Here's my review of the HAL Oosterdam from San Diego to the Mexican Riviera on April 19, 2008. I've tried to organize it so it will make some sense.
EMBARKATION: Does it get any easier than this? We arrived at the San Diego terminal at 11:15 and were on the Lido by 12:00. Very painless!! The only suggestion would be to add more seating in the terminal. Too many elderly were forced to stand while waiting.
THE SHIP: The Oosterdam is as beautiful as advertised. The art throughout the ship is fun to discover.Everywhere we went , we found something new and interesting to look at. A pleasant change from the 'bright lights' of Carnival. Not necessarily better, just different. My favorite part of the ship, believe it or not, were the glass elevators that faced the outside of the ship. When descending, you get the illusion that you're descending into the ocean. A free amusement park ride included at no extra charge.
THE CABINS: We always book inside(I've never had a balcony, so I don't know what I'm missing), and this cabin was fine. It felt a little smaller than Carnival (I think it is, actually), but the decor was nice. The chair was broken by the previous occupant, but I sent it out for repairs. It came back fixed in two days. The cabin was very quiet, even though it was only two doors from a bank of elevators. We could hear an occasional chime, but it wasn't very loud.
ENTERTAINMENT: As always, this is very subjective, but the singers and dancers were a little weak. I didn't feel they were as good as Carnival, and I wasn't overly impressed by them either. Considering we were on a cruise ship, they were OK. The other entertainment in the lounge was excellent, however. We saw Edge (a very unusual juggler) and Horizon - a Motown singing group. Horizon was very entertaining - they really had the ship rockin! The house band - The HAL Cats are good, though they are better than their lead singer who may be cute, but doesn't sing very well. A huge disappointment was what I thought was going to be a String Quartet - it turned out to be a duet (violin and cello) with a piano, so technically it was a trio. The cellist was not strong, playing woefully out of tune at times. I'm not certain, but he seemed to be sight-reading most of the time.
FOOD: Another subjective area. I found the food to be inconsistent and overall, not as good as Carnival. Perhaps it was these chefs, but all the meat was overcooked, dry and tough. Not inedible, but not wonderful. A few comments are in order on AYW dining. We were originally 8:00 assigned, but that's too late for us so we accepted AYW instead. Just for fun, we tried every possibility. Room Service was great for breakfast (used the hang on the door order form), but difficult to get through to during the day. The food arrived warm and as ordered. The Lido was great - we tried both 'sides' for dinner - one side where you carry the tray and the other where they bring it to you. I really like that they serve the same thing in the Lido as what's in the restaurant - a GREAT alternative when you just don't feel like being social. Making reservations in the Vista was painless. We actually enjoyed eating with different people - and when we didn't feel like it, there was always the Lido. All in all, a fine experience. One last thought - Do try the Pinnacle. It really was nice and the food was wonderful.
THE CREW/STAFF: This is where HAL truly shines. The Indonesian/Filipino stewards, waiters, etc. are tremendous. I have never felt more pampered. After meeting the famous Hunky Dory for a total of 10 seconds, he promptly impressed me the next morning by asking where my wife Pam was (she was sleeping in........) His memory for names is remarkable. I also met John Wayne in the Vista. Our room steward Agung was wonderful. If VIP treatment is what you're looking for, then the O is a great choice.
THE ITINERARY: This is our third cruise, and I have developed a problem: I find the poverty very depressing. I know that there are poor people in the world, I just hate having to confront it so much on vacation. If it is the intent of the Mexican government to have visitors return, they should consider banning the constant harassment of street vendors, particularly little children. I suspect it will cause us to consider going elsewhere in the world in the future.
We had a very enjoyable time. It was well worth the money and we would do it again today if we could (oh darn, I have to work....)