HAL Oosterdam - Alaska Cruise - Overall rating - 5 out of 5. This was our 10th cruise – first one on HAL. (My scale - 1=stranded at sea, 3=average cruise experience, 5=Excellent and 5+ Perfection.)
Perfect Weather (5+) – We had 7 dry sunny days. This is highly unusual for a tropical area that gets 100’s of inches of rain each year. Let’s agree everybody is happier when the weather is good.
Great Food (5) - The food quality was great in the dining room for breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. Dinner menu in dining room had great variety. There are two formal nights on this cruise and for two other nights the staff changed the dining room decor. I had mostly red meat dishes, some lamb and chicken, no fish. The portions were satisfactory (some reviews said small), however nobody left the table hungry after 4 courses and if you wanted they brought you extra of anything. The dining buffet on Lido gets a 3-4. A lot of cafeteria style food with pockets of food made to order (Pasta, Sandwich Bar, Omelets in the morning and Burger station). I love a late night pizza snack – the pizza was a 4 and Lido shutdown by 11:30 every night. Afternoon daily Taco Bar and lunch Alaskan cookout were highlights up on Lido Deck. Did not try the specialty restaurants - other food was great - why pay extra.
Service (5) – Our Cabin Attendants and Waiters were great. Also the rest of the crew was efficient and friendly. This included the officers who were routinely present and pitched in when necessary. We had early seating and as you would expect after the first night the dining room staff had caught on to the routines of our table of 7. Ice teas and sodas appeared and extra bread. Most noticeable – after trying to get our young traveler to try something other than chicken bites ... there was an endless supply of them every night and milk too. Our group is not hesitant about asking for items so the staff knew what we wanted and met every need. We never had any difficulty communicating with the crew, however, some in our group did indicate that the crew’s English communication could be improved. Service could have been a 5+ except for the last 8 hours – after departing Victoria and before debarkation the focus shifted from current to future guests. After Victoria all the guests headed towards the Lido buffet where the food was plentiful except they only had 1 person serving drinks and only 1 bar open. Also the ice cream person ran out of soft serve and was tense. The next morning someone noisily slipped the bill under the door at 6 PM (ran out of envelops) and at 8:30 AM the cabin stewards asked if they could make the bed for the next guests. We were not scheduled to debark until 9 AM.
Safety (5) – Oosterdam lifeboat drill includes muster at the lifeboat station – not in some comfy lounge. During the cruise the crew had two other drills – 1 lifeboat and 1 fire fighting. Also for the first 48 hours at the Lido buffet HAL actively combated NoroVirus by placing crew between the food and guests. It felt odd – however – if anybody was sick they were not spreading it at the buffet.
Cabin (3) - Veranda Port Side. Mid-Back Ship 4126. Low noise. Easy Access to back elevators. . Longest walk was to the Theatre at the front of the ship. Mechanical systems worked well. Layout was functional. Room really did not feel any different than our past veranda / ocean view cabins on this / other cruise lines. The bathroom laminate was tired (chips that had been patched) and the chalking around tub was “sloppy”. As mentioned in other reviews – our floor divots under the carpet were right inside the door by the bathroom entrance. Another couple with child had one of the large indoor cabins – they did not feel crowded and were happy that the darkness encouraged sleeping in.
Ship (4) – Tired but the crew worked hard to keep it looking clean and in good repair. There was sanding and varnishing going on everyday.
Air Travel (5) - Southwest – Direct flight to Seattle. This beat anything that HAL offered. We flew in one day early. For departure we add 1 PM flight no problem – others in the group made a 10:30 AM flight.
Pre-Cruise Stay (5) - We stayed at the Hampton Inn Airport/28th Ave. Great rooms. Free airport pick-up and they will take you to restaurants within ½ mile of hotel. Free breakfast was good but busy on Saturday morning. Again cheaper than anything HAL add to offer, although their hotels were downtown.
Transfers (5) – Seems all hotels in the area utilize same service to hotel to pier transfers. $12 per person. We were forgotten in the morning – however within 30 minutes they had us on a van. The pick up at the ship was a lot cleaner ... called once we had our bags and SUV was there in 10 minutes.
Check in (4) – Lines, however, they did move quickly. We got to the ship at 1 PM – they had started boarding at noon. Place will resemble a mad house since two large ships use the same loading building. Friends landed at 1 PM and actually got on faster because they were a little later in the day. Cabins were ready and everybody was trying to eat on Lido deck.
Entertainment (5) – Shows were good. Individual performers were real good. The lounge performers routinely drew a crowd. Entertainment department always had something going on – cooking demos, Bingo, line dance, dancing with the stars, etc. etc.
Excursion (5) – HAL was comparable to what was offered on shore and they offered you everything on shore. Note that HAL excursions include a professional guide and the ship “probably” will not leave without you if you are on a HAL excursion. I did like two things – 1) you could change/cancel excursions up to 5 PM the previous day with no questions asked and 2) the excursions met on shore (no gathering in the lounge).
Great Itinerary (5) – Tracy Arm, Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Victoria.
Tracy Arm – Great weather allowed us to sail all the way to the Glacier. Second time in 8 cruises.
Juneau (11 hours) – This port has all the stores you are used to from the Caribbean. Stock up routine souvenirs at this port. I would also suggest that you use this port for any whale watching, floatplanes, etc because of the 11 hours. Even with a long excursion you still have time to see the shops. My wife took a small ship whale watching tour and say seals, whales, otters, close up. The small ships are a lot better at getting to the animals. I spent $16 dollars on a round trip shuttle to Mendenhall glacier (2 ½ hour including walking up to the water fall which is the closest you can get to the glacier (lake between you and the glacier).
Sitka (Tender, 8 hours) – HAL was only ship in port. With 4 lifeboats doing the tender the lines moved quickly. My suggestion - see the National Park (Totem Poles) and tour the unique stores in this port. National Park is ½ hour walk from tender spot so I would walk here first – then work your way back to town and tender spot.
Ketchikan (6 hours) – You can walk to Creek Street and see the stores and finish up with a Lumberjack show. We chose the one that finishes 15 minutes before sailing (do not worry about being left – the show is 5 minutes from ship, this is the show that HAL excursion uses, and the line to board was 15 minutes long).
Victoria (6 hours) – I thought this would be a wasted port with it being the last night and it being 6 – midnight. Ship moves early dinner up 45 minutes so we were ready to go ashore by 7 PM. 30-minute walk and you are downtown on a Saturday night with a lot of locals. After 2-3 hours looking around make your way back to the ship with time to spare. Join the masses on Lido for a snack and then pack your bags and place them outside the cabin by midnight.