Embarkation did not go very well. People were jammed all over the terminal waiting. Why? Holland did not allow enough time with the ms Oosterdam returning from Europe and having to have the crew go through Customs and Immigration on arrival at Ft. Lauderdale, and still have the ship prepared for embarkation at the time Holland stated. If you have ever embarked on a Carnival cruise from Long Beach you will understand how bad it was. We elected to try a guaranteed cabin for the first, and now our last time. We informed Holland that we are non-smokers, so Holland assigned us a smoking cabin that the previous cruisers had smoked heavily in. It was so bad that even the cabin stewards were embarrassed and had an ozone machine in the room when we arrived after 1400, to try and make it more bearable. My wife went to the pursers desk to see if there was anything that they could do to assist us. We already knew that the ship was full from cruise critic chats, so we knew that there would be no upgrade available, but maybe some help in ridding the room of the smoke smell. They told my wife that there was nothing that they could do and went on to the next customer. Thankfully our cabin stewards, Yon and Abdul, were great and realized the problem and spent extra time attempting to make the cabin more bearable for our first night. My wife woke up the next morning hardly able to breathe as she was so congested from the smoke residue. She was very happy to take the tender to Half Moon Cay and get out of the cabin. The cabin stewards then shampooed the carpet while we were gone to try and help us. The next day they had to wash all of the curtains too as the smoke smell was still so strong.
There were also many people who complained of not receiving their luggage until well after dinner, once again due to the crew Custom and Immigration check. Food in the dining room, first seating, was very good with a varied choice each night. Food On the Lido deck was also very good, even though some people did not like the fact that Holland does not have trays anymore. I thought that it worked very well myself. The ms Oosterdam is not in as good a shape as her sister ship the ms Norddam. There were rust spots along areas of the Promenade deck and the carpet is getting a bit worn. Some deck chairs were broken, were they could not be moved from the up-right position, and a few did not have a cushion. One day the crew water sprayed the Promenade deck and then proceeded to chip and scrape paint off above the deck so the paint chips fell all over the deck. They did not close off that section of the deck so that as people walked over the chips paint was all over the place. Poor planning on the part of the crew. Disembarkation was very good, the only complaint being one could not always hear what they were announcing.
The Panama Canal was the highlight of the cruise and is worth the time and effort to go through it. Great lectures from Mr. McCLelland on the area. The port of Fuerte Amador ( Panama City ) is not listed in the port reviews section so here it is. We did the El Valle tour and it was very good. Our guide was very informative and helpful. Some of the dining table mates went to Panama City and enjoyed it
Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica. Once again there isn't much at the port itself, as it is a container dock port. There was a good band playing while were docked and there is shopping in the building at the dock also. We found some very good things there at a very good price. The people were very friendly and helpful. We took the mangrove tour from the ship and we were able to see some of the country side that way also. Our guide and driver were one of the best that we have ever had. The guide would point to a flower on the road side and start to talk about it and the driver would stop and go out and take a cutting from it so that we could touch and smell it. This happened a quite a few times and was a very nice touch to the tour. The tour was on a pontoon boat and there was enough of a breeze most of the time to make it very enjoyable. Our guide from the motor coach came along and with the guide from the boat tour we were kept very entertained. We managed to see blue herons, caymans, iguanas and macaws. There was a light brunch after the boat ride with plenty of fresh fruit, beer and bottled water. There were also very clean bathrooms. They also had items for sale there too. We did find out after the fact that the shops at the dock are about half of the price of those at the boat tour. So do your shopping at the dock.
Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala We did the tour to the old capital of Antigua. The coach ride took about an hour or so. The city is lovely and well worth the trip to see it. When you get off the coach at the Jade factory, the tour guide will tell you the coach number and the time to be back for departure. There are good bathrooms at the Jade Factory to use before you start to wander the city. The driver or guide will also give you a bottle of water when you get off the coach. We wandered around the city and enjoyed our time there. The main plaza is wonderful and there are many places to look at and places to buy items. We ventured to the market area and found some great gifts. The street vendors can be a bit much some times but if you bargain with them you will get some really great deals. My wife still wishes she would have bought more while she was there. There was plenty of shopping near the dock also but we were shopped out by that time.
Puerto Chiapas, Mexico The Mexican Government has spent a lot of money to try and get tourists to this area. There is a brand new dock and and shopping building next to it. There is also a restaurant with a kiddies swimming pool and lots of grass to just lay on and relax. We took the shuttle into town, it is $10 dollars pp/rt in a supposedly air conditioned coach. Ours didn't have any AC so everyone was hot and sweaty after sitting in the coach for the 20 minute ride into town. Once in town, you are let off at the center of town, there is a tourist info booth right there and they were extremely helpful. One problem is that there are very few people in the area who speak English so shopping downtown is an adventure. We went with another couple and once we arrived downtown the ladies informed us that we were not going to ride that coach back to the ship. So we talked to the young lady at the tourist info booth about getting a tour to the Iztapa ruins and the Chocolate city and she went and talked to the cab drivers and got us one to do that for $40 for the four of us. The cab wasn't in the best of shape and didn't have AC but the driver drove fast enough that we had a good time and it wasn't too hot either. The ruins aren't much yet as only about 2% of them have been uncovered so far. It was still a nice way to spend part of the day. We then went to the Chocolate city and watched a demo on how they work with the bean to make the cocoa powder and they had samples of the paste and drink to try. We bought some of the paste as the price was so good and it tasted lovely. Then the drive took us back to the ship so the ladies didn't have to use the shuttle coach.
Hualtulco, Mexico Another port with a new dock. The port area has some of shopping and walking area, but there were signs that the economy has hit hard there too, or it is just too new to be established yet. There are nine bays in the area. It is a beautiful place and we were told that it is one of the new "in" places to vacation at or buy a home. It is very nice there. We walked around the port area and talked to a man about a boat tour to some of the bays. Once again there were four of us. We managed to have a really nice guy, Louis, take us out to five of the bays with a stop at the most popular swimming beach for an hour. The fee for this was $20 pp. Louis was very informative and helpful. We had a very, very good time doing this.