We were on the 14 Day Solar Eclipse Cruise from Sydney -- November 7 -- 21. This report is later than I wished due to an extended case of mal de debarquement. Very disorientating. Most reports so far have focussed on the Solar Eclipse and whether the experience lived up to what HAL had advertised. For us it did -- we are not eclipse chasers and there was excitement and pleasure in the event for us. The Oosterdam was a new ship and we enjoyed exploring it. It is s bit longer than we like for cruising local waters but aren't they all?
It is a ship where you know you are at sea baecase it is visible from bars and other public areas, you can walk around the deck and there is an aft deck open to all for enjoying the sunset and the wake of the ship.
We boarded shortly before noon and the process took less than 30 minutes. We did have priority boarding and although there was no queue outside at that time there was a crowd packed into the processing area upstairs at the Overseas Passenger Terminal. No seating of course -- this is the fault of the terminal design and there was some frustration, but the processing was efficient and fast. Do not worry if you arrive later or decide to defer boarding to explore. Lunch hours are extended until 4pm in the Lido on embarkation day and food service is effectively non stop somewhere on the ship all day. The Safety Briefing (aka Boat Drill) is at 5:30. If you or someone in your party has problems standing for any length of time identify this to the Front Office as there is no seating on the promenade deck -- they are removed to provide space. It also can get rather chilly standing around if you are on the windward side so take a jacket or wrap with you. We resorted to pool towels kindly lent by a fellow member of boat station 10. Before dinner check out the Adagio duo in the Explorer's Lounge and if Paul McD , the pianist is still on board head for the Piano Bar after dinner if you prefer small and intimate to the three tiered Vista Lounge for the Welcome Aboard Show.
Dining We tried everything once and had chosen Open Seating in the Vista Dining Room. For us Open Seating worked well. We met the director of seating at the lifeboat drill on the first day. He is a small dapper man with the imperious gestures of an Italian traffic policeman, when directing passengers to their boat drill stations and a twinkle when in charge of table allocation. Each evening he seated us within a few minutes, usually at the same table for 8 or 10 where we had excellent servers. On one formal night service (at a different table) was chaotic but otherwise was excellent and well-timed allowing us to make the late show at the Vista Lounge. Cannaletto was good and I can recommend the Cod Putanesca. We were not so keen on the Le Circe Experience in the Pinnacle Grill -- too heavy on large servings of meat but we did enjoy lunch there, with a lighter meal. The Lido was not at all like a cafeteria. No lines past a selection of offerings in bain maries or large open spaces with masses of tables. There is a central servery section with different stations -- Asian, Salads, Entrees, Pastries etc. Tables are set up around the side in clusters , many with sea views and tables are cleared quickly. The Asian, Salad and sweets/pastries stations were good and they do an excellent fish and chips cooked freshly in small batches. Food in the MDR / Vista was varied. The soups were good as usual on cruise ships as were the salads -- remember to ask for anchovies on your Caesar Salad!. We found the fish (apart from shellfish) and poultry better than the meat dishes and learned to avoid heavily sauced dishes which tended to be on the sweet side for our taste. In general the food was on the unadventurous side with no bitter, sour or contrasting flavours. Room service for breakfast was always on time and only once delivered less than piping hot. If you order tea ask for extra tea bags and double the order so you get enough hot water -- no it will not be boiling.
Bar prices are on par with other cruise lines -- even a little cheaper due partly to the strength of the Aussie dollar even with the 15% surcharge/gratuity. There were some reasonably priced wines on offer -- less so in the Pinnacle Grill and Vista Dining Room than n the Lido. They did not run out of the cheaper wines before the end of the cruise. Few Australian or New Zealand wines, except at the premium end of the wine list. Australian wine lovers had brought wine on board and drank it, paying the $18 cover charge and said they were still in pocket.
Getting around the ship. Our cabin was mid ships and we used the outside glass elevators -- which were usually less crowded and quicker, since some people were uncomfortable with them. Trekking from the dining room to the show lounge could be a bore but on deck 3 you can slip outside and walk along the wide wrap around promenade deck. No broken down lifts!
