My girl friend and I have cruised several times, with our favorite being Royal Caribbean, and least favorite Carnival. However Holland American now takes the top spot. We thoroughly enjoyed our cruise to Alaska via the Oosterdam in late May.
But to be honest, it didn't start the best. We had booked the transportation option from SeaTac Airport thru Holland America. We liked the idea of simply checking our luggage with HAL at the Seattle Airport and not having to worry about it after that. Luggage check in was a breeze, but then we had to wait outside for almost an hour for a bus to bring us to the pier. Although the waiting area was covered, it was still a cold blustery morning and the hour wait was unpleasant. Once on the bus, the driver lost her way, missed the entrance to the turnpike, so we had to circle around back to the airport via side streets in order to find the entrance. I felt we were lucky to have arrived mid morning, because combined with the hour wait for a shuttle bus, then the driver getting lost, we did not arrive at the pier until near 1:00. Still plenty of time to get boarded, but we had envisioned a leisurely morning, instead of waiting in the cold, then taking the long route to the pier.
Boarding the ship was handled quickly. It took us about 20 minutes to work thru the security, get our HAL cards, and allowed to board. We were told our room was ready...which was a pleasant surprise. We had a balcony room on the eight deck, near the rear elevator.
Our stateroom exceeded our expectations. We had read previous reviews on the condition of the ship and that the ship was a bit worn, but our room was clean, a good size, more than enough closet and storage space. The bed was very comfortable. We easily had room to hang all of our clothes and we had alot, and still completely store our suitcases (4) beneath the bed. We had not cruised Alaska before, so we brought along quite a bit in case we had cold wet weather instead of mild weather. By way, we brought way too much...but now we know better.
We thoroughly enjoyed the ship, especially the Thermal Suite (well worth the extra $199 for a couple). You can sign up for once on board which I wholeheartedly recommend. It was wonderful to have unlimited access to this amenity all week long. I only wish it was open until midnight. We do a lot of dancing in the evening and it would have been nice to unwind here.
We had signed up for the open dining, but we found ourselves eating mostly in the Lido buffet. The menu was the same as the Dining Room and it was so much more convenient to eat on our schedule. We did eat one evening in the Dining Room..and the service and food were fine, but it was the same quality as the Lido Buffet. I noticed on our cruise that the Lido Dining seemed more popular than the Dining Room option. Often times during the evening, we would walk several miles on the outside deck, which passed the Dining Room windows, and very rarely did we see the Dining Room full. Perhaps more travelers, like ourselves, liked the freedom to dress casually and eat without making a reservation. There was a good assortment from which to select, and the wait staff was superb! Since we are creatures of habit, we had a tendency to eat on the same side of the ship, and we got to know the wait staff. They recognized us quite quickly, and were always willing to make sure we were happy with the food and service. On our previous cruises, we only experienced this type of service in the main Dining Room...kudos to HAL for the staff in the Lido!
We didn't participate in a lot of the cruise activities or the HAL excursions. I had gone on the Internet and had the Visitor's Guide for our ports sent to us via snail mail...so we had a good handle on what to do and where to go..without spending a ton on excursions. We did Zip line in Ketchikan, and enjoyed that..otherwise we hiked and explored on our own.
We went to most of the evening shows....loved Barnaby (comedian and juggler). Show quality was average for a cruise, but enjoyable.
We hated to leave the ship. I still have sore fingers as they had to pry my hands off the railing to disembark. But as far as disembarkation goes, HAL has it figured out. Seamless, smooth, no waiting in large group in a lounge. Instead we had a nice breakfast on the Lido deck, then waited in our room until called to disembark. Easily the best disembarkation we have experienced!
We love the cruise, the ports, and the staff on the Oosterdam. It was a great week...we plan on taking another Alaska cruise with HAL next May.