Firstly about me. I am a cruise ship & ocean liner buff! I can't even count how many books, DVD's and other nick nacks I have regarding the topic!
I am 24 years if age and have sailed with Princess, Royal Caribbean and Cunard and have loved them so very much!
I would say, I am an easy going Australian who has never had anything bad to say about cruising, infact I am forever praising how amazing they are! Up untill now that I have sailed my first cruise with HAL (ms Oosterdam).
Let me first please point out that I am not one of those cruises who looks for drama at every possible minute or situation. I do not have un realistic expectations of people or companies and I certainly am not rude or anything like that to staff on cruise ships or any establishment/business for that matter. I simply wish to enjoy my holiday onboard, have some fun, relax and experience everything the cruise line has to 'offer' and promise.
I have never even felt the need to review any of my cruises up untill now that I have exoerienced the Oosterdam, I simply cannot hold back the urge to tell people of my first experience with HAL as I am just that shocked at how low the customer service standards really are onboard. I'm so shocked because as I said, I have loved every single one of my cruises to date and this one was just so completely different, for once I was not happy onboard a ship and unfortunately regret having ever chosen to cruise with HAL. I certainly hope that this is not the new industry standard for the carnival corp and that all future cruises I take with their other lines are much more similar to my pre HAL cruises.
I had my heart set in taking another cruise after my last one on Cunards QM2, I was looking for something not too expensive but still leaning towards the so called 'premium end ships'
Oosterdam was new out to Australia, and was doing New Zealand and South Pacific cruises and had some great cheap fares available on suites (which is my usual type of room on a ship) so after comparing the prices of HAL up against Royal Caribbean and doing many comparisions of the Oosterdam and Radiance of the seas, I decided to take a chance with HAL (the cheaper fares). I had honestly never thought I would ever try a HAL ship but after reading reviews and really looking into what HAL 'claims' to offer, I decided that this so called 'premium' cruise line will not disapoint. I guess I believed that HAL was similar to Cunard in many respects but still offered their own original product/service. It did take me a while to settle on HAL but I finally did and booked it. I was excited as usual to have another cruise booked and looked forward to trying HAL. I will admit the oosterdam never really grabbed me as far as decor went from the photos I had seen but none the less, she was 'awful looking' to me so I was still excited! Externally he reminded me of cunards queen Victoria and queen Elizabeth!
Firstly the ship was meant to depart from the sydney overseas terminal in circular quay but this was changed leading up to the trip to the wharf 5 dock near darling harbour. There is no fixed terminal building here, just a massive make shift tent.
Naturally it had nothing to do with HAL but this 'terminal' is rubbish.. We started out cruise sitting on the ground in the middle of the terminal for 45mins waiting to be called to board. Hardly a classy start to our premium cruise. There were a lot of seats but there were a lot of passengers aswell. So the floor was our only spot to wait, as it was for many others.
Once called, we went through customs etc fairly quickly and boarded the ship. For me this is where it all began unfortunately. Upon reaching the lobby immediately my partner and I were ignored by the lady who had seemed to be checking people's stateroom numbers and giving them directions. We smiled at her, had our tickets in hand and yet got nothing. So we continued on to find the lifts, we had done this before on other lines and have never had trouble finding our rooms ever so it was nothing new, but in the last we have always been greeted by someone friendly when we boarded. We walked to a suite all smiles and were happy to finally be onboard and ready to start our trip.
We arrived at our cabin and were shocked to see our bags were already there! Fastest delivery ever! But were also shocked to see someone else's bags also in our room... My partner left the room an informed a steward, who came and took the wrong bags away.
The room was nicely appointed and spacious, but worn and tired looking. I was shocked as the ship had just had a 2 week dry dock 3 weeks prior and I thought things would have been repainted and fixed where needed. The carpet was old and the walls had scuffs on them, the bathroom had scratches and cracks also. This did not all really concern me though as I understood the ship was over 10 years old and I am realistic about these sorts of things but none the less, I found it odd that these were not taken care of in the recent dry docking.
