Hey Everyone -
Here's my very belated review of our February 2nd - February 9th, 2008 Mexican Riviera Cruise on the Oosterdam. This is my first review here at Cruise Critic - I've read so many reviews and threads that I thought ... Read More
Hey Everyone -
Here's my very belated review of our February 2nd - February 9th, 2008 Mexican Riviera Cruise on the Oosterdam. This is my first review here at Cruise Critic - I've read so many reviews and threads that I thought it was about time I gave a little something back. Beware - it turned out a lot longer than I expected....a lot longer.
My partner and I are both "near 40", him on the better side, and me on the other and have been on eight previous cruises including NCL (never again), RCCL, Celebrity and HAL. We enjoy all types of travel - adventure, leisure, educational etc... Due to a hectic work schedule in the past few months, this was purely a leisure trip (if something had any historical significance or value, we weren't interested). We also enjoy good food and service along with a relaxing, upscale atmosphere. The Oosterdam did not disappoint.
We started our vacation right with First Class on our evening flight out of our hometown of Atlanta (turned in Delta Skymiles). We arrived in San Diego around 11pm and headed straight for our hotel - The Westin (turned in Starwood points). They had a free shuttle which was at the airport in a few minutes and greatly appreciated. Check in was easy and since it was almost 3am to us, we were off to get some sleep. The Westin was great and we had a wonderful bayview room on the 17th floor. Love those beds!! Woke up really really early and looked out the window to see the Oosterdam arriving which only made it impossible to go back to sleep. After making enough random loud noises, the other half woke up (and yes, I did look over and say "oh, are you up?" and no, he didn't buy it) and so we made the Starbucks coffee provided in the room and headed off for a quick look around downtown San Diego. As luck would have it, we happened upon Richard Walkers Pancake House. As this was our vacation and no calories actually counted from this point on, we headed straight in and let loose. Can't recommend this restaurant enough, service and food were great. After a quick walk around Seaport Village and Horton Plaza, we checked out of the hotel and headed to the Port.
Check in was a breeze and we were on the ship in about 15 minutes. Cabins were not ready yet so we hit the buffet (more on food later) and sat out relaxing around the seaview (aft) pool with a great view of San Diego and the Bay. No worries, no complaints, just relaxation and an attitude of gratitude. What a great start.
Staterooms were ready maybe around 1:30 so we headed down and on the way met our steward Buty. He turned out to be just the type of steward we liked, friendly and generous with the smiles, but never obtrusive and hardly seen. We were lucky enough to have a suite (#7053) so there are obviously no complaints about our cabin. Balcony was huge, bed and linens were wonderful and we even had extra storage after unpacking. The bathroom was roomy and had a separate tub and shower and dual sinks. The floors and shower were tiled in marble and except for the hospital like countertops, it was very nice. Out of all the cruise lines we've been on, my personal opinion is that HAL is the best when it comes to stateroom amenities - best beds, best linens and best bathrooms. So then we headed to the Neptune Lounge to meet our concierges and see if they were the same as when we were on the Oosterdam in June and also to just get a "look at" the snacks (yeah right). We had new concierges and they were just as great as the ones from June. So after loading up a plate full of chocolate and hitting up the cappuccino machine, we headed back to the cabin to relax until muster and sailaway. Being that we were both so worn out, we skipped going to the dining room and had dinner at the Lido that night.
Which is a great lead into the food. We are always impressed with the food on HAL and this cruise gave us more of the same. None of the other cruise lines we've been on have ever offered items like Lamb Shank with Polenta or Guava Stuffed Chicken with Mashed Sweet Potatoes. It was like dining in a nice neighborhood bistro each night. And I need to say a special hello to our incredible tablemates - Nancy, Doug, Cathy and Robert - who we missed on formal nights (we didn't bring any tuxes this cruise). They all helped make our cruise a great experience. Dining room service was excellent.
The lido had so much to choose from and I found the quality to be really high. Hot was hot, cold was cold and nothing seemed to have sat around waiting to be claimed as part of someone's meal. Did I want a panini, maybe some pasta, fresh Chinese or what was at the carving station. There was always the salad bar (which I passed daily and always promised to "have tomorrow"). Outside there were burgers, the taco buffet and a special themed buffet that changed daily. The Indian was great. The only thing I wasn't crazy about though were the waffles, which were always undercooked and the pizza, which didn't ever seem to have enough cheese and the cheese it did have seemed slimy, which I didn't think was a quality cheese could have??
