Beware this is is my long day by day review of our Christmas cruise on the Oosterdam from Sydney -- New Zealand. We're a family of 5 from Australia, son aged 17 and daughters 15 & 12 years. This was our 3rd family cruise, have previously done the Caribbean with Carnival and the Mediterranean with Costa. We were in interior connecting cabins 1059 & 1063. Was a wonderful cruise, especially being onboard for New Year's Eve.
Days 1/2/3 Wednesday 19 -- Friday 21 December
Boarding was smooth and easy, we were onboard by lunchtime and soon enjoying the first of MANY meals courtesy of Holland America. Only snag was one of our 5 bags not making it to the stateroom. Eventually we found out that it had been quarantined as we were carrying "contraband" -- ie a travel iron. There were dozens of bags lined up for a similar offense. We had to leave the iron with them, and were able to collect it on the last day. I was very happy though that we were able to bring bottles of wine onboard in our luggage, was nice to be able to have a glass in our room. The Oosterdam is a smaller ship than we've travelled on before with a capacity of 1900 passengers. On this sailing over 1400 are Aussies, which is also a very different experience. There's 300 Americans/Canadians and the rest a cross section of nationalities.
An early highlight was the trip out through the Sydney Heads. The kids couldn't understand why hubby and I were so excited about it, particularly when we had to forego dessert to be up on deck when we went through them. Through the whipping wind both made quick calls to our parents making the most of the last rays of mobile coverage as we left the Harbour.
15 & 17yo are having a great time at the Teens Club, our son hasn't got to bed till after 12.30am both nights (we only find out when he tells us in the morning, we're fast asleep by then!) Daughter calls it quits a bit earlier. They're enjoying playing all types of games and sharing travel stories with the other teens, many of whom are extremely well travelled.
12yo has not fared as well with kids club. She's in the 5-12 year group and being at the top end of the age range finds some of the activities not so interesting. We did laugh when she told us some of the kids were too "psycho/out there" -- and given those are terms occasionally applied to her behaviour, we thought they must have been really extreme! She has still been popping in there a few times each day to check it out, and then leaves once she gets bored. She's realised you can't turn back the clock, 7 is obviously the optimal age for ship kids club (the age she was on our American Carnival cruise, her perfect cruising measure). She was ecstatic though yesterday when she borrowed a dvd from the front desk (they have a huge collection, free to borrow which is great). She came in to tell me "this is the highlight of my cruise -- they asked me to sign a receipt. I signed a receipt!!!" In fact, she repeated it the rest of the afternoon, and thought she'd done such a good job of her signature that she should be famous and sign autographs on request.
Hubby has continued his favourite cruising pastime, playing Bridge with the oldies. Our son is desperate to find a pair they can play 500 with, but in lieu of that he's joined Dad for morning bridge sessions. Both their heads are spinning by the end of it with the intricacies of the game. The bridge players seem to be mainly Americans and hubby said they're disappointed that HAL don't hold bridge tournaments on this cruise, just announces bridge sessions at 10am and 2pm each day in the card room for people to make up their own groups and play. My main activity seems to be perfecting the art of the nap. The benefit of an inside cabin is that there's no sun peeking through to wake you up, so you can sleep at any time. I'm still sleeping fine at night, but on our first sea day I had 3 naps. The girls reckon the constant gentle rocking of the ship makes you dopey. Everytime I sat down to read I'd end up giving up and lying down to sleep. So far today has been only a single nap day, so hopefully I'll kick the habit soon. We have lost an hour each night to get us to NZ time ready for our arrival tomorrow. It's a good way to do it, a more gentle adjustment than in 1 hit.
Hubby and I have been good and gone to the gym each morning so far. He's been doing some exercise classes with our 15yo daughter and I do an hour on the treadmill.
After almost 2 days straight we're still surrounded by nothing but water. We're sitting in a lounge at the front of the ship looking out at grey blue seas and a smattering of tiny white tipped waves. After fairly constant cloud cover since departing, we now have mainly blue skies. The crew are telling us this is one of the smoothest Tasman Sea crossings they've had, hope we're as lucky on the New Year's return sailing.
Day 4 -- Saturday 22 December
Hubby, 15yo and I were up at 6am to head to the gym and watch our passage into Milford Sound. After 2 days walking on the treadmill looking at nothing but ocean, it was such a treat to be surrounded by craggy ranges, glistening waterfalls and snow capped peaks. It was actually not conducive to raising my heart rate, as I'd walk for 10mins then have to pause the machine and duck out to the decking in front of us to get some shots without glass in front of me. Coming into the Sound initially was disconcerting. We came into a large cove and for a few minutes it looked as if we were sailing straight for the rock face, and then eventually around the left a passage opened up where the ship could enter. The weather was unbelievable, Milford Sound is usually renowned for its grey skies and drizzle but we got the most beautiful blue sky and calm water, it was glorious. I gave up on the gym and went back to other kids out of bed, so we wandered the deck taking in more of the view.
