Review of the Oosterdam Mexican Riviera 4-11 February 2006
First of all, any cruise is a great cruise. Cruises may vary in degrees of greatness. I suspect that passengers on the Andria Doria remarked from the lifeboats, This was a ... Read More
Review of the Oosterdam Mexican Riviera 4-11 February 2006
First of all, any cruise is a great cruise. Cruises may vary in degrees of greatness. I suspect that passengers on the Andria Doria remarked from the lifeboats, This was a great cruise until the last day. We have heard people complaining that about all kinds of minor distractions, seeking compensation. We once overheard a couple complaining that their whale watching tour went off late and they might have missed seeing that elusive grey whale, so they demanded their money back (for the tour, not the cruise). While I tend to be critical of little things, it is only done in the spirit of making things better and pointing out the little differences between all the cruise lines.
My wife and I like to try different cruise lines rather than settling on one. We always have a fear that if we return to the same cruise line too often, we will quickly get bored with the same menu, same entertainment, same ambience, etc. We have cruised on Celebrity four times (including the old Chandris Lines), Crystal twice, Princess, Royal Caribbean, NCL, and even Carnival when they were first starting out with weekend cruises.
Having lived in Holland for two years, we always wanted to try a Holland America Line ship but the opportunity never presented itself. We signed up for this Oosterdam cruise on a spur of the moment about six weeks before our embarkation. We had a big birthday coming up and we knew we didnt want to be in town for it! What better way than to find a cruise and just go somewhere. We had been to the Mexican Riviera before and werent especially interested in the region. We chose this cruise more because of the timing, the weather and HAL reputation. To us the ports are irrelevant, we prefer to stay on board during port days anyway and take advantage of the ambience with less crowding.
We work in customer service positions and look forward to observing outstanding customer service techniques associated with cruising. HAL shined with their people in this regard. Their unabashed enthusiasm set the personality of the cruise experience.
Embarkation: We drove down from the Bay Area the night before. We stayed in LA overnight and drove down the morning of embarkation. Embarkation was uneventful
There was a special line for suite passengers. If there was any delay in that line it was my fault in dragging all my carry on stuff too slowly. The non-suite line appeared to move along quickly as well.
We were told that the suites were ready when we checked in (around Noon). We went right to our room and our steward said that he hadnt finished yet. It looked fine to us, but we left our carry-ons and toured the ship.
Accommodations: We booked a SC aft suite (6187) with an obscenely large verandah. The room was rather odd shaped but seemed to work well. Lots of closet space. We couldnt decide what to put where, but thats our problem! TV reception was the best Ive seen on any ship. Consistently clear. There were a limited number of channels, CNNI, ESPNI, and TNT mainly, plus some channels produced on the ship. On our last Celebrity cruise, the TV said that the ship was out of satellite range as we cruised into New York harbor!
While our room was impeccably clean upon our arrival, we noted something rather unusual no life vests. Our steward went on a search mission and the errant vests were finally located under the bed! No big deal but it led us to believe that attention to detail was lacking in room preparation.
Of all of my cruises, this room was among the noisiest. Lots of little creaks and squeaks. In an aft cabin, this is more common, but seemed to be more prevalent here. On the good side, none of the creaks were loud and never interrupted our sleeping. There was also a large clock on the wall and you could hear it advance by the minute. Again, not a sleep-interruptor.
Deluxe suites come with free laundry, very handy! Our steward, Arson, did everything we threw at him with quiet unassuming professionalism. It just got done!
On the first night out, a fire alarm sounded about 4 AM. Apparently a smoke detector in the incinerator room activated (yes, we know all about the purpose of an incinerator). The Captain went on the PA system and explained what was happening. Five minutes later he announced that a small fire was extinguished. We heard several passengers grumbling about being awoken for nothing. I thought differently the system works and it was reassuring to hear that the crew did such a great job. I wonder if something really bad had happened, how the media would handle it. Fire officials havent made a final determination of the cause, but they suspect it was Arson.