Finding a seat was never a problem. The staff continually cleaned up the tables, even clearing plates as you finished and I always saw them offering to carry trays for everyone and bring more coffee etc... This type of service was found everywhere on the ship.
We didn't do dinner at the Pinnacle Grill, although we did do breakfast twice and both times, service and food were perfect.
Ship and Services
We really appreciate the interior design of the HAL ships. Sure there are some "misses", but overall it's a very nice, upscale setting. The gym is great and had all the machines and equipment we needed to do our daily workouts. The Casino is sort of small, but even so, it never seemed crowded. I even walked with $100 - that I actually won (not from the ATM). We find the layout of the ship is nice and easy to navigate. Ship was extremely clean and I didn't notice anything in disrepair. The spa was also great. I had a scrub and massage and didn't get any type of "sell" afterward. We didn't attend any of the shows or go to the Disco so I can't comment on those activities.
Regarding the design of HAL ships, I am kind of bummed that the Eurodam is going to have the same basic layout. After four cruises on the Vista Class, we were hoping for a little shake up. Oh well, if that's my biggest problem in life.....
As this was purely a leisure trip, we didn't sign up for any of the shore excursions from the ship, but decided to just land and explore. I did do a little research beforehand and so we kind of knew what we would be doing, but for this cruise and what we were looking for it to be, it was nice to just get off when we wanted go at our own pace. I know these ports have been reviewed over and over, but as this was our first time to any of them, I wanted to give a first timers view.
Cabo San Lucas - Great port even though I did get the feeling that we were just in a Southern California resort. I knew from reading the boards here on Cruise Critic that it would be whale season and that there would be plenty of opportunities to catch a boat for watching once we arrived ashore. We lucked out and found a private charter on a small, but new and comfortable boat for $40 per person. For that, we got a private 3 hour tour of the marina and bay along with incredible close up encounters with the whales. And I do mean close up. The seas started to kick up and we were getting soaked so we headed back to the marina. I would definitely recommend bringing a change of clothes (which we did) if you are going whale watching on a small boat as everyone we saw getting off the other boats, like the zodiacs etc..., were very wet. Ate a great lunch on the far side of the Marina at the Hotel Marina Fiesta and then headed back to the ship. All in all a great day.
Mazatlan - Have to say that this was not my favorite port. Very industrial and not what I would call a resort town, although that doesn't mean that it didn't have its charm or have anything to offer. HAL was very nice to warn us that the city was having it's Carnival celebration and would be closing off some of the main roads in the early afternoon and to make our plans to get back to the ship in time accordingly. Thanks to these boards, I was able to do enough research to know to go over to Stone Island (the island to the starboard side of the ship when coming into the harbor) to hang out on the beach and have lunch at one of the family owned and run palapas. Lunch was great and I think I had the best chicken fingers I've ever had (dusted in cornmeal). The beach/sand is only ok but the setting is nice and relaxing and the industrial aspect of the town is not within view. After that we had a lot of time left so we walked (yes walked) into town and went through a local market. Town was busy and noisy, but the market was fun and we enjoyed seeing the locals doing their thing. Headed back to ship after our walk, up to the Neptune for chocolate and coffee and then off to dinner followed by a little gambling.
Puerto Vallarta - Had a great time in Puerto Vallarta and could have stayed a while longer. Nice walking town (once you get to town) and had a lot of charm. Took a taxi from the port to the flea market in old town for $12. The flea market is right on the north side of the river that flows through the town. Walked around, found a Starbucks and then headed to our part of the beach. Stayed a while and enjoyed the great weather and the fact that we had nothing to do or worry about. Walked down to La Palapa, a restaurant recommended by someone on the ship, and enjoyed a late lunch. I think sitting there, listening to Brazilian Jazz sipping a diet coke under the thatched roof with the waves crashing and breeze blowing, it might have been the highlight of the trip. Took a taxi back towards the ship and decided to go on to the Marina to walk around and look at the boats. Saw said boats and then headed back to the ship. Had a great dinner, gambled a little and then sat out on the balcony for our late departure.
Pretty eventless, had breakfast and then just walked off the ship when they called our color and number. Headed over to the W where we stayed an additional evening (again with the Starwood points). Enjoyed San Diego and then headed back to Atlanta. I'd say one of our best cruises, but with HAL, I always end saying that after each Read Less