A lady walked past me at lunch today and I glanced at her and thought she had hair like Pauline Hansen. Turns out she had pretty much everything like Pauline Hansen -- yes, our first bit of celebrity spotting onboard! (note for non-Aussie readers, she is a well known ex politician). The rest of the day was spent sailing round the south of the island and through some more Sounds, including Doubtful & Dusky. The clouds had come in by the afternoon, so we were lucky to have the blue skies for Milford in the morning. All were beautiful with plenty of photo opportunities, we had fun zipping around the ship to find the best vantage points, one of my favourites was lying on deck chairs at the very top front of the ship, where you could see both sides at once.
They've been advertising "family bingo" at Club Hal (kids club) this afternoon since we boarded and 12yo had been hanging out to play. It was fun and I did manage once to be first to stand up (with one to go), but no cries of "bingo" for any of us. There's half price internet for 2 hours this afternoon so I've logged on for the first time to send this. We plan to watch Lord of the Rings in the onboard cinema tonight, will be good preparation for our visit to "Hobbiton" next week. Tomorrow we'll finally get off the ship in Dunedin.
Day 5 -- Sunday 23 December - Dunedin (refer my port review for details of our trip on the Taieri Railway)
Had our usual fab dinner and watched an Aussie comedian Sam McCool for the main show tonight (apparently he's a "global success", would love to know how that's determined!) His best joke was about cricket -- "a game the English invented so they could not lose over 5 days". 12yo has got more into the Kids Club lately and was actually the last one home tonight. The late nights caught up with the older 2, and given that we dock at 7am tomorrow they were back by 9pm in readiness. It was quite funny to have big kids all tucked up in bed and 12yo not scoot in the door till 9.30pm. Something else that's caught up with 17yo today were his physical excesses at teens club. 2 nights ago they had a limbo competition (which he won) -- apparently he's quite a star at it, but is yet to give us a demo. Yesterday he was groaning at regular intervals about his sore limbo abs, which were then made even worse by his participation in a "planking" competition last night....you should have heard the moans escaping him today
Day 6 -- Monday 24 December - Christchurch/Akaroa (refer my port review for details)
Dinner tonight was our second formal night (although this one wasn't compulsory). We flew back in from the tender and changed in 10mins flat to make it to dinner (almost) on time. We were excited to have an English roast complete with Yorkshire pudding on the menu tonight, only to have hubby try the pudding first and say it was nowhere near as good as his Mum's.
Hubby & my treat tonight was a port & chocolate tasting session (cost $15pp), very yummy. At 11pm there was a "Sounds of Christmas concert" which featured choirs of various nationalities singing their own carols. The kids ditched us straight after dinner to head to kids/teens club and we've promised them their Christmas present tomorrow will be us not waking them up.
Day 7 -- Tuesday 25 December
Merry Christmas! We managed a Christmas sleep in till 7am. I enjoyed a few laps of the deck taking in the lovely views of "Cloudy Bay" right at the top of the South Island where we anchored for the day. Santa arrived onboard mid morning, they had filmed a video that was shown on the big screen while we waited in the theatre. They'd filmed he and the elves climbing down the ship's funnel, then using most of the facilities -- shooting hoops on the basketball court, eating in the restaurant, singing with the band, and our favourite -- having his beard set with hot rollers in the salon, it was quite entertaining. Then of course he actually arrived in the theatre and every child and eventually adults as well if they so desired lined up for a photo with him and received a gift.
Kids spent pretty much all day in Club Hal/Teens club. Hubby and I lazed around, I finished my second book for the trip on a lounge chair on the top deck this afternoon ...what a life. Tonight was our 3rd formal night, we had some more photos taken on our way to dinner. Dinner was delicious as usual, most had turkey but our favourite was the "Chocolate Mousse Snowman" for dessert. As hubby said "great meal, and I didn't peel, cook, serve or wash up any of it". The show tonight was Broadway Hits, was quite good but they don't seem to have the same wow factor as we've seen on bigger cruises.
Day 8 -- Wednesday 26 December - Wellington (refer my port review for details)
The show tonight was billed as part acrobat/part vaudeville "Mr Fish" from a guy who used to be in Cirque du Soleil. Hubby was keen to have a front row seat, so we got there early to secure one -- which is something I'll never do again. We'd manage to sit in his prime audience participation spot and during the evening he spurted water all over us, came down took my sandal, smelt it, licked it then balanced it on his nose (ugh!!!!), and for his finale, popped over to pick up our wine glasses and sprayed the contents over us -- definitely not our favourite night.
