Oosterdam is the twentieth ship that we have travelled on, therefore we feel qualified for the review that we are submitting for this ship. Additionally, we generally travel on voyages of two weeks' duration or longer, so have substantial experience of what is and is not acceptable for paying passengers on a cruise line that claims such terms as "refined elegance", gracious service", "signature service style", "our 5-star world" (all quotations from the 2012 Holland America Voyages brochure).
We had travelled on Volendam for a 17-day cruise from Sydney around New Zealand and return to Sydney over Christmas 2011. This was our first Holland America experience and we were thrilled at the quality of that voyage; Captain Pieter Bos and his team kept Volendam in absolute top condition, staff were always right on the money for first-class service and we had no reason to complain about the accommodation, food or service. It was primarily on the goodwill built-up on Volendam that we chose to use Holland America again for our next voyage. What a mistake.
We travelled from Australia (Sydney) on 16 March on Qantas Flight QF11 to Los Angeles, staying there overnight and self-driving to San Diego the next morning to join Oosterdam. Qantas enroute to Los Angeles was excellent, the flight being on the A380 aircraft with very good creature-comforts and superb service by cabin crew. Accommodation at Los Angeles was the Airport Marriott (very well-priced and comfortable, close to freeway entrances), vehicle rental was from Hertz at the Marriott. A nice upgrade from Hertz - we booked a Dodge Caravan for ease of transporting luggage, instead provided with a Mercedes GL450 4WD at no extra cost.
Porters at San Diego Cruise Terminal are as usual, excellent. They know what they're doing and they do it very efficiently and politely.
On arrival at our cabin, the premises were nothing short of putrid. Past passengers' pubic hairs on the bathroom floor; more hair within the bed linen; soap scum layering the sink, soapdish and shower-tile surfaces; carpet lined with grit and filth; litter (potato-crisp packets) on the floor adjacent to and beneath the bed; mattress stinking and reeked of perspiration; sofa head covered in dust with some dead insects for good measure; sofa and cushions stained and obviously not correct for use in accommodation represented as "5-star"; makeup stains on the pillow-linen for the bed. We genuinely believe that the bed-linen had not been changed from the cabin's previous occupants, if not longer than that. The hair-dryer's casing was severely chipped and therefore a safety risk.
No steward identified themselves to us as being responsible for our cabin. We approached a steward standing in the corridor (not doing much) near our cabin and asked him whether he was responsible for Cabin 5150, he said that he was and that seemed to be the end of the conversation. No enquiry as to the satisfaction of our accommodation, no greeting blurb as to the location of our lifeboat station, etcetera.
I rang the front desk to advise that we wanted housekeeping management to view our accommodation. Shortly afterwards, Housekeeping Managers Tessa and Melanie arrived at the cabin and agreed that the accommodations were in fact filthy. They could provide no explanation for the condition that the cabin was presented to us in, but advised that it would be properly cleaned when we went for dinner. On return from our meal, the cabin appeared to have been thoroughly cleaned.
Over the next number of days enroute to Hawaii, other events occurred - unfolding a napkin at the Lido Buffet Restaurant during a lunch, the napkin contained somebody's fresh nasal discharge - whoever folded the napkin must have seen this but chose to make the napkin available for use, complete with cutlery folded into it. Another lunchtime napkin in the Vista Dining Room contained some luxuriant black hair on another day. The bartender at the Ocean Bar one evening gave us a drink with somebody's fresh lipstick nicely decorating the glass's rim. The strip of corridor on Deck 2 between the Atrium and Queens Lounge stank strongly of vomit, all day every day, widely-commented on by many others.
Then the air-conditioning unit over the bed in Cabin 5150 started spewing out black soot into the cabin - onto the bed and cabin-furniture, probably onto us during the night and being inhaled by us, too. Even after a claim of repair, the unit continued to do this until finally stopping.
The Hawaiian ports were excellent, we made use of Dollar Car Rental for Hilo, Honolulu and Nawiliwili, Hertz for Lahaina. Lacklustre service at the Dollar depots, excellent service at Hertz. Tendering at Lahaina was fairly efficient and if you were prepared to start the day early, you got off early, too.
From the Hawaiian Islands back to San Diego, grumbles amongst various passengers were becoming more bold, but whether or not anybody else made their grievances known to the Oosterdam management, we are unaware.
Corridor-carpets and stairwells were always filthy, especially in the rearmost internal areas of the ship.
At lunch in the Vista Dining Room on the second-last seaday enroute to San Diego, I ordered a Tuna Melt sandwich, clearly stipulating without bellpepper as I have a severe allergy to this and to pickles. The waiter repeated the order back, which was witnessed by three other Florida passengers with whom we were having lunch. I bit-into the sandwich, and it was loaded with bellpepper. The response from my insides was immediate, resulting in a dreadful mess at the table (you can guess the images). Lots of apologies from the restaurant staff at all levels, no explanation though as to how it had happened especially given that the order had been correctly-taken and supposedly then correctly relayed to the kitchen. What the checking mechanism is then for the meal's forwarding to the Dining Room, is unknown by me.
