Thanksgiving/Anniversary Cruise on the Westerdam

Cruise Line: Holland America Line’s MS Westerdam
Eastern Caribbean Cruise
When: November 20-27, 1999
Who: Rich, Kathy, Rich’s parents


My parents celebrated their 25th anniversary on a cruise to Bermuda, so when we invited them to celebrate their 50th anniversary on an Eastern Caribbean cruise, they couldn’t refuse.

(Note from Kathy: We were a bit hesitant to sail on the old Westerdam because it was an older ship without balconies (except for suites), and with a single level dining room on the bottom of the ship. This was when 2-story dining rooms were coming into style at the same time as the Carnival Destiny with so many balconies. It felt like we were going backwards, but as it turned out, we loved the ship! We really think we should cruise the newer Westerdam just because this one was so spectacular.)

Day 1 — Friday, November 19: San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale

Because we live on the west coast, Holland America arranged for us to fly in a day before the cruise with overnight accommodations at a Fort Lauderdale hotel. Mother and Dad would fly in the day of the cruise.

Day 2 — Saturday, November 20: Embark

At 1:30 p.m., we boarded the bus to the pier. This was very exciting. The transfer went smoothly, and we were soon checked in and given our embarkation number, and waited to board the Westerdam. At check-in, we found out that the parents had already boarded. After a bit of a wait, our number was called, and we were soon walking on the gangway, complete with picture stop. A white-gloved steward greeted us and escorted us to our cabin — #146 on the Lower Promenade Deck, close to the stairs which turned out to be an excellent location. The parents were next door in cabin #148.

After checking out our cabin, we knocked on their door but they were nowhere to be found. We went up 2 decks to the Lido deck to grab a quick bite before they stopped serving lunch. That was where we found the parents. After lunch, we went to check out the dining room to see what table we were assigned. At 4:15 p.m., we attended the lifeboat drill, on time as always. The Dutch are very precise and it went rather well.

We were scheduled to set sail at 5 p.m. but were delayed by half an hour due to the Ryndam (docked in front of us) waiting for late passengers arriving from the airport. At last, the ship’s horn was blowing, sailaway drinks were being served, and the tugboat was soon escorting us out to sea as the sun was setting. The condominium owners were blinking their lights on and off wishing us a bon voyage. It is one of the magical moments in cruising — no matter how many times you have done it.

We returned to our cabins for a short rest before it was time to dress for dinner for the second seating at 8:15 p.m.

We took this time to read over the schedule for the evening. We noticed that there was a Welcome Aboard show introducing the cruise staff after dinner. At dinner, we met our waiter Widi, assistant waiter Wibowo, and head waiter Agus. The service was wonderful. Just ask Mother — they served her cappuccino this night and every night without her having to ask for it. We also met another couple who was assigned to sit with us. We had requested a table for 4 at first seating but first seating was already full so we were assigned a table for 6 at second seating. We actually prefer second seating so that you don’t have to rush to get dressed for dinner after watching the sunset on sailaway day or any day at sea.

It didn’t take long to see that this couple was not going to be a good match for us — especially since the 4 of us were family members travelling together, celebrating the parents’ 50th anniversary. We were not surprised when they asked to be seated at another table — a common practice in cruising. In fact, we noticed that they changed tables several times.

After dinner, we attended the show, “Opening Night Magic.” Not that great of a show since most of it was introducing the cruise staff and their responsibilities.

After the show, we returned to our cabin, with the bed turned down, the lights turned low, and a chocolate on each pillow. The parents came in and sat on the couch as we looked at the next day’s schedule to plan our day. Sunday we would be in Nassau, Bahamas for most of the morning. We went to bed and let the ocean rock us to sleep. There’s nothing like it.

