Sail Date: December 2009
Enjoyed the cruse, nothing spectacular but definitely relaxing. My wife and I booked this cruise when Holland America was advertising great rates in the summer. We came down to San Diego three days early and stayed at the Holliday Inn on ... Read More
Enjoyed the cruse, nothing spectacular but definitely relaxing. My wife and I booked this cruise when Holland America was advertising great rates in the summer. We came down to San Diego three days early and stayed at the Holliday Inn on the Bay. Great choice, they pick you up at the airport and have their own shuttle route for guests that takes you to all the local attractions on a timely schedule. This meant that I didn't need to rent a car which saved some money for my wife to use while shopping. The cruise terminal is right across the road for a very easy embarkation. Boarding the ship was by far the easiest I have ever experienced. We waited till two to walk over to the terminal and then proceeded to almost just walk on to the ship. We were in our cabin in less than ten minutes. We booked an open category hoping for an upgrade, we didn't receive one but the cabin we ended up with was very roomy. We were placed on deck one near the bow, this is the lowest and closest to the front of the ship of any of the cabins we have had before. I was worried that we might feel the movement of the ship more but it wasn't a problem. I only found the walk to the dining room or the long elevator rides a little bothersome. We had cruised on the ms Zuiderdam last winter so we knew where everything would be on her sister ship. The service from the staff was exemplarily as usual, I only found the constant requests to purchase drinks around the pool to be irksome. There were a lot more families on board this cruise than I am generally use to but it wasn't like being on a Carnival cruise as everyone was having a good time without disturbing fellow passengers. The ports were ok but nothing special, we had chosen this cruise because we were sick of doing the Caribbean, I was hoping the ports would be less Diamonds International and more authentic Mexican. It wasn't. Mazatlan was the most authentic Mexican of the ports we visited and Porto Vallarta the most "Americanized". Cabo San Lucas was a nice place to walk around; the tendering off the ship could have been done better though. The loading and unloading of the tenders was done in such a way that it took about three times longer than it should have. The waters were fairly calm but they kept stopping the loading at the ship because they only tied the bow and used the engines to keep it close to the loading platform. This meant the tender would drift too far from the platform to safely load it. For a cruise line that has a distinctly older clientele this would make the loading take over a half an hour per tender. It could have been done in ten minutes if they had attached a line to the stern. The same thing happened in port at the marina in dead calm waters while unloading. This meant that we didn't get ashore till noon when we had started to try to disembark at nine in the morning. I found that the day was basically wasted as we had to be back on board by 4:30 and the wait to re-board was slow also. The food in the main Vista dining room was good as always, I don't know where the previous reviewer was eating but crème brule was on the menu. And it was good. The only real complaint I have is the disembarkment process. On all the previous cruises (including HAL cruises) a time ticket was issued and you were either told to stay in your cabin till your colour was called or you were told to come down to the theatre at a specific time to wait for you time to be called. We had the expedited ticket as we prefer to take our own luggage off when we leave. The time was for 8:15 so at about 8:10 we emerged from our cabin to walk into a line halfway down the ship. No times were called and everyone just decided to try to leave all at once. Some people who were in line behind us were starting to panic at about nine when we had moved about ten feet and they had a plane to catch at 10:30. The lady left her party and made her way to the desk to have someone from the ships personnel help them get off. I hope they made their flight but I doubt it. The organization needs some help. All and all the cruise was good, the food was well prepared and the amenities were satisfactory. Would I recommend this cruise, definitely. If you are looking for a nice relaxing time with a familiar cruising experience then this is for you. It was a better than average vacation that could use a little massaging to make it a great time. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2009
Let me start off saying that is was my 15th cruise and my first time with Holland America. I traveled with my brother and our cousins, all of us in our late 40's and early 50's I will start my review with embarkation: ... Read More
Let me start off saying that is was my 15th cruise and my first time with Holland America. I traveled with my brother and our cousins, all of us in our late 40's and early 50's I will start my review with embarkation: Embarkation: embarkation was swift and efficient. When it was time to take a welcome aboard picture, I notice that there was just a blank green screen..which i guess they super impose a background be behind the passenger during the developing process. Once on board we were warmly welcomed. Our rooms were not ready so we had the option to check our carry on luggage in a lounge room.We then proceeded to have lunch on lido deck. On our way there i notice the main atrium.I must say that I was disappointed with the main atrium, It was not as big and extravagant as other ships I have been on. Cabins - Cabin size definitely on the small side. Only one person at a time can be in that narrow hallway where the bathroom and clothes closet is located. Balcony was average. My brother and I traveled with our cousins and their cabin was next door, so we were able to open the divider and share one big balcony. The location of our cabin was fantastic, we were located mid-ship right next to the elevator banks and stairwell, i was concerned about the foot traffic noise, but happy to report that there was NO Noise..easy access to elevators and stairwell, comes in handy when you are dog tired after an shore excursion or having an late evening. Dining- The food quality was a little above average,however, personally I was disappointed that escargot was not on the menu, I look forward to that delicacy when I cruise...We had open sitting, I know most people say that this feature did not work for them having a extensive wait period,however we went down to dinner around 6:30pm and we had little to no wait. Getting back to the food it was pretty good. We found out that the Lido buffet deck pretty much served the same menu that the main dining room served. Also I like to know what was the deal of no music playing while dining in the restaurant, all you heard was the chatter of fellow diners and the rumbling sounds of the ships engine, again WHAT WAS THAT ALL ABOUT?? Entertainment- It was ok...I've seen better and experienced better. Again this cruise line caters to an older crowd, so it's a little slow pace, However I'm 51 years old I don't want constant disco, but a little more action than a string quartet. three piece band, slow piano player. Where is the Karaoke, passenger talent shows ? Let's not under estimate the elderly, some of them want their hearts to be jumped started : ) New Years eve party reminded me of the days when I use to watch the Lawrence Welk show or Guy Lombardo..kind of sad, went straight to the room 5min after the party. I expected to at least retire 30min to 1hr after the party..Other than that other activities included Bingo, The Marriage game, different Trivia games, slot tournaments, and loads of health seminars,and culinary seminars on how to fold napkins and set tables, oh yeah there was a mixology class how to make drinks a $12.00 charge to sample the wares. Ports: First we had to make an medical emergency stop for 3 passengers at Cabo San Lucas, we all got nervous because we thought that there was an H1N1 scare, but the Captain advised that this was not the case,these passengers had experienced cardiac arrest and internal bleeding. Once we dropped them off we continued to our first port which was Mazatlan....Mazatlan was ok 2nd port Puerta Vallarta..Fantastic,take the Puerta Vallarta discovery Tour, this takes you around town, shopping, and to a non working Tequila factory, you get to sample the tequila's.. OLE'. I would wait to get the Tequila in town,the factory is a little expensive. By the way before we pulled out, an ambulance had to come to the ship,for there was a 4th passenger that got sick..IT is what it is. : ( 3rd Port- Cabo San Lucas Great place..we took a water taxi for $10.00 pp over to "Lands End" great tour over to those big rocks and over to Lovers Beach. Service: Great service from our cabin steward(Sam) to Dan the coffee guy who walks around the starboard side on the lido deck serving coffee..a must see, he is fabulous..so If you are having breakfast or lunch up on the lido deck, please,please check out or ask for Dan the coffee guy you won't believe your ears. BATHROBES..here is my gripe..Holland America gives you complimentary bathrobes in your stateroom to wear while cruising...But does that mean you wear your robe all over the ship? including to the Vista Lounge at a show???,WHAT ARE THEY NUTS??? WOULD YOU WEAR A BATHROBE TO A BROADWAY SHOW??? OR WOULD ONE WEAR A BATHROBE IN THE MAIN ATRIUM? OR TO THE BUFFET??? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON WITH SOCIETY NOW DAYS...by the way, there were two people who wore the Holland America bathrobes to an evening show, to tell you the truth I'm not sure if they had anything on under those robes, it was kind of scary. The only places those robes should be worn is at the Spa Salon, pool side and IN YOUR STATEROOM !!!. Come on guys gives us a break . Disembarkation: Relatively Smooth. Conclusion: A different experience for me, never experience so many passengers that needed to be escorted off due to illness. The service on the ship was well done. Food so so. Accomodation, average. Location, fantastic. Cleanliness, superb most clean ship I have been on. Would I go back on the Cruise line? probably not,maybe when I'm much older.: ) On my way to Hawaii now on the American Pride, wish me luck :) Read Less
Sail Date: November 2009
This was our 2nd time on the Oosterdam, our 6th HAL cruise and over our 30th cruise overall. We live in southern CA, so this was an easy trip for us. We drove to the ship in San Diego and mainly went for the cruise experience, as ... Read More
This was our 2nd time on the Oosterdam, our 6th HAL cruise and over our 30th cruise overall. We live in southern CA, so this was an easy trip for us. We drove to the ship in San Diego and mainly went for the cruise experience, as we've done this run several times before, including 24 months ago exactly on this same Thanksgiving Oosterdam sailing. This review will deal mainly with the ship and cruise experience and not the ports or itinerary, as they were not of great interest to us. This should have been a great cruise and ended up being merely a good one. We were disappointed by several aspects of it, as I will explain. I will begin by saying how disappointed we were to BE disappointed. We love HAL and the Oosterdam and were very excited to be doing this holiday cruise again. Previous HAL experiences have been so positive we expected more of the same. The good.... She's a beautiful, elegant, well maintained ship with gorgeous teak decks, lots of open space, comfortable cabins and great beds. The Explorations Lounge is a wonderful place to hang out, the screening room is luxurious and reeks of leather although it is too small. The Pinnacle Room is an excellent alternative restaurant. The gym is well equipped. The kids club did a fantastic job and kept our 8 year old daughter entertained all cruise long. The pools are lovely and the retractable roof is a real plus in cold weather. The crew are happy and friendly for the most part. We had a suite and could not have asked for a better cabin. We loved everything about it and it's spacious balcony, as well as the Neptune Club access it afforded us. We had a nice Cruise Critic meeting with the hotel manager and food services director and a lovely suites luncheon with the captain. We had two marvelous meals in the Pinnacle Grill. So what went wrong???? The day we boarded gave the first hint of trouble. We went to the Lido for lunch only to find it overwhelmed and packed, with fruit trays empty, no cutlery on tables, no chopsticks for sushi, just signs of chaos and lack of control. Bags took a long time in being delivered and there were piles of suitcases in the deck elevator areas with stressed crew wondering how to deal with them. Dining Reservations staff were clueless and could offer very few available times for reservations. Someone, somewhere made some major screw ups on this particular voyage. There were many problems with the dining room service and delays in getting seated and served in As You Wish Dining, as well as making reservations for dinner. We learned there was a large crew change-over as the cruise began and some waiters were clearly unfamiliar with the location of tables. Others seemed to lack training and finesse. We ate early but heard many complaints from others who waited for long periods of time later in the evening. Some people gave up on the dining room altogether and fled to the Lido buffet for their evening meals. Despite being in a suite we struggled to get reservations for when we wanted in the dining room and Pinnacle within two hours of boarding. It was a challenge getting someone to even answer the phone and eventually we gave up and had the Neptune concierge do it for us. As You Wish Dining was more a case of When We Say dining. This was a holiday cruise and the ship was packed with families and 370 kids under the age of 18. The kids club was well prepared for it and the staff were excellent. The dining room staff simply seemed overwhelmed, overworked and understaffed. Having cruised so much, I try very hard not to find fault with each trip and to give some slack where possible but too many little things went wrong on this trip and it all added up to one big mess. I decided to write this review after the second formal night dinner, which really was indicative of much of what was wrong with this trip. Thanksgiving itself was not a formal night, which was a shock in itself. Another mistake, frankly, by some idiot designing dinner menus for 7 day voyages with no clue about important holiday dates. The second formal night was the night before, on the Wednesday. We found ourselves at dinner shortly before 6PM and ended up with a waiter who never introduced himself and gave out menus and took orders before even filling our water glasses. I don't how he ever made it out of waiter school. We ordered milk for our daughter which never arrived. Her two courses both arrived at exactly the same time as my appetizers and both her courses and both my two appetizers were all placed on the table in front of us (Table 195, HAL, and I hope you're reading....). At that point I realized this was not going to be anything like five star service and requested the bread basket because it clearly wasn't coming otherwise, and decided which appetizer to begin first. Hubby's two soups also arrived together and both bowls were put in front of him at the same time. I hoped the head waiter would stop by that evening but he never did, or else I would have said something. Things never improved. The water glasses were never refilled, the three desserts Hubby and I split all came together, tea was never offered and we left extremely disappointed with the entire experience. It was more like a coffee shop than an elegant dining experience. We ate Thanksgiving dinner in the buffet the following night. The Lido was one of the bright spots on the ship and was well staffed and maintained throughout. Breakfasts were good and the made to order omelettes were superb every day. The waffle line was another problem area, with one waffle maker for the entire ship, which meant an an average wait of 20 minutes in line for a fresh waffle. Apparently, the other machines were broken and would be ready by the time we returned to San Diego. I would have been more sympathetic to this had I not been given the exact same story the last time I was on the Oosterdam 2 years ago at the same time of year and there was only one waffle machine in operation then too. The ship ran out of HAL tote bags to give out on Day 3. Explorations ran out of coffee cards on Day 4. Again, replenishments were promised when we returned to San Diego. This was a ship with poor management and leadership and a lot of very frustrated, fed up passengers who did not understand why the Oosterdam didn't have its act together. One of our fellow Cruise Critic travelers (we met at a small but lovely meet and greet on Day 2) was invited to a meeting with other select passengers and staff to discuss the voyage and how things had done wrong and she passed along many of my comments at that meeting. Apparently the management said they were completely overwhelmed by the number of kids on board, although I don't know why. It wasn't unexpected and the kids club was well prepared for this Thanksgiving trip and the number of families on board. It was agreed that having a large crew change-over at the start of a packed holiday cruise wasn't the best idea in the world and it was acknowledged that service simply was not up to the usual high HAL standards. The really sad thing here is not the frequent, loyal cruisers that HAL pissed off with their ineptitude and poor planning, because we'll probably take a break from HAL and then return again, but that first time cruisers will be turned off by what they saw as the basic inability to run a decent ship and won't give HAL another chance. I wish I could say this was a great cruise, but unfortunately, the best I can say is that it was a good one and there is much room for improvement. Christmas decorations were coming on board as we disembarked and I hope for families traveling on Christmas sailings that HAL and the Oosterdam have got their act together by then for everyone's sake. My husband remarked that it was a good thing we were not sailing with HAL at Christmas after this sorry excuse for a holiday cruise and are going with Princess instead. Things can only improve on the Oosterdam. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: July 2009
    I and my husband (we 30 and over) took this cruise based on itinerary. It's our fifth cruise so we knew what to expect, we knew how it should be.  ... Read More
    I and my husband (we 30 and over) took this cruise based on itinerary. It's our fifth cruise so we knew what to expect, we knew how it should be.  /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin-top:0in; mso-para-margin-right:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt; mso-para-margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}     We booked cruise shuttle from airport to the ship (only one thing which we booked through the cruise, because everything overprice). People in airport was slow and confused, did not know what to do with extra luggage event it was not full bus, but we got to the ship fine, embarkation was very quick and we were in a ship in10 min. We got there maybe 12:30, waited for room maybe 20 min.     Room was nice (a little old fashion, but its older ship so we expected that),enough space for luggage, nice size balcony. Then looked around, ship was clean,  small compare to previous cruise ships, atrium tiny. A lot of hand sanitizers all over the ship, we liked that, because we have been on the ship with norvovirus (no fun), but sad is that not a lot of people using them. Luggage came quick to the room. We packed 2 bottles of wine and wine opener of course. This way you don't need to pay any opening charges.      We had open seating for dinner, I think that's the way to go, because some days cruise leaves from ports after nine, this way you choose when to eat. Most of the stuff was Indonesian (mostly guys) and not all with the best manners.      Barcelona. We stayed overnight there. We walked first night to La Rambla street, it's about 30 min walk. A lot of young people there, a lot of scary people (you afraid that they will steal something and something like that), trying to sell some cans or who know what. But city itself very nice. Next morning we went back to La Rambla, this time took port bus (3 Euros round trip or 2 one way).Then we took the Hop on hop of 2 deck bus  (21 Euros per person one day), we took blue route, then I wanted to take red route but it was long line waiting to get on them and route take about 2 hours, so we didn't have enough time to do that (time change mixed our plans, we slept too long that morning). We just walked around, we used McDonald's restrooms for free, and then walked back to the ship (didn't want to wait in line for port bus). Before that I gave my Hop on hop of bus tickets away to one couple, they gave me 10 euros, so it worked well. When we walked we saw already people attending drill with the wests, we didn't go. How silly to do that, when people still ashore. I am Europe union member so I got letter that I need to bring my passport to front desk. We did, but front desk not helpful we heard so many different stories from them why they need my passport. Next day they where collecting U.S. and Canada citizen. My husband didn't give them, so they did a copy and said they will call in a room in case they would need to check original, never did.  (It's good idea to have certified copy, in case somebody would lose it.).       Monaco, Monte Carlo That morning we got the note, that we need to attend drill, but note came at 10am, drill was scheduled for 9 am, so we missed it again . They had tender boats from the ship to shore. We got there early so they announced that we can get on tender boats early, when we got to them, they announced that now will go only people who booked excursions, cruise director  Jason Venner was blocking the stairs checking  excursion stickers. He was rude, he said that now we need to wait almost an hour, but the boats were almost empty, so we sneaked in them anyway. EXPECT TO BE TREATED DIFFERENT IF YOU DON'T BOOK SHIPS EXCURSIONS. WHEN YOU GETTING OUT FROM THE SHIP THERE IS NOBODY TO GUIDE YOU WHERE TO GO.     In Monaco it's easy to walk (my easy means - people who fit), it's beautiful there. We walked first up to prince palace, then down toward casino (IF YOU WANT TO GO THERE, DRESS NICE AND KEEP YOUR PASSPORT, the reason for that, they don't let gamble for Monaco people.  They have beach there (not the best one), but if you planning to go there bring water shoes (rubber shoes); all beaches which we saw on a trip had a lot of rocks. Restrooms in Monaco was free, some places had plate so you can put some money if you want. It's just nice to walk there, peeked in Casino, and didn't go in.      On a ship it's really not a lot what to do. We didn't go to all shows; it was enough 2 first ones. The dancers not good, not graceful, singers just ok. I liked there costumes liked how stage moves, rotates. The last show with the car was o k, but it was more like a play, not a lot of dancing.  During the day most of the people ashore, then they go eat dinner, would be nice to use pool or hot tub after that  (GOOD LUCK,THEY CLOSED AT 7PM ,HOT TUB AT 9PM, sometimes even earlier with no notice. Back pool supposes to be adult, but nobody controlled that. It seemed that a lot of things cruise employees did for there convenient, it's always would be closed areas in buffet for stuff members, saw few couples of working people, I don't need to see their romances. We saw once how they where closing curtains in buffet on people heads. A lot of times I would bump in the worker, guess who needed to move ME, they didn't. Rush to eat before nine, otherwise you not find a lot, buffet after 9 will have just pizza and dessert, you can get room service (that's kind a nice thing) but menu limited, after 10 only few things you can get from them.    Internet cafe nice, together with the library, close to bar. We got 100 min for 55 $ plus 3.95 onetime connection fee. The internet really slow and in a lot of port we saw internet cafes, so if you don't need it for work better to take your own computer and go ashore, faster and cheaper.    Front desk always looked mean if you would have any questions. When our TV broke (power problems) we called them every 10 min, they didn't liked that, after over than hour they fixed the problem.   Next stop Livorno  Remember, you can't walk in port, only taxi or shuttle can be used. We didn't know that, we walked back, but then they told us to wait for shuttle (200 meters was left) we didn't pay, but usually it's 5 Euros for the day, it takes to Piazza grande.. We decided to take train to Florence, taxis from port to train 20 Euros, so try to find who would share it. I asked whoever I saw, we found one couple. Got round trip tickets (27 Euros round trip for both).  Train times were on July  8:11, 9:11, 10:11 don't forget to validate them in a yellow machine in train station, they don't have them in the train. But one couple forgot to do that; conductor said them to write date on a ticket. We got out at Firenze S.M.N.  Before that stop was Firenze stop. Don't get mix up. It's everything so close in Florence, easy to walk. We didn't go to any galleries or museums, so had enough time to stop at Pizza on the way back to Livorno. Train times 2:27, 3:27, 4:27, 5:27 we validated our ticket, got out at pizza stop, then used the same ticket back to Livorno. From the train station you can get on bus, but it's only 15- 20 min walk, you can't see tower from there, ask people. We went straight from the station, and then saw when to turn left. From Pizza train times where 3:45, 4:34, 5:34, 5:45    From Livorno train station took no 1 bus (that would work if you get cruise shuttle from piazza grande,but we didn't know that, so from the stop closest to ship we walked, a lot. So or share taxi, o pay for shuttle and from there no 1 bus (cost euro or something like that)      Civitavecchia From ship shuttle took us to port gate (for free, its only 5 min walk maybe 10) then we walked to train station, just few blocks straight ahead. (10 min). Got round trip tickets. Times where 8:41 , 8:59, 9:17, 9:41, 9:59. They gave without asking B.I.R.G (18 Euros for both of us), its work for buses and metro in Rome too. It's a lot of stops in Rome S Peters close to Vatican. But you can get out on the last one, then take bus, depend where you want to go. We got out at Ostensia stop, took bus to Coliseum (bus 60 if I am fight, I just asked people all the time). We waited in line for tickets 45 to 60 min. 12 Euros per person, for Europe union members 7.50 so get your passport if you want to get discount. We went to complain about that in front desk, after talking with supervisor,they said they will put difference on our card, guess what, they didn't so last day we needed to talk about that (and it's not about 4.5 Euros it's principle) but they looked at us like we would be crazy. This entire passport situation made a lot of problem for a lot of people. They just needed to inform about that in their website, don't you think?     Then we took the bus to Fontana trevi (we asked people again, which no to take). You can't see it from the bus stop, so ask somebody let you know where to get out. It seems confusing but it's really not. Then we took bus 62, it took us to Vatican. That we saw from bus stop. Then 40 or 64 bus back to train station, we went to Roma centrale, this way more likely you'll get seat. Trains comfortable and clean, restrooms not really. Times back were2:09, 2:39, 3:09, 3:39, 4:09, 4:39, 5:09, 5:14, 5:39, 6:05.   Messina, Sicily  we got in port at 2pm.  We wanted to take train to Toarmina, train station is walk able distance from the ship, but we got there close to 3 o clock, next train was at 4:05, we didn't want to wait, so stayed there. Train times from Taormina to Messina 3:55pm, 5:22, 6:41, 7:13, 8:36 (it's about hour ride)    It's really nothing what to do in messina, first everything close till 5 or who knows. It's really dirty in a streets, even poop (I hope it's just dogs), my husband decided to fish there, so we bought fishing rod and all other stuff (25 Euros we spent) and he fished for hour and a half, then I started to see strange people around, one guy was using some drugs from the bag, other kid (maybe 10) was smoking, a lot of people smoke in Europe. So we decided go back to the ship with the fishing rod, no problem.    Sea day finally we can relax and not rush anywhere. It was second formal night, first was on second Barcelona day. They had crab legs that day for appetizer. Finally they had karaoke, we went there, the list of songs was a mess, not all song artists in there, one girl was singing when we got there, the cd was scratched, cruise director was laughing, next to him some employee women was laughing with him, they were really "lovie-duvie" and then he's "ok, try again, first tell about yourself, but he's not intelligent, he even didn't lift his butt to feel this poor girl better, all karaoke was like a joke. So we left. Tats it, no more karaoke nights (so don't spent time practicing).    Navplion, Greece  They had tender boats there. We stayed there, its cute city. We walked by fortress and found road to beach, it was small, rocky beach, so we sat in there, had some drinks, just relaxed.    Katakolon  We decided to take train to Olympia, the train station close to ship,5-8 min walk, it looks like restroom building, very small. Tracks start there. First train was 8:36am, its only 2 wagon train which goes to Olympia and back (I think it's only one train). Cost 6 Euros for both of us round trip. From train it's close to Olympia site place. Tickets 6 Euros each, 9 if you want to see site seen and museum.  Then we took 12:05 train back, walked in Katakolon and back to ship.   Corfu We didn't plan anything there, just got out and walked, a lot. They had ships shuttle (16$ round trip, 9$ one way to old town.) We walked there in 30 min, then went to fortress (4 Euros each) its nice view from there. Restroom I used in McDonald, but you need code on receipt to open the door, or just wait for somebody walk in or out. Then we found tiny beach in a cafe territory, paid 1.4 Euros entrance fee, they had changing rooms, 1.5 Euros for sun beds, towers you can take from the ship. They return passports that day.   Dubrovnik  Ship had shuttle 16$ round trip,9$ one way to pile gate (old town). Don't do that, there is a public bus right there, take mokosica-pile bus,we paid 20 kunas it's about 3 Euros for both of us. Old town very pretty, then we walked to the beach, it was one closer, but we walked more and found more quiet, nice beach, with rocks of course. It didn't cost, just rented sun beds 20 kunos each (3 euro) they took Euros. Then back to the bus and back to ship.  That night ship had dessert extravaganza, it was nice, I missed strawberries dipped in chocolate, and they had a lot of cakes, crapes, some hand size desserts, but nothing too crazy.  Next day Venice  We loved Venice. We stayed there one extra night after cruise, so we bought 23H bus and water bus tickets, 23euros each. We used them a lot. They go from Piazzale Roma. About 25 min. from the ship. One way would be 6, 50 Euros per person. 12h ticket for land and water bus 16 Euros per person. Gondola rides 80euros, but you can find somebody to share the ride, 6 people fit, then the price not so bad. If you just want to go one time to Piazza San Marco then just use right there alilaguna water taxi, 6,5 one way. On Venice day you can set your credit card, you can adjust  tips which they adding automatically, Next morning we paid in cash what we owned to the ship, ate last breakfast and rolled with the luggage to the bus stop, took no.  5 bus to Russot hotel,  then went back to the city.      We had a lot of fun, from ship we expected more, but we saw nice places, had nice room with balcony (where we spent most of the time when in ship), had decent food. So we will have only nice memories about this trip. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: July 2009
