1,072 Holland America Oosterdam Cruise Reviews

My wife and I recently took the Oosterdam on a 7 day 'Mexican Riviera' cruise. (Dec 8-15 2007). I should point out this was only my second cruise, her first, so we're not experts. We travel extensively, and know our way ... Read More
My wife and I recently took the Oosterdam on a 7 day 'Mexican Riviera' cruise. (Dec 8-15 2007). I should point out this was only my second cruise, her first, so we're not experts. We travel extensively, and know our way around. We're in our mid-fifties, but are very active. The ship itself is everything we'd hoped for. Decent sized cabin with good sized veranda. Nicely appointed ship. All the amenities. Wonderful bed and linens. The staff was a joy, thoroughly helpful, courteous, and happy. We used room service extensively, (I sprained my ankle a week before the cruise), and service was very fast, food was hot every time. Our cabin steward never let me run out of ice for my ice pack. And he was uncanny in his ability to find the right time to attend our room twice a day. I can't say enough about the staff. Shore excursions appeared to be the standard fare. Here's an idea folks: Make your own shore excursions! Do a little research! Save a lot of money, get away from the crowds! Plan a personal adventure tailored to your particular interests. In most towns, esp. in Mexico, you can hire a cab for all day, for about half the cost of what one person pays for a cruise ship sponsored shore excursion. Go parasailing. Do a SCUBA dive. Explore the old town. Visit a flea market. Get out of town for cocktails and lunch at a more remote village. This is especially true for a group of 4 or more, but works for a couple too. We cruised with a large family group, and I was the tour guide for groups of 5 to 10 people, because I'd done the research. Let's talk about the food. I'm a gourmand. If you don't know what that means, this part of my review is probably not for you. The food was dull. Plain and simple. In the main dining room, the dinner menu looked great, but the food was not anything like we'd hoped. French onion soup should be BAKED! With bread in it. And ONIONS! Lots of them! Overcooked lamb, undercooked steak. Medium rare does not not mean raw. Tasteless lobster was a real disappointment, the one night it was offered. The Lido buffet (basically the only other dining option) could take a few lessons from Royal Fork or Old Country Buffet. How about roast beef every night, not just the first night? Mashed potatoes and gravy shouldn't be too difficult. How about springing for some spices in your pasta? Maybe just some gourmet soups? We never even tried the pizza, one look was enough. I must admit that our expectations were high, we heard this was supposed to be a great dining experience. Sorry, it was all flash and no substance. In a nutshell, I'd have to say that the Oosterdam was a great value. I don't believe other ships will have better dining, it's all about trying to appeal to American tastes. As long as you don't have high expectations, you'll eat well. If you don't like kids running rampant, this is a great cruise ship! Spa was well rated by those in our group who used it, albeit expensive. We were not impressed by the music and shows, but that's all about our personal tastes, others in our group enjoyed them. One final note. Everyone in our group seemed to pay a different price for the cruise, even though we all had the same cabin class. We paid about $400 less than most. Do your research! Unless you don't care about cost. Read Less
Sail Date December 2007
Overview My husband and I (who are in our late 20s) as well as my mother and grandmother took this 7 day cruise to the Mexican Riviera for Thanksgiving. This was the first time we had sailed Holland America after sailing on almost all the ... Read More
Overview My husband and I (who are in our late 20s) as well as my mother and grandmother took this 7 day cruise to the Mexican Riviera for Thanksgiving. This was the first time we had sailed Holland America after sailing on almost all the other cruise lines, and we used to work as Cruise Staff on Carnival. We drove to San Diego from L.A. The drive was not bad and we parked in the lot across the street from the ship. Parking was easy but costs $15 per day. Embarkation We arrived at the terminal around 11:30am-12:00pm. Embarkation was smooth and we were on the ship in no time. Stateroom We were very impressed with Holland America. The service was excellent! The ship was beautiful! We had an outside stateroom category HH with an obstructed view. I was surprised to find that while we did have a lifeboat blocking our view, the natural sunlight poured in during the days. It was wonderful! The room was a nice size with a small sitting area including a couch, table and chair. The rooms have flat screen TVs and DVD Players. The bathroom was very nice and the shower was extremely clean. Our cabin steward was excellent as well. The bed was very comfortable and the sheets and pillows were of good quality. Public Areas/Lounges All of the public areas of this ship were beautiful. The casino was medium sized but I never found it crowded. The gift shop had more jewelry than anything else. The crow's nest which is the lounge on deck 10 forward is really nice for looking out at the ports and ocean. It has a great view. Activities There were a bunch of activities to participate in, more on sea days, but it still seemed like there should have been more. The trivia's were too hard and the same people would play and win every time. Bingo was fun and was pretty well priced at $10 for a single card and $20 for a triple card, and most sessions were 4 games. The cooking demonstration was very nice and my grandmother enjoyed that more than I did as I don't cook. Dining Because the ship was over capacity at 2,100 guests, we had late sitting dinner at 8:30pm. The Oosterdam still has fixed traditional dinner sittings. No mention of the anytime dining yet. The food was excellent! Everything we had tasted great. We all ate too much! We had turkey and pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. All the dining room servers were great. The lido buffet was also great. The ice cream bar with waffle cones is especially nice. They also have a tasty taco/fajita bar by the pool as well as a burger bar. All of it was great! Entertainment The entertainment on the ship was very good. The singers and dancers in the production/Las Vegas style shows were only ok. Carnival has much better production shows. We left half way through the first production show and didn't even see the second show. The dancing was good but the singing was not very good. And the sound was really bad. It sounded like someone was playing a tape recorder. All of the other shows were excellent. The comedian Julie Barr was hysterical. And Joel Mason doing the Elton John show was great! My favorite was Lance Ringnald the Olympic Gold Medalist. He performed a gymnastics/comedy show. Don't miss this show! And the last show of the night had Julie Barr, Joel Mason and Lance Ringnald. That was the funniest show and definitely not to be missed. Ports of Call We visited Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. While we had been to these ports a few times before, it was still nice to visit. We did not book any ship excursions but hired a taxi to take us around to see the sights. They are all nice and pretty much offer the same things - shopping and beaches. Beware in Mazatlan, as right off the ship are many vendors offering free tours and rides but in exchange you have to go to the Golden Zone and listen to a time share presentation. It was quite annoying after being approached by 10 people within 10 minutes. Just say no thank you and look for a taxi driver with a sign that says no time share. Other important things The ship offers movies to check out and watch on your DVD player in your stateroom. They keep a list of these movies at the front desk. They are free to rent but you have to put down a $30 deposit on your shipboard account. It is refunded back to your account when you return the movie. I really enjoyed this feature although most of the movies I wanted to see had already been checked out. But you are only allowed to keep a movie for 2 days so check back if you really want to see a particular movie. The library has a lot of games and puzzles to play with. I wanted to purchase a deck of cards so I went to the gift shop. The only set they had was 2 decks for about $7.00. I passed and later found out that I could purchase a deck of cards in the casino for $1. They are cards that have previously been used in the casino but are in great condition. A great deal! Every day there is a different special - the drink of the day. This is a good deal at $5.25. Most drinks are about $7.50. If you purchase you drink of the day from the casino bar you get a $5 casino card to play on either blackjack, roulette or craps. Another good deal. Tea time is fun and relaxing. Servers come around with various teas and desserts and appetizers. All are tasty. Disembarkation Disembarkation was smooth as well. We chose expedited service and carried our own luggage off the ship. We were among the first off the ship around 8:15am-8:30am. All we had to do was show our ship card to be logged off and then hand in our customs form. And we were on our way home! Summary My family and I had a great time on the Oosterdam. We were very impressed with Holland America in all aspects. The rooms were very nice, the food delicious, the service excellent, the entertainment great and overall everything was wonderful. I will definitely sail on Holland America again. I am interested in seeing the differences between the newer bigger Holland America Ships and the smaller older ones. For anyone wanting to book a cruise on this ship don't hesitate. It is wonderful! Read Less
Sail Date November 2007
Embarkation was smooth. Lunch served on the Lido, very nice. We had an inside cabin, as it was Thanksgiving, and not much was left. Our friends has balconies, very nice. Our room was huge. Room steward pretty good, I think he was new. ... Read More
Embarkation was smooth. Lunch served on the Lido, very nice. We had an inside cabin, as it was Thanksgiving, and not much was left. Our friends has balconies, very nice. Our room was huge. Room steward pretty good, I think he was new. Beautiful ship. Fantastic entertainment. Cruise director was not the usually guy. Too bad, because our guy 'Rob' was pretty boring. They cd the weeks before was very funny. (my parents went 2 weeks prior). Asst. cruise directors didn't have too much to say either. Rarely saw them. The dancers/singers were really great. The Elton John impersonator was fabulous, don't miss this show. They didn't have as much to do on board as Princess and CArnival. That was ok with us, because we just wanted to relax and read, but some people wished there were more activities. The food was the best we've ever had. Usually you have some hits and misses, but all were hits! I was so glad they brought in the surf and turf night, even though they had a Thanksgiving dinner. I really liked that there was very little smoking on board, that was a treat! Gift shops were good, and the library is great. They have an art tour you can take with an ipod, which I recommend. There is over 2 million worth of art on the ship, it's really like a museum. An art lovers dream! We've done these ports many times, so we just went to resorts and relaxed. Had the massage at the Krystal. I'm not sure if it was good, as I was really sore afterwards. Maybe that is how you are supposed to feel after a deep massage. But it was nice, and the hotel was lovely. Canopy Tour in PV, and kayaking in Cabo. Great day! Things were pretty quiet after about 10:00 p.m., but this cruise had 500 kids on board! yikes! I don't know if I would do Thanksgiving again, too many kids, but they were fairly well behaved. Unfortunately, they completely took over the pool. Overall, this was a great cruise, I would highly recommend it to anyone. I don't think I would take teenagers on a non-holiday. Beautiful ship Read Less
Sail Date November 2007
My wife and I were looking forward to our first cruise. We got all sorts of advise from all sorts of folks. Of course, everyone had a different opinion. We took the advice of my elderly cousins that said HAL was the best line out there ... Read More
My wife and I were looking forward to our first cruise. We got all sorts of advise from all sorts of folks. Of course, everyone had a different opinion. We took the advice of my elderly cousins that said HAL was the best line out there based on their 45 years of cruising. Given they've been all over the world, we felt comfortable giving HAL a shot. We booked via their website. It was about 45 days away from departure and got a great deal on a veranda cabin. It was a guarantee cabin but were bumped up to VB a week or so later. This was a repositioning cruise from Vancouver to San Diego. First Impressions: We flew from SFO to Vancouver on Alaska. HAL reps were in baggage claim and directed us to our bus which arrived within 30 minutes of picking up our bags. Bus was clean and everyone onboard was looking forward to the cruise. Embarkation: Vancouver has a great facility. Check-in was efficient. We received our luggage tags from HAL in the mail and got our keys etc with no issues. The Ship: Having studied HAL from every angle via the net, I knew that Oosterdam had not yet received it's upgrade in Italy (scheduled for April 2009). Some of the carpet in high traffic areas looked worn but the ship was clean and polished. The Vista class ships are laid out logically and it was easy to figure out where things were. Departure was on-time and smooth. We did the life boat drill thing then went to the Crow's Nest for a cocktail, watch the sunset and see the harbor/barrier islands slip by. It was a pretty full cruise with a mix of folks (though very few kids). No kids was fine by us since this cruise was an escape from our two toddlers! We brought on-board champagne and wine (we live in the wine country) and indulged heavily as we unwound from a stressful last few months. The passage through the Juan de Fuca straight was rough and there was some roll but we were so exhausted that we hardly noticed. Food: We thought the food was great and there was plenty of it. We lucked out with a table for two in the main dining room for the late sitting. We are foodies and were suitably impressed with the menu. We dined one night at the Pinnacle Grill and it was outstanding. Staff: From cabin steward to dining room to bartenders, the staff was friendly, helpful and made sure things went smoothly. Cabin: We were able to get to our cabin about 2 p.m. and it was spotless. Our cabin steward was unobtrusive but friendly. Yes, he was great at the little towel animals as well. These cabins aren't large (compared to shore-side accommodations) but were fine for two people. With kids, it would have been tight. Our cabin was aft and we did notice vibrations from the pods in rough seas (as they worked to stabilize the ship) and maneuvering into ports but it wasn't bad. Activities: We didn't book this cruise to take part in every activity. Frankly, we wanted to get to know each other again after baby number two arrived and just recharge our batteries. We did do the culinary show (which was good though some folks ducked out due to sea sickness in some rough seas). The Elton John singer was on this trip and was great. The crowd wasn't what you would call lively (slanted towards older and stoic variety) and he gave them grief for that-which we loved. We skipped most of the rest of the organized stuff; we just loved walking around the decks in the fresh air and indulging in the food and wine on offer. Ports of Call: There was one-Astoria, Oregon. It was interesting to see how a ship this size maneuvers into the Columbia River given the tricky currents and this ship didn't disappoint. My wife slept through the port call while I wandered the town, which is nice and there are some great Victorian homes near the port. Spa: We bought the all access pass the minute we boarded and weren't disappointed. The spa was relaxing, clean and well appointed. We did a couple's massage and thought the masseuses were great. The only negative we can think of for this ship is the air blowers run 24/7 on this ship. I guess it's good white noise but didn't see why it was necessary. Exercise Area: Good range of equipment. It was pretty much empty during our cruise so we had the run of the place. I've read reviews on all sorts of cruise lines and ships (we are getting ready to do Alaska in May of 2009). I think folks need to decide what their priorities are when booking a cruise..especially if they've never cruised before. For us, this was a perfect, relaxing escape from careers, kids and the craziness of daily life. Read Less
Sail Date October 2007
Just returned from a wonderful week at sea on the Oosterdam. Everything was as we expected and the trip was very exciting. Embarkation- Arrived around 11:00 a.m. with no waiting line so check in was fast and easy. Waited about 20 - 30 ... Read More
Just returned from a wonderful week at sea on the Oosterdam. Everything was as we expected and the trip was very exciting. Embarkation- Arrived around 11:00 a.m. with no waiting line so check in was fast and easy. Waited about 20 - 30 min. to board and was on ship by 11:45 a.m. sitting in the Lido restaurant having lunch. Great way to start out. By 1:00 p.m. rooms were ready and luggage came within 30 minutes of that. Ports- Juneau was our least favorite, however, we still enjoyed the visit. Saw lots of whales and the weather couldn't have been better. Sunny and 65. Sitka was nice port however prices for souvenirs are higher than the other ports. Only bought a couple of things, toured on our own and had good time. Rained all day. Ketchikan was our favorite. Did the Lumberjack Show and toured on our own. Such a quaint town and it didn't rain while we were there. Good place for souvenirs and also for totems. Victoria was very pretty, however, we didn't go into to town but for about 1 hr. We are not really into flowers and gardens, but it was a nice stop. Room- We booked a deluxe verandah suite w/ all the perks included. Some were useful others were not. It was nice having laundry done daily and we used this each day. The room was nice and large as was the balcony. We had room service for breakfast, lunch and dinner and it was nice to enjoy the view with our meal. The bathroom was wonderful as it was large enough for us both to get ready at the same time. Ship- Beautiful and very clean. They were constantly vacuuming and polishing so we never saw a mess anywhere. Lots of elevators, but we used the steps as much as possible to help with the weight issue as we ate alot. The shops were nice and had a good selection of different things. The food was good, however, a little too much froo-froo for us. Never a bad meal though and the service was always great. We just felt bad if we didn't eat all our food because we were wasting it. There was something though for everyone if you didn't want to eat in the dining room. Not alot of people dressed up for dinner which I was surprised about. Even though I'm in my 30's, I feel that when you go to the dining room for dinner that you should dress up nice. If you don't want to then the Lido restaurant is open for casual dress. I understand that not everyone else feels the same and I respect that, I just wish they had dining for formal/semi formal and then a restaurant for casual dress. Just my preference. The shows that we went to were okay. Missed the magic show and one other one due to motion sickness. Thermal Suite/pool- We used this each day for about 1 - 1 1/2 hours and usually afternoon. It was 250.00 for 2 for the week. Which is not too bad when you average it out and the thermal suite was incredible. We took naps in there and it was great. Don't know if we will do it again, but it was nice for a once in a lifetime thing. Perks for suite guests-Neptune Lounge was nice. Didn't eat in there much because we had plenty to eat at each meal. Did use them to change excursions and use the internet which was a great benefit. Would not have been beneficial if I had been on another deck because all public areas are set up for wifi. Also, laundry was nice and was used often. Separate line for embarkation, but not useful as there was no line and people in regular cabin checked in same time as we did. Priority tendering in Sitka, however, if you were booked an excursion to meet onboard didn't help you any. Also, we toured on our own and had no wait in line. For me the only advantage was room size, balcony size and laundry. Do not regret booking this type of suite and would do so again as they are enough perks for me. All in all great trip and hated that it ended so soon. Will cruise with Holland again as they are a great line. Read Less
Sail Date September 2007
Transfer to ship: Transfer to the Oosterdam from the Sea-Tac Airport was smooth. There were tons of Holland reps around to steer you to the correct location to board the bus to the pier. The Holland people also take your luggage, which ... Read More
Transfer to ship: Transfer to the Oosterdam from the Sea-Tac Airport was smooth. There were tons of Holland reps around to steer you to the correct location to board the bus to the pier. The Holland people also take your luggage, which reunites with you in your stateroom later in the afternoon. Embarkation: Embarkation also went smoothly. I recommend listening to Holland's reminders to check in online. If you do that, most details are taken care of so that once you arrive at the check in desk, there's little left to do other than take your picture and get your key. Room: Room was a VH category. It was in good shape and well maintained throughout the cruise. There is lots of hidden storage space to take advantage of -- under the beds, in the stool at the dresser, in the sofa, etc. so that you can keep your cabin tidy and easy to move around in. Food: Loved the HAL food as always. Always hear of the type of food others get on different cruise lines and they never seem as happy with their food. The Lido Restaurant ran efficiently, even during peak hours, and provided mostly terrific food throughout the cruise. Don't miss out on the bread pudding with vanilla sauce. Too bad the Lido's dinner offerings aren't that broad, though. Also, if you want something different, make sure to check out the Wok food counter in Lido. Terrific Asian dishes and good sushi, too. Room service was terrific, too. Always prompt and friendly, with many choices to eat for each meal of the day. For breakfast, all you have to do is mark a flyer and post it on your door before 2 am and you'll get what you want at the desired time frame. Then just call again to have them pick up the trays, etc. The Vista Dining Room was its typical great self. The only problem was choosing what to eat -- talk about opportunity cost. Had everything from crab legs to lobster to escargot and marvelous desserts. The new relaxed seating policy lets you arrive from 5:30 pm to 6 pm for early seating or from 8 pm to 9 pm for late seating. Liked that flexibility a lot. The Pinnacle Grill was fabulous. Had the best filet mignon ever there. HAL had many offerings that were low sugar, vegetarian, etc., available. Atmosphere: A very relaxing cruise. It was easy to always find quiet and empty areas to relax. I liked the new policy of not broadcasting into the staterooms. Ports of Call: Didn't get to do Skagway due to very high winds, but HAL scrambled and got us a replacement called Hoonah, which was picturesque, though it didn't offer much to do. Juneau was very interesting and pretty -- you have to get out and see the surroundings and the Mendenhall Glacier. Ketchikan offered nice weather and a beautiful environment with lots of outdoor activities. Glacier Bay National Park was a magnificent experience. HAL even opens up the ships bow and serves split pea soup that day from 10-11 am. The number of excursions at each stop were varied and there was probably something for nearly everyone. Entertainment: This is a HAL weak point, especially when it comes to night life. We didn't even attend the nightly shows since none looked enticing. The night club was pretty laughable, too, as it was on a previous cruise two years ago. And of course, being more traditional, HAL doesn't offer megaships with ice rinks, climbing walls, etc. However, still always had simple things to do like walk the Promenade, play ping pong, swim, attend seminars, relax in Lido, watch movies (you can rent them on board or watch what's on the channels), read, etc. Crew: As usual, the crew is happy and friendly and pampers you to the point that once the cruise is over, the return to reality is painful! Disembarkment: Also went very smoothly though we were sad to leave. HAL asks for your post-cruise plans early in the cruise and then tries to accommodate. They offer a very early disembarkment if you meet certain criteria. They met our needs perfectly. Read Less
Sail Date September 2007
My wife and I took the Oosterdam for a 7 night Alaska inside passage cruise leaving Seattle on June 2 and returning June 9, 2007. We stayed in a balcony cabin on deck 5. Overall, we were very pleased with all aspects of the ship, the ... Read More
My wife and I took the Oosterdam for a 7 night Alaska inside passage cruise leaving Seattle on June 2 and returning June 9, 2007. We stayed in a balcony cabin on deck 5. Overall, we were very pleased with all aspects of the ship, the cruise, the itinerary and the service on board...except for the entertainment. Let me firstly get the bad news out of the way...we took in 6 shows...three of them that involved the singers and dancers were top notch...there was an acrobat/circus type performance one night...and a comedian from Brooklyn on another...these two were atrocious. From what I've read on other posts, this is an on-going problem with HAL...their entertainment productions are often third class...in our case, the Broadway style shows were actually very good...the others half the audience walked out of the theater. Now that that's out of the way...all else about this cruise was extraordinary. The service was wonderful...from our dinner server Remo...to our cabin attendant Novi.....to the entire staff...they couldn't do enough for us and all on board during the cruise. We ate at the 8PM late dinner sitting...and the food was very good....variety, quality and nice presentation....we were very pleased with the food. Typically, for breakfast and most lunches, we ate in the Lido and the food there was also fine. So you know, we don't take a cruise to eat and eat....like so many others seem to do.....but from what we did partake, it was very good all in all. The itinerary included Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, Victoria and the Hubbard glacier......nicely planned...easy off/back on ship at all ports.....HAL seemed adept at moving people when needed. We would highly recommend HAL, the Oosterdam and this Alaska/Inside Passage cruise. Read Less