The next day (final seaday), same time, I ordered a cheeseburger without pickles due to allergy. The cheeseburger arrived, on this occasion I checked the burger before biting it, and the burger was loaded with pickles. I informed the Head Waiter (same one as on the previous day with the bellpeppers) and he could not advise why this had now happened to me on consecutive days with advice of an allergy that would cause me to be seriously ill. At this table with us were four British passengers (one a retired judge). The judge ordered a meal which when arrived, he advised that it was inedible and insisted on a replacement. When the replacement meal arrived, the judge advised the Head Waiter that this meal was also inedible due to the way in which it had been prepared. The judge then gave-up on getting an edible meal in the Dining Room and they left to try to obtain edible food at the Terrace Grill.
We cancelled our housekeeping tips that afternoon, and only left the Dining Room tips still standing due to some degree of loyalty to our Dinner (Fixed Seating) Waiters, who were relatively solid in their table-service to us each night.
We wrote five positive-feedback compliments for various staff on Oosterdam, including the fabulous Glenn Gonsalves (personable and super-professional Manager of the Pinnacle Restaurant). As a comparison, we wrote over twenty compliment-cards for Volendam crew-members, struggled to find five to write about on Oosterdam. We received a letter from Oosterdam Hotel management thanking us for the compilment-cards we had written, and they included on the list a further four crew-members we had never heard of.
The two Cruise Critics Meetings that were held were well-attended, and many, many thanks must go to our wonderful Cruise Critic Den Mother Norma from Arizona, who did all the pre-cruise organisation and correspondence with Holland America for the CC meetings. Special hellos from us also to Dobie Mom from San Diego and Cruznmonster from Chicago. We very much enjoyed the company of all the Critics who attended. It was a nice moment to sign the CC banner which is held aboard Oosterdam.
Our dinner table (65) was an excellent collection of wonderful folk (family Dan, Diane and Shirley from San Diego, friends Kathleen and Dianne from Seattle).
Disembarkation at San Diego was relatively efficient, again with those great porters who know their business so well.
We hired a Chevrolet Tahoe truck from Hertz and kept this vehicle until departure from Los Angeles to Sydney on the night of 3 April.
Holland America place a 'Let Us Know' slip in the cabin in each evening and advise that if you have any concerns, put it in writing. We have learned that this is lip-service only by Holland America, and in our experience on Oosterdam this 'Let Us Know' advice is lacking in sincerity and commitment. We wrote four advices to the Oosterdam management during this cruise, firstly for the completely unacceptable cabin-presentation, then for the deteriorating condition of the hygiene-critical items (napkin with nasal discharge, etcetera). then for having been served on consecutive days with food-ingredients that I had advised the restaurant would cause me serious illness with a potentiality for worse. On the first two occasions, we received short responses signed 'Thoughfully' from the Hotel Services Manager. After the incident which caused me to be violently ill in the Dining Room, I received a note saying my correspondence had been sent to Head Office in Seattle (no mention of 'Thoughtfully' against the signature this time); there was no acknowledgement even that something had happened to me. We submitted a further letter after I was served with an allergic-food on the consecutive day - we did not even receive an acknowledgement this time, even though we specifically asked for a response. Gutless or incompetent management? Make up your own mind.
Any goodwill generated by Volendam on Holland America's behalf is well and truly gone now. We had intended to travel on Noordam in Europe this year, but not now. One older female passenger on this same Oosterdam voyage, when we advised of our intention to write this review for Cruise Critic, said "Tell 'em their ship stinks".
Where does the 'buck stop' on Oosterdam - how could this ship vary so differently in a passenger-experience to Volendam? Whispers to us from some crew-members from various departments on Oosterdam were that this vessel is perhaps not a good example of Holland America. In our view, on this ship, the buck stops with the Hotel Services management (go as far up the tree of the ship's management as you wish). During the course of the voyage, we had never asked for any form of upgrade, only seeking a vacation that lived up to (or near enough to) the promises in the advertising.
Oosterdam is relocating to Australia later in 2012. P&O Cruises in Australia, often commented for a rowdy passenger-demographic, at least provide very clean ships with good reliable service in recent years. Our tip to Australians who may be considering booking on Oosterdam, either as the opportunity to travel on a 'new' ship to Australian waters or due to previous good experiences on the excellently-run Volendam is DON'T. Instead give your fare to P&O or Royal Caribbean (who have also demonstrated a serious commitment in providing quality ships with responsible management to Australian passengers). This was a waste of vacation-time on a poorly-managed ship whose Hotel Management doesn't even have the courtesy to respond in writing after having actively solicited feedback (supposedly good or otherwise).