Last time I was on ms Westerdam was in 2011 when we sailed from San Diego to Miami via the Panama Canal. I have such fond memories of that trip, lovely mid-size ship, great destinations, new friends made and good food. So I was a little concerned that these upgrades may alter the character of my favourite ship. I needn’t have worried though as the 12 days in dry dock and $60m seemed to have been wisely spent, retaining the ship’s timeless elegance and making it even more impressive. As you’d expect, some of the cash has been spent behind the scenes on nautical magic and things you never need to know about, like polishing the Azipods or changing the oil. It was the customer facing improvements that we were onboard to see though, so let’s go through some of those.
The Crow’s Nest has been transformed into Explorations Central (EXC) and you’d be forgiven for thinking that Holland America Line (HAL) had recreated the bridge of the Starship Enterprise adding some comfy chairs and a nice carpet. All ‘touchscreeny‘ and interactive ‘worktabley’, they’ve really ‘teched’ this place up. Fear not though, it’s all about giving you more engaging and vivid tools to find out information about your destinations and enriching your travelling experience. It’s easy to use and there’s a helpful dedicated team (real human beings) on hand to assist. Comfortingly there are even books and coffee there too. For budding captains there is a Virtual Bridge giving vital command information like speed, direction and even the angle of those Azipod things. This is a first for the HAL fleet and another fleet debut awaits you a few decks below.
HAL’s ships have always had tasteful art onboard, but now they’ve looked to their heritage and taken one giant step forward, bringing the Rijksmuseum to the Westerdam. Reproductions of some of the museum’s most famous masterpieces are showcased in a dedicated and delightfully airy space on deck one of the atrium. You can sit and comfortably admire all this historic art scrolling through on the huge wall sized screen, or browse the books available. You can even sit and sketch the art, practising proportions, lines and the like, or watch videos about the museum from your stateroom TV. It may be that, with all this help on hand, it could even help a philistine like me be more appreciative of art and the Dutch classics.
Not content with nailing their colours to the foodie mast with one celebrity chef, like some of their competitors, HAL have multiple world class chefs forming a Culinary Council to uplift and enhance the food experience across the fleet. Before dining ourselves we took a look at the new look for America’s Test Kitchen, which takes recipes and tests them over and over, to provide you with instructions and techniques to cook that perfect dish. The complimentary demonstrations are proving very popular (get there early) and there are paid hands on sessions as well. The Lido restaurant has also had a facelift, transformed into a marketplace concept with different themed stations for guests’ culinary delight. The partnership with top chefs also provides opportunities for ‘pop up restaurants’ and for our dinner the Pinnacle restaurant was taken over by Michelin star chef Rudi Sodamin. Now the Pinnacle is no slouch at mouthwatering food in normal circumstances but Rudi’s Sel de Mer lifted the experience to a whole new salivating and huge contentment level.
The Music Walk concept has added a new dimension to the musical pleasure of Westerdam’s guests. B.B. King’s Blues venue totally captivated me as I sipped my after dinner cocktail. The two singers had great voices and were accompanied by a fabulous band. I could have stayed there all night but I wanted to see the Billboard Onboard offering as well. Two talented pianists were taking requests and singing some great songs, creating a dynamic and energetic performance that really engaged their audience. You may be hard pressed to decide which one to go to, unless classical music is your thing, then the Lincoln Centre will be the place for you. Here, world class musicians are showcased, performing multiple chamber music programs each night. Also the exclusive partnership with BBC Earth which features a live concert to the backdrop of breathtaking Frozen Planet footage.
Now all this enjoying yourself may leave you needing a bit of uninterrupted rest and relaxation, so The Retreat is the perfect place for you. Hire your private cabana and soak up the luxury of it all, perhaps even add a SPA treatment.
There was a seemingly endless list of additional enhancements or improvements that the $60m facilitated including additional staterooms, suite upgrades, new interactive TV system and an opportunity to blend your own wine. A Gallery bar has also been installed on the Westerdam, featuring an exclusive cocktail menu created by celebrity mixologist Dale DeGroff. All I know is that my favourite ship is better than ever and I can’t wait to get on board again.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Holland America Line.