Sail Date June 2007
We had an excellent week on the Oosterdam. Our reservations were made through an internet travel agency somewhere around 60 days out - right about the time the good "last minute" bargains began to emerge. What began as a low ... Read More
We had an excellent week on the Oosterdam. Our reservations were made through an internet travel agency somewhere around 60 days out - right about the time the good "last minute" bargains began to emerge. What began as a low priced "no view" category H cabin turned into a Category D "wonderful oceanview" cabin by the time we boarded. We went into Seattle the night before to avoid travel issues, spent a restful night at an airport area hotel, and went back to the airport around 10:30 AM on our sailing date to begin the transfer/embarkation process. Embarkation was very stress-free; we were on board by a little before Noon; had a nice lunch on the Lido deck and were just about to get up from lunch when they gave an announcement that the cabins were ready for occupancy - great timing. Food was very good to excellent compared to other cruise lines and other destinations we've used in the past. The seafood offerings were tastefully prepared and service in all dining locales was quite good. Sure there was a miscue here and there but most could be blamed on cross-cultural communication blips. Wildlife viewing/whale watching trips were quite worth our while and our money. The semi-sub excursion in Sitka should only be taken by those who like to view kelp, kelp, more kelp - and the animals that live on kelp. The Ketchikan lumberjack show was a lot of fun. On-board entertainment was excellent with the young cast of singers and dancers - a notch above previous cruises we've taken. A couple who did magic were quite good. But, alas, a gentleman who did "physical comedy" was not very good at all. Our cabin steward was as green as they get (he got on the ship for the first time after we boarded) but he did an outstanding job all week long. Our biggest problem all week came at the Seattle airport AFTER we were handed off by the cruise line and the transfer folks. The wait to check in with the airline was VERY long - one agent to cover a line which consisted of dozens of people and continued to grow larger. If I knew then what I know now I would have gladly paid the extra $20 per person for express baggage service, skipping the check-in line and gone straight to security with my boarding pass already in hand. In the end, the week was what we needed it to be - a VERY restful vacation with things to do when we wanted to be active and lots of time to rest and read when we wanted to relax. Read Less
Sail Date June 2007
After asking my travel agent to book us on one of Holland America's newer Vista class ships, I immediately started to regret it after reading all the horrible reviews from last December's Norovirus disaster on the Oosterdam. Then ... Read More
After asking my travel agent to book us on one of Holland America's newer Vista class ships, I immediately started to regret it after reading all the horrible reviews from last December's Norovirus disaster on the Oosterdam. Then the azipod was out, and I wasn't sure we had made the right decision, but the airline tickets were bought, and we would just hope for the best. Then we started reading about the Oosterdam from various Cruise Critic members and hearing about the wave. Thanks to everyone, we started looking more and more forward to our cruise to Alaska. This would be our third time to the Great White North, first back in 1993 on Rotterdam V, then in 2005 on Zaandam. On the Rotterdam V, we were with a large group that took over the whole ship for 11 days, so there were a few firsts on that cruise including Rotterdam's first stop in Skagway and the first time she cruised through the Misty Fjords. That was a sight with the sheer walls and waterfalls outside, while we had tea in the Queen's Lounge watching it all go by. While there is nothing like dancing in the Ritz Lounge on the Rotterdam V, we were ready for a new adventure on the Oosterdam. Susan and I are in love with the Big Band era and the essence of old fashioned cruising. My great grandmother and other relatives came to America, then Canada on the Queen Mary, so we have spent many a happy evenings on board her now that she is in Long Beach (they put on a great New Year's Eve party). She reminds us of days gone by and a time period we really enjoy. Between the Big Band, Jazz, and Art Deco, we enjoy that period. I only bring this up, as we are a pretty unique couple and know that Holland America doesn't represent the typical interests of everyone. So many of our friends are looking for an all night party on a cruise. While Holland America is a party at sea, it's a party that like Cinderella's ball is pretty much over by midnight (if not before). Even the ship exudes old sailing charm with that dark blue hull and gleaming white top. If it is an escape you are after on a cruise, the escape on a Holland America ship is an escape into civility, calm, and serenity. It's not everyone's cup of tea, in fact lots don't even drink tea, but to us it suits us perfectly. So if you are looking for a retreat into another world, where passengers get dressed for dinner, where people say hello in the hallway, and where you start up conversations with people you have never met before, then Holland America may be the cruise line for you. Adventure started with a few days in Seattle prior to our sail away. The Marriott Waterfront provided the perfect backdrop to our easing into vacation. We were lucky enough to have Puget Sound view rooms on the Concierge level, where they had a full breakfast in the morning, wine and salmon in the afternoon, with coffee and cookies at night while watching the ferries come in. The first day we took our nine year old son to "nerd-vana" - the Boeing assembly plant in Everett on a Gray Line tour. The bus picked us up at the hotel, then transferred at the Sheraton for a 4 hour adventure out to the largest building I had ever seen. Disneyland could literally fit inside her walls. The production facility for 767, 777, and the new 787 were shown right in front of us. Very cool. The following day we saw the Oosterdam brightly in Victoria at Ogden Point, since we had taken the Clipper over to see my grandmothers. While the Oosterdam would be back in Victoria in a week, getting over to their separate places after 6pm wouldn't really be feasible, so we came over for a day on the Victoria Clipper and were back in Seattle Friday night to enjoy the wine, coffee and cookies. After a good night's rest we were up early in the morning (still on East coast time) and made our way up to Pike's Place Market to grab a huge bunch of flowers to take on the ship. You have to love the HAL staff at check-in when they ooh and ahh at the flowers, when they probably see multiple bouquets every day. They know how to make you feel really good. Check in was a breeze and very organized with different stations, so that there were no line ups throughout. I remember in Vancouver two years ago there being many more line ups and issues. Once we waded through the greeters on the ship and got the information on Club HAL for my nine year old son, we were shown down to the Vista Dining Room, which was such a pleasant surprise. With our carry on bags and our load of flowers, I was loathe to try to find a table in the Lido, and then what a pleasant surprise to have a table waiting for us in the Vista with a beautiful lunch. With our newly acquired soda cards in hand, and after my favorite Grey Goose martini, we were on our way to our rooms right after lunch to get settled in. Bags came throughout the afternoon to our adjoining rooms of 5131 and 5133. Dolf, our room steward, was the perfect mix of friendliness and non-imposition. He always was there to say hi, but never in our way. Well he immediately introduced himself and let us know where my son's service dog, Werin's "area" was, which was a beautiful 4x6 sod box, just as requested through Seattle. The day and cruise were shaping up very nicely as I headed down to the front office to collect the CC Wave Banner for our wave I wasn't exactly sure where to go, but headed to the front office on those lovely glass elevators. My son was in heaven (I mean what 9 year old wouldn't love glass elevators on the outside of a ship), and I was pretending not be thrilled as well (very cool and collected you know). Down at the front office, when I asked for the banner to take for the Wave, she looked at me a little funny and then asked for me to wait while she went to Mr. Deering's office. After a while she came back and said to follow her and that another Cruise Critic member had picked up the banner. "No problem," I said, "I'm glad someone got it". By that time we were at Mr. Deering's office, so I poked my head inside and saw Lisa and Tom and was pretty much speechless. My mind went blank (I had been working my brain pretty hard to remember Vickie, Dick, Sue, Steve, Richard and Carolyn's names for the Wave) I was shocked, but they were so gracious. Lisa was there to have lunch with Mr. Deering and had a visitor badge. They were all set to go, so we headed up to the 5th deck for the wave. I went to collect the rest of my family including Werin and my Mom and Dad and we all headed out, including Mr. Deering for the wave (I guess his last one on Holland America as it looks now) Werin shook everyone's hand and I ended up not waving, as I had Werin put her paws up (I held them since I didn't want her to scratch the beautiful railing). Well the rest is history since Lisa put them on line that night while she was in Seattle waiting for the Noordam. What a start to our week! Thanks to the tips on line, I ran to the spa after the wave and bought Thermal Suite passes for the week for Susan and I and Mom and Dad. What a treat. We are all believers and the thermal suite along is a reason to cruise with Holland America. If you haven't been, it is heaven on earth. Six ceramic heated loungers look out at the sea with 4 different showers to the side with different lighting, rainshower heads and cool mountain mist nozzles to cool you down. Then there are rooms behind including a steam room, an aromotherapy room, and a wet sauna with ceramic benches and a fountain. The spa (new age) music flows out and your mind gets whisked away just looking out. On top of that you have unlimited weekly access to the therapy pool, which is about 1/2 the size of the Lido pool, but with bubbles coming out of the floor and surrounding your body with relaxation. One of the pool is built into a chaise, so that you can lie there just thinking of all the future cruises you are going to book, just so you can come back to the thermal suite. We found that one of the best times to go to the thermal suite was first thing when they opened in the morning (8am) and also during the show at night. No one around and we could have it all to ourselves. Neither Susan nor I are big show fans, but more time in the Thermal Suite was PERFECT! For less than a stone massage, we had a full week of relaxation. I believe they limit the number of passes they sell, so make sure to head up and grab a pair right away. We started enjoying it the first night. Our rooms of 5131 and 5133 had the shorter balcony, but since we opened up the divider between the rooms, it seemed huge with four chairs and two tables. Poor Dolf had to vacuum out there, since Werin was in shedding season (or maybe that's all the time), so we brushed her out there. Nothing like that Alaska scenery with little tufts of dog hair floating by. The rooms also had adjoining doors, so that Cameron could go to bed, one couple could go out and the other could stay in their room with the door open to watch Cameron. With Werin, Cameron didn't really want to go to Club HAL, as we would have had to come along. He was just happy to go every day to the Lido pool with Dad and Gramps. We could have made a killing, selling inflatable "Dam" ships. I picked one up on the Zaandam two years ago, but I couldn't find another one in the shop. Cameron took it to the pool everyday and everyone asked him where he got it. Too bad Holland America, you've missed another way to make some bucks. There were about 100-120 children on board, and aside from the pajama party night, we didn't really see them all week, except when they would stop by to pet Werin. Club HAL kept them entertained with all kinds of games and get togethers. HAL has a relationship with Cranium (which is our favorite games), so there were lots of games to play if we needed them. Our room had enough room to put in our own water and a few drinks that we had bought onboard without having to take out all the other mini-bar stuff in there. The bathroom was perfect for us three and we didn't find the room crowded, since the triples have a large curtain that nearly separates the couch from the bed to make two rooms. Cameron could watch the DVD player and flat screen with the Netflix movies we brought, while we read or went out when Nan and Gramps were watching him. Movies are also available downstairs from the Front office, but they are gone virtually the first day, and without a rental fee -- you won't see them back all week. It was easier just to bring our own and then drop them off in the mail when we were done with them back to Netflix. The bed was wonderful and comfortable. We are spoiled at home with a tempurpedic mattress, but this was very close. The lighting was created in zones, so that Cameron could sleep and we still had lots of light to stay up, go out, or come back late and get ready for bed without waking him. Werin had room as well, but only if we put the extra chair outside. We spent sail away in our room and on the balcony (we are not huge crowd fans) and watched land slip away just in time to head for dinner to meet our dining and wine stewards for the week. We had the perfect table on the main floor. Just up a few steps with seats to look out the window, but not right next to them where it would get hot (we had a table right by the back window on the Zaandam and it got steamy) From our position in the dining room, close to the stairs, we didn't have any rumbling from the engines. Our table was for five and Werin went where she is used to going, right underneath. Deden and Tri were our dinner servers with Leo as our wine steward. All were great. They got Cameron his kid's menu right away (PERFECT) and our menus all had choices that we enjoyed every night. We noticed that the steaks and lobster seemed much bigger on this cruise then two years ago, but the food quality (while still wonderful) wasn't quite as great as on the Rotterdam V about 15 years ago. It could have been because it was a first cruise together, but that trip it was heavenly. However, I do have to say that we didn't feel we missed anything by not going to the Pinnacle Grill as the meat, seafood, salads and getting to see our stewards each night was a thrill. Plus for all of us to go would have been $150, so we enjoyed the main dining room for dinner each night. The only experience I didn't enjoy in the dining room was the sugar free tart the first night -- but what was I expecting? Also, I thought it was odd to have Baked Alaska on the menu every night. It just seemed a bit much and isn't it supposed to be special for the parade? We enjoyed a couple bottles of wine during the cruise, and yes, I did have my grey goose martini nearly every night (I strayed with some martini's of the day, but always came back to my fav.) We also got hooked on the liquor for the evening and would get one or two to share at the table and keep the glass. Leo was extremely friendly and competent as our wine steward and even gave us table magic card tricks several nights which were GREAT. Seattle: Jewel of the Northwest, the three days we were in Seattle were "generally" sunny, but while there was a little bit of wet sunshine we always head out anyway, though it is good to have a towel nearby, since others don't necessarily like wet dog around them. When we arrived in Seattle, we had preordered some Rice Milk at Whole Foods which was a short cab ride away. With Cameron's autism, there are some limited food requirements and Rice Milk is one of those. We walked along the waterfront towards the new sculpture garden and to a dog park, which Werin and all of us enjoyed each afternoon. Cameron loved going to the Old Spaghetti Factory right on the water one evening, and we ate the other evening in. One full day was spent on the Victoria Clipper, where once we got to Victoria we rented a car and took Werin to the Dog park, then on to see my 90+ year old grandmothers. They got a kick out of Werin and Cameron -- Susan and I were just along for the ride. It was a great and very full day. No sightseeing this time, since I spent years in Victoria we have seen most of the things to see and spent our time getting together with family. We did get to take a peek at my folks new townhouse that they are moving into on the 8th and 9th floor with their penthouse patio garden in downtown Victoria. Great views to the ocean and mountains behind! JUNEAU: We were all ready to head up to the glacier on the helicopters, which I had booked online prior to the cruise, but our morning in Juneau was a bit foggy with low hanging clouds. The helicopters were able to go later in the afternoon, but our 11:45am flight was cancelled. Cameron took it VERY well, and decided that it was worth waiting for next time (get the hint Daddy -- Next time . . .) He was ready to watch Cars with Gramps in the cabin, so I took off with Susan taking the $2 shuttle into town (little Alaska secret -- if you walk in the mile to town, you can ride the shuttle back for free -- not that we did that). The shuttle drops you off at Mt. Roberts tramway, which the day we were there was shrouded in fog. After beating our way through the Diamonds International and other jewelry merchants, we took a back street up the hill, and found quite a few nice shops including the Friends of the Alaska State Museum shop, which had some great native art. They also shipped our treasures home as most other shops did as well. After wandering around, we found ourselves at the Juneau City Museum, which had the best 30 min. video on Juneau that I had seen. Went through all the mining history with Mr. Roberts, which I was unaware of in that much detail. Great little exhibits that were well worth the $4.00 admission price (don't worry we are not cheap, just were saving for Grey Goose Martinis and Thermal Suite passes!) A wander back through town down the hill was much easier than heading up got us back at the T-shirt shop to get something for Cameron. We ended up finding a "Pirates of the Inside Passage" skull and crossbones t-shirt that glowed in the dark -- PERFECT. NOTE ON PHOTOGRAPHERS: I know all you regulars typically hate the intrusive photographers at every stop. I mean who wants a picture of you in your rain slicker next to one of the photographers dressed up as a fisherman? Well there are several ways to look at them. Last cruise, I got all snooty, and would keep saying "No, No, not today" and argue with them why I wouldn't want my picture. This time, we took every picture, and found that we spent less time taking the picture than arguing why you don't want it taken. Here are a few thoughts you might want to consider during your next cruise for the photographer: - Pretend that you are Kathy Griffin on the "D" list and are happy to have anyone willing to take your picture for the publicity. - Imagine a red carpet before you and remind yourself why being a celebrity might not be a great life. - Get off the ship about an hour after you dock, after the hordes have made it down and find that the photographers are LONG gone to develop the pictures of your fellow passengers that were rushing to get off to their shore excursion. HUBBARD GLACIER: Not exactly a port of call, but well worth the time. While the ice flows right in front of the glacier were all packed in, so that we didn't get to get that close to the glacier or see any calving, we did see beautiful quiet oceans and ice flows. Looking from our balcony with tea and coffee in hand was a great way to spend the afternoon viewing the shoreline looking for bears with our binoculars. I found the beauty of the mountains much more amazing than Glacier Bay, but did miss seeing calving and hearing the "rice crispies" sound of all the ice. As Cameron says, "We'll see it next time, Daddy". SITKA: This was one of the main reasons to go on this cruise, as when we went 13 years ago on the Rotterdam V, it was too late in the season to see Sitka, due to a storm (You don't want to be on the Rotterdam V in a big storm), so that port was cancelled and instead we took the ship inside Misty Fjords -- a rare treat. But we always felt we missed out on seeing Sitka. Coming into port in the morning I found Sitka one of the most visually stunning ports for just viewing from the ship. Islands all around, and mountains with ice streaked across the sky. Eagles flying over town were relatively easy to photograph. We walked across the street from the tender drop off to see town from Castle Hill and read about various history surrounding Sitka. Cameron wanted to see "Meet the Robinsons" back on ship at 2pm, so we had to keep moving through town, seeing the church of course, and then along the waterfront. We were originally going to take the city bus out to the Raptor Center (one of the tips from my travel book), but never quite got hooked up to it. We did however get a new Gameboy Advance game, Madden 07, which Cameron and I both enjoyed later in the cruise. Susan found a great hot dog stand in town and we all had a dog for lunch while people watching (actually this is fun with Werin, as we generally catch people's eyes as they look over to Werin and try to figure out her "job". Cameron being mobile makes it quite a game. Everyone is very well intentioned and calls from "There goes a dog in training" to "that's a seeing eye dog" if Cameron has sunglasses on are spoken out as if we aren't there. We have a good time with it trying to remember the strangest story someone had made up about us as we are walking around. The reality is a trip like this would be not only be very difficult without Werin, but Werin also has improved Cameron's verbal and emotional skills, so having her close by is a constant therapy moment for Cameron in addition to all the social practice when people ask her name and the like. Before getting back on the tender we found a health food store right by the dock that had Cameron's Rice Milk, which was a perfect find, which allowed us not to have to stretch it! We made it back to the ship by about 1:30pm and caught up with a new friend for Cameron, whom he invited to the movie in the Queen's Lounge. If there is one disappointment on the ship, it was the movie in the Queen's Lounge. Can't they get a larger screen to show the movies on, rather than an old fashioned 3 tube projector and a small square screen. Uggh -- At least the popcorn was good (but no bartender for the parents -- another problem) KETCHIKAN - In Ketchikan we considered the floatplanes to replace the glacier walk, but decided to go with a newer tour, the Photographer's tour of Ketchikan. Now we just have a Canon Powershot, so I knew going in that we would have camera envy (you know they types -- the people that work out so that they can hold their two foot lens still for thirty minutes to catch that eagle), but decided that even if we didn't take any pictures, the visuals would be worth it to go. It was a four hour tour that started first thing in the morning (this time we were down the plank before the ship photographers were even set up). The nine of us on the tour got into a mini bus with Chris and Joyce. Chris was in his early 20s I think and Joyce was a native first nations grandmother. I think this was their first time doing the tour together. Chris was the driver, but he was used to telling stories on the mike on his big bus, and not quite used to having to give the stage over to someone else. One can only wonder what he had done wrong to be demoted to a minibus from the big coach, but what you do in Ketchikan, stays in Ketchikan. Joyce told us that she typically drives and talks as well, but there was some sort of mix-up with her driver's license for this type of vehicle (never really got the full story on that one either), so she would be just narrating today. We were to start with a "city tour", but instead of the traditional sites like the salmon run and other buildings of interest, we had Joyce trying the mike out at different levels, finally taking it off, then putting it up to her mouth manually with the classic "Can you hear me now" while Chris basically went up one hill only to turn on one street with Joyce saying, "Where are you going?" Chris replies, "This is where the big buses go, it's the way I know." Joyce states, "Well usually we go this way and see this". By this time we are almost down the other street in Ketchikan so by the time they figured out where they were going the only sight that Joyce could point out was the high school she attended over 30 years ago that had since been closed -- so much for Ketchikan. We all must have had our coffee, since the nine of us thought this was hilarious and were trying to keep our stifled laughter to mere snickers as Chris and Joyce tried to figure out what they were doing next. Chris and Joyce were WAY BETTER than the regular tour bus! Once out of town, Joyce started telling stories of the surrounding industries - the mines, the gold, the paper mill -- all of which had come and gone until we were are left with "you" the beautiful tourists. Ha, ha. After only one nearly wrong turn, Chris got us to our destination, a beautiful round house and dock where we got suited up in rain suits to go on a coast guard style boat to take in the natural beauty for an hour. The captain and two naturalists where very much at ease in front of the group and had been working together for some time. They made all of us feel comfortable with their jokes and information. After seeing several eagles at the top of their nests, they threw out some fish for bait and the eagle on cue came swooping down to pick up the fish. AMAZING! Next they took us out to a cove where there were some old shipwrecks, jellyfish, and starfish along the rocks. The naturalists pointed out all kinds of trees and flora on the islands, and were surprised themselves to see two deer on the shore. Apparently three years ago, wolves at swum over to the island and hunted all the deer, so they hadn't seen any deer in that time, until the day we were there. Everyone was excited and after seeing more waterfalls, fern grottos we headed back to the dock for hot chocolate, coffee, and cookies by the fireplace. I have to say that the small gift shop was PERFECT and have everything we were interested in. Cameron is doing a state report on Alaska next year in school, so the skipper gave him an old Alaska license plate for his report. They had his favorite "DK" books and one on whales, so we got that. They also had great zippered sweat shirts that were the best prices we had seen, so we had a great time. Back on the bus, Joyce told us First Nations bedtime scary stories (egged on by Chris) that her grandmother told her, so that she wouldn't go in the woods by herself. Guess they worked as I certainly won't be going in the woods by myself after those stories as well (You will need to go on the tour yourself to hear them -- I can't deny HAL all their opportunities to make money). After hearing her last story we had made it to the totem park. This park is a newly developed park, with several sample ceremonial buildings and a resident totem carver. The woman carver had taken a carving class to learn more about heritage for her daughter, and ended up making a career of it by carving for native families and for this up and coming Totem Park. A large native gift shop was close by, with selections of work on display. Joyce really came alive with native stories as we walked through the Totem Park and buildings. The owner of the gift shop also collects classic cars including Model T and a Stanley Steamer. There was also an antique gun collection. Very eclectic stop which included a few minutes with the carver (Joyce got is us in to her workshop, since they were friends) to view her latest work in progress and ask any questions we wanted. By the time we got back to the ship, we all agreed we had a great time with Chris and Joyce and while it "real" at times that was what made the tour special and much more memorable than your typical tour. VICTORIA: Well, since I was born in Victoria, my aunt and uncle wanted to see us so they walked down to the ship and we walked together to the open dog park and back for Werin. We had a great time with them talking and showing other tourists where to head or answering questions. For those of you heading to Victoria and are able bodied, the walk to downtown is not far at all, approx. 