HAL’s Westerdam will sail from San Diego to Mexico until February. // © 2016 Holland America Line
Feature image (above): B.B. King’s Blues Club performs soul, R&B and blues hits. // © 2016 Holland America Line
Reaffirming its longtime commitment to West Coast cruising, Holland America Line (HAL) recently increased its capacity on Mexico sailings by 65 percent by stationing the 1,916-passenger Westerdam in San Diego until February 2017. Replacing the 1,350-passenger Veendam with the newer and larger Vista Class ship means that guests now have access to expansive public spaces, high-quality nighttime entertainment options and more dining choices and amenities during the weeklong voyages to the Mexican Riviera.
With three full days at sea bookending the now-familiar ports of Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta in Mexico, guests have plenty of time to indulge in HAL’s superior culinary delights, including at the updated Lido Restaurant, which will be fully enhanced to become Lido Market next April; the poolside Dive-In at the Terrace Grill; the Chocolate Seduction drink nook; and the Dining Room, where dishes made by the Culinary Council excel. Diners can also participate in “An Evening at Le Cirque,” a pop-up dining concept at Pinnacle Grill.
In the past year, the line has also launched several brand affiliations that resonate well with its target demographic — clients ages 45 and older — including partnerships with Afar travel media (which delivers destination and port guides) and BBC Earth (which provides fun and factual entertainment to cruisers).
And a new collaboration with America’s Test Kitchen appeals to foodies by providing practical cooking demonstrations in the onboard Culinary Arts Center. Travelers will undoubtedly recognize the connection with the popular PBS show, which emphasizes learning everyday cooking techniques from expert chefs. This dedication to — and reverence for — recipe perfection, with obvious benefits for the home cook, drew standing-room only crowds at each of the five cooking demos offered during my cruise. The concept will be rolled out fleetwide by next June.
Similarly, the line’s recent “On Location” destination focus aims to bring the best of local flavor onboard, and succeeds during this itinerary with a poolside Mexican barbecue and other authentic culinary tastes throughout the voyage. Five Mexican Ambassadors — who are onboard for the entire voyage — regale guests with history lectures, gorgeously sung ballads, dance exhibitions, Spanish classes and craft workshops that spotlight Mexican history and culture while adding relevant context to port visits.
In addition, an On Location guide dispenses insider tips and recommendations to guests who are planning to explore the ports independently.
Aware that this is an oft-repeated, fun-and-sun itinerary, HAL nonetheless aims to appeal to sophisticated travelers, too, targeting those who are looking for a little substance to accompany their tequila shots.
And while two of HAL’s new Music Walk trio of branded venues (Lincoln Center Stage and Billboard Onboard) are slated to debut on Westerdam after a drydock next April, the already-popular B.B. King’s Blues Club is currently running packed shows nightly in the Queen’s Lounge. The quality of this eight-member Memphis band — featuring world-class musicians — eclipses virtually all other nighttime musical lounge acts in the industry with its impressive performance of soul, R&B and blues hits.
Now that the Mexican Riviera itinerary has regained popularity — mostly thanks to improved security in Mazatlan — the close-to-home cruising advantage of the Port of San Diego makes it the perfect gateway for Western U.S. and Canadian guests, since both San Diego International Airport and the Amtrak terminal are literally within view of the port.
But it was Westerdam’s charms that most impressed Al and Jean Stoffels of Rancho Travel Leaders in Carlsbad, Calif., during my sailing. Jean noted that the couple enjoyed dining in “the best lido at sea” and appreciated “a superior comfort level onboard, from the dining room layout to the mattresses and big bath towels.” The Stoffels also were particularly impressed with America’s Test Kitchen and the B.B. King’s Blues Club band.
That is surely music to HAL’s ears.