This cruise has been great. Alaska is beautiful; Holland America is well above my expectation. This is simply the best cruise I've ever had, and I would easily go on HAL again. I have never seen such personal services from any other travel companies before.
To keep this review brief, I'd like to first address some of the main concerns that others mentioned in earlier reviews:
1. Tracy Arm: It is beautiful. The captain took us all the to as close to the glacier as possible. We even had dinner right by the glacier! I believe this is all dictated by the weather...
2. Victoria: Yes, we're late. But at least we got the free shuttle to downtown. No other ship had that...
3. Food: it is very personal. But I found Holland try hard to satisfy everybody. (And their dining room service is efficient and quick.) I believe that if one doesn't like the food, it's not because of the quality but because of the difference in taste.
4. Fellow passengers: Yes, Holland has among the oldest passengers. But I do not understand why that bothers anyone? In fact, it is great: The public rooms never seem to be crowded, because many of the older folks elect to stay to in their (nice) cabins most of the time...
5. Programs: This is all measured on expectation. I was there to relax, so I thought the programs were perfect. If one wants days full of active programs, Carnival or Norwegian would be the way to go.
I'd also like to compare my experience at Oosterdam with a cruise I took in late 2008 on Celebrity Solstice (their second voyage), arguably the gold standard of all mass market cruise lines:
1. Embarkation and disembarkation: They are about equal. Both are very efficient and painless.
2. Staterooms: Although the room size, comfort, and amenity are similar, Celebrity has a slight edge because of its youth.
3. Ship itself: This is where Celebrity shines. Solstice looks so much more grand than Oosterdam, although the later is no slouch. I have to say, though, the public rooms on Oosterdam are a lot less crowded...
4. Programs: They are about equal. Both are on the quiet and intellectual side.
For those who are looking for more "active' stuff to do on board, look to Norwegian, Carnival, or Royal Caribbean instead.
5. Dining: They are about the same in the main dining room. Celebrity has an edge in buffet layout (but not necessarily the selection). But Holland's room service is simply EXCELLENT: All breakfast came within 10 minutes of specified time, and the eggs were HOT!
6. Entertainment: I can only say "WOW" to the Holland performances. They are over-the-top good: great choreography, stage work, and dancing/singing performance. Compared to that, Celebrity performances were just luck warm and OK.
7. Service: This is where Holland really shines. On Celebrity Solstice, I felt that service was nice, tight, and formal. But on Oosterdam, everything is so personal and warm. Where else would would you get your servers to sing Indonesian Happy Birthday to you, watch a "Filipinos Crews show," get to know the performers face-to-face, and talk to the captain in his very own cooking show? Holland tries very hard to make connection between its crews and the passengers, and I have to say that it works great!
8. Value for the money: This is one thing I REALLY don't understand. How can people pay the same amount for Holland or Celebrity as a Norwegian or Carnival ship? But that's what the pricing often looks like. So in the future, do yourself a favor: If you see a fare on HAL close to that of Norwegian or Carnival, grab it when you can. You will get so much more for the same amount of money you spend. And you would never look back.
I hope my review has convinced everyone that Holland, in particular Oosterdam, is a great ship to be on. The service alone is worth every penny, let alone the great performances, ship itinerary, cabins, etc. I know I will return to Holland soon...