Public Areas Our favourite in the daytime and at sunset was the aft pool area, for swimming, sunbaking and casual dining at lunchtime. There were few children on board so the "adults only" status of this pool was not tested. The water was heated! and the weather fine enough for enjoying the sun, with shaded tables if you preferred. The midships pool has a retractable roof and was very popular -- more for lolling around reading and sunbaking and casual dining and drinking than for swimming. This area is also used for spot sales, ice carving, barbecues and other events so would only be attractive to more serious swimmer (IMO) in cool or wet weather. Perfect for a New Zealand cruise! Indoors the Crows Nest with wrap around windows at the bow of the ship attracted people all day for Trivia, the excellent library, computer access, the Explorations cafe for speciality coffees and free nibbles and just for reading and sea gazing. There is also a good bar and lots of varied seating from loll about to "sit up and concentrate we are going to win trivia". . In the evening there are numerous bars tucked in along the sides of the lower promenade deck and two around the rather small atrium. They mostly have windows looking directly out to sea and are also popular as informal meeting places and for indoor relaxation during the day, when several of these bars are closed. The three most popular bars were the Piano Bar for the entertainment, the Ocean Bar on the upper promenade deck for the Happy Hour -- a bit early for us at 4pm and the Explorer's Lounge where the Adagio duo (piano and violin) provided light classical and show tune music before and after dinner. The Explorer's Lounge is not a good choice if you are in a talkative group -- you will be sternly shushed while the duo is playing. The Vista Lounge (the main show and lecture theatre) is all red plush and has rather intrusive columns holding up the balcony level. Not my favourite on board theatre set up. I recommend you head to Deck 1 via the forward lifts and try for the comfortable chairs and tables on that level or opt for the balcony level on Deck 3 if you like to overlook the stage. The computer room, culinary arts centre and other meeting/seminar rooms are well set up and a good size. This reduces the pressure on the other public areas when there are groups on board wanting meeting rooms as there were on our cruise. The Culinary Centre (aka The Queens Lounge) doubles as a dancing, Karaoke and game show venue in the evening.
Going ashore and tendering All four tenders were working and the process was efficient. There is a "back of house" lift to the tender platform if you are not happy with stairs -- ask for access when you collect your tender tickets. There were some delays first thing in the morning for tender tickets but no long lines. Returning to the ship and transfer ashore was quick without waiting time if you went ashore after 9:30 am. We were disappointed that the tender policy for scooter users proved to be more conservative than on Princess or P&O. Our small scooter was refused boarding for the tender and we needed to hire a wheelchair to get ashore at Hamilton Island and Isle of Pines. Expensive as there are no single day hires possible. We have been ashore three times on Isle of Pines with the scooter but... the decision is non-negotiable in these matters. In Brisbane and Noumea, where we docked at the commercial port, there were free shuttles with a quick turnaround and the queues were not long except first thing in the morning. The only disappointing port was Hamilton Island due to poor timing. It was a very busy weekend due to the annual Hamilton Island Triathlon so no independent tour operators were free, the shuttle around the Island had a queue at every stop and there were no buggies for hire at the Marina and those on the other side of the island were already spoken for. As a result the active legged it across to the beach and the less active mooched around the waterfront. Good oysters at the waterfront fish and chips cafe -- and they sell wine!
Entertainment The lectures and special events during sea days were excellent and worth booking when this is required(E.g. Culinary Sessions) or lining up early if it is turn up and wait. (E.g. Computer sessions). Offerings on our cruise concentrated on the Solar Eclipse, Explorations and Captain Cook and the Southern Night Sky. Trivia was popular and well run. There was a bit of a lull mid afternoon but I guess that allows for the odd nana nap, sun baking or tucking into afternoon tea. The production shows in the Vista Theatre are not in the P&O class but they are enthusiastic and cheerful. One act -- a juggler was amusing if you had an ear for his accent and could follow the American references. The best act in the evening for us was the pianist in the Piano Bar. There were Karaoke evenings and dancing in the Queens Lounge and in the Northern Lights night club.
Shopping on Board A very limited range of liquor except for high end spirits with prices no better than on line for more common items. Definitely not as good as Vila. The same is true for cosmetics and skin care -- you will find a better range and prices on line or from cut price chemists. There were some reasonably priced items in clothing in a wide range of sizes if you get caught out by weather changes. Some of the jewellery was well priced -- apart from the drop your jaw high end precious stones and watches. They had reef shoes for sale but the general store for things like Band-Aids and nibbles was very limited and tucked into a corner. Stock up well before you cruise or while ashore!. The general store on Hamilton Island did a roaring trade!
The Deluxe Veranda Suite Experience. We took advantage of an upsell and splurged. It was a good choice for us. The Neptune Lounge provided an excellent continental breakfast, delectable take out goodies to enjoy as a light lunch on our balcony with the wine we had brought on board and the concierges did sort out bookings, bill errors and other requests sensibly and quickly. The Laundry Service was excellent. I wish I had taken a photograph of Harry's socks, which I had included by mistake, as they were returned by the laundry - wrapped in tissue paper and in a wicker basket. My only gripe about the cabin was the door onto the balcony. Getting it open required a lot of strength, think opening an airlock, and holding it open required placing items of balcony furniture in just the right combination.