1.3 miles and is laid out quite easily. The dock at Ogden Point is in the James Bay community full of many cute and restored war time houses. James Bay tearoom is also close by and is much locally flavored that the Empress tea. Mom and Dad (since they live in Victoria) stayed on board and took in their last night at the Thermal Spa watching the harbor. CRUISE CRITIC MEET AND GREET: Scheduled for the Oak Room, the first day at sea on Sunday morning, the staff got the cigar smokers out of the there and set up a great table of cookies, coffee and tea. Mr. Deering came right away after a staff meeting and arrange for mixed drinks, sodas, whatever we wanted (what a host). He answered questions for nearly an hour, which I do have to say with the news that he is planning on moving to another ship is not all together surprising based on his candor in the meeting. My Mom reveled in his honesty and upfrontness about the cruise, staff conditions and ship, which has made her a cruising convert (the thermal suite didn't hurt either). Mr. Deering gave all attendees his card for any needs that we had and made sure he had all our cabin numbers. The banner was up (thanks so much Peg for making that one). While we couldn't figure out how to get Werin's paw print on there, I did draw one for everyone to know that she had been there. It was a wonderful morning and great to meet all the CC'ers that I had been meeting online. VISTA SHOW ROOM: We took in two shows (the rest of the time was literally in the thermal suites for the other shows). After the prior review of the shows I wasn't that excited to attend, but I do have to say that the Broadway medley show with just singing and no dancing was VERY good. The harmonies were superb and it was evident that the four best singers were utilized for this show. We saw the DV8 magic act the next evening and weren't impressed by the jokes or the magic. I have to agree with prior postings about the design of the VISTA SHOW ROOM. Why all the poles right in the view of many. We took in shows in the box seats and that was perfect. DVD RENTAL: All I can say is get down to the front desk the first day if you plan to rent any DVDs, because if you don't go the first day, you selection will not be there. I liked the fact that it was free, but there may have been more selection available if there was a daily charge as people would have returned them. FRONT DESK STAFF: God bless them. From overhearing the fuss that they have to put up with, my heart went out to them. They did a fantastic job in a trying position. One gentleman was completely upset and put out that Southwest didn't participate in the Priority Express baggage service. Literally yelling and threatening not to go on Holland America again. Give me a break. They don't participate at Disney either. PRIORITY EXPRESS BAGGAGE SERVICE: Well worth the extra money not to have to wait in that huge line at the counter with literally thousands of others in Seattle trying to get on flights the same day. While you have to get off the ship first, we were lucky to have Platinum American Express that gets us into the Airport Lounge to wait until our flight was ready. OCEAN BAR: Love the band at night for dancing. There were some regulars that we kept meeting up with that liked the jazz combo sound as well. Bartenders weren't very attentive, but eventually got around to everyone. LIDO: Someone will have to explain it to me, but why do people go up here for breakfast to fight for a table and carry your own food, when you can order pretty much whatever you want from room service and have breakfast in bed. I must be weird, but I haven't figured that one out yet. We used the Lido for snacking and ice cream which worked out great. I LOVED having the Vista Dining Room open for lunch as you arrived. This was a huge improvement over the Lido for lunch the first day. It's not that the LIDO is bad, but I enjoy sitting down for meals or having it in the room over eating cafeteria style. ROOM SERVICE: Almost every order correct and a follow up call to ensure that all was well. I love that breakfast, and that they bring things that you just write on the card before bed as well. All food was hot and came on time as promised. CASINO: The Oosterdam has a large casino with many slots and a few tables. Not as lucky as last time with a $2,500 slots win, but held my own until the last night and only down about $80 bucks. Not so bad. With Cameron with us and not having completely switched over from East coast time we didn't stay up very late, so it seemed that every time we went to the Crow's Nest they were in between gigs or nothing was going on. However, the Piano Bar was another story. I wish we had found it sooner, as it was the hot spot with regulars and every table full each night. Everyone was having a great time singing along with silly songs that the time we stopped in we had a ball. GLASS ELEVATORS: We all loved these, especially the painting on the ship as you went inside that showed the sea life at the surface, and got darker and darker as you went farther down inside the ship. None of us got tired of riding them. Loads of fun. VIP PARTY: We were honored as CC'ers to be invited to the Captains VIP party (thanks to Mr. Deering) where there were about 20 of us being entertained by the officers. Wine, mixed drinks and warm and cold appetizers were flowing from the crow's nest. While I was standing there talking to the future cruise consultant and the shopping ambassador, two whales blew off just in front of the ship -- it was great. Later that evening we saw about 60 whales that we counted over about a 30 minute period from our balcony. They were everywhere. We had a wonderful week and were very sad to see it end. However, we did book next year's cruise on the Maasdam on August 16th from Boston to Montreal while on board to take advantage of the $100 deposit offer. Look forward to seeing some of you there . . . Read Less
Sail Date June 2007
Returned from Alaska on the Oosterdam last weekend, am I still having trouble getting it sufficiently out of my head so that I can function at home. What an amazing trip. It's rare that we go anywhere anymore that nothing in our ... Read More
Returned from Alaska on the Oosterdam last weekend, am I still having trouble getting it sufficiently out of my head so that I can function at home. What an amazing trip. It's rare that we go anywhere anymore that nothing in our experience prepares us for, but Alaska was all of that and more. My wife and I had been on the Oosterdam before for the Mexico itinerary, so I'm going to skip general ship comments in this review unless something changed since then. My review of that cruise is posted here for 3/05 if you want to check my general impressions. Pre-Cruise In addition to our firm belief that one should not attempt air travel on the day of a cruise (the stress would kill me), Seattle is one of my favorite places, so we flew in Thursday morning and spent two very nice days at the Inn at the Market, located just a half-block east of the Pike Place Market. It's a very nice midsize hotel with a great roof deck overlooking Elliott Bay, and an easy walk to everything (Seattle is a very nice walking town). The only caveat would be to be sure to get a room as high up as possible on either the north or west sides—lower rooms or those on the other sides can have a fair amount of street noise. Walked to Lake Union on Friday and did an Argosy boat tour of it and Lake Washington, and a great lunch at Duke's Chowder House after. Save room for dinner! Embarkation In a word, effortless. Got up, got some Seattle's Best (better than Starbucks), some outstanding Russian pastry across from the Market, sat on the roof deck for a leisurely breakfast. Mt. Rainier was totally clear and amazing to our south, the Olympics equally clear across the Bay to the northwest. I could get used to this. After a little bit of repacking, we hopped in a cab about 10:45 for the 10 minute ride down to Pier 30. The Golden Princess was head to head with the Big O—was not the last time we would see her that week. We walked right in to the check in area, were greeted by a HAL representative who asked if we had the this and that, pointed to the baggage handler who stuffed our bags onto a conveyor, moved over to one of about 15 check-in folks who were sitting all by themselves, and after less than 5 minutes we were on our way out and onto the long ramp leading to the Big O. I think we were on the ship by 11:10. Since we'd been on before we didn't need to spend time familiarizing, so we had a spot of lunch and sat in the nice padded teak deck chairs. I had no sooner gone down for a supplementary taco than it was announced that our cabins were ready. It was 1:00. Cabin We were in 8107, a verandah stateroom, same type of room as when we were on the O before (in 5087 then). Perhaps because we had been on Princess in a mini-suite since, it seemed a little smaller than before, and our daughter was with us then and not now. It's a nice enough cabin, but how the heck we ever had 3 people in it is a mystery to me. They swapped out the tube TV that used to sit on the desk for a flat panel job on a high shelf, with a DVD player (good move), but removed the overhead storage compartments that used to be over the couch (not so good). There are, however, now drawers under the end of the bed, and since this couch didn't fold out there were drawers under it as well, so overall not bad storage space for two. There's precious little surface space in the cabin though, for cameras and binoculars and the like—everything has to go on the desk. The head was just fine—tub w/shower worked very well and drained nicely (unlike Princess where you stood ankle deep for your whole shower), and good storage. Closets were fine except the one hinge that shrieked like a scalded cat whenever the door opened. Very simple intuitive safe, again unlike Princess which required you to go through about seven steps to lock/unlock the thing. I was a little concerned about the cabin's location, being behind one of the aft elevator banks, but we never heard a peep from anybody all week and found that the ability to go up one flight of stairs into the Lido was quite handy for breakfast and late afternoon cheese trays on the balcony. Dining At table 32 with the legendary Hunky Dory as waiter, and his reputation is well-deserved. I swear by Tuesday he knew the names of every passenger on the ship (he worked the breakfast line as well), and was always friendly and entertaining. Leo as Wine Steward was also most personable (if a bit overworked at times), and gave me the answer to a question I had always wondered about—why is the food staff all Indonesian and the beverage staff all Filipino? In two words, compatibility and harmony—the Indonesians don’t think they’re better than the other Indonesians, and since they don’t directly compete with the Filipinos, there’s no friction there either. I know other lines don’t do it this way, and the service we get on HAL is always exemplary, so it must be working. The food was first class as always, and in a strange plus I was happy that the portions were smaller than on Princess—I could eat everything, and wasted nothing. Full, but not stuffed. If you wanted you could always order two entrees, but with the quality of the salads, appetizers and desserts…I just don’t eat that much. Entertainment Fairly standard cruise fare. Enjoyed the magic/illusionist team of Drew and Angela, but the broadway singing/dancing shows are just not our thing. Capably performed, I guess, but…I can’t impartially review something I just don’t care for as a matter of taste, so it would be unfair to continue. With the sun rising at 4:15-4:30 and the 3 hour time difference we found that heading for bed at about 10 (the sun was ALMOST down by then) was just fine anyway. Ports Juneau: We camped out in the Crow’s Nest for the entry into Juneau—scenery on all sides is breathtaking. About a mile from town, as if staged, two bald eagles flew by the front windows at eye level, causing a spontaneous round of applause—Welcome to Alaska. There was only a smaller Royal Caribbean ship in port when we arrived, so I was surprised that we ended up at the far south end of the harbor, requiring a short shuttle ride to town. Was even more surprised later upon return from our excursion when the RC was bumped out to anchor mid-harbor and the two in-town docks were occupied by our Princess shadow and our sister Zuiderdam. Hey! We were there first! But no matter really. Did the town/Mendenhall Glacier/salmon hatchery tour, and bus driver Mark was very friendly, knowledgeable and funny. Not much to the town tour—just a description of this and that, but it’s not really a very big town anyway. The salmon hatchery I actually could have lived without as well, and although it unquestionably does good things—wild salmon would be in serious trouble without it—the “tour” was not so much. Mendenhall Glacier, on the other hand, was spectacular and not to be missed, and judging by the number of helicopters flying overhead at any given time (I kept humming the theme from “Apocalypse Now”), not too many people did. It was just fine at ground level though, in my opinion, and the sounds of the immense waterfall down the west side were part of the experience. Strolled through town after a return to the ship for a quick lunch. Although touristy and obviously cruise ship oriented (what are Caribbean jewelry stores doing in Alaska?), it retained a quaint postcard look that was very appealing. Do not miss having (at least) one of dozens of beers on tap at Hangar on the Wharf while enjoying a spectacular view of the whole harbor through the floor to ceiling glass. Food is supposed to be terrific, too, although we did not indulge. Bank thermometer said 70 degrees, and just a few wispy clouds—sensational weather for Alaska. Glacier Bay: Again, few clouds, bright sun, but a little cooler (you’re surrounded by ice, after all). The bow of the ship is opened up with wine, cheese, and Dutch pea soup available. A great vantage point (probably the closest you can get to the water, which snaps and pops constantly in the ice field like Rice Krispies) to take in the once in a lifetime scenery, the bright blue sky setting off the brilliant white-blue of the glaciers. Got to within about a half mile of the face, which I understand is about as close as you can get. Unbelievable. Sitka: Our first marginal day weatherwise, but somehow not disappointing given the outstanding weather so far. Also have not mentioned that the Pacific has been like a millpond—barely a ripple, making for great sealife watching. Saw a pod of 4 Orcas less than a half mile away from the ship on the way down to Sitka last night—truly astounding. Tendering in was a complete non-event—there wasn’t even a line waiting for the boats and they stopped handing out tickets since it was going so smoothly. HAL has this amazingly under control compared to some other companies that shall be nameless (NCL), where the process looked like the men’s room line at halftime of a Bears game. We took the “Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest”, which was a 3 hour cruise on a very comfortable power catamaran through the islands off Sitka. Saw seals, the promised otters (a huge colony), and at least 4 humpback whales about 2 miles out. Other than the windows on the boat fogging up for the first part of the trip (later fixed by turning on the air), it was all we had hoped. Upon return to town we walked around for a bit and stumbled onto the Sitka 4th of July parade—truly something to see, and a little different than parades back home. Suburban Chicago parades don’t have Mountain Rescue, Smokey the Bear, the Coast Guard, or the Coho Queens (don’t ask). A very nice town. Ketchikan: As the O docked right in the middle of town, access was easy. Since we were only there until 12:30 there were more people than usual waiting to get off, but still no problem. Being right across from the lumberjack show venue and a showtime in less than 10 minutes, we decided to give it a try. Now I’m not generally much for staged entertainment, but this was very enjoyable and professional. Highly recommended. The town itself was very nice, and very walkable—take a stroll along the creek to Park Ave. and head uphill—what a beautiful street. If you take a right at Venetia Ave. you can climb a lot of steps to the Cape Fox Lodge at the top of the hill and then a nice walk back down on a raised wooden trail through the woods back to Creek street, where there are a lot of galleries. Too short a stop here—will have to go back. Victoria: Speaking of too short a time in a port, Victoria is #2—in at 6 pm, out at midnight. The only good thing is that you have time to pack while at sea before getting in so you don’t have to do it after you get back from town (bags are due outside at 1 am). You can take a shuttle bus into town for $6, but I highly recommend walking out of the port and taking a left on Dallas Rd. down to Fisherman’s Wharf, where you’ll pick up a great walking trail along the water of the Inner Harbour into town. Fisherman’s Wharf itself is fun—an eclectic mix of floating houses and businesses. The fish & chips at Barb’s are not to be missed. We were just in town long enough to know we need to go back, asap. We were married not far from here, so have a soft spot for this area. Disembarkation As uneventful as Embarkation. Our flight wasn’t until 2 pm so we were in no rush, which was a good thing since we never heard our group called and got off when they said “Everybody Off”. All that meant was that there weren’t 200 other people hunting through the same group of bags, so I might remember that for future trips—there was no one at our bag area when we got there, and ours were easily located. This was a tough one to come home from—Alaska is not to be missed, and if you’d rather 1) set your own agenda for shipboard time without requiring something structured to do 24/7; 2) be responsible for knowing the ship’s schedule without having the hallway PA’s blaring announcements at all hours (Princess); 3) travel with a little older crowd than gangs of roving, bored teens; 4) have excellent food in reasonable amounts instead of mountains of more average fare; or 5) seek out beverages when you want them instead of having them shoved on you whenever you pause for a breath; then HAL is your line, and the Oosterdam is your ship. Read Less
Sail Date June 2007
The Internet can be a useful tool when looking for information to help decide on a cruise. There is plenty of data available, with some of it even being accurate. If even half of what I've read is true, I thought I could expect the ... Read More
The Internet can be a useful tool when looking for information to help decide on a cruise. There is plenty of data available, with some of it even being accurate. If even half of what I've read is true, I thought I could expect the following on my first HAL cruise; Dining on bland, easy to chew, cuisine, topped off with a glass of fine Ensure. Swapping stories about the good old days with tablemates like Jessica Fletcher, Matlock and the Golden Girls, then dancing to the rocking tunes of a Lawrence Welk cover band to the wee small hours of, say, eight or eight thirty. Cautiously walking the passageways, always on the lookout for stampeding wheelchairs. These assumptions proved to be so wrong, on so many levels, it's almost laughable. Last October, while my Wife and I were still suffering withdrawals from our September Mercury cruise (which is another story,) we received a flyer from HAL advertising a sale on suites for the 2007 Alaska season. In our "cruise vulnerable" state we took this as an omen and dropped a deposit immediately. We booked directly through HAL on this, and would not hesitate to do so again. We've heard the stories about TA's getting the greatest deals, perks, freebies, upgrades etc. We've also heard the stories about TA's completely dropping the ball and leaving the customer holding the bag (again, that information is courtesy of the Internet.) My previous 3 cruises, on three different cruise lines, were booked online, and I've never had a problem. Maybe just lucky. The gentleman I talked to at HAL could not have been more helpful. He knew the ship, and made some cabin recommendations without pushing an up sell. During the time between our booking, and our actual cruise, I called him back several times with questions and he always had, or easily got the right answer for me. HAL Customer Service gets big points. Anyway we got a fair deal on a Superior Veranda Suite (#6090) along with a one night, pre-cruise stay, at the Olympic Fairmont in Seattle. I casually followed the prices for the cruise, through some on line Travel Agencies, after I booked, and I never saw it offered for much better than what we paid (I think $45.00 less was the best I found) and it didn't include the hotel stay. Again, I think I got a fair deal. Like I mentioned, this is our fourth cruise on our fourth different line. Though this hardly makes us cruise veterans, we do have a little cruise savvy. Our first cruise was the third sailing of the new Grand Princess (NICE!!) Our second was a 3-day Mexico/California on the Carnival Ecstasy (not as nice as the Grand) and our third was a Pacific Northwest on Celebrity Mercury. Bottom line is, my Wife and I are low maintenance cruisers. A decent meal, a cold martini and a friendly staff are all we need to keep us happy. Not much to ask I think. Okay, enough pre-cruise stuff and on to the cruise. We booked last October, got a free night at the Fairmont Olympic, which is one of the nicest hotels I've ever stayed in (best described as old school classy) and had a great evening. The room was not large, but well furnished and comfortable. The food, drinks and service were top notch. The Fairmont chain sets the bar high, and does not disappoint. We were given an envelope on check in, from Holland America, with instructions to meet the HAL Representative in the lobby the following morning. Let me start by saying that HAL has this whole operation organized. We met with the Rep in the morning and he explained that we could leave our bags with him, check out of the hotel, if we wanted, and be back at 11:30 to catch the shuttle. He kept a running tally of everyone's bags and made sure they all made their way to the ship. We checked out and strolled down to Pikes Market for a look around. My Wife and I love Seattle, and Pikes is always fun to visit. We got back to the hotel about 11:30 and hung out in the Garden Room with some of our fellow passengers (we all had that goofy "Night Before Christmas" look on our faces.) Looking around the room, it appeared that the median age was mid to late sixties BUT, as I'm reminded of, again and again, age is less about actual calendar years than it is about attitude. Boarded the shuttle for the short ride to the pier and finally caught