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 -- at least during daytime hours -- The Culinary Arts Center, with permanent cooking, preparation and viewing equipment to ideally instruct attendees on the preparation of various dishes. 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.
Oosterdam Public Rooms
Nowhere is Oosterdam's position as a bridge between Holland America's past and future more evident than in its public rooms. Long time HAL fans will find the Ocean Bar and Explorer's Lounge comfortingly familiar, though half of the Explorer's Lounge has been appropriated for Park West's art auction operation. The vertically truncated atrium (at three decks) topped by a large, rotating Waterford crystal globe is understated and elegant.
One change that has both positive and negative repercussions is the restructuring of the shopping area on Deck 3. Shopping areas have been a major bottleneck on most HAL ships, as they span the full width of the ships' sprawling midway between the show lounge and dining room, capitalizing on the most heavily traveled walkway onboard. On Oosterdam, walls have been taken down and the whole area is far more open. That's great, and traffic now moves much more smoothly and quickly between bow and stern. The problem is that this restructuring comes off looking like a joint venture between Little Switzerland, WalMart and Istanbul's Grand Bazaar. It is tough to tell where one shop ends and the next begins, and shop identities are muddled, with the exception of the priciest emporia, which still maintain their separate, closed-off identities.
We found the casino was roomy enough horizontally, but the low ceiling, coupled with the designation of the entire venue as a smoking-permitted room, created an unpleasant ambiance. Choices for the serious gamer were limited as well, with only 11 tables to 130 slot machines, including many penny slots.
Adjacent to the casino is the sports bar, and Holland America has blended the identities of the two rooms by having video poker machines built into the bar itself and installing one of those computer-operated multi-player Texas Hold-'Em tables in the center of the room. This makes the entire center-ship gaming operation more reminiscent of land-based gambling resorts, which, no doubt, strikes the correct chord with those for whom the pursuit of the big win is a high vacation priority.
Far and away our favorite new public space -- and a big hit with all the passengers we encountered there -- is Explorations Cafe, a combination Internet cafe, library, coffee bar and quiet activities area (jigsaw puzzles, crosswords and board games). Holland America carved out space for this facility -- operated in partnership with the New York Times -- by splitting the Crow's Nest (the ship's uppermost observation lounge) down the middle. The large amount of window exposure provides ample natural light for comfortable reading conditions. The shelves are stacked with a variety of books, including a number of sections keyed to the Times' sponsorship (e.g., a unit devoted to New York Times bestsellers and one given over to books published by the Times' publishing arm). Two tables have giant printouts of New York Times crossword puzzles across their entire surfaces, which are covered with clear plexiglass. Felt tip pens are distributed by the librarian, allowing passengers to fill in one or all of the words on the plexiglass.
Here, 18 computers are plugged into the Internet through a fast, dependable satellite link, and Wi-Fi access is available throughout the ship. The Windstar Cafe -- the coffee bar in Oosterdam's original configuration -- has been moved upstairs to be part of the Explorations Cafe grouping. In addition to hot and cold coffee concoctions (with or without alcohol), the bar serves tea, chai and smoothies. Charges for non-alcoholic beverages range from $1.20 to $4.45, and from $5.50 to $5.75 for drinks containing alcohol.
Oosterdam Spa & Fitness
The Greenhouse Spa, Oosterdam's spa and fitness facility, is operated by Steiner's Elemis brand, and a great deal of space and attention is devoted to the enterprise. The central pivot point for the operation is the Greenhouse Spa Retreat, a for-fee reserved area with a "thermal suite" featuring a full slate of heat treatments, dry saunas and steam rooms, with a large, seawater hydrotherapy pool, around which are arranged heated tiled chaises. Rates for admission to the facility run $199 for singles and $249 per couple for a seven-night sailing. Day passes are available at $40 per person.
The main spa offers facials and massages, including couples (or friends) massages and a whole menu of spa offerings keyed to kids, including mother-and-daughter and father-and-son side-by-side massages, non-tanning bronzing and anti-acne facials.
Other treatments include acupuncture, full hair and nail services (for men and women), and teeth whitening.
The commodious fitness center has plenty of machines for circuit training, aerobics, cardiovascular exercises, Pilates and spinning. Classes are offered for many of these regimens, but, alas, the days of onboard group fitness classes being offered gratis as a ship-provided amenity are long gone. A typical one-hour class (e.g., spinning, yoga, Pilates) runs $12.
There are two pool areas: the Lido Deck's central, main pool with its Holland America signature bronze sculpture at one end (in this case, cavorting penguins) is the family-oriented spot. The smaller aft pool -- a more laid-back area -- is designated adults only. Each area has an ample complement of very comfortable lounges, with additional ones one deck above on Observation Deck. The central pool area also features three whirlpools and a retractable Magradome.
Passengers can circumnavigate the ship on Promenade Deck (while soaking up the atmosphere of the golden age of the transatlantic steamers and strolling by the classic teak deck chaises.)
Oosterdam also features a volleyball court and a basketball half-court.