Editor's Note: Oosterdam now features the line's new musical venues, Lincoln Center Stage and Billboard Onboard; the Gallery Bar, which replaced the Northern Lights nightclub and serves up an exclusive menu of cocktails courtesy of the line's partner, master mixologist Dale DeGroff; and painting classes and other enrichment activities in partnership with Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum.
We give Oosterdam high marks in the Entertainment category. We especially liked two permanent enrichment facilities, each operated in partnership with onshore heavy hitters in their fields of expertise, and each physically designed for their enrichment specialty.
The Queen's Lounge, an alternative lounge/theater standby on Vista Class ships, has had a makeover to become The Culinary Arts Center by day, with permanent cooking, preparation and viewing equipment to ideally instruct attendees on the preparation of various dishes. For five nights a week, the Queen's Lounge offers world-class musical performances with the B.B. King's Blues Club experience.
A general purpose meeting/conference/seminar room has become Digital Workshop, a dedicated computing education facility, with two rows of eight computers fronting a large, wall-mounted flat-screen monitor hooked into the instructor's computer, to graphically demonstrate each program step as students follow along on their own workstations.
The Culinary Arts Center is operated in partnership with Food & Wine magazine. Offerings include wine tastings ($15 fee required), cocktail tastings and mixology classes, cooking, cake decorating, flower arranging, and garnishing classes.
The Digital Workshop is powered by Microsoft, which provides both the software and the instructors, dubbed "techsperts." The curriculum in the digital workshop concentrates heavily on processing and editing digital photos and videos, blogging, and Internet publishing. In addition to class time, one-on-one time with the techsperts is available daily.
Other daytime entertainment and enrichment activities include language classes, bingo, cruise staff-conducted trivia and sports (ping pong, putting and chipping, etc.) competitions, movie screenings in the new screening room (with freshly popped popcorn), art auctions and casino tournaments.
The main nighttime showroom is the three-deck Vista Lounge. It is a beautiful room done in rich reds and golds. Seating is, for the most part, in plush, conventional theater seats. Usable tables are few and far between, and the chair arms do not have drink holders. But the biggest shortcoming -- and, in our view a major Vista-Class deficiency -- is the physical architecture of the room. It is simply too tall and too compressed front-to-back. In an attempt to maximize capacity, the balcony extends forward over a huge percentage of the main floor. Not only is this claustrophobic for those seated under the overhang, but the design forces the placement of support columns far closer to the stage than in most showrooms. The result is that a large number of seats have blocked sightlines. To make matters worse, this design scheme fails to create sufficient seating for a ship of Oosterdam's size, accommodating only about 45 percent of the double-occupancy capacity of 1,916.
The events scheduled in the Vista are top-notch, however. On a one-week itinerary there are generally three production shows produced by super-pro Stiletto Entertainment, a Holland America exclusive. You can also expect magic, juggling, comedy and cruise staff/audience participation shows. On most cruises the Indonesian crew members put on a bang-up show, as well.
Other nighttime offerings include up-tempo dance bands, jazz combos, solo instrumentalists and a classical string quartet. A DJ holds forth in the Northern Lights Disco late nights. On tropical sailings, there is usually a Reggae/Soca pool band. One of the most popular -- and deservedly so, we think -- venues is the Piano Bar. On every Holland America ship I've sailed the Piano Bar performers have always wowed the crowds. On our sailing the room was about three-quarters full on the first two or three nights, after which it became impossible to get a seat around the piano unless you showed up a half-hour before the pianist did. On the same nights a stroll through the other music venues onboard showed ample empty seating.
The shore excursion department does a credible job, and the range of available tours has been expanded from the HAL older demographic of the past to include more eco-tourism and adventure activities from zip lining to scuba diving.