DATE: March 19-26, 2011 7 day
DESTINATION: San Diego, PV, Cabo. Mazatlan is cancelled due to reported violence
CRUISE LINE: Holland America Line Oosterdam
WHO: mom, me and a couple--2 cabins
My mom and I have cruised before. Our friends are first timers.
My mom and I take an annual trip. This year, we decided on a cruise. This itinerary was selected because my mom and our friends have never been to Mexico, and San Diego is closer than Florida.
If I travel with my husband, our Cruise selection is based mostly on itinerary and dates. In this case with my mom and the 2 friends, it is mostly about convenience, the ship and its service on board.
I had been to PV, Cabo with my husband. The only city I haven't been is Mazatlan. I was disappointed when the port was cancelled. However this itinerary still works since Mexico is new to my mom and our friends.
I organized the whole trip. I found this itinerary and the dates fit our schedule. A special price for suite came up when I was researching. The price that is normally for a balcony. It was SZ, guaranteed. Which means we won't have the cabin # until we are closer to sailing date.
Flight from a US city is usually cheaper than flying out of a Canadian city, especially there are 4 of us, the savings add up. I found Virgin America air flying out of Seattle, transfer in San Francisco, and to San Diego. 4 of us drove down to Seattle 2 nights before sailing date. We stayed in Holiday Inn near SeaTac airport, with parking, was $169 per night. Compliment shuttle was another service we appreciate. However, I am not sure if we would stay there again.
The next morning, we found out the flight out of Seattle to San Francisco is delayed 1 hour. We got to the airport around 9am, for our scheduled 11am flight. The storm and fog in San Francisco delayed all morning flights. I assume San Fran is better connecting airport than LAX. Now, I learned San Fran weather is a constant recurring reason for delayed or cancelled flights. All morning, we waited nervously, hoping not to miss our connecting flight.
We finally got on the flight around 3:30pm. The connecting flight decided to wait for us passengers in San Fran airport. I learned that we should always connect with the same airline, if possible. A different airline would not be able to wait for us.
We arrived in San Diego around 7pm.
I used Hotwire.com (first time) to reserve a hotel close by. I lucked out, the hotel was Sheraton! It is located near the airport and the cruiseship terminal. Sheraton is a 4 star accommodation, and the $99 + tax price we paid was great value!!
After a long day of anxiety and waiting, we welcomed our sleep in Sheraton. Next morning, with renewed energy, we went downtown shopping! Around 1pm, we headed toward our ship, the main attraction of our trip!
Upon arrival at the terminal, there was no wait whatsoever. I was told the rush was just over.
Right after we got on the ship, we were told our cabins were ready! We were able to head to our cabins right away! And our luggage was also brought in. I was pleasantly surprised! Normally, we would have to wait until 2 pm, and then much later for our suitcases.
We did get our cabin number 2 weeks prior to our embarkation. We were upgraded to SS from SZ. Because the cabin was under Lido deck, I was concerned about possible noise. With our TA, I had requested a change. I was told the ship was full, and no change could be made. However, My friends and we have connecting cabins: 8091, 8093, which was very convenient for us.
After 7 nights, I have to say:
noise—did it bother us? No. Did it affect our sleeping? No.
My mom and I had been on Oosterdam 5 yrs ago to Alaska, at the end of September. At that time, we had an ocean view. That was not a pleasant cruise. The Sea was especially choppy, and our cabin seemed to rock and bounce much more than other cabins. Also, the dEcor was a bit dated.
This time, our suite was very spacious! a 3 seater sofa, a desk by the window, and a make- up vanity near the bathroom. The bathroom has a tub AND a shower! Double sinks, with plenty of storage.
Storage / closet space was plenty for just the 2 of us, for 7 days. And our luggage fit under our beds with ease!
Love the balcony deck! Compared to what we had on Paul Gauguin in January, this was at lease double the size! Comfortable seating for 4 people, with table and side table!
I have often wondered whether a balcony is worth the extra $. My opinion is this: if it is used and enjoyed, it is definitely worth it. With this itinerary, the weather beckoned us to utilize the balcony: great place to enjoy company, cold Corona, snacks, and sun! Even by herself on the balcony, my mom enjoyed the sun, the sight and the city. This was a great place for recording my daily journal.
We did encounter a plumbing problem. Drains in both the bath tub and the shower did not drain. I reported it, and the problem was solved promptly. The tub was nice, but we did not use. Could not bear to waste water!
We have experienced fairly good service. The majority of the crew was courteous, friendly, and ready to help.
