We sailed on the Oosterdam out of Sydney to Auckland from Feb. 6 through Feb. 20th. We left from Barangaroo Wharf and not the OPT. A large white tent was the site of the staging area for the embarkation. Although everything went fine, there seemed to be a little conflict of information that was being told to us by all different staff as to what time we could check in and what time we would board. We were there early enough to grab a table and sit and play cards as we waited for boarding to begin at 12:30.
Once on board, I immediately went to the Front Desk to sign up for the 2 cooking classes that were scheduled. I was surprised that there were only 2 as we had 6 sea days. Nevertheless, we were signed up. We also made our PG reservations for Valentine's Day dinner. We were good to go!
We had an SS stateroom on Deck 8 centrally located and were very happy with our choice. The room was typical of others that we had stayed in on other HAL cruises -- no surprises for us. Although we had been told that during the drydock Deck 8 had been refurbished, we didn't notice it. We also didn't notice the need for it although from a decorating point of view it needed it. Our room stewards came to greet us and I had requested a second bathroom since there was only one in our room. It took 2 days to fulfill that request. We found that we had ample room in our SS category stateroom, more room that we needed. I will say that several of us found that the hairdryers that HAL provided seemed to overheat quickly and turn themselves off. I used one for a few minutes, put it down (which means that it is not on since you aren't pushing in that little button) and I could not turn it back on again for about 15 minutes. Happened a second time as well. I quickly learned not to take my finger off that button. Another person in our roll call had the same problems. We utilized the bag for unlimited laundry for $20 per bag but after we did it once, we were never given another bag.
We were a little surprised that early dining was early -- 5:30 PM. We knew the first night that we would not be going to the MDR as we wanted to listen to Travel Expert Susan's commentary as we sailed out of Sydney Harbor. Many of us were in the Crow's Nest as she read her script as we viewed the scenery. We had wished (and this would be a common theme) that she could have put some personal words or thoughts into her commentary rather than just script. Provided to her. We left the Crow's Nest around 7:30 to go to the Lido pool deck area for the Sail Away BBQ. By the time we got there, they closed one of the two lines for food. Not too much was left for us who had chosen to listen to the commentary and my 8:00, it was closed down (the hours were published, we just didn't see it). Since we were still hungry, we went into Lido and all that was there was pasta and pizza station and the ice cream station.
We went to Vista Lounge for the introductory show which you know is very short. An announcement was made that if you made private tour arrangements in Tauranga, let the front desk know as the captain was considering skipping that port. That seemed so strange as we couldn't understand why he would consider it almost 2 weeks out. Nevertheless, the next day I went down with my list of those who had booked with our Roll Call. A woman in line behind me thought it might have something to do with the smoking volcano between Auckland and Tauranga though another person said that it had been smoking for months. If the volcano or weather two weeks out were going to be a problem then would it really matter how many people booked private excursions? Safety is safety.
Our M&G was set up for our second day which was the first sea day, at 10:00 AM in the Crows Nest. We were excitedly expecting about 70-80 people. Unfortunately, HAL let us down. They did not begin setting it up till about 9:50-9:55 while most of the people were there. Margo, the Events Coordinator for HAL came down briefly to explain that since her email was not working, no officers would be attending. She did not offer to say a few words to our Roll Call and hightailed it out of the area as quickly as she could. A perfect opportunity missed by HAL I actually think that Margo did nothing and that the HAL officers on board knew nothing about it. Both Diane, who organized the M&G and myself, who organized the RC, wrote comment cards almost immediately. We had received several telephone calls from the Front Desk to see if we had heard from Margo , and we hadn't. When I went to the Front Desk about another matter, they again asked if we had heard from her and that they all knew about the problem (she also had big problems with the M&G for the cruise before ours as that coordinator was on a B2B and told us about it).
A pipe had burst in the ceiling on the port side of the 8th deck and several cabins got very wet including a new friend of mine. She reported lots of yelling and noise beginning at 2 AM when it was found and it continued with the noises of the dehumidifiers outside of her room. Her compensation - they gave her a bottle of champagne and strawberries. She brought them right down to the front desk and said that didn't cover having a wet floor for several days and sleepless night. They eventually gave her a shipboard OBC
I did notice a few of the public toilets were always not working and that maintenance would be seen trying to repair them. We had no problem of clogged toilet. We did have a problem of scalding hot water coming out of our tap and shower. We could never get cool or cold water. Plumbers did come to adjust it.
