but for this cruise a service dog relief area was made available, by prior arrangement, complete with grass. Although Otto can go anywhere, he always prefers grass. So even service dogs are pampered aboard the Westerdam.
The Westerdam also provides special receivers, which make it possible for people with hearing impairments to enjoy performances on the Main Stage.
October 26, 2017: All Aboard
We boarded the Westerdam shortly after 1:00PM. The process went smoothly, considering how much has changed since my first cruise. Check-in involved a baggage scan, and a glass of cold lemonade.
We spent the afternoon getting to know the ship. An informational meeting for people new to cruising and/or Holland America proved to be incredibly helpful, and kept our bumbling around to a minimum.
Consistent with every one of my cruises was the mandatory safety drill. All passengers were required to be present on the Promenade Deck for an explanation of emergency and evacuation procedures, as well as a demonstration of how to put on the life jackets stowed in the closet of our cabins.
The staff and crew have been extraordinarily helpful and friendly. When I left my iPhone in some unknown part of the ship, the friendly folks at Guest Services were able to reunite me with my brain-in-a-box in a short time. Aboard the Delphi, everyone was kind, but the service aboard the Westerdam is impeccable.
We chose open seating for our first dinner aboard, and met Derek and Geri, seasoned cruisers from California. By the time dinner was over, the four of us agreed to switch to an assigned table for six – the more the merrier – for the 8:15 seating.
October 27: At Sea
Today was a good trial run for our Atlantic crossing. We slept late, enjoyed a light breakfast featuring smoked salmon and made our way up to the Lido Deck (9). There we sat at a table in the shade, drank in the gentle breeze and worked on our computers until lunch.
Lido has an enormous and varied buffet that’s open all day, so we tucked into some excellent sushi. “I could get used to this,” Simon commented, as he lifted another delicate morsel with his chop sticks. I couldn’t help but agree.
Confession time. We took a long nap in the afternoon.
Rested and refreshed, we took the opportunity to hear descriptions of our ports of call – Cartagena, Malaga and Cadiz from Westerdam crew members who were familiar with the towns. This gave us a sense of what we could expect, and a roadmap for exploration.
At dinner, our foursome was joined by Kevin and Annie from Alaska, and our cozy group was complete.
We are impressed with the variety of activities available aboard ship, but all that will have to wait until the crossing, because we had three Spanish ports to explore first.
October 28: Cartagena
The Westerdam docked right on time – 8:00 AM in Cartagena – Spain, not Columbia. Simon, Otto and I took the short walk into town, and waited for a walking tour guide that never showed. Since we always have a Plan B, we headed for the castle, where we purchased tickets for four venues at the very reasonable price of €9 each.
Our wanderings took us through the castle, into Casa Fortuna, an excavated house from Roman times, the Punic Wall Museum and the Roman Theater Museum, which could only be described as a Roman recreation and cultural complex. The exhibits, both indoors and out, were magnificently preserved and presented.
Since we like to do most of our exploring on our own, we made the decision to forego the shore excursions offered through the Westerdam. Had I been traveling alone, however, I wouldn’t have hesitated to avail myself of this option. It’s how I did it aboard the Delphi, and it’s an excellent way to get to know an area with no stress involved.
Following dinner we took in our first show of our cruise on Westerdam’s Main Stage. Martin Beaumont, a British-born comedian, kept us laughing with his cleverly spun tales of everyday life.
This was the evening the clocks changed in Europe, so we were promised an extra hour of much needed sleep. We are now five hours ahead of family and friends on the east coast of the United States.
October 29: Malaga
It was a long, pleasant walk into town, but Simon, Otto and I needed it. This time our walking tour guide did show up, and for two-and-a-half hours, the exuberant Amanda proudly showed us her town. Then it was time to wander, and for Simon to take photos of the old town with its rich history and interesting architecture.
We found a spice shop, and purchased some Spanish smoked paprika for friends back home, as well as for ourselves. This paprika gives food a delicious flavor and smokiness you can’t find anywhere else.
Before heading back to the Westerdam, Simon couldn’t resist putting his toes in the Mediterranean.
It had been hot in Malaga, so were were ready for a shower and some down time.
Tonight was a Gala Night, the first of two such evenings during our cruise. Although smart casual attire is acceptable most nights, on Gala Night, we’re expected to dress up. Fortunately, the dress code for most evenings aboard the Westerdam is much more relaxed than it was on the Delphi, so we should be able to make do with the clothes we had been lugging around for the past five weeks. The Gala Night meal was also slightly more upscale with beef tenderloin as an option. I asked for mine to be cooked to just past the mooing stage, and what arrived at the table was done to a turn.
After dinner, we, and many of our fellow passengers, stood by the rail on deck, and watched as the Westerdam entered the Strait of Gibraltar, which connects the Mediterranean with the Atlantic, and passed the famous rock. Simon could just make it out, but the ambient light from the ship made it difficult to see.
October 30: Cadiz
Cadiz, the oldest city in Europe, was a perfect town to explore on foot. A short walk from where the Westerdam was docked lay the old town and our customary walking tour.
Ana, our guide took us through neighborhoods and squares. She showed us the interiors of a fairly well-preserved Roman theater and the town’s cathedral. Listening to her recount the history and culture of the town she loved made us fall in love with Cadiz as well.
This time, Simon had brought his swimming gear, and took a swim off the beach before we wandered around the town. Simon climbed up the tower of the cathedral, and was able to take in some incredible views of the town below.
I haven’t gone into detail about the ports we visited. Each one deserves far more space than can be given in this post. Meanwhile, plan to join Simon, Otto and me next week, as we begin our trans-Atlantic crossing.
Do you have a favorite cruise memory you’d like to share? We want to hear about it in the comments.