Editor's note: Beginning January 16, 2015, Oosterdam will offer world-class musical performances with the B.B. King's Blues Club experience, five nights a week in the Queen's Lounge.
From the get-go, Holland America's Vista Class has suffered a bit of an identity crisis. This is not unexpected from a design intended to bridge the gap between Holland America's venerable passengers and younger couples and families.
My first experience with the class was with Westerdam
, the third in the series of four. To my taste the emphasis had shifted too far toward the youthful energy extreme, what with atrium barstools upholstered in day-glo purples and yellows.
My recent sailing on the second ship in the series, Oosterdam, confirmed to me that the path to the proper balance of refinement and exuberance is a swinging pendulum, not a straight arrow trajectory. On Oosterdam, the bones of a typical Holland America interior are draped in a much bolder color palette than in the past. Big, bright red, orange and gold hues abound in the public rooms, most noticeably in the three-deck tall Vista Show Lounge. Blue and aquamarine carpets provide a colorful counterpoint throughout the ship. However, some elements are, to my eye, not youthful, but simply tacky, as for example, the cast plaster benches with painted pseudo-classical sculpted backs and gold lame cushions that grace the midships main elevator lobbies, along with false columns and escutcheons spray-painted in gold.
Adding to the energy level -- in a good way -- are the four glass elevators mounted on the outside of the hull, providing a dramatic shifting perspective for those traversing the 11 passenger decks.
Given the fact that the Vista Class ships are meant not to abandon the Holland America legacy of refined elegance but rather to add to those core qualities, it's important to note here that, at least on the sailing we reviewed, the gentle, accommodating service afforded by the Indonesian and Filipino stewards was still front and center.
In 2009, Oosterdam went through a "Signature of Excellence" dry dock. Structural changes included the addition of 34 new staterooms and the development of a new Pinnacle Bar, available both as a pre-prandial watering hole for those dining in that Holland America signature alternative dining venue, and, for the first time, to all other passengers as well. Also added were a new library-cum-coffee bar-cum Internet Café, a new alternative Italian eatery, new intimate screening room, and dedicated enrichment facilities -- all of which will be discussed in detail in the body of this review.
The Vista Class ships, though paying lip service to catering to multi-generational travelers, clearly appeal mostly to Holland America's core demographic: mature, sophisticated, well-traveled couples, the majority of whom are HAL repeaters.
Casual is the universal daytime dress code, the only variations dictated by latitude (you certainly would dress differently for St. John, USVI, than for St. John's, Newfoundland), or by activity (as in going by motorcoach versus by motorbike). Two formal nights take place on seven-night sailings; three on sailings of 10 or more days. We found fewer gents going the full-on black tie route than we would have expected. Also, though the Holland America information pamphlet states that there would also be five "informal" -- sport jacket for men -- nights with only two "dressy casual" evenings, we found this not to be the case. On non-formal nights, dressy casual wear was the universal choice, with the exception of those taking dinner in the Pinnacle Grill, where jacket (with or without tie) was the rule.
The ship automatically charges $11.50 per person, per night, to passengers' shipboard accounts. Bar personnel are tipped by an automatic 15 percent gratuity tacked onto bar bills.