There was a bottle of champagne I had ordered sitting on the table in no ice bucket. I looked around the room for champagne glasses and found only one. I made a mental note to ask for and ice bucket and an extra glass for my partner when the room steward came to introduce himself. He never did... After about an hour or two, after we unpacked we called the front desk and asked to send up the steward so we could say hello etc. He eventually came and introduced himself. He was friendly I guess, but when I asked how he was? I was given a strange look and no response.. Perhaps no one ever asked him that before? He went and the glass and dropped it in the room whilst we went exploring, forgetting the ice bucket. We decided not to bother with the champagne that day. Upon searching around the room after our exploration of the ship I noticed our vouchers or the cigar package I purchased through HAL when booking, for our choice of 3 cigars. We made note to ask how to redem them. I also found the personalized stationary on the desk but unfortunately it was the name of the random bags that were in our room, not our names, so we threw the stationary away.
One of our favorite perks of the suite was that it had a jacuzzi! I big plus for us as we enjoy having a nice jacuzzi bath in the night time. We soon discovered on the first night that it didn't work and made note to inform the frot desk the following morning, along with the cigar enquiry.
It's no suprise that the oosterdam is some what 'out there' in its quirky interior decor and colours. She's very bold and in your face with bright colours, odd furniture and art and also seems to have a big oriental influence. You'll either love it or hate it. I must admit was skeptical as I had not found the photos of her interiors to be to my taste, I found them to look confusing and mish mash. An odd mix of modern meets classic meets artistic, with a big splash of red, yellow and blue paint.. But I was opened minded as these things normally look better in person, and thankfully it did, even on the walk to the room once we boarded, we remarked on how nice it all looked in person. But I will say that this was short lived for me personally as after a few days I got sick of it and found all the colours irritating.
The ship to me, felt cramped in its lay out, I'm not used to such a small 'lobby or atrium' and I found that the darker tones used in there gave it a closed in, dark feel. I'm not really a fan of gold railing either. The public rooms were also disapointing to me in both layout and decor.. I found them cramped and tucked away up against the sides of the ship and they were either in your face style or classic or a mish mash of both.. Regardless of the room, they always seemed empty during the day or had a few people sleeping or reading in them or the room was being used for a lecture or art auction. The lounges and bars seemed to be at their peak before dinner, but even then, not very busy. Also note that in comparision to my other cruises, there seemed to be a lack of stewards working the public rooms to be honest usually their was only one steward or none. I recall thinking 'wow' when I would rarely see mutiple stewards.
The casino area and sorrounding bars (sports & piano) seemed to be the busiest places at night, but I did not enjoy the piano or sports bar as I found them too small and shocking in decor and colour. That whole area seemed very noisy at night with noise from the casino, piano bar, sports bar and night club all combining..
The crows nest annoyed me... I really do not understand who thought up this concoction of a room? It's a bar, games area, coffee area, libary and computer room all in one with no dividing walls.. Talk about mish mash of very different spaces all in the one room. How can one enjoy a nice quiet book when you have noise from the bar/entertainment ontop of the large amounts of people lining up for coffee and standing around? To top it off, the room is located at the very top of the ship at the front and gets a lot of movement! I did not like it in this space at all.. Too busy and brings too many people wanting to do different things to the one room!
The restaurant was ok looking, not very grand, but it was ok. I felt a lot of vibration though on the bottom level.
The external decks of the ship were more classic than 'cruise ship' which is fine by me. Teak steamer deck chairs, decks and other furniture. Very clean and spacious (think QM2). There was an adults only pool aft (this was not policed and annoyed a lot of other guests) and there was a bar next to that with lots of tables and chairs. One side of the ship smoking and the other not. This worked very well in my opinion. We enjoyed having drinks on deck more than inside the public rooms.
I will point out that overall I feel that the interior space has not been used to its full potential, if you look at other vista class ships eg queen Victoria, they have really opened up on some spaces and have a much lighter less 'claustrophobic' feel.
I did not enjoy the vista lounge as unless you were center bottom level, many seats will struggle to see the stage fully, there is also pilars that block views aswell.
The queens show room was a shocking shade of purple with yellow chairs, but I only ever say in there whilst waiting for a tender.
Greenhouse spa was good, very similar to the one on QM2, the hydro pool area needs to attention as far as paint work goes, again, why was this not addressed in the dry docking? I also disliked how the jets would turn off after 10 minutes quick then required someone to get out of the pool and push a button to turn them back on. So don't plan on relaxing for any longer than 10 mins because you will have to get out and push that button. This also cause a lot of awkward looks amongst users of the pool as it was this whole 'well whose going to get out?' Look amongst everyone. Hardly relaxing.