I and my husband (we 30 and over) took this cruise based on itinerary. It's our fifth cruise so we knew what to expect, we knew how it should be. We booked cruise shuttle from airport to the ship (only one thing which we booked ... Read More
I and my husband (we 30 and over) took this cruise based on itinerary. It's our fifth cruise so we knew what to expect, we knew how it should be. We booked cruise shuttle from airport to the ship (only one thing which we booked through the cruise, because everything overprice). People in airport was slow and confused, did not know what to do with extra luggage event it was not full bus, but we got to the ship fine, embarkation was very quick and we were in a ship in10 min. We got there maybe 12:30, waited for room maybe 20 min. Room was nice (a little old fashion, but its older ship so we expected that),enough space for luggage, nice size balcony. Then looked around, ship was clean, small compare to previous cruise ships, atrium tiny. A lot of hand sanitizers all over the ship, we liked that, because we have been on the ship with norvovirus (no fun), but sad is that not a lot of people using them. Luggage came quick to the room. We packed 2 bottles of wine and wine opener of course. This way you don't need to pay any opening charges. We had open seating for dinner, I think that's the way to go, because some days cruise leaves from ports after nine, this way you choose when to eat. Most of the stuff was Indonesian (mostly guys) and not all with the best manners. Barcelona. We stayed overnight there. We walked first night to La Rambla street, it's about 30 min walk. A lot of young people there, a lot of scary people (you afraid that they will steal something and something like that), trying to sell some cans or who know what. But city itself very nice. Next morning we went back to La Rambla, this time took port bus (3 Euros round trip or 2 one way).Then we took the Hop on hop of 2 deck bus (21 Euros per person one day), we took blue route, then I wanted to take red route but it was long line waiting to get on them and route take about 2 hours, so we didn't have enough time to do that (time change mixed our plans, we slept too long that morning). We just walked around, we used McDonald's restrooms for free, and then walked back to the ship (didn't want to wait in line for port bus). Before that I gave my Hop on hop of bus tickets away to one couple, they gave me 10 euros, so it worked well. When we walked we saw already people attending drill with the wests, we didn't go. How silly to do that, when people still ashore. I am Europe union member so I got letter that I need to bring my passport to front desk. We did, but front desk not helpful we heard so many different stories from them why they need my passport. Next day they where collecting U.S. and Canada citizen. My husband didn't give them, so they did a copy and said they will call in a room in case they would need to check original, never did. (It's good idea to have certified copy, in case somebody would lose it.). Monaco, Monte Carlo That morning we got the note, that we need to attend drill, but note came at 10am, drill was scheduled for 9 am, so we missed it again . They had tender boats from the ship to shore. We got there early so they announced that we can get on tender boats early, when we got to them, they announced that now will go only people who booked excursions, cruise director Jason Venner was blocking the stairs checking excursion stickers. He was rude, he said that now we need to wait almost an hour, but the boats were almost empty, so we sneaked in them anyway. EXPECT TO BE TREATED DIFERENT IF YOU DON'T BOOK SHIPS EXCURSIONS. WHEN YOU GETTING OUT FROM THE SHIP THERE IS NOBADY TO GUIDE YOU WHERE TO GO. In Monaco it's easy to walk (my easy means - people who fit), it's beautiful there. We walked first up to prince palace, then down toward casino (IF YOU WANT TO GO THERE, DRESS NICE AND KEEP YOUR PASSPORT, the reason for that, they don't let gamble for Monaco people. They have beach there (not the best one), but if you planning to go there bring water shoes (rubber shoes); all beaches which we saw on a trip had a lot of rocks. Restrooms in Monaco was free, some places had plate so you can put some money if you want. It's just nice to walk there, peeked in Casino, and didn't go in. On a ship it's really not a lot what to do. We didn't go to all shows; it was enough 2 first ones. The dancers not good, not graceful, singers just ok. I liked there costumes liked how stage moves, rotates. The last show with the car was o k, but it was more like a play, not a lot of dancing. During the day most of the people ashore, then they go eat dinner, would be nice to use pool or hot tub after that (GOOD LUCK,THEY CLOSED AT 7PM ,HOT TUB AT 9PM, sometimes even earlier with no notice. Back pool supposes to be adult, but nobody controlled that. It seemed that a lot of things cruise employees did for there convenient, it's always would be closed areas in buffet for stuff members, saw few couples of working people, I don't need to see their romances. We saw once how they where closing curtains in buffet on people heads. A lot of times I would bump in the worker, guess who needed to move ME, they didn't. Rush to eat before nine, otherwise you not find a lot, buffet after 9 will have just pizza and dessert, you can get room service (that's kind a nice thing) but menu limited, after 10 only few things you can get from them. Internet cafe nice, together with the library, close to bar. We got 100 min for 55 $ plus 3.95 onetime connection fee. The internet really slow and in a lot of port we saw internet cafes, so if you don't need it for work better to take your own computer and go ashore, faster and cheaper. Front desk always looked mean if you would have any questions. When our TV broke (power problems) we called them every 10 min, they didn't liked that, after over than hour they fixed the problem. Next stop Livorno Remember, you can't walk in port, only taxi or shuttle can be used. We didn't know that, we walked back, but then they told us to wait for shuttle (200 meters was left) we didn't pay, but usually it's 5 Euros for the day, it takes to Piazza grande.. We decided to take train to Florence, taxis from port to train 20 Euros, so try to find who would share it. I asked whoever I saw, we found one couple. Got round trip tickets (27 Euros round trip for both). Train times were on July 8:11, 9:11, 10:11 don't forget to validate them in a yellow machine in train station, they don't have them in the train. But one couple forgot to do that; conductor said them to write date on a ticket. We got out at Firenze S.M.N. Before that stop was Firenze stop. Don't get mix up. It's everything so close in Florence, easy to walk. We didn't go to any galleries or museums, so had enough time to stop at Pizza on the way back to Livorno. Train times 2:27, 3:27, 4:27, 5:27 we validated our ticket, got out at pizza stop, then used the same ticket back to Livorno. From the train station you can get on bus, but it's only 15- 20 min walk, you can't see tower from there, ask people. We went straight from the station, and then saw when to turn left. From Pizza train times where 3:45, 4:34, 5:34, 5:45 From Livorno train station took no 1 bus (that would work if you get cruise shuttle from piazza grande,but we didn't know that, so from the stop closest to ship we walked, a lot. So or share taxi, o pay for shuttle and from there no 1 bus (cost euro or something like that) Civitavecchia From ship shuttle took us to port gate (for free, its only 5 min walk maybe 10) then we walked to train station, just few blocks straight ahead. (10 min). Got round trip tickets. Times where 8:41 , 8:59, 9:17, 9:41, 9:59. They gave without asking B.I.R.G (18 Euros for both of us), its work for buses and metro in Rome too. It's a lot of stops in Rome S Peters close to Vatican. But you can get out on the last one, then take bus, depend where you want to go. We got out at Ostensia stop, took bus to Coliseum (bus 60 if I am fight, I just asked people all the time). We waited in line for tickets 45 to 60 min. 12 Euros per person, for Europe union members 7.50 so get your passport if you want to get discount. We went to complain about that in front desk, after talking with supervizor,they said they will put difference on our card, guess what, they didn't so last day we needed to talk about that (and it's not about 4.5 Euros it's principle) but they looked at us like we would be crazy. This entire passport situation made a lot of problem for a lot of people. They just needed to inform about that in their website, don't you think? Then we took the bus to Fontana trevi (we asked people again, which no to take). You can't see it from the bus stop, so ask somebody let you know where to get out. It seems confusing but it's really not. Then we took bus 62, it took us to Vatican. That we saw from bus stop. Then 40 or 64 bus back to train station, we went to Roma centrale, this way more likely you'll get seat. Trains comfortable and clean, restrooms not really. Times back were2:09, 2:39, 3:09, 3:39, 4:09, 4:39, 5:09, 5:14, 5:39, 6:05. Messina, Sicily we got in port at 2pm. We wanted to take train to Toarmina, train station is walk able distance from the ship, but we got there close to 3 o clock, next train was at 4:05, we didn't want to wait, so stayed there. Train times from Taormina to Messina 3:55pm, 5:22, 6:41, 7:13, 8:36 (it's about hour ride) It's really nothing what to do in messina, first everything close till 5 or who knows. It's really dirty in a streets, even poop (I hope it's just dogs), my husband decided to fish there, so we bought fishing rod and all other stuff (25 Euros we spent) and he fished for hour and a half, then I started to see strange people around, one guy was using some drugs from the bag, other kid (maybe 10) was smoking, a lot of people smoke in Europe. So we decided go back to the ship with the fishing rod, no problem. Sea day finally we can relax and not rush anywhere. It was second formal night, first was on second Barcelona day. They had crab legs that day for appetizer. Finally they had karaoke, we went there, the list of songs was a mess, not all song artists in there, one girl was singing when we got there, the cd was scratched, cruise director was laughing, next to him some employee women was laughing with him, they were really "lovie-duvie" and then he's "ok, try again, first tell about yourself, but he's not intelligent, he even didn't lift his butt to feel this poor girl better, all karaoke was like a joke. So we left. Tats it, no more karaoke nights (so don't spent time practicing). Navplion, Greece They had tender boats there. We stayed there, its cute city. We walked by fortress and found road to beach, it was small, rocky beach, so we sat in there, had some drinks, just relaxed. Katokolon We decided to take train to Olympia, the train station close to ship,5-8 min walk, it looks like restroom building, very small. Tracks start there. First train was 8:36am, its only 2 wagon train which goes to Olympia and back (I think it's only one train). Cost 6 Euros for both of us round trip. From train it's close to Olympia site place. Tickets 6 Euros each, 9 if you want to see site seen and museum. Then we took 12:05 train back, walked in Katokolon and back to ship. Corfu We didn't plan anything there, just got out and walked, a lot. They had ships shuttle (16$ round trip, 9$ one way to old town.) We walked there in 30 min, then went to fortress (4 Euros each) its nice view from there. Restroom I used in McDonald, but you need code on receipt to open the door, or just wait for somebody walk in or out. Then we found tiny beach in a cafe territory, paid 1.4 Euros entrance fee, they had changing rooms, 1.5 Euros for sun beds, towers you can take from the ship. They return passports that day. Dubrovnik Ship had shuttle 16$ round trip,9$ one way to pile gate (old town). Don't do that, there is a public bus right there, take mokosica-pile bus,we paid 20 kunas it's about 3 Euros for both of us. Old town very pretty, then we walked to the beach, it was one closer, but we walked more and found more quiet, nice beach, with rocks of course. It didn't cost, just rented sun beds 20 kunos each (3 euro) they took Euros. Then back to the bus and back to ship. That night ship had dessert extravaganza, it was nice, I missed strawberries dipped in chocolate, and they had a lot of cakes, crapes, some hand size desserts, but nothing too crazy. Next day Venice We loved Venice. We stayed there one extra night after cruise, so we bought 23H bus and water bus tickets, 23euros each. We used them a lot. They go from Piazzale Roma. About 25 min. from the ship. One way would be 6, 50 Euros per person. 12h ticket for land and water bus 16 Euros per person. Gondola rides 80euros, but you can find somebody to share the ride, 6 people fit, then the price not so bad. If you just want to go one time to Piazza San Marco then just use right there alilaguna water taxi, 6,5 one way. On Venice day you can set your credit card, you can adjust tips which they adding automatically, Next morning we paid in cash what we owned to the ship, ate last breakfast and rolled with the luggage to the bus stop, took no. 5 bus to Russot hotel, then went back to the city. We had a lot of fun, from ship we expected more, but we saw nice places, had nice room with balcony (where we spent most of the time when in ship), had decent food. So we will have only nice memories about this trip. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2009
First on the Oosterdam herself. We found it to be a fabulous ship! The staff was very friendly, courteous and helpful. My wife and daughter enjoyed the shows (I enjoyed the casino). We found the meals to be very good. We ate one ... Read More
First on the Oosterdam herself. We found it to be a fabulous ship! The staff was very friendly, courteous and helpful. My wife and daughter enjoyed the shows (I enjoyed the casino). We found the meals to be very good. We ate one dinner and one lunch at Pinnacle as well as a couple dinners in Lido. I do have a confession; prior to this cruise we had always done late fixed seating. On this cruise we had to do "anytime dining". We will always sign up for ATD for future cruises. We could eat when we wanted, we never had a wait. We had rotating guests to eat with which is a good thing for us and them on a 12 day cruise. We met many delightful people from Holland, New Zealand, Canada, Slovakia, Ireland, California and England at dinner and never had a bad experience. We would usually show up around 7:00 and every time were seated immediately. Another pleasant surprise for me was smoking. I assumed that it would be worse than US-based cruises since this cruise had so many Europeans on board. I found it to be just the opposite. The casino was almost smoke-free (not due to HAL rules). We did have a serious accident aboard the Oosterdam after we had left Kusadasi. Two crew members were injured, one very seriously so the ship had to divert back to Turkey in the middle of the night. The Captain gave us daily updates and one crew member was able to rejoin the ship during our cruise with the other crew member out of danger (but still in the hospital) by the time the cruise ended. We were very glad they were getting better and fully understood the need to take them back to Turkey. The disembarkation in Venice was the best I have ever experienced. We did the self-disembarkation. They announced we could leave a few minutes before 7:00 am and we were off, in a taxi and at the airport by 7:20. Unbelievable! I would say there did not appear to be a large number of taxis at the port that morning, maybe ten so someone behind us may have had to wait. Day one - Venice We had pulled an overnighter from Philadelphia with US Air and touched down in Venice at around 10:30 a.m. We were supposed to arrive at 9:00 but thunderstorms in Philly had delayed our departure by two hours. Arrival was non-eventful as we gathered our luggage and cleared customs by approximately 11:00. We grabbed a taxi outside (38 euros) and were deposited at the front of the cruise terminal within 20 minutes. HAL had baggage porters out front and we walked all of 20 feet with our bags before they were whisked away by the porters. There was very little in the way of signage as to where to go next but we quickly figured out that we needed to go upstairs in the cruise terminal. HAL was ready for us in a large hall with refreshments and a short wait until check-in opened up. We were on the ship by noon eating a nice lunch in Lido. After lunch we began our tour of Venice by walking to Piazzale Roma. It is not a bad walk, about 20 minutes but is up and down some bridges and crossing a traffic circle until you arrive at a very busy plaza. The walk is not marked so you have to kind of know the general direction to go. Piazzale Roma is full of activity but we were able to locate the ACTV ticket outlet pretty easy, just look for the bright blue signs near the water. The ticket window for the vaporetto is on the outside of the office, bus tickets are inside. We purchased three 36 hour passes (I had brought some euros with us but ATMs were readily available). Passes in hand we walked a few 100 feet to the loading platform for the vaporetto. I had done enough research to know we wanted route 2 (we were headed to Accademia) as it was quicker (less stops) than route 1. I was proud we were able to figure out which platform to get on and within minutes a vaporetto began loading. It took about a minute for me to realize that while we where in fact on the correct route, we were in fact going the wrong way! Not a big deal as we just got off and got on the correct way but pay attention to the little maps they post on the boarding stations, they show which way the route is headed! Once at Accademia we disembarked and found our way to the front door. It was here we experienced something that we found to be true throughout our visit to Venice, a lack of crowds. Don't get me wrong, St. Mark's Square was not empty but we had been prepared for long lines and there were none. We walked right in to Accademia with no wait at all. Once we were done there we headed over to St. Mark's Square were we got in a line that was about 50 feet long but it only took 5-10 minutes and we were inside. We had already stored our knapsack at Ateneo San Basso around the corner so we got by the fashion police with no problem. It was so non-crowded that when we paid to enter the treasury in the basilica there were only three other people inside! What an awesome experience. By this time jet lag was taking hold (I had slept like a rock on the flight thanks to Ambien but my wife and daughter were starting to look like zombies) so we headed back to Oosterdam and an early dinner and some sleep. Day 2 - Venice After a good night sleep and breakfast we were back at it by 9:00. HAL provided a free bus to Piazzale Roma so we rode that over and were back on the vaporetto by 9:15. Our morning goal was Doge's Palace. Again upon arrival at St. Mark's Square we were surprised by the lack of lines for the palace. We bought tickets and got in within a few minutes. All I can say about the palace is wow! It turned out to be our favorite place in Venice. We spent well over two hours touring its rooms, courtyards and prison. By that time we were getting hungry so we headed off in search of a restaurant I had found on the internet called Trattoria da Remigio. We walked and walked through the winding streets of Venice with no luck so we finally turned around, no sooner did we do that than realized we had walked right by the restaurant a few minutes earlier. Turned out they were closed for another 45 minutes so we opted for Trattiria da Giorgio, right around the corner which was very good, nice atmosphere also, right on one of the side canals. After lunch we headed to Ca' Del Sol and Atelier Marega for a Venetian mask for my daughter. Wonderful mask shops if anyone is interested, they are about a 10 minute walk from St. Mark's Square but well worth the diversion. From that point we began a shopper's dream (not mine) of a walk to the Rialto Bridge stopping at what seemed to me, every shop along the way. Once at Rialto, more shops and then a walk to Frari Church. This is a fascinating church, a Franciscan church built around 1250 AD. From there, back to the vaporetto and the Oosterdam. Day 3 - Venice I really considered this a sea day as we departed from port at 10:00 am. Not much you can do in Venice that early and still catch the ship. Turns out the ship had to wait due to the Festa de la Redentore festival which was held over the weekend (we wondered if this affected the crowds, maybe everyone went to the festival?). Part of the festival included a pontoon bridge across the Giudecca Canal. This could not be removed before 10:00am. The sail away from Venice has got to be the most awesome in the world. From the upper decks you get a magnificent view of the city, its buildings and all the canals. Day 5 - Athens I had arranged for Jordan Ntaioglou (jordantaxi52@hotmail.com) to take us to the sights in Athens. Jordan provides the transportation as well as a lot of insight into the history of Athens and Greece but does not accompany you inside any of the sights. We found Jordan to be a delight; he is very passionate about his work and wants his guests to leave Athens with an understanding of its history. The stops included the Acropolis, the Acropolis Museum (this was fantastic!), Hadrian's Arch, Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Temple of Zeus, The Tower of the Winds, St. George's Church, the President's Palace (including the changing of the guards) and the Panathenaic Stadium. A full day to say the least. Jordan also took us to a local taverna for lunch, To Oaronoteion; it turned out to be the best meal of our trip. My daughter claims it is the best lunch of her life! For dessert, Jordan went across the street and got us some baklava, awesome! We also spent about one hour in Plaka shopping where a vendor kept trying to sell my daughter a "gift for her future husband". I was afraid to ask what that might be! Day 6 - Istanbul We had decided to do Istanbul on our own and no sooner had the ship docked around 4:00 pm than we were off. We had docked further away from the Galata Bridge than I had anticipated and when exiting the ship you had to travel toward New District in order to get out of the secured port, kinda of a pain as it took us 20 minutes just to get to the main street. Once there we were in search of an ATM and Turkish Lira. I had been mildly concerned on this aspect as the tram required lira but found that ATMs are everywhere in Istanbul. In fact, I am not sure you are every out of sight of one. We queued up at the ATM with a few other Oosterdam adventurers and met up with Susan from Cruise Critic. Susan and her lovely daughters Caroline and Ti were schedule to go with us on our private tour in Kusadasi. It became kind of funny as throughout the remainder of the cruise; we seemed to run into Susan everywhere we went. On this occasion we hooked up and figured out how to buy tickets to the tram (there is a little office at each stop that sells them) and rode into the old town on the tram disembarking at Sultanhamet stop. Here is where we got our first lesson in dealing with Turkish vendors. We were all (Susan's group and my group) heading to the Hagia Sophia on the outside chance we could still get in when a friendly man started chatting with us, you know "where are you from, O' I have been there" kind of stuff. He told us we had missed the Hagia Sophia for the day but the Blue Mosque was still open. As we headed to the mosque he stuck right with us, chatting the whole time. He was quite helpful in explaining about the Muslim practices of worship, things like the separation of men and woman in the mosque, the washing of hands and feet etc. He showed us to the door, helped us get bags to store our shoes, all in all very helpful. Well, Susan and I were not dummies, we suspected there would be a catch to all this and with hardly any planning we split our group up with the intent of losing our benefactor in the mosque. After about 15-20 minutes I felt it was safe to go outside as I had not seen "our friend" for some time. Well as soon as we exit, guess who was waiting? As I am putting my shoes back on he begins telling me about his store, a rug shop and that I must see it and we can go there right now, it is right around the corner. Well I was not going and just told him we needed to meet some people and walked off. From that point forward anytime someone tried to engage us in a conversation we just did not respond. The Turkish vendors are pretty aggressive in talking to you but we found ignoring them to work pretty well. After the mosque we headed over to the Hippodrome and Underground Cistern, a very interesting place, plus it is naturally cool. By this time it was around 6:00 so we decide to get back on the tram and head to the Grand Bazaar (Cemberlitas stop). What a crazy place, vendors selling what appeared to me to be the same as the stall next door. How do they sell anything? They certainly try their hardest but I escaped relatively unharmed. From there it was back on the tram and back to the ship. One item of note, particularly late in the day is that Turkish men have different hygiene practices than Americans. The use of certain products appears to be optional and on the tram ride back it was quite obvious what these differences where. Off the tram at Tophane stop and back to the ship. One item of note is that Susan later told us that if you go one stop beyond Tophane to Findikli it is a much shorter walk. We used it the next day and found it to cut the walk in half. Day 7 - Istanbul Up early and back on the tram headed to Topkapi Palace. We got off the tram at the Gulhane stop and hit the side exit of the palace. It was weird as I expected to have a controlled access but in fact it is just a winding road where eventually you find a guard (armed with an Uzi in case you try to get in early) who stopped us until a few minutes before nine. We hit the Harem first and than the rest of the palace. As my daughter would say OMG, what a place. Certainly our favorite in Istanbul. Not only are the various courtyards breathtaking but the artifacts they have on display are unbelievable, Moses' staff, Muhammad's footprints, an 86 carat diamond.... After the palace we needed to eat so we went to Sultanahmet Koftecisi for lunch and to cool off. Lunch was good, a limited menu, meatballs and kebabs plus some salads and appetizers. This is the place that "invented the Turkish meatball". Once we had recharged we decided to head to the Spice Bazaar so back on the tram, off at Eminonu and to the bazaar where of course we ran into Susan and her group (as we did in the waiting line for the palace). After a tour of the Spice Market we decided it was time to head back to the ship. Day 8 - Mykonos This was a late arrival, 1:00, so we had already had lunch when we disembarked. This was the only time on the trip I found HAL to be disorganized. We dock about one mile from town so HAL had arranged for buses to carry us into town. The problem was the bus line and the disembarkation lines were all jumbled up so those trying to get off could not until those ahead of them got on the buses. Confusion reigned. We checked out the Archaeological Museum which was quite interesting. I never get tired of seeing things made several thousand years ago. What a beautiful place, Mykonos, small winding streets, whitewashed houses and shops. We basically just wandered the streets, stopping at shops (too many for me but I am out numbered). Visited "Little Venice" for a drink, found the Church of Panagia Paraportiani, went in the Folk Museum, found the windmills etc. We ate at Kostas where we got a seafood platter appetizer that freaked my daughter out because we ate pickled octopus. We are not late night partiers so headed back before the crowds. Day 9 - Kusadasi We had arranged for the services of a tour guide for Ephesus, Levent Solmaz (www.leventsolmaz.com). There were four families on this tour and Levent actually accompanies you through the various stops. Levent did an outstanding job. I would highly recommend him to anyone! We visited the Ephesus ruins, the terrace houses, Mary's shrine, Museum of Ephesus, Basilica of St. John, Hadrian Temple and the Temple of Artemis. The ruins in Ephesus are awesome, the best we saw on the whole trip and Levent did a great job working us around the crowds and the heat (it was 114F). Levent took us to a local restaurant called Selcuk Koftecisi which was great (plus it was air conditioned). After lunch it was off to a rug making shop and leather shop and back to the ship. Did I mention it was hot? Day 10 - Santorini I am surprised I am saying this but Santorini was our most disappointing stop. It was not Santorini itself but just the way the stay worked out. I mentioned earlier that two of the ship's crew had a serious accident and the ship had to divert to Turkey so they could receive medical attention. This was understandably necessary. This did impact our arrival in Santorini so instead of arriving at 8:00 am we actually did not arrive until 10:15 am. Then began a laborious tendering event that translated into an over 2 hour wait to actually get to the island. Our original plan had been to rent a car, go to Oia and return later to Fira for shopping but since we did not actually set foot on Santorini until 12:15 that plan went out the window. In addition, the ship did not, could not, would not delay leaving Santorini (we ended up arriving over one hour early in Katakolon the next day) by and hour or two. In fact we were told that the last tender would leave Santorini at 4:30 giving us a whopping 4 hours on the island. Given the tendering nightmare, the logistics of getting back to the tenders from Fira and the time we had been allotted we felt that we had better be in the cable car line by 3:30 at the latest (turned out that was about right as the cable car line wait was at least 30 minutes). This gave us time for lunch and some shopping but nothing like we had planned. I don't know if there were special issues surrounding the tendering but if that is typical of a Santorini stop, I would not care to go back unless the stop is scheduled for at least 12 hours (I have seen some cruises on HAL where Santorini is only allocated 6 hours versus our original 9 hours). It just seems a shame that a place so beautiful and difficult to get to should be rushed. If necessary consider cutting out a port and do an overnighter in Santorini, I bet that would fill up quick. Day 11 - Katakolon We had arranged for a private taxi for this port with Andreas Stamos (olympiataxi@yahoo.gr). Andreas is a very nice driver, he is very careful with his driving (his wife just had their first baby so maybe he wants to be sure to make it home!). Andreas did a great job of taking us to Ancient Olympia, the Olympia Museum, the Amphitheater and the Olympic Games Museum. The Olympia ruins are hard to understand what you are looking at as time and the Romans leveled the original buildings. Andreas gave us a very handy book and map that included pictures as the ruins looked today and then an overlay of what they looked like in ancient times plus a write-up on the particular ruin. We found this to be very helpful! For lunch it was off to another local restaurant (eating is very important to us) called Aegean. It was fabulous. I had a calzone that was huge and very very good! Read Less