Spa Thermal Suite: We took advantage of the spas Thermal Suites offer ($250 for a couple for the week) and found it was money well spent an oasis from the hustle of the rest of the ship. The masseuses tried to push their products more than on other ships, but after we each emphatically said no the first time, they didnt push their pitch again. The spa (Steiner employees) front desk staff was often curt when we asked for a key to the Thermal Suites. We already paid our money up front, now they couldnt be bothered with us. What was more disturbing was that twice we went to go to the thermal suites after dinner, only to find out that they decided to close earlier than the hours published in the daily program. They didnt seem to be concerned that the hours were incorrectly posted there. Tough luck! Dining:
We booked the Pinnacle Grill for two nights in advance of the cruise. The higher quality service and food was well worth the surcharge. While not quite as good as the specialty restaurants on Celebrity or Crystal, the Pinnacle didnt try as hard to be as special and thus was not nearly as pretentious either. Celebrity often tries to hard and occasionally misses. One Golden Moment challenge is that I asked for a rather unique after dinner coffee. It has gotten to the point that I bring my own flask of flavored syrup on board cruises. Well the folks at HAL got creative and combined two different coffees to get a close approximation to what I wanted. The wait staff was unusually efficient, to the point of making us feel rushed on occasion. Rarely was there a wait between courses.
Live music showed up for only the last two days. It would have contributed to the overall ambiance of the setting.
Another Golden Moment came when we went to the Lido Cafe about 9 PM when my wife and daughter wanted chocolate ice cream. There was no chocolate flavors among the four flavors available (rather surprising in itself). The server said he couldnt get more. As we walked away ice creamless, I saw one of the Lido Managers and asked him why they couldnt fulfill a simple request like chocolate ice cream. He immediately sent a steward down to the second-floor galley to fetch two servings for us. Another customer save! Thanks JT!!!
We noted that the smoked salmon was hand sliced, not machine sliced and pre-packaged as on most other cruise lines. We usually have liked to have breakfast in the main dining room, but found on the Oosterdam, the choices and quality were better on the Lido. My favorite foods on the ship were the hash browns in the Lido buffet and the bratwurst and knockwurst at the burger bar. Normally, we prefer fancier foods but when a dining venue does simple things exceptionally well, it should be noted.
Decorated not to our tastes too busy with conflicting color schemes and off-beat patterns. Layout got a little confusing at first. We noticed a more intimate, boutique atmosphere. The big ship feel just isnt there. The dining room, although it seats close to 1000 had a more intimate feel.
Service: Most of the cruise lines offer a butler at this level of accommodations. HAL has a concierge room, the Neptune Lounge, staffed with two all too helpful ladies, Marj and Esther. Since we rarely took advantage of butler service anyway, we were interested to see if a concierge would be more to our liking. Unlike most of the suites, we were far away from the Neptune (Concierge) Lounge. The lounge was a nice place to go and relax when we had grown tired of the four walls of our room. The concept of a concierge rather than a butler was a plus, in my opinion. We never quite figured out what to do with them anyway. When needed, they even came to our room to fix things, just like a butler would.
We looked for other customer service golden moments, times where the staff has the opportunity to shine. The Oosterdam staff succeeded in most of these situations. However, in one situation, the result was less than desirable. There was a Walk a mile activity scheduled for 5:15 one day. When no staff members were there at the appointed time, I took off walking anyway. After the first turn of the Promenade Deck, we encountered about 10 staff members, sitting out on the deck, smoking. Not the best way to encourage healthy living. After another quarter of a turn, we found that the Promenade Deck had been closed for maintenance (cleaning). Come on guys - get the maintenance and the event staff to talk to each other!
A key plus was Linda, the shopping hostess, who we saw while shopping at Mazatlan. Our daughter had a dilemma, she had picked out a necklace and bracelet she wanted but couldnt find a matching set of earrings. Linda checked and located the matching earrings.
Another keeper was Christopher, a lovely young man who works in the Windstar Cafe (coffee bar). I gave him a complicated order for three drinks and he kept on getting them confused. He was constantly getting interrupted by passers-by who asked him various questions, at which point he had to ask me repeatedly about my order. One man insisted that Christopher find a cribbage board for him. Poor Chris didnt have a clue even what Cribbage was, but the man was insistent. He handled it all with aplomb and when he couldnt locate a container to take these drinks up to our room, he loaned me a serving tray (actually he first offered to bring them to my room), on the promise that I return it as soon as possible. Resourceful under pressure.
On embarkation we asked our steward to empty out the minibar so we could put bottled water in it. Before noon the day before disembarkation, our steward emptied out and locked the minibar. I guess the cruises hospitality ends about 24 hours before the cruise did.
Activities: My wife is happy just hanging out on her balcony, catching up on her reading and listening to her music. As a result, we are not the gadfly types. To get us to participate in any activity has to be incredibly attractive to us. The daily program had a number of activities that we almost participated in, but either the balcony or the thermal suite beckoned.