Here are my likes:
I was particularly impressed with people answering the phone—"At your service". Whenever I called, whoever answered the phone was always very pleasant, solution-oriented, and patient, with great listening skills. I was always able to get questions answered, or problem solved.
I also like the room service. I ordered coffee, grapefruit, yogurt, and V8 every morning. My request was delivered right on the time I specified.
My friends, my mom and I enjoyed our breakfasts every morning in Lido. The crew there were cheerful, joking around, chatting with us,... started our day on a high note. We could always find tables, and the line to get to the food was never too long. Coffee was always brought to us.
Cannotelli (?sp)--its intimate atmosphere, its food and the service of the director, and the crew.
Because we are "As You Wish" Dining selection, we always make reservation ahead of time. We do not like waiting in line. And we like to have dinner early. The first night, the only time we could get in the main dining room was either too early or too late. The customer service suggested we try Canotelli (?sp?) a small Italian "restaurant" by Lido restaurant. And there is no charge extra. We loved it: the food, the service, the pacing were just right for us. In fact, we tried to go back again, and could not get in until the last night. I suggest you reserve at least 2 or 3 nights during your 7 day cruise.
The last night, the maitre'd, the director, and the waiters really went out of their way to accommodate us. They ensured we have the most memorable dinner last night of the cruise. And it did end with this great meal and caring service at Cannotelli!
"As You Wish dining" and inconsistent service in dining room.
The ambience, the service and the experience of fine dining in the main dining room, I think, are as important as the food presentation. Every night, we look forward to our dinner; it signified a celebratory gathering of good company and ending of a wonderful day.
This is my first "As You Wish Dining" experience: I admit I did not like it.
I understand the allure of the "Anytime Dining" or in HAL, "As You Wish Dining": For port-intense cruise, (such as Mediterranean), rushing back to a 6pm dinner may not be feasible or desirable. For this 2-port itinerary, time was not much a concern.
Our past cruises, my husband and I have really enjoyed the set dining schedules: friends and waiters. We were fortunate that our fellow dining partners became friends mainly because we had dinner together every night, with the same waiter or steward.
our waiters always made a positive impression on us. (I can remember almost all the waiters that we have had.) In my opinion, they are important part of our dining experience!
A few years ago, we had a family get together with Oosterdam. Even though my family did not enjoy Alaska cruise that much, they would tell you that they would not forget the waiter and his service in the dining room!
This trip, "As You Wish Dining" did not work for me because:
1) our nightly different table locations had been less than desirable: crowded, tight, elbowing with next table and or the waiters' table. We did manage to have a table beside a window one night (after I expressed that we do not like to dine in the main dining room for the remaining of the cruise.)
2) The pace between the courses was inconsistent.
3) We have felt the waiters were stressed and rushed. I can understand why. I remembered back a few years where a waiter always has an assistant. During this cruise, we had one person serving a few tables; that is: he was responsible for explaining the menus, pouring water, taking order, clearing plates, bringing on new courses. With tight schedule, any request out of ordinary will strain their schedule even more. We were sympathetic, and we tried to not ask anything that is out of ordinary, and also not to linger too long during dinner. However, being more concerned about the waiter every dinner night compromise our dining enjoyment! To us, sharing a wonderful dinner with my mom and friends is a highlight at the end of a wonderful day!
I also like to mention2 incidents that were not of normal HAL service standard:
1) My mom had purchased a bucket of 5 beers, and told the beverage crew that she would like to bring the bucket back to her cabin, and would like a bucket with handles, easier for her to carry.
Instead of changing the bucket, the crew suggested to my mom to carry with her arm instead. My mom pointed out to him that he at 20 something, can carry any way he likes. She, at 68, will need to carry the handles with both hands. She did get the bucket changed to one with handles.
After she got back to the cabin with the bucket, she realized the beer bottles were not twist tops! I called for the room service for a bottle opener. We waited for about half an hour (beer was getting warm!), and no one came. Not like them.
My mom thought she would get it faster if she physically goes to get one from the bar. Surprisingly, the crews refused to give it to her! They wanted her to call room service. I got mad, and called the room service to return the bucket. Have them to pick up the bucket; it has been almost an hour, and who wants to drink warm beer? Miraculously, within 5 minutes, an attendant showed up, with a bottle opener!
I did bring this incident up to the front desk. And a day later, we received an "apology" card and a plate of chocolate desert. I am glad Oosterdam did acknowledge that. I know it is the thought that counts; However, both my mom and I are not too much into dessert.
2) After I expressed that we really did not enjoy dining in the dining room to the reservation attendant, he tried to make it right for us. He reserved a nice table, by the window for us. We were so excited and were determined to ENJOY at least ONE dinner in the main dining room! The excitement was short-lived.