Day 9 -- Thursday 27 December - Napier(refer my port review for details)
We set sail by 2pm, which is a pretty short time in port, but it at least gives us a relaxing afternoon onboard before our final 3 full on port days.
The show tonight featured the Oosterdam Singers & Dancers in "Stage & Screen", enjoyable enough, but missing some of the wow factor I've seen on cruises with a larger dance company.
Day 10 -- Friday 28 December - Tauranga (refer my port review for details)
Day 11 -- Saturday 29 December - Auckland (refer my port review for details)
The sailaway from Auckland at 5pm was glorious. Hubby & 15yo went to the gym for an Ab class (such dedication), while I poured myself a glass of wine and went to deck 10 to enjoy the view.
We're really enjoying the cinema on board, only seats about 30 but has nice comfy seats and a decent sized screen. We've watched a couple of the Lord of the Rings films and tonight saw "The Cup". It's been on my to watch list for ages, so was pleased to finally see it. Was a bit sadder than I imagined, but a good story. We went straight from there to the late session of the main show, ventriloquist Patrick with his puppet Matilda (a feisty gal from Jamaica). I wasn't that excited at the thought (and was definitely not sitting anywhere near the front row!), but Hubby and girls were going so I joined them. Of course he turned out to be very good, we laughed a lot.
Day 12 -- Sunday 30 December
Our final port day was another 7am tendered start in the Bay of Islands. After such glorious weather in Auckland it was a shock to be back to rain. We'd hired a car again, this time from Rent-a-Dent firstname.lastname@example.org it was meant to be an Odyssey but it had apparently been in an accident so we had a replacement waiting for us. I wasn't too worried by the rain as our first stop was to explore the Kawiti glow worm caves a 40min drive from port. We arrived at the 8.30am opening time to see a sign on the front gate "Closed due to flooding" -- now that wasn't on the schedule! The rest of the day was to be visiting a few wineries and waterfalls, but the earliness of the hour and the driving rain wasn't conducive to either activity! So we pottered along the country roads up to Kerikeri, visited a very pricey chocolate factory and a few other shops, wandered round some markets in the drizzle and photographed NZ's oldest building "The Stone Store" from the car as it was too wet to get out!
Thankfully the rain did stop long enough for us to see Haruru Falls, New Zealand's famous horseshoe falls. The similarity to Niagara is in shape only, Haruru is like a bonsai copy of Niagara -- but they were still fun to see. The benefit of all the rain is that there was plenty of water flowing. We ended up then returning the hire car early and being back onboard in time for a late lunch and lazy afternoon of reading and relaxing.
I had thought that the benefit of being on a ship tour to the glow worm caves would at least be that they'd be informed it was closed, so you'd have time to organise something else, but apparently not. My 17yo son had friends from the Teens Club on the ships tour bus, they sat on the bus at the dock for an hour, supposedly waiting for a passenger who hadn't turned up. They eventually left, didn't go to the caves but just drove around the region. They were never told why they didn't go to the caves (which sounds odd to me!), but the kids didn't know they were closed for flooding until my son told them that night. Last he heard, their parents were chasing up with a ship excursion team for a refund on the tour.
After being somewhat down on the quality of the shows earlier, we were again impressed with tonight's performance. It was an Australian pianist, Paul Cincotto who played a great selection of pop and classics, really enjoyed it. Hubby and I finished the night watching Lord of the Rings -- the Return of the King in the cinema. Just as well Aragorn was worth the time investment as it meant we missed the chocolate dessert extravaganza late that night. The girls did check it out and assured me that while the chocolate fountains were good, the rest of the food wasn't that impressive (but perhaps they were just consoling me as I missed it!)
Day 13 -- Monday 31 December
We were well and truly ready for this sea day, made even better by getting an extra hours sleep as we started the adjustment back to Australian time. I had intended to watch the movie "South Solitary" but arrived just before the 11am session to a packed house. Next session wasn't till 4pm, so we went down to the front desk and asked if they could add another, which they did at 1.30pm. Only I went in to watch it (from our family that is), but I got lots of teasing from others sitting near me as first my 15yo came in with a huge slab of raspberry chocolate cake they'd ordered from room service for me to eat, then 20min later hubby pops in with a glass of wine for me...not since Gold Class has there been such a good way to watch a movie! Spent the rest of the day reading and writing, then started preening the girls for our last formal night. We'd bought a set of hot rollers for the trip so we played hairdresser together to get some curls happening.
