As we live on the east coast, a cruise out of San Diego might not have been something we explored seriously. At a charity event, an Oosterdam cruise was on offer and we had the winning bid. We (my spouse and I, and eventually my sister) ... Read More
As we live on the east coast, a cruise out of San Diego might not have been something we explored seriously. At a charity event, an Oosterdam cruise was on offer and we had the winning bid. We (my spouse and I, and eventually my sister) decided on the December 28 sailing. We had not spent any appreciable time in San Diego before so it seemed an attractive idea. We met in Los Angeles first and spent a great night there. Enjoyable, but the drive to SD was not fun--should have taken the train. San Diego is a lovely city, and we had a great dinner with cousins. San Diego is quite beautiful and a walk downtown along Broadway was interesting. The train station is beautiful and is the meeting point of several transportation options. We spent a night on Coronado after the cruise that was equally wonderful.
Boarding was completed easily enough--the usual hubbub but all went well, very quick and welcoming. It was nice to hear that the cabin was ready when we boarded at 1:30. We boarded in the forward part of the ship so it was a long walk to our aft-facing cabin.The ship itself was quite nice inside--lovely carpeting throughout, interesting (mostly) artworks, and cleaning was ongoing. Good to see at this germ-y time of year. The exteriors of the ship needed tending, however. Our deck was dirty (the deck below was worse), windows were grimy and difficult to see out of (not just salt water), and posts were rusty and flaking. The cabin, #5190, was spacious with a very large L-shaped deck, and plenty of closet space. A nice two-sink bathroom, with a separate shower and tub. The shower was very small and leaked, so we had to use many towels to keep the floor dry. The cabin had attractive lighting and the bed was extremely comfortable. My sister said that the sofa bed was perfectly fine and even cozy. The cabin was made up early every morning, which I appreciate as we're early risers.
We explored all dining options, I think! The Lido Market (buffet) was not the most comprehensive and the food was a bit bland, but it did have some of the best breads I've ever had at sea, especially the rye bread. The usual fare, all of which were fine if not memorable. Dive In, the poolside burger and hot dog place, was very good and much less chaotic than I've seen on other ships. You place your order and get a buzzer to let you know when your order is ready. That kept people from milling about and bumping into one another. Nice looking taco and nacho bar, too. The MDR was really nice, with great service and friendly people all the way around. I loved the food and we spent many nights there. The Pinnacle Grill was exceptional for breakfast. It was open for suite guests only, and the service was remarkable. Canaletto, another restaurant with a surcharge, was fine, though nothing special. Drink packages were only available if everyone in the room purchased one. As one of our party doesn't drink except for a few glasses of wine during the week it was not worth it. I guess it says more about the other passengers that HAL suspects a lot of cheating would be going on. It happens, but it made things less easy for us. The bartenders were all nice, but they measured every drink (fine) but did not always clean the jiggers (not fine). Ordering a vodka drink and then tasting other liquors is disconcerting. An Irish coffee was lukewarm with a drop of whipped cream because on the last night of the cruise they ran out of cream(!).
We did not partake of any of the shore excursions. There were some attractive options but after a big Christmas I am glad that we were more self-directed. The casino was surprisingly generous--not just to me, but to everyone around me. I saw many large payouts and received a few big payouts myself. I do not rely on casinos to give me a return on investments, but it was nice to win occasionally on slot machines that were fun to play. We did not attend any shows, though the Lincoln Center shows were well-attended, and the B. B. King club was always hopping. The dual piano show, by two extremely talented young men, was too close to the loud casino. Their repertoire was a lot of ballads and romantic songs, performed well, but the clash with the ding-ding-ding of the casino was unfortunate.
Service was expert all the way around. The Retreat was staffed by Marvin and Conrad, who couldn't do enough for you. The cabin was expertly maintained by Toni. The Neptune Lounge had two kind and helpful concierges, Claire and Erszebet. The MDR had great service, too, though a bit lagging on the Gala Night, which is understandable. The Pinnacle Grill had the best service of all, with Betty, Dwi, and Aurora being standouts. Our first night in the Grill saw good food, but amateurish service, including a post-it note on my steak noting it was the Rare steak. He also asked us to order dessert with our dinner and seemed put out that I didn't want to do so.
The Retreat was nice, but maybe not the best time of year for it--cool and quite windy. Also, a bit sparsely decorated but there is a shower and restroom nearby. Great service!
We enjoyed a sunny day in Cabo San Lucas, though with so many ships in port there were so many people on the dock at once. Mazatlan was a charming city, with a nice walk into the historic center. Puerta Vallarta was odd--we were docked in the center of the city, with a Walmart and a Mall across the 6-lane highway. It poured rain that day and I thought it would be a relaxing day in the cabin. The constant honking and traffic sounds ruined that idea, however. Not HAL's fault about the weather, of course, but its proximity to the city was somewhat surprising. People may enjoy having shopping nearby but it's not easy to get to--you have to take a tram to the exit and then walk a long way to the stores.
One thing to mention--it being a holiday week--was the number of children on board. Frankly, I have never seen so many strollers and the pools were constantly filled by kids jumping in and out. I didn't particularly mind it, though I only got into the pool once, but if big groups traveling together aren't your cup of tea, you should keep an eye on the dates you travel.
I like HAL, and the service and food is of a high calibre, generally. I would book a HAL cruise again with no problem, but I think I'd look for a newer ship. Read Less