my first real glimpse of the Oosterdam. In short, the Oosterdam looks like a ship. We saw it moored next to the Golden Princess, which looked more like a hotel that just happens to float. Holland America boasts (rightfully so) a strong maritime heritage, and it is well reflected in the ship design. Good lines, and a nice color scheme. Stepped off the bus, stepped into the check-in line and were through in about 10 minutes. The people working the counter were really scrambling, and I'm certain that they, this being the first cruise of the season, just hadn't hit their stride yet. From the Representative we met at the Hotel, to the last employee we saw on disembarkation, HAL made a favorable impression on us. Up the gangway, to the top landing, and we were greeted with wide smiles, and the compulsory hand sanitizer, from a young man in an old fashioned Bellhop uniform - could this get any better?? Oh yeah. Through security and on to the ship, we ran smack into the Martini Bar (I admit choking up a little at that.) We expected to be pointed towards the Lido Buffet, but an Officer directed us to the Vista Dining room for a sit down lunch (this was a first for me.) We were shown to a table for 2, handed menus (limited, but good, choices) ordered, and started to take it all in. The dining room was dark, and nicely decorated (In contrast to our Carnival cruise in which the dining room looked like "Circus, Circus." The lunch service, like the check in, was efficient, but a little harried, and I'm certain for the same reason. By the evening of the first day, the crew had their rhythm down and never missed a beat. Strolled up to the Lido for a drink and a view of the Seattle skyline, one of the prettiest anywhere. We cruised with some good friends, who are HAL 1st timers also, and share our opinions of the cruise. At around 1:30 they announced that the cabins were ready. We walked down to our cabin and discovered that it was quite a bit bigger than we had expected. A large (and very comfortable) bunk, sofa, 3 chairs and, surprise, enough room to move around them easily. The balcony (which I refuse to cruise without) had 2 easy chairs, a small table (w/chairs) and plenty of room. I think we made a good choice on the cabin; anything bigger (for us anyway) would have just been overkill. A discrete knock at the door and our smiling Cabin Steward, Arafin (just call me "Fin,") introduced himself, and presented us with his card (nice touch.) This pattern of service was evident throughout the entire ship, for the entire cruise. On my past cruises, I have always seen the service as being both polite and efficient, but I have to say that the service on HAL was truly gracious. The staff never hovered, but always seemed to be there when needed. Drink of choice, as well as your name, was remembered by the bar staff. A genuine smile, and greeting, was always offered (and always returned) by all hands. The legendary Hunky-Dory, who I had the pleasure of meeting the 2nd day, had powers of recollection that bordered on the supernatural. Back up on deck, armed with a martini and awaiting the sail away, the Captain announced that the 1600 sailing would be postponed, as there were some late arrivals. Hmmmm, on the deck of a beautiful ship, drink in hand, scenic skyline in the background - oh yeah, a delayed sailing would be a living hell. Once underway we quickly unpacked our four bags and found we had closet and storage room to spare (uncommon.) As expected, some of our garments didn't travel as well as we did, so we sent some things out for pressing (fair prices on this.) Met up with our friends for early seating, lower level, at 5:30 and were shown to our table for 6. With the new dining concept, you can show up for early seating, anytime between 5:30 and 6:00, and be seated. I was worried that the service, and food quality, would suffer because of this, but it seems to work well. As with lunch, the service the first night was a little hectic (not slow by any means) but for the rest of the cruise, the service was stellar. Our waiter, Nyoman, Bus person Wira and the Wine Steward Priscilla could not do enough for us. Friendly and professional all of them. The food throughout the cruise was uniformly great, with enough variety to keep all hands happy (or at least pacified.) The portions were just about right and, though nobody in our group ever asked for seconds (came close with the escargot though,) I'm sure they were available. As with all cruises, some dishes are better than others but nothing came close to being sent back, and I can't recall anything ever being left on a plate (that is a high compliment to the Chef.) The first evening's dinner was deemed "casual." For some passengers, casual seemed too formal a description. Bid goodnight to our friends and tablemates, and headed back to the cabin, stopping to admire some of the ship's artwork along the way. Met "Fin" in the passageway, and were given a pleasant good night. The bunk was neatly turned down, but apparently the towel animals were still in their cages below. The sea was a little choppy but we slept like babies. We awoke Sunday morning to a room service breakfast, gray skies, and drizzle. Oh, and 10 to 15 foot seas (wheeeeeeee!) Personally, I like the rough seas, and the motion of the ship that goes with it, but I'm certain I'm in a minority here. After breakfast we just sort of toured the ship. One major difference in the Oosterdam (probably on other HAL ships as well) is that instead of one or two main gathering areas (read "Bars") the "O" has several smaller, more intimate, ones. I like it. We played some cribbage, hooked up with our friends to graze at the buffet, and sampled a cocktail or two. A tough life to say the least. The Wife went down to the spa for a facial and gave it high marks. She was asked by the staff if she was interested in buying some products but a polite "no thanks" ended the sales pitch. I've heard about some hard sell tactics in some ship's spas but this wasn't the case here. She was so impressed with the Greenhouse Spa that she booked me for a facial the following Tuesday. Pause here for laughter. So with a little free time on my hands, I thought I'd amble down to the casino and try my luck on the machines. Long story short, I've gotten better payouts from a parking meter (and no, that didn't dissuade me from returning several more times during the week.) The casino, while not big, is laid out nicely. A few gaming tables, poker machines, slots, the usual. One evening of the cruise is dedicated "smoke free" in the casino. Good idea. On the upside, the casino bar makes a great martini. Win some, lose some. Headed back to the cabin to change into the good duds for the formal night, and noticed seasick bag stations had sprung up around the ship. Good planning on someone's part. We stopped at the Olive Pit (THE martini bar onboard) for a little pre dinner aperitif, and saw the Captain and Mr. Deering nearby. I know of Mr. Deering's reputation from the Cruise Critic Boards, so I though I'd introduce myself as (I think) the only CC member aboard. A pleasant gentleman, who took the time to chat for a few minutes, despite having what must be a punishing schedule. We bumped into him several times on the cruise and would always stop for a short talk and seemed genuinely concerned if we were having a good time (despite the big, dopey, grins on our faces that I mentioned earlier.) This was the pattern with all of the Officers we encountered on board. Never too busy for a quick chat. High marks again for the crew. We had some formal shots done that evening and they came out nice. Walked down to the dining room and, as if by magic, a Sapphire Martini, up, w/a twist of lime was waiting at my place, courtesy of Priscilla, our Wine Steward. I'm not a wine drinker so this would just have to suffice. Is this anyway to run a ship? The dinner was superb but, due to the seas, some passengers excused themselves early. One of the friends we traveled with got one or two bites down, and quit while she was ahead. Our waiter, Nyoman, picked up on this and, once he was sure that it wasn't the food, immediately produced a plate of sliced green apples, as a sure fire remedy for seasickness. On a similar note, there is a special section on the room service menu for "passengers that are feeling the sea" consisting of green apples, beef broth and crackers. A very considerate touch I thought. We finished dinner and headed up to the Crow's Nest for a nightcap and, up there, you can REALLY feel the sea. Loved it. People were tacking back and forth across the room, with the motion of the ship, and I noticed more than one passenger who was "a little green around the gills." I watched one lady (easily 75 years old) enter the room in a gown, and very high heels, and I remember thinking "oh, this won't be good," but she walked across the room, without missing a beat, and plopped herself down at the bar. Bless her, I wanted to buy her a round (She'd probably drink me under the table too.) With a full day behind us, we headed down to the cabin to find (again) a neatly turned down bed and an expertly crafted lobster towel animal. Life is good. Awoke to some calmer seas and another good room service breakfast. Weren't due in to Juneau until 11:00 so we broke out the cribbage board to kill some time (I won.) Headed down with our friends to disembark at 11:20 or so, and found the lines to get off pretty long. We thought we'd play it safe and head to the Ocean Bar until the queue thinned out. Half an hour later the queue had thinned out. One hour later and we were still in the bar. Go figure. We didn't sign up for any shore excursions on this cruise (though there were some really great ones offered) due to the fact that the weather could turn really revolting, really fast and I had no desire to be cold and wet on some expedition (I'm cold and wet a lot in my job, and I prefer warm and dry on vacation whenever possible.) So we just walked around Juneau and did some shopping and sightseeing. The shopping is best described as interesting. All the shops in the main shopping area pretty much sell a lot of the same things (Alaska T-Shirts, jackets, hats etc) but take the time to look around and you can find some unique items. Some other passengers said that there are some good jewelry bargains to be had in Juneau and Ketchikan (low state tax) so this might be an attraction for some (and a deterrent to others.) Also, at the risk of being slammed, there are some great deals on furs (as in coats, hats and stoles.) Note: I don't take sides in the whole fur issue, much safer that way. We stopped in for a late lunch at the Red Dog Saloon and you shouldn't miss this place, if for no other reason just to say you've been there. Back to the ship to change for dinner, and this evening we were going try the Pinnacle Grill. I've read some rave reviews about the Pinnacle (and some scathing ones as well) so one way or the other it should prove interesting. My parents (veteran HAL cruisers) gifted us dinner for 2 at the Pinnacle and, as I discovered when I went to make reservations, so did Holland America. I think that since we booked directly through HAL, this was given by them as a gift (who needs a TA?) Anyway, if HAL is reading this, thank you very much. We used the HAL gift to treat our friends to dinner (no hassle on this at all) and allowed them to pick up the tab for the drinks. Good deal for all. High marks all around on the Pinnacle. The place settings, service, decor and, naturally, the food, were first rate. This is definitely a haven for carnivores. Once our drink orders were taken, the waiter brought over what I like to call "The Cart-O-Meat" They offer several different cuts, and all were displayed, and explained, in great detail. If you shy away from dining on our barnyard friends, don't despair. Some very unique, and fresh, seafood items are offered. I had the plank roasted prawns, with cilantro butter, and could have eaten it three times a day and still not gotten tired of it. I kid you not, it was that good. The Wife (the Consummate Carnivore that she is) had the fillet and didn't leave a morsel (I had to beg for a bite.) Our friends had the fillet and the lamb chops and I recall very little food left on the plates. The Pinnacle bar offered wine flights (small tastings of several different wines) and the others went with this (I stuck with my usual libation - why break precedence?) I'm not a big dessert eater, but the Wife and I shared a cheese plate (excellent presentation and variety) and our friends went with the ice cream and a VERY impressive looking Crème Brule (if you eat there, try this just for the presentation.) So we rolled out of the Pinnacle and decided to take in a show. That evening there was a comedy juggler named Charlie Brown (no, really,) so we thought we'd give him a shot. Funny guy, and some good, wholesome, entertainment. Nice. A quick stroll up to the Crow's Nest for a night cap and we called it an evening. What was the towel animal du jour you may ask? An elephant! Drifted off to sleep with Hubbard Glacier looming in the distance. We entered Yakutat Bay at around 10:00, and the deck railings were crowded with spectators (here's the advantage of having a balcony.) The stewards were walking the deck, offering cups of Dutch Pea Soup (which is not to be missed!) to take off the chill. After a cup, we hit the Ocean Bar for an alternate method of taking off the chill. The four of us went down to our cabin to enjoy the view of Hubbard Glacier (which we got to about noon.) As we were going in, I caught a glimpse of the Mercury (fresh from a dry dock) just leaving. Good memories on that ship. Hung out on the balcony until the chill drove us back inside (40 degrees +/-) and back up to the Ocean Bar (getting thirsty again.) We didn't get that close to the glacier face, due to the ice pack I think, but it was still spectacular. Some of the ice chunks were a shade of blue that has to be seen to be appreciated. Left Hubbard around 1:30, and since there wasn't much going on, we grabbed a short siesta before we threw caution to the wind and played some bingo. I can't remember the last time I played bingo, but thought it might be fun. It was. The caller kept the game moving, and had a good enough sense of humor to keep it enjoyable. Went back every day for the rest of the cruise and, Just like at the casino, didn't win. Another fine dinner (martini at my place at the ready when I sat down) and we called it a night. Up early for a quick breakfast and took a little exercise. The most endearing feature on the Oosterdam has got to be the wraparound promenade deck. I mentioned earlier about how the "O" looks like a real ship, and the promenade really puts the icing on that cake. This is the first ship I've cruised on that actually has one. Sort of conjures images of well-dressed couples, walking arm in arm (martini's in hand, natch) in the moonlight. So after a few laps around, we went to hit the tender line (bypassing the Ocean Bar this time.) I try to avoid tendering like the plague, whenever possible, but Sitka looked like such a neat port we just had to get off. I tendered once on another cruise line (which shall remain nameless) and I've witnessed multi-car pileups on the interstate that were better organized. I give HAL much credit for having this tender business well organized (like everything else associated with this cruise.) Went down to the Queen's Lounge, took a numbered ticket, and waited for the number to be called (about 10 minutes.) 5 Minute tender ride and we were there. A scenic town, with some great photo material and friendly locals. Sitka offered many of the same souvenir shops but, like the other ports, if you look closely, you can find some very nice things. We bought a very unique cribbage board (which we sort of collect) and a small whalebone carving for fairly reasonable prices. I'd go back and spend a few days anytime. Grabbed some lunch in town (fresh fish galore,) made another loop of the shops to make sure we didn't miss anything, and headed back to the ship. Again the tendering went well. Our boat was only about 1/3 full, but since no one else was waiting to board, they headed back to the ship (no waiting for a full tender to make the trip.) A while later I was looking out my balcony and saw a group of 3 seals, on the surface, sharing a salmon the size of a Volkswagen. A group of 4 Bald Eagles kept diving in and trying to take it away. This by itself was worth the price of the cruise (like watching live National Geographic Channel.) We went up on deck for the 5:00 sail away (yes, drinks in hand) and could not stop admiring the scenery. I think that of all the ports we hit, this was my favorite. Once we got into the main channel, we again noticed that the "Golden Princess" was still eating our wake. We had been playing tag the entire trip (we docked together in Juneau) and they couldn't seem to keep up (guess that new pod installed in dry dock paid off.) The cruise director eventually started calling it "The Alaska Talladega 500." We ran into some cruisers from the "Golden," who live not far from us, and I remember them saying "I wish we were on your ship." I think that says it all. So we dressed out for dinner (smart casual again) and stopped by the Olive Pit for some refreshments. I should mention at this point that there were two groups on board with us. There has been much discussion regarding groups on cruises (much of it negative.) The first group was around 400 folks from Australia. Aussies are some of the most amiable, fun loving, and unpretentious people on the globe. I think we were lucky to have them aboard. The second group was (if you can believe this) the North American Pauly Shore Fan Club. We didn't have any trouble with these people and both members of the group seemed very nice (okay, this one's a joke, but there really were a fun group of Aussies on board.) Dinner was great this evening. The usual choices, plus an Indonesian Rice Plate, Nasi Goreng (that I had been waiting for.) Our waiter, Nyoman, was pleased that someone at the table ordered it, and had some knowledge about Indonesian cuisine. If I could make one recommendation on the food, it would be to incorporate more Indonesian dishes into the menu. If you've never sampled their fare, you are missing out. I wish the Pinnacle could add a few of these dishes to their repertoire. I'm sure HAL already has the talent on their staff already to do this. Back to the room to discover a Stingray (and a couple chocolate's) had taken up residence on our bunk. This was the absolute greatest towel animal I've ever seen. If I could have gotten it into my bags, without wrecking it, it would be sitting here right now. The Wife called it a night and I hit the casino to make another deposit (unlucky at cards, lucky in love, C'est la vie.) Our ship had a nice roll and, again, we slept like babies. Ketchikan (and a couple's massage) tomorrow. Had a light, room service, breakfast of toast & coffee (room service I could get used to) to ward off any of those embarrassing "growlings" during our massage. I'm not what you'd call a big "Spa" person but the Greenhouse is a pleasant place to be. I went in for a facial earlier in the cruise (Okay, I can hear you laughing at me) and thoroughly enjoyed it. What I'd like to see offered for men is an old fashioned, hot shave, with a straight razor This would beat any facial hands down and I'd bet that the men on board would be lined up out the door to get one at almost any cost. I understand that another cruise line (again, no names) offers "The Ultimate Shave" with hot lather, hot towels, and a disposable razor. Tacky, Tacky. So my Wife and I were introduced to our Masseuses and led into the couple's room. Nicely appointed with some soothing music in the background (God I sound girly!) My masseuse, a petite smiling thing, seemed a little undersized for the job, but, well, I guess she knows what she's doing. I swear this girl could have crushed rocks in her bare hands. I could picture her beating up Hulk Hogan, and taking his lunch money, without breaking a sweat. She asked if I liked a hard, soft, or medium massage. I figured medium would be fairly safe for a deep tissue massage and, though it was a little less than comfortable once or twice, it was a great, relaxing, experience that I'd do again in a second. Top marks for the spa. Met up with our friends, and walked right off the ship, without a wait, into Ketchikan. Strolled the streets, had some coffee and bought (more) souvenirs. If you're shopping for jewelry, they say this is the place to buy it. I've never seen so many jewelry stores, in such a small area, in my life! We tied up with the Golden Princess again and, again, their passengers looked longingly at the Oosterdam. We learned that the "Golden", while not that much bigger than the "O," holds 2600 passengers (and I understand it was at capacity.) Can you say sardine can? Climbed back on board for the 50K Snowball Bingo (nope, didn't win again but had fun.) Headed up to the cabin to change for the second formal night. The Wife had picked up a new gown prior to cruising and I went with the Kilt again. I like the formal evenings, but it seemed that we took the dress code a bit more seriously than many of the other passengers. This entire dress code subject has been beaten to death, many times over, so I'll just let it go at that. Had a fine meal of lobster tail and, for the finale, we were treated to the Baked Alaska Parade, mercifully, to the strains of a Sousa March and not "Hot-Hot-Hot." Thank the Almighty. We planned to eat ashore in Victoria, the next evening, so we took this opportunity to thank our table staff for all they've done for us. Like the whole dress code issue, the tipping thing is a minefield that I won't step into here. We brought along a package of small thank you cards, with a modest amount of filler, for a little extra compensation (I felt it was well earned.) The envelopes were proffered discretely, and accepted with a slight bow, a large smile and a sincere thank you. I've witnessed what could best be described as greed, on other lines, but saw no evidence of it here. We're aware of how the tips are distributed but recognized those that really gave the great service. We made the rounds of the bars onboard, our last couple days, and slipped a few dollars to the Bartenders, and Servers, we had the pleasure of dealing with. Made us feel good. A similar envelope was offered to our cabin Steward, who we would have brought home with us if possible. We were also delivered volume 1 of our shipboard bill. The purser informed us that they had to have more paper brought in to finish our printout, and that volume 2 of our bill would be delivered, via hand truck, later in the evening. Once again, our bill made the National Debt pale in comparison and, once again, it was well worth every penny. We attended the disembarkation talk in the afternoon, before we docked in Victoria, and the Cruise Director took the time to recognize all the crewmember's contributions, and even singled out Hunky-Dory as a HAL Icon (well earned.) Pulled into Victoria at about 6:00 and finally got off about 6:30. There was a line of shuttle buses at the pier, going to the downtown area (I think it was about a mile and a half walk, which I would have made if we had more time.) Round trip shuttle ticket, to downtown, ran $6.00 and the shuttles ran about every 15 minutes. Good system. Like Sitka, I would have liked to spend more time in Victoria. So we walked down to Chinatown and enjoyed an excellent Chinese meal. Back to the ship at about 9:00 and called it a night. We finished our packing, and left the bags outside our door (the cutoff for this was 1:00 A.M.) The disembarkation was well organized and we were assigned a color, and a number, which they'd call when it was your turn to be dragged off the ship, kicking and screaming. We had breakfast in the Lido, while waiting to be called, and managed to run into some of our table staff for some last minute goodbyes and thank you's. Left the ship (grudgingly,) found our bags, segregated by color, and hoped in a cab for the ride to the airport (the shuttles are a great service, but a little on the slow side.) Made it to SeaTac in plenty of time for our 11:10 flight and we were on our way. During this week on the Oosterdam, I learned why so many people are so loyal to this line. Holland America will be seeing us again (please notify the Martini Bar.) Read Less
Sail Date May 2007
My wife and I took the first cruise of the season up to Alaska at end April 2007. We live in South Africa and had to use a local agent- but the reservation was very smooth indeed. All the info we needed was on the website, so it was a ... Read More
My wife and I took the first cruise of the season up to Alaska at end April 2007. We live in South Africa and had to use a local agent- but the reservation was very smooth indeed. All the info we needed was on the website, so it was a piece of cake to brief the travel agent. On arrival embarkation in Seattle was very smooth indeed though there were serious long queues. They moved quickly however and I reckon we were on-board in 40 minutes after arrival. We'd booked a suite- so through the trip had access to the private lounge, priority embarkation and disembarkation, and to a couple of drinks/ cocktail events with the Captain. The cabin itself was great. Luxurious, spacious and well appointed. The balcony was fabulous for just relaxing on, though the temperatures- always around 2-10 degrees obviously limited our usage! Service was fabulous, and Rudi- our steward- was incredibly efficient and polite.(By the way that extended to all crew members- they were fantastic!) The one thing that struck my wife and I about the Oosterdam was that though the cruise was full, there very seldom appeared to be any crowds. There was always an available bar stool, or seat on deck, or table in the restaurant. The food? Uniformly it was excellent. We ate in the main diningroom, the a'la carte restaurant, and the less formal Lido restaurant where a variety of food stations serve up fastish food. The menu every evening- we took the 8pm sitting, was however fabulous, and especially so for the black-tie evenings. In fact by the end of the cruise I'm ashamed to admit, I'd reached the stage where I could eat no more! We stopped at Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan. It really breaks the trip having a day ashore, though in reality, whilst quaint and retro, none of them are more than small quaint towns, and can be seen in a couple of hours. But that's not really what one does the cruise for is it? We also did the tour and tea in Victoria, and that was interesting and worth the money, just to have done something a bit different. This was our first cruise though we have travelled extensively worldwide. I found everything to be run like clockwork- with the smallest of details covered. Information was distributed a couple of times a day to the cabin, informing one of the days events, or details on what to do when ashore. This was backed up by an info channel on TV- so one was never neurotic as to what was going on. All in all I just wonder why it took me so long to do my first cruise! The Oosterdam- a first class understated, 5 star experience! Read Less