Sail Date: July 2009
About Us: Our party of 4 was made up of myself and my husband (DH) (40's and 50's, British expats living in the USA for the past 20 years) and our daughter (DD) and her friend, (RHSD) both 15. It was the friends first trip ... Read More
About Us: Our party of 4 was made up of myself and my husband (DH) (40's and 50's, British expats living in the USA for the past 20 years) and our daughter (DD) and her friend, (RHSD) both 15. It was the friends first trip out of the USA and her first cruise. This was our 14th cruise and we have sailed predominantly with Celebrity. Our last 2 cruises with Celebrity (Med Summer 2008 on Galaxy and the Solstice Inaugural in November 2008) just didn't measure up to their previous high standards, especially when it came to food, so we were ready for a change. Our son was booked on a People to People Ambassador trip to Australia and this HAL sailing fitted perfectly into the period he was away. Pre-cruise: We flew from Washington Dulles on 4th July on Lufthansa to Barcelona via Munich. Service on board was like in the old days, with hot towels, complimentary cocktails, wine with dinner and after dinner drinks. Flights were on time and even though we had a tight connection and 2 coaching stands rather than gates, we made our Barcelona flight. Took a taxi from the airport to the hotel. We stayed at the Hotel 1898 on the Ramblas, just south of Placa Catalunya. Hotel was great and surprisingly quiet considering it's location. We spent time on the rooftop terrace, swimming, sipping Cava and eating tapas. The next morning we took a taxi to the ship and arrived at the port around 11:30. Check In To describe check in at the port as chaotic would be very generous. We checked-in online at home and had printed our boarding passes. At the terminal were given check in number 9 and then heard them calling number 12 to check in. Huh? We lined up and were at the check in desks in about 15 minutes. I think the agent we got was new to the job as she seemed very flustered. I had a notarized Power of Attorney (as requested by HAL) giving us permission to take RHSD on the cruise. The agent had no idea what it was, and then had a problem with my passport. Eventually a supervisor sorted it out and we were given our number 9 back for boarding. Of course number 11 was boarding by now so we went to the front of the line. After a brief photo stop we were onboard and herded into an elevator up to the lido deck. I asked if the dining room was open, but was told it wasn't. (Checking later on the daily programme it was listed as being open from 12 noon until 1pm, grrr!). To be honest I usually avoid the lido whenever possible as it is always crowded and there is never anywhere to sit. We eventually found a table out by the pool with Lena and the Halcats blaring out, and waiters constantly pushing wine cards, soda cards, cocktail cards, wine packages and sommelier dinners. I felt like my head would burst and just wanted to go somewhere quiet. Cabins Our cabin was ready at 1:30 and was just what we expected having had a similar aft VA on deck 4 of the Westerdam previously. The verandah was roomy enough for a chaise lounge, armchair and ottoman, chair and a small table, and the overhang from the deck 5 verandah covered about 18" of it. The bathroom was big enough for a bathtub, which was nice. The cabin was roomy and had space between the bed and the living area. The girls had an inside cabin nearby which was much smaller and only had a shower. Both cabins had the same stewards, Fullah and Neru who did an excellent job cleaning our cabin and did the best they could with the girls cabin. Suitcases came quickly and we unpacked straight away. There was plenty of closet and drawer space and the suitcases were easily stored under the bed. It seemed strange overnighting in Barcelona, as usually at this point in the cruise we are ready for lifeboat drill and sailaway. We decided to not go back into town and checked out the Crows Nest for pre-dinner drinks instead. Hmm. What have they done to the Crows Nest? I love the Crows Nest bar and I love the library come computer centre, but I don't think I like them together. We introduced ourselves to the bar staff and ordered what would become our "usual" - the split of Henkel champagne and a Corona. We had main seating dinner, 8pm, and our table (#92) for 4 by the upper level railing overlooked the staircase and a small landing on which we hoped they would sometimes have live dinner music performing. Unfortunately they didn't. I think it would have added to the atmosphere on formal night in a classier way than the creased white chair covers did! Our waiter was Jeffrie and his assistant was Riski. They did a really good job of taking care of us and coping with the girls picky appetites. We were pleasantly surprised by the number of choices and the high quality of the food in the dining room compared to our recent experiences on Celebrity. It was a pleasure to be forced to decide between 3 or 4 things that you would have loved to order rather than picking the one item on the menu that you thought you could possibly eat. Typically there were four appetizers, three soups including a chilled one, a salad, eight entrees and desserts. Additionally french onion soup, Caesar salad, steak and salmon were always available. We had been eating healthily before our trip so stuck with seafood, fish and chicken on the ship and really enjoyed our choices. Often fish is overcooked on ships but we found all the fish we ordered, bar one, to be cooked perfectly. We ate in the dining room 9 out of 12 nights. We were a bit worried about the Master Chef's dinner on the last night as I had read unfavorable reports about it online and didn't think we would enjoy it. Fortunately on the Oosterdam there was none of the singing and dancing that I was dreading and the only "performance" part was the Baked Alaska parade, which is pretty standard on all ships. We ordered wine with dinner every night but the last. I thought the selection was somewhat limited and overpriced - not too many bottles under $40. On the last night we brought our own wine to the dining room, a bottle of Prosecco that we had bought in Dubrovnik, and the wine steward was kind enough to open it for us and not charge us corkage. It was a very nice gesture and we appreciated it very much. We ate a couple of very nice breakfasts and lunches in the dining room, during its limited opening hours. The meals were always delicious and hot and it was a more relaxing alternative to the buffet. We ate in the Pinnacle Grill on two occasions, the first for the Sommelier Wine Dinner and the second for their regular dinner. I cannot enthuse enough about the Sommelier dinner, other to say that it is probably the best meal we have ever eaten! The dinner cost $69 per person and there were 6 courses, each paired with a wine chosen to complement the food. We started with a cocktail called Jade, which was champagne mixed with midori. First course was a caramelized orange scallop paired with a kir royale. Second was an asian style cod with pickled warm cucumber, paired with a chardonnay. Then came a wild mushroom cappuccino and pinot noir followed by "spoom". Spoom seemed to be champagne and sorbet in the same glass, a bit like a rich man's root beer float! After than came lamb paired with cabernet sauvignon and a selection of cheeses served with port. The final course was a grand marnier soufflE served with a glass of grand marnier. Then when we couldn't eat another bite they brought out coffee and exquisite truffles. It was truly a memorable meal! Our other meal in the Pinnacle Grill was also memorable, but not for what we ate, but what we didn't get to eat. All week, while eating healthily, we had been looking forward to Steak Diane, which comes with a mushroom sauce, french fries and a side of sautEed mushrooms. The sort of meal someone on weightwatchers would fantasize about for months! Unfortunately it was not to be as mushrooms were not available that night. How bizarre! We thoroughly enjoyed the main courses that we chose by default, the lamb and the surf and turf, but I can't help wondering how much better it would have been if we'd been able to have what we really wanted! Oh and by the way, the French fries in the Pinnacle were out of this world, and well worth the calories! At the end of the meal we were too full to eat our truffles so we asked the waitress of she could wrap them so we could give them to the girls. Not only did she wrap them, but she wrapped a couple of dozen more, so we had incredible pillow chocolates for the remainder of the cruise! We planned to eat in Canaletto the night we got back from Rome as we didn't want to have to rush to get ready for dinner after a long and tiring day. When we tried to make a reservation we were told Canalettos would be closed that night, but that the entire lido would be serving the Canaletto menu. We waited until 8:30 as we thought the crowds would be gone by then. Instead it was a seething mass of humanity. Apparently the ship tours had all got back late as President Obama was in Rome that day and roads were closed so the tour buses were unable to leave on time. All the tables were full but Boozee the bar waiter found us one that had just been vacated and said he would get us a bottle of wine and set up the table while we queued for food. He was as good as his word. The food wasn't great. Things like desserts and cheeses and the antipasto displays just weren't being refilled when they were empty, so towards the end of the evening pickings were slim. We retreated to our verandah with the bottle of wine and ordered shrimp cocktails, a cheese plate and a fruit plate and had a nice quiet picnic under the stars instead. We occasionally used the lido for lunch. We particularly enjoyed the asian station with it's soups and freshly cooked stir fries. Towards the end of the cruise we discovered afternoon tea in the Explorers Lounge. It was very civilized, with a selection of teas, scones, sandwiches and pastries served by a white gloved waiter. The scones were the best I have had outside of England. One day we went to Indonesian Tea served in the dining room. The waiters were wearing Indonesian dress and served Indonesian desserts and teas as well as the standard afternoon tea. Entertainment If HAL is streets ahead of Celebrity with its food, it unfortunately falls short with its entertainment. For late seating, the shows were before dinner, which was a bit of a rush after a day in port. Trivia and Name that Tune always seemed to be while we were still eating dinner. On the positive side, we saw 2 production shows, one was a dance show and the other a musical and both were excellent. The other great act was Leo Ward, the illusionist. His show was very impressive. He also performed as a comedian in a late night show early on in the cruise, which we didn't see. From some of the comedy he did during his illusionist show, I wish we had caught his comedy act as well. On the downside was a show featuring a tenor. We left after the first few minutes. Not really our cup of tea although lots of other people seemed to be enjoying him. Another night the entertainment was a "Mamma Mia" movie singalong. No thank you. We took dancing lessons before our trip and were hoping to be able to dance on board. There was a dance venue with live ballroom / latin music every night, but it was aimed at people at least 20-30 years older than us, and because the people dancing were of a very high standard, they did not seem to appreciate novices having a go. We enjoyed listening to the string quartet and thought how much they would have enhanced formal night dinners had they played live in the dining room. They played once in the Crows Nest during a wine and cheese sailaway party from Dubrovnik, which made a pleasant change. Lena and the Halcats were good, if only they had turned them down a little. The ship had a nightclub but the loudness of the music seemed to drive people away rather than draw them in. Volume for me really was an issue. We pretty much found the ship to be dead after dinner, which was disappointing. The worst night was when we left Taormina at 10 or 11pm, and the following day was a sea day. After the long tiring port days people seemed ready to party. There was a pool party which was fun (we finally got to meringue and salsa!), and very well attended, but which finished at 11pm. Our options then were to go to the nightclub which, (after nights of disco, Motown, music through the decades and 80's, that we were too tired to stay up for), was doing 90's music at ear splitting volume, so we didn't bother with that. We tried the piano bar, but that sounded like a load of drunks singing along with an out of tune piano player. Our last option was the dancing venue but after Moon River and Stranger on the Shore et al, we gave up and went to bed. I really feel they should have kept the pool party going until midnight with Lena and the Halcats, or played music that was more multi generational in the nightclub that night. If we thought the entertainment in general was lacking something, the girls found the teen club to be totally underwhelming. For starters 13-19 year olds were lumped in together and the activity every evening was playing card games. To make matters worse, the teens were not allowed to just hang out with their new friends in the teen room, but had to participate in the card games or leave. Every night in the daily programme they listed a "teen disco" and every night at that time it was card games instead. On other cruises they had Wii sports, guitar hero, karaoke, casino nights, scavenger hunts etc and we hardly ever saw our teens. On this cruise hanging out with the parents was more fun than teen club, and for a teen that is really sad. We did notice that the teen staff had other duties on this ship such as checking in people for shore excursions and accompanying tours. Perhaps the teen counselors were too tired to do their proper job well? The outcome is that DD says she won't go on another HAL cruise and RHSD says she doesn't want to go on a ship again as it was boring. Spa We used the spa twice for massages. We indulged in a couples massage and a hot stones massage. Both were excellent. I would recommend not using the spa flip flops as they were hard molded plastic and had razor sharp edges, and were quite uncomfortable. I have become smart enough over the years to never mention anything about my appearance or lifestyle that I am "concerned about" in the initial spa questionnaire as I have learnt from experience that this will lead to a sales spiel for some or other product, outrageously priced, that will supposedly fix it. This time I didn't write anything and the masseuse tried to sell me something for the black bags under my eyes! I thanked her for pointing them out, said they gave me character and declined the product, and to my surprise the hard sell ended immediately. I was thrilled. Lifeboat Drill Last year on the Celebrity Solstice we had our lifeboat drill in one of the specialty restaurants, which was our muster station. They showed a video and a passenger behind us prattled away on his cellphone the entire time. Some people carried their life jackets. We never saw our lifeboat station and I remember thinking how unprepared some of the passengers would be in a real emergency if that was the extent of the muster drill. On HAL, by comparison, we mustered out on deck, under the lifeboats, in our life jackets, men behind, women and children in the front. The crew checked that each of our life jackets were on properly and then did a roll call of all the passengers. The Captain gave a safety talk over the loudspeaker. This was much more realistic than on the Solstice and people paid attention. Smoking After enjoying Celebrity's smoke free cabins and verandahs, as a non-smoker I was a bit worried that HAL, permitting smoking in both cabins and on verandahs, would end up being the smokers cruiseline of choice, and a rather smelly experience. I was relieved when I walked in our cabin and it didn't smell smoky and only very occasionally did I smell someone smoking on one of the other verandahs. The aft pool bar was the cigar bar in the evening and that didn't bother us at all. On the whole there were only a couple of really smelly areas we came across, one was the casino and the other the sports bar next to it. The hallway outside one of the forward cabins on our deck reeked of smoke, and I was glad we weren't staying in that cabin next. It seems HAL has managed to accommodate both smokers and non-smokers pretty well although I think stopping smoking in the cabins would be a further step in the right direction. Ports We took an Eastern Mediterranean cruise last year and were glad that only 2 of the ports were repeated on this western Mediterranean cruise. Barcelona Day 2 We got up early, had room service breakfast and were off the ship and heading for the Sagrada Familia by 8:30. It truly is an amazing building and is currently under renovation so it was impossible to get a photo of it without a crane somewhere in the picture. Took another taxi to Placa Catalunya and headed off down Las Ramblas. Had a good look round the local market and then explored the gothic area and the girls did some clothes shopping. We managed to run into a demonstration outside a government building, and made a hasty departure when the riot police arrived! Took a taxi back to the ship and had a late lunch. Luckily the lido wasn't crowded and we ate from the asian station. Monte Carlo. This is the port I was most looking forward to as I had worked in the area one summer while I was in college and I was wondering if it was still as fabulous as I remembered it being. Had a lazy morning as we were not due to anchor until noon and then tender at 1pm at the earliest. We had a private tour booked and as tender tickets were not due to be handed out until 1pm we decided to go to the dining room for lunch. Our lunch was great. We had soup and fish and had a lovely table to ourselves by the window with a view overlooking Monte Carlo. Much more civilized than the lido. We had just ordered when they announced that they were ready ahead of time and had time to tender a few independent travelers before the ship tours were due to tender, if they got to the departure point quickly, not an option for us, but useful to know for the future. We picked up tender tickets around 12:45 (it pays to get in line early!) and were on the first non-HAL tour tender and ashore around 1pm. It was particularly rough (well to someone with vertigo combined with a fear of falling into the water when stepping on and off boats!) but we got ashore OK. We had booked a private tour for 7 of us through Revelation Tours for Euro 350 for 5 hours and were scheduled to visit Monte Carlo, The Rock of Monaco, Eze Village and Nice. Our driver/guide was Frankie. He suggested that as our ship wasn't leaving until 10pm, we could hire him for an extra hour for an additional Euro 70 and see St Paul de Vence, which he described as a stunning walled town, so we agreed. We started off in Monte Carlo by the Casino and the Hotel de Paris. It was fabulous and just how I remembered it. Next stop was St Paul de Vence and it truly was a lovely little town with narrow winding streets and bijou little shops. Stopped for a takeaway ham and cheese sandwich before heading off to Nice. Nice again was just as I remembered it. The palm tree lined Promenade des Anglais with its exclusive hotels on one side and the beach on the other. It was stunning and took me back to my youth. Next stop was Eze, a small village clinging to the rocks high above the coast. Despite us telling Frankie we really weren't interested in visiting the perfume factory, somehow we ended up there. Eventually we escaped and got to explore Eze proper. Our final stop was The Rock in Monaco where the Grimaldi Castle is located. From here there were stunning views over the harbour. It positively oozed money! Somehow we managed to tender back to the ship without falling in and changed quickly and headed off to dinner. Watched the ship sail out of Monte Carlo and had an early night as our next port stop was to be Livorno for Florence, and we had an 8am private tour booked. Florence We joined a full day tour of Pisa and Florence that a fellow CCer had booked through Unforgettable Tuscany for Euro 500 for a party of 6. We got to Pisa before the first tour bus and we had 9:30 reservations to climb the Tower. After that we drove to Florence and visited the Accademia to see the Statue of David. There was a very good Thomas Mapplethorpe exhibition there as well. Paolo, our guide, took us to lunch and ordered several traditional dishes for us to share. After that we had free time in Florence and then he drove us back to the ship through the countryside. Rome We had spent 5 days in Rome pre and post cruise last year and took a Rome and Vatican City private tour with Manilo Tranquili so the RHSD could see the sights. The full day tour cost Euro 500 for 6. Unfortunately our visit coincided with President Obama's visit to Rome for the G8 summit, so we had to rearrange the order of our tour as we had planned to visit the Vatican in the afternoon but discovered that it was going to be closed for the Presidents private visit then. We visited St Peters in the morning and then the rest of the day was a blur as we whizzed from sight to sight. We had planned to visit the Basilica of San Clemente but it was closing for lunch just as we got there. In the afternoon we visited the catacombs, which I thought were a let down. With hindsight, the hour we spent at the catacombs would have been better spent actually walking through the Forum and Coliseum. We left Rome around 4:30 as Manilo was worried about road closures for the Presidents visit. He was right. We got back to the ship at the time we expected, but some of the ships tours didn't get back until 8pm, due to delays and road closures. Messina This was an afternoon and evening port stop and we took the ships tour to Taormina and the Greco Roman Theatre. We did the same tour last year so there were no surprises. It's always nice to see Mt Etna smoking in the distance. Navplion This was to be our chill out day, just wandering around the port by ourselves. We were on the first tender to shore after the ship excursions. I had hoped to persuade a taxi driver to drive us to the top of the Palamidi Fortress, but they just laughed at us and said they wanted to do tours to Mycaenae and Epidaurus. One driver offered to take us for Euro 20 but I declined. DH and RHSD decided to climb the 900 stairs to the top and DD and myself explored and went to the beach for an hour. We met up again, wandered around town and had lunch before heading back to the ship. Katakolon We booked a ships tour to Ancient Olympia. The tour guide was superb and really brought to life through her narration what in reality was just piles of stones. She also accompanied us around the museum and highlighted some of the most important treasures. My favorite was the male statue that is said to have the most perfect buttocks! Katakolon itself was a good place for souvenirs - the olive oil soap was very nice. Corfu We took a taxi to the old town and explored by ourselves. Had lunch by the cricket pitch, visited the castle, and RHSC indulged in some shopping. Not the most interesting of ports. Dubrovnik Got off the ship as early as we could and took a taxi to the Pile Gate. Bought tickets to walk the walls and were among the first up there. What a spectacular view! You could see the sea and marina looking out and a myriad of orange colored tiled roofs looking in. Walked the entire wall and spent lots of time taking photos. Went into the town and explored a little then had a refreshment stop and had "toast" (grilled ham and cheese sandwich) and sandwiches. Shopped for souvenirs and a nice bottle of Prosecco and were back onboard in time for lunch. Venice Day 1 Had a late breakfast in the dining room. Waiters were amazed when I ordered "Eggs Benedict" without the hollandaise sauce. I told them I called them "skinny benedicts" and they were for dieters, they said they called them poached eggs, LOL!! Went on deck and watched as we sailed around Venice and into our berth. What fabulous photo opportunities! We were berthed next to barges laden with fireworks for Redentore. I'm not sure whether the fireworks would be launched from that location or if they would be towed into the lagoon later. As we were spending one extra night in Venice, we decided to see if our hotel, the Olimpia in Piazzale Roma, was walkable from the ship with luggage. I don't know if it was the heat or if we are unfit, but we barely made it there without luggage! On the plus side there was only one large bridge from the Piazzale to the hotel. We went into the hotel and checked we could store our luggage there early the next morning and were told, no problem and also confirmed our reservations were OK. Decided to take the slow vaporetto and follow the Rick Steves tour down the Grand Canal. Unfortunately we couldn't get the prime outside seats he recommended, but made the best of the seats we found. Ended up near St Marks and had a quick look round and then decided to blow the budget and have a drink at the Cafe Florian. We happened to get there when they had music so straight away there was a Euro 6 music surcharge per person. We ordered 3 sodas, 2 club sandwiches and a milkshake and it came to a whopping Euro 101, but thankfully that did include the music and service charge. A once in a lifetime extravagance! We had timed tickets for St Marks and had a wander round. It was very gothic, dark and oppressive. Quite creepy and very different in nature to St Peters in Rome. Interestingly, people dressed inappropriately at St Peters were turned away. At St Marks they were given paper cover ups to wear that resembled the wraps they give you in doctors offices! As Redentore was the next day, St Peters Square had a huge stage in it so wasn't how I imagined it would look. By now I had decided that Venice was overpriced and overcrowded and not for me. Walked through the alleys to the Rialto bridge and took a vaparetto back to Piazzale Roma and walked to the ship. We were hot and tired and really hoping there would be taxis at disembarkation! Venice Day 2 We were among the last to disembark, between 9 and 9:15. We had skinny benedicts one last time in the dining room and then disembarked. There was a walk from the terminal to the baggage hall and then long lines for people trying to book transfers and water taxis. We resigned ourselves to dragging the luggage, but I was pretty sure I had seen a taxi rank, albeit and empty one, the day before. Today there were taxis there. Yes!!!! It wasn't cheap, but we got a ride to Piazzale Roma and dragged our bags over the bridge to the hotel. We left our bags in the left luggage room and decided to follow the advice we had read elsewhere ie "throw away the map and get lost in Venice". We started to follow the Rialto and San Marco street signs and came across a deserted square with a lone gondolier standing reading a newspaper. We negotiated a price and he took DH, DD and RHSD on a 40 minute ride. I explored nearby alleyways, canals and squares and settled myself down in a cafe just as they arrived back. Had cappuccino and pastries and then took the girls to buy masks at a nearby shop where the mask maker was crafting his masks on the premises. We revisited St Marks Square and then set off back towards the hotel, following the Piazzale Roma signs this time. We stopped at a small restaurant as I was determined RHSD would try Italian pizza and agree that it was better than American pizza, LOL. She loved it! Shopped for souvenirs - an Italia sweatshirt, statues and a Kaka football shirt and staggered back to the hotel. By this point I LOVED Venice! We ate dinner at the Caffe La Rambla, quite appropriate I thought as 2 weeks earlier we were just beginning our trip on La Rambla in Barcelona. Had a fabulous meal, 2 bottles of prosecco, and the girls sampled the proprietors strawberry wine. The following morning we had breakfast in the hotel and then took a taxi from Piazzale Roma to the airport. Had to wait an hour to check in and a couple of hours for the flight on Air Dolomiti from Venice to Munich which was delayed by 30 mins. Luckily we still made our connecting flight although it was boarding when we got to the gate. In conclusion I have to say that this was a thoroughly enjoyable trip. We had great weather and the ports were superb. The ship was in excellent condition and the crew is truly an asset to the company. We probably had the best food we have ever had on a cruise on this trip, so there was a lot to like. If there had been a little more evening entertainment and a livelier Teen Club the trip would have been perfect. Read Less