Best I've ever had on any of my cruises. The quality was good, flavors nices, variety good. I had no real complaints for food although on the last mornings breakfast we were served moldy blackberries... Which I guess is pretty serious really.
My only complaint in regards to food is that in the lido (where we ate most meals) they would start packing up food well before service had ended. People would be lined up for their dinner then next minute, stations were closed and people told to go to the other side of the lido to be served.. Very annoying.
A surprising mix, I was told to expect 100% 60+, but I noticed many middle aged couples, families with teenagers, young children and also young couples. A very good mix of all ages.
Mainly Aussies and Americans.
Due to rough weather the first two days, we had to miss our first port completely and spend a day at sea instead. This was very annoying as all the pools and external decks were closed for 3 days straight, the first 3 days that is, so we felt trapped and claustrophobic stuck inside that ship, we really wanted to be outside but couldn't. Ofcoarse the weather cannot be controlled. The other ports, lugganville, Vila, isle of pines & noumea were all great, weather great and the people super friendly. The ports really made the holiday for us, not the ship. Which is a first for me as the ship always has come first for me in the past, I have done the cruises to experience the ships, the ports are irrelevant. On Oosterdam though, I was glad to have days to be able to get off the ship infact I craved it, another surprisingly new cruise emotion for me.
Ok, so so far you may be still wondering why this cruise was my worst ever and we have finally reached the main reason why.
Naturally I accept that no one is perfect, mistakes do happen in the real world, people need to be given a chance to resolve problems before you dismiss their abilities and above all that many of these people who work on these cruise ships are really not paid a lot of money. I understand and accept all that, but to me, for the money that many of these cruises cost, the promises made by the cruise lines through their websites and brochures and just general politeness and knowledge of customer service skills, I expect a certain level of customer service.
The staff on Oosterdam failed this on all levels. As an overall we found the staff to be no where near the level or quality of customer service we have experienced on our previous cruises with other lines. Generally we found the staff, unfriendly, not happy, un willing and just simply couldn't be bothered. Most requests we met with a sigh or a look of grief. 'Hello',
'How are you?' Were almost never spoken. Acknowledgment was never given, no matter how many times you had dealt with that particular staff member. We found that you could sit at a bar for hours and still not be approached and be served. Once you had been served, they would hardly ever come back to ask if you wanted more? The bar service was slow and rude, the bar staff lacked in knowledge of the drinks. Bar staff were often busy talking to one another and ignoring guests waiting. Bar staff would disappear half way through making your drink with no explanation and then return some time later to finish making the drink.. The list just goes on and on. I get angry just thinking about it. I will give a few examples of our experiences with poor service we received.
*the cigar package I mentioned we purchased. We took our vouchers to the front desk day 2 and asked how we redem our cigars. The staff there had no idea about what the package was (even though it explained it in the voucher) they had obviously never been informed that HAL was offering this package to guests. We were told to leave it with them and they would contact us as to how we get these cigars. Day 3 hadn't heard from anyone so we called front office again and were told they would contact us with an answer soon. Day 4, another trip to the front desk to ask about our cigars, we were then told that they will be delivered to our room, weird because the package stated in the voucher that we would have a choice of cigars, so how can they be delivered? Where's our choice?. Later that day we received a call from the front desk telling us to go to the shop and take the vouchers so we can choose our cigars. We were happy with this as we thought they had finally understood the package. Day 5 went to the shop, they wouldn't accept the voucher and had no idea about it. They made us wait while they contacted their boss who also had no idea about it who again made us wait while they contacted front desk who also had no idea about it now. (Back to square one), a trip to the front desk after that and we were back to 'they will be delivered to the stateroom'
Day 6 nothing, day 7 nothing, day 8 went to the desk, very tired of the situation and wanting a refund was told to take the vouchers to the bar next to the aft pool as they sell cigars there at night and they can be smoked there. That suited us as we often drank at the bar in the night time anyway. We went there at night and explained that front desk said to choose our cigars there. The bar staff had no idea and seemed reluctant but let us choose 3 cigars after we insisted we were told to go there. FINALLY we had the cigars. (Never again would I bother with a package of any sort). So we then needed matches and a cutter to smoke the cigars at this bar, the bar had not matches, no lighter and not cutter.. But they did have a butter knife they kindly gave me to cut my cigar and a fellow passenger gave us a lighter.. So the oosterdam has a bar that turns into a semi cigar smoking area at night (at 9pm they put the cigars on display along with cognac) yet not lighters or cutters? The bar staff also had no ideas about the cigars and could make no suggestions.
