We are a couple in our early fifties with grown children. This was our sixth cruise: the second to the Mexican Riviera and the first on a Holland America Ship. Since we live in California we drove to the San Diego pier and were able to park right across the street. That was very handy, especially when we returned.
EMBARKATION/LUGGAGE SERVICE/DISEMBARKATION The embarkation process went very smoothly even though the computers were down. We had pre-printed our boarding passes and had entered our credit card information on the HAL web site which helped us get processed without delay. The line was fairly long, but moved quickly. The HAL agent who served us was quite tired having just returned form a long voyage himself that morning, but quickly had us checked in and was very pleasant.
We were quite impressed that once on the ship we were able to check our carry on luggage. Since we had driven to the ship we had used two large hanging bags to avoid wrinkled clothing. It was so nice to have a place to hang them while we enjoyed lunch.
Our luggage arrived quicker than we have ever experienced. Within 15 minutes after are cabin was ready we had our checked luggage. We were amazed at the efficiency of HAL in this area.
On criticism I would have is that the Life Boat drill was the longest we have ever experienced. We had to wait quite a while until stragglers arrived and were checked off the list.
Disembarkation was just as easy as embarkation. HAL allows you to remain in your stateroom until it is time for you to disembark. Again, it was nice to be able to eat breakfast and then return to our room for our carry-on luggage. Another nice feature was HAL allowing you to choose what time you wanted to disembark if you had your own travel arrangements.
THE SHIP We were quite impressed with the beauty of the Oosterdam. We have sailed on other ships that we considered more elegant, but the art collection on the Oosterdam was the best we have seen. We downloaded the podcast tour for the Oosterdam before sailing and it was a great way to experience the art collection aboard the ship. It took us about 90 minutes to take the tour which included the optional climbing up and down stairwells to view the art there. The lay out of the ship is very nice and we quickly found our way around.
The public areas were very nice and we were pleased that second-hand smoke was not too noticeable. It was quite easy to detour around areas where smoking was permitted. (We have sailed on ships where you had to walk through a smoking area to enter the restaurant on the side where our table was located.)
Our stateroom was a basic ocean view, but certainly more than adequate since we spend little time in our cabin. The bed was amazing. It was by far the most comfortable bed we've had at sea. In fact, my wife wondered if she slept better than at home because of the bed or the gentle rocking of the ship or a combination of both.
I walk daily when at sea and have really enjoyed the walking deck on previous cruises. Since the walking decks I have experienced have always been near the top of the ship I wasn't sure about the promenade deck for walking, but I found I liked it even better being closer to the ocean. One the one day we had a bit of rain I could still walk since much of the deck was covered.
OFFICERS & CREW
We found the crew and officers exceptional in most areas. I had made the arrangements for our CC Meet and Greet and for our Banner Wave ahead of time. I had a note from the Beverage Manager in my cabin asking me to drop by his office to go over the arrangements. Everything was in order and HAL provided us with refreshments in the Oak Room on our first sea day. I also met the Hotel Manager, Doug Hernandez, before sailing to get the CC banner for our banner wave. He told me he was glad that we had scheduled our Meet and Greet for he afternoon so that he would be able to attend. We collected the names and cabin numbers at our Meet and Greet and we were invited to a cocktail party with the captain and several other officers later in the week. Doug also invited me to a Q & A session in his office on our last sea day along with a few others. I was quite impressed with the accessibility of the ship's officers.
The front desk personnel and the future cruise consultant were all excellent in their service.
We were a bit concerned about our cabin steward on our first day when our room had still not been made up at 3:30 in the afternoon. He was no where to be seen so I went to the front desk to see if there was a problem. It turns out that he had simply overlooked our room and thought he had already cleaned it. It was promptly cleaned. He apologized the next day and our service from then on was wonderful. He was very friendly, but I was a bit surprised that he didn't make an effort to learn our names. On previous cruises we've always been greeted by name by our cabin stewards.
We were greeted by almost every member of the crew that we passed on the ship. They were very friendly and seemed eager to please.
We were quite surprised after embarkation to find that we had a choice of eating at the Lido buffet or in the restaurant. We chose the restaurant where we had a quite lunch while looking out at the San Diego Bay. It was a great way to begin the cruise.
We asked to be seated at a large table and were at a table for 8 at the 8:30 seating. Dinners lasted almost 2 hours every night, but this was because we were at a table where we all enjoyed leisurely dining and conversation. We were often one of the last tables to leave. It was truly a highlight of each day. Our servers were quite friendly, but not the most efficient. Several times starters that were ordered never arrived. Again, I was surprised that our servers never made an effort to learn our names. Our waiter was quite good when it came to recommendations. When I had a hard time choosing I would asked him for his suggestion and I was never disappointed. Overall, the food was good, but not great. The salads were better than we've experienced, but the entrees were not quite as good. The desserts were often a disappointment. Our wine steward was wonderful. She has been with HAL for 10 years and even though she had many more tables than our servers she knew all of our names and greeted us by name each evening. We bought a wine card from her and drank only house wine so she didn't have great incentive to be so efficient, but she was anyway. I did tip her on the last night since we were so pleased with her service.
