For a bit of context, my wife and I have been on 12 cruises and this was our first time with Holland. We have cruised with Princess and Royal and once each with Celebrity and Carnival. I think we have developed a pretty decent perspective on cruising over the years and before we cruised with HAL my perception was that HAL was likely a 3.5 star cruise experience compared to Carnival at 2.0 , Royal at 2.5, Princess at 3.0, Celebrity at 3.5 to 4.0 and the real high-enders at 5.0. I use Cruise Critic for 2 reasons: to gain insight into private excursion possibilities and to get familiar with the ship we are sailing on. In doing my research prior to our HAL cruise on the Oosterdam I saw a significant range within the reviews from readers on their cruise experience with this ship. I'm accustomed to seeing this -- where we have been very satisfied with the same cruise that other fellow passengers have been highly critical of. So with this being our first HAL cruise I was curious to see if the same would hold true.
Having just returned from our first cruise to Alaska with HAL, I can report that our cruise was excellent, HAL and the Oosterdam were just fine, and I'm further convinced that there are people out there that just should not cruise.
My perceived ranking of 3.5 for HAL would remain largely unchanged compared to the other lines and I would most certainly cruise with HAL again. As I had thought, HAL is a cruise offering that is more suited to mature adults, has a more refined culture about it, has a quieter atmosphere and delivers above average service and food quality. Based on the reviews and the passenger experience on our cruise, it had the same spectrum of people when it comes to outlook and attitude that I'm pretty sure you will find on every cruise. Quite simply, no matter what line you cruise with there are going to be people that apparently can't be pleased and are not happy unless they find something to complain about, there are those that choose to focus on the good versus the bad and are determined to enjoy the their holiday despite the small issues, and there are those that fall somewhere in the middle. My wife and I are of the opinion that there can be no such thing as a bad cruise holiday. Sure there are things that may not go right or as expected, but surely even a bad day on a cruise is still better than a good day off a cruise!! Surely there are more reasons than not to be happy and positive. Yet, it seems that some people are simply not happy unless they are whining or complaining or sending a message about how important they are relative to others. The absolute worst thing about cruising -- we have found -- is not the level of service or the food or the state of the ships furnishings, it's some other people on the cruise. Don't get me wrong, one of things we love about cruising is the people we meet and the ability to meet people, but the behaviour of too many people on cruises is appalling and reprehensible. For as nice and as well-raised as many of these people appear to be, they can be the most inconsiderate, rude and obnoxious people you could ever meet. They act as if they are above others and are entitled to act however they choose. We call them "cruise-spoilers" and while we largely try to ignore them, we have at times 'called them out' if their behaviour is bad enough to affect other people than just ourselves.
Enough of that though. My wife and I had a great time and rather than ramble on with every detail of our cruise, I'll share what we felt were the pros and the cons of HAL and the Oosterdam that stood out to us from other ships and cruise lines. And since the pros far outweighed the cons and since it is always nicer to talk about good things, let's start with the pros.
The Oosterdam is a very clean and well maintained ship. Staff and crew were always at work keeping her up to snuff. The decor in a couple of lounges seemed a little dated, but was certainly not out of line with the modern art deco style employed by some cruise lines. The overall theme is less flashy and more sophisticated with the use of rich woods, brass and darker colours. Very appealing.
Holding just under 2000 passengers, the ship was a nice size providing ample privacy and a quieter atmosphere. This is not your cruise lines if you are looking for the noisy, partying atmosphere found on Carnival or even Royal.
Suites were ample in size and very well laid out. Plenty of storage, large, well furnished verandahs and larger bathrooms that any other line we have been on. The Superior Verandah suites have a double door plus a separate window which makes the room seem open and airy.
Food in the dining room was excellent. Each night offered at least 4 appetizers, 3 soups and 6 entrees. Lamb chops, shrimp cocktail, escargot, lobster tail and mahi, mahi were all there, and more. Quality and selection with HAL is only exceeded by Celebrity in our opinion. If there was one surprise, it was their Caesar salad which consistently arrived limp and saturated.