Sail Date: February 2009
We arrived in San Diego a couple of days early to enjoy a four star hotel booked through Priceline. It was a bargain, and the time spent in San Diego was almost as enjoyable as the cruise. The cruise terminal was a short cab ride from our ... Read More
We arrived in San Diego a couple of days early to enjoy a four star hotel booked through Priceline. It was a bargain, and the time spent in San Diego was almost as enjoyable as the cruise. The cruise terminal was a short cab ride from our hotel. This was our third cruise out of San Diego on the Oosterdam. There were a large number of senior citizens on this cruise, including us (my wife and I are at the "lower" end of "senior"). We like the quieter atmosphere that goes with an older group of passengers, although, for some reason, this cruise appeared to have more walkers, scooters and wheelchairs than our previous voyages on the Oosterdam. That tends to slow down traffic just a bit. Each cruise on the Oosterdam has been very enjoyable. The ship is still in very nice shape, although it is showing a few signs of wear in places, such as some of the carpeting. The crew is friendly and attentive. Our room stewards were great, and our dining room steward was the best. The bedding in our room was excellent; very comfortable. Embarkation was a breeze; we arrived at around 11:30 and were on the ship by noon. Our cabin, a mini-suite on the Upper Verandah deck, was ready by about 1:45. That gave us time to enjoy a light lunch on the Lido deck. After two nice days at sea we docked in Mazatlan. Having been in Mazatlan twice before, we decided to spend the day on the ship and booked a day in the thermal suite. Upon showing up to use the spa, we found that the ship had gone into Code Red due to an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness among the passengers and crew. The thermal suite was shut down for the rest of the cruise, so we got a full refund. They also shut down the hot tubs on board. From that point on, extraordinary steps were taken to prevent spread of the illness. We were basically not allowed to dish up any food ourselves, were not allowed to touch anything in the shops without rubber gloves and constantly were washing and using hand sanitizer. We and our traveling companions made it through the cruise without getting ill and it only put a slight damper on our overall activities. In Puerto Vallarta we took the mini-4x4 adventure. It was fun, although extremely dusty. A word of caution to contact lens wearers wear glasses or very good goggles on the tour. The Yamaha Rhinos were easy and fun to drive, although they did not appear to be very well maintained. The tour went through back roads, small villages and dry stream beds on a circuitous route from and back to hacienda Dona Engracia (which is also where the Town, Country and Tequila, and the Mini-ATV tours go). In Cabo, we took the Discover Todos Santos tour. It was enjoyable, although I wouldn't do it again. The bus drive is about an hour and a half to get there and the town itself was not that impressive. Lunch at the Hotel California was quite good. Our guide, Marco, did a very good job of describing the geography and history of the area. We tipped him well. Our last sea day was enjoyable and the disembarkation was very quick and efficient. As with our past cruises, the meals were excellent, both in the dining room and the Pinnacle Grill. Service was excellent overall. We probably won't cruise the Mexican Riviera again, at least for quite some time. There was a noticeable increase in armed troops and police in each port. We did feel safe, but after three visits we have no strong desire to see the Mexican Riviera again. Read Less
Sail Date: February 2009
San Diego was incredibly convenient as an embarkation city. The proximity of the airport and the cruise terminal and the wide range of transportation options made it a breeze to get from airport to ship. We arrived the afternoon before ... Read More
San Diego was incredibly convenient as an embarkation city. The proximity of the airport and the cruise terminal and the wide range of transportation options made it a breeze to get from airport to ship. We arrived the afternoon before our cruise and stayed at the Holiday Inn right across from the cruise terminal - highly recommended. We wished we would have arrived earlier in the day to enjoy all that the San Diego wharf front has to offer - the USS Midway, maritime museum, etc are all right there in easy walking distance. The elephant and castle bar at the hotel was worth the visit and had a nice assortment of beers on tap. Embarkation was reasonably efficient. We had pre-registered on line and it took approximately 40 minutes from our initial arrival at noon to when we boarded the ship. We chose the late dinner seating(8pm)in the Vista lounge and were seated with 4 new friends who we enjoyed getting to know for the rest of the cruise. The food was above average, as was the service. The soups were excellent - and we are not really big soup fans. We had 2 servers for our table that we shared with several other tables. Those guys worked hard every evening to get it right for their diners. By day 2 they had our names down which was nice to be called by name. Since we had the late seating, we'd slip by the Lido buffet around 6PM every evening for a sneak (snack) preview of the dinner entrees and soups. Entertainment - we don't cruise for the shows but we did enjoy Derrick the comic and Charlie at the Piano Bar. Both very talented and crowd friendly. Derrick had some very funny material and connected extremely well with the wide range of people in the audience. Charlie was a lot of fun also, great on the piano and had everyone involved. We also joined in for the last wine tasting event. The Master Somm, Randall was very knowledgeable and we enjoyed learning some new wines we would not have tried on our own. The gym and fitness center was well equipped. We attended the seminar on body detox and diet. It was worth the time and we learned a lot. Tyrone and Hevin are two of the trainers - both will work you just as hard a you want and were great additions to the gym - good job, HAL in hiring these guys - they make your gym! We also signed up for the Thermal Spa which had to be closed on day 3 after the break out of the N Virus. The thermal spa was ok, not sure it was worth the price unless you are really a spa person. We enjoyed the thermal pool for the 2 days it was open but would have preferred to have had a fully functioning steam room, hot tub and dry sauna. They seemed to struggle slightly here in keeping these rooms up and working at the right temperature. Read Less
Sail Date: February 2009
Embarkation in San Diego was a breeze. We upgraded the week prior to an SA suite through our travel agent so that accounts for a bit of speed. (Bargain upgrade) We had 3 people in an SA suite and it was fantastic. Large suites with HUGE ... Read More
Embarkation in San Diego was a breeze. We upgraded the week prior to an SA suite through our travel agent so that accounts for a bit of speed. (Bargain upgrade) We had 3 people in an SA suite and it was fantastic. Large suites with HUGE veranda and amenities. Largest bathroom I've ever seen & plenty of closet space. Neptune lounge access was fantastic. Other perks were good buy with only 3 ports in Mexico the priority tendering and such was not a big deal. Crew was fantastic and were very accommodating when my mother was a bit queasy the first evening on rather rough seas. Cabin stewards were wonderful & the new bedding on HAL is great. Wonderful weather on our trip so much time in the sun. Lots of areas to escape onboard including the library when its a bit chilly outside. Spa & fitness center are great and massage was well worth it. Food was good overall. Wonderful seafood. The lido eatery is a bit chaotic but food is pretty good. Pinnacle grill is very good & our SA level let us have breakfast there each day which was fantastic. A few sketchy meals and the last evening dinner with dining room staff celebration was not impressive. Salad was terrible & baked alaska was more like a Foaming Rhode Island. Ports were good. Mazatlan leaves a bit to be desired but a climb to the lighthouse on a sunny morning is great. PV was nice and the scuba diving was a bit chilly but worth it. Cabo is the best with sun & wonderful restaurants and beaches. Furniture & carpets were a bit worn and Oosterdam is headed for a refurb this spring. Wonderful ship & crew so we would search out this class of HAL ship for a European cruise. Huge bargain to Mexico for 7 days. If you can swing the SA suite it makes it even better. Read Less
Sail Date: February 2009
My husband and I had a wonderful, relaxing trip to the Mexican Riviera on the Oosterdam.  We took the February 21-28 cruise that stops for two hours in Bahia Magdalena to watch whales and other marine life.  We chose this cruise ... Read More
My husband and I had a wonderful, relaxing trip to the Mexican Riviera on the Oosterdam.  We took the February 21-28 cruise that stops for two hours in Bahia Magdalena to watch whales and other marine life.  We chose this cruise specifically for the whale watching.  We are in our early 50s and this was our fifth cruise; second time on Holland America.  Even an outbreak of the norovirus did not spoil the cruise for us.  The staff took every precaution to stop the spread of disease while serving us in style.We arrived by car from Riverside on Saturday and used the Park & Go lot with an online coupon. (We paid $49 for the week.) The shuttle driver kindly took us back to our car when we realized we had forgotten our cell phone. Embarkation took a total of 25 minutes: 5 minutes to check in and 20 minutes to wait until it was our turn to board. The port facility is not very pleasant. Aboard the ship we headed straight to the Lido buffet, which was very crowded. It was frustrating going from station to station to get what we wanted, and we did not have a tray to put things on, so we kept having to go back. We finally found an empty table outside by the pool, but we had to put up with smokers all around us. The food was quite good, but the beverage glasses were tiny and we kept going back for refills. After lunch we explored the ship and then relaxed in our room until the lifeboat drill. HAL takes this drill very seriously, and they are efficient about it. Our luggage was not delivered until 5pm. We had a "fully obstructed view," but in fact only about half of the view was obstructed with pulleys and hydraulics for lowering a lifeboat. Once we saw a man working on the equipment outside of our window. The room was well-lit and comfortable, but there was only one decent chair for the two of us. The bathroom was a good size for a cruise ship, but this was a handicapped room (even though we are not handicapped). The problem with the room is the lack of drawer space, other than very small drawers at the sides of the bed. Also, our large suitcase had to stand in a corner rather than in the closet so that our clothes would not get crushed. The temperature control was touchy; it took us two days to get the room at just the right setting, and then the temperature kept changing anyway! The two days at sea at the beginning of the cruise got a bit boring. We took a Spanish class both days and went to afternoon tea (always a good experience). We walked around the Promenade Deck for exercise along with many other people. We also used the only two elliptical machines in the gym. We spent reading, doing crossword puzzles, and lounging around. We spent a good portion of each day eating. The Lido buffet food was very good, but we got tired of constantly getting up for beverages, dessert, etc. On the "at sea" days the buffet was quite crowded for breakfast and lunch. Once we had lunch in the dining room to escape the crowds and noise, and the food there was excellent. dinner in the dining room was excellent each night, and most of the time (but not always) the portions were generous. Appetizers and salads were excellent, but the soups were sometimes skimpy on ingredients. Desserts were excellent, except that the ice cream was always half melted by the time it arrived. (Even at the buffet the ice cream was melting when we got it.) Dinner was leisurely; it took 90 minutes to 2 hours for us to finish a meal each night. Some nights we had problems getting our beverages refilled. Overall, though, dining was an enjoyable experience. One night we had an outstanding meal with great service at the Pinnacle Grill. This was definitely the smoothest cruise we've been on out of five. The whale watching from 7am-9am on Monday was enjoyable, but this is NOT a photo opportunity. We often saw spouting water and tails at a distance, and one gray whale swam close enough to the ship for us to see its mottled back. We also saw porpoises leaping out of the water and a sea lion swimming by, but again at a distance. If you want to get closer, you have to pay for an excursion on a smaller boat. The norovirus broke out early on our cruise. We were informed right away, and the staff took extra precautions. We were no longer able to dish up our own food from the buffet, and we could not check out DVDs. All common items were taken off the tables at meals (salt and pepper, etc.) We were reminded constantly to wash our hands and use the hand sanitizer. One of the people at our dinner table for six came down with the virus and was confined to his room for most of the cruise. But his wife never got it, and she kept joining us for dinner. None of the rest of us got sick. Each day we were informed about the progress of the disease. About 100 people (out of 1800) came down with it; apparently many of them had cabins in the same area of the ship. When our cruise ended we discovered that the media had blown the outbreak all out of proportion and were even reporting false information about our cruise. We are cheapskates when it comes to shore excursions. On Tuesday in Mazatlan we just took a cab to the cathedral (beautiful inside), walked through the interesting market, and looked at the Peralta Theater. After a couple hours we returned to the ship. On Wednesday in Puerto Vallarta we had a lot more fun. We took a cab to the cathedral (worth a visit), and we enjoyed walking along the Malecon looking at the statues and the intricate sand sculptures. We had a nice Mexican lunch at La Chala along the Malecon and were serenaded by musicians. There are some very good, reasonable shops in the area. Then we took the cab back to the Wal-Mart by the port and bought some souvenirs. Next to Wal-Mart is a modern shopping mall. On Thursday in Cabo San Lucas we paid for the HAL shore excursion that was a boat ride to El Arco and then a bus trip to an overlook. It was very hot that day (probably 100 degrees), and we stood around for 45 minutes before we were herded onto a boat. The boat ride and the views were wonderful great photo opportunity. But by the time we got back to shore, we had no interest in going to the overlook restaurant. We and several others chose just to go back to the ship at that point. (I wish we had just gone to shore and found a cheap boat ride in the first place, instead of paying the inflated price for a HAL shore excursion.) Tendering was a fast and easy process for us. Friday, the final day at sea, got a bit boring for us, but that was o.k. because we could rest up before returning to work. Entertainment on the ship was pretty good. The singers and dancers were talented, but the show itself was uninspiring. The Olympic gymnast was very entertaining and fun to watch. The magician was also quite good and humorous. I was hoping to see the Elton John impersonator, but he was not on our cruise. Disembarkation was fast and easy. Then we stood around at the port for about half an hour waiting for our shuttle to the parking lot. We did feel like the young people on this cruise. The average age must have been in the 60s. At times I got tired of hearing pre-rock 'n roll music in the lounges (e.g. Frank Sinatra). Occasionally I heard some Rolling Stones, but the piped-in music never seemed to get beyond the 1960s. The upside of having an older clientele is that people are very polite to each other and know how to make conversation. Also, it didn't hurt my ego to feel young for a change. Overall, we like Holland America cruises. In fact, we booked our next cruise while we were on this one. We're impressed by their professionalism and their class. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2009
So this was our first time one HAL, and i was impressed with how easy embarkation was. we got there checked in and unbelievably we were the first ones on the ship, the room was not ready but we expected this, so off we went to the Lido for ... Read More
So this was our first time one HAL, and i was impressed with how easy embarkation was. we got there checked in and unbelievably we were the first ones on the ship, the room was not ready but we expected this, so off we went to the Lido for lunch. I have to say it was quite impressive all laid out in its finery, it never looked as good again. The food was tasty and we set out about to explore the ship. First stop was the Sea View bar, where we had a nice frosty beverage. Then off to the rest of the decks to get the lay of the land so to speak. For some reason the lower decks from the Promenade deck on down the hallways smells of rotting garbage or sewer, We thought that perhaps they were smells coming from the port. but the smells stayed on the lower decks for the duration of the cruise. Sail away was great and off we went to sunny Mexico, alas the cool weather followed us on our voyage, but hey we are on vacation so put on a sweater and call it good. Sunday was a full day at sea. Yeah, lets find something to do on this ship. humm wait, usually we have to decide from many different activities ongoing at the same time, but on this cruise unless I really wanted to learn photo shop there was really nothing going on. Oh no, well, guess we can lounge by the pool or catch a movie. The popcorn was great by the way. We were really looking forward to Monday cruising the Bahia Magdelena for whale watching, but the Captain had informed us that some passengers were critically ill and we had to jam boogie to Cabo to get the people off. Thank goodness all is well with them we were informed. Mazatlan: the weather still had not really warmed up and it was cool and drizzly in this port for the fist part of the morning and then the sun came out and for the rest of the week. Sail away was 45 minutes late as we had to wait for some passengers to arrive. Then it was off to Puerto Vallarta, if you ever get there is is beautiful, we did the Yelapa excursion and had the time of our lives!!!!! Cabo was beautiful as well. The pro's of this cruise were: excellent room stewards Windia and Made Neptune Lounge, Michelle and Essay. They completely took care of my husbands tuxedo issued with cruise line formal wear. In fact the Neptune far exceeded the other concierge services on the other cruise lines that we have been on. Our room, very spacious and large balcony food was good, better than most cruise lines promenade deck, you can walk all the way around Gym was well equipped Crows nest.. fabulous views Con: the smell in the lower decks.. kept us away Ships activities not a good variety, at least for us. We struggled to find thing to do, besides hang out at the bars. (well that could be a pro as well) Bar prices were higher than on most ships Couch in room was uncomfortable but the chairs were comfy No ships info channel with GPS tracking( there was a map on deck 3) So the question is would would we cruise Hal again? Maybe but after we get older ( we are 50 now). it seemed geared towards an older clientele. The service was Outstanding! Embarkation, at least for early embarkation was disorganized but we got off in plenty of time to arrive at the airport. So for us this cruise was like a slice of white bread. Good but not exceptional either. It was a cruise no more no less. and at the end of the day we had a good time and a nice vacation. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2008
My wife and I, along with some friends, took a cruise from San Diego to Cabo, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta, from December 13 to December 20, 2008, on Holland America's Oosterdam. This a chronicle of the trip. We left from ... Read More
My wife and I, along with some friends, took a cruise from San Diego to Cabo, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta, from December 13 to December 20, 2008, on Holland America's Oosterdam. This a chronicle of the trip. We left from Tucson, AZ, on December 12, and drove to San Diego, staying with some friends. I think from now on that that is how we will do it, going in the day before. It is less stressful in that if something happens, you have a day to deal with it and you won't miss the boat. On December 13, embarkation day, we arrived at the terminal right at the busy time. The line was long. It took us about 45 minutes to an hour to get through. Funny thing, though, someone recognized us from my wife's Cruise Critic avatar, and came up to us in line. When we got onto the ship, we went straight to our room, which was not ready yet. We waited until they opened the doors. Our room, when we got there, was huge compared to other ships we'd been on. We had an aft balcony room: 5185. The balcony was also huge compared to other balconies on the ship; I'd say about 15 feet by 15 feet. In fact, it was large enough to hold a small table and chairs, along with two lounge chairs. This was the first balcony room we've ever had, and I'd say that we are now spoiled. I'm sure that we will never have another like it again, especially since the Oosterdam is going to have a butt lift real soon, and will change all the rooms aft. Getting under way, it was cold, rainy, and dark. Regardless, we had our friends to our room to drink champagne as we sailed out of San Diego bay. At dinner that night, they started out right with some of the best prime rib I'd ever had. In fact, that was the best dish the entire trip. It was funny; we'd taken a Carnival cruise earlier this year and I remember the first dish on that cruise was a New York steak. That had been one of the worst steaks I'd ever had way overcooked. To compare that meal to this one, I'd felt like I'd come home. The first full day at sea, we spent some time on our balcony, and explored the ship. Also, we attended one of the cooking shows, the Dueling Salmons, with a guest host, a master sommelier with her own TV show, and her husband cooking salmon dishes side by side. Also that day, we went to the Cruise Critic meet and greet. It was nice of Holland America to provide champagne for the event. There we met Larry and Paul, a nice couple from California, who became our companions throughout the trip. After the meet and greet, we stopped by their room to check out what a deluxe suite looks like, as we'd never seen one. It was remarkable how much bigger it was, especially the bathroom. They then came over to our room, where we drank wine on our balcony all afternoon. That night was the first of two formal nights. That could have been a fiasco, because the friends, who had come with us on the trip, forgot their garment bag with their dress clothes. However, they were able to rent a suit coat on board for like 45 bucks, and borrowed a tie from me. In doing that, they could scrounge up dressy enough clothes for the formal nights. The next day, we were in Cabo San Lucas. Tendering was a pain in the butt. Between getting our tender tickets and touching land in Cabo, it took like an hour and a half. It did not help that the seas were a little rough, so boarding the tender boat was difficult. In Cabo, we took a glass bottom boat to lands end, followed by a trip to Cabo Wabo. Cabo Wabo, though a landmark everyone should see in Cabo, was very expensive. I think we spent about 40 bucks on three drinks and some nachos. The following day, we were in Mazatlan, where we rode horses on the beach. We highly recommend Randi's Happy Horses for people who wish to do that. The horses are well taken care of. Finally, rounding out the port stops, in Puerto Vallarta, we took a whale watching excursion. That was amazing. I was expecting to see one or two whales if we were lucky. No. We saw tons of whales, up close a personal. In fact, at one point we saw as many as six spouts whooshing in the air. The weather could not have been more perfect on our port days. Highs were in the mid-80s and the weather was sunny and clear. In fact, it was good on the sea days as well, other than the little bit of rain in San Diego when we left. Also, our last day at sea was a little rougher than the other days, but still not bad. Every night, after our excursions and after dinner, we'd stay up long after most people had gone to bed, and talked with Paul and Larry in the Ocean Bar, talking about the day's activities, listening to the soft ballroom music played by the band, mostly old jazz standards. As great of a time we had, all was not perfect. We had a terrible time with room service. Often times when we'd call, say after an afternoon nap on the balcony, thinking that we'd like a snack to hold us until dinner, they'd never pick up. Five, 10, 15, 20 minutes we'd wait and we'd stay on hold. Most of the time, we just gave up and went to the Lido. We had problems in the morning too. We'd stick our menu card on our door to deliver breakfast, and though they delivered on time, they'd always forget something, like coffee cream. They did that twice. One time, they forgot butter for the toast. Another time, they added sausage to the breakfast plate even though we did not order it. They never seemed to get it right. Forget calling them; they'd never pick up. That was frustrating. Late one night, right before bed, we went to fill out the breakfast card to find out, to our surprise, that it was already filled out with someone else's order. We called room service, who again never answered. We finally called the front desk. They apologized profusely said that they would deliver an empty card right away. We waited and waited and they never came. We actually fell asleep waiting. Finally, I woke up and called them again to tell them to forget it, that we were just going to bed. Whoever answered said that they would deliver it personally. When all was said and done, it took them like a hour to get us the card. We thought that maybe it was just us. However, the second to last day, we gave up on room service and went to the dining room for breakfast. There, we met some people and told them our plight with room service. They told us that they had ordered dinner the night before at 11:30 at night, and it had not been delivered until 2:30 in the morning. Outrageous. So much so was our frustration, we actually went to the front desk and complained. They had us fill out a comment card, which we did, outlining the issues. Let's face it; room service on the Oosterdam is just plain bad. For a cruise line that prides itself on service, there really is no excuse. It is funny because service on the rest of the ship was impeccable. Everyone greeted you with a smile. Your dinning room staff all knew you by name. In fact, we ate out on deck one night instead of going to the dining room, and the next day, when one of dining room attendants saw us, they said, Mr. so-and-so, we missed you at dinner last night. It was nice to be pampered. We went to the spa one evening, after our whale watching adventure, and they treated us like royalty (and quite frankly, it was well priced because it was a port day). Well, there was one other thing: We went to the Pinnacle Grill one night, and though the service was okay, it was not as good as it was in the dining room. They seemed to let our glasses get empty. Also, we brought a dessert wine to dinner, and despite asking for a wine steward to come over and open it a couple of times, we could not get anybody to open it. Finally, we got up and went to the bar to have somebody open it little details, but noticeable. Maybe it was a bad night, because the next night, our friends, Paul and Larry, went there and said the service was great. The food at the Pinnacle Grill was good. I had the lobster bisque and the bone-in rib eye, both excellent. My wife had the New York, but tasted my rib eye and thought that it was better. One thing that we did that I highly recommend is that we brought all our wine on board, about a case for the week. In fact, we brought a bottle to dinner each night. Corkage fees have gone up. The fee used to be 15 bucks and has now gone up to $18. As far as entertainment is concerned, most of the time, I feel that ship board entertainment is a bit cheesy aboard any ship. Generally, because of that, I find that funny is better than serious. We saw two shows, the Elton John impersonator, who was quite funny, and the magician, who was not. As a result, I liked the Elton John impersonator much better. One thing that was interesting, though, is that the magician had like three birds and two dogs on stage with him. I had this image the whole time of him in his tiny state room with all his animals, and that brought me some amusement. That really is about it for our trip. Disembarkation was easy. The line was long getting off the ship, but moved quite fast. We drove home that day. All in all, despite the minor service problems, it was a good trip. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2008