Our waiter was stressed and annoyed. And he did not hide it. I sympathize, but I did not appreciate his snarky remarks and rude behaviour. I tried to lighten the mood: I joked that we all ordered the same menu items to make it easier for him. His comeback? "not really, you ordered so much!" because we order soup AND salad? WOW!
His attitude and behaviour demonstrated that we were a bother to him. We were an interruption to his already tight schedule. Even though we are the polite Canadians, but if we had said nothing, he would never know the impact he was making on us passengers!
Finally, I asked him if we had done something wrong? Why he was hostile to us? He tried to defend and realized he had no legit reasons. He did change his tone after, better but not much. I ordered a latte after dinner. He said the machine was broken. Not sure if it was true.
We also waited a long time to get wine steward to notice us. The wine is extra $ for them, should they not try to sell when there is demand? We finally got her attention by getting in front of her. (Our waiter was no help. All he said was she will come.)
I did not file a complaint. I think this is a single person issue, it is a bigger issue.
I am not sure if there are more passengers who had similar dislikes or I am the odd person. I trust that the ship will tailor their service and change to the market it serves. And maybe I am no longer in the market HAL try to attract?
FOOD TASTE AND QUALITY
Living in Vancouver, we are spoiled with fresh ingredients, plenty of seafood, and the variety selection. It is easy for us Vancouverites to become food critics in our own minds. Our feedback on the food may be more critical and subjective. Please take that into consideration.
As mentioned above, we enjoyed Cannotelli, the Italian fare on Lido deck. The kitchen was right there, the food brought to us was always hot.
The main dining room, I assume it is the logistic of the layout, the food journey further to get to our table.
In the main dining room, the steak was not as tender as what we like. Even though seafood and fish were a welcome item, fresh fish was difficult to do in mass production. Similar to chicken. dry and tough. The Alaska king crab legs were fabulous!
We also tried Pinnacle Grill. The steak, I was told by my friend, was much better than in the dining room. The lobster I had was excellent. though the sides were a bit rich for me.
One area I like to see improving: more fruit selection. I assumed with the abundance of fruits in California, Mexico, the ship would offer the same. And yet, every day, we have the same water melon, melon, honey dew, strawberry. Sometimes pine apple, and rarely Papaya. Not sure if it is because the demand is not there?
FITNESS & WELLBEING
Did not use the gym, but did walk around the Deck 3. Also noticed classes on the outside deck.
As everyone knows by now, Mazatlan was cancelled. I was disappointed because it was the only port in this itinerary that I have not been. I did know it was cancelled before we sailed.
Currency—we did get some Peso for our trip; however, we find we really did not need peso to get by. Everyone we had come in contact accepts US $.
Puerto Vallarta—I personally had been there a few times. For my mom and our friends, Puerto Vallarta city center was new, and not too attractive.
I went on the private Canopy tour, booked online. The bus driver, and the tour assistants were funny and enthusiastic. They tried hard.
I did have a blast! One of my friend chickened out. My mom and she waited at the restaurant, having some munchies and beer. Not cheap!
One recommendation I have for those who attract mosquito, cover up or use repellent. I did not, and my legs were covered with bites!
Even though I enjoyed the service, the expectation of tips can be exhausting. I find the business of tips / gratuities a bit too much. What is normal service and what is service deserving extra gratitude?
Cabo San Lucas
Cabo San Lucas was the more desirable port of the 2. We chartered a tour boat out to the Lover's beach in the morning. Even though there were 2 ships in, the tour boats were not busy. We were happy with paying $6 US per person? For the 4 of us, we had the whole boat to ourselves, and the "captain." We took some amazing pictures. We did not stay at the beautiful beach because we were not prepared.
The town itself was full of little shops selling same merchandise. Even though bargaining is the norm, the Mexicans were not eager to part with their ware at our price.
Mainly to use up our pesos, we had lunch at The Shrimp Factory, beside the Diamond International. The restaurant was not busy. The food, according to our friends, was not something they would write home about.
We did enjoy Corona & Pacifica and tortilla chips in a restaurant just outside the terminal. The place was hopping. The waiter was efficient, and yes, you guess it, expected a good tip.
The process for disembarkation was a bit different my past experience. All non-US citizens had to wait in the Lounge and go through the US customs before disembarkation can begin.
The US custom officers did not have the same urgency as us passengers trying to get off and catch a flight home.
The line moved quickly and orderly once the custom officers got into the rhythm. The crew kept us organized, PLUS we passengers behaved well.
Our flight was at 1pm. We flew home without a hitch.
And then I start to look for my next cruise!