This whole experience was miscommunication at its best.
*the jacuzzi in the room was not working, day 2 called the front desk to kindly ask someone to have a look at it as we wanted to use it. This was met with a sigh and we were told we would have to wait as maintainence was busy with other problems. Which was ok by us. They could have been nicer in their manner about it but either way we waited. 1hr later the steward came to the room and insisted that he fill the bath and try it.. We told him we did that and it did work, but he insisted. So 10 minutes of filling time lead to his conclusion 'yes it doesn't work' and that he would send a maintaince man up. He left the water in the bath and left the room. No one came that day. Day 3 we called to remind them that we needed it fixed. No one came. Day 4 we went to the desk to remind them and they were abit embarrassed and said someone will be there in half an hour. 2 hours later, no one came. Another call to the desk, they said he is coming now. 1hr later they called us to ask if he came, he had not! They said he was coming now. He arrived in 15 mins, filled the bath, concluded that it didn't work and fixed in in 5 minutes much to our relief. He also left the water in the bath which we emptied. The next day we had a visit from the head room steward who insisted on checking the bath for himself even though we told him it was fixed, he wanted to just make sure. He started filling the bath, got a call and left.. He didn't return so I stopped the running water and checked if the jacuzzi worked and left the water in awaiting his return. 1hr later he hadn't returned so I let the water out. He then returned and questioned why I let the water out to which I said I thought he wasn't coming back, he was annoyed but I insisted it worked and he left.
FINALLY that was over. Untill day 6, we returned to the room one afternoon and foud that the water had been filled up and left whilst we were gone.. 2hrs went by and no one came to the room so we assumed the tested it again and yet again forgot to drain the water. We pushed the jacuzzi button just to make sure it worked still and it did not... We simply drained the water and never spoke of the jacuzzi again nor were ever asked about it. (We never got to use it)
* the room steward was the worst we'd ever had, he would only ever make the bed (roughly) and change towels.. Nothing more. He would never do a general tidy of the room, he seemed scared to touch our things? But how was he sipping benches if he wouldn't lift things off them!? Even in the bathroom? He would leave things on the bed whilst he made it.. It was so strange. He was also all over the shop with times he would visit and never understood our usual dinner/lunch time. He also never brought me an ice bucket for our embarkation day champagne so it sat there on the desk the whole cruise, I left it there when we got off the ship... What a waste that was. I've always found room stewards to be very clever and helpful and understanding. Not this one. He also asked us to give him a good score on the feedback survey at the end. Good score for what? Doing the bare minimum? He was the first room steward I have ever not tipped.
Why would I tip someone who did that bad a job that it meant I was cleaning the room myself everyday? Hardly relaxing.
*every bar we sat at led to long waits to be served. We always had to flag them down to come over to us and to too us up. On all other cruises I have found the bar stewards to be amazing, after all, the company makes big money out of drink sales so isn't in their best interest to keep pushing drinks on people? We sat at one bar one night for 4hrs and only had two drinks.. Which we had to go ask for. Very different to the QM2 were the staff would be asking if you wanted another before you even finished your drink. Our regular poolside aft bar had the same barmen 'Red' every night, he was never friendly to us the whole cruise, every drink request was met with no response, he would just make the drink and ask for the card. Even after 10 nights of drinking at that one bar. He never acted as if he recognized us or even cared. Referring back to the Qm2, princess and royal Caribbean, their bar staff seemed to know you're name and life story by day 2!! Which made it very pleasant to feel familiar with the staff and to have recognition for your business there every night.
*passing staff down hallways and never received a greeting or any form of communication.