Entertainment: Once again, HAL keeps it simple and doesnt try harder to accomplish what it cannot achieve. The simple productions are on the mark. Although not as lavish as Celebrity or other lines, the performers were better in the basic things that they can do well. Perhaps why they call it the Vista Lounge, more of a large night club than a theater. Itinerary: We arent really into ports, and didnt spend much time on shore during the cruise. To us, the best time to be on board is during port days. Less crowded. It appeared that the ports and activities overall were better than on a Caribbean cruise. The layout of the itinerary (Embarkation day, one sea day, three straight port days, two sea days, then disembarkation day) was probably the most conducive for getting into the cruise experience. We talk about getting into cruise mode (where you forget your work and home responsibilities, throw away your watch and adopt a dont care attitude) as fast as possible and the layout of this itinerary made the most of this.
Disembarkation: The best weve seen. We were called around 8:40 AM, picked up our bags, called for the parking shuttle and had our car packed and on the road at 9:08 AM. It would have been faster if we had called for the shuttle earlier (right after clearing customs rather than waiting till we hit the curb. Couldnt have been quicker or easier!
Odds and ends: This section will reference some of the questions often asked on the CC Boards.
We took a laptop with Wi-Fi access and bought 250 minutes for $100 on embarkation day. I was curious to see where reception was. I got a very weak signal from the aft veranda, but it was unusable. We got a strong signal in most public areas, which was sufficient for our needs. The speed wasnt broadband, but was quite a bit faster then the two times telephone modem speeds that was advertised.
There were 4 open 110 Volt, three-pronged receptacles in the cabin. I bought along a power strip and also a new device called the Squid, which consist of five wires and outlets coming out of one plug. If you have appliances that have transformers in the plugs that block access to all the power strip receptacles, this is for you. You can put five different transformers on the plugs without any interference. We then attached a power strip and an extension cord to the squid so we could use some appliances/chargers in other areas around the room.
Observations and Comments: We noticed that on, other cruise lines, the staff seemed to be programmed on exactly what to say in common situations. If you ask a steward how they were doing, theyd all reply, Excellent! The staff of the Oosterdam had a lot more leeway in their responses and this contributed to the relaxed, informal atmosphere.
It appears that all cruise lines are becoming more homogenized and middle of the road. HAL seems to be losing its own identity and heritage, the things which sets cruise lines apart. There was a lack of anything Dutch on the ship. The personality of the ship was homogenized American. We were hoping for some Dutch remnants as we lived in Holland in the early 90s. We asked for fritesaus and pindasaus at the burger bar and got knowing smiles from the staff but, alas, nowhere were these delicacies available.
Before cruising we ordered two Coffee Card Specials (6 coffees and a travel mug) online for our daughter and ourselves. Our daughter got hers delivered to her room on the first day. We never got ours. When we asked, they said that they were no longer available, in effect denying the existence of our daughters card.
One of the highlights of the ship is the wrap-around Promenade Deck. It is a vanishing perk and was thoroughly enjoyed.
There was a large (32 inch) CRT TV sitting on the desk, or rather taking over the desk. Since there is little to watch on ships TV anyway, a smaller TV would have been more helpful.
When walking down a hallway, we observed a woman talking to a steward, asking if she could come into a room (not hers). She said she just wanted to see what the rooms were like on the fourth floor. The steward allowed this. We call this a security breach.
At the muster drill, we were led down a staff stairway to our muster station. Along the way we passed a sign, intended for the staff, that said something like No is not an option. Well, were often told No several times by stewards and staff, only to get things as we requested when we went to supervisory staff. It shouldnt happen this way. The service staff should say something politely I dont have that, but Ill check it out and then go to the supervisors for help. But No is so final and the requests were so minimal (like chocolate ice cream), that one has the impression that the staff prefers to avoid going to their supervisors and instead leave their customers disappointed. If the staff were more empowered to take action, service standards would be elevated.
The first formal night was Super Bowl Sunday. While there some very nice parties arranged around the football theme, it was somewhat awkward to watch the game and eat the munchies in formal garb. Wouldnt it have been better to move formal night to another evening?
Summary: Overall, a very nice cruise, a small step below Celebrity, which also has fallen, in my opinion. Would I cruise Holland America again? Absolutely, just not for awhile. We would rather try a variety of cruise lines before coming back to HAL, perhaps next time on a smaller, more intimate liner.
For photos of this cruise go to http://community.webshots.com/user/iggledoer Read Less