My spouse and I had originally booked this cruise as a late celebration of our 40th anniversary. As it turned out, we celebrated it in Sep/11 with a cruise to Alaska on board the Diamond Princess. But, no matter, as we knew we wanted to get away from the typically cold Canadian weather in January and this cruise was a good mid-winter break.
We flew from our home gateway of Winnipeg to San Diego via Denver the day before the cruise. We are always concerned about being storm-stayed. It was unusually cold the day we left but quite mild in Denver when we changed planes and very pleasant when we arrived. We arrived just after lunch and took the shuttle to the hotel. It's a bit of hike from the baggage carousels, up to the pedestrian walkway and down to the shuttle/taxi area and it can be crowded with all the shuttles, buses and taxis jockeying for a spot; just keep an eye peeled for your hotel's shuttle, if you are using one.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn on the Bay, just across from the B Street Cruise Ship Terminal. It's located at 1355 N. Harbor Drive. We had a 'bay view' room which was located on the 10th floor of the south tower, a building separate from the main hotel complex. There are two main elevators as well as a panoramic elevator which gives great views of the bay. The room was not overly spacious and showing its age, but it was clean and comfortable. There is a pillow menu, flat screen TV, coffee/tea maker, and separate table for your PC or tablet. Complimentary WI-FI is included. The view from the balcony was spectacular and we were able to watch our ship slowly come into the pier area - it was literally "parked" directly across the street from our room - nice! We had supper at Antonio's across the street from the hotel, and breakfast on embarkation day in the Elephant & Castle restaurant, located in the main hotel building. We would recommend both.
We initially signed up for the shuttle from the hotel (has to be done between 8 and 10 on the morning of embarkation) but realized that it was only about 100m from our hotel to the Terminal so we just hooked up our bags and literally walked across the street. We were in about 10:45 a.m., dropped our bags at the luggage check-in area, and through HAL check-in by 11:10. Our group number was called about 11:45 and after the customary embarkation photo, we were literally on board by 11:55. Our room was forward, port side, so we made our way to the forward elevators and were in our room by noon.
We had a Superior Verandah Suite on the Navigation Deck. It is a spacious room with a large bathroom consisting of dual sinks, whirlpool tub and separate shower, medicine cabinets and Elemis toiletries. There are three closets opposite the bathroom, with fold down shelving and a safe. The bed was queen and faced a dresser/vanity area. There is a sofa bed, three armchairs, a cocktail table and a desk area holding more shelves, a DVD player, flat screen TV and ports for data and AC (110 and 220v). The balcony was large with a table and two dining chairs and two deck chairs, and wicker ottomans, all with seat pads. We noted that all the chairs and throw pillows in the room were very dirty. The wicker balcony furniture had seen better days as well and most of the wicker strands was literally unravelling. The bathroom tile work needed a major cleaning and despite reporting the problem to ship maintenance, we had a chronic leak from the shower stall for the entire two weeks of the cruise.
There is lots of information on this site about the Oosterdam so I won't go into that here. The ship was built in 2003. I am not sure if it has had a refurbishment but it sure needs one. We noted several areas where maintenance looked overdue and the waterline area was badly rusted and fouled.
We had second seating in the Vista Dining Room on Deck 3, table for 6. Curiously, no one offered to escort us to our table on the first night; we had to ask a couple of waiters before one would show us. We had a small table with a banquette on one side and chairs on the other. Unfortunately, this table was located below another level of the dining room which permitted guests at the table for four above us to constantly stare at us (not sure what their problem was but it was very rude). Our waiter and assistant waiter were pleasant and reasonably efficient but not overly so. Our meals arrived usually on time but never hot, just warm. We were never sure what the problem was in getting entrées to our table so that they were more enjoyable. Portions were small and presentation was always excellent. Service from the wine steward was always very slow.
The Lido buffet was OK with a reasonable selection of dishes. For the first two days at sea, there was no self-service; everyone had to point to their desired food items and they were placed onto small plates by stewards. We ate in the Lido on a few mornings.
The specialty restaurant, Pinnacle Grill ($25 cover charge) was excellent. Superb service, ambiance, menu and wine selection. On one night, the Le Cirque menu was presented although we do not believe the $14 surcharge was worth it and this was shared by most other guests we talked to as well. The menu was not as good as the regular menu.
Room service was OK. Orders were delivered on time and accurate for the most part; just don't order toast as it will be cold - guaranteed.