Sail Date April 2007
Having cruised many times, this was my first trip with Holland America. As a suite traveler, embarkation and disembarkation processes were the most facilitating. The suite was well appointed and with ample space. The room was clean and ... Read More
Having cruised many times, this was my first trip with Holland America. As a suite traveler, embarkation and disembarkation processes were the most facilitating. The suite was well appointed and with ample space. The room was clean and with more than adequate close space. The shower and jacuzzi tub were both extremely clean. The Neptune Lounge was a God send. The young ladies who managed the lounge were efficient and pleasant. A place to have issued solved quickly without a long line at the pursers desk. I had a cocktail reception for 7 others in my traveling party. Abigail , one of the Neptune hostesses, made all the arrangements. Delivery of the hot and cold hors d'oeuvres was quite prompt. Every thing was nicely arranged. The Pinnacle Grill was well worth the $30. The food ,service and attention were notably distinctive. The Royal Dutch High Tea and the Indonesian Tea were quite special. However no Devonshire cream with the scones. The shops were not well appointed. Appeared rather common and with not much variety. Overstocked to some extent. I did not utilized the Lido Restaurant too often. One day they happen to run out of juice glasses and tea cups. A 10 minute wait before they were replenished. I did not participate in any organized tours. There were some days of high waves. disappointedly the ship creaked very often . The closets doors opened frequently with the rolling making a sound as if some one was knocking at the cabin door. HAd to get out of bed a few times to close the doors ,as well as make sure that no one was at the cabin door. Annoying!! The Formal Nights lacked some of the usual festive atmosphere. Some fellow travelers and their children ignored the dress code "FORMAL" and opted for the jeans and polo or tee shirt attire. HAL needs to address this faux pas. Overall, I had a pleasant cruise. The niceties of the Neptune Lounge was well worth it. Read Less
Sail Date April 2007
My wife, 5year old daughter and I are just back from the March 3 sailing of the Oosterdam from SD to the Mexican Riviera. We were looking for a week of relaxation, but I was skeptical of the quality of the ship as I have been spoiled by ... Read More
My wife, 5year old daughter and I are just back from the March 3 sailing of the Oosterdam from SD to the Mexican Riviera. We were looking for a week of relaxation, but I was skeptical of the quality of the ship as I have been spoiled by sailings on the SS France, QE2 and QM2. While nothing will likely ever match the service and food of the SS France, we found the Oosterdam to be on par and in some areas even better than the QM2. Embarkation was fine. Security wouldn't allow our cab into the actual terminal so we had to schlep our bags through the initial gate. If you have a lot of luggage, insist that your vehicle pull up to the luggage carts. We breezed through check-in. Another Holland America ship was undergoing a super thorough cleaning, so their embarkation was delayed until 4:30. The ship is a class act. We are not huge ship people (that being said, the QM2, while large, never feels crowded) and so we were thrilled with the intimacy of the Oosterdam. Furnishings and dEcor are pleasing and overall elegant. The stateroom was comfortable and large enough for the three of us, with sufficient storage and closet space. The bathroom was excellent: large, with a tub(!) and lots of storage in the medicine chest and below the sink. This is the first time we have had a stateroom without a balcony, I was leery of my reaction to having no fresh air, but in truth, while the balcony would have been nice, it would not have been worth the extra $500. We were a few rooms forward of the aft elevators on the main deck, with a good view of the Pacific. By the way, the sound and vibration of the azipod (one was still unworkable on our sailing) were unnoticeable in our room. Our room steward did what was needed. We dined in the main dining room every night, entering a few minutes after the 8PM start time, seldom waiting more than a minute to be seated. We also ate here for a few lunches and breakfasts. We had an excellent table alongside a window. Service here was extraordinary! The staff was knowledgeable and helpful with everything. The food was equally impressive. Let me make clear that we are food snobs; I was expecting quality and taste on par with maybe one of the chain restaurants one finds outside the mall, a step above say a Marie Callendar's, but below that of a real restaurant. We were thrilled to discover that overall the dishes were diverse, pleasantly presented and pleasing to the palette. Highlights included a salmon and shrimp cake, lobster bisque, escargots, salmon tartare, broiled halibut in a beurre blanc, a perfectly cooked sirloin (available nightly), and several tasty vegetarian dishes. The Caesar salad is worth ordering as are other salads. Special requests were always granted (pairing a main course say, with the side dishes of a different entrEe) and the few dishes that we did not enjoy were immediately replaced by something else. The desserts were overall less appealing, with the exception of the to-die-for apple strudel (NOT the no sugar version). Everyone raves about the bread pudding; I found it to be too eggy. We went with the lovely cheese plates most nights. The vibration of the azipod was highly noticeable and annoying in the rear of the dining room, especially downstairs, although where we were nearer the middle, it was a minor issue. We ate in the Lido dining room for most our breakfasts and lunches. While not on par with the main dining room, it also impressed us. The dEcor was very attractive, with comfortable tables and chairs. The service staff were everywhere with extra linen napkins, beverages, clearing trays and plates, and the offer to carry trays to the table. While busy, the Lido had short lines and wait times for food, and special requests were granted as asked for. Compared to the QM2, we have to make the comparison to the vaunted Cunard brand (sorry, it's not really the Cunard line anymore), the buffet style dining experience and the quality of food in both areas were far superior on the Oosterdam. Holland America served us good food while the QM2 created fancier and more complex dishes that quite frankly rarely tasted good. Oh. And lastly, the ice-cream bar that everyone raves about: come on, it's just ice-cream, and not even of the highest quality. The public rooms on the ship were more than adequate. The atrium is a fine performance space. The many other small spaces and bars are wonderful for reading, staring at the sea, or listening to string quartets and other musicians. The Windstar Cafe takes care of the latte fix, or for free one can order the same in the main dining room. The library is a cozy space with sufficient books and was rarely used. I wish they stocked more magazines and newspapers. My sense is that during the daytime, Holland America prefers that people spend money in the shops, on art, playing bingo, or in the casino, as many of the public spaces are devoted to these pursuits. Many, if not most of the passengers seem to be either in these spaces or eating. We, preferring more quiet and intimate settings, found plenty of these on the promenade deck or in a few seldom used rooms. The pools, both covered (when cool) and aft (windblown) and the four Jacuzzis were fine. Afternoon tea was pleasant and the Indonesian tea is worth attending. I'll say little about the ports, as we did no Holland America excursions and if we were going to explore Mexico we would do it ourselves over the course of a week or more. If going into Puerto Vallarta, skip a $12 cab ride. Walk out of the terminal, head south, change $5 into pesos at the super market (I bought a pack of gum) and take any bus heading towards "el Centro" for 5 pesos or .50 cents each. Do the same on your return. Lastly, for our daughter, the Hal Club was the true low point. There were about 30 kids on our cruise, with only six in our daughter's age group of 3-7 years old. We were provided with a schedule of the week's activities; sometimes this schedule wasn't followed and at times the replacement activities and even the regularly scheduled ones were inappropriate. Case in point, for a group of five kids ages 4 and 5, they gave them an hour in the video arcade, where all the games but one involved shooting at things. Another time they were given an hour on PS2 consoles. Two movies shown (one in place of a scheduled craft activity and games) were Hook and Nanny Mcphee; not my first choices for kids of that age (what's wrong with a G-Rated film?), but more importantly why show the kids a film during the day at all? The woman staffing the Hal Club were gentle and kind and some of the activities were engaging, the pirate night was great fun, but overall the experience felt like average baby sitting rather than worthwhile activities. And now the few other items needing improvement: There was mold on our shower curtain lining, scuff marks and pen on parts of our walls, and a noticeable and periodic smell of rotten eggs (sewage?) in a few of the hallways. The beer and wines by the glass selections were poor. The lamb, in all lamb dishes, was a bit gamy, and I love lamb. The music in the pool areas was awful, noisy covers (I guess Holland America doesn't want to pay the royalties for real music); always on and always loud. Low quality lotions and soaps in the staterooms. I wish passengers dressed better at dinner. Even during the two formal nights there were a noticeable number of men not even in suits and the other five nights were casual. I like seeing everyone dressed up and dolled up at dinner time on a ship; it's so 1920's! Again, the service, from top to bottom was consistently top notch. Our daughter was fawned upon by the crew. Unprompted, they made her an origami frog, brought her a Caesar salad every night after she discovered she liked it, and always served her a glass of milk with dessert. Wherever we went on the ship staff would ask her her name and then everyday after would say hello to her by name! We like to start dinner with a beer, so a chilled beer and beer steins were always waiting for us; my wife mentioned really liking a type of cracker served with the cheese plate, and for the next five nights the same crackers were on our table before we were seated. Disembarkation was a breeze. Overall, the voyage was well worth the investment in money and time, both of which are actually limited in one's lifetime. We came back totally rested and well fed, with happily only a few pounds gained, thanks to daily three mile runs around the promenade deck. Compared to the QM2? On the one hand, the much higher cost is hard to justify. On the other hand, a transatlantic crossing has its own magic—a sense of timelessness. The QM2 is more elegant and there was something special about the elegant and classy nature of the passengers, with three formal nights of mainly tuxedos and gowns and only one casual night. If money were not really an issue, we would try the QM2 again; otherwise, we would be happy with the Oosterdam. Read Less
Sail Date March 2007
My family and I sailed on the March 3rd sailing from San Diego to the Mexican Riviera. For my wife and I this was our 8th cruise on Holland America. For our two sons this was their 6th cruise on Holland America. Given the time of year, ... Read More
My family and I sailed on the March 3rd sailing from San Diego to the Mexican Riviera. For my wife and I this was our 8th cruise on Holland America. For our two sons this was their 6th cruise on Holland America. Given the time of year, we decided to fly out to San Diego a day earlier, just in case old man winter tried to ruin our vacation plans. We also purchased comprehensive travel insurance for the first time for the same reason. We left Newark Liberty Airport on time, which was a surprise, since the Northeast got hit with a tough storm that day. We even arrived in San Diego an hour earlier. Because there was four of us with luggage instead of just grabbing taxis, we took one of the convenient shuttles to our hotel. We decided to stay at the Marriott GasLamp district. The hotel is very nice and is right next to Petco park. Our room on the 18th floor overlooked the stadium. If the Padres were playing, you could see the entire game from our room without having to buy a ticket. Because of the late time of arrival at the hotel; we checked in and decided to eat in the restaurant adjoining the hotel. We made arrangements with the concierge to have a van take us to the ship. Normally, we like to bring a few fine bottles of wine to open at dinner on selected nights. Because of the new TSA regulations on liquids we decided against chancing it(packing them in our suitcase and hoping everything would not be purple when we unpacked). We found a great liquor store close to the hotel, the Wine Bank, and we purchased some great wine and spirits. Please note that HAL has gotten very strict on bringing beverages aboard. The wine and champagne are fine but any hard liquor is a no-no. So the great bottle on single malt scotch was impounded until the last day of the cruise. We arrived at the Pier at approximately 1:15PM, embarkation was a breeze with the dedicated line for Penthouse and Deluxe Suites, this is one of the Holland American perks for a SA suite. We were aboard and in the Neptune lounge within 15 minutes. At first, we were surprised by how many of the cruise wanted to give you a fast splash of Purell, but given what has happened with Norvo it makes a lot of sense. Our Deluxe Suite 7052 was similar to the other suites we have had on the other vista class ships. Plenty of room and nice amenities. My one issue on the design of the suite is about the bathroom. While there is a full size jacuzzi tub with shower and a separate shower, the size of the alone shower is too small for a person over 6ft., it is a waste of valuable space. Everything is the suite was top notched from the bed linens to the SPA supplies. Our cabin steward, Rudi was terrific; all week his service was great. Any thing we needed, Rudi saw that we had it in short order. The cruise staff is one of the main reasons I continue to sail with Holland America. We pulled out of San Diego after 5:30pm, there was some late luggage and passengers because of the bad weather back east. As we set sail from the bay, a full moon came over the San Diego skyline for some unbelievable pictures. We ate in the Vista dining room for five nights. Our dining stewards, Rufki and Ali were terrific. Besides the great service, they remember each of our favorites and saw that if they were on the menu we would have them. The other two nights we ate in the Pinnacle Grill. The first time in the Pinnacle we enjoyed a very good dinner, while I know people debate whether it is worth the surcharge, I believe it is. The second time we ate in the Pinnacle was the Winemakers special dinner. The Winemaker was Holly Turner of Three Rivers in Washington state. There were 16 of us at the dinner and probably the same number of wait staff. Being into wines, this was a great experience talking to her about her wines and the industry in general. It was one of the highlights of our cruise. Highly recommend it to anyone, if it available on your next cruise. Also, the food seemed to be even better that the first night we at in the Pinnacle. Our first stop was Cabo, we wanted to just relax so we did not prebook any excursions. We dropped anchor next to the famous rock formations that tell you it's Cabo. Ashore we decided to just stroll and figure out what we wanted to do. After walking around for a while we headed over to Cabo Wabo to have some refreshments. In the Catina, there was a live band so we decided to spend some time listening, relaxing and having beverages. Cabo seems to be a port that is trying to change itself to become more attractive to cruise ship travelers. Our next stop was Mazatlan, we went on the Pacifico brewery tour and town. It was a lot of fun traveling around on the open air bus seeing the sights and having cerveza. We found some of the best prices for silver jewelry here. Last stop was PV, we took the Tequila and town tour. It was very interesting seeing a small town outside of PV and how they live. We toured Dona Engracia Hacienda and Tequila Factory. The tequila was excellent and better than Patron or other high end tequilas we have had back in the States. The two days at sea were very relaxing except the last day on board the weather got cloudy and a bit cool to work on that winter tan to make everyone back east jealous. In summary, I would take this trip again and am planning my next cruise on Holland America. Read Less
Sail Date March 2007
OOSTERDAM-Mexican Riviera-Roundtrip San Diego St. Patrick's Day-17 March to 24 March 2007-7 Days by Patrick & Harriette Regan We thought that this cruise to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan & Puerto Vallarta would be a nice change ... Read More
OOSTERDAM-Mexican Riviera-Roundtrip San Diego St. Patrick's Day-17 March to 24 March 2007-7 Days by Patrick & Harriette Regan We thought that this cruise to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan & Puerto Vallarta would be a nice change from the rainy winter of Vancouver, BC. VALUE The Internet is full of cruise deals lately just a few weeks from sailing dates, and we grabbed this cruise with a category SY suite guarantee. This was the first time we have ever taken the guarantee route. We're glad we did. We got a next category upgrade, 'SS,' which is a superior veranda suite; this gave us a cabin with more square footage. However, this suite does not come with the special privileges of a deluxe suite, which has access to a private lounge/breakfast room, free laundry service, priority tendering and embarkation, etc. If you're retired or have a flexible work schedule, we recommend checking the Internet cruise sale sites on a regular basis and subscribing to their e-mailings of last minute bargains. There are many choices and discounts now, especially in the Caribbean. SAN DIEGO We flew to San Diego on Alaska Airlines. We had one 30 minute stop in San Francisco, where we just stayed on the plane. There were no non-stops from Vancouver to San Diego that we could find this time of the year. San Diego is beautiful. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt on a good Priceline rate. The Grand Hyatt is a twin towered, 1600 room, marble lobbied Hotel with excellent service and good food, located 5 minutes from the cruise terminal and 10 minutes from the airport. We had a room on the 22nd floor with a harbor view and electric drapes. We skipped renting a car and cabbed around downtown and the Gaslamp District near the hotel. We had a tasty Italian meal in the trendy Gaslamp District at a restaurant called Boca, and we bought a couple of bottles of wine for the cruise and cabbed back to our hotel. There was no problem bringing wine aboard but you can't bring hard liquor. EMBARKATION was a pleasure. We had completed our immigration forms on the Internet, and with our passports in hand and a quick credit card swipe, we were quickly processed and given our cruise cards. We strolled toward the ship passing long lines of passengers still filling out forms and fumbling with their proof of citizenship. WELCOME ABOARD PHOTO We were photographed during the boarding process in front of a backdrop of 3 tired looking Mexican blankets. We don't understand why they don't take the pictures in a better spot. When the pictures were displayed that evening they had photo-shopped in the cruise date and ship information but there was no real sense of a cruise ship in this photo. The price of $20.95 for the picture with the 3-blanket background made it easy for us not to buy it. HAND SANITIZER It's a hand sanitizer world now. Finally. We first saw it on a ship in 2002. We have been carrying a small bottle of it at all times, not just on cruises. It's everywhere on this ship, offered during the boarding process, at the dining rooms and buffets, etc. We've sailed on a ship with a code red, Noro virus protocol and it's not very cruisey. Most of these viruses are spread by shaking hands or by touching railings, elevator buttons, door knobs and handles, etc. We have sailed on a ship where the Captain did not shake hands with anyone. We feel that no Captain, Hotel Director, Cruise staffer, waiter, steward or any crew should offer to shake hands with any passenger, as a health precaution. We saluted the amused Captain of the Oosterdam at a reception. CABIN/BATHROOM We like this spacious, Vista class ship cabin of 398 square feet including the balcony. There are double sinks in the bathroom, with a mirrored and canted medicine cabinet at each end of the counter -- it allows you to see front, back and sideways. There were soothing jacuzzi jets in the tub, and a separate stall shower. There are good mattresses, nice robes and a great cabin layout. There is a vanity table with excellent lighting and a separate writing and working desk with an electrical outlet. There are 2 phones and, on each side of the bed, lighting controls to regulate the ambiance in the cabin, which includes small nightlights you can use to get around a dark cabin. There is an additional window, and I'm writing this sitting at the writing desk looking at the scenery go by through this extra window. There are drawers everywhere in this cabin, along with 2 closets and plenty of shelves and 2 very helpful, well placed hooks. This cabin outshines those of Celebrity M class and Royal Caribbean Radiance class. The balcony is extra large also, with 4 comfortable wicker-like chairs. Good width and depth. We've had balconies on other cruise lines that had only enough depth to sit straight up in a chair without being able to fully extend one's legs. The balcony's see-through barrier under the well maintained varnished railing is sparkling clean. This is also a totally private balcony. Our cabin attendant is Sutoyo, and he is thorough and unobtrusive, quickly adapting to our dining and recreation schedules. There's always something to deal with, though. The cabin heat and AC work very well. Too well. There is no 'on/ off' switch for the very loud ceiling fan that propels the system in the cabin. You can't change the fan speed or turn the fan off. It's not that noticeable during the day, but when the ship quiets down the "white noise" is intolerable. When I called the front desk about this they quickly sent us earplugs, so this is not the first time they have heard about the never-ending fan. Ramona, the Guest Relations Supervisor, came to our rescue. She coordinated a meeting with us and Jerry, the Air Conditioning tech, in our cabin. After everyone understood the problem, she listened to the fan with us while Jerry went to isolate our cabin in the centralized AC/Heating system and lower our fan in the control room. Problem solved. Thank you, Ramona and Jerry. DAILY PROGRAM is the ship's newspaper, with a well organized schedule of the day's activities, dining etc. Under the continuing heading of 'there's always something,' the paper told us under the boldfaced heading "IMPORTANT TIME CHANGE" that during the night of Saturday/Sunday the ship's clocks will be set FORWARD one hour... 