Oosterdam Cruise Review by Debbie Quigley
- Sail Date: May 2006
- Destination: Alaska
- Cabin Type: Deluxe Ocean-View Verandah Stateroom
We independently booked air, but we purchased HAL transfers. The agents meeting passengers were a little difficult to find in the baggage claim area -- they were short, had colored clipboards they held at chest level, and were often in the middle of large groups so that they were essentially invisible. However, once we found them, we quickly linked up with the buses and we were on our way to the ships. The pier is located near the airport, so the transfers were short. Check-in went quickly because we used the internet pre-registration. We were shortly on the ship and were taken directly to our cabin. It was several more hours before all of our luggage arrived, but we used the time to have lunch in the Lido and join the cast-off party.
We found our cabin to be comfortable and quite spacious. The verandah looked directly over a lifeboat and we would occasionally have maintenance workers on top of the lifeboats when we least expected it. We soon learned to shut our curtains whenever privacy was important. The beds were much more comfortable than the other two cruiselines I have spent time on (Royal Caribbean and Disney). The towels were large and fluffy. The pillows were heavenly (I wanted to steal a couple to bring home but my luggage was overpacked with souvenirs). Perhaps the only downsides were that our room was not as clean as I would have liked (I am admittedly quite picky about cleanliness), the desk was almost entirely covered with TV, a tray with ice and glasses, a makeup mirror, and a bookrack for cruiseline promotional material, and the table was broken so that it could not be lowered. Also, the guest guidebook was very cheap and had poor photocopies inside. Not exactly what I was expecting from HAL.
Food was excellent in all areas on ship. Room service was prompt, hot, and topnotch. The Lido was the nicest buffet I've seen on any ship and the food was excellent (especially breakfast) although finding a table required becoming friends with strangers because you inevitably had to ask to share with others because no single table was empty. The Vista dining room had wonderful service and the food was excellent. Our favorite, the Pinnacle in the Odyssey Cafe, was exceptional. We chose to eat there three nights and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves (although I would have enjoyed a daily special or changing menu to see what else they were capable of). The filet mignon was simply the best steak I've ever eaten anywhere. It was well worth the $20 cover charge. Desserts onboard were probably my only disappointment. They tended to be bland and rather unimaginative. Even the Dessert Extravaganza (which offered the best desserts of the cruise) was not what I had hoped for.
We did not spend any time in the bars or casino and we chose to miss the shows (we preferred to retire earlier and watch the movies in our stateroom). I heard a lot of positive comments about all of the entertainment, but it just wasn't our speed. The spa looked very interesting and several passengers said that it was worth every cent. Due to a recent surgery, we didn't avail ourselves of the spa, but we were awfully tempted.
We didn't travel with children, but we looked into Club HAL because we'd like to take our children. The facilities looked like something our children would have loved and we asked several young passengers on our last day what they thought. They said it was great.
The itinerary was wonderful. In Juneau, we went on a whale-watching, Mendenhall Glacier, and salmon bake shore excursion. It was an outstanding day and well worth the money. We loved Juneau and would have liked more time in port. In Sitka, we went to the raptor center (the only part of the shore excursion worth seeing), saw St. Michael's church, and watched the Russian Dancers (a major disappointment and waste of time and money). We found the shopping in Sitka to be less than hoped for. We would not choose to return to Sitka again. In Ketchikan, we went on the horse-drawn trolley tour of the town (a fun overview) and we spent a lot of time shopping (this is where to shop for souvenirs). It was a short day in Ketchikan but we enjoyed every minute. We did not disembark in Victoria.
A special note about Hubbard Glacier. It was truly an awe-inspiring experience. We saw the Princess ships turn away from the mouth of the bay (I would have been deeply disappointed had we been on those ships). Our captain carefully navigated the ice flows to bring us within 1/3 mile of the glacier which was calving almost non-stop for the 2 hours we were in front of it. It was amazing and truly not to be missed. For that reason alone, I would sail with HAL again to Alaska. Plus, they seemed to have premium berths and docking times.
We were a little put off by the mandatory tipping -- I would rather see them increase the price of the cruise than resort to this. We tried to reallocate some of the tip to those who had served us in the Pinnacle Grill and were told that it was not possible. In fact, the ladies at the Front Desk were, for the most part, generally not helpful and rather condescending. I was glad we didn't need to have much to do with them. The clerks in the shops were also less than friendly and we chose to do most of our shopping off the ship. This was rather surprising because we found the rest of the staff onboard to be warm and very friendly.
This cruise and the way things are run on an HAL ship allowed us plenty of time and space to relax. Disembarkation was smooth. And, although sad to see the cruise end, we came home feeling like we had achieved the relaxation and rejuvenation we needed.
One final note, booking shore excursions online and registering the immigration form online made a major difference in how smoothly things ran for us. Definitely take the time to do it before going onboard -- a few minutes investment before the vacation will make things run that much smoother.
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