Our family of seven just spent a fantastic Thanksgiving holiday sailing to the Mexican Riviera on the Oosterdam. Hotel: Holiday Inn on the Bay We all arrived in San Diego on Friday, 11/21, from our respective cities, Dallas, Chicago, ... Read More
Our family of seven just spent a fantastic Thanksgiving holiday sailing to the Mexican Riviera on the Oosterdam. Hotel: Holiday Inn on the Bay We all arrived in San Diego on Friday, 11/21, from our respective cities, Dallas, Chicago, and Detroit, without incident. We chose the Holiday Inn on the Bay, which is directly across from the pier on N. Harbor Drive. This property is very convenient as you can simply walk across the street to the HAL terminal. The hotel was a very nice three star property, with large, clean, modern rooms, all with large balconies overlooking downtown or the harbor. The staff is competent and friendly. William, the concierge, was most helpful in arranging transportation and recommending nice, kid friendly restaurants. Holiday Inn also offers free shuttle service to and from the airport, and the even made a special run to the San Diego Zoo on the back end of our trip. Free of charge!! We highly recommend this hotel. Embarkation: 11/22, 11:30 AM. Smooth and effortless. On board in less than twenty minutes. The Ship: This was my second trip on the O in less than a year, and while she is a lovely vessel, she is showing signs of wear, which is to be expected after five years of service. Oosterdam is scheduled for a dry dock refit in April '09, at which time she will undergo extensive renovations and added length at the stern. My guess is that they will do away with the tiered stern to conceal the balconies so that passengers standing on the Lido deck can't see directly on to your deck. Much like the stern of the Eurodam. Staterooms: We all had SS Veranda Suites on the Navigation Deck (9), directly below the Lido Restaurant. Avoid those suites located directly below the Lido Pool midship as it they extremely noisy. Why do you think the larger, more expensive SA and PS suites are located on Deck 8? The size of our suite was more than adequate with plenty of living and storage space. A large bathroom with whirlpool tub (which did not work), separate shower stall and double vanity were worth the extra dollars. The individual veranda measures approximately 12x7. Our family was assigned 8085, 8087, and 8089, and asked our cabin steward, Rante, to open the dividers between our verandas which gave us one large balcony approx 36x7. We spend significant time together watching dolphins, flying fish and sunsets. Priceless. Dining: As usual, HAL was consistent in the quality, variety, and presentation of all food served on the O. HAL has yet to refine their As You Wish Dining option. On our first formal night, we made reservations for 7:30 PM. Upon arriving at the dining room, were handed a pager and told we would have a ten minute wait. An hour later, I approached the maitre'd and informed him that my family had been waiting an hour and we were ready to be seated. We were immediately escorted to the upper level dining and seated at a large table. The waiter looked completely puzzled and annoyed that we had been seated in his section, and rushed us through the meal. Food good. Service poor. The service received in subsequent visits to the Vista Dining Room were very pleasant. Entertainment: Okay. If you're easily amused. If you want to watch a good show, go to NYC or Vegas. Most shipboard entertainment will be cheesy and second rate on any ship. I will say that the illusionist and the Elton John impersonator were pretty good. Karaoke was by FAR the most popular activity on board with a contest which spanned three nights. The Queen's Lounge was packed each night. Club HAL: There is no doubt that HAL has extremely qualified counselors, but my impression is that they cater to the younger kids. There are no activities that hold the attention of tweens and teens. The Thanksgiving cruise had 480 kids, the most ever seen on the Oosterdam. If you kids are hard to please, HAL may not be the best choice. Consider Royal Caribbean, Carnival, or NCL. Sail Away Gifts: When we initially arrived in our suites, there was a plate of lovely chocolate covered strawberries, complete with a Thank You card, compliments of our travel agent. However, a family friend also ordered sail away gifts which never made it to our cabins. To be specific, one bottle of red wine, a bottle of champagne, and two HAL travel cups with holsters for the boys. We thought the delay in delivering these items may have been due to a heavy order volume for the holidays. When we approached guest services, they acknowledged having the complete order, but all they said was that they would do an inquiry and the woman who took the order was off duty. On day three, we found a bottle of red wine in our cabin with a yellow Post-It note which read, "8085". No card, which kind of defeats the purpose. In the end, all gifts were delivered to their respective suites minus the intended gift cards. Poor form. Disembarkation: We chose the express disembarkation option and were assigned the first window which was 8-8:15 AM. When arrived fifteen minutes early only to find a queue of passengers which wrapped half way around the ship. I believe that disembarkation is the most unpleasant aspect of any cruise, but the HAL staff does little to manage this process. Passengers who were assigned a later disembarkation window disregarded the staff's request to remain in their cabins or public room to await their disembarkation time. It was a goat rodeo trying to get off the ship. Any inconvenience experienced during this process is caused by inconsiderate passengers rather than HAL staff. Customs is a complete and total joke. They don't even look at your passport, they just take your customs declaration form and send you on your way. Does anyone know why the customs officers wear blue latex gloves? I could wright an entire review on the effectiveness of US Customs and TSA. What a joke. Do you know what we could do what that money? Summary: Our family had a wonderful time and the weather was spectacular. Oosterdam is a lovely vessel and her staff is friendly and accommodating. Accommodations and overall quality rate high. Passenger demographics still lean toward the mature set. If you're looking for excitement on board a ship, the O is not for you. There is more happening in a morgue at 11 PM. If you're looking for some relaxing "me" time, this is the place for you. I would definitely sail with HAL again, however, probably not with kids or before I try Celebrity brand. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2008
Age 27 and 32 married no kids Balcony room 5th floor This was our third cruise but our first on Holland America. We have previously been on Royal Caribbean. we flew out of palm beach florida on delta to San diego where we got a ... Read More
Age 27 and 32 married no kids Balcony room 5th floor This was our third cruise but our first on Holland America. We have previously been on Royal Caribbean. we flew out of palm beach florida on delta to San diego where we got a taxi to the cruise terminal. $10 each way. quick and easy. the port terminal was smooth and the lines moved quick. our luggage was delivered in our rooms about 45 after boarding. went off to tour ship signed up for the THERMAL SUITE in the spa, $250. for both for the week. THE BEST MONEY WE SPENT!!!! grabbed a bite in the lido dining (buffet) food was good Dinner that night was in the formal dining room. The BEST meals we have ever had on a cruise! Ship was nice and clean 2 pools but the adult pool was always packed. CABO SAN LUCAS: we got off the ship via tender then walked around the docks went to eat eat at Squid Row VERY GOOD! We then hire a guy on a glass bottom boat for $10 per person round trip he took us out to the big rock formations around them up near a group of sea lions sunning then dropped us at lovers beach for about an hour then came back to get us. cabo was beautiful. we will definitely return there. seems like alot to do but you need more time. MAZATLAN : Yuck yuck yuck, we took a taxi to golden zone walked for about 20 min there were really not many shops there alot of vendors all selling the same tourist junk. the town smells terrible and the taxi are open so the exhaust is bad. we were off and on the boat in less than an hour went to the spa took advantage of the in port spa specials very nice!! PUERTO VALLARTA: we took a taxi downtown and walked around the shops stopped in an old church that was beautiful, then returned to the boat for our only excursion it was called RYTHYM OF THE NIGHT, this was AWESOME, we took a ferry boat ride out to a private deserted island at dusk, then watched a tribal show with fire and dances it was incredible then went down to the beach for to our table for 2 on the water, so beautiful and romantic the whole island is only lit with candles and torches. The dinner was a buffet of wonderful food, chicken steak fish side dishes and desserts, plus unlimited free drinks. we were then taken back to our ship in the evening. this is the best excursion we have done. The cruise was nice, very relaxing. The food the best we have had, breakfast on our balcony every morning via room service. the lido buffet was ok but the dining room great. my only real complaint is as much as they are trying it still is aimed for an older crowd, not much in the evenings for younger people. alot of the activities aren't really for the 20-30 yr crowd. if you want to just relax this is great cruise for that. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2008
Unlike some, we cruise on occasion - but still enjoy other types of vacationing as well. That being said, this was our fifth cruise (and the second on Holland America) over the last ten years. This was also our second trip to the Mexican ... Read More
Unlike some, we cruise on occasion - but still enjoy other types of vacationing as well. That being said, this was our fifth cruise (and the second on Holland America) over the last ten years. This was also our second trip to the Mexican Riviera as we did a similar itinerary several years ago on NCL. My wife and I are early 60's (she's retired and I continue to work full time). While we've also cruised on NCL and Princess, we think Holland America provides one of the best rides going. Our group arrived on Thanksgiving day and spent two days seeing the San Diego sights prior to boarding. We rented a car and stayed at the Hampton Inn Sea World because of the proximity to Old Town. We also enjoyed Gas Light area restaurants as we stayed over a night upon returning at the Gas Light Marriott. Also, I must add that this particular cruise was a CardPlayers.com poker cruise (with about 500 poker players) and as a result, had a larger cross section of age groups than we saw on our earlier HAL trip. I'm sure this younger than normal crowd also affected late night activities in the Casino and other lounges. Having this group aboard, however, didn't appear to have any adverse affects on anything except for the fact that the Crow's Nest lounge was taken over by this group and not available for any other ship's activities. Embarkation - We arrived around 11:30....stood in line for 10-15 minutes and were on the Lido deck enjoying a great bloody mary and buffet lunch shortly after noon. State rooms were ready, as advertised, at exactly 1:30pm. For this cruise, we had chosen an aft veranda cabin (5180) which was fantastic. The balconies on the end of the ship are huge - we had two chairs, two chaise lounges and a table and still had tons of room. The king sized bed was very comfortable and we had more than sufficient space for all of our belongings. One note here, "bring half as many clothes and twice as much money as you think you will need" - that's the motto of my niece, a former travel agent, who along with her husband were also with us on this trip. We also opted for the unlimited laundry - at $45 for the week, we think this is one of HAL's better bargains. Don't forget, however, that your cutoff to send laundry in is 48 hours before the ship returns (or 10am on the next to last morning). As we had spent two days in San Diego before boarding, the first thing we did was to fill the laundry bag and call for pickup. We also met other CCers for the Banner Wave at 3pm and HAL provided us with a nice complimentary "meet and greet" on the first sea day. Spa - my wife and my niece opted for the hydrotherapy package ($150 a piece or $250 a couple - they were able to sign up together and got the couple's rate). This provides unlimited use of the hydrotherapy pool, heated lounges, sauna, changing rooms and showers for the week - another great bargain. The best part is that this package is limited to the first 50 people that sign up so that it is almost always available for use. My wife and niece can expand on this further - Niece: The heated thermal lounges were quite comfortable and offered floor to ceiling windows for fantastic sea views. One late day visit offered a gorgeous sunset. The thermal lounges are warm, but not overly hot - Perfect for relaxation, reading or a nap. The heat in the dry sauna was much hotter than the thermal lounges if your body needed the hotter temperature. I guess that's my (wife) cue . . .If left up to me, I would not have mentioned the hydrotherapy package. Why? Because when I cruise again with HAL, I don't want everyone else to beat me to this tremendous offer! I can't say anything negative about this package. Having the freedom to go as often as you want is wonderful. We never found it overcrowded and if you chose to stay on board during a port of call, you basically had the entire spa to yourself. The only thing that could have made it better, in my opinion, would be the hours of operation. On our cruise, the spa opened at 8:00 and closed at 10:00 p.m. A little earlier opening for the hydrotherapy pool would have been wonderful. Food - barely enough (ha)....We opted for the late traditional seating - we would have preferred the early seating, however it was already "sold out" when we made our reservations. HAL's main dining room is on two decks connected by a stairway - the upper deck is reserved for traditional seating whereas the bottom deck is available for "as you wish" dining. There is also one "extra cost" dining room, the Pinnacle Grill. My niece and husband had lunch there one day but gave it only "average" reviews. One comment however about the Pinnacle Grill, the head chef there, a Canadian, did a French Cuisine session (a $29 cost) on one of the sea days - both my wife and niece attended and gave it rave reviews - I'll let my wife expand on this as well. It's my (wife) cue again. . .the French Cuisine Culinary Arts class was fantastic! My niece is somewhat a gourmet cook in her own right, but for a very basic cook such as myself, I found this to be the absolute BEST VALUE of the entire cruise. We had the completely devoted time of Chef Brandon as he prepared 3 wonderful dishes and allowed us to help. We were served wine, given the recipe cards, an apron AND tasting rights of the meal. We were there approximately 2 hours and it was absolutely the BEST! I'll break the review into Dining Room, Lido Buffet and Room Service. Dining Room - we love the traditional dining where you have the same wait staff each evening. We really enjoy getting to know them and, assuming the service is good, provide an extra gratuity on the last night. Try as we did, we never really got the hang of our server's name (he was from Indonesia and had been with HAL for seven years). He was, however, excellent and we really enjoyed him. One night my wife went to use the pepper shaker and the lid came off. He, the waiter, was visibly upset over this and immediately grabbed up her plate and ordered a new entree' brought out for her. After that, each evening when we arrived for dinner he would pick up the salt and pepper shakers in our presence and ensure they were correctly fastened - we gave him some good-natured teasing about it as well. Also one night when my wife didn't come to dinner - he wanted to know if she was ok and I told him she was feeling a little under the weather. He replied that he would pray for her. When she appeared the next evening, he gave her a big hug to welcome her back. As for the food - it was certainly ok, however nothing really overly special and in fact, could have been a bit hotter on occasion. The highlight was the escargot - wish I'd have ordered two (or more). Soups were also very good overall. Desserts, on the other hand, were average at best. The turf portion on "surf and turf" night was very rare - which I love, but might not have been to all other's taste. Lido Buffet - We primarily ate there for breakfast with eggs/omelettes/eggs benedict to order were all hot, well prepared and very good. They also had a wide variety of toppings for waffles and the meats, breads and juices, etc were all excellent. Late night Italian buffet was average at best. We also ate off the hamburger bar which was good as well and made great use of the free ice cream bar. I also enjoyed the cookies as I'm something of a "cookie monster." All in all, I'd say the buffet was better than average just because of the breakfasts and everything seemed to be well prepared and presented. Room Service - We ordered breakfast on two occasions via the hang the request on your door the night before as well as another occasion when my wife slept in. On all occasions, everything arrived right on time and with the exception of the toast was hot and very tasty. HAL is the only ship we've been on that provides eggs/omelettes for room service breakfast - NCL and Princess were only continental breakfasts the last time we sailed with either. Overall, I'd say the food was good, not outstanding....the service in the dining room could be a bit slow on occasion but that, I think, is to be expected. Shipboard entertainment: Casino - my wife played the slots primarily and won more than she lost (which is always nice)....I tried the blackjack on one occasion. Overall the table games were priced well (several $5 blackjack games) and were quite busy in the evenings even with a plethora of poker players off playing poker in the Crow's Nest. I did have occasion to talk with a number of these folks and they seemed overall to be happy with the poker tour. Daily trivia - Our group did well here, winning on a couple of occasions. This is always a fun event for us. Other activities - ping pong, golf, basketball, bingo, etc were all available but my group participated only briefly in any of these. I did enjoy the hot tubs and pool as well as the plentiful deck chairs for reading and just overall relaxation while on-board ship. I tend to get a tad restless on the last day at sea and this time was no exception, however, the dam superstar competition and a special evening show on the last day were exceptional and made for a good finish to a great cruise vacation. Ship entertainers - Singers and Dancers did three shows and to be honest, I found them quite boring. I did watch a singer's only show in the Queen's lounge one night (Broadway to Queens) and found this to be quite entertaining so I'd say they may need to hire a new producer/choreographer for the song and dance group. The magician was superb and put on a very good show and certainly in the "don't miss" category was Joel Mason and his salute to Elton John - what a fantastic performer. The whole cast to include singers/dancers, magician, the HAL-cats musical group, and Joel Mason did a final night show called Joel Mason and friends - and it really brought the house down - what a fantastic way to finish the cruise. We were so wound up after watching this show that we stayed up and partied a while and almost forgot that we had to pack and have our bags out by 1 am - we made it, just barely. We briefly heard some of the lounge singers - the piano bar entertainer was also quite good. We also enjoyed the Ocean Bar piano and music -prior to going to dinner. The staff also hosted their version of American Idol called the "dam superstar". The cruise director, Jason, one of the male singers and Joel Mason served as judges - this is also in the "not to be missed" category - what a great time for everyone - audience and those in the show. One final note here on the entertainment, the cruise director, Jason Veneer was perhaps as good as they get - He, unfortunately for HAL and for anyone reading this was making his final cruise - He WILL be missed. Ports of Call/Excursions: Cabo San Lucas - This is the only stop requiring tender ships. We were in port with two other cruise ships (pretty much the same in all three stops) so the town was pretty full of folks. My group went on the dune buggy ride to the beach and we all got too much sun (don't forget the sun screen - ha). Our buggy also had the adventure of running out of gas just as we were trying to get up onto the highway - the trail vehicle had some gas for us and we were again soon on our way. Overall this was an "ok" adventure for the group - the beach we went to was also inhabited by one of the snorkel tours as well. Mazatlan - A first for me and my nieces husband, we went on the zip line canopy tour and had a blast! I had wanted to do this on another cruise a few years ago but for one reason or another opted out. This is one excursion, however, that I would definitely do again. The Mazatlan crew did a great job - there were 39 of us in our group. They broke us down into 3 groups of ten and one of nine....fitted us with gear, gave us a short demonstration and a safety briefing and we were zip lining through the trees in short order. I must say that never once did I not feel safe - it was a great time. We then made a stop at a working tequila factory where they assured us that the second free sample would be better than the first so, of course, I had to check them at their word and found it to be so (ha). They were selling the tequila, of course, for $30 a bottle (a so-so price). Had it not been for having to fly home afterwards and concern about packing the bottle in my luggage, I'd have probably spent the money - especially after the second shot. Puerto Vallarta - We took the advice of many of cc'ers here and made the trek across the street from where we docked to buy souvenirs at the local Wal-Mart. They also had a great selection of tequila as well - my niece bought some here for her son. The only excursion we did here was called "Rhythms of the Night" which was absolutely fabulous. I'd read other accounts where cc'ers were saying this was the best excursion they'd ever been on so was a little concerned that all that hype might be for naught. On the contrary, we loved it....the boat crew on the way to Las Caletas does a great job of entertaining you and providing as much as you care to drink. Then the evening show was fantastic and the buffet dinner complete with wine and candlelight right next to the shore line was very romantic. On the ride back, the crew of the boat continued where they'd left off on the ride over - got every one up and dancing and of course the drinks continued. I highly recommend it. I believe in tipping for good service and these folks received the highest tips I've ever doled out for an excursion. Disembarkment - Alas, all good things must come to an end but to Hal's credit this was "the best" disembarkment we have ever had. We filled out a form early in the week indicating what time we wanted to be off the ship. On the day before arrival back in San Diego, we were given luggage tags to coincide with our selected times and provided information about when to leave the ship. They made one announcement about 8:15 am or so that everyone could begin and after that, whenever your time window arrived, you left the ship. We chose not to leave until 9:30 - slept in until around 7:30 (as we hadn't gotten in bed until after 1 am), got dressed and enjoyed a final breakfast in the Lido. At 9:30 we made one last trip to the restrooms, took the elevator down to deck 2 and literally walked off the ship into a waiting cab. Couldn't have been smoother and left a great "after"taste for Holland America lines. One final remark would be, again, given the value for dollar, level of service and quality of overall cruise, Holland America leads the pack above the others that we've cruised. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2008
Even though we're just two hours by air from San Diego, we came in the night before and stayed at the Holiday Inn on the Bay. By staying in the South Tower, the bow of the Oosterdam was literally pointing at our balcony when we woke ... Read More
Even though we're just two hours by air from San Diego, we came in the night before and stayed at the Holiday Inn on the Bay. By staying in the South Tower, the bow of the Oosterdam was literally pointing at our balcony when we woke Saturday morning. Very Cool. Another advantage to that particular Holiday Inn location is that it's just a three block walk to a Rite Aid, which sells wine that can be taken aboard. A free shuttle, and a walk across the street to board make this an ideal location. This was our first HAL cruise, and I have to say that after the first 5 minutes they treat their suite passengers very well. I'm glad I read on the CC board that we might have to ask for the suite check in line. It isn't at all obvious. And the man at the end of the line sure managed to look at us as if we were trying to cut in ahead of others. He seemed very surprised that we actually had the correct documentation to be there. We checked in and were told to wait on a bench against the wall. All we could think of was the old Arlo Guthrie song with the "group W bench", but in truth it was all good. A woman appeared to take us all aboard early, and we went to the Neptune Lounge. It really didn't take long to understand why people love that Lounge. It was a very pleasant place to drop our luggage, have a couple of nice appetizers, some cold juice, and meet other passengers. Since our cabin was way back at the stern of the ship, we didn't think we'd use the Neptune Lounge much. We were wrong. We used it several times each day, for the great coffee, a quick snack, or help from the concierge. It is a very nice perk. We chose our cabin very specifically for its large verandah. My DH was just getting past a round of chemo/radiation and with his immune system so low, we knew we'd be spending much more of our time in our private space than in the public areas. We were thrilled with how huge the verandah was. Two lounge chairs, two chairs with ottomans, and a dining size table with four more chairs. Some people are concerned that the verandah is open and is viewable from the two decks above. This didn't bother us. There is also a long covered part of the verandah along the side of the ship that is very private. Nearly all day long there was some part of the verandah in either the shade or sun, and some part with a breeze, or sheltered. We loved it. I don't know what it will be like when it's all covered in the April re-do. Right now I think it's perfect. The cabin itself is a little smaller than the other suites. It has the same amount of furniture, so it looks cramped and a bit awkward. I have to admit I was a little disappointed at first. I came to love it. It was so quiet there at the back of everything, and our cabin stewards kept it immaculate. We ordered room service breakfast every morning, and most of the time the order came as we placed it. I loved writing in any little thing I wanted on the menu. What a pleasant way to start the day. We were in need of an exceptionally good cocoon, and that's exactly what we got. The Beverage manager just outdid herself for our CC Meet and Greet. She was so easy to work with, that there was nothing to the planning. We all loved the food and drinks. It was a great way for us to get to know each other a little more than just at the Wave. We didn't use the Lido buffet much. I never could quite figure out where things were. I have no sense of direction and the stations confused me, but I did enjoy the bread pudding, and DH liked that he could watch his burger being cooked. We've been on NCL with their 'Anytime' dining, so the thought of not having a fixed seating for the dining room isn't new to us. HAL seemed to handle the flow well. The rest of the dining experience wasn't all we'd hoped for. Some of the meals were excellent, but a couple weren't even good. The deserts (and I LOVE deserts) were without inspiration. That's okay, we had enough to eat. We had expected a more formal dining experience than NCL, but I don't think that happened. We certainly noticed more jeans and fewer tuxedos on this HAL cruise than our last NCL cruise this spring. I'm sure there are many who like informality, and for them this would be a bonus. We did try the Pinnacle Grill one night, and were let down. The food was barely warm and was too cold to eat before we'd finished. Our server had disappeared and we were just stuck sitting there with cold food we didn't want to look at any longer. But again, we'd had enough to eat, so cold food probably just saved us from ourselves. Since we've been to these ports before, we didn't plan any shore excursions. We did expect to go to Stone Island in Mazatlan on our own. Watching the ship come into the harbor we were appalled at the amount of plastic and garbage floating in the water. It was disgusting. We didn't even get off the ship, having no desire to put so much as a toe into the water there. I think this is the worst port I've ever seen in about 100 days of cruising. Fortunately, we didn't choose this cruise for that port, or even for the itinerary. It was all about relaxing days at sea, and we had that. You'll notice that I didn't rate the entertainment. Somehow, with the times we chose to eat, every time we came out of the dining room all the entertainers in all the lounges seemed to be taking a break. The good side of this is that our bar bill was the smallest we've ever had. We had ordered a bar set up in the cabin, which was very reasonably priced, so we just went there for our nightcap. With full nights of sleep, we actually did come back from this cruise much more relaxed than we went. That was more important than the lack of entertainment at the times we were looking for it. Would we cruise on HAL again? Absolutely, in a heart beat, if we could get another stern cabin with an oversized verandah. That cabin made it a great cruise for us, without it, well, it was good. And there are a lot of good cruises out there. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2008
