Westerdam pays homage to storied past
Ship Review by Michael Coleman, September 2006
Bridging a formidable maritime past with the demands of mass market cruising in the 21st Century is no easy task, but Holland America Line’s Westerdam does it with considerable ease.
As soon as guests board the spacious, 1,848-passenger ship, they will find themselves immersed in the best of both worlds.
Onboard antiques and paintings of historic Dutch ships including Henry Hudson’s Half Moon, a statue of Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch governor of New York, and a Waterford crystal replica of Half Moon revolving above Westerdam’s three-story atrium, pay homage to its 133-year-old heritage.
The line would not have survived the decades had it not embraced a sea of change. The end result is a premium-brand ship with a host of modern onboard amenities one comes to expect from today’s sophisticated passenger vessels.
An eclectic, bold decor, five-course meals, spa and fitness facilities, Internet center, casino and Las Vegas-style production shows may have ushered in a new era at Holland America when the ship debuted in April 2004, but it’s the series of premium enhancements, an onboard Culinary Arts Center – presented by Food & Wine magazine – and one of the best specialty restaurants at sea that will define Westerdam’s legacy in the years to come.
Her greatest asset may be her spacious design. My cruise to the Bahamas was sold out, yet I found myself enjoying quiet time in a variety of onboard venues not over-run by fellow passengers. In fact, as the ship inched closer to Half Moon Cay, the line’s private island, I was awestruck as the white sand-fringed isle emerged from a low cloud cover – its turquoise waters gleaming under a bright morning sun – yet I was the only passenger observing the spectacle from a comfortable chair in the Crow’s Nest lounge.
The five-star ship, at 82,000 tons, is also surprisingly intimate. There are plenty of comfortable spaces to linger as one flips through the pages of a good book or indulges in a self-guided art tour, yet few onboard locales compare to the elegance afforded guests at the reservations-only Pinnacle Grill.
Cozy tables and luxurious appointments – Bulgari china, Riedel stemware and Frette linens – sets the mood as does an extensive wine list. Don’t wait until the end of your cruise to book the $20 per person reservation, however. Word spreads fast about the Grill’s gracious service, aged Sterling Silver beef and seafood dishes such as cedar-planked halibut with Alaskan king crab hollandaise or Dungeness crab cakes.
Westerdam offers additional culinary options which are included in the cruise fare. The Lido Restaurant is broken into several, made-to-order serving stations (Asian, Italian, deli, salads, ice cream and more) and is a popular hub of activity morning, noon and night. The Terrace Grill features standard fare – hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries – but it’s the pool-side taco bar which garners the most attention over lunch hour. Later, five-course meal options are served in the two-tier Vista Dining Room, complete with wines rated “excellent” by Wine Spectator magazine. Guests can choose from among four dinner sittings – 5:45, 6:15, 8 and 8:30 p.m.
Post-dinner entertainment in the spacious Vista Lounge, drinks in a host of venues, dancing, casino action or a leisurely stroll along the Promenade deck, lined with shops, photo gallery, Internet center and library, are among the numerous options guests will enjoy before retiring to respective cabins where nice touches abound.
Each stateroom is elegantly appointed and features luxurious Euro-Top mattresses, premium linens, Egyptian cotton towels, lighted magnifying mirrors, massage showerheads, salon-quality hair dryers, terrycloth bathrobes, televisions with DVD and VCR players and – among a host of other nice touches – fresh fruit. Eighty-five percent of staterooms have ocean views, 67 percent of which have verandas. Onboard suites are also available.
The Greenhouse Spa features a hydropool and thermal suite, massage, beauty and fitness treatments, and spacious gym facilities. Two Lido deck pools, one mid-ship the other aft, cater to enthusiasts of all ages. The main pool features a retractable roof.
Onboard Art Tour
Guests may also enjoy the ship’s multi-million dollar art collection at their own pace thanks to a self-guided iPod tour – an industry first. Artwork includes paintings of historic Dutch ships, such as Henry Hudson’s Half Moon, as well as impressive sculptures and statues. Contemporary pieces include an original Andy Warhol portrait and signature sculptures by Sedona artist Susanna Holt.Â
Fine art has certainly gone high tech with the introduction of Westerdam’s museum-quality tours. The 40- to 50-minute sessions include walking directions, interviews with artists, background music and photo images displayed on the complimentary iPod to help guests locate each piece.
It’s a fascinating concept and almost unlimited in scope for a line whose heritage dates back 133 years.
Each tour begins with a welcome message from company president and CEO Stein Kruse and includes comments from ship architect/designer Frans Dingemans, as well as others associated with the line’s art program. Two artists – Holt, whose lifelike bronze animal sculptures grace the pool areas and Stephen Card, whose classic maritime paintings of Holland America ships can be found in the main stairwells – provide insight into their artistic inspiration. The works of Holt and Card appear on each of the line’s 13 ships.
Among Westerdam’s onboard finds: Pieces range from a huge Indian silver-overlaid wood palace doorway at the entrance to the dining room that measures 92 inches by 69 inches to a five-inch-long bone tobacco pipe carved in the shape of a woman’s head. The most valuable piece is a painting of the Port of Rotterdam and the oldest is a collection of 5,000-year-old pre-Columbian carved limestone figures from Ecuador.
In addition, the tours will be available for download to a home computer or handheld device from Holland America’s Web site, located at www.hollandamerica.com.
Westerdam’s Culinary Arts Center, meanwhile, presented by Food & Wine magazine, integrates guests’ love for fine food and wine with what Holland America officials deem a “a unique and entertaining experience.”
Cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, question-and-answer sessions, book signings and market tours in select cities are among the offerings. In an effort to enhance the sessions, look for multiple large plasma video screens to bring the program to life. Can’t make it to a class? No problem. You can watch the broadcast from the comfort of your own stateroom.
Onboard each sailing, guests will not only learn tricks-of-the-trade from top professionals they’ll also receive recipe cards and wine tasting notes about each session from Food & Wine magazine.
Still can’t get enough of the culinary experience? Master chef Rudi Sodamin has written a cookbook – “A Taste of Excellence” – featuring nearly one hundred of his favorite recipes from Dutch apple pancakes with maple-flavored honey; parmesan-crusted turkey tenderloin with honey mustard sauce, to his renowned white chocolate toque, filled with bittersweet chocolate mousse.
The cookbook also provides a look behind the scenes at the galleys on Holland America Line vessels, including Westerdam.
Stay tuned. Chapters bridging Holland America’s storied maritime history with both the high tech needs and culinary expectations of modern cruise travelers are just now being written.
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