Oosterdam Cruise Review by Cindy Dalmadge
- Sail Date: July 2006
- Destination: Alaska
- Cabin Type: Deluxe Ocean-View Verandah Stateroom
Cabin: VA 8112, Deck 8 (Navigation) Aft (Immediately below the Lido exit onto the aft pool deck, port side)
Cast of Characters: Captain: Olav van der Waard HotMan: Firmin van Walle Cruise Director: Jimmy Lynett Cruise Staff: Sr. Ