Late embarkation due to previous cruise being a charter but as we arrived early we were on board before it got too busy. Leaving from temporary terminal at Barangaroo was not perfect but did the job.
Our verandah was one of the smaller ones and did overlook the lifeboats if you looked straight down but this did not worry us. The room was comfortable, clean, tidy, plenty of storage space and in reasonably good condition considering they are occupied 365 days of the year. Suitcases arrived within a couple of hours of boarding. One of our Stewards, Ibrahim introduced himself and along with our other Steward, Yadi, were fantastic throughout our cruise, always friendly and eager to assist and kept our room in tip top shape.
We don't have any other cruise to compare but we really liked the ship. We were not after the glitzy, resort style ship holding 3,000 + passengers, we wanted a more intimate shipboard feel and the Oosterdam delivered this. Yes in some spots the carpet was a little worn and some of the furniture looked as if it had been well used but overall she was in good condition and had a relaxed atmosphere. I really liked the ambience and style of the ship but occasionally you would look at a bit of art work or a piece of furniture and ask yourself 'what were they thinking', however this quirkiness only added to the whole experience.
Good to very good food keeping in mind the quantities required. No trouble getting a table for 2 in the MDR but personally preferred lunch in the MDR and dinner in the LIDO when it was much quieter. Breakfast was excellent, however very busy unless you were up early, but we never had problems finding a table. Service was good to excellent and always friendly. No problems getting service anywhere on the ship.
For our next cruise we are already working out a way to take coffee bags on board and just using the hot water. Even in the Explorations Cafe my DH needed a triple shot latte to get something approximating a cup of coffee that was strong enough for our Australian coffee culture taste, but I think this is a cruise ship problem that is not restricted to HAL.
Lovely friendly people, never experienced a grumpy moment and I have to commend them, some of the passengers were AWFUL. The women (and men) at the front desk especially need commendation for their patience -- I would not have been so understanding.
The Captain and staff were all around the ship. I commend the Captain for being approachable when it was found we had to miss our last port and race the cyclone, he kept us up to date and even held a Q&A in the Vista Lounge and took the hard questions from the people that were very unhappy (putting it mildly) at missing ports. However the majority of passengers present at the briefing IMO endorsed the Captain's decision to put safety before anything else.
Isle of Pines -- A beautiful spot, we basically disembarked went to the area for snorkelling and swam for most of the day. The beaches and island are truly lovely.
Easau Lifou --We had to miss this port due to high winds. It is in a conservation area and they have a small patch in which to anchor next to a reef and if the winds are too high the Oosterdam could run aground on the reef and damage it. It was a beach stop which would have been nice.
Port Vila, Vanuatu -- Very lush island and friendly people. This is a nation that struggles with poverty and as such welcomes cruise ships and tourism to assist with their economy. We took the ship sponsored round the island tour and it was a jam packed day.
Suva -- Unfortunately we were there on a Sunday and a lot of the town was closed, I am sure if you had organised a tour outside the township you would have been fine.
Dravuni Island -- This is a lovely slice of Paradise; the island only has 200 residents and lovely long beaches. You could walk around the pathways or sit on the beach and swim in the lovely clear waters (we chose the latter). We had arrived early but also had to depart early as the Captain had to leave at a certain time to start our run away from Cyclone Sandra. It was a lovely day.
Sydney -- Our unexpected port due to arriving early ahead of the cyclone, we did not get off the ship as we wanted to enjoy our last day aboard but looking from all the ship vantage points over the lovely harbour of Sydney was a treat. For dinner that night we took our meal out onto the back pool deck as it was a balmy temperature and had the best seat in the house, the view was superb.
We are not party animals but noticed when we finished watching the late show in the Vista Lounge that there were still plenty of people wandering around. Overall we found the entertainment excellent; Shelly White the pianist was very entertaining. We saw most of the shows and the Oosterdam singers and dancers did a good job, a little cheesy at times but a lot of fun. The lead male singer especially had a great voice. Vivienne and the Hal Cats did an excellent job around the ship, I never heard them being too loud or screechy. Didn't have a chance to listen to Adagio but when we passed them by several times the area they were in was always full. Never went to the Piano Bar but that was because when we peeked in it was packed and no room for more, so he must have been okay.
Mostly Australians and New Zealanders with a good sprinkling of Americans and Canadians. Quite a big group of Japanese and some from Europe. On the whole a friendly laid back lot, mainly mid 50's and up but still a good representation from the younger age groups who seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Beverages (other than coffee)
We found the ability to take on board as much wine as we liked fantastic. We had an excellent selection of what we like and in some cases drank it in our cabin or paid the $18 corkage, either way it was the best way for us to do our wine. Cocktails and beer were very well priced by Australian standards and I enjoyed my daily cocktail. The drinks waiters were all very friendly and always on hand if needed.
We opted for the later debarkation, relatively easy and quick. Went downstairs at our assigned time, small line up, checked off the ship and through customs in about 15 minutes.
Loved it, one of the best holidays we have had, certainly the most relaxing even when running ahead of a cyclone. Have already booked on the Oosterdam again in October for the New Zealand trip. As we have only done one cruise we are not faithful to any one cruise line yet and looked at Celebrity and Princess for this trip, but the Oosterdam's itinerary is what sold us on going on her again and after enjoying this trip we have no problem with repeating our shipboard experience.