The cruise left on 12/19 for a seven day Christmas Cruise. Check in was a breeze and we were able to board although our cabins were not ready. It did seem like forever waiting for our cabins but most of that was anticipation. I had an aft suite with a wrap around balcony which did not disappoint. The room was clean and my steward (Yudeh) promptly introduced himself to me. Once unpacked I hurried up to the ships hotel manager to pick up the webcam banner and then up to deck 5 to meet up with some of our roll call buddies and do the wave for the webcam. We left a little later than expected as there were some flights delayed due to the wintry weather in the northeast. During the night one of passengers got ill and needed a medical evacuation by coast guard chopper. In the morning, the captain made the announcement and informed us that we had actually reversed course back to San Diego for several hours to meet the chopper who would not have had enough fuel to meet us. The passenger was safely airlifted and we were told later that night that her prognosis looked good after getting the medical attention needed. We however were now 3-4 hours behind schedule requiring the need for more speed, so with all 4 engines roaring it was full steam ahead. This was the only night that I could feel the engine vibrations in my cabin which kept me up most of the night, the rest of the cruise my cabin was quiet and smooth.
After day three we arrived in Mazatlan where some of us on our roll call booked a tour with Mazatlan Frank. To say Frank and his tour was wonderful would be an understatement. He promptly met us at the dock and took us on a great tour of Mazatlan showing us both the old and new areas and took any requests for special stops (I collect the Diamond International charms and he had no problem stopping by the store in Mazatlan to allow me to get my charm). He took us to unique Mexican shops where they sold out of the ordinary Mexican items. He then took us to a very nice restaurant on the beach for a relaxing lunch. It was a wonderful tour and I highly recommend booking a tour with Frank. I have taken many independent tours and find them to be far superior than those offered by the cruise lines as well as more affordable and flexible. Reputable independent tour operators are very conscious of the need to get everyone back to the ship on time, I have never missed a ship yet.
The rest of the cruise was wonderful. The crew of the Oosterdam couldn't have been friendlier and this was the first cruise where I actually enjoyed the cruise director. Patti was full of energy and was quite amusing, she had just transferred to this ship with our cruise but you would have never known it. The ship was beautifully decorated for Christmas and they showed an hilarious video of Santa arriving on board Christmas morning before arriving in the lounge to distribute gifts to the many children on board.
The service was quite slow and trying to order room service took quite long, even just getting through on the phone was a chore. The food was good but if you are in a hurry I suggest you do the buffet and stay away from the dining room, it averaged about 90 minutes for the open sitting at dinner. Many people were confused by the fact that they suggest even though it was open seating, one should make a reservation. We never encountered a problem getting a table without a reservation as long as you are open to sitting with others. The entire staff was very accommodating. The disembarkation was a nightmare but I think that is because HAL gives passengers the option of carrying off their own luggage and calling this expedited disembarkation. The problem? I think half the ship decided to do expedited embarkation therefore taking so long it overlapped with assigned time disembarkation. I think HAL should stop offering the expedited disembarkation and just unload everybody's luggage and assign everyone a time to get off the ship, that might help the process.
Overall it was a great time had by all. This is my third HAL cruise and they continue to do a nice job. Nothing over the top, nothing spectacular just a very nice relaxing time in a clean surrounding with cheerful people and good (not great) food. You need to retain the attitude that you are on vacation and not worry about time. I am a firm believer in that you get what you pay for and I do believe that HAL is an excellent value for what you pay, especially if traveling solo and paying their reduced single supplement. Are there better cruise lines? you bet, but HAL tries their hardest to make it as enjoyable as possible and have a well trained staff. If you want five star accommodations with 5 star meals and 5 star service than you need to book a five star cruise and pay the five star prices that go with it. For those who have never left their surroundings, this most likely is 5 stars, for those of us who are avid cruisers with varied taste they may not enjoy it, it is all too subjective to know for sure. However, if you can just relax and enjoy being on vacation and not sweat the little things, you will have a great time. Two thumbs up for HAL.