Oosterdam Cruise Review by aldo
- Sail Date: April 2005
- Destination: Mexican Riviera
- Cabin Type: Signature Superior Verandah Suite
We usually do at least one cruise a year. We decided to try HAL, the Oosterdam to Mexico, to break away from Princess to see how the other half lives so to speak. We soon discovered how good we have it on Princess. We had heard some good things about HAL and knew that it was more sedate and an older crowd. That was ok as we were looking for a very relaxing time. We also knew that dinner times were set as opposed to Princess where you dine when you want, anytime between 5:30 and 10pm.
Boarding: When we got on the ship around noon, all cabins were off limits until 1:30 pm. You could check your carry on bags at a room but it was soon overrun so we had to carry or bags for about 1.5 hrs. This was a hassle especially trying to eat lunch. On Princess, we have always been able to go right to our cabin and drop our bags. If princess can do this on a ship of 2500, why can't HAL manage it on a ship of 1800? When I did get to my cabin, the bottle of JD I had preordered to be in my cabin was not there. After two complaints to the front desk, 3 hours apart, the bottle showed up after dinner. By the way, that bottle of JD cost me $54. The last time on Princess it cost me $27. The thing that really ticked me off about HAL is that they tried to sell me the same bottle to take off the ship for $17.95. Talk about feeling gouged.
Cabins: Our cabin, a superior verandah suite, was very nice and the bathroom was great. One complaint about the cabin is that they use the fridge as a mini bar so you can't store anything in it. Also, the water temp in the shower kept alternating hot and cold. Very irritating. We had a DVD player and a 25 inch TV that were great. We also had a big balcony.
Breakfast Lunch and Dinner: Breakfast in the Lido buffet was the usual fare but less of a selection than on other lines. The food is good, not great but no complaints about quality. Breakfast in the dining room was good but the service uneven. Be warned, the lower dining room at the back of the ship when under power vibrates a lot. Once I ordered smoked salmon and cream cheese on a bagel, got the salmon but no bagel. The coffee always was just luke warm. Lunch on the Lido buffet was the same as breakfast but only served between 11:30 - 2pm. At 2pm they were closed and the only thing you could get at that point was a slice of pizza warming under a heat lamp. On Princess, they have a true Pizzeria that you can order what you want. Dinner was fine, we had no complaints except for the strict dining times which we knew going in. We had first sitting, upstairs. Be warned they have a policy that you have 15 minutes to show up for dinner and then the doors are closed. While we had no complaints about the food or service in the dining room, we did meet a couple who had stopped going as two nights in a row their food showed up cold. The said they were frustrated. One last note, our wine steward Ruby was exceptional. She was friendly, never let our glass get empty and was the first person to greet us at our table most nights. We never dined at the Pinnacle Grill, but it seemed underutilized from what we saw. Maybe most people don't want to pay the extra $20 per person.
Staff: The staff was very friendly and helpful although we didn't see our cabin steward much although he kept our cabin spotless and well stocked with fresh towels etc. We had one odd experience where 3 days out, a bartender asked us how our cruise was going. We said ok and he replied that many people had complained to him that the service and the food was not as good as it used to be and they were not returning to HAL. Maybe it's the one year contract they have to agree to. I think on Princess it's 6 months.
Entertainment: The shows and musicians were ok. Our featured entertainer was a singer named Bobby Black. He was introduced at the beginning of his act as, "Straight from Las Vegas". You later find out that he doesn't perform there, he lives there. According to him, he spends 40 weeks a year on cruise ships. It's obvious why. The production shows are so so. The Northern Lights disco is odd in that it's tiny.
Ship: The layout of the ship was fine for its size and was for the most part comfortable. One major complaint that was a complaint of many was the restrooms. Why in heavens name you would close the main restrooms right outside the dining room for cleaning an hour into dinner is beyond comprehension. This happened more than once. They also did this same routine outside the main show lounge one night as the show was letting out. People were furious. One night at dinner my wife had to use the restroom. The room outside the dining room was closed for cleaning. she then had to go halfway through the ship only to find that restroom out of order. She had to go one deck down to find an operating restroom. She returned absolutely furious. Whoever is in charge of this aspect of the ship should be replaced, that is if anyone is in charge of this. I have never, ever had this happen on any other ship.
Ports of Call: Cabo was great. Go to Cabo Wabo, Sammy's place and get the Lobster tacos. WOW!. Mazatlan was good, go to Senior Frogs, you won't be disappointed. Puerto Vallarta was also fine. If you want to call home, get a phone card for $5 at most small stores and they work in the public phones. Shopping wise, it's the same tourist stuff in every store in every port.
Final Misc: HAL like many lines now offer an unlimited soda card. Unless you consume massive quantities don't buy it. Bring your soda on with you or buy it in the ports and bring it back on. The card with gratuity added brings it over $40 a person. By comparison, Princess charged $22.50 a person last cruise. HAL also plays a little game in that they only give you the soda in a small glass, making you work for it. Again by comparison, Princess will give you a giant glass if you ask for it and also gives you a large refillable insulated container for free when you buy the card.
Overall it seemed the staff was not happy and relaxed. Don't get me wrong, they were very friendly and helpful when serving or helping you but other than that they didn't smile a lot. They also didn't joke a lot or interact on their own with the passengers very much. Maybe that's a symptom of their long contract. It also seemed to me that there was less supervision of the staff. Our very candid bartender also told us that it was almost impossible to suspend or fire someone for bad service as they were so tight on staff that they couldn't be replaced. The cruise staff seemed very young and inexperienced. One morning upon meeting in the Vista lounge for our shore excursion, everyone was just told to go in and sit down and wait for their turn to be called. We were then told to follow a crew member to the tender deck, who half way down said he forgot his pen and left us going down stairs on our own. When we got to the bottom we didn't know where to go.
By comparison, sorry, Princess has the room marked with signed sections like a concert, and plenty of staff to direct you and answer questions. In our room, there was nobody. All in all, HAL was not as polished, organized or well managed as other cruises I've been on. In my opinion they charge excessively for most items, are not as flexible as they could be as in the dining times etc., and don't take into account passenger comfort and convenience when planning events and ship maintenance. The last thing I will relate is that not one couple or person we talked to said they would return to HAL again.
Reading this you may think that I've been too picky and just complaining about the small stuff. Well, it may all be small stuff but it adds up. I get precious little vacation time and when I spend the time, money and effort to cruise, it doesn't have to be perfect but it should be close.
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