There were fun Happy New Year hats, headbands, whistles and noisemakers on our table for dinner, which kicked off the party atmosphere. Too many choices of fantastic desserts, but we all settled on the New Year's special of berry mousse in a huge amount of chocolate casing. The show tonight was a magician. His grand finale didn't quite go to plan, he was onstage on a motorbike, then "disappeared" and reappeared in a side audience entrance and was meant to zoom along on his bike through the centre aisle and ride down to the stage. Unfortunately a lady in a wheelchair had taken up a position in the aisle which blocked his path, so he had to dump the bike and run along instead, not quite the grand entrance he'd planned.
The grand finale for the year was a party in the main showroom from 11pm. The music and atmosphere were fantastic. 12yo and her friend were dancing enthusiastically on stage, 17 & 15yo were on the dance floor with the teens, it was fun to be able to watch them all having a great time. I ordered a glass of champagne about 11.40pm just before they brought out trays of free ones. Not to be deterred I quickly downed that and hubby nabbed another 2 for us. We all yelled out the countdown, the captain came out to ring the ship's bell on stage at midnight, balloons and streamers were flying, just a brilliant time. It was so good I told hubby my new year's resolution is to have Christmas at home and be at sea each new year's!! We danced for another 30 or so minutes and left the kids to it. The girls weren't far behind us, when I peeked in just before 1am 17yo was still out partying. Just before falling asleep, hubby says "I'm very worried about your new year's resolution...."
Day 14 -- Tuesday 1 January 2013
Another extra hours sleep in, and now we're back on Aussie time. You could not get better timing to bring the new year in than that! Very sad that this is our last full day onboard, quite a few people booked the 24 day option and will continue from Sydney for 10 days round the South Pacific -- wouldn't that be nice?
They really pushed that at least one person per cabin should go to the Vista Lounge this morning for info on how to "transition from ship to shore tomorrow" . Turned out to be a waste of time, was pretty much a 30min spiel from Cruise Director Drew on how to be generous when filling in their survey sheet as it's such an important part of their measurement system.
12yo kids club had a talent show this afternoon, she and a few of the other girls performed a play and a couple of skits. We also went to another session with the magician, where he performed and explained how to do a few of his tricks, was very good. Spent the rest of the afternoon packing our bags, which had to be in the hallway by midnight. The final show was a variety performance featuring guitar player Bob Howe, Ventriloquist Matilda & Patrick and pianist Paul Cincotta.
Day 15 -- Wednesday 2 January 2013 -- DEPARTURE
Hubby and I wanted to see our entry into Sydney Heads so we committed the sacrilege of setting an alarm for 6am on our final day of holiday. It was lovely and peaceful wandering around the ship at that hour though and enjoying the view. We watched the sunrise as we were just in the harbour, then too quickly we were approaching Fort Denison. Hubby ran down to wake the kids, and we all watched as she squeezed under the bridge to berth at Darling Harbour.
We had an early breakfast in the buffet for what we thought would be our last waffles of the trip. We'd selected the later of the departure options (9.30am) and happily ended up with time to indulge our inner hobbit and squeeze in 2nd breakfast just before disembarking.
Some other random memories from our time;
Hubby has loved the chance to reconnect with US TV, in all its glory. He's been checking out a few of the gridiron games, and the ultra tacky ads in particular are a highlight for him.
12yo said the other day that when she gets home she'll have forgotten how to push her own chair in under the dinner table to sit down, as the waiter here always does it for her.
All in all, a simply wonderful holiday. Cruising is so relaxing and easy (especially the sea days), and has something for every age group. I'm really tempted with another cruise HAL is doing in Asia next January, will dive back into the research and budget calculations on our return. As first time HAL passengers we enjoyed their product. We've been on larger ships before and enjoy the bigger wow factor of those ships in both facilities and show performances, but I did love that there were no hassles getting off the ship with HAL. We have been forced with other lines to wait before ship excursions to get off the ship in other ports, but with HAL we were often in the first group ashore. Also loved that we were allowed to bring bottles of wine and soft drink onboard in any of the ports. They announce at each port that no food from the ship is allowed to be brought into NZ, but on our first port as we left the ship staff checking bags at the gangway said "cookies and muffins were fine" -- so each night we'd order choc chip cookies from room service to take onboard for morning tea, which helped with the budget when feeding ever hungry teens!
HAL also offer a program for 18-25 year olds, which I think it quite rare. While I was at the front desk one day a guy in that age group came up wanting them to register his thanks for the program and said they're an age bracket ignored by most cruise lines. Given that next year we'll have an 18yo it makes future HAL cruises more tempting.
Sorry for the massive length, hope it's been of use to anyone who took the time to wade through!