This review of our Oosterdam cruise to the Mexican Riviera can be read in its entirety here without pictures and some additional verbiage that isn't part of this. If you would like to see pictures of the places and people we are ... Read More
This review of our Oosterdam cruise to the Mexican Riviera can be read in its entirety here without pictures and some additional verbiage that isn't part of this. If you would like to see pictures of the places and people we are talking about, you can see them at www.jkbellomo.com. I promise if you go there to read it, it will be a lot more interesting. This was our first time since 2002 that we have been on any cruise line other than Celebrity(X). We had cruised Holland America(HAL) on our first cruise in 2000 but it had been one of their oldest ships, the Westerdam, that was almost immediately retired and a new Westerdam replaced her so this would be a fairly new experience for us. I also knew that even though I had promised Kathleen I would not keep comparing HAL to X I knew that I would be doing it in my head and in this review. Those who are reading this that know me, know how I feel about Celebrity. But I promised myself I would give HAL a chance. One of the things that has always been a HAL truism in our minds is that HAL pax are generally an older group. The average age on X is about 55 (our age at the start of this trip) and the "common knowledge" in the cruise community has always been that HAL's average age is about 70. That was certainly true on our original Westerdam cruise, but it was not on this one. Yes, the majority of the pax were older than us but there were a lot of younger cruisers. This particular cruise had a large contingent of surfers who loaded their boards on the ship and would be surfing in every port as well as having a series of concerts by 70s rock semi-legend, Dave Mason (look him up). Embarkation Embarkation was OK. We arrived at the cruise terminal around 10:45 by cab. Our taxi ($10 with tip from Gaslamp District) was not allowed to go into the cruise terminal so we had to grab our bags and walk them in. That was fine for us but others with the same size bags and less fit might have a problem. After dropping our bags we were directed to the check-in area. Actual check in (including filling out a noro-virus questionnaire assuring HAL that we weren't coming on board sick) took very little time. We were then given a boarding number (we had 10) then we had to wait. Luckily, there were still a few places to sit and we only had to wait about 30 minutes before they let us on. We met other folks who were in the number 6 boarding group and had come right from the airport and had been waiting since 8:30 am. They said, "It was either here or the airport." One thing we liked about check in was that when we got our sea pass cards, we had our pictures taken then for ID purposes. Much better than doing it on the gangplank. From that point on, all they had to do when we embarked or disembarked was to scan our sea pass cards. More about this on our first day ashore. Once our group was called, it was just a short walk across the parking lot, up the ramp and we were onboard. Unlike X where you then have the run of the ship, we were herded directly to an elevator and sent up to the Lido deck for lunch. We would much preferred to stop by our cabin and drop our carry-on luggage as we do on Celebrity. HAL does have an area near the pool where you can drop your carry-on luggage while you have lunch but mine included my laptop as well as my Nikon so there was no way I was just leaving it in what looked to be a very unprotected area. We kept it with us, grabbed a table outside on deck (but in the shade) and Kathleen went to get lunch while I waited with our stuff and then when she came back I went and got lunch. Lunch was excellent. We both had panini sandwiches which unlike X were grilled the right way. They were made quickly and efficiently and the sandwich bar had both chips and caesar salad so I was happy. HAL's buffet is broken up into islands unlike X's where there are a few additional stations but they are all pretty much together in one long bar in the middle of the ship. Our next cruise on the brand new Solstice will also have this configuration. It does seem to cut down on the longer lines. I can say that I very seldom had to stand in line and when I did, it wasn't for very long although I will say that they really fall down on the drinks. There are only two places in the entire buffet area to get drinks and they are PACKED! In the morning the entire buffet has only two coffee machines for probably 1000 people. Woefully inadequate. After lunch we ended up sitting for about 90 minutes before there was a general announcement (much too loud) that our cabins had been released. We were thrilled as we had been stuck in one place watching our carry-on bags since we had gotten on and really wanted to go explore the ship. Our cabin Originally when we booked this cruise, our wonderful travel agent had gotten us our usual favorite aft cabin. We were thrilled to get it as we had booked this cruise rather late. And it was a real bargain as well. Considering the fact that we were told it eventually sold out, only eight weeks before the cruise they were dropping prices like crazy. About a week after we booked, the TA called me and said, "HAL wants to know if you want to upgrade, do you want to give up your aft cabin (with its larger verandah and bigger view) for a Verandah Suite. Well we have never been in any kind of suite before so we snapped at the chance and were we glad we did for the room but not for the noise. More about that below. Our normal Concierge Class cabins on Celebrity are 190 square feet. This suite was 389 square feet!!! And it came with a jacuzzi tub, a huge verandah and a king (not the usual queen) size bed. We are now SPOILED! The cabin (8052) was wonderful. It had a HUGE amount of storage spacethree full closets that can be converted from full closets to shelves, a vanity with make-up mirror as well as a desk with plenty of room for all the electronics I carry along. (Believe it or not we always bring a MacbookPro, two iPhones, three iPods, an Altec-Lansing travel stereo for one of the iPods, Kathleen's Nikon point and shoot and my Nikon DSLR, a plug strip and all the rest of the cords for all of the above.) If you check out our pictures from the Oosterdam Day 1-San Diego, you will see more pics of the interior of the cabin. We want to note the one thing we did not like about this cabin. It was directly under the main pool and this made it very noisy. The crew would be on the deck, moving chairs, opening and closing the roof on the pool (which sounded like doors being slammed) from 6:00 am on. Our room got quite noisy. We should add that we have been in aft cabins on Infinity a number of times that were on the Sky deck where many people complain about the noise and we have never been bothered. Not so on deck 8 of Oosterdam. It was loud and obnoxious. If you are a light sleeper and like to sleep past 6:00 am we would not recommend any cabin midships on deck eight. Our next door neighbors (who turned out to be our tablemates) agreed with us. The night we were in Mazatlan was the worst! There was a pool party from 9:00 pm to 11:00 pm. The noise was incredible. Forget trying to sleep. But worse than the party was the cleanup that lasted well past midnight. People should be warned about the noise in these cabins. After we had dropped our carry-on luggage we went right back out to go and tour the ship. We started on the Lido deck where we had eaten lunch and worked our way down. Oosterdam has 11 decks. The Lido deck where the pool, buffet and spa are located is deck nine. We were on deck eight. The next four decks (4-7) are also cabins. Decks two and three had most of the rest of the activity areas on the ship. Our cabin was perfectly situated for having breakfast and lunch, me going to the gym and us both going to the spa (more about that later). But going to dinner in the dining room or going downstairs for almost anything else means quite a walk up and down five flights of stairs. Of course, it's a great way to walk off all that good food. (Much more about that later.) After our tour we met our Cruise Critic group on the bow of the ship to have the web-cam wave. It is a tradition in San Diego that the Cruise Critic group goes to the front of the ship where they can be seen by the San Diego webcam. There is even a banner which everyone signs. Then at 3:00 pm we hold up the banner and wave. Someone at home takes a screen shot and posts the photo to the Cruise Critic website. It's a great chance for us all to get together for a few minutes. After that it was back to the cabin to unpack and then off to the lifeboat drill. We expected the drill to be very well run after our previous HAL trip but it was a joke. We arrived at our lifeboat station (in front of a huge vent that was extremely noisy) and a crew member attempted to read the cabin numbers of those who were supposed to be at that station. There was absolutely no way you could hear a thing he was saying and after reading about 10 cabin numbers he gave up and they let us go. It was sad to say the least. After the life boat drill we went topside to watch the sailaway. We had beautiful, sunny, seventy degree weather. It was gorgeous. Ports of Call This cruise was about cruising as opposed to our last two European cruises which were really about the ports. This was to relax and get away by ourselves. And it worked great since it only had three port days out of seven. We like cruises with a couple of sea days. There is always plenty to do on board but the best thing to do is to relax. But we did want to let you know what we did on shore. As you can see from the itinerary we had a sea day and then stops in Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and finally in Puerto Vallarta. The one thing we will remember for quite a while about this trip is that all three ports were incredibly hot. Temps in the upper nineties and humidity to match made the days fairly miserable. There was actually a time watching a show in Mazatlan that I was worried about Kathleen passing out from the heat or getting a migraine headache. Thankfully she did neither. If you have any doubt that global warming exists all our guides told us that they had never seen temps this high at the end of October in these places. Cabo San Lucas We had decided not to do a tour of any kind here as we had already been here once before as the last stop on our Infinity Panama Canal cruise in 2004. We just thought we would get off the ship and walk around. We might really have enjoyed this if it weren't for the heat. We did our usual walk and might have had lunch or a drink except by that time it was so hot we just got back on board. We did have luck in one of our two quests. On every trip we look for police T-shirts for our son-in-law Joel who is a Washington State trooper. He loves wearing the different ones from around the world so we are always on the lookout for them. Our own children have informed us then no longer want or wear T-shirts. We sometimes also look for Formula 1 racing stuff for our other son-in-law Brian but our kids get nuthin! In Cabo we found Joel's shirt and were also looking for something that someone else who has to remain nameless lest a surprise be revealed but we were unable to find that item anyplace. That was about it for Cabo. We can say that besides being hot, it was the absolute worst of the three ports for vendors almost attacking us as we walked from the tender into town. Every two or three steps we would have someone in our face asking us to buy jewelry, take a tour or have a picture taken with their iguana. It got very old, very quickly. There is only so many times you can say, "NO gracias!" Mazatlan Having never been to Mazatlan before we had decided to take the "Discover Mazatlan and The Papantla Flyer Show" tour. This would give us a basic overview tour of the city with an experienced guide on a big air conditioned tour bus and a cool show at the end. Thank God we did that. The tour started with an overlook of the city's lighthouse which we were told is the highest lighthouse in the world (coincidentally exactly one year ago we were at the site of the second highest in the world at Gibraltar). There we were accosted by the usual vendors and watched a fairly amateur cliff diver almost kill himself and took about five minutes of pictures. Then we were off to the cathedral downtown, the real cliff divers, shopping in the Golden district (there has to be shopping) and finally to see the Papantla Flyer Show. This is a Mexican cultural show that features folk dancers, Mardi Gras costumes, a trick rope artist and the flyers themselves who hang upside down from ropes as they descend (without nets) from about 80 feet in the air. See the pictures to get the idea. The only problem with the entire day was that it was hot. VERY HOT! And with the humidity it was even worse. After the performance, it was back on the bus and a quick return to the ship where the air conditioning was running full blast...thank the Lord! Puerto Vallarta After the two incredibly hot days we had endured in Cabo and Mazatlan we decided we better book another overview tour so we could see Puerto Vallarta without dying in the heat since we would at least have an air conditioned bus to get back on. We were glad we did. We boarded the bus early in the day (8:15) and were off to see the town. I want to note here that Puerto Vallarta is on Central Standard Time but that the ship elects to stay on Pacific Standard Time. Why? I guess they think their guests are too stupid to figure out how to change their clocks. Our first stop on the tour was the boardwalk and the beachfront area where there is a plethora of public art both permanent (sculptures) and temporary (incredible sand sculptures). Make sure to check out the pictures to see what I mean. After about an hour of walking tour during which we saw the cathedral of Our Lady of Guadeloupe as well, we got back on the bus for a drive to another part of the city where we got off for the obligatory shopping. I should add that all these tours included "shopping." Unfortunately the shopping is often at exactly the same shop (usually Diamonds International) that you would see in any cruise port. For instance, we saw exactly the same product and store in all three ports on this cruise, in all three ports in Alaska, in all the Caribbean ports we have ever been in and strangely, last year in Gibraltar. If you blindfolded me and set me inside one of the stores, I couldn't tell you what port I was in. We did leave the jewelry store and went across the street to the ceramics factory store where we did find a new plate to add to our collection. After the shopping it was back on the bus and a drive south of the city to a tequila distillery. We got the tour that showed how tequila has been made for about a hundred years from the blue agave plant plus we got samples. In fact at every stop there are free refreshments. Usually soft drinks, margaritas and our choicebottled water. After the tequila tour, it was back on the bus and a long but scenic ride back to the ship. Summing up the ports Of the three cities, I would say that we would actually consider return to Puerto Vallarta. And as for me, if I never go to Cabo again, it will be way too soon. Mazatlan was a nice place that I might have liked better if it hadn't been so oppressively hot and humid. But as I said above, this cruise for us (and I believe pretty much anyone on it) isn't really about the ports. All about the food When I wrote my last cruise review and set up my website after our Alaskan cruise in August 2008, my daughter Jenna looked at it and said, "Dad, it's all about the food." I told her that I was writing the review predominately for cruise people and that for cruise people, it is sometimes all about the food. Cruise ship food can be classified into four distinct areas: buffets, dining rooms, room service and specialty restaurants. We are going to state right now that we don't do room service. Kathleen and I are not big fans of eating in our room. We cruise to meet people and make friends and since we eat by ourselves at home about 90% of the time we can actually count on one hand the times on our 11 cruises when we have ordered room service. So if you are a regular room service person we won't be much help to you. I can tell you that a couple from our Cruise Critic group who we talked to on the sixth day of the cruise said they had ordered room service every morning for breakfast and the order had been wrong six days out of six. Not much of a recommendation for room service. The Buffet For us breakfast and lunch are predominately in the buffet. On X we might also eat in the Aqua Spa Cafe but Oosterdam doesn't have anything like that. What they do have is an excellent buffet restaurant. As much as I am a Celebrity fan, I have to admit that HAL has a better buffet, at least for breakfast and lunch. Let's start with breakfast. For me the astounding thing is nine (YES NINE!) kinds of eggs benedict. I love eggs benedict. But on a buffet they are usually awful. The reason they aren't usually that good is that they are usually pre-made, sitting in a steam tray for so long that the poached eggs are usually hard boiled by the time you get them on your plate. Not on HAL. When you step up to the eggs benedict man, he starts your eggs poaching. Then he toasts your english muffin. Then he puts it together, covers it with some of the best hollandaise sauce I have had and top the entire thing with a metal plate cover to keep it warm and sends you off to your table. Yummy! Speaking of topping your plate with a top to keep things warm, HAL also does this on their omelets and it keeps them warm while you grab your juice and coffee. A superb idea that every buffet should have. Also great for breakfast were the made-to-order omelets with just about anything you could want in them. And did I mention the freshly-squeezed OJ? It is wonderful. Not to be in anyway confused with the fresh from the spigot, weak and watery juice served on Celebrity. The only fault here is that it is often warm by the time you get it. I guess in a perfect world you would get a hot breakfast with ice-cold juice and hot coffee. Maybe on a more exclusive cruise line. Speaking of coffee, even with Celebrity's new coffee, HAL kicks butt here. They may be the last place on earth you can still get Torrefazione coffee. This is an outstanding, small roaster from Seattle that got gobbled up by Starbucks a few years ago. We used to love them in Seattle and were sorry to see them go but were very pleasantly surprised to find them here on HAL. The coffee at breakfast was wonderful and the decaf at dinner was also superb. What was a real surprise here was when we went to the specialty coffee cafe (the HAL version of the Cova Cafe) and ordered coffee to drink there and were given our coffee in paper cups. PLEASE! If I am going to pay for coffee on a ship where I can get good coffee for free (we always finish breakfast with a cappuccino) I would like to have that excellent coffee in a real cup. I know it's a little thing but it matters to us. And strangely, when we asked for biscotti to go with the coffee we were offered it on a regular plate or "to go" on a napkin. Lunch was also excellent in the buffet (or as it is called on the Oosterdam, the Lido Restaurant). We discovered the excellent grilled panini sandwiches on the first day and they became my favorite for the entire week. Kathleen went with the salads and I discovered a really excellent seafood salad that was chock full of calamari and shrimp yummy. One thing that Celebrity does a bunch better than HAL is their hamburger grille. X's has about ten times the choices when it comes to condiments, much better fries, a huge selection of not only burgers but hot dogs, greek sandwiches, nachos, tacos and more. HAL has hamburgers and hot dogs and mustard and ketchup to put on them. Runny ketchup at that. On X you get unlimited guacamole on your burger if you want it and I always do. I should make note again that while it is easy to get food in the buffet, it is often difficult to get drinks. While there are probably 10 food stations, there are only two drink stations and they are often out of order at one or the other. That means that on any given morning there might be 1,000 people trying to get coffee from two machines in one small area. Not the best situation. Plus, the unpaid (soft drinks are chargeable on cruise ships) selection was meager. On X I can ALWAYS get lemonade, ice tea and a punch. On Oosterdam, it was two but never three. And most of the time one of the machines was down. (Kathleen's note: But you can get cranberry juice, V-8 or tomato juice, pineapple juice, fresh squeezed OJ or regular OJ for breakfast which you cannot get on X.) One last little criticism of HAL's almost perfect buffet. At the front of the buffet, just as you enter at lunch they are making pasta. They use so much garlic the smell alone is almost sickening. And folks, I am Italian and love garlic. This is overkill. Lighten up on the garlic. I saw one cook doing a single serving of pasta that he fried seven cloves into the sauce to start the order. I don't know about you, but that would have killed me. The Dining Room Although you can eat either breakfast or lunch in the dining room Kathleen and I didn't on this cruise. The buffet was too good to pass up. But we did eat there all but two nights at dinner. We are early seating people. And we like a fixed seating plan. HAL has both fixed seating (5:45 and 8:30) for dinner as well as an "Anytime Dining" option which allows you to go to the dining room at any time from 5:15 until 9:00 for dinner. All fixed seating is on the third floor of the dining room and all "Anytime Dining" is on the second floor. We were originally supposed to have "Anytime Dining" but our TA had put us on a waiting list for regular early seating and we were thrilled to find we had made the cut. We were at a table for ten (we prefer eight or six) but this ten was just fine. Also at our table were three folks we hardly ever talked to as they were very quiet and always sat at the far end of the table from us, a couple from the San Diego area who were celebrating their wedding anniversary and three wonderful sisters from East Texas-Louisiana region who were the most fun ever. They turned out to be our next door neighbors cabin-wise as well and we wound up seeing them on a shore excursion too. A big hello to Joy, Phyllis and Nancy. At dinner the food was great. I can say that I had an eggplant cannelloni the first night, lamb the second, a pasta dish the fourth, beef tenders the sixth and a wild forest mushroom strudel the seventh (the third was Kathleen's birthday and we went to the Pinnacle Grille and the fifth we went to a Mexican barbecue on the pool deck). With this wide variety of dishes, they didn't fail with a single one. All were excellent as were the appetizers, the salads and the soups. Kathleen was just as happy with her dinners as I was. So we had great company and great food but I would still have to say that I never once enjoyed a single dinner as much as any dinner I have enjoyed on Celebrity. Why? Because of the service. Was it good, quick and efficient? You bet. Was it cold, brisk and rushed. To that I have to answer an emphatic YES! On X we can tell you the name of every waiter and every assistant waiter we have had on all eight cruises. They made our dinners special, social occasions. As I write this it is the fifth day of the cruise and I have no idea who our waiter is, or our assistant waiter, or our sommelier. In fact I am pretty sure that we have had different waiters every night. We may have had the same person every night but they have never taken the time to introduce themselves, to make any recommendations on the menu or to really do anything that would make them special. I truly believe that part of the fault in this lies with the tipping policy on HAL. Tips on X are optional. You can add them to your ship's account or you can pass them out in cash on the last night. We always do and almost always far surpass what X suggests we give our waiters and assistant waiters as well as often tipping the sommeliers and bartenders more than the standard 15% they automatically add to every drink and bottle of wine. On HAL, tips are automatically added to your ship's account whether you like it or not. So, the service can be good or bad, you can have waiter A on one night and waiter B another and it makes no difference. We like the difference. We like our waiters, assistant waiters and sommeliers who take great care of us on Celebrity. Besides never getting to know our servers, they were way too fast. We would sit down to eat at 5:45 and walk out of the dining room around 7:15. It was like they were in a major rush to get rid of us. I would barely pull my chair in as we sat down at the table when a menu would be in my lap. Within three to five minutes my order was taken, within another three to five minutes my first course would arrive and then with just about as quick and interval, all remaining courses. When we were finished with our entrees the dishes were replaced with dessert menus almost instantly and we barely had time to read them before the waiter was back to ask us what we wanted. Often he would interrupt a conversation to find out what we wanted to order for dessert. Then it was almost immediately served. I know that I ordered decaf with dessert every night and so far on only one night did I get even offered a second cup. Dinners always felt rushed on HAL. I have never felt that way on any of our cruises on Celebrity. Dinner is the social event of the day and it is special. On Oosterdam, I felt like we were well-dressed animals being fed at a ten animal trough. A mention of our sommelier is in order. On Celebrity, the sommelier is an integral part of the dining experience. On HAL, they weren't sommeliers, they were "bar waiters" (that's what it said on their name badges) and they took care of the wine service almost like they were doing you a favor. Our TA had sent us both a bottle of champagne and a bottle of red wine to our cabin. We took the red to the dining room on the first night and it took the "bar waiter" quite a while to get us glasses and get it poured. At the end of the evening I made a point of telling him that we would bring the champagne down the next night and would like to share it with the rest of the table. I asked if he could he please have glasses ready and the champagne chilled. He said to just bring it down when we came (in other words, chill it yourself) and he would take care of it. On X our cabin steward would have sent it down earlier and it would have been waiting at our table, chilled and the sommelier would have had glasses at every seat at the table. Well we were one of the first people at the table that night but by the time he acknowledged us, he had already poured wine for more than half of the others at the table and of course no on wanted any champagne now that they had purchased their own wine. This to me was the height of bad service. Just one more comment on the service in the dining room. We had breakfast with a very nice woman from Missouri who was doing "Anytime Dining" and said that she and those in her party had almost exactly the opposite problem. They seemed to have to wait forever to be seated, to order and then to be served. So long, she said, that it bordered on bad service. That's is amazing. If they just tried to even it out, we could both be happy. The Specialty Restaurant-The Pinnacle Grille While HAL and the Oosterdam may have a better buffet than Celebrity, and the food in the dining room is equal, The Pinnacle Grille is not in the same city, much less the same ballpark as the speciality restaurants on the Celebrity M-class ships. We have dined in the United States Dining room on board Infinity at least eight or nine times and it is one