Our first port talk covered the first three ports -- Melbourne, Hobart and Dunedin. Unfortunately it was held in the Queen's Lounge and that would not accommodate the number of people who wanted to listen and learn. People were sitting on the stairs, in the hallway trying their best to listen. This should have been held in the Vista Lounge so more people could listen. Susan, our travel expert, always seemed to read from a script and she also appeared many times with the Shore Excursion people helping to push their tours. For us, it would have been nicer if she had remained more independent and truly a travel guide. Many times we would ask questions and she would either tell us to go to the I Center in town (information center) or she would give us partially incorrect answers (will it be easy to find a taxi when we embark at this port). She was also not up to date on things that were or would be happening when we were in port. She knew nothing about the Wooden Boat Festival in Hobart with 600 wooden boats and the largest in the Southern Hemisphere though our Roll Call knew about it months earlier. Future port talks were held in the Vista Lounge. Many times Travel Expert Susan would co-present talks with the excursion specialist which was too bad. I think fewer people did the HAL excursions on this cruise than any other cruise I have been on. We didn't see that many buses parked at the docks for excursions though the Taieri Gorge Railroad came right u to the dock.
As much as I enjoy trivia on board the boat, they seemed to have it all the time. Team Trivia, in the past for me, when it was on a sea day was generally held at 4:00 so we would be there during Happy Hour. On this cruise, it was at 1:00. Other trivias during the day were Culinary Trivia, Pub Trivia, Name that Tune Trivia (in Northern Lights) as well as the nights we had Name That Tune trivia in the Piano Bar.
Games around the pool included Roll the Hula Hoop around the bucket of beer with CD Michael.
Lifestylist Louise did a great job with Tai Chi classes -- well attended and she appeared to know what she was doing. I didn't take the class though my husband did. I did observe her teaching them around the pool several days as well as the water aerobics class.
The casino was one of the smallest I have seen on a HAL ship and it never seemed full or fun. Didn't hear any yelling or excitement coming from that area. There were only a few fun machines for pennies and the quarter machines were one line only, not the 5 lines that I had seen on other ships. Many times were not open or operating due to cutbacks in personnel in the casino.
Not much was happening around the pool deck, particularly on the night we had a late departure at 11:00 PM. When there is a late departure there are no shows and no casino and generally the line has something going on like a pool party. This night there was nothing! It would have been a great night perhaps to have someone familiar with the southern constellations give a talk as we viewed the skies, or to have a barbeque party with music and dancing and games. There was nothing!
Crossing the Tasman Sea was fine. Although not smooth as glass, it was just a little rocky and didn't seem to affect most people. The morning that we entered Milford Sound was overcast with light sprinkling of rain and very cool. We were able to go out on the bow and unlike our bow experience through the Panama Canal, we found this not crowded at all. HAL missed a great opportunity to have waiters there selling Irish Coffee or any of the hot drinks. Passengers disembarked in the Sound for their Overland Trip to Queenstown (they would reboard in Dunedin). The second sound I viewed from the Crows Nest and you could see that weather was coming in. The ship was rocking and rolling as well as pitching. To me it was fun. As we were heading toward the next Sound the captain came on and announced that we would not be visiting the third Sound due to the high winds (42 mph) and the wave action (about 20 foot swells). The wind was coming from Antarctica and was hitting the broad side of the ship. He thought if we went into the Sound, then the storm would be worse with higher winds and larger swells. He wanted us to get around the bottom of New Zealand and then we would be going with the wind. By 10:00 that night, things had definitely calmed down. I did use the duct tape I brought to keep the safe door in our closet from swinging open and shut.
Arriving in New Zealand we found that we were not allowed to bring any food or non bottled water off the ship. There was a sniffer dog at almost all the ports and we had to lower our backpacks and bags so he could sniff. A couple a few in front of me tried to smuggle off some bananas and the dog found them. There can be stiff fines so do not try it.