'Please adjust your watches and clocks before retiring Saturday night', our first night on the ship. It was wrong info and shouldn't have been in the paper. We adjusted our timepieces and prepared to go to the dining room for breakfast. We saw the clock display on the ship's TV channel and called the front desk and found we were one hour early. The desk told us it was the same paper from last week and last week they did the time change and decided not to this week but the paper was already printed. We wish they had posted notices in the elevators and announced/posted the mistake on the ship's TV channel and not just in the Vista Lounge during the welcome aboard show. The Daily Program has a conveniently perforated edge, which detaches the lower half of it. This portion includes the daily event and show schedule on one side and a separate listing of the food/bar service hours and locations of all of the food venues on the reverse. There is an additional entertainment and services listing with hours and locations. It all folds easily into one's pocket. The ads are on a separate pull out sheet. This is the best organized ship's paper we have seen. TV & DVD PLAYER This is the first cruise we have been on that our cabin had a DVD player. There is also a DVD catalog at the Hotel Desk where you can check out some DVD's. The TV is a good sized flatscreen that can be easily turned on a pedestal. We always bring DVD's for the airplane ride to watch on our laptops, and it's a pleasure to be able to watch on a cabin TV instead of a laptop with headphones. One minor cavil: the spiffy LG flatscreen has the jack blocked where you would connect a home video camera, so you can't plug in your vidcam even though this is a nice modern TV. We want better satellite programming too from North American stations when we are cruising in North America. There were also some recent movies and some film classics shown on one of the ship's TV channels. PERSONAL CELL PHONES The ships are now charging you to use your cell phone at sea. They have installed repeaters/signal boosters that they are selling as an attractive feature, but that surcharge your personal cell at a high rate. They don't do this when the ship is in a port, though. HAL was upfront and there was info about this in the cruise documents. Thank you, HAL. We cruised on the Celebrity Summit on an Alaska cruise in May '06 and found ourselves surcharged to a bill of nearly $600.00, because we were not informed by Celebrity that this charge was being added. The charge was $3.00 per minute. We ended up getting a small credit from our service provider and from Celebrity customer relations, but this didn't even begin to cover the big bill. We used to use our cells whenever we could get a signal, but that's changed now. EDUCATIONAL INTERACTIVE DRINKING We didn't make this phrase up, it's a heading in the Daily Program newspaper about wine tasting seminars. We quote: "These are excellent opportunities to learn what the process is for developing and selecting a fine wine. These interactive experiences are also a fun way to meet and socialize." We never knew drinking was such a noble undertaking. Strolling an area of the main deck a few days later, we saw a notice guiding us to our 'Martini class graduation certificate.' LIDO BUFFET We were in the Lido asking a staff member where we could find the dessert that looked like lemon meringue pie, which we had seen pass by on a cruiser's tray (but it was not pie; it was custard), and who should come up to our conversation but Executive Chef Andreas Sommerfeld, himself! There will be carrot cake though, we learned -- a second favorite. The Lido is very clean. No residual smell of meals past, because the buffet serving lines are always being wiped down. There are trays and assistance for those who need it. Tables are bussed quickly and readied for the next passenger. The napkin and silverware setups are placed on the tables, ready when you arrive -- no holding up the buffet lines with passengers fumbling for silverware. There is a deli/wrap station, a pasta & pizza bar, ice cream station, taco bar, omelet station and a Wok station with sushi, fried rice, etc. -- just about anything you could ask for in a buffet setting. There is the Terrace Grill outside the buffet in the pool area with hamburgers, hot dogs and a taco bar. The Lido buffet is the best tasting buffet we've eaten from in a while, and the salad bar is always fresh. Dinner is also served in the buffet area for those who prefer to dine there. We notice there are passengers who never want to dress and venture into the main dining room, and they too are very happy with this buffet. There is free, high quality ice cream available too, not just free during regular meal times. Celebrity is charging for ice cream in the off meal hours now. VISTA DINING ROOM On 2 levels aft. Big windows. Feels very plush and cruisey. Reds, oranges and dark woods everywhere in the familiar Holland America style. Fresh one or two page menus are used depending on the time of day. We bring up the menus because we have been unhappy on some other cruises to be handed a menu placed in a dirty menu cover. The Oosterdam keeps it simple, and when they proffer a menu or menu cover it is clean. At the other end of the ship is the Vista Lounge, the ship's theatre. We understand that HAL would want its new ship class/brand 'Vista' (the Oosterdam is one of 4 new Vista class ships) to be reflected in the names of the ship's major venues, but we found this doubling up on the name 'Vista' didn't help us getting around the ship at first. Those corridors can be long when you have to double back, especially since that involves meandering through lounges and the casino. On noticing that the Vista Lounge has no vista, we just mentally called it the 'no Vista Lounge,' and went the other way. (By the way, it is also not a lounge; it is the theatre, and functions for various cruise staffed events.) We thank our dining room steward Tua and his assistant Dian. They quickly have become familiar with our preferences. We switched from the early seating, very desirable to most passengers, to the second seating, with the assistance of Second Maitre d' Fabian. We made this change because we will not be stuck with a time that's too early or too late for us. We like the new dinner time schedule that Holland America has instituted. First seating passengers may arrive at the dining room anytime between 5:30 and 6PM. Second seating diners may arrive anytime between 8PM and 9PM. The comfort of having the same wait team and table with flexibility time wise is great. The food is excellent. This dining room seems to even surpass Celebrity's, which has been the standard by which we compare other cruise lines in this price range. The food is really good in this room. We didn't have to resort to the default menu with the always available chicken breast or steak on this cruise. We saw Executive Chef Andreas Sommerfeld at various different times, checking on his food venues. Thank you, Chef! This dining room also serves free cappuccino with meals. The other cruise lines are charging for this now, even in the main dining room. LOBSTER NIGHT A nice succulent lobster tail has become an endangered species on cruise ship dining room menus. On our Sept. '06 Radiance cruise, lobster was available only one night, as part of a seafood brochette on the final formal night. On the Oosterdam also it was available only once, on the final formal night as part of a surf and turf entree, coupled with a small filet. The lobster tail was about 2 1/2 inches long. We ordered another to confirm this measurement and are sad to report that the dinky piece of lobster is all you get now. But, they very graciously brought us more! PINNACLE GRILL Is the Oosterdam's alternative restaurant. Beautiful room. Passengers in Deluxe category suites may breakfast here with the same menu as the main dining room. For lunch and dinner, the cafe is open to all passengers for a service charge of $15.00 at lunch and $30.00 for dinner. We never see many passengers using the place at lunch and not that many more at dinner. We tried it for lunch and had a lovely soup, salad and appetizers. We foolishly chose the 'gourmet hamburger' as our entree and were disappointed. One slice of a tired tomato and wilted lettuce were part of this, so called gourmet, entree. We couldn't discern much difference from the free burgers grilled by the pool other than size. We had swell desserts and cappuccinos to make up for it. The Pinnacle menu also promised us shoestring fries but they were the heftier kind. We were served a burger in the main dining room at lunch a couple of days later, and we had a better burger with real, crispy shoestring fries. We've eaten at alternative ship's restaurants before and have had much more food and better service. That's what the extra charge is about. We arrived at the restaurant at 12:40 (the Pinnacle opened at noon on this day). We requested a change of tablecloth because our high quality linen tablecloth was visibly and colorfully dirty in four places. The staff instead suggested a change of table. We didn't want to move from our nice window table and asked again to change the filthy tablecloth and they did so grudgingly. There was only one table occupied other than ours in this very empty restaurant, and we waited awhile before someone took our order. The wine steward became our intermediary going to get a waiter for us on 3 occasions. There was very poor service, which indicates very poor management in this venue. We suspect the waiters are demoralized by the lack of attendance and tips at the restaurant and were also unhappy we came in 20 minutes from closing on the day we were docked in Mazatlan. We have mixed feeling about these alternative 'fee' restaurants. We like to try them, but for the extra $$$$ the food has to be measurably better than that available in the main dining room, or it is not worth it. We'll stick with the main dining room here on the Oosterdam. We have trouble believing that Chef Andreas Sommerfeld had anything to do with our meal at the Pinnacle. The Lido buffet is much better for lunch than this place. ROOM SERVICE Good menu, a variety of food and drink. Very cruisey feeling to breakfast on our balcony. Hot items properly hot and cold items cold. I don't think we've ever before had room service deliver an English muffin still hot from the toaster. Don't forget to tip these servers who bring food to your cabin. ADDITIONAL TIPPING We get a package of 100 one dollar US bills and feel free to tip at will. There is always something left from the package of one dollar bills. We do not spoil it for other travelers, by over tipping. We tip porters, room service, bar servers & soda servers, jitney drivers, etc. We are retired, but we can't in good conscience ignore the hard working staff who don't fall in to the dining steward or cabin attendant, ten dollar per passenger, per day, tip pool or bar waiter 15% on call drinks. We watched an expensively dressed couple get off a jitney in Mazatlan laden with packages and goodies. The jitney driver helped them off with their packages and they ignored his tip bucket. They merely waved goodbye to him. A buck or two says thank you in any language for a service. CASINO Tighter than previous cruises. Even the small coin denomination slots are "they get nothing" tight. I guess they figure they have a captive audience who's leaving soon so they get all they can. Speaking of shipboard casinos, why can't we get a sports bet down during the NCAA March madness? TIRED CREW We understand that work has to be done seven days a week. We would be glad to have one cruise day a week where the dining room was closed. It would mean eating at the buffet instead, and the cruise line could also have a barbecue or additional theme buffet in the pool area. We know that wait staff need to work these events, but hopefully schedules could be juggled so that they could have at least one day a month off. We would have no trouble with the automatic tipping for that off day either. We wouldn't mind one day without our cabin steward too. We would be glad to make our bed that day. These hard working troops are visibly tired and continue to soldier on behalf of the passengers. One day off a month could be done. SODA AND WINE CARDS This is the first time we have seen a bar/fountain soda card with a drink limit. The price was reasonable, $19.00 US, which was less than half of what we paid on Royal Caribbean in Sept. '06. The HAL card limits you to 20 soda drinks from the bar soda machine. No cans. In reality they use cans some of the time and give you a smaller drink than on the other cruise lines by giving you part of a can in a shorter glass. We're happy with the fountain soda and prefer the tall soda glass used on many cruise lines. We've seen wine packages before on HAL but this is the first wine card. There is Merlot, white, blush and champagne offered with the card. The card was $36.00 US, making house wine $3.60 per glass. We were told by the steward who sold us the card that the tip is included in the package. We like to give the hard working servers a dollar or two with our order when we order drinks using the wine or soda card. If you buy a cocktail at the bar a 15% tip is built in; the tip is not as much with the wine and soda cards. We spoke to knowledgeable staffers who say the card system is unfair, because the card seller gets the lion's share of the wine or soda card tip at the time most cards are purchased, during the boarding process. If a cocktail server is on a different shift or manning another venue, they miss out on the tips to be made selling the cards. It's hard on their morale and removes their incentive to sell more drinks in the case of the wine card. We tipped our dining room wine steward a dollar per drink whenever we used the wine or soda card. He seemed to be walking around wearing a sandwich board that said "I really am too good for this." Use of the wine card reduces their ability to sell wine upgrades, lessening the wine steward's income. HAL is going to have to speak with their wine stewards about this. I understand HAL counting the wine carefully, but not the fountain soda. I don't want to carry a soda punch card. I just want a sticker on my room card. We find ourselves two days before the end of the cruise, rushing to get our cards fully punched. LIBRARY Nice cozy room. Decent variety. Librarian keeps regular hours. Here's the bad part: When you check out a book, a $30.00 charge goes on your bill. When you return a book the charge is to be reversed. We're about to look for a receipt for a book that was returned but the bill shows no credit for it. They debit you in the computer when you check out books, but give you a hand written receipt upon return of the books that takes a couple of days to get posted to your hotel bill. You have to check your hotel bill to make sure these charges get reversed. I recognize that some people can't help stealing books, but thirty dollars is a bit stiff for books that are mostly used and dirty and didn't cost thirty when they were new. Some of the books are extremely stained with food and drink, have multiple dogeared pages, etc. GYM All the way forward. Great views. Clean and well maintained equipment. The music played sometimes in the Gym was of low volume so that when you turned on your IPod you weren't bothered by the music of the gym. Some ships leave the sound in the Gym to the level of a nightclub. ANNOUNCEMENTS Not many, we're happy to report. We were bombarded on our last RCCL cruise. The Captain's daily report came into the cabin. No other cabin announcements were heard other than the obligatory lifeboat drill. The rest of the announcements were heard only in the public areas, or broadcast on Channel 40. Capt. Jonathan Mercer has excellent microphone technique, making it a pleasure to listen to his informative daily report. CRUISE DIRECTOR/ENTERTAINMENT Daniel McLellan is the Cruise Director. The announcements are kept at a minimum, and there are a lot of cruise staffed happenings every day. We are retired from the entertainment business but we don't attend many shows on board because as 2nd seating diners we have to go to the late show in order to see it. We would attend more shows if the Oosterdam had scheduled some early shows for the late diners, instead of us having to always stay up for a 10:30 PM show. Our last Celebrity Cruise had 6:30 PM shows for the late diners. We spoke to some of the performers on that cruise and they like to do early shows too. Our wish for an early show was granted the last full day of the cruise with a 6:45 PM show instead of a 10:30 PM. The one comedian we saw was Janine Gardner, and she put on a great show that "killed" as they say in the comedy game. We enjoyed her immensely. She did only one show, at 10:30 PM, with her act billed as an adult show, and she was worth staying up for. We skipped the other Vista Lounge acts and preferred listening to the various smaller venues, such as the piano playing in the Crow's nest, Bob Style in the piano bar and the C-Sharp Quartet who play for dancing in the Ocean Bar. The Show band also plays for dancing in the Crow's nest, but when there is a show to do they are replaced some of the time by a solo piano player. Dancers need more than just a piano. HOTEL MANAGER AND STAFF I saw the hotel manager, James Deering, here, there and everywhere around the ship; talking to cabin stewards, chefs, passengers etc. So many hotel managers hide out from the public. Mr. Deering was front and center. The ship is well managed and sparkling clean, not just vacuumed and dusted. Ramona, the Guest Relations Supervisor, and the front desk staff were truly customer service oriented, and the Cabin Concierge Mica Castillo was very helpful. We appreciate their can-do, at-your-service attitude. We liked seeing that the cruise 'big-wigs' worked in offices accessible to the passengers, and kept the doors open. SERVICE We can't ever remember having this level of service in this cruise price range. There are 1906 passengers on this voyage, and we are all well served in all areas. VISTA LOUNGE Nice room, good sightlines, located on decks 2 and 3. The sound was always perfectly done during the shows. Not too loud or too soft. Topnotch work by the technical crew. So many ships don't pay much attention to showroom sound. CROW'S NEST Deck 10 all the way forward. Breathtaking views. There is a row of lazy boy type reclining chairs right in front of the windows. That's the good news. The bad news was that all but one of them is broken. When you sit down the chair back falls back into a reclining position without a lever being pulled. PUBLIC AREAS Flowers and art works are everywhere. Lots of highspeed elevators. There is background music piped in. It's hard to find a lounge or bar that isn't engulfed in music. We love some of this music and welcome it at the right times, but when a bar or lounge isn't open and there are soft inviting sofas and chairs to sit in next to the big windows, we would prefer no music during the daylight hours in these venues. It's nice to have other quiet places during the day than just one's cabin. CABO SAN LUCAS We anchored offshore with a view of the rock formations at land's end. We tendered into town and walked the short distance around the marina to the hotels. An open taxi took us within a very short walk of a restaurant called 'The Crazy Lobster' (La Langosta Loca in Spanish), where we have had memorable meals on cruise stops. We first mentioned the place in our review of our Crystal Harmony cruise in 2002. The place is still memorable -- funky and inexpensive, with delicious food served in a very clean, pleasant open-sided structure with clean restrooms. We had huevos ala Mexicana (eggs scrambled with onions, tomatoes, and hot peppers), tortillas, guacamole as we like it (no dairy, the star of the show being a perfect avocado), and frijoles, with Pepsi's. It was under $12 US for the two of us. Lobster tail is $5 US per person. This restaurant is located on Calle Hildago at the Corner of Calle Zapata, a couple of blocks up from the main drag in front of the marina/hotel area, where the tenders land. The jewelry and trinkets shops are better priced here in this area, where the store rents are lower. On the way to 'The Crazy Lobster' we passed a jewelry store called 'Silverado's Queen,' which we stopped into after lunch. Harriette came away with a short strand of silver beads, and a necklace fashioned of braided and flattened strands of silver wire. This braid can be easily shaped by hand to conform to the wearer's neck. The blue of the water is intense around Cabo San Lucas; a narrow strip where the water meets the tall jagged rocks appears emerald green. MAZATLAN An open air jitney takes you from the ship's gangway, across an area next to the berth which is filled with cargo containers, with trucks and oversized forklifts bustling about very close to the area where the taxis and local tours await. We are very glad that we were given a safe ride across this hard hat area. There is also an Internet cafe and a shopping plaza. Grab a taxi, and spend the day in the upperscale Gold Zone where the better hotels are, or head downtown for a taste of shopping at non tourist prices. We chose downtown. PUERTO VALLARTA Gets bigger and bigger every trip we make there. Construction everywhere. There seem to be no pollution controls on any vehicle. We like to souvenir shop across the street at a big Wal-Mart/Sam's Club complex. They have put in a pedestrian friendly traffic light, but the whole area is fenced. The Carnival Pride is berthed across our bow, and we are in the farthest away berth. Instead of going out the pedestrian gate next to the bus stop and the traffic light/crosswalk, right in front of where we docked, the gate guard is under orders that everyone walk around to a main driveway deeper within the complex, where taxis and vans await, and where a shopping plaza affiliated with the port is located. Instead of the walk to Wal-Mart being about 200 meters each way it's about 1600 meters each way. Made us a bit grumpy. We could have understood if no guard had been manning the gate and if the gate hadn't been in front of the new pedestrian traffic signal and the city bus to town stop. HAL needs to provide jitneys if we are to walk this far to just get off the ship and out of the port area. We capitulated and took a cab to the front door of Wal-Mart after we reached the cab stand. The fare was 5.00 dollars US. There is a shopping trap similar to this in Cozumel, which prevents you from just getting off the ships there. Not very cruisey. SUMMING UP We enjoy the "cruising" part of cruising. The sound of the ocean and the ship. Sailing into ports at dawn and sailing out in the late afternoon. We love to sit on the balcony watching the water gliding past and looking for sea life. The service was excellent in all departments we came in contact with. The only cruise line we have ever sailed on with better food was Crystal. Celebrity has been the best for us food wise but we were amazed at the food taste right down to the salads and appetizers available here on the Oosterdam. The buffet has so much to offer, all of it first rate. We would like higher quality beef. The preparation is good but the meat is of a lesser quality. We would like Internet packages that are a bit more reasonable with maybe a discounted middle of the night rate. We want to be able to access our cruise account on the in room TV. We would like to have a jazz trio with a vocalist to listen to. This trio could also cover for dancing while the house band is doing the production show. There were some great theme buffets held in the pool area adjacent to the regular buffet during regular meal hours, which made them easy for us to attend, and the pull-out-all-the-stops 'Dessert Extravaganza' -- chocolate and crepes and pastry galore -- was held at the accessible hour of 10:30PM, not at midnight. We thank Oosterdam hotel management for this. We had a very enjoyable and pleasant cruise on the Oosterdam. We'll be watching the Internet for more cruise specials on HAL's Vista class ships. THE FUTURE Cruising continues to evolve. We prefer ships like the Oosterdam where cruisey feelings abound. We can't handle the mega ships with their nearly three thousand passengers, where every event is a herd rushing around like the crowd at a sporting event. We're looking forward to cruising out of Vancouver for our 2nd voyage on the Celebrity Mercury on May 4th, to Alaska. We'll see if Celebrity is keeping up with HAL in the food and service area. We are cruising to Antarctica on the Azamara Journey, sailing on 9 February 08. Patrick and Harriette Regan Read Less
Sail Date March 2007
My wife and I were interested in taking her mother with us on a cruise to Mexico during spring break. The criteria included a short plane trip, easy access from the airport, a highly rated ship, a smaller ship and reasonable rates on a ... Read More
My wife and I were interested in taking her mother with us on a cruise to Mexico during spring break. The criteria included a short plane trip, easy access from the airport, a highly rated ship, a smaller ship and reasonable rates on a suite. The Mexican Riviera cruise on the Oosterdam seemed to meet our needs. Actually, we had sailed to Alaska on the same ship in July of 2005. We flew into San Diego the morning of the cruise, were on the ship by noon and the stateroom was available at 1:00 p.m.. Unlike us, the Oosterdam showed no signs of aging during the past two years and the crew was extremely helpful and friendly. The suite was about 400 square feet and featured an entrance/bathroom (7x12) with three small closets, a double sink, a shower and a bathtub/shower combination. The living area (19x12) contained a queen or two twin beds, a sofa/bed, a desk and dressing table. The balcony (7x12) had two wicker chairs with footrests and a table with two chairs. The cabin seemed almost new with no visible signs of wear and the steward was outstanding. The evening meals were taken in the main dining room. The food was exceptionally well-prepared and the service was impeccable. The other meals were in the Lido buffet or room service with no drop in quality. The nightly entertainment included the initial show with a preview of the entertainers, two production shows by the 10 dancers and four singers, one show by John Davidson, and evenings with an illusionist and a comedian. The venue is two-tiered and features a large stage with a lift and multiple devices. On our previous cruise the ship's band accompanied the acts but the band is down to one horn and rhythm section or just a tape for this cruise. John Davidson, of television fame, is an accomplished singer and the other entertainers were strong. The three destinations (Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta) are not world-class, but certainly an enjoyable day can be had in each port. I was interested in getting an overview of each area for future vacation reference. Since my mother-in-law has trouble walking distances, we took a catamaran tour of Cabo, which proved to be a winner. The route goes from the harbor around the scenic arch to the pacific side where whales were abundant and backtracks along the east coast where the resorts are located along the beach. An overview of Mazatlan by bus stopped at the main square, drove through the town and settled at a shopping area where a folkloric show was given. The bus tour of Puerto Vallarta stopped at the main square to get a brief history and reloaded to drive to a restaurant for a drink. Afterwards, the bus continued south along the highway to view prominent water areas and resorts, a discussion of the Night of the Iguana film and a stop at a government store. As a destination Cabo has possibilities due to the small town atmosphere, new resorts, good beaches and water activities. Mazatlan didn't hold much interest but Puerto Vallarta is an established city with multiple restaurants and a Mediterranean atmosphere. After our experiences, don't take any ship tours that include a bus. There are three sea days on this cruise and, if inclined, one can choose from a myriad of informational classes and activities. The library and internet center are large and well-decorated. Wireless internet is available in all the public areas for a fee, ranging from 35-75 cents/minute depending on the plan. The speed is about half as fast as DSL. If you desire privacy, there are multiple lounges on the ship where you can be isolated. Departure times seem to be ill-defined, making it difficult to book and make a flight. We took the first available time at 8:30 a.m. and did get on a 10 a.m. flight but the airport was a zoo. Based on my limited research, this was the best cruise for the money and based on my Oosterdam experience, the research proved correct. While I usually don't have much brand loyalty in that I usually take the best combination of quality and price, I can see why so many of the people onboard are repeat Holland America cruisers. Read Less
