First let me say that I did a lot of research on Alaska cruises prior to booking. My research included the individual cruise lines comparing pricing, accommodations, services and dining, as well as through sites like cruisecritic.com. We ultimately booked through an independent agent through the Internet due to some booking incentives. After booking I started watching the blogs closely in anticipation to our cruise on the HAL Oosterdam leaving Seattle, WA on Sunday, May 13, 2012.
We arrived a couple of days prior to the cruise and stayed in Seattle, arguably one of our favorite places in the US. We arrived at the port for embarkation early (about 10:30am) and met DW's sister and her DH. Porters were available everywhere and before we were able to put a foot on the ground one was there ready to take our bags. The awesome service had begun. We entered Terminal 91 and found it to be clean and very well marked. The brother-in-law had rented a powered scooter and it was ready and waiting for him when they arrived at the terminal (big plus). As we entered the terminal, it became clear that one hand didn't always know what the other hand was doing. We were ushered toward an elevator (because of the scooter) but my DW was in the bathroom. The nice man that had offered the elevator had stepped away and a not so pleasant woman, pointing toward the elevator said "GO OVER THERE". Mind you, I am just starting my long awaited vacation...RUDE was not what I was looking for. Just as I started to chime in, the nice man returned and got us on the elevator. Security screening was not horrible, but I did have too many carry-on's (not more than I could physically handle, but more than I wanted to handle) so I was getting a bit crabby standing in line that wasn't moving as quickly as I would have liked. As we reached the front of the line, we were ushered to a nice lady that had a total of 3 people standing behind her...helping her. Not only was she new, but they were learning a new booking system as well. She did the best she could with what she had to work with, and surprisingly enough, I let it roll off. We were inside the terminal with check-in completed and waiting to board by 11:10a
Boarding began promptly at 11:30, and being in the front of the disabled line we were on board by 11:45. As we walked on, I asked if we could wait for our cabins in the Vista Dining Room - the response was "your cabins are ready". WOW! That has never happened on Carnival - we have always had to wait until at least 1pm. We were on and our vacation had begun. Now, all of the things that I had read in the blogs that I would like to comment on.
We booked a guaranteed SY category "Superior Suite". We were upgraded to an SS in cabin 8042. Upon entering the cabin we were definitely in love. Very large (for a cruise ship) bathroom with 2 sinks, tub with Jacuzzi tub and separate shower. There was lots of storage space, not only in the 4 closets but in drawers around.
The sofa was a red leather color, but was very comfortable. I laid on it most every evening for movie night. There are 3 nice chairs and a footstool. The lighting could be better, especially in the entry hall.
We had a slight problem with the in-room safe, but the staff came and took care of it.
This cabin is shown as having a queen sized bed - we had a king.
I had heard that the refrigerators were more like cooling boxes. I can tend to be very critical about things, but I must say, it worked much better than I expected. It was nice having it in the room. We brought on a 12-pack of soda and some bottled water and it was very drinkable.
The veranda was spacious with 2 chairs and footstools, as well as a round table and 2 chairs.
We were impressed by the cabin, and more so after looking at the other part of the family is 8027 veranda. It was quite a bit smaller and more cramped than ours. The upgrade was worth it for us.
The reviews that I have read about the crew were pretty right on. The staff that we dealt with (excluding the front desk staff) were awesome and always willing to go the extra mile. Our room stewart ("Su") always had the room cleaned and turn down down while we were out. He tried once when we were on the balcony, and when we offered to vacate so he could work he apologized and said that he would come back. Awesome...
The Vista Dining Room staff (Mafood and Gun) were great - could not have asked for better service.
The front desk staff were not so great. I found it very difficult to communicate with them over the simplest of issues. Their English was not horrible, but the accent does tend to get in the way when you are frustrated and trying to deal with a problem. We had purchased a soda card ($25 for a $50 card) - it was a good deal, but it would not activate and I took it back. After about 10 minutes of explaining the problem about 4 times, she gave me a new card. I didn't look real close and we tried to use it at dinner and it didn't work because it had not been "activated", which is supposed to happen the 1st time you use it - it didn't. I took it back a 2nd time - frustration level climbing - only to find that they replaced the soda card with a $50 beverage card and charged me for both. After explaining the problem to someone else again...they were able to make it right, and charge all of our soda purchases that had not been covered on the card.
Let me start with our top pick. The Pinnacle Grill was amazing! It was definitely worth the additional money. We ate there once for dinner and once for lunch. Would highly recommend.
The Vista Dining Room - as I said, the staff was excellent. I was really looking forward to the food after reading through the blogs and HAL's website. Maybe my expectations were too high, but the food was nothing special. The shrimp that they served had no taste, the steaks were less than prime and not very tasty. I could go on and on - but, it didn't ruin our cruise.
If we had be left only to the Lido I would have jumped overboard - even in frigid waters. The only word to describe it is "gross". I had better food in boot camp. The oatmeal was paste, the scrambled eggs were powered, and everything I tried (outside of the hamburger, taco bar and the ice cream) didn't get finished.
I had heard differing comments about the condition of the ship. I found the ship to be very clean and in good condition. I did not notice the areas of disrepair that were mentioned - and I was looking for them.
One thing that was not mentioned was the on-board photography. The sister-in-law found a package deal on HAL's website for $299 - all photo's taken on board included. We figured that we would look when we arrived and decide after that. Once on-board we found that the package had increased $50. If you like good photo's this is a good deal even at full price. We ended up with about 20 different seating's for photos, and came home with a ton of photo's. You can go to any of the places on ship where they are taking photos as much as you want, change cloths and go back if you like. If they are not busy, they will often do as much as you want, and as goofy as you like. DW took advantage of it and we go our monies worth.