HAL's Oosterdam March 26, 2005 - Very Long!
We departed from Chicago on the day of departure which is rare for us. We were fortunate though that our flight left and arrived on time as it snowed in Chicago the night before we left. Once we left the 26 degrees that Saturday morning we had a beautiful flight to San Diego where it was in the 70's when we landed. San Diego is an incredibly beautiful city and I wished that we had gone in at least a day early to tour this city.
Transfer to pier: The port is only about a mile or so from the airport and takes about 10 minutes or less to get there. DO NOT take the large vans to the pier unless you are traveling as a single. We were told at the airport that the van would only cost us about $20 but when we got there we were charged $60!! Our return cab rides (3 cabs) only cost us $33 total including tips.
Embarkation: When we arrived at the pier we were already a bit ticked due to the van situation and the entry to the pier didn't make matters any better. First you have to get your luggage checked in with the pier porters who were standing where people were trying to get out from the ship and others were standing to get on the ship. My husband is disabled and was getting pushed farther back by people trying to get ahead of us checking in. When it was out turn to get through security just to get to the embarkation building no one would let my husband through to check in and one man had the nerve to tell me "tough" when I said we were all together. Not a good way to start the trip. Not Holland America's fault, just the fault of one ignorant person. Holland does need to work on a better way to get people off the ship while others are trying to get on though. We went into the building after that and were directed on what papers needed to be filled out before you could get into line (bravo HAL!) and given a number for boarding the ship. We had all our papers in order already so we were directed to a line to check in at. The person who checked us in must have been new, lucky us. It took a very long time for her to be able to process us and take our pictures.
We had been the first of our group to check in and the last to finish. Because my husband is disabled they allowed the three of us (Husband, Son, and Me) to board immediately. We skipped the picture taking and unfortunately the kid's club registration as they wanted us on and their wheelchair back. When they scanned my husband's card we were told to immediately go to the main deck and have his picture taken again as it was blank. I know that she took his picture when we checked in but something happened from that point until we boarded. I had brought on 5 bottles of Champagne for sail off in our cabin and wanted to check our carry on bags with that bag as well, but when we got to where we were told to go (Queen's Lounge) no one was there to take anything. At this point I was getting too cranky and didn't want to let it all ruin my first impressions of this cruise so away we went straight to the Sea View Bar. Within a short time I was feeling much better and able to get my vacation mood going again. We parked our things at the tables by the pool and decided we'd take care of his picture later. The views were beautiful from this point and the weather was postcard perfect! A little bit of food from the Lido and a few drinks and we were having a great time. At 1:30 the announcement was made that our cabins were ready and away we went!
Cabin #8081 Category SS cabin: Our cabin was great. The beds are the best that we've ever had on a cruise! Very glad that we chose this category as anything smaller for 3 people would have been way too cramped. As it was, our daughter was in a Cat VD cabin with my Mother and Aunt and they were VERY squeezed for space. We had 2 twins that made up to a large queen or small king, plenty of room - did I mention how comfy they were? We had a sofa bed that made up into a single bed the same size as the sofa. If you have anyone larger that 6' this will be too short for them. My nephew is 6' 3" and his feet were on the table at the end of the bed. There were also 2 desk areas, one with a large mirror and the other with a window out to the balcony. The bathroom has double sinks, a separate shower and a whirlpool bathtub. The closet has 2 areas for hanging clothes and one with selves and the safe. Both desks have drawers and the stool at the desk is hollow for storing items as well. The balcony has 2 chairs with ottomans and a table in between and then a round wood table with two chairs. We had side by side cabins with my Sister and Family (3 also) and we immediately had the cabin steward open the divider for us. We never felt crowded even when we had our sail away party. Our cabin steward was Hilman and he was wonderful! Always was able to accommodate our requests. We rate the cabins a 10!
Muster drill: Muster was at 4:15 and was typical of most cruise lines. Put your life jacket on before leaving the room so that you don't trip on anything. Didn't take long maybe 15 minutes.
Sail away: We had our party in the cabin prior to muster so we chose to go to the Lido Pool where the band was playing. There were the typical drinks and waiters walking around with tasty little bites. Space was limited so go early and get seats if you need them. Sailing out of San Diego was beautiful. As I have said earlier, it's a beautiful city. We went up a level to get some pictures and then back to our cabins to enjoy some peace and quiet as we left the bay area. As we were getting ready for dinner we were treated to a gorgeous sunset and then off to dinner.