The pizza selections were just OK; we believe Princess has a better pizzeria. The grill on the Lido deck serves up hamburgers and hot dogs although we were appalled to see dogs and patties sitting in warming trays and just reheated on the grill prior to being served; it makes the waiting time shorter but who wants reheated food?
On the Honolulu port evening, a "Hawaiian" BBQ was served, supposedly with suckling pig. Perhaps, but all we got was a little bit of pork and a lot of fat.
We went to the gym most sea days. My spouse did fitness classes and Tai Chi. I attended some Microsoft workshops. We attended the Royal Dutch Tea but this has really deteriorated since we were last on HAL in 2002. We also attended some bingos. On the last formal night, there was a Dessert Extravaganza, spread over three decks. Although it was well done (presentation) and the desserts were to die for, we thought this should have been done in one of the dining rooms as we have experienced on other cruise ships, to avoid the congestion that results from putting on this type of event. What surprised and appalled us even more, however, was the amount of food that was thrown out after the event was finished; perhaps HAL could take a lesson from this and just make less desserts?
Service was generally very good to excellent. The best service was from Guest Relations; they were masters at problem solving. The Hotel Manager, James Deering, was absolutely superb at his job; you saw him everywhere, talking to guests and answering questions, including the two Meet & Greet sessions we attended as part of the Cruise Critic roll call for this cruise. The worst service was from the photography staff who are contractors; they were at times unreasonable and argumentative. We had to go to Guest Relations to intercede on our behalf.
Entertainment varied depending on the venue. The Ocean Bar and the Piano Bar had particularly good performers. The Vista Lounge was a two (or three) level theatre which curiously, had many obstructed views from overhanging balconies and structural posts (I thought ship designers had corrected this in the 2000's). Acts varied from the ship's dancer/singer ensemble, a Liberace wanna be pianist, a violinist/comedian (OK, but not really that good), a magician (OK), the Las Vegas Tenors (OK but a copycat act for the Italian group)and a really good comedian by the name of Elliot Maxx.
Port & Shore Excursions
Lahaina (Maui). This is a port that require a tender. Be patient as the harbormaster controls access very tightly and you could be bobbing around in a tender for a while. We did the whale watching tour and it was excellent.
Honolulu (Oahu). The ship docks right in downtown Honolulu. We did the Pearl Harbor and city tour. It was quite good but there is only a short window on board the Arizona memorial and it is quite crowded.
Nawiliwili (Kauai). The ship docks at a local commercial pier. We did the river cruise and Fern Grotto tour. It was excellent. The cruise is relaxing and the cultural tour at the Grotto and on the way back to the river pier are some of the best local entertainment we have ever experienced; we even learned to hula! Note that there a couple of local malls near the pier where the ship is docked, including a nice public beach.
Hilo (Hawaii). The ship docks at a local commercial pier. We did a local tour which included Paradise Falls, a stop at Big Island Candies (bring your sweet tooth) and the Imiloa Astronomy Centre. The latter is an astronomy museum and
Don't bother with a ship's photo in any of these ports; the backdrop is industrial.
This was colour-coded as it is on most cruises we've been on. We were scheduled off at 0900 but our colour was never called. When the colours to date had been called, we realized our colour was among those that should be disembarking. We proceeded to Deck 2 only to be swallowed up in a morass of cruisers trying to get off the ship. In spite of the instructions to guest to stay in their rooms until their colour was called, several were hanging around the gangway and crowding the hallways. HAL staff were very frustrating and yelling at guests to form two lines to clear the clutter. What they should have done is clear out out all the guests who were loitering. Other than that, the process to get off the ship, find our luggage and exit the terminal was straightforward. There is a bit of a queue to get a taxi but eventually we did and were at the San Diego airport in less than 10 minutes. It's about a $12 fare.
Overall, it was a very good cruise and a welcome break from winter (although our winter has been unusually mild as it has been in most of North America). If you like sea days just to relax and not do much, this cruise is perfect. All tour guides were excellent and very proud of their culture. We noted that there is a noticeable difference (i.e. fewer) in the numbers of staff from our 2002 HAL cruise. There was no presentation of leis on embarkation; odd for a ship going to Hawaii. This ship is in bad need of a major refurbishment; it's looking really old and worn in a lot of areas. For us, in our early 60's, we learned a new meaning of the word 'patience.' Most guests were in their 70's and 80's with a good measure of 90+ year-olds. So be prepared for a lot of walkers, scooters, canes, etc. and time to enter and exit elevators, rooms, theatres, and buses. Perhaps we will consider HAL in future when we reach that age.