I picked this cruise because of the itinerary and because it left and returned to Vancouver (our neck of the woods). My husband and I are in the 35-54 demographic so wondered if Holland America was the right cruise line for us but were certainly willing to give it a try.
Turns out that there were only a few minor drawbacks to sailing on a line pretty much dedicated to not only seniors but the elderly. Yes, we saw a few children from time to time and a handful of couples under 40 but our general impression was that the average passenger was about 80. I believe that the same ease of transportation that attracted me to this itinerary was also a draw to many older seniors living on the lower mainland of BC and Vancouver Island.
Staff on board made mention several times that they had never seen so many mobility impaired pax on a single cruise and that their wheelchair facilities were stretched to the max. Also there were a lot of Canadians. I didn't get the stats but we did run out of Clamato juice for Bloody Caesars so, yeah, lots of Canadians.
Embarkation was quick and easy. We had paid a little extra for an upgrade to a Deluxe Verandah which was roomy enough with lots of storage space and a big verandah (compared to my only other balcony on Celebrity). The stewards were very good; one was a bit shy about using English but there was no communication problem and they were both very quick to keep us in extra ice and laundry request sheets.
We choose the unlimited laundry and pressing option which for our 16 days was $119.00 and well worth it. There was also a $20.00/bag option but we're both XL-sized so wouldn't fit much in the bag. The first day out I sent my husband's dress shirts and two of my dresses for pressing so they looked pretty for dinner. The next day and every two days after that I sent socks, underwear and whatever else might need a wash so that when we got home there was only one small basket for me to tackle.
I've read some recent reviews complaining that the Oosterdam's furnishing are old, dirty and tatty. I noticed a few very faded lounge chair pads and some scarring on furniture but only when I was looking with a critical eye - generally I was so busy running from one event to another or meals or schlepping back to the cabin for a nap I never saw the imperfections.
The food was good to excellent. I was disappointed that the Chinese and Indonesian and Indian buffets were so mild but there was always Sriracha hot sauce or sweet chili sauce available to spice things up.
There were so many food choices that even with devoted attention to five or six meals a day I didn't manage to get "a bit of everything". Breakfast choices include: fresh fruit, danish pastries, donuts, congee, oatmeal, made to order omelets, waffles with choice of toppings (mango!), french toast, blueberry or banana pancakes, scrambled eggs, hash browns made with white and sweet potatoes, beans on toast, fresh squeezed orange juice, twenty types of tea, Swiss muesli, eggs benedict station with choices like Scottish (gravlax), St. George (real crab meat), and Messina (mushrooms and cheese sauce) oh, and bacon, eggs fried to order or scrambled, sausage links or patties, also bagels, cream cheese, gravlax, cheese slices and a few cold cuts just in case.
Early in the cruise they promoted a tour of the kitchens. There was one guy at the front of the line of passengers which stretched out as folks stopped to take pictures and look around. We didn't get to hear him at all but they did provide us with a map of our route and the stations we were passing. Some of the stations also put out samples. The pasta station had a nice display of ingredients (they use Barilla pasta) and plates of Italian sausage to taste. There were also big wheels of cheese with tastes, demos from staff making bread animals, fondant roses and ice carving, giant raw steaks that would be grilled up for dinner that night and a tray of warm cookies at the end.
We had the "As you wish" dining option which turned out pretty well for us. Again, because of the clientele we discovered quickly that planning for the later show (10pm vs. 8pm) and dinner anytime after 7:15 allowed us to ask for a table for two and frequently get it as well as choice seating for the show. Many sea days our evening went something like: 5pm happy hour with free hot appys in the Crow's Nest listening to Matt Murphy (excellent). Change for dinner, win trivia at 7pm (we got some great lootz) then head to MDR for dinner.
There was plenty to do on board. Trivia and karaoke seemed very popular on this sailing. Diane in the piano bar is fabulous and Matt the guitarist in the Crow's Nest knows almost as many songs as she does. Matt in particular likes to "adjust" the lyrics to the room and works the waitstaff into his act. The HALCats are great but I wasn't very keen on their vocalist. The Adagio Strings were also nice to listen to for awhile. The movies shown in the screening room during the day and twice instead of live entertainment on ports days included: The Help, War Horse, The Artist, Adventures of TinTin, Sherlock Holmes II, The Muppets, Mission Impossible IV, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (US). The screening room is too small for demand and we never arrived in time to get a seat but were able to sometimes catch the show we missed on the in-room TV the next day. No worries, there was always something to do even if it was time to lie in a lounger and read.
Speaking of reading I was pleasantly surprised by the scope and size of the library. In addition to many, many choices of books there were also two jigsaw puzzles on the go, chess table, daily Sudoku and crossword, as well as many board and party games available to borrow. Also in the Explorations Cafe (library and internet spot) you can get specialty coffees for almost exactly the same price as on shore. I only had one and it was very Starbucky. The barrista also has a little cooler with tea sandwiches, cookies and pastries. He'll offer you some with your beverage but I did see at least one person walk up and just get some goodies without purchase.
Happy hour (all of them) was always popular. 4-5 Ocean Bar, 5-6 Crow's Nest, 7-8 Ocean Bar, 9-10 Crow's Nest, 11-midnight Northern Lights. Second drink for $1 and a little dish with hot appys like mini crabcakes, chili rellenos, or siu mai.
I used the gym a couple of times before I got too lazy. The movement of the ship on the second and third days out made standing exercise challenging so I worked out from a mat on the floor. Really enjoyed the Lido pool. It was never very busy. On the rougher sea days it was actually the best place to avoid sea-sickness since you're body is completely in sync with your senses. It was also a hoot playing in the waves created by the ship's movement. The Lido pool was covered for much of the trip to and from Hawaii and the dome opened when we were in port. Very convenient.
The evening entertainment was also geared to what people think the older crowd likes. We found it mildly entertaining but somewhat cheesy and didn't even bother the last few nights.
The two things that were really outstanding were the Travel Guide Kainoa and most of the cooking events in the Culinary Arts Center. Kainoa is a gentle giant of a Hawaiian man who knows something about anything you could care to ask him about the history, traditions, culture, natural environment and food of Hawaii. I thought he was brought on board specifically for the Hawaiian cruise but he's been working for Holland America for years and is equally adept at lectures about Alaska and Mexico - who knew?
The events in the Culinary Arts Center were pretty much the on-ship highlight of this cruise. Young Daniel (a chef tournant, meaning he can work any station in the kitchen) from Vancouver and with the help of perky party planner a girl named Kyle entertained us every sea day with cooking demos of different foods made on board. Most demos ended with a tasting. Daniel also was the instructor for four hand-on cooking lessons ($29.00 each) where he had classes a large as 9 and as small as 4 put together several recipes into a meal which we then plated for ourselves and snuck into the back door of the Pinnacle Grill where we ate our creations with fancy table settings and wine service. I thought it was totally worth the money but now what do I do with 4 aprons...
The only other "enrichment" event we attended was the Digital Workshop on Making Movies using Windows Live Movie Maker. Even though we consider ourselves tech savvy we hadn't used this program before and are now much more likely to.
We even got along really well with the photographers on board who were very open to us using our own props (my husband brought his ukulele) and inventing our own poses to suit our personality. I strongly recommend if you want great pictures the photo staff would be delighted to do something different and have a chance to express their creativity. (Especially Daniel Gabor).
Port reviews appear separately.
We really enjoyed ourselves. The median age of the passengers didn't really bother us. We met nice people who just happened to be our parent's generation and they seemed to think we were cute, so it's all good. I will probably not pick Holland America for my next cruise but I certainly haven't written it off for the future.