We had a great time on HAL's MS Oosterdam. I was crazy enough..I mean cheap enough....to book me, my wife, my 17 year old daughter and my 70 year old uncle in a VC Verandah on the starboard bow. We wanted to take advantage of the very discounted 3rd and 4th person discounts. I really thought we would be okay in our 174 square foot room, but we caught a huge break the Tuesday before the cruise. The world's greatest cruise consultant called me and emailed me and said that there was a cancellation in Suite 7065, a Deluxe Verandah (Balcony) Suite directly across from the Neptune Lounge that we could have for a total of $498.00 more. I did things right this time and told her immediately to book it.
The reason I got the call is that I had received the same upsell offer 13 days before our cruise. The email came out at 12:01 p.m. and I was on the phone shortly after that. The consultant said there were three rooms available in the Deluxe Suite category.....all of the Superior Suites being offered at $198.00 extra were gone. I made the mistake of asking questions about the category and which room would be best. It took me about 2 minutes to get through my questions and I decided to book. Wouldn't you know it? During our conversation, the three rooms disappeared. I asked if any more upsells are typically offered and was told that one may come up if there is a cancellation, but the chances were somewhere between no way and no how.
To anyone looking for an upsell, I was told I got the email because I had specifically called and asked to be notified of any upsell opportunities. This was the first time I had ever been offered such a deal, and we saved about $1,800.00 over booking the Suite directly. We were excited about the extra room, the bigger verandah and all the perks....especially the laundry.
Our journey started in Texas. We flew into Seattle on Saturday night and stayed at the Hilton by the airport. This gave us a chance to try out the new light rail from the airport to downtown. A three minute walk from the hotel to the 176th Street Bridge and we were able to to get on the rail for $8.50 total and store our luggage with no problem. After a couple of hours in the Market, we took the $20.00 cab ride to Pier 91.
We were taken to a special line and checked in immediately and given our stateroom cards. The ship opened for boarding at 11:45 a.m. and we were among the first on the ship. The embarkation looked like it was moving well for everyone and was very well organized. Our room was ready so we were able to go straight to level 7 and drop off the things we were carrying. We explored the ship and felt it was very fancy and very clean. It was the nicest ship we had ever been on.
Like others, our expectations were low with the reviews talking about how worn the ship is, but we did not see any evidence of that whatsoever. I am not questioning the other reviewers, may be we just did not look hard enough. The public areas were well laid out and easy to get to. We went up to the Deck 9 Lido Buffet, which was really never quite like a buffet since we were served throughout the cruise. After 48 hours, the beverages became self serve and the desserts, pastries and fruits were self serve. Mostly, though, you need to stand in line at every station and wait for the crew member to plate your food and hand it to you.
We also noticed the curious lack of trays. Some of the many, many elderly aboard the boat would use the sitting area of their walkers as trays.....which I thought was ingenious. The buffet was extremely crowded on sea days and part of the problem was that groups would anchor window tables for hours and play games and cards and look at the spectacular scenery why others were very anxiously looking for a place to sit and eat. HAL should have someone with authority gently move these folks along or consider opening the Vista Dining Room, the main dining room, for lunch. The Vista Dining Room hosted breakfast and dinner, but I never saw lunch. To avoid crowds, you may want to pay the $10.00 upcharge and go to the Pinnacle Grill for lunch on Deck 2.
Overall, we thought the food was very good. However, it is our least favorite of the 3 lines we have sailed on. Norwegian's incredible variety makes NCL food our favorite and Carnival's food on our December 2011 cruise was excellent. Our theory....just a theory....is that the dishes on HAL are made less spicy and seasoned due to the average age of the consumer.
Our guess was that 80% of our shipmates were over 60. It seems that HAL really caters to senior citizens, who are their bread and butter. The catering to seniors seems to show up in the entertainment, the activities, the music around the ship.....everywhere. Unlike Carnival and NCL, there was no 24 hour restaurant or pizza. Only room service was available after around 11:00 p.m. but there were no room service menus. It was a little disheartening to try and get the room service order taker to try and tell me the menu categories in a very thick accent that I just could not understand. Room service was about a one hour proposition, but the food did come warm.
The nightly entertainment was much less ambitious than that of other cruise lines. Barnaby was really funny and edgy. Joel Mason as Elton John was a lot of fun. Joel Mason is really entertaining and funny, but his voice will never be confused with Elton John's. He is a fair singer at best, but he made the audience participate and everyone had fun.
The ships best entertainment is in The Crow's Nest with the soothing crooning of Matt Murphy and in The Piano Bar with the incomparable Nathan Temby. Temby was in his second week on the ship and he can really belt out tunes from every genre. The drinks were very reasonably priced on the ship and the happy hour promotion of buy one get one for a dollar was extremely popular.
The crew was outstanding. They work very, very hard and make you feel at home. Our room stewards were great and our wait staff was fun and full of energy. The auto tips per person are now $12.00 per day. We tipped the heck out of our concierges, waiters and room stewards.....the really deserved it.
Be careful about booking your excursions too early.....the ship ran late to Juneau. Even though we were anchored just off shore, we were not ready to get off the ship until about 7:50 a.m., and we were supposed to meet our tour rep at 7:30 a.m. We did not get off the ship in Victoria until about 8:00 p.m......an hour later than the already delayed time. The Captain said it was the headwinds that delayed us, but the NCL Pearl left after we did and ended up in Victoria at 6:00 p.m. Three shore excursions were cancelled....all Butchart Gardens related. Hopefully, HAL will straighten this out. We sailed Endicott Arm instead of Tracey Arm due to ice. We got very close to the glacier and the wildlife was great.
My wife and daughter went to the Pinnacle Grill Friday night for "An Evening at LeCirque". The charge was $39.00 per person. They reported an interesting dining experience, but not enough of an upgraded menu to make the $39.00 charge worth it.
I scoured Cruise Critic for every detail about the Oosterdam and appreciated all the reviews and posts that helped prepare us for our cruise. I saved all of The Explorer daily guides and can tell you what you need to know about activities or scheduling. The vast majority of the passengers wear slacks to dinner, but you can get away with jeans. Monday and Thursday are the formal nights. Lobster is served on Thursday, along with with what they call a fillet of beef. The last thought I have is to pack carefully and watch your weights and measurements. We saw several folks at the airport having to check over sized carry ons and having to pay oversize checking fees.
We would sail again on this ship anywhere and anytime. I hope you all enjoy your cruises on this great ship.