Breakfast in the Lido Cafe was very good. Highlights included a waffle bar with various fruits and whip cream, an eggs benedict bar with 7 options to choose from and some of the best sticky cinnamon walnut buns I have had. Except for the crowds, breakfast was a treat.
The Crow's Nest lounge at the front of the ship on the 10th floor is a very welcoming and comfortable area to spend free time, especially on an Alaskan cruise when the weather keeps you indoors on sea days. With plenty of room to relax, read or visit, the panoramic windows surrounding the lounge allow you to take in the spectacular views from 3 sides of the ship at once. With the library on one side of the lounge and the bar on the other, the Crow's Nest is a cross between Chapters and Cheers. We have not experienced a lounge or an atmosphere like it on any other ship. It also becomes a great happy hours spot from 4 to 5 and they have an outstanding guitarist/vocalist named Matt Murphy. He is perfectly suited to the Alaskan itinerary. A must see.
By far the best bar beverage offering that we have had on a cruise in a long while. Excellent quality and quantity. Cocktails-of-the-day run $5.95, all other cocktails run $6.95 and beer runs from $4.75 for domestic to $4.25 for premium brands. Even better, from 4 to 5 every day in the Crow's Nest and the Ocean Bar they run a Happy Hour special where you get a second drink for an extra $1. Wow!!
HAL does not overdo it on the 'hawking' side. It is very low key when it comes to pushing photography and anything else most cruise lines try to push onto you. Well done HAL.
Disembarkation was very pleasant and relaxing. No gathering in lounges and waiting to be called. You are given a tag with your departure time and then you can start your day with a leisurely breakfast and wait in your stateroom or on a deck until your time arrives. Then you go to the gangway for an orderly departure. How civilized!
There were only a few cons that stood out enough to be mentioned, but clearly not enough to spoil the cruise experience or turn us off of HAL. These included:
Checking-in and getting onto the ship was the slowest we have experienced. Perhaps it was because this was the first Alaskan cruise of the season for HAL. They must be good at this though because it was the same at almost every port when you re-boarded the ship from shore. Slow line-ups and slow security.
My-Time Dining. This was our first experiment with this option because HAL does not take many reservations upon booking for the early seating. Given that our daughter was with us and does not like to eat late, we figured we would give it a try. First two nights we waited in a line that never moved until we finally gave up and went up to the Lido Cafe. While they served some of the same food, the Lido dining experience obviously did not match the formal dining room experience that we really enjoy. We spoke with the dining room doorman and were able to get an early dining seating, and all was good from that point on.
The Lido Buffet on sea days is very busy. Line-ups are slow and seating is hard to find, and is made even worse by inconsiderate passengers that choose to sit and visit long after they have finished eating. There is also a lot of space taken up with tables designed for 6 or 8 people when smaller tables for 2 or 4 would be more eficient.
Photo's are more expensive than most other lines and while HAL offers some packages that include digital prints, they are not brave enough to offer digital only packages for either some or all of the pictures taken. Such a waste, such an opportunity on all cruise lines.
Major CON with all cruises including HAL continues to be the passengers that should simply not cruise. These people take no notice of others, jump into lines wherever they choose, are rude and ungrateful to staff and act in general as if they are above all others. I say to these people, please stay home and allow appreciative cruisers the opportunity for an even better holiday.
Alaska with HAL and the Oosterdam was a wonderful cruise. While it had never been a top priority or 'bucket list' holiday for me, it was a very unique cruise experience that I would highly recommend to anyone with a sense of adventure and enjoyment for life. The trick we have learned with cruising is that not all cruise lines and not all ships are made for all cruise passengers. Each has its own unique culture and character. The trick is to find the one that suits you and your style, and then make up your mind to enjoy your holiday. We will definitely cruise HAL again.