Day 3 — Sunday, November 21: Nassau, Bahamas

Having been to Nassau before, we love the approach through the channel to the dock. The many changing colors of water from deep blue to turquoise is unbelievably gorgeous! The Westerdam was scheduled to dock at 7 a.m.; a little early for this crowd but Kathy got up to peek out the window to watch. Premier’s Oceanic (The Big Red Boat — which Kathy sailed on in 1987) was already docked. So was Carnival’s Ecstasy, and Holland America’s Noordam.

This is when it would be great to have a balcony cabin — definitely on the next cruise. We finally got up and had breakfast out on the Lido deck. We saw the parents out there having coffee. This seemed to be Mother’s favorite hangout, relaxing outside sipping her coffee on the aft of the ship by the pool. After viewing the sights of Nassau from the ship, Mother suggested that we go into town. Just as we disembarked from the ship, it started to rain. We took shelter and waited out the downpour. The skies cleared and we walked around Nassau. It turned out to be a beautiful day in Nassau.

We arrived back on the ship in time for lunch before setting sail at 1 p.m. As we were pulling out of our dock, the brand-new Holland America ship, the Volendam, passed us as it was just arriving in Nassau. It is a beautiful ship, one that we hope to sail on some day. We had more time to view the channel as we sailed away from Nassau. We spent the afternoon strolling on the deck, sitting on comfy deck chairs, and watching the ocean go by.

Tonight was the Captain’s Welcome Cocktail Party. This means we dressed up in formal attire, got in line to shake hands with the captain, got our picture taken, and were introduced to the captain. We then proceeded into the Queen’s Lounge where complimentary hors’doeuvres and cocktails were served. One note about hors’doeuvres on Holland America. They are served complimentary in all of the lounges before dinner each evening. It is a wonderful way to begin an evening. Following the Captain’s Cocktail party, we went into the dining room for a very special dinner.

This is the night they bring out the really good stuff — filet mignon, duck, chocolate tulips, etc. One thing we must mention: Hurricane Lenny left behind very large ocean swells that night and the ship was really rocking and rolling. Some people got sick, although none of us did. You really had to hang on to anything you could to get around the ship. We still don’t know how the performers put on their show that night. It was really amazing! The show was called “Dance to the Movies.”

We found that the best place to be with the ship moving like that was in bed. We were really rocked to sleep that night.

Day 4 — Monday, November 22: At Sea

The seas seemed to have calmed and sometime that day the captain announced that because the ship had to slow down during the rough seas, that we might arrive in San Juan, Puerto Rico a bit late tomorrow.

We took advantage of the sea day and explored the layout of the ship. We also enjoyed strolling on the teak wrap-around Promenade deck. On some ships, you can only walk on one side, go inside and then walk on the other side. It was nice to be able to walk completely around the ship on the outside. Five times around made a mile. With the delicious food on this cruise, that became very important. This is also a lovely place to sit and relax in a wooden deck chair and just enjoy the view and the scent of the sea.

Tonight was the first night of many that we would have pre-dinner drinks and hors’doeuvres in the Ocean Bar and listen to the Las Vegas Trio. Kathy loved the shrimp and puupus they served. This is where we met our incredible Filipino server, Armando (think Armand Assante, as he said). After introducing himself, he asked for each of our names and remembered them from that point on. He definitely earned a tip when he served Mother and Kathy Diet Cokes and said that they were drinking them because “the ladies wanted to stay sexy.” Then he drew us each little pictures on napkins with our names on them. Never before had we had such attentive service on any cruise.

Tonight was casual night at dinner. After dinner, we attended the Paul Tanner show. He was an excellent singer/impressionist. Our favorite impression was Tom Jones, although he also did a great Neil Diamond. After the show, we started another tradition: going to the Explorer’s Lounge for after-dinner coffee, cordials & chocolates, and listened to the Champagne Strings. The white chocolate covered strawberries were to die for!