*lido buffet servers rude and stingy with servings. I must mention the first night were there were signs up everywhere stating that the crew will serve for the first 48hrs which is their policy in regards to hygiene. I picked up a plate from a pile as I lined up (I had seen others doing it) and was suddenly confronted by an angry waiter lady who yelled 'no!' At me and ripped the plate out of my hands.. And then placed the plate back on the pile! And said, 'don't pick the plates yourself because if hygiene!' I then said, 'but I've already touched that plate and now you have out it back for someone else!?' She gave me a dirty look and walked away.. Where was her brain!? Even though I am extremly clean person I had touched that plate, wouldn't you leave it with me rather than take it back and put it back for someone else!?! That defeats the whole purpose of the policy and shows me they don't even understand why they do it.. They just do it.
* the aft pool is for adults only, they place a sign out every day stating this yet one silly lady always put her kids in the pool which annoyed many people! I don't know how many times I heard peppe complain to the nearest crew member that they want the children removed as it adults only pool. The staff member would always go up to the lady and she would always refuse to move her kids and the staff would back down. Many people who disapproved of this ladies children in the pool went to the front desk to complain and asked for security to make her move her children to the kids pool. She was never made to move. Even security backed down when they asked her and she fought it. One fellow passenger even stated to the front desk that 'if the signs (rules) are not being enforced, does that mean the smokers can just ignore the 'non smoking' signs and smoke where ever they please? He made a good point. Yet the staff said that 'no, rules are rules..' Clearly not the pool rules.
*disembarktion day we were told we could stay in our rooms untill it was time for us to leave which was good as most ships make you wait in a lounge for ages. Oosterdam also offered in room breakfast on the disembarktion day which most other lines do not. So we were very happy with this. But!, little did we know the breakfast would arrive well before the time we selected (which happened most mornings) and then 5 minutes later they came back asking for the tray (we hadn't even eaten yet) I then got a fright when out of no where a crew member was on our balcony hosing it down and had opened all the dividers on our level.. Lucky we were dressed, as he could see right into our room without warning. We then had our room steward wanting to clean the room 1hr before our disembarktion time. So it turned out to be a not so restful morning before leaving the ship.
*room service was a joke, they were always rude on the phone and we were always given a estimated waiting time of 45 mins to 1hr no matter what time of the night or day. I waited 45 mins one night for a cup of tea at 12am and ended up cancelling it because I wanted to go to sleep. They weren't happy about that.
* everywhere I looked there were staff on break, which is fine.. But when you are waiting 20 mins to be served at a quiet bar with a lazy barmen, seeing a group of staff on their break chatting and laughing gets on your nerves. We always said more staff were in break than working at any one time. I also did not enjoy seeing the same uniformed (possibly officer?) sitting at the same place at most times that I was there drinking a beer at the aft bar with his blonde lady friend.. It was not a professional look to see large groups of staff eating, smoking and socializing in the passenger areas all the time, considering how uderstaffed all bars seemed all the time! Regardless of whether it was busy or quiet, the service was always slow.
I understand on cruises things can go wrong that doesn't matter, what does matter is how problems are dealt with by staff. How quickly they resolve the issue and how they go about doing it is truly what matters. Oosterdams staff just failed in every respect in my opinion. I have never felt so much disgust towards the staff of a cruise ship and am shocked to even have these feelings as I have never felt this way on any of my previous cruises. I never felt valued, I never felt like my business was wanted or appreciated and I never felt like I was truly on a relaxing holiday. I neee felt good returning to the ship after a port day (again, a first for me). The HAL really need to address the problems with the customer service standards on Oosterdam and I hope the my fellow passengers were honest in the guest feedback forms so the company at least can see that there is a problem and at least try to address it. All in all, I will never travel HAL again. And unfortunately I will think twice now about any cruise I ever plan on booking ever again. I will be emailing HAL of my experience. Thank you for taking the time to read my review, I just hope that no one else has an experience as mentally draining as mine because that is not what cruising is all about!
I will end on a good note and say that we did enjoy one crew member and only one. A man would be cleaning the aft passenger deck stair well every morning and night and he was so very friendly. Every day he would say hello and ask how we were and what we were up to and how was the port etc! He was the closest thing to the service we had always experienced on other cruise lines and we ended up giving him $20 on the last day and told him 'he was the friendliest crew member on the ship and we thought he was also the hardest working'. That made his day.
HAL, why is this man cleaning stairs all day when he needs to be out and about dealing with passengers!?!?!?
Never again HAL.