Several ports we went to our departure was changed at the last minute to one that was later. Although many people appreciated it, it would have been helpful to know of this a little earlier so we could make other arrangements with our tours. We wondered why we were scheduled to leave Napier so early -- 2:00 particularly when the Art Deco festival was in its final day and there was so much going on in town. As we were on the ship waiting to leave, bi-wing planes were flying overhead as well as 4 jets doing aerials. I guess I would liken it to our Blue Angels. A great treat for all of us.
New Zealand customs were also on our ship and over the course of two mornings we had to go to the Queens Lounge and bring any items that we had purchased in Australia as well as our declaration form. They will give you a list of materials that your items would have been made of. We had dairy products we were eating in our room (don't take them off the ship) as well as wooden items like our boomerangs and didgeridoo. They inspected it and did not quarantine anything. You cannot bring honey into NZ and they are adamant about that. Be honest and help them protect their island nation.
My cooking class was fine although it was scheduled during the day we would be in the Sounds. I actually left lunch early so I could view the second Sound. It always seems to me that some people just take over and don't take turns with others. We enjoyed our lunch with wine in PG while my husband's class on Aussie Favorites ate in the Queens Lounge on tables.
The singers and dancers appeared once, on the second night and we never saw them again. They were schedule to perform the last night but their performance was cancelled due to circumstances beyond their control. Something fishy was going on and no one would talk about it. Have you ever seen them dance only one night?
The PG chef left the ship during the second week -- not sure what was happening there. We did go to the PG on Valentine's Day and was surprised there was nothing special to celebrate the day. No flowers for us, no hearts, etc. Also nothing on the ship for Mardi Gras although our RC brought lots of beads that we wore and we were the hit of the ship that day. Everyone wondered where we got the beads.
There seemed to be an active card players group although there was no formal bridge classes/lessons. Most of the people that showed up for cards did play bridge. I think that this is one of the first cruises that did not have a bridge expert on the ship to run the classes and games.
The library and computer area was just as great as it always is although they were having some difficult at times with internet connections.
Piano Bar with Glenn-Michael was great. He played half the time on the piano and the other half on his keyboard. Every night was a theme (Broadway, TV themes) and twice he had Name that Tune. Because this was a 14 night cruise, he did begin repeating himself and the themes nevertheless , it was always crowded and fun. Other piano bars that I have been in began at 9:00 after the first show but since the first show was at 7:00, Piano Bar began around 8:00.
The Dessert Extravaganza that is generally held poolside was held in the Atrium on the first floor. Not much room for the desserts, the workers or the passengers who came by -- another poor idea and an under utilized pool deck.
I did not attend any of the computer classes but from what I heard and what I saw, they were a great success and people would begin lining up for the classes 40 minutes prior to class so they could get a seat and a computer.
The afternoon teas were very nice and I enjoyed the food at them.
The temperature in the ship seemed to vary. The MDR was fine to me, the Vista Lounge cool, the Explorers Bar was cold. Party Planner Kat told me that because the cruise before ours had been in the warm waters of the South Pacific the AC was cranked up but because we were not in cooler waters it takes a while for the ship to adjust. Didn't really make sense to me so I either threw a sweater on or took one off!
Spa prices seemed higher than other ships I have been on. One of the "specials" toward the end of the cruise was a 75 minute special for $129. Last year I had a 90 special on Celebrity for $99. Never saw man people in the hydro pool.
There was never any Lido pool music except for the last day which was a sea day. Our second sea day (and a good weather day) we could not lay around the Lido pool because HAL brought in banquet tables that were set up all around the pool to sell their overpriced trinkets. That was from 9 AM till noon-ish. I've seen it before when it has been done at the far end of the pool but this was all around the pool.
Another surprise we had is when we returned to the ship after an excursion, there were not cool towels or lemonade/water waiting for us. I missed that.
All and all we had a great time but it just seemed as if there was something off in this cruise. Not enough things to do that weren't continual repeats, no guest speakers, not many cooking demonstrations, not enough cooking lessons, many scheduled events that was listed in the Compass had a fee (Greenhouse Spa, drinking, mixology, wine sampling etc), too early for early fixed dining and the show times didn't work. With 5:30 dining it meant you missed the first 10-15 minutes of the 7:00 show and those who had the 8:00 dining always missed the end of the 7:00 show. I did meet some wonderful people on this cruise and some that I know that we'll meet again on another cruise.