This is where we met more incredible Filipino staff: Miguel and Mary. They introduced themselves, asked for our names, and called us “Sir Rich, Ma’am Kathy, and Mother Mary. (Dad had turned in early this night — they would meet him another night.) They would also greet us by name from then on. It was a wonderful way to end each evening. We were too full to even eat the chocolate left on our pillow when we arrived back in our cabin. We were rocked to sleep another night.

Day 5 — Tuesday, November 23: San Juan, Puerto Rico

Most cruise ships arrived in San Juan quite late in the afternoon and stay for the evening. That’s what we did when we were on Celebrity’s Century. That allowed us time to do an Old San Juan tour, including the famous San Cristobal fort. This time we arrived at noon so we were able to tour the El Yunque Rainforest. We had an excellent guide who pointed out the Puerto Rican sights as we drove the 45-minutes to El Yunque.

The rainforest was quite lush. We stopped at a couple of waterfalls and saw many different kinds of plants, including some orchids. We were hoping to spot a parrot or two but they were too shy. Of course, the sudden downpour didn’t help, but this is a tropical rain forest, right?

We stopped at the usual tourist shops and were able to purchase some of that delicious Puerto Rican coffee. There are 3 truly wonderful coffees in the world (so they say): Puerto Rican, Jamaican, and pure Kona coffee.

We arrived back at the ship in time for lunch and then our usual afternoon nap. That night was casual night in the dining room. After dinner, we all strolled along the promenade deck and looked at the lights of San Juan. We could hear salsa music in one of the local nearby clubs.

Day 6 — Wednesday, November 24: St. John, USVI

This was to be a highlight of our trip. On our previous cruise on the Century, we had booked the tour to St. John but had to cancel due to Kathy being sick. The Century docked in St. Thomas and then you had to ferry over to St. John. On the Westerdam, we were actually dropped off at St. John and tendered over to the mainland where we boarded open-air Jeep Safari buses. This tour started early — 6:30 a.m. The good news is that we arrived at Trunk Bay before any other cruise ship passengers.

We loved St. John. It’s one of the islands we would like to return to for a land vacation. 70% of the island is a National Park and it is just beautiful. The Virgin Islands in general are quite lovely. This would be a great place to take a sailing trip. It was great getting there before anybody else.

We had most of the beach to ourselves. The water was delightfully warm and our tour allowed us to have 3 hours to play in the water.

Our safari bus dropped us off at the ferry and we ferried over to St. Thomas where the Westerdam was docked and waiting for us. This ferry ride was longer than the tender earlier that morning but within half an hour we were back on board the ship. Princess’ Grand Princess and Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas were also docked. We grabbed a quick lunch and returned to our cabins for a much-needed nap. Sometime that afternoon, Mother snuck out to do some shopping at nearby Havensight Mall.

We woke up in time to enjoy the sailaway party at the Lido pool area, aft on the ship. It was a beautiful sailaway as the sun set and we watched the other ships all cruise off to destinations unknown.

We returned to our cabins to get ready for dinner and agreed to meet for drinks and hors’doeuvres in the Ocean Bar.

That night was casual night in the dining room and it was also Dutch night. The menu had many Dutch specialities and we were all given Dutch hats to wear during dinner. After dinner the parents wanted to see the Matador of Magic: Devlin in the Admiral’s Lounge show room. We returned to the Explorer’s Lounge for an after dinner cordial and chocolates. Miguel and Mary were as gracious as ever and told us about the Filipino Crew Show the next night that Mary would be performing in. We promised to attend.

That night was the Dessert Extravaganza. We had heard that Holland America normally puts on a Chocolate Extravaganza for the late night buffet and that’s what we were expecting. We took a quick look at the desserts, had a small taste, and then went to bed.

Day 7 — Thursday, November 25: Thanksgiving at Sea

This was our last full day at sea. Mother just wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she didn’t get in the ship’s pool sometime today. At the sailaway from St. Thomas, we all sat by the pool with our feet in the water but that didn’t count.

