Thirteen family members, consisting of four couples and five children, aged 7, 7, 3, 2 and 9 months set sail from Circular Quay, Sydney on 12th January for a 14 day cruise to Hobart and around New Zealand.
We had three Veranda cabins on the 5th level of the Oosterdam, Port side and another on the Starboard side, all of which were very well appointed, clean and comfortable. We had asked for two cots to sleep a baby and a 2 year old, one of which never arrived and we ended up sleeping the two year old on the couch with the cot pushed up against it to stop him falling or getting out of bed. Our cabin service on the Port side was beyond reproach but Starboard left a lot to be desired.
The two seven year old and the three year old just loved Club HAL and couldn't wait to get back after lunch and dinner. In fact, if any of them needed to be disciplined, the threat of not being allowed to attend Club HAL instantly saw an improvement in their behaviour! However, there is NOTHING for under three's provided on board. Nowhere for them to play without disturbing other passengers, some of whom were very intolerant of small children. We could only take them up to the netted basketball court to play with balls or just to crawl around - the cabin was too restrictive. We understand HAL's reasoning that no child can attend the kids' club unless they are "potty trained" and we suggested through the Survey that we completed at the end of the cruise, that perhaps the company could provide a playroom for the littlies where they must be supervised by a parent at all times, so they can expend a little energy without bothering others.
We booked a babysitter one evening so all eight adults could enjoy a meal at the Pinnacles Restaurant but within an hour, we received two telephone calls from the babysitter and eventually our daughter-in-law just had to return to the cabin. (The children were sound asleep when the babysitter arrived and before their parents left.) We didn't avail ourselves of this service again, which meant that one of the adults had to stay in a darkened cabin whilst the babies had their morning and afternoon sleeps and of course in bed by 7.30pm.
I have only spoken about our negative experience to help others who are thinking of also bringing along young children and what to expect. From now on, its all positive as we had a wonderful holiday and if you can be bothered, please read on........
Captain Van de Loo was delightful. Fabulous sense of humour, considerate and well-liked (no, loved) by all the crew and staff. We had an emergency medical evacuation of a seriously ill passenger just out of Auckland and the Captain, kept us informed as the helicopter came and left. There was a talk from the Captain scheduled for the Queen's Lounge one afternoon - so many passengers turned up, it had to be moved to the Vista Lounge, such is his popularity! I read in another posting, criticism of the Captain's noon broadcast as boring - not so Captain Van de Loo, always informative and very entertaining!
Embarking at Circular Quay ran like clockwork (just don't get separated from your partner though if he has your passport as you are about to go through Immigration - thank goodness for mobile phones!). We were welcomed aboard the ship and shown to our cabin where we found our suitcases waiting for us, although one of our family member's case was lost for a day and a half and nobody seemed to be in hurry to find it.
Sanitising Hand Lotion was squirted into passengers' hands before and after entering restaurants and for first 48 hours, food was served by the staff as a preventative message against the spread of gastric bugs, Whenever leaving or returning to ship, there was always someone offering a squirt of disinfectant - quite reassuring that everything was being done to stop illness or infection being spread amongst the passengers and crew.
The staff were extremely pleasant and helpful and we could not fault anyone of them. We were disgusted by the behaviour of some of the passengers and their treatment of the staff and crew - how hard is it to say "please" and "thank you"?
The food was plentiful, varied, nutritious and delicious. Heaven for seven year old being able to select their own food in the Bistro, which also taught them a little independence and they were able to brush up on their communication skills! They also dined with us at the "adult" restaurants and were treated with respect by the wait staff. Their favourite restaurant was the Italian and we couldn't be more complimentary in our praise of the staff here - they loved children and made us all feel very welcome, even though our babies were a little raucous at times and did make an awful mess of their high chairs! We did have to draw the line at the huge plates of fairy floss they wanted to give the children for dessert - one plate between four was more than enough, a plate each, a little excessive?
Pinnacles Restaurant? Wow! Haven't had a meal anywhere, land or sea, better than Pinnacles. The decor was beautiful, tableware gorgeous and service, exemplary. Our Balinese waitress was lovely and even arranged for a Pinnacle's meal to be cabin-delivered to our daughter-in-law who was not able to dine with us as the babies were sleeping.
The children loved ordering their burgers from The Grill near the pool and I became quite addicted to their sweet potato chips. Feel like Mexican? Help yourself, make your own Tacos or Enchiladas - also near the pool. Coffee wasn't all that good, even at the Explorer Lounge (near Crow's Nest Bar) and needs improving. Perhaps it is the milk which we suspect was long life and not fresh.
Cocktails at US$5.95 were good and between 4pm-5pm at the Crow's Nest, two for the price of one!
Entertainment was quite good, although the shows were a little old hat but the singers and dancers were enthusiastic. The special Guest Artists - the comedienne, ventriloquist etc. were very good and the Cruise Director, Drew, was great, although we didn't like his "push" at the disembarkation talk, for all passengers to fill out the Cruise Survey with high ratings - surely top marks leaves no room for improvement?
We attended Wine, Port & Chocolate, Whiskey Tastings, Cooking Classes, Bingo, Art Auctions, Talks, Beautician & Gym - all good! One of our family members paid extra for the Boot Camp option at the Gym but was disappointed by the laziness of the instructors. We joined in the Fundraising for Breast Cancer deck walk of 5 kilometres (9 times around the Promenade Deck) which was easy and great fun. There are tons of activities organised to entertain you or you can just find a quiet little nook where you can curl up with your Kindle or just stare out to sea.
Because of the Australia Day celebrations, the ship was not able to berth at Circular Quay which was a bit of a nuisance for some being picked up from the wharf but a wonderful trade-off was that we actually got to sail under the Sydney Harbour Bridge and what a treat that was. A fitting end to a fantastic cruise.
This was our first cruise with Holland American Line. We were so impressed by this experience that my husband and I have already booked another on the ms Noordam, end of May 2013 Hope there is another captain of Van de Loo's ilk steering this cruise.