We have cruised on many different lines before but never on HAL. When planning our trip to Alaska we chose the Oosterdam because of it’s size and itinerary and the great price we got. So glad we did, it proved to be one of the best vacations we have ever taken!
Embarkation/Disembarkation: Both were very smooth and easy. We arrived at the port about 11:30 and were walking onboard about 11:45. Just remember that if you are carrying bottles of wine with you (that is allowed on HAL) that you pack them all in your carry on. If you pack them in your suitcases they will be flagged and checked to make sure you aren’t bringing hard liquor onboard. In your carry-on, the wine simply coasts right through the x-ray, no problem. We went directly to our stateroom and were so pleasantly surprised to find it clean and waiting for us. Our suitcases arrived a bit later while we were touring the ship and having lunch. For disembarkation, we decided to use the Luggage Direct program which costs $19.99 per person and assures that when you leave your luggage outside your door at midnight on your last night, you won’t even see it again until you arrive at your destination airport, very convenient if your flight isn’t until later in the day. The only drawback is that you must get off the ship with the first group at 7:30 a.m., not sure why really.
Dining: We were traveling with a party of 10 family and friends so we chose the early seating with an assigned table in the Vista dining room. Our wait staff were all attentive, funny and accommodating. We found the menu choices always varied and served with detail to presentation. I must say that even with a group of 10, every single one of us loved the food in the dining room and when an occasional dish was not as expected, our waiter was eager to replace it with something else. When that did happen we also got a visit from the Maitre D to find out if there was anything else he could do for us. We had the best escargot we've ever had as well as many other dishes that were prepared perfectly. There were plenty of choices and if you just didn’t feel like eating at 5:30 you could visit the Lido with a multitude of choices, the hamburger bar by the pool or eat later in the second floor dining room. Of course you also had the option of eating in the Pinnacle Grill for an extra $25/pp fee, which we did one night but really, the food wasn’t that much better there than in the dining room. So in a nutshell…..best food we have ever had on a cruise. A tip when choosing early or late seating...we did hear from some other folks that some of the entree items were not always available at the late seating, although we did not experience this. We did order room service a few times (mostly breakfast)and it was always good, on time and hot.
Stateroom: Cabin 8081 on the Navigation deck was near perfect and in great condition. It's located is on the starboard side of the ship just a few cabins back from mid-ship. It is roomy and well appointed with new looking furniture, bedding, patio furniture and beautiful carpet. The bathroom is very large with double sinks, a shower and a jetted tub, both with optional hand held shower heads. The flat screen TV is on a swivel so it can be viewed from either the bed or the sitting area. There is more than ample storage space (we actually had some extra drawer and closet space and our 4 suitcases fit easily under the bed. The cabin was very quiet and only once did we hear what sounded like noise above us, which was coming from the Lido Buffet dining area but not enough to even bother us only lasting a couple of minutes. The balcony is so spacious with plenty of room for the 2 chairs & table plus the 2 lounge chairs & side table. We didn't have any trouble with the door to the balcony sticking or locking unintentionally. We only saw our cabin steward once even though he kept it beautifully clean and supplied with fruit and fresh ice in the bucket every day. I would be very happy to travel in this cabin again if the opportunity arises.
Entertainment: First and foremost, the HAL entertainment crew dance and sing their hearts out for you. It may not always be your style of music or dance but they are very talented and do a great job of pulling off their shows on the stage they have to work with. The costumes for the final show were absolutely gorgeous with many changes throughout the show. The Magician/Comedian was so great and the other musicians playing in other lounges on the ship were excellent. Just a tip about the shows...the late show (10 pm) has much more seating available but if you want to go to the first show at 8pm, you must get there about 20 min. early to get a good seat.
There were only two things that we would like for HAL to fix ...... please make your ships non-smoking or at least offer a smoke-free casino. I enjoy doing some gambling while cruising but my husband can't tolerate cigarette smoke so we were not able to enjoy the casino together. The second item is the cooking class we took with the chef was very disorganized and we didn't really learn much. Although the cost of the class did include lunch in the Pinnacle Grill afterwards, it really wasn't worth the $30/pp.
The ships captain and crew did an amazing job of maneuvering that huge ship around without even a hint of motion. Sometimes when we left a port we didn't even realize that the ship was moving until looking out the window. We had beautiful sunny weather throughout our entire cruise except for the morning we were in Ketchikan, where is sprinkled a little. The cruise up Tracy Arm was breathtaking and something we will always remember! Thanks captain, for making it up so close to Sawyer Glacier, and turning us around on a dime to cruise back down the fjord.
What more can I say, we had a wonderful cruise and I personally can assure everyone that they really do give away the free cruise that they sell tickets for all week long(wink). We will definitely be cruising with HAL again within the next 18 months.