This is our sixth cruise: one Princess, three Celebrity, two HAL. We are in our 50s and retired. Our primary reason for cruising is the cruise experience itself, particularly the cuisine. From our experience, ports of call tend to be overly commercialized and westernized throughout the Caribbean and Mexico. With few exceptions you will not experience a different culture, only vendors and predictable over-priced excursions. But the food and service on the ships varies tremendously. Celebrity remains tops in our book, Holland follows a close second, and Princess falls somewhere below.
PROS: Overall a great value and wonderful experience. Some corners have been cut in the food and food service areas (there is no creme brulee served, fewer excellent fish or seafood dishes, the chocolate buffet is gone, and server to passenger ratio is down) but still, everything from the quality and selection of the food to the service is among the best you can find in most American higher quality city restaurants. The Lido buffet provided outstanding variety and overall high quality. I can't understand how they can, day after day, provide such a wonderful array of fresh foods. What is more amazing is that passengers will stand in long lines to have a ham and cheese sandwich made for them or get a hamburger and french fries, while there are no lines to the Asian fresh made dishes (curries, sushi, stir frys)or freshly made pasta dishes. That is America for you.
There is a very nice meal awaiting you everywhere you turn on this ship. The breads, pastries, desserts, and soups stand out in particular. All freshly made, all as good as they look.
Room service and the menu were terrific.
Few children! Unfortunately, the ones on the ship did seem to fill the pools so few adults were in the water.
Service throughout the ship was outstanding. One gets the impression that Indonesia is just full of smiling, happy, and gracious people (HAL is mostly Indonesian staff.) We have found that to be true in all the Muslim countries we have visited.
CONS: "As You Wish" dining didn't work well for us. Here is how it goes. You can make reservations for a specific time, however in our case, we preferred a table for two. Over the course of a week we could get reservations only at 5:15 or 5:30, and once at 8:00. So, what they do is fill all the tables at 5:15, knowing there will be space available a couple of hours after that when the first group is finished. The next group roughly gets reservations after 7:30 would be my guess. People who don't have reservations, in many cases, found themselves waiting, and waiting and waiting for a table to clear. So if you don't want to eat at 5:15 or 8:00, you are much better off with traditional seating. Another negative of "As You Wish Dining" is that you do not get to know your servers. In traditional seating they get to know you as well and are able to anticipate your peculiarities, like iced tea every night, coffee after the meal, particular likes and dislikes, etc. You will be asking and waiting for those things in the "As You Wish" situation.
The Pinnacle was a wonderful experience, a step above the Vista dining room in all ways. However, my steak was downright tough after getting into it a bit. It was huge, a 22 oz. ribeye, and cooked perfectly. I should have asked for another and they would have brought one graciously I am sure. My wife's lobster was delicious. It purely is personal taste as to whether or not you wish to spend the additional $20 each for this opportunity. We found the dining room food more than adequate. Candoletto's, the free Italian restaurant looked like a worthy try. We didn't have the opportunity.
Expect long waits tendering into and out of Cabo San Lucas, and expect it to resemble a beach in Miami. It is totally commercialized and westernized. Puerto Vallarta is the same, although it is a stunningly beautiful setting. Mazatlan maintains its old colonial charm if you wish to take a walk and get away from thousands of cruise ship passengers. There is a lot of adventure and fun to be had in Mazatlan.
Embarking and debarking were easy and swift. We waited maybe 20 minutes to board, 15 to debark.
I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Oosterdam to anyone. It was purely a wonderful experience.