of our favorite dining experiences. Dining in an alternative restaurant should not just be about the food but it should be an event. The food, the wine, the conversation, the ambience, all contribute to the meal. This is especially true in the Celebrity's specialty restaurants. Silver dome, french service with many dishes prepared table-side by experienced waiters who know how to converse about food add up to a one-of-a-kind dining experience. We can honestly say that except for one hurried Valentine's dinner in the United States Dining Room, every X specialty restaurant meal has been a culinary pleasure. Not in the Pinnacle Grille. We arrived on time and were seated just as if we were eating in the dining room. We were shown a variety of steaks under glass that are the specialty of the house. As it was a special occasion (Kathleen's birthday) we decided to order Pellegrino sparkling water which was promptly served...warm. Actually closer to hot. When we asked for ice or a different bottle that was cold, we were treated like culinary heathens that did not know you "never put ice in Pellegrino." Well, excuse us. It was either that or drink hot water on what had been a fairly hot day. That also meant that since they put ice in the water we had to continuously remind them that it was sparkling water which meant they kept looking at us like we were dunces for having ice in it. Again, we had barely dealt with the water when the waiter was there asking if he could take our order. We told him we really hadn't had a chance to look at the menu yet. At this point the "bar waiter" came by and asked if we would like to see the wine list. All of this happened within five to ten minutes of our being seated. Again, we are feeling very rushed. The wine list was excellent. Being that HAL is based in Seattle, there were quite a few Washington wines that we know and love including a Syrah from our favorite cellars, McCrea that we had enjoyed before. Unfortunately, it also meant that we knew most of the wines very well, including their prices which I felt were way too high. Almost to the point of "price gouging." Wines in restaurants are normally three times the price of wine in a store and these were sometimes four and five times the price. The least expensive bottle of red was a merlot that came from Chateau St. Michel, a winery that is about two miles from our home. We have seen it priced in stores at the $10 level but HAL wanted $58 for it. We thought the pricing was "just us" but when we decided on a bottle and we told the "bar waiter" (It was bad enough that there was a "bar waiter" doing wine in the dining room but I can't even imagine a good specialty restaurant not having a trained sommelier!) how impressed we were with the number of Washington wines on the list, she said, "I bet you are pretty surprised at those prices, aren't you?"We knew right then, that it wasn't "just us." After we got our wine ordered the waiter was back to take our orders. Once we had given him those the "bar waiter" was back with the wine. Once we had opened and poured that, the waiter was back with our salads. Once we were done with the salads they had been off the table no more than three or four minutes when our entrees arrived. I am not sure why these people were in such a hurry but they were. There were plenty of empty tables so it wasn't like they were needing to get rid of us so they could seat someone else. Food-wise the cuisine was adequate. It was the equivalent of anything we had eaten in the dining room on the first three nights of the cruise. We both started with caesar salad that was good, followed by Steak Diane for Kathleen and a ribeye steak for me. Mine had bernaise sauce on the side that was less than adequate. HAL's desserts have been excellent and the desserts in the Pinnacle Grille were no exception. I had the chocolate volcano cake and Kathleen had a raspberry cheese cake. Both were excellent. I also had a cup of the Torrefazione decaf that was really great but I had a heck of a time getting a second cup as both our waiter and our bar waiter were rushing up to us with checks to signs. Cost of dinner in the Pinnacle Grille is $20 each which is supposed to cover the cost of the tip. The food was no better than the dining room and I have to say that when we sail HAL again, we will probably skip it. One event that you may want to avoid On the last night we were in Mexico the ship held a "Mexican Barbecue" on the pool deck and we decided to try it instead of eating in the dining room. Big mistake. First, we are not sure why it was listed as a "Mexican Barbecue" as there was nothing Mexican about it that we could see. No salsa or guacamole in site. Just steaks done on a grill with some beans (not even refried but pintos in a barbecue sauce) corn on the cob, baked potatoes, cornbread, rolls and a salad bar. The biggest problem we could see was that they were not ready to handle the numbers of people who showed up to eat there. Steaks were very undercooked. Mine, which was supposed to be medium-rare, was raw and by the time we waited through getting the side dishes was also cold. If they are going to consider doing this on a regular basis, they need to rethink the logistics of the event. If you are sailing on Oosterdam in Mexico this year, skip the Mexican Barbecue and eat in the dining room. You can get the same steak, done correctly and still warm when you eat it. It would be easy to rearrange the line so that you got your cold salads and sides first and then got your meat but this isn't the way it is. The Master Chef's Dinner Just a quick note about this. On the final night at sea, the dining room staff assisted by some of the ship's entertainers, put on a culinary show in the dining room. It starts with invitations on the table the night before asking you to be seated by 5:15 and stating that the dining room would be open at 5:00. So at 4:55 we dutifully went to the dining room and found it closed. Until 5:15. If they are going to tell you to be there by 5:15 (NO LATE SEATING) then they should be on time. When we finally got seated, there were no napkins on the table because the dining room staff then paraded in to music and made a big deal about putting the napkins on our laps. This was followed by another parade with the waiters juggling and spinning plates prior to delivering the salad course. Then after the entrees (all courses were delicious) the traditional Baked Alaska March took place. All in all a fun evening. Your typical cruise stuff taken up a notch. In Summary Food All in all, HAL wins the battle of the buffets while Celebrity and HAL are about equal overall in food but X understands that dining is more than just the food. It is a social occasion. An event. And when it comes to that, give me Celebrity every time. Especially Celebrity's specialty restaurants which are beyond awesome. All the rest of the cruise stuff Having covered all the big stuff like ports, food and San Diego and our onboard experience, this page will cover all the rest. The little stuff that really didn't fit into anyplace special but does deserve a special mention. Cruise Critic Those of you who are reading this because you found it through the Cruise Critic website don't need an explanation but those of you who are friends and family need a little background so I hope the former group will excuse my explanation here. Cruise Critic is a super website that allows those of us who cruise on a regular basis to read about cruising online. But more than that it allows, through it's wonderful message boards, for us to communicate with what seems like millions of other cruise junkies like ourselves. If you are reading this as part of a Cruise Critic review, you should make sure and check out the boards. You will meet so many great people there. On those boards you will usually find a thread dedicated to your next cruise. These are called roll calls. We have had one for every cruise we have been on since 2004. There were roll calls before that but we hadn't found Cruise Critic so we didn't have any for our first two cruises. And being on a roll call (especially an active roll call) really enhances your cruise experience. I often tell people that not only did I meet Kathleen online but that I have met the majority of our current friends online through Cruise Critic roll calls. Our four best friends and us form the backbone of a group we refer to as the Martini Mates. We have been posting on the roll call from our original cruise that we took together in 2005 for what seems like forever. That roll call has more than 3,000 posts as of now. I mention this because I want to point out how great HAL was in taking care of our Cruise Critic group. First though, let me say that the roll calls for HAL cruises seem to be a lot smaller and less subscribed to than the roll calls for our Celebrity cruises. This may be due to the average age of the HAL cruising community vs the X cruising community. Either way our Oosterdam roll call was pretty tame compared to our current Solstice roll call which is incredibly active. I would say that our Oosterdam roll call was pretty much kept going by a wonderful lady who goes by the screen name of San Diego Sue (who is really named Gloria). She organized us and got us scheduled so that we met three different times. The second time is what I want to focus on here. On Celebrity if you have more than a certain number of people on your roll call X will host a reception for you. I believe that number is 25. You get invited by X, they usually have it on the morning of the first sea day and they serve coffee and what has always seemed to me like leftover, stale danish from the breakfast buffet. Sometimes someone in authority from the ship will stop by. On many of them, we have had cruise director come by to say hello. On HAL there is no formal get together for the roll call group but between a couple of members of the group contacting HAL in advance and asking for one, we wound up with a reception that put Celebrity's Cruise Critic Connection Party to shame. No stale danish, no coffee, no morning meeting in a tiny lounge (or as we had on the Century a gathering in the theater which was AWKWARD to say the least). Instead there was champagne, wine, appetizers (including shrimp big shrimp) in a really nice lounge in the afternoon. HAL acted like they really cared about the Cruise Critic group. And not only did Cruise Director Erik show up but he brought along DJ Matt and a little while later his boss, the hotel director came by and stayed a while to answer questions. It was outstanding. We felt very special and it is something that X could learn a lesson from. Treat those people who are the most vocal about cruising like you care about them. Kudos to HAL for taking such great care of us. Culinary Events Since one of my hobbies besides photography and travel is food and cooking I was thrilled to see that HAL had a Culinary Arts Center on board the Oosterdam. This truly is a state-of-the-art culinary demonstration kitchen. The set up is fantastic with live cooking going on in front of you and big screen TVs to show you exactly what was going on the stage. During the week I attended (Kathleen joined me for some as well) four demonstrations and could have attended more except they cut into our pool/spa time. The demos were done by either the Oosterdam's chefs or a guest chef (this week the food editor of the Seattle Post Intelligencer) and were all very good. It was a great way to spend the time during sea days and they even gave you samples of everything that they cooked (as if there wasn't enough to eat on board already). The Spa Another place that HAL exceeds our experiences on Celebrity. Some explanation is in order here. When we have sailed with Celebrity one of our favorite places on board is the Thallosotherapy (T) pool and the Persian Gardens. Think of the T-pool as a giant hot tub with the water at body temperature and huge jets coming from under some in-pool metal chaise lounges. And the Persian Gardens is a series of steam rooms and hot ceramic benches that you can sit in and on. We tried them on our original Infinity voyage and really liked them but over the years the T-pool has gotten worn down and now kids are allowed in it so it has lost its luster for us. And the Persian Garden on Infinity on our August Alaskan cruise was in total disrepair with tiles broken and things just feeling dirty. On X, the T-pool is free on the M-class ships but the Persian Gardens is chargeable. Usually about $100 per person for a seven day cruise. On Oosterdam, both their version of the T-pool and their version of the Persian Garden are chargeable as well. One price for both of $150 per person for the cruise or $250 for a couple. Here's the real seller for us...no kids allowed and they only sell 50 of the "memberships." On X the T-pool can sometimes get very crowded and the Persian Gardens as I mentioned, has often in been in different states of disrepair. Also on the Infinity, the Persian Gardens are a dark and dank place while on Oosterdam, the hot benches (six individual ones) face a huge window that looks out over the sea. Behind them are three brightly painted, very clean steam rooms of differing intensities. One is steam with aromatherapy, one straight steam and the last a dry heat. I know, it seems nuts that on a cruise where we are complaining about the heat outdoors that we would sit in a dry heat steam room but we do. Go figure. It is THE most relaxing two hours I know how to spend. An hour in and out of the pool, laying on the most comfortable chaises I have ever laid on and then off to the steam room and ceramic hot benches. I am relaxing just writing about it. I am hoping that the new Celebrity Solstice class ships will have something of this caliber (although she will not have a T-pool, which is a real shame) when we board Solstice in March. Our message to X is to improve their spa to this level and our message to you is that if you are on Oosterdam and can afford it, get this spa package. It is money well spent if you are after relaxation. The Entertainment We like to be entertained. We go to the movies on a regular basis, have subscribed to a theater season for a number of years and are supporters of the Seattle Men's Chorus. So when we come on a ship, we will often see the shows. Especially when we are not traveling with friends which often means we end up skipping the shows just to sit around and talk. On this trip we saw some of the entertainment and I can say it is about typical of what we have seen on all our other cruises. There was a comedian (we skipped his performance on the first night because the show was too late for us), a magician who was cute and folksy but no David Copperfield, a pianist who did an Elton John tribute show that we saw a few minutes of but was not our cup of tea and a full blown production show called Escape which was your typical cruise ship fare. None of them were anything to really write about...so I will stop writing about it now. Photography Since I am in the memory business and I have been taking so many photographs this year, I want to make a couple of comments about the ship's photographers. If you don't cruise you need to know that every time you get on the ship, get off the ship, dress up, dress down or do just about anything else, someone is taking your picture. Then they print them up and put them in the photo gallery section of the ship. The photographers are usually young people who are trained in portraiture by someone who learned it about 20 years ago. They do the regular poses that frankly I think, look rather cheesy. You know the ones. You posed that way for your prom pictures. That said the Oosterdam photographers did their best to make theirs more interesting. Unfortunately they only succeed marginally. One of the things they did was combine shots into picture packages. Let's say we got our photo taken on formal night. When we went to look at it, there would be five pictures on one sheet. One 8 x 10 of the two of us in color, another of each of us individually in black and white and then two wallet sizes. You could only buy all of them. So if you want the one color photo, you end up with all of them. Not a bad thing but two of those sheets are $80! Yikes. And the waste is as bad as any photo studio we have seen at sea. On the final sea day we went in and pulled every photo of us we could find. There were more than 35 individual sheets of photo paper with just us on them. We bought two and they threw the rest away. WHAT A WASTE! People, this is the digital age. How about taking my picture and making it available on a kiosk or even better swipe my key card when you take it and have the pics show up on the TV in my cabin. Then I can look at them and order just the prints I want. Or even better give me the option to purchase them digitally. You see, like many people today, I don't carry actual photographs anymore. I carry an iPhone (or I could have them in my iPod) that has photos in it. As of today the photo library on my iPod has more than 700 photos in it. I want my pictures digitally. I use them on websites, as my screen saver, my desktop background and so many other ways in a digital format. Please cruise lines, stop printing the pictures and go digital. I must say that X finally started at least using kiosks in their photo galleries but they still printed every photo. What a waste of resources. They need to get a little greener. I would love to find a way for Jostens to partner with cruise lines as they do with Disney where you could go home from a cruise, see all the pics taken on your entire cruise and put together a book of just the ones you want, have it printed and shipped directly to you. How great would that be. Summing it all up Here it is. The end of the review. I bet you never thought you would get here. But now for the final judgement. Will we sail HAL again? Yes. This line will probably become our second (or third if you count Azamara as a second line, separate from Celebrity) favorite line. It will be a safe line we can sail on when X does not have the itineraries we are looking for or when a bargain comes along. We have pretty much eliminated most of the other big lines (RCCL, Princess, Carnival) because we really don't want to sail with kids and families. We like an adult line. For that reason, Celebrity works for us. And HAL will be a great second line that is also close to that demographic. Was it a perfect cruise? No. The noise level in our cabin was horrendous and we will never book under the pool area again even if they give us another upgrade. Were there things we loved? Absolutely...the food, the cabin itself (without the noise), the people we met. Do we still like X better? Yes. Her crew is the difference. The service is the deal breaker. We love X because of the way we are treated every minute we are onboard. Not that we were treated badly on HAL, it just wasn't the same. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2008
We booked an SY cabin, but got the opportunity to upgrade to SA two days before we sailed for only $300 and it was well worth it! Our cabin was so luxurious, I never wanted to leave it! Between the invitations to private parties by being ... Read More
We booked an SY cabin, but got the opportunity to upgrade to SA two days before we sailed for only $300 and it was well worth it! Our cabin was so luxurious, I never wanted to leave it! Between the invitations to private parties by being in a suite and the ones for the Cruise Critic folks, we had four private parties with free appetizers and champagne. That was awesome! The staff in Neptune Lounge (Chris and Ada) were excellent as well. We didn't really spend much time there, but every time we dropped in to get coffee for my husband or pick up a couple of cookies or chocolate croissants, they were so nice and friendly. They learned our names immediately which was neat. I was ecstatic that there were little or no children on our cruise! This was a sore point with my last cruise on Royal Caribbean in July 2003 and I'm happy to say choosing HAL and a fall date was the right choice to avoid this type of thing. I was a bit disappointed with both the food in the main dining room and the Lido. Portions in the DR were fine for me as I'm a light eater, but they seemed rather small for most people. The lido had too many stations spread out and I was always getting in the wrong line. Food quality was okay, but didn't like the mob mentality, though I know it is the way on all cruise lines. I was quite disappointed with shipboard activities. Too many seemed geared to make money for HAL, such as bingo and the casino. Extremely disappointed that when we went to trivia once in the Vista Lounge, we were rushed through it to make way for bingo (since trivia didn't pay them anything). Did really enjoy Name that Tune in the piano bar one night and we actually won that teaming with a great couple from NJ! But overall, there was too much emphasis on shopping in every port over enjoying the natural scenery. It just seemed like Juneau, Ketchikan and Victoria were nothing but tourist traps and that was really disappointing to both of us. We did excursions in Juneau and Sitka that got us away from that downtown tourist feeling at least and they were enjoyable despite the rain. Did I mention it rained or was gray and foggy every day in Alaska. I surely wasn't expecting that. Not the cruise line's fault of course. Just disappointing. We spent a lot of time on our HUGE veranda at Hubbard Glacier, leaving Seattle, and approaching Victoria. This was some of our best times, enjoying the complementary champagne departing Seattle and our own wine viewing Hubbard. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2008
First - Thank you to everyone on this site who has taken the time to write a review. There is no way I could've planned our trip without you. This was our first time on Holland America and our fourth cruise. I planned the trip with a ... Read More
First - Thank you to everyone on this site who has taken the time to write a review. There is no way I could've planned our trip without you. This was our first time on Holland America and our fourth cruise. I planned the trip with a lot of help from travel sites. My husband and I traveled with my parents who are in their 70's. This was a dream vacation for my Dad. We went for them, but were excited about getting away from it all. We flew into Seattle, and took a car from the airport by dialing *55 on the ground transportation phone. This phone was hard to find. Our porter couldn't speak English, so was no help. Surprisingly, it only cost $55 for a limo which was a steal compared to two taxis. We spent the night in Comfort Suites /Seattle Center. We took the complimentary hotel shuttle to dinner at "Ettas" next to Pike's Place Market. The food was good but nothing to write about. The shuttle returned at the designated time to take us back to the hotel. We had a problem with our air conditioner in our room which was repaired before we retired. The next morning, we paid $6 per person for a shuttle to Pier 30. After a lot of prior research, the Comfort Suites experience met our needs nicely. Embarkation - It was extremely rushed. Our bags were whisked away before we were even out of the shuttle bus. This was unsettling. My husband and I had to chase down the porter, who was rude, to find out what was happening. He said we should be happy that we were hustled ahead of the others. I spoke with a Holland America representative who said that the porter didn't work for the cruise line. After traveling to Europe, I felt an unexpected sudden separation from our bags was unacceptable. This started our cruise awkwardly. We became separated from my parents because they were whisked away by another representative while we were trying to get answers about our bags. We missed out on the traditional embarkation picture. We finally boarded together and went to the Lido Restaurant where the crowd was overwhelming and dangerous for my parents who are not that stable on their feet. We couldn't find anywhere to sit. People were saving seats by turning up chairs. We finally sat on the edge of the Lido pool to eat our first meal on the ship. The food was mediocre at best. It's the last meal we had there during our cruise. When we heard the announcement that our rooms were ready, we were thrilled. We had booked adjoining rooms where our bags were waiting. We spent the next couple of hours unpacking and relaxing. I found 6 empty packs of men's underwear in a cabinet over the loveseat. I contacted the steward, and he removed them. Our bags fit nicely under the bed. We had a clogged sink and tub. After speaking with the steward, they were promptly repaired. The Dining Room- Served a variety of foods each night. I was worried when the first night, two of us had to send our food back to the kitchen. It simply wasn't edible. The restaurant manager said that he would make it up to us on lobster night which he did. All week, the table steward was extremely impatient with my mother who is hard of hearing. His broken English made it even harder for her to understand him. Their inability to communicate caused a strain each night. I know that the table steward has a difficult job, but the Holland America line has a reputation for having elderly guests, so somebody is dropping the ball on training these servers on dealing with their clientele. We almost asked for another steward after the second night. In hind sight, we should have. Didn't want cause a problem for the system. Our steward never crossed the line to being rude until the last night when he asked my mother loudly if she was confused, and why, since he had asked her only a simple question. It was unacceptable behavior. Pinnacle Grill - We made reservations online a month before departure to celebrate my parents 53rd anniversary and our 29th. The service was horrible and the food was average. The dining room was far better, so this was clearly a waste of money. Cabin- This is where our experience was a pleasure. For a large cruise ship, our cabin was very comfortable and quiet. We booked VF5 with has a glass balcony. There was a tub which made the bathroom layout larger,therefore easier to move about. We relaxed in our room for several days with a comfy bed, pillows, and loveseat. Every evening, we put our breakfast menu on the door for pick up. Our order always arrived on time and correct. We had lunch in our cabin when we were not at port. The T.V. in the room had only a few stations. There were some good movies on. We like watching the news, but the only news channel was CNN. This was a pain to watch. We wished for FOX news all week. Ports- Sitka was my favorite because is was quaint and quiet. We purchased some locally made earrings for our daughter for her birthday which were a great hit when we returned home. We tried some locally made clam chowder. Juno - A rainy day. Our ship docked to far from town to walk. We had to pay $3 a piece to get into town which was a blatant rip-off when the other three ships docked were right in town. Holland America should foot the bill for this. We took a local shuttle to the Mendenhall Glacier. I'm glad we did, or there wouldn't be much to talk about when we returned home. We are okay fish tacos at a local restaurant for lunch. Ketchikan- Watching the salmon run up stream was fascinating. We purchase some fresh canned salmon to take home. Hubbard Glacier- The viewing was spectacular. We did experience it calving several times which was amazing. Was it worth the trip, probably not. We had a guide board the ship while viewing the glacier which made the viewing more interesting. Entertainment - Well, we only went to see the magician and the comedian and both were enjoyable. We did go to the newlywed game one night because of the reviews here. It was hilarious. Choppy Seas - I've never experienced such rocking. My parents had a hard time maintaining their balance while we were in the Pacific. At night, it was a great environment to sleep. Fitness Center - I worked out every morning. The view was great, but the room was crowded with no place to stretch. They could use some stretching machines. Disembarkment - No problems at all. We took the transfer to the airport because our airline kept changing our flight before our trip. They moved it so close to our disembark time that I decided to let Holland America be responsible for getting us there on time. We arrived home jet- lagged, but all in all had a nice vacation. In conclusion- I think that an Alaskan Cruise is overrated. If you spend the money to go, take a cruise to the Northern ports as well. We saw two killer whales, and that's it. Also, I would think that planning a Land Tour before your cruise would make your trip more memorable. We didn't take any excursions because of the reviews I read here. I enjoyed the Holland America experience. It was quiet and relaxing in our room. I would suggest that the ship do a better job designating smoking areas. Several times, we were gagged by smoke. We learned to take alternate routes on the ship to bypass the worst areas. We are now planning our next cruise to the South Pacific. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2008
My husband and I began our journey by flying from L.A. to Seattle on August 27th and staying at the beautiful Hyatt Grand. Great location, luxurious accommodations and a great way to begin our adventure. Our cruise left on Saturday, August ... Read More