Sail Date March 2007
We stayed overnight at the Best Western Bayside and found it quite nice. It was a twelve dollar taxi ride from the airport and we had a lovely view of the dock from our windows. We ate both lunch and dinner at a small Italian restaurant ... Read More
We stayed overnight at the Best Western Bayside and found it quite nice. It was a twelve dollar taxi ride from the airport and we had a lovely view of the dock from our windows. We ate both lunch and dinner at a small Italian restaurant directly across from the hotel and the food and service was exceptional, it was quite reasonable in price. The hotel had a shuttle service to the dock and embarkation was quick and hassle free. We did have all our paperwork done in advance. On board we acquainted ourselves with the ship and I made reservations for a manicure and facial, there was no line up. I would unequivocally recommend if you have a facial that you request the girl from Scotland. She is delightful and gave me the best relaxing facial that I have ever had. We had lunch in the Lido restaurant and our suite was ready in about two hours. We had a Superior Veranda Suite which was very nice, the cabin attendant kept the room and bathroom spotlessly clean. There was ample closet space, a flat screen TV, a very comfortable queen size bed with nice linens and bathrobes. The bathroom had a double sink, Jacuzzi and a separate shower stall. The balcony was roomy with table and chairs and two chairs for lounging with footstools. We used room service for breakfast only and the food arrived piping hot and on time. The kippers were fantastic though why they were served with potatoes and scrambled egg was a mystery to me. I requested balsamic vinegar and to slightly raised eyebrows it was delivered promptly. We would have killed for some HP Sauce when we had eggs and bacon but no luck there. Ah well. We ate in the dining room every night with the exception of one meal in the Pinnacle and our last meal on Friday which we ate in the Lido. I found the food in the dining room to be adequate but nothing I would call top notch. The two waiters we had for our particular table of six were outstanding, polite yet friendly. The entrees were varied but seemed to me to lack in imagination though they were by no means pedestrian; on the whole I was disappointed with the desserts. The cheese plate for example was dull and unappetizing with extremely meager portions and only a scanty portion of blue cheese, the remaining cheeses were tiny, unrecognizable, tasteless and extremely bland. We had wine every night with dinner and the wine steward to put it bluntly was arrogant and not overly helpful. The Pinnacle dining room was tastefully appointed and the service was very good. The food was haute cuisine. We both had crab cakes as appetizers which were very good and for an entrEe we had planked prawns with asparagus. The prawns were delicious; the asparagus was rather stringy; the bernaise sauce was good, though by no means as good as I can make it. The desert was a disaster, I ordered Crème brulee which came in a dish divided into three separate portions, Crème brulee it was not, rather three separate flavored Jello puddings would be my guess. My husband had ice cream which he said was OK. For a combined cost of sixty dollars and in my opinion a too overly large tip it did not by any stretch of the imagination live up to our expectations. We ate lunch every day in the Lido and really enjoyed it. The English fish and chips are wonderful and the bread pudding is to die for. The varied assortments of cheesecakes made me think that I had died and gone to cheesecake heaven. In summation all I can say is "hats off to the chefs in the Lido." We ate dinner in the Lido our last night and had skewered filet mignon steak, absolutely fantastic. We were served at our table on table linen and by a charming waiter. The vegetables accompanying the deliciously tender steak were hot and crisp, the potato wedges melted in your mouth. I had crème brulee for dessert and it was the best that I have every tasted. We had a glass of house wine and it too was quite good. Our one dinner in the Lido far surpassed any meal we had in the dining room and was way superior to the sixty dollar dinner we had in the Pinnacle. The entertainment was pretty good though the volume of the speakers was way too loud for comfort. The casino looked OK if you could stand the second hand cigarette smoke which hung like a thick cloud over everything and drifted into the adjoining hallways. We couldn't tolerate the heavy smoke and the ghastly odors and beat a hasty retreat. The popcorn in the movie theatre was frightful, absolutely horrible. The stores were abysmal; the adjective to describe most of the items for sale would be tacky. The jewelry for sale was to my mind over priced and I had some doubts regarding the authenticity of some of it. The store selling clothing had some quality items though I thought that they too were a tad overpriced. The Oosterdam was kept spotlessly clean with much evidence of continual sanitization being carried out. We were really impressed with the measures being taken to prevent any outbreak of the Norwalk virus. I can't honestly say I was overly impressed with the color scheme throughout the ship, to be scrupulously fair I must admit my tastes run to more subdued colors. I can't speak too highly of the personnel at the front desk, they were friendly and helpful and extremely courteous. We disembarked on Saturday with no problems; everything was orchestrated to be hassle free, which it was. Over all we enjoyed our cruise with Holland American and I definitely would recommend it. We plan to travel with them again. Read Less
Sail Date March 2007
3/17/07 Oosterdam Mexican Riviera Cruise We returned yesterday from a 'fun in the sun' 7 day relaxation vacation with our cruise buddies, Tom and Lisa, to celebrate their 30 year Renewal of Vows. As it turned out, we had the ... Read More
3/17/07 Oosterdam Mexican Riviera Cruise We returned yesterday from a 'fun in the sun' 7 day relaxation vacation with our cruise buddies, Tom and Lisa, to celebrate their 30 year Renewal of Vows. As it turned out, we had the most agreeable weather, the Ship was fabulous, and my only complaint is that the cruise just flew by much too quickly. The Oosterdam is designed primarily in royal hues. It is a Vista ship with a pax compliment of appx. 2,000, but rarely seemed crowded. The Ship is well maintained and the color scheme is very rich and warm, a trademark of HAL ships. We were fortunate and were able to book an SC aft suite, cabin 4180. The views from that aft cabin are so spectacular!! We awoke every morning to the spectacular panorama view of the ocean. Of course the beds are clad in 350 count Egyptian cotton sheets, with pillow top mattresses and piled with 8 soft pillows, it is truly a decadent experience. We flew down to San Diego and after a 2 attempt landing due to heavy fog, we were glad to step onboard the Oosterdam promptly at 11:30. We met Tom and Lisa as we waited to board as well as Tija and Pat from LV also. With priority boarding we were some of the first to step onboard and found our way to the Neptune and then the Lido for lunch until the rooms were ready. Unlike some of the other ships, the corridors are actually closed and manned prior to 1:30 making that quick peek in the room undoable. But precisely at 1:30 we were able to wander back to our aft corner suite on the Upper Promenade floor. We found the views while laying in bed to be some of the best we have had. We really enjoyed the room and didn't notice any excess vibrations being in the aft. Fact be know, we prefer the aft as well as lower floors, I like to be closer to the water. (Probably has something to do with being very nearsighted!) The balcony was the largest we have had ever and we enjoyed the extended views around the side. I did miss the shade at times, and would sit on the side decking reading out of the sun. (Tip: Upper Promenade decks on both sides of the ship are actually wider than those above them, so if you are considering a veranda cabin, you actually get a bit larger balcony than those above for a cheaper price. (VD vs. VA).) The bed in our cabin was in great condition as was the cabin. The large couch is covered in a nice leather (or was it pleather?) which was holding up nicely. There is a huge flat screen TV and loads of pillows to relax on. I counted 8 full size pillows on our bed. The linens are really nice as are the duvets the suites have, I slept soooooo well! Our outside furniture was nice but the hot sun has really worn it more than those with covered balconies, and it needs replacing. We attended the Oosterdam's infamous 3 pm wave and got an idea of some of the special energy this cruise would hold. We all waved, hooted and hollered, and made sure we all signed the lovely banner. 33 of our compadres attended including HM James Deering and Beverage Manager Hans Becker, both of whom seemed to take it all in great fun. We attended a festive sail away party on Lisa and Tom's large aft balcony. What a spectacular sailaway you experience from San Diego!! The sailaway celebration truly set the tone of letting the good times role for the entire week. Our first morning at sea was relatively calm but foggy till just about 1pm as predicted by Captain Jonathan Mercer. At 11:00 AM we attended a CC get together in the Oak Room. A nice spread of cookies and teas were provided as well as mimosas and Bloody Marys. A big thank you to Hans Becker, who took such good care of us. We were pleasantly surprised to have Mr. Deering stop bye and discussed the state of cruising, our love for HAL, and its' future. We spoke of the keel laying of the Eurodam which was to occur and the additional services to be offered on the ship as well as the drastic redesign of the Explorations Cafe and the viability of locating it next to the Crows Nest. I found Mr. Deering's candor and honesty to be totally refreshing. It was evident as our cruise continued how well respected he is onboard and how happy the crew on the Oosterdam seems to be. Captain Mercer and HM Deering are to be congratulated on the wonder job they and the crew are doing. We relaxed in the afternoon, falling into the wonderful rhythm of a sea day. I sat out on our balcony and devoured a portion of a new novel, one of my favorite sea day activities. The second night was formal and most of the pax that I observed were dressed appropriately. There were a fair number of kids onboard, all of which appeared to be very well behaved. There was a little guy (16 Mo.?) sitting next to our table with Mom and Dad and a beaming Grandma and Grandpa who kept us all entertained during the week with his " funny old man" faces, what a good baby he was during dinner! Our dining steward was Reno, he is a gem and HAL is lucky to have waiters of that caliber. The dining room was run very well, kudos to Dining Room Manager Sanjay Nariani, a very handsome gentleman we've cruised with before. Kudos also to Exec. Chef Andreas Sommerfield and Stephan Schuetz, many of the dishes we'd had previously on other HAL cruises, but they really knew how to bring out the best in the menu. We awoke the next morning to find that although the revised schedule said we were to be in port at 12:00, we actually were coming into Cabo at 9 am!! It was a beautiful day and tendering began at 9:15 am, a record since the pod problems. A fabulous day was had by all in Cabo, and most of us returned with a little more color in our cheeks that night. I elected to snorkel with a ship excursion called "Chilleno Bay snorkel". It was very toasty in Cabo (90F) and the catamaran ride was beautiful, we even got to see whales, which wasn't part of the excursion. The snorkeling unfortunately is not like that in the Caribbean, the water is colder and the fish lack the outrageous colors. During the entire trip there were beverages served, alcohol being served after the snorkeling. The catamaran was very clean and the crew very accommodating. We came back to another lovely dinner and we retired soon after sitting on our balcony and enjoy the balmy breezes. The exercise I got snorkeling made me sleep wonderfully. The next morning we awoke as we docked in Mazatlan. The last time I'd been there I'd not been particularly impressed, this time I enjoyed it immensely!!! Our day started by hiring a driver of a Pulmonia (a car somewhat like the VW thing that is manufactured there in Mazatlan). This is truly the authentic way to see the city. The fresh air A/C system is wonderful and the views are great. The town really grew on me this time. We managed to be in Mazatlan on the first day of spring and happened upon a parade/fundraising drive for the Mexican Red Cross. The kids in the parade were dressed in their finest for the celebration and parade. We found the old town to be charming. After seeing all of the usual sites and getting to tour the well preserved old part of town we met our group for a wonderful lunch of margaritas and shrimp before returning to the ship to prepare for the ROV ceremony. The ROV ceremony (Renewal of Vows) itself was wonderful and the dinner following was spectacular! It was wonderful to share such a happy occasion with new friends! Lisa looked just stunning and Tom seemed a wee bit nervous, they made a darling couple!! Dinner ended late and we all headed to our cabins after a full night of an unforgettable celebration. Just when we thought the cruise, couldn't get any better, we arrive in Puerto Vallarta. As I'd had many a Christmas in PV as a child in the 60's, we elected to go into old town and walk the Malecon which has been beautifully extended across the river. Again, we happened upon a parade of cars carrying many children dressed in their finest, and throwing candies, to celebrate spring. They were just darling and happy, and reminded me of our wonderfully hokey parades at home that the kids just adore! After some shopping we met the group for a lunch on the beach, very literally. We were able to sit and dine right there on the sand at La Palapa. Boy where those margaritas tasty!! Even more lovely was the opportunity to meet fellow HAL cruisers Ine and Ton from the Netherlands. It's such fun to finally put names with faces of folks you've talked with for years! I also managed to wander down that area of beach, as it looked very familiar to me. Sure enough I found that a portion of the hotel I stayed in during the 60's was still there 40 years later. It was fabulous day including a walk down memory lane of the small town I loved 40 years ago with it's cobbled streets, friendly occupants and beautiful Cathedral. That night we saw another of the fabulous sunsets we'd had all week. Our next two days were sea days and the first day Lisa and I bought a day pass for the hydrospa ($40). I got my money's worth by using the spa in the morning and afternoon. By dinner I was as relaxed as a wet noodle!! Dinner was another formal one, with surf and turf being ordered by most at our table. Dinner was once again fabulous and was topped off by the Baked Alaska parade. Never have been too wild about the dessert, but it's a cruising tradition I've grown to appreciate! On the final day we attended the Mariners awards which were held at 11:15am. This was the first time we'd attended a day time reception. Interestingly, approximately 50% of the pax had not cruised HAL before. I have to tell you I never overheard a complaint all week, which was really exceptional. But then again, there is nothing I can think of to complain about on the Oosterdam!! We had an exceptional and very relaxing cruise, albeit much too quick. DH and I look forward to many more cruises on the 'O' as she is a fabulous ship with an equally wonderful staff!! Read Less
Sail Date March 2007
Our 3rd cruise with HAL - 1st time on the Oosterdam 3/3 to 3/10. We are a husband and wife, 69 & 66 and have taken over 15 cruises on lines such as Royal Caribbean;Windstar;Crystal;Princess etc. We drove from the San Fernando Valley ... Read More
Our 3rd cruise with HAL - 1st time on the Oosterdam 3/3 to 3/10. We are a husband and wife, 69 & 66 and have taken over 15 cruises on lines such as Royal Caribbean;Windstar;Crystal;Princess etc. We drove from the San Fernando Valley to San Diego; dropped our luggage off at the Pier and parked across the street. Very easy with no stress. It took approx 20 minutes going through the lines to check in and receive our cabin key and info packet.We had "Pre-Registered" on line and that saved time. Our cabin, Veranda #7109 was quite spacious with 3 large closets, a bathroom with tub/shower. The Queen size bed was very comfortable and the linens were 1st Class. Flat screen TV with a DVD player; refrigerator and all amenities were very good. Cabin steward kept the room clean,ice bucket filled and well stocked through out the cruise. Our dining was in the Vista Dining Room, 2nd deck, in the far aft of the dining room. The "good" in this area is not much traffic walking around you -- the "bad" is we could really feel the vibration from the ships engines and that made some people very uncomfortable. With one of the Azipods still out of commission you may want to dine in the middle of the room. We only ate our dinners here and I have to say that the food was very well served, presented, and good. We were actually surprised how good the food and selection was. The waiters could not do enough for us. We ate breakfast and lunch at the Lido Restaurant, Deck 9. It is buffet style with quite a large variety of items to choose from each day. For Breakfast there were stations for making pancakes, french toast, omelets, eggs "your" way, bacon, ham, sausage, etc........every kind of dry/hot cereals, sweet rolls, toast, bagels and lox - well you get the idea. There was always someone to carry your tray and find you a table. Once again the staff are terrific, friendly and wanting to make your cruise experience on the Oosterdam the best so you will continue to choose HAL. For lunch you could go to the Grill on the Pool Deck for hamburgers, hot dogs, turkey burgers, french fries. Also a taco bar on Pool Deck. There was always many desserts including a variety of ice creams and puddings every day. Also many "theme" meals. We ate one evening in The Pinnacle Grill - which has a service charge of $30 per person and is supposed to be their gourmet restaurant specializing in "the best steaks ever". We were impressed with the staff, the dinning room experience and the "starter" items. We were extremely disappointed in the steaks (Filet Mignon). They were tough and stringy and we had to send them back. The second ones were not much better. The hostess and waiters were very embarrassed and apologetic. NOTE: The Filets we had the last evening in the Vista Dining Room were better!! HAL has adopted a "arrive at your leisure" dining. Early seating between 5:30PM and 6PM - and - late seating between 8PM and 9PM. We do not think this works out very well. At early seating if one or two couples arrive at 5:30PM they either have to wait until the other people show up - or - if the 5:30PM guests are served first then it is disturbing when the others show up a 6PM. This should be rethought. The entertainment in the Vista Lounge was just OK. The entertainers worked very hard to please and the energy level was quite high at all times. The costumes were well done. The sound system seemed to be off most evenings and the loudness of the sound (pre recorded music) drowned out the voices of the singers. The show room is very beautiful but one has to arrive early for a performance and choose a seat where the view of the show is not obstructed by the many huge posts. The Interned Center is well spaced out with a lot of computers. The cost to use the internet, I think,a little high. There is a one time activation fee of $3.95. There are 3 "Time Packages". (1)250 minutes for $100 (2) 100 minutes for $55 -or-(3)Pay as you go rate of .75 a minute. In cabin Dial-Up is a pay as you go rate of .50 per minute. The last day they have a "Special Rate" of $12 or 30 minutes with a $3.95 activation fee. If you bring your laptop the costs are the same and there are designated places on the ship that it will work. We have been to all three ports many times and just relax most of the time. There were plenty of tours to take at each port and the charges were reasonable. In Cabo San Lucas we took the Discovery Whale Watching boat trip; in Mazatlan we just walked around; and in Puerto Vallarta we took the complimentary shuttle to the Diamond Inter'l store in town. Puerto Vallarta is our favorite town with lots to do, see, and good restaurants. Bottom line - this is a cruise line that really wants to make you happy and have you return to take other HAL cruises. We were very impressed with the Oosterdam, its crew, staff, accommodations,food, activities etc. NOTE: the ship is very clean and everywhere you turn there is another station for washing your hands - on and off the ship. Very well maintained. Read Less
Sail Date March 2007
This was our first cruise on HAL and the family really enjoyed it. I was hesitant about HAL because I was concerned that there wouldn't be any families with kids on board, but there were people of all ages and plenty of kids. We were ... Read More
This was our first cruise on HAL and the family really enjoyed it. I was hesitant about HAL because I was concerned that there wouldn't be any families with kids on board, but there were people of all ages and plenty of kids. We were on the 3/24 sailing and the weather in Mexico was great --in the 80's and sunny. We live in Arizona, so we drove to San Diego and parked at the garage across from the pier. Embarkation was very fast -- there were no lines to check-in and we got right on the ship. Our luggage arrived at the stateroom quickly. We were in cabin 4180, an aft suite. The cabin was very nice with a big bathroom/dressing area and comfy king size bed. There was more storage space than we could fill -- we probably only used half of it! The wrap-around balcony for this suite is very large, however, the balcony furniture is worn and needs to be replaced. The cabin steward was attentive and brought fresh fruit every day. The kids gobbled up all the grapes and the steward kept bringing bigger bunches each day...yummy! The suite is a triple, so we also had an interior cabin, 4171, for two of the kids. The interior cabin was small but it was fine since the family spent most of the time in the suite. The bedding was comfortable in the interior cabin - I really didn't notice a big difference between the "upgraded" bedding in the suite compared to the interior cabin. The suite did have better toiletries than the interior cabin, but the main difference between the two was the space (of course!). The only complaint with the suite was the vibration from the broken motor. The vibration was very noticeable in the suite as well as the aft portion of the upper dining room where we were seated. It was like sleeping on one of those vibrating beds - constant shaking. The interior cabin was on the other side of the ship and there was no noticeable vibration there. We ate breakfast in the Pinnacle Grill each morning which is a perk that comes with the suite. The breakfast menu was the same as the dining room but we really enjoyed the attentive service there. Another great perk was the Neptune Lounge which has a cappuccino machine and tasty snacks. We ate lunch and dinner in the main dining room. Our waiter, Hari, was awesome. He did magic tricks for the kids each night and provided excellent service. The food was very good -- we liked it all, appetizers, soups, salads, entrees. The selection of entrees was good - fish/seafood, beef, pasta and other options like pork, lamb or duck each night. The only entree that I did not like was the sirloin steak on the first night. There was a kids menu available at dinner which was the same each night. The food in the Lido was actually pretty good. The kids liked the ice cream and the pizza. The "chocolate extravaganza" was disappointing...there were many chocolate fountains but there weren't enough interesting things to dip -- just sticks with fruit like melon and pineapple but no strawberries to be found! Chocolate covered grapes - yick! We really enjoyed the comedian, Derrick Cameron. He had two shows, one of which was an adults-only show at 10:30 -- both shows were excellent. The other entertainment was good. I'm not a big fan of musical production shows - we did go to the show "Escape" and found it better than most shows of this type. The comedy-magic show was just "okay". The cruise director, Dan, said that usually they have more of a traditional Vegas-type magic show - we would have enjoyed that more. We did not take any shore excursions. We just went to the beach in Cabo where we rented a wave runner (the beach vendors there are overwhelmingly annoying). We went to the El Cid resort in Mazatlan which was nothing special but the kids had fun swimming in the pool. In PV, we went to the waterpark in Nuevo Vallarta and had a great day there. The cab ride was $20 each way and the admission to the park was $17 for adults and $14 for kids. The water slides and lazy river were great. They also had a bird show, seal show and dolphin show. My son did the swim with the dolphins program ($99 including park admission). My 7 year old daughter really enjoyed Club Hal. They had many fun activities - art projects, games, outdoor games like water balloons and such. She loved it all. The 11 and 13 year old boys had no interest in Club Hal or the teen activities, so they did not participate. They enjoyed the movies, the pool and the sports court. Disembarkation was a breeze. The only delay was getting the car out of the parking garage -- there was one person working and a huge line of cars to exit. Overall we had a great cruise...we felt the service and food were terrific. Read Less