We rarely ate at the Lido, but I did like the way they had separate stations. We are light breakfast eaters and the continental breakfast station was perfect for us and there was never a line there. We did eat lunch there once. I had sushi which wasn't too good and my wife got a hamburger from the grill which she said was ok.
We did go to the Royal Dutch Tea which had a very long line. We were disappointed. We far prefer the formal teas we have experienced on another line where we were served by the waiters and the passengers had to dress for tea. We also went to the Indonesian Tea. We thoroughly enjoyed that.
PORTS & EXCURSIONS
CABO SAN LUCAS
We booked an excursion online for the Yellow Submarine. It is a small fiberglass boat that holds 12 passengers. It has a lower deck with a bench and a large window on each side which are below water. It's like snorkeling without getting wet and with a much better view. We saw thousands of fish and there was only one other couple on our excursion so we had lots of room. They took us out past the arch and we saw the sea lions up close. There was also an opportunity to swim or snorkel for a short time. It was to last two hours, but went a bit longer. It's a new excursion and they have discontinued it until after whale watching season is over. Our guide's name was Marina and she was amazing. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone prone to sea sickness. It's a very light boat and rocked a lot whenever another boat passed. To get below you had to go down about six steps on a ladder so it would not be a good excursion for anyone with mobility issues or who is claustrophobic.
We love the Old Town in Mazatlan. We walked form the ship to Old Town. It's about twenty minutes, but I would only recommend walking to those who know how to get there. We started at the Cathedral where we entered and just sat for about 15 minutes in solitude to experience the beauty of the architecture and the furnishing. From there we visited a shop we discovered last winter called Nidart (Nest of Artists). It's owned by three families who make most of the art themselves. We went specifically to buy two leather masks as gifts. We bought three. (We already own two, so we decided to add another to our wall in addition to the two we bought as gifts. We also bought three small clay masks for our Daughter and her husband. They gave us a map to other galleries so we did visit those also and bought a couple of kaleidoscopes made of bamboo, hand made jewelry, pottery and a couple of wool scarves. These shops in Old Town are amazing although they can be difficult to find. We walked to Olas Altas and walked along the ocean taking pictures of bronze statues and saw the cliff divers. We then returned to Plaza Machado and had lunch and margaritas at Altazors ars Café before returning to the ship.
We were part of a group that our travel agent has put us in and we got a free excursion in PV. It was a city tour and Mexican Fiesta. It was OK, but not great. We did see the Cathedral which was nice. We were then taken to a Hacienda where we spent a lot of time touring their tequila factory which was interesting, but far too long. We had a mediocre Mexican lunch-no where near as good as the Mexican food in our little town in Central California. Afterwards there was an interesting show. The MC wasn't too good, but the dancers were very entertaining and a dancing horse proved to be the highlight of the tour. The "hacienda" had lots of venders hawking their wares. After returning to the ship we walked 5 minutes to Sam's Club and bought tequila and Kahlua for gifts at great prices.
The entertainment was quite mixed with some being very good and some not. We enjoy the shows and were quite disappointed that there was only one show on the first night and that it was during our dinner. Perhaps this was usual for HAL to have only one show, but it seemed as if we were penalized for choosing the late seating. The two cast shows were ok, but seemed to be planned around one singer who was quite good. The dancers were not together and a couple of the singers were weak. The shows themselves weren't choreographed too well, and overall were a disappointment.
Lance Ringnald, former Olympic gymnast and a gold medalist performed one night. He is amazing, but he could use a good choreographer. He did many of the same things made popular by Cirque du Soleil performers, but without the artistry. His skill level; however, was probably greater than we've seen before.
Joel Mason "Elton John" show was amazing. He's funny and quite talented. He plays the piano quite well. He is a great entertainer.
The final show was a variety show put together by Joel Mason. I liked him even better at this show where he demonstrated his wide range of talent. He featured many other entertainers who were on the ship and let them shine. I was really impressed by that and by him.
There were a couple of good pianists in the bars and an amazing string quartet. The HAL Cats band was good, but the singer was very weak.
This was our first HAL cruise. It was a good cruise, but not the best cruise we've had; however, the price was great which made it an exceptional value. We do plan to sail again on HAL next summer to Alaska based on price and itinerary.