Dining Room: We had table 207 lower level at 6:15. Good location able to see a lot as it's elevated and center. We also had members of our group surrounding us for 4 tables total. The table for 2 was squeezed between the serving station and some sort of stone wall & storage area. They were moved to another location the next night. The food was great during this cruise but it seems the servers are covering too many tables. Good luck if you want refills on water or coffee. We had to ask for water refills each night and never got refills on coffee. Small point but irritating.
Our last morning at sea we ate in the dining room for breakfast. We received our initial cup of coffee and I asked for refills 3 times and never got any. It was only once I got up and walked over to the serving station to pour a cup for myself did anyone pay attention. The best service that we got was the night we went to the Lido for dinner. We saw people wearing pretty much anything you want but no swimwear. We seemed over-dressed. You take a tray for the soup and appetizer and then place your order for the main course. Find yourself a table and they bring the main course to you. You can get up and get your own dessert and there was someone always near by for sodas, water, wine or beer.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed eating there - I'm a dining room person when it comes to dinner. As I said earlier, the food was very good on this cruise and I have no complaints with that, just the service in the dining room. I did however, LOVE the assistant Maitre d' Reineir (spelling?) who was always near to assist if needed during the meals. No matter when we ate or where we ate, he seemed to be there! Always seemed to know us and had time to ask how our day was. Unfortunately the rest of the dining room staff that we encountered were not like this. But do not take this as a reason not to sail on this ship. It may have been a fluke and we dealt with it just fine.
Cabo San Lucas: I woke up early this day and was able to see us sailing into the harbor. Incredibly beautiful! We sailed down the coast and right past Los Arcos, which you can see from the ship as you anchor there. We took the Land’s End & Scenic Tour which was worth the money. We took the tender to the pier and boarded a boat that took us out along the stretch of beaches out to Los Arcos, we stayed in that area while they played a recording from the Cousteau Society regarding this area which was nice to hear. We saw Sea Lion’s and then went around the point as certain areas were pointed out.
As we turned to go back around the point and back to the harbor we were suddenly surrounded by dolphins swimming and jumping out all around us. I was in heaven! I tried to get pictures but was laughing and shooting at the same time so that didn’t work so well!! When we got back we were then taken by van to Giorgio’s Restaurant which has an incredible view of the bay. Once we got back we went to the ship for a quick bite to eat and then took the kids back into town. Found my nephew coming back from their fishing trip with a 95 pound Marlin! What an experience for him! After that had to take my now legal daughter to Cabo Wabo Cantina for her first drink. Fun place, great atmosphere, and reasonable drinks. This was a great day for us!
Mazatlan: WOW! This was the day for my son and me! We did Randi’s Happy Horses and I have to say if you are thinking about riding anywhere in the Mexican Riviera, do it here with her! I have a whole description on http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=160408 That pretty well describes the trip which is well worth the $45 per person cost! When we went to the next port we were surprised to see the condition of the horses that they used. I’m very glad we went with Randi. After Randi’s we went and sat in the little shopping square they have and had a few Margarita’s and listened to the Mexican music and the Flamenco dancers. We hated to go back to the ship that day. I could have stayed there forever!
Puerto Vallarta: We again tendered at this port and considering the steep steps at the pier I was concerned that my husband (with MS) would not be able to get off the tender. Not to worry, those HAL guys are so good, quick, and all without making a fuss or calling attention to his disability which is a wonderful thing! Our tour was Off The Beaten Track. We spent most of the time on the van traveling around PV. We did make stops at the Guadeloupe Church, Gringo Gulch and Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s homes when they were filming Night of the Iguana. These were in poor condition and we were a bit shocked that they were not maintained better. We also stopped for a bathroom and refreshment break and then back into town for a very quick shopping stop and then back to the ship. We were there for spring/Easter break and it was very crowded and due to all the noise bustle and rush, we enjoyed this port the least.
Our last two days were spent at sea which we used to work on our tans and just relax. The weather was perfect all but the last day at sea.
Disembarkation: No problem here either! They give you bag tags and numbers based on your departure time. You can wait in your cabins and order room service until your number is called. It didn’t take too long to get off the ship but I think they called too many numbers all at once, again minor but could use some improvement. Found our bags very easy and then out to get cabs and fly home. Can’t believe how quick that week went by again!
All in all, this was a fantastic trip, ship, and people on board were wonderful. We have made a lot of new friends with other passengers and I hope that our paths cross again some day! I hope all our voyages go this smoothly in the future!