My husband and I began our journey by flying from L.A. to Seattle on August 27th and staying at the beautiful Hyatt Grand. Great location, luxurious accommodations and a great way to begin our adventure. Our cruise left on Saturday, August 30th. Getting aboard went very smoothly. Once onboard we were told the rooms were not ready and all were directed to the buffet. It was beautifully arranged, with many possibilities, but it was way too crowded, like a cattle call, there was no room for everyone to sit, and there were many elderly people trying to get trays, food and find seating. The crew looked tired that first day, but were doing their best to assist those who needed help. Once in our cabin we were pleased to see it was larger than expected, and I especially appreciated that the bathroom had plenty of room, a great shower and tub. I had previously been on an NCL cruise and the bathroom was like a tiny closet, hated it, so this larger one was an unexpected treat. Our travel agent told us we had "open seating", but we actually had been assigned early dinner seating,5:45. I usually get home from work at 7:30, and we eat around 8 pm, so this was very early for us. We would have asked to be changed, but we met a wonderful couple from Utah, Gordon and Jackie, who were sitting at our table that first night, and we didn't want to loose them as dinner company, so we stayed with that assignment. The China was beautiful, Rosenthal. On four occasions I was served water in glasses that were cracked or chipped, so someone should take care and remove damaged glassware from the ship. There were great selections on the menu, and the food was tasty and presentation was great. One problem, there is an advertised option to pre purchase 10 glasses of wine, which my husband wanted to do...but everytime he asked they didn't know what he was talking about or they told him it didn't apply. In the dining room the wine steward told him it didn't apply in the dining room...at the bar he was told it was only in the dining room, so that was very confusing. Our first dinner my husband ordered a glass of chardonnay, he always and only drinks chardonnay. A glass of red wine was placed in front of him, and when he told the wine steward that he had ordered chardonnay, the steward argued with him, pulling out his paper tablet and saying "see here, you ordered this"....not a great first impression. But he did get the wine he ordered. We were very tired that first night, and we missed the big show. By the second evening all the crew seemed in better spirits, there were more smiles all around. This was our first trip to Alaska, and I chose it because I wanted to see Sitka and Ketchikan. Having been a history teacher many years ago I was particularly interested in the Russian history of Sitka, and having studied Native North American Cultures many years ago in college, I wanted to experience what I could of the Tlingit culture. So while others were out taking pictures of whales, fishing for salmon or gliding through the treetops in the rain forests, I was there to soak up some of the history. And I was not disappointed. When I return, and I hope to, I will go out to see the whales and maybe even fish, as people we met told wonderful stories of their outings. But on this trip I did three off shore excursions. First stop: Juneau. Before we started our afternoon tour we went in search of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox church. To us it was worth climbing the steep street in the rain. The history of this city is inter-twined with the Russian presence, and this church, still used as a house of worship, is like a living museum. In town I bought some wooden Russian nesting dolls for our grandchildren and a few t-shirts. Then we were off to see Mendenhall Glacier. In spite of the pouring rain it was magnificent. Why are there so many jewelry stores in Juneau? Even with end of season sales, prices were high. I heard that the cruise line owns or manages many of them, and they certainly do push visiting and buying, but it seems odd that anyone would buy a very expensive item of jewelry so far from home. That evening we were too tired to make it to our assigned early dinner, but when I asked about having dinner at the open seating dining area I was told if we did that we would loose our other assignment...so we went to the buffet at a few minutes past 8 pm only to see that the curtains were down and all that was available was pizza or pasta, neither of which we wanted. I spoke to a waiter and they did bring us a nice dinner, but I do not understand why they would end good dinner choices at the buffet at such an early time...and I think they should extend that until 9 or 9:30 pm for those who take naps and miss dinner! The next day we cruised very near Hubbard Glacier. It was freezing cold and raining again, but it was spectacular, huge and spectacular. In Sitka we visited another Russian Orthodox church. Our guide was a Tlingit, Clint, very informative. This is also an active church, 90% of the parishioners are Native American. The woman at the front door showed me photos of her great granddaughter who was recently baptized there. Again, much history in that church, beautiful icons, photos, religious objects, well worth seeing. Then we went to see the New Archangel Dancers. They are not Russian, but they performed Russian dances in authentic costumes.I'm sure we could have done these two tours by ourselves without buying into the official "tour", but the bus driver/tour guide Clint made it well worth the extra expense. Before we reached the next port of Ketchikan husband became ill with a horrible chest cold, so I got him some cold tablets, some Vapor Rub, brought him lots of juice and tea, and set off to explore Ketchikan by myself. To me this was the most beautiful of the three cities...they were all wonderful to experience, but this to me was the most magical...maybe the fact that it wasn't raining (finally a day without rain)made it so special.I took the tour to Saxman village, a Tlingit village, and to me it was such a moving experience. I studied this culture in college in the late 60's, early 70's....at the time my professor said they were a dying culture....and here all these years later I walk into their village, saw numerous stunning totem poles, met wonderful old and young members of the tribe. We were greeted in Tlingit and in English, and treated to a performance of tribal dancing. The costumes were beautiful, red capes with shell button detail, each cape embroidered on the back to signify the clan that member is from: raven, salmon, love bird, etc. Dancers included the young and the elderly. The youngest dancer was a beautiful young girl of maybe 4 or 5 years old, and one of the young women danced with her beautiful baby daughter in a sling across her chest...the baby was maybe 5 or 6 months old...excited and happy to be dancing, her little legs and arms keeping rhythm to the drum beat and chant. Among all the wonderful things I saw this was the highlight of my trip...my visit to the Tlingit village. All in all, a wonderful trip. Enjoyed the accommodations, our cabin steward was wonderful, there was plenty of great food...an abundance unless you are looking for dinner after 8 pm. And upon our return to Seattle everything went smoothly, we were off the ship and on our way to the airport in no time. I highly recommend the $16 per person charge to have the ship staff do pre-boarding check in and have your luggage sent directly from the ship to your flight home. We did it, and it went well. We got off the ship with only my carry on case, and our luggage was in Los Angeles when we arrived. This was a great trip! Read Less
Sail Date: July 2008
First of all, this was my 29th cruise overall, but only my third on HAL first since 1997. In the last 5 years, I have cruised exclusively with Carnival. We traveled with a group of 11 on this cruise. Five of us are in our mid-20's, ... Read More
First of all, this was my 29th cruise overall, but only my third on HAL first since 1997. In the last 5 years, I have cruised exclusively with Carnival. We traveled with a group of 11 on this cruise. Five of us are in our mid-20's, with our parents and a couple seniors. All in all, it was a great trip... the ship was great, service excellent, and Alaska was breathtaking. Embarkation: A breeze we arrived to the Pier in Seattle around 11:35, and were on board in 15 minutes. Service: Excellent in general. Room stewards were great. Bar servers were extremely personal and went out of their way to learn your name. We found dining room service to be very average, and wine service in the Vista Dining Room to be poor. However, our two nights in the Pinnacle Grill provided EXCEPTIONAL service. Entertainment: Solid all around. Was not expecting shows up to Carnival or RCCL's caliber in the show room, but they were still pretty good. The magician was phenomenal one of the best I've ever seen. Comedian was great too. The Cruise Director (forgot his name) and the cruise staff were great, and made sure that there were activities to be had for people of all ages. There was MUCH more to do aboard than I anticipated. Nightlife: Again, LOTS more than we thought. The casino was of adequate size with friendly dealers. The Piano Bar was a BLAST. Sports bar was okay; poker room was a HIT. Northern Lights was hit and miss more of a crowd on formal nights, though it seemed teens took it over at times. Food: I'll break the food up in three categories, because they deserve to be recognized individually. Vista Dining Room: A MAJOR part of our cruise is meeting every night for dinner in the main dining room. We were traveling with friends we haven't seen in years, and our family does not get to get together that much. We realized we would not have one table for 11, but thought we would be next to each other. Unfortunately, there ended up being a couple tables in between. We tried to change to no avail, so we had to live with it. Fine, we'll accept it. Unfortunately, we found the food in the Vista Dining Room to be marginal at BEST. All courses were wildly inconsistent, and entrees tasted like they had been sitting out for a while. Normally a highlight of the cruise, we found the dining room food to be very disappointing. We ate in the Vista the first and second nights. We ate in Juneau on land, and returned to the Vista after Hubbard Glacier night. Another sub-par dinner made Tuesday our last trip to the Vista for the week. We spent the rest of the week either at the Pinnacle Grill or eating on shore. I don't think I had unreasonable expectations for this dining room food we just found it to be WELL below the quality of the main dining room food on the last DOZEN cruises we have taken (mainly on Carnival). Pinnacle Grill: In my opinion, this restaurant really MADE the cruise for us. We had made reservations for 11 for Sitka night before the cruise. Our waiters (Jay and another couple servers) were OUTSTANDING. Everyones meals were phenomenal and cooked perfectly. We all were able to sit at one table, and had a great time. We tried to book again for Thursday, but were told that it was sold out. Thursday afternoon, we went by to check if there were any cancellations, and we were in luck! They were able to squeeze our party of 11 in again, and we all enjoyed another near perfect meal. This place is WELL worth the $20 cover. Our experience here was superior to our experiences in Carnival's Supper Clubs (which are also fantastic). Lido: I ate all my breakfasts and most lunches in the Lido. The breakfast selection was great. I really enjoyed the eggs benedict station and the belgian waffle section sooo good. Lunch also had a wonderful selection, and I usually opted for the Asian food. Debarkation: Painless. We were off the ship by 9am after a leisurely breakfast in Lido. Miscellaneous: I'm not going to cover the ports too much, as those can be researched separately. I will say that the tendering process in Sitka was pretty poor if you didn't book an excursion. I did not have a problem, but many in our party had to wait almost 2 hours in order to be called to shore. - The ship was clean and laid out generally well. I really appreciated all the nightlife activities being together on deck 2. I didn't really like the setup of the gym, but it was adequate for the crowd on board. For the size of the ship, I prefer the layout of Carnival's Spirit-class. In conclusion... this was a very good cruise. We LOVED Alaska, and especially enjoyed spending time with family and friends. Our sub par experience in the Vista Dining Room did actually detract from our enjoyment of the cruise because it is such a large aspect of OUR cruise experience. However, other than that, it was a good time, and everything else was generally good to excellent as we expected. Would I sail HAL again? Sure... for the right itinerary and right price. Would I go out of my way to sail HAL? Not at all. Being in my mid-20s, I did not at all feel out of place, or feel like there wasn't enough for me to do. This actually surprised me, and I would not at all mind sailing with them again. Other than some big improvement to make in the kitchen, the Oosterdam was a great cruise. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2008
Just finished an eight day, seven night trip on the MS Oosterdam out of Seattle, stopping at Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan and Victoria, BC. Background check - this is my first review and I haven't been on a cruise since 1983 (the ... Read More
Just finished an eight day, seven night trip on the MS Oosterdam out of Seattle, stopping at Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan and Victoria, BC. Background check - this is my first review and I haven't been on a cruise since 1983 (the now-defunct Sitmar line), so I consider myself a "novice" cruiser. Beforehand: All travel documents and paperwork arrived well in advance of sailing, in a blue HA folio to keep them organized. I called the Seattle office twice with questions on shore tours and teen stuff and got helpful, professional advice. No problems there. Arrival: We (myself, the wife, our 13 year old daughter and our near identical traveling family) flew to Seattle on Friday morning and stayed one night at the Marriott Waterfront, where I spent the rest of the day sitting in Nordstrom while the wives and daughters shopped for shoes. The hotel was comfortable with plenty of restaurants nearby and only a ten minute taxi ride to Pier 30, the HA/Princess terminal. Highly recommended, since the only HA pre-cruise hotel package was at the Fairmont at over twice the price. How about a bit of variety here? Check-in: After almost being late to board due to another last-minute shoe expedition, the six of us were some of the last to arrive in the terminal. Check-in was quick and painless - use the online registration before you go! Had our security photos taken and were up the gangway in no more than ten minutes, just in time to meet the rush of passengers for lifeboat drill. I remember doing that about one hour out to sea back in '83 and here we hadn't even left port. After a short snack in the Lido budget restaurant, we went to our cabins and all bags were already there, along with Wisnu, our cabin steward. First day at sea: Rough seas and lots of stomach upset (even some of the crew!) for the first 36 hours. We had access to scopolamine patches and oral meclizine, which wa being passed out like vitamins at the Front Desk. The captain kept apologizing for the conditions but I'm sure he could only do so much. By Sunday afternoon all was calm and by evening the passengers were out of their cabins. Cabin: A verandah room (VA category) on the Navigation deck (deck 8). Unfortunately, the Lido restaurant was just above, so after late night eating finished, there was an hour of rumbling as things were put away and cleaned. Not appreciated! Next time I'll look more carefully at the deck plans. Room was cramped but had adequate storage. The queen bed was comfortable, with extra blankets in the closets. Our daughter liked the sofa bed near the patio window. Bathroom was small but adequate. Everything was very clean and well-maintained. Fresh fruit (our choice) was placed in the cabin daily, a nice touch. Temperature control was fine. In summary, I was expecting a bit more floor space but I guess that's the way it is these days. Next time I'll ante up for a small suite. The view was great but I'd gladly give up the balcony for more interior room. Room service (both food and cleaning) was prompt and consistently good all week. Food: We ate our meals about evenly between the Lido buffet and main dining room (open seating, 5:15-9:00 pm). I'm no food critic and eat whatever is put my way, though I do know a good steak and my wife knows her Asian cuisine. Portions were fine for me but would be considered skimpy by some - and there were a large number of grotesquely obese people on board, packing on the calories. Service was erratic in the main dining room but the dishes were excellent and there was a nice selection with every meal. Meat was generally cooked one notch more than requested so I ordered "medium" and consistently got a nice "medium well". The asian-style food in the Lido restaurant had some good dishes but the sushi selection was poor, with low quality rice and almost exclusively seaweed rolls with vegetables. Other stations (pastas, pizza, deli, main courses, desserts) had a decent variety and were more than OK for my taste. Breakfasts were especially tasty with waffles, omelets, eggs to order, cereals, fruit, several kinds of juices (real fresh-squeezed OJ) and four different kinds of eggs Benedict. Our daughter and her friend ate heartily the entire week. Entertainment: Singing/dancing music shows (fun and energetic), magician (James Cielen - above average), Indonesian crew music show (interesting and enthusiastic). Typical cruise stuff from what I've read. Enjoyable after a busy day ashore. Passengers: Average age 40-65. The handful of families with small children kept a good rein on them and I never heard out of control screaming or tantrums. Most of the kids on board were 8-17 years old and seemed well-behaved. Our daughter thoroughly loved the teen deck activities and met all kinds of kids within the first day. After that, she took one of our FRS radios and was off from morning to dinnertime, then back up there until 11:30 pm. We never felt she was unsafe to wander around with the group and there was always a college-aged "chaperone" keeping an eye on things. Very well done. Ship shops: Constant advertising and "sales." Prices weren't bad but I cannot imagine buying "fine art" or a major piece of jewelry from a cruise ship! We just ignored this area so it didn't bother us one way of another. Casino: Helped HA's balance sheet one night and took some back another. Mostly staffed by eastern Europeans, the usual table games and slots/video poker. A casino is a casino... Juneau: Overcast at first then cleared up nicely. Took the helicopter/dogsledding tour with my daughter while the wife went to the spa and napped. A fantastic experience and strongly recommended - professional people all the way through. Expensive but worth it once! My daughter even got to sit in front next to the helicopter pilot on the way back, something she is still talking about. Sitka: Beautiful weather - mid-60s and sunny. A short stop so we just took the $10 all day shuttle and stopped at the Raptor Center to see the recovering eagles and owls. Beautiful birds! We were there in between "show" where some of the birds are brought out for a close view and a talk from the staff. Kids would love it. Ketchikan: Took the rain forest canopy/zip line tour with another great experience. Over 100' up in the trees, suspension bridges and zip lines galore. The teens had a blast and so did their dads! Well worth it. Victoria, BC: Amazingly clean and attractive city - maybe because it's the provincial capital. Definitely a place I'd like to visit again. Too bad the dollar is so weak against the loonie... Shore shopping: For the most part, junky jewelry stores and t-shirts. Sitka had a nice fur store if you are looking for a coat (Russian sable - $60,000). Most are seasonal shops that close up by the end of September. We just kept walking... Seattle return: After a leisurely breakfast, we disembarked at our scheduled time and had minimal delay working our way through to our luggage, which had been set out the previous night. Used the HA (Gray Line) buses for airport transportation - efficiently run. Summary: Pluses - good service, excellent shore tours, scenery, "Junior" had a great time with her new friends, comfortable bedding Minuses - "small" cabin, cabin location, inconsistent quality of service in the main dining room, constant "selling" from the art and gift shops Read Less
Sail Date: July 2008
My wife and I embarked on this first-ever cruise to celebrate our fifth anniversary. After a long and exhausting separation due to work, we intentionally chose a cruise as a relaxing alternative to our typical DIY, adventure-seeking, ... Read More
My wife and I embarked on this first-ever cruise to celebrate our fifth anniversary. After a long and exhausting separation due to work, we intentionally chose a cruise as a relaxing alternative to our typical DIY, adventure-seeking, see-and-do-everything vacations. Overall, the Oosterdam delivered a great experience. We seemed to be in a rare demographic on the ship - early 30s and no kids. There were quite a few families on board, and a vast majority of older folks (50+). We would have enjoyed more couples our age, but really didn't mind the age distribution. We flew directly to Seattle the morning of embarkation. We had not pre-booked an airport transfer, although we apparently could have done so as late as baggage claim at SEATAC airport. We took a taxi instead, which ended up being quick and about half the price of a transfer. Embarkation was smooth and took about ten minutes. Like most people, we had pre-registered online, so it was just a matter of checking passports and taking photos for our ship access cards. It was nice to drop off our luggage in the warehouse and not have to worry about it again until it appeared in our stateroom. We boarded about 11:30 am, our room was ready about 1 pm, and departure was 4 pm. The ship itself was clean and inviting, and reminded me of a Marriott or some other mid-tier hotel chain - not downright luxurious or all that inspiring, but nice and good quality. We were very pleased with our verandah stateroom. Due to our excellent booking rate, we did not have a pre-assigned room, which made me a little nervous. Turns out we got a verandah room in the very back of the ship - which was surprisingly enjoyable, and not a bad place to watch the world go by. Our verandah was the same width, but seemed to be a lot longer, than the typical verandahs on the sides of the ship. Due to the terraced layout of the back of the ship, our verandah was not sheltered above, and did not offer any privacy from the staterooms above us. This didn't bother us, although it may bother some. Food quality, overall, was "good" on a scale of fair to excellent. We only ate in the main dining room a few times, due to our shore excursions and other activities. Food quality there was average. Breakfast on the lido level was excellent, with made-to-order omelets, waffles, and eggs benedict. We also enjoyed the pizza. We ate in the Pinnacle Grill once, which was well worth the cover charge, and delivered steaks nearly as good as the offerings at top joints like Ruth's Chris. Don't miss the chocolate volcano cake! Our only dining drawback, if you'd call it that, was the fact that we got mysteriously moved from "As You Wish" dining to assigned, early dinner seating during check-in. We didn't mind too much, and so didn't protest. We were assigned to a table for four with another couple in their early 60s. Great folks, but we didn't have a lot in common to spark conversation, and it would've been nice to either sit at a larger table to meet more people, or have some flexibility in choosing our dinner mates. Shore excursions were fantastic. Remember: this is Alaska, so get out and see the natural beauty! You can shop anywhere, so don't waste time shopping during shore excursions. We did helicopter glacier trekking, kayaking, and a wilderness hike, and loved every minute of it. None of these activities were very strenuous, and there were outdoors-type tour options for every age and ability level. I booked all of the excursions through HAL, two of the three online prior to boarding. The prices seemed reasonable, and the convenience couldn't be beat. For what is considered a mid-size ship, there was a wide variety of entertainment on board. The most fun activities were the ones that had guest involvement - the Oosterdam Superstar singing competition, the Marriage Game, the cooking demonstrations, and bingo (our first time!). The evening shows were good, the standout being the guest magician, James Cielien. The only activities disappointment: we were waitlisted for the hands-on cooking classes and never got in. C'mon, HAL: 3 classes with only 12 participants each means only 36 guests out of about 1900 get to try cooking classes? Disembarkation was smooth, no issues. We spent a couple of days in Seattle after the cruise, which I highly recommend as a relaxing transition back into real life. In summary, HAL and the Oosterdam met all of our expectations, and provided a great venue to see Alaska. We'll cruise again, probably on a different line. Not that there was anything wrong with HAL - just to try something different. But HAL and Alaska were a great first-time cruise experience. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2008
We booked the 3-night Pacific Coastal cruise from Vancouver BC to Victoria BC, Astoria, Oregon, and back to Seattle. We live in Astoria, so that was one of the reasons for taking this particular itinerary. This is the second time ... Read More
We booked the 3-night Pacific Coastal cruise from Vancouver BC to Victoria BC, Astoria, Oregon, and back to Seattle. We live in Astoria, so that was one of the reasons for taking this particular itinerary. This is the second time we've done this cruise, both times on Oosterdam. This was our 17th cruise, second for HAL. We've sailed with Carnival, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, and Holland America. We drove to Seattle and took Amtrak from Seattle to Vancouver. Nothing could be easier. The train is just across the street from the SkyTrain monorail, and just a couple of stops down is the cruise terminal, and SkyTrain is just across the street. Very easy! Check-in was fairly uneventful, but HAL has an odd way of seating everyone in lines of chairs and then calling them by rows. It would be better to just let them queue up in the lines and wait for the next agent, since they have the Tensa-barriers already set up to do so. Since we've only cruised with HAL on this ship, I can only judge by comparing to the other cruise lines. Overall, the HAL product is certainly acceptable. The service in some cases isn't as good as Celebrity, but ok. The rooms aren't as large as Carnival. We booked a suite for this trip and were glad we did. One of the largest bathrooms on any ship. It was HUGE! Separate Jacuzzi bathtub and shower stall. Separate washbasins. The bathroom alone was about 1/3 the size of a standard stateroom. The food was just ok. Nothing bad, nothing great. The lines in the Lido Cafe were unbelievably long...sometime 30 or more deep. With only one area for serve-yourself salads, this are was the worst congested area we've seen on any ship. There are very small trays with the fixings, and the staff is constantly having to replace the items, and this further slows everything down. HAL really needs to take a lesson from Carnival and RCCL where the lines are much shorter or non-existent. We waited over 20 minutes in line just to get a burger. Horrific. On other lines, you may wait a minute or two. Really unacceptable. This was no different from last year on the same cruise. Nothing had changed. We were on time in Victoria and Astoria, and early back to Seattle. We had to go through a rather useless customs check in Astoria. They (HAL Cruise Director) first called by deck number for the first two decks, then no more announcements. Everyone seemed to be waiting for his or her deck to be called, but it never was. We finally went down to the lounge where the customs agents were and went right through. We could have gone anytime, but for some reason, HAL wanted to do it by decks, and then seemed to forget about it. The customs check was ridiculous. We waited in line, gave a little cardboard card to a HAL crewmember, showed our passport to a customs agent, and got a letter-sized piece of paper stamped by the customs agent. No questions, just a look at the passport and off you went. The bizarre thing was that they didn't want the customs declarations forms. I asked the agent about this, and he seemed to have no idea what I was talking about. Then he told me that we had to turn it in at the last port of call. I reminded him that we were now in the United States, and we were going to a port in the United States, and thus would not need to clear customs. He just shook his head, shrugged his shoulders, and I just left with my stamped letter in had. Boy, I sure feel secure knowing that they are hard at work keeping us safe from undesirables, terrorists, and bad-guys with such high security! What a joke! Then we had to show the stamped paper to the "security" person at the gangway before we could get off the ship. After that, you could come and go as you please. (Will someone please tell me the purpose of all of this?) Again, just a waste of time. (I don't mind going through security at all when it is beneficial. This was of no value whatsoever). Back to Seattle and off in a flash as we only had carry-on luggage. We did have to turn in our customs declaration forms to a HAL employee (no customs agents were anywhere to be seen) as we passed through the terminal. Nice to know that our borders are safe from smugglers! :) Overall, an ok cruise if you don't expect too much. It was fun and relaxing as we just walked around Victoria (one of the great cities in the world), went home for lunch in Astoria. We spent our time just enjoying being together, reading, watching a movie or two, and relaxing. Would we do it again? Absolutely. It appears by the HAL website that Oosterdam will be getting some kind of re-fit as the deck plans are changing next year. It will be interesting to see the changes as we are planning to book the same cruise again next year if it's available. Read Less
Oosterdam Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 4.3
Dining 4.0 4.0
Entertainment 4.0 3.6
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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