Sail Date March 2007
We had a fabulous time on the O. It is an absolutely beautiful ship with spectacular decor! Executive Summary: Best cabins/beds, Excellent Service, Beautiful dEcor, Superb Dining & Menu selection. This was our first cruise on HAL, ... Read More
We had a fabulous time on the O. It is an absolutely beautiful ship with spectacular decor! Executive Summary: Best cabins/beds, Excellent Service, Beautiful dEcor, Superb Dining & Menu selection. This was our first cruise on HAL, but our tenth cruise (Celebrity, Renaissance, RCCL, NCI, Viking). We went on this cruise for the cruise experience and were not interested in the ports as we have had been there before on land trips. We came in a day early and stayed at the Hampton Inn, which was very convenient and reasonably priced. We had dinner at Anthonys, but would not go there again as it was noisy and the food was very average. Embarkation was smooth. The cabin was our best yet, very large and I loved the bathtub. The bedding was better than most hotels. HAL really excels here. This was my first cruise where they had plenty of hangers in the closet and there was so much storage area that we did not use it all. The flat screen TV had movies and tour / port information available at all times which was much nicer than previous cruises. Our balcony was a large, with a table & two chairs for dining/playing cards as well as 2 with footrests for relaxing. Our steward was excellent, and returning to the cabin each evening to find a different towel animal was a delight. Dining: We dined primarily in the dining room because I have not liked the buffet areas on the ships we sailed on before. However, the buffet on the O is different in that it is beautifully decorated, extremely clean and the staff is friendly, helpful & on top of keeping all of the table clean even during the busiest times. The food there was very good, too; especially the pasta bar, salads & Asian, although the sushi was pretty basic compared with Celebrity. Now on to the dining room, which was superb. I had a different fish (mahi mahi, grouper, marlin, snapper) almost every night, and they were all prepared perfectly. DH had the meat dishes more often and he was very happy with them but they do cook their meat a little too much for our taste. The desserts were excellent, but the appetizers need improvement in terms of selection and preparation. Lunches and breakfasts were enjoyable. Our servers, Sodik & Suyra (spelling??) were top-notch, as well as the others in the dining room. All requests were addressed satisfactorily and pleasantly. We tried the Pinnacle Grill and the food & service here was also excellent. Tours: Although we were not interested in the ports, we did try one tour in Cabo, 2-hour whale watching, which we did not enjoy. The boat was uncomfortable and people we talked to saw more whales from their balconies that we did on the tour. We spent an hour chasing a spout far in the distance with the end result being a glimpse of a whale's tale. For us this was a wasted $140 as well as the precious time. Others did, however, appear to enjoy it and the tour guides tried very hard to be accommodating and provide a good time for everyone. We enjoyed the classical music in the Explorer's Lounge each evening before dinner and Jalynn & the Hal Cats after dinner for dancing. We did not attend the shows, but the showroom itself is nicely designed with what looked like good seats for everyone. We were disappointed in the piano music as that is usually our favorite entertainment, not in the pianists themselves, but they had some kind of electronic pianos, and we did not think they sounded like a piano should, but that again is a matter of taste. We participated daily in the trivial (never won), but had fun & met some interesting people. Disembarkation: Again HAL excels here. We had breakfast in the cabin and were allowed to stay in our cabin until our departure time was called rather than being herded into a room to sit uncomfortably. OK, we need to say something really negative - the olives in the martinis were too small & a little on the tart side & we would have liked hors devours to have been passed in all of the lounges before dinner. My overall impression of HAL is that it is an excellent comfortable cruise line, with exceptional service. I am looking forward to booking another cruise on one of the Vista ships as it is the perfect size for us - large enough to be interesting, but small enough so that you don't feel overwhelmed. We recommend this cruise very highly without any reservation. Read Less
Sail Date February 2007
Travel to San Diego: We flew from Seattle to San Diego. The airport in SD is just a few minutes from the dock. Friends picked up us at the airport and we parked right across the street from the ship. Embarkation was a breeze; HAL was very ... Read More
Travel to San Diego: We flew from Seattle to San Diego. The airport in SD is just a few minutes from the dock. Friends picked up us at the airport and we parked right across the street from the ship. Embarkation was a breeze; HAL was very well organized. All was explained in the packet of information we received several weeks prior to our trip. Cabin: We had a main deck cabin with a window and unobstructed view. Very nice and worth the extra to upgrade from an inside stateroom. Room steward was excellent and kept our room spotless and well-supplied. Plenty of closet space and a nice if small bathroom. Crew and ship cleanliness: All the staff was friendly and the ship was immaculate. The ship has lots of polished brass, chrome and glass in the decor and it was kept gleaming by round the clock housekeeping. There were hand sanitizer dispensers located throughout the ship and the crew was dispensing it as you came on board after a port of call, and before meals. There were reminders all over the ship about handwashing and the restrooms were also kept very clean. Food: The food was excellent at both the Lido restaurant (cafeteria style) as well as at the Vista dining room (evening meals served in courses). There were other food venues such as the grill for burgers and hot dogs, a taco bar by the midships pool, and other special meals set up in buffets around the ship. We did not try the Pinnacle Grill which offered exclusive dining for an additional fee. Ports of Call-Cabo San Lucas: Very disappointing place to us as it is totally Americanized with high rise resorts and mostly populated by Californians. We took a city bus to San Jose del Cabo and that was the best part of the day as we had a chance to visit with the local people. The bus took almost an hour to travel 20 miles since it stopped at all the high rise hotels that span the beach between Cabo and San Jose. San Jose was a little better than Cabo. We found the original town square and church and spent some time walking around there the but prices we paid for lunch were American prices and the food was only so-so. Most of what we saw in the shops was tourist souvenirs from China. We recommend you don't bother--just stay on the ship and enjoy a day at the pool. Taxis here were a rip-off and beware of people selling tours and timeshares and everything else where you get off the ship. People were persistent to the point of following us and grabbing our arms to sell us stuff. We managed to run the gauntlet and get past these people but one lady on our ship managed to get caught up in a time share promotion deal (advertised as a "boutique hotel opportunity" Ports of Call - Mazatlan: We took a 4 hour city tour sponsored through the ship. It was a good overview of the city and worth the money we paid. Our driver was knowledgeable in the history of the area and pointed out a lot of interesting sights to see on your own. There is a gringo section of Mazatlan which is very Americanized with expensive hotels and high priced jewelry and leather shops. This did not appeal to us although my friend who was shopping for jewelry said the prices were good if you were willing to negotiate with them. We asked to be dropped off back in the old section of Mazatlan when the tour ended and spent a lovely afternoon wandering around on our own. I speak a little Spanish and that was sufficient to get us by. Many people spoke English but they seemed to appreciate the fact that I was trying to speak their language. They are a very gracious people. The architecture in old Mazatlan is wonderful and the cathedral there is worth a visit. Ports of Call - Puerto Vallarta: We did a self-conducted tour and thoroughly enjoyed Puerto Vallarta. We preferred the older section of town with its narrow winding cobblestone streets and wrought iron work. We spent some time along the boardwalk that runs south of the main town along the Playa del Sol and Playa del Muertes. The water was a little cold for swimming but we stuck our feet in and sat basking on the sand for a while. If you want to have a shaded table or palapas, you will need to either get a day pass from the hotel that lays claim to that stretch of beach, or plan on ordering food and drinks from the restaurant that has tables along there. There were locals who had brought their own beach umbrellas and chairs but since we didn't, we joined a restaurant there and had some excellent food and beverages while we lazed away the afternoon. Taxis were very reasonable here--$7 to go back to port from the very south end of the beach area. Entertainment on ship: There was a great string quartet from the Ukraine that played in one of the piano bars every evening. We saw all the floor shows which were very well done. We enjoyed the casino although if you are really into gambling then this is not the ship for you. The Casino is small and pretty low key. There was a multitude of dance venues with a variety of music. The pools were lovely--one family pool at mid ships with a cover for the windy days, and one aft designated as the adult pool. Both pools were fresh water but not heated and there are two hot tubs at each pool. The pool deck and area was kept very clean--something that I really appreciate. Lots of lounge chairs in the various decks available for sunning and a nice snooze. None of the entertainment areas ever felt crowded. It was hard to believe there were 1900 people on board. Disembarkation: All went smoothly and on schedule. I estimate less than 20 min. to get off, through customs and find our baggage. All in all the cruise was a delight with top notch service. Only one time did our room service order come up missing something, and that was remedied right away. Later we found a basket of chocolate covered strawberries in our stateroom with a note of apology from the Dining room manager for their mistake. Read Less
Sail Date February 2007
This sunny cruise onboard the Oosterdam made us completely forget it was February! Travel to Port, Background, Hotel: We left Chicago on Thursday 15 February, encountering a several hour flight delay due to the storms on the East coast. ... Read More
This sunny cruise onboard the Oosterdam made us completely forget it was February! Travel to Port, Background, Hotel: We left Chicago on Thursday 15 February, encountering a several hour flight delay due to the storms on the East coast. (We rationalize this several day ahead departure as cheap trip insurance.) Since all of the port area hotels/motels were completely booked, we had reserved a room at the La Jolla Estancia and rented a car to drive up there. It was a most pleasant interlude at a deluxe hotel. Saturday, 17 February, at 9:45 am, despite dire warnings about traffic (what traffic?), we left, drove the car to Budget and called a Yellow Cab for the trip to the pier. Hotel to airport-Budget to ship terminal took no more than one hour. We were at the dock at 10:45, showed our tickets and passports to the friendly security staff and went inside the waiting room. A small crowd had gathered, sandwiches and lemonade were being served, and we were in group 2 for boarding! We were onboard by 11:45. We went directly to the Lido, sat in the sunny pool area, and happily ate! (Or, a great suggestion from RandyandTina of CC, deposit your suitcases and head over to the Midway Museum, for a 3 hour self-guided tour of the aircraft carrier.) Ship: I like the Vista class ships because of the moderately priced balcony cabins and because of the hydrotherapy pool and thermal suite in the spa. Purell hand sanitizer is ubiquitous. Stateroom: The balcony is a real asset on this cruise so you can view the spouting whales and leaping dolphins. It was our second time on the O, and on this trip we finally discovered the seat can be removed from the ottoman for storage, and also found 2 drawers beneath the loveseat. The elemis shampoo, conditioner, gel, body lotion and soaps are very nice; I should have left all my products at home and saved a few pounds of checked baggage. Due to my booking mix-up, we ended up in 6150 instead of 6050—and 6150 only has a shower, rather than the combination. It is well located on the "food" end of the ship! Up to the Lido and down to the Vista Dining Room! We also received first towel animals ever in our 16 years of cruises. Dining: HAL seems to have really focused on dinner menus. Presentation was improved; we liked everything. Salads (one of the day plus Caesar) were more generous than we recall, rack of lamb, lamb chops were on the menus, escargot and tuna carpaccio were good, surf and turf a favorite…fewer vegetables…a flambe each night. The variety at breakfast (the raisin buns are still there-good with butter and marmalade) and lunch buffets seems to be limited in comparison to past trips, the stir-fry at poolside is gone. But more ice cream flavors are available, so HAL seems to be responding to its American customers. We ate in the dining room every night, as we prefer formal dining. The "leisure" dining is just a new moniker for traditional dining. Our table for 6 all arrived at 8—to scatter our arrival times between 8 and 9, as was suggested, would have thrown off the steward and presumably disturbed our tablemates. We had lunch in the dining room twice, during at sea days, had our own table for two once. The formal afternoon tea was quite nice, just like Christmastime at the Ritz! But, just stick to what is offered, please—tea, sweets and sandwiches, scones, whipped cream. The crowd came in asking for this and that and this is not the venue for that. Try to pretend you are at the Ritz paying $30 each for your teacup and treats and behave accordingly. We did not try the Pinnacle this trip; there are many steakhouses here in Chicago. We ordered room service breakfast on our early shore-excursion day. Again, the menu seems to have been limited from prior years, but we thrived! Nightly buffet is from 11 to 12, but since we were finishing dinner at 10 to 10:30, we only made it to the Thursday night Chocolate Dessert Extravaganza. We ate a few pieces of fruit dipped in the chocolate fountain…. Wine card worked well for my husband, offering 10 glasses at a discount. The card was purchased at the terminal, and then punched in the dining room. Since he was the only wine drinker, it worked better than the discounted bottle selection he purchases when the family travels. . Activities: I signed up for the spa pool and thermal suite for the week for $150, and then added on my husband for $100. We especially enjoyed this on the cooler days into and out of SD. On a port day, the stone massage was only $99, so I did that and it continues to be my favorite. I didn't have any sales pitches here. We tried for a mile on the decks daily, but it was very windy first and last days. I paid $11 for a pilates class, but I am so into my present routine, it was hard to adapt. I attended the two kitchen talks with Chef Krieger, emceed by CD Dan, in the new Culinary Center, Every seat was taken, good tips, lots of laughs, a chance to get questions answered, and an hour well spent. Kitchen tour also good time to see how ship prepares thousands of meals, Good selection of library books. These now require a $30 deposit, taken off the bill when book is returned. Backstage tour was a chance to meet the dancers. Animal towel folding class provided a handout, demo and a new skill for me! Entertainment: We thought CD Dan and his ACDs did a nice job this week. (Hello, Ashleigh!) Do attend the crew show at 11:30 pm. The Indonesian show was featured our week (it alternates with the Filipino show) and it was wonderful, lots of talent, lots of laughs too. Our week featured Janine Gardner, a female comedian; DV8, funny husband and wife magic act; Peter Fernandez, a wonderfully versatile vocalist (from I Love Lucy theme to Turandot); talented Jalynn and the Cats poolside and in the Crow’s Nest as well as the cast. Entertainment was probably the best assembled group we have seen onboard HAL. The CD did a good job auditioning the entertainment. We especially liked the 4 cast members presenting a cabaret style show in the Queen’s lounge one evening. The Ocean Breeze string quartet, performing nightly pre-dinner, was standing room only. Shore Excursions: Pirate Ship Whale-Watching in Cabo was good adventure on the high seas and yes, we spotted whales breaching and blowing. Binoculars helped. Ladies, be careful not to drink too much-the head is a backwards trip down the hatch! The most rugged shore excursion seemed to be the kayaking trip—those folks were really tested by the surf. Taste of Mexico in Puerto Vallerta with guide Rosy was a lot of walking on cobblestones-one couple returned to the bus-but for the rest of us it was sightseeing plus a stop in an open air restaurant to make our own tortillas, salsa, tostados and enchiladas. It was not a class in technique for the home chef, but it was fun and informal. We sat in pairs and ate what we made. We had been to Mazatlan before, so stayed onboard, but all of our tablemates took tours and enjoyed their stay and the sunny day. Service: Service did not falter and was excellent and gracious throughout the week. The ship was very organized. The Captain and the Officers were highly visible. Many smiles on board; the crew and staff worked very well together. Irman our waiter handled our table graciously, efficiently and professionally. Our cabin steward Andy was excellent and on his way home after a long contract. Disembark: As we turned our cell phones on Saturday am to find our return flight had been canceled, we spent breakfast trying to rebook and got Monday flights. We left the ship and pulled our bags across the street to the Holiday Inn, which had no vacancies. We sat in the lobby and on advice from our world-traveler tablemates, found a room at the Old Town Hacienda Best Western. Their van driver came to the pier and retrieved us, and that is the start of another happy story! Summary: Our experience on the Oosterdam was top-notch and provided us with a relaxing and delightful week. San Diego is a welcome change from the Florida ports since it is so accessible and passenger-friendly. The Mexican Riviera itinerary in February is also a nice change from the Caribbean ports at this time of year. Read Less
Sail Date February 2007
Since the Oosterdam was my first cruise, I can't compare it to other lines/ships. BUT let me say that I had the BEST time on that ship!!! I was rooming with a friend, and we were both part of a group cruise for handbell ringing (if ... Read More
Since the Oosterdam was my first cruise, I can't compare it to other lines/ships. BUT let me say that I had the BEST time on that ship!!! I was rooming with a friend, and we were both part of a group cruise for handbell ringing (if that hadn't been a draw, I don't know if I'd have ever gotten around to cruising... SCARY THOUGHT!!). Flew into San Diego that morning, and got to the port in plenty of time (via pretty inexpensive taxi ride). Did the online pre-registration but there was still a long line. Still, it moved pretty fast. Separate line for suite guests. Had to hand over luggage, but most people kept one 'carry with' bag with essentials. We were in our room by 1:30 as I recall, and had a nice lunch on the Lido before that. Our whole week was very calm seas, which was nice. The week before it was rough going all the way. Go figure. The Oosterdam is really beautiful, art and sculpture everywhere, the Vista dining room is gorgeous, pretty colors and gorgeous ceiling. The atrium is pretty too, and they have live music everywhere you turn in the many lounges (string quartets, piano, bands in the Crow's Nest). FOOD: Dinners in the Vista were (I thought) fantastic and I'm vegetarian (lacto/ovo). There were excellent veg options every night save one, and the table steward offered to have a pasta dish made w/out the meat. IN fact, if he didn't see me eating much (not usually a problem) he would offer me more options. The chilled fruit soups were delicious, and the after dinner coffee with dessert was wonderful (even the decaf was yummy). Excellent service. I enjoyed having same table mates each night, and I didn't know any except my roomie. BEAUTIFUL china for dinners and roomservice (breakfast in bed twice). You could do 'open seating' downstairs if you preferred. NOTE: Vista for breakfast is a mistake if you're in any rush (slow to be served, plan on an hour or more for breakfast). I didn't go to the Pinnacle Grill, as I wasn't sure how many veg options there would be. Lido was great and FAST, ate all my breakfasts (aside from room service) and lunches there... great way to get a fast bite before an excursion. Room Service - a great way to have breakfast on disembarkation day, and it was very good. If I weren't so stuffed all the time I meant to get at least one 'midnight snack' -- the chocolate cake sounded wonderful. SHIP: The ship is pretty huge, and I think we made a mistake by spending the first several hours on the ship (after getting our room) trying to 'get our bearings'. We missed a nice Sail Away party and some other events because of that. The ship is too big to really get bearings fast. Much easier to just 'let that idea go and just review the deck layouts next to the midship elevators as you go. In retrospect I would have looked immediately at the Daily Schedule and see what events are happening. My sailing was absolutely full up (supposedly) on the ship, but there is still plenty of space and deck chairs to relax. Aft pool was for adults only, and quieter than the other pool area. Hottubs -- there were several but small and not as hot as I like. Didn't try the spa, but think I might this time? Noticed they had a mid-week 'spa special' where you got a little of everything (hydropool, scented saunas, warmed tile seats, facial, massage) for $99. My roomie did it, but wasn't prepared for the sales pitch on products , so she spent a bit more than that! ROOMS: The beds are SO COMFORTABLE!! The linens and bathrobes (you get in veranda stateroom and up) are so wonderful and soft. Bathroom in verandah staterooms were not too cramped, and shower/bathtub was roomy too I thought. Rooms are small, but I was expecting that. Wish I could afford to go 'suite' sometime. ACTIVITIES/ENTERTAINMENT: They had a Daily Schedule which you got in your room each night (and when first check in). I kept it with me, as there were multiple activities going on all the time. I missed some things the first day because I didn't know to check the schedule. Kitchen tour was fabulous (apparently) but because I didn't know to watch for it, I missed it! Didn't see the American Idol thing, but heard it was good. Bingo often cancelled due to lack of players. I thought the entertainment was pretty darn good. The singer/dancer revues were great, the juggler was super, the magician was really awesome, the only thing I didn't like was the latin ballad singer. One late night comedian who was hilarious, I was in tears (and not too bad language). EXCURSIONS: The Cabo San Lucas stop I see now I could have missed. The whale watching tour at 1-3pm was disappointing, but the after us saw lots (go figure). everytime they'd spot whales, they'd turn towards them, leaving everyone not in the small area in front of the ship without a view. Cabo itself is tiny and there's nothing much to see. Next time I'll give it a miss. I went on the zipline tour in PV, and it was really fun. The DVD they sell you at the end was $40 so I gave that a miss. It was exhilarating but not too scary. At Mazatlan I had no excursions, just slept in then spent the day bumming around town. Took several taxi's here and there, and walked the lovely boardwalk for a long time (nice sculptures). Actually walked up the steps to what I thought was an old lookout on the boardwalk, and ended up having a cliff diver dive off right where I was! TIPPING: HAL lets you know that they add $10 pp/per day to your shipboard account, to be divvied up among the staff. I felt this to be really wonderful, I didn't feel like I had to have money with me to tip all the time, and I did give a little extra in person the last day to my table steward and my room steward. But I felt this made it much less stressful, as I've heard some cruise lines you feel like you're tipping all the time. This was a stress-free solution, and you could adjust your total tipping amount up or down at the end. FINAL WORDS: In a nutshell, I went a whole week without one bad thing happening (that I can recall) . Everyone was smiling, helpful, polite (including all the passengers)... I think if I'd asked one of the staff to carry me to dinner they would have done it! Plenty to do, and plenty 'not to do'. I'd planned this to be my 'one cruise' to say I'd done it. But it was such a wonderful, completely relaxing, fun, unstressful week that I couldn't wait to book another cruise! I'll be on the Oosterdam again only 8 months later, and will probably be a regular cruiser after this. Read Less
Sail Date January 2007
Oosterdam Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 4.3
Dining 4.0 4.0
Entertainment 4.0 3.7
Public Rooms 4.0 4.2
Fitness Recreation 4.5 3.9
Family 4.0 3.9
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.8
Enrichment 4.5 3.6
Service 4.0 4.3
Value For Money 4.0 3.9
Rates 4.0 4.2

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