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Holland America Line's Westerdam
Alaska Explorer via Glacier Bay

by Linda Coffman

Westerdam docked in Ketchikan, Alaska

Sept 2009: In Seattle, where Holland America Line is headquartered, we learned that locals took an optimistic view of becoming a major cruise embarkation port. While on a pre-cruise harbor tour, our guide explained that their "build the piers and they will come" action has paid off. While the first terminal, right downtown at Bell Street Pier 66, stood idle for years, eventually it began to fill with cruise ships bound for Alaska. A second terminal area capable of berthing two cruise ships, Smith Cove at Pier 91, north of downtown opened just this year.

As we prepared for our Alaska cruise aboard Westerdam, two things stood out in our minds. First, Seattle is a great city and we were glad we decided to revisit it by spending a few days there both before and after our cruise. Second, we would be flying to and sailing from a US-homeport. No hassles with Canadian Immigration lines at the airport or pier.

After a two-day pre-cruise stay at Seattle's historic Fairmont Olympic hotel, we were ready to put the process for transferring from hotel to ship to the test. With transportation arranged by Holland America, it couldn't have been more seamless. As instructed, we made an early morning pre-boarding check in with the Holland America rep at the Fairmont Olympic and then we simply called a bellman to pick up our luggage. The next time we saw it was in our cabin aboard Westerdam.

After a leisurely breakfast and relaxing in our room, we gathered with fellow passengers to board a motorcoach for the 15-minute ride to the new Smith Cove cruise facility. As we approached, it appeared that we arrived at exactly the peak boarding time and we eyed the line inside with some trepidation. However, it moved swiftly and we were past security, checked in, and on the gangway in short order. The process was extremely efficient and Holland America employees in Seattle would put their counterparts in other embarkation ports to shame. From hotel to embarkation on Westerdam took less than an hour.

Here’s a hint for your future Holland America cruise. Be sure to complete the online check-in procedure before leaving home. Having done that, we didn’t even have to produce a credit card to establish our onboard account. We also pre-booked shore excursions and the tickets were delivered soon after our arrival on board.

Accommodations
Westerdam is one of four Vista-class ships, which at 82,000 tons carries 1,916 passengers. Eighty-five percent of passenger accommodations have an ocean view and two-thirds of outside staterooms and suites offer occupants a private verandah with attractive wicker-look furnishings.

Light wood tones complement the jewel toned drapery, carpeting, and bed skirt in all categories. There are basically six types of staterooms: standard inside, standard ocean view, deluxe verandah outside, superior verandah suites, deluxe verandah suites, and two penthouse verandah suites. All are functional and comfortable, with amenities including hairdryers, personal safes, refrigerators, flat screen television and DVD player, and two closets configured for hanging and/or drop down shelves. Twin beds that convert to a queen, a sofa, adjustable height table, hassock, and vanity/desk and chair round out the furnishings.

Our 200 square foot deluxe verandah stateroom on Deck 4 was an excellent choice—balconies on that deck are deeper than those located on the decks above. Oddly, drawers are only found in the small bedside tables; all other storage space is shelving. For two people on a week-long cruise, this arrangement is ample, but storage for three or four could be tight. Parents with more than one small child might consider adjoining staterooms for additional storage and a second bathroom.

Unpacking was interrupted by the late-afternoon boat drill and we were on our way in what seemed to be record time.

A chocolate eagle ready to make his appearance in the Dessert Extravaganza

Dining
One of the most appealing aspects of any cruise is the food. Another is learning about food and how the galley operates. So, we took the opportunity to go behind the culinary curtain and toured the galley to watch some of Westerdam’s chefs in action. A big favorite was the pastry shop where cookies, pies, cakes, chocolates, and petit fours are created. The delicate artistry that goes into the making of marzipan cake decorations for High Tea proved to be mesmerizing.

Is it possible to cook at home like a Holland America chef? Probably not in my home, but that has nothing to do with the efforts that go into the cooking demonstrations and hands-on lessons presented in Westerdam’s Culinary Arts Center.