We found Mother having her coffee out by the Lido pool and we grabbed some breakfast and coffee and 4 lounge chairs. We spent most of the morning sunbathing until we finally got our nerve up to splash around in the pool. Pools onboard ships are a bit different. Today, for some reason, it was especially cold! We finally braved the water, though, and let the motion of the ship move us around. At 10:30 a.m., Dad ran off for the kitchen tour.

We decided to have lunch out by the Verandah pool so that we could be there for the ice carving demonstration.

After so much good Holland America food, we decided that we needed to seriously do some laps around the promenade deck. Mother and Dad decided this would be a good place to relax and Dad even got in his nap. We also took this time to walk around the deck, videotaping the ship.

Tonight would be a big night — Thanksgiving and the second formal night. We took our usual afternoon nap in the cabin and awoke in time to get ready to meet in the Ocean Bar for our usual drinks and hors’doeuvres. Armando presented us each with artistically decorated dutch hats with our names and the date of our cruise included.

The dining room was festively decorated for Thanksgiving and included the ice carvings that we had seen that afternoon. Turkey and all the trimmings were offered, as well as lobster, and Beef Wellington. The only disappointment a Thanksgiving traditionalist might have would be that instead of pumpkin pie, this was the night of the Baked Alaska parade. It was delicious; no disappointment here.

The entertainment in the main showroom looked too tempting so we skipped our evening in the Explorer’s Lounge. The show was “Sounds of America” followed by the Filipino Crew Show.

Day 8 — Friday, November 26: Half Moon Cay

This was our last full day of the cruise. This morning we would be tendering to Holland America’s private island in the Bahamas, Half Moon Cay. After breakfast, we gathered in the Queen’s Lounge to get a tender number. Our number was 21 so we would have a bit of a wait before tendering to the island. Time went by rather quickly and before we knew it we were on the island. It truly is a beautiful island.

We spent most of the day either in the water or sunbathing on beach chairs. There was a barbecue lunch provided. There were also a couple of small shops to buy souvenirs. Mother loved the water (Dad did OK too).

The tender line back to the ship looked long but it moved rather quickly. We were soon back in our cabins for a rest and the dreaded packing. Always such a sad time.

Tonight was casual night in the dining room. But since it was Mother and Dad’s 50th anniversary, we decided to dress up. Tonight was the last night of the cruise which is the usual night that tips are handed out to the staff. Although most mainstream cruise lines have definite tipping guidelines about how much you should tip your particular staff members, Holland America leaves this up to you. They have a “tipping not required” policy but tipping is certainly appreciated and well-deserved in our opinion.

We met in the Ocean Bar for our usual drinks and hors’doeuvres. Then we proceeded to the dining room. Think we could get used to this routine.

Each night there seemed to be a special celebration in the dining room. The Holland America staff would bring a cake and sing whatever was appropriate for the occasion and tonight was no exception.

The parents opened up their anniversary card from us and the staff brought them a yummy chocolate cake and we all sang “Happy Anniversary to You.”

Unfortunately, it was the last night of the cruise so we really couldn’t enjoy the leftover cake. After our usual evening sojourn to the Explorer’s Lounge for one last time, we said good-bye to Mary and Miguel and there were hugs all around. We felt like we were leaving long-time friends. Perhaps we will see them again on another Holland America cruise.

Day 9 — Saturday, November 27: Fort Lauderdale Disembarkation

Our luggage had been put outside to be collected the night before. We were given color-coded luggage tags and a disembarkation number. After a quick breakfast, we sat with the parents in the Queen’s Lounge as we waited for our number to be called. Their number was called first so we hugged and said our good-byes. They were flying out of Miami. It had been a wonderful week together and a great way to celebrate their 50th Wedding Anniversary. Not long after, our number was called and we boarded the bus to the airport.

It was a wonderful cruise and we look forward to going on our next one. But not until the cats have forgotten this one.

About Kathy

Novelist & Music Producer