The schedule in the Culinary Arts Center for our sailing was highlighted by “The Flavors of Bali” with guest chef Chris Salans. Originally from Washington, DC, Chef Salans attended the prestigious Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris. After stints in Europe and New York, his appreciation of Asian cuisine led him to Bali, Indonesia where the Modern Balinese Cuisine served in his restaurant Mozaic has earned worldwide accolades.

Our class was introduced to exotic ingredients from Asia as Chef Salans prepared Sesame Crusted Tuna and Cherry Tomato, Carambola and Rosewater Apple Salad. With some of the traditional ingredients of Bali not available in the United States, Chef Salans encouraged us to experiment with substitutions. His recipes are only guidelines and he stressed that we should be creative with ingredients. The resulting dishes should be a medley of flavor, color, and texture. For dessert, we were treated to a Lemongrass Sorbet with strawberries and lime leaf that Chef Salans also prepared for us.

I may not be able to make the sorbet at home (sadly, my kitchen appliances don’t include a sorbet maker), but I do look forward to trying to prepare the tuna. Truthfully, not being talented in the kitchen, the Westerdam’s Martini Mixology lessons and wine tasting sessions were more my speed.

While cooking is not my thing, eating certainly is. Aboard Holland America's Alaska sailings, the expected fare is featured on dinner menus (Surf 'n Turf, Rack of Lamb) and "available daily" items include classics such as French Onion Soup, Caesar Salad, and Grilled Chicken or NY Strip Steak. However, in honor of the region, offerings such as Alaska King Crab Legs mixed it up with two nightly offerings of "Wild With Salmon" dishes (Pan-Crisped with Mango Sauce, Grilled with Ginger-Cilantro Pesto, Mediterranean Spiced en Croûte, and my favorite, Apricot Glazed Salmon).

The Pinnacle Grill
Westerdam's Pinnacle Grill

Upscale dining in the Pinnacle Grill is a Holland America Line signature event that's too good to pass up. Try the Steak Diane, or any other cut, and it will be prepared to your specifications. Lunch and dinner are a bargain at $10 and $20 respectively.

We were fortunate to be able to participate in a Chef's Table dinner aboard Westerdam. Prepared in the Culinary Arts Center, it's a new concept for Holland America Line and one that "foodies" won't want to miss. Offered weekly for a maximum of 24 diners, the special five-course meal is prepared by the Executive Chef in the show kitchen and each course is accompanied by premium wines selected by the ship's Cellar Master. These outstanding dining events will eventually be introduced fleetwide.

For casual dining, the Lido Restaurant also serves items from the dining room menu with tableside service and dining room menu items can be ordered through room service for leisurely dining in your stateroom or on your balcony. Yes, it's chilly in Alaska, but it's not the North Pole!

Entertainment/Edu-tainment
While in Alaska, one would naturally expect an emphasis on the state's natural beauty and the culture of its native inhabitants. You wouldn't be disappointed on Westerdam. As on all Holland America ships, enrichment programs and lectures are an important part of the total cruise experience, and I'd venture that none are more popular than those on ships sailing Alaska waters. Twelve years before Alaska achieved statehood, Holland America was bringing visitors to the territory, so they have a lot of experience in the area.

Presentations by our on board Alaska Travel Guide were supplemented by National Park Service Rangers narratives in Glacier Bay and a Huna native who shared stories and customs about life in the area. While in Glacier Bay, only the whir and click of cameras punctuated the National Park Service Rangers' commentary over the public address system.

Aside from Alaska-specific enrichment opportunities, the most popular seats aboard Westerdam were those in the Digital Workshop classes where the techspert led complimentary classes in digital imagining, creating slideshows from vacation photos, creating a webpage, and even offered free time to work on personal projects using the skills learned in class.

While it would be impossible to take in every activity and show aboard Westerdam, some of our favorites were a 50s & 60s Sock Hop, singing along in the piano bar, and the production shows featuring Westerdam's Singers and Dancers. We also enjoyed before-dinner music in the Ocean Bar and late-night musicians in the Explorer's Lounge and Crow's Nest.

More to come in Part Two: Ports of Call


Related:

Behind The Stage — It's Show Time! and we ventured behind the stage after the performance to find out what goes into Holland America Line's production shows aboard Westerdam.

The Chef's Table Fine dining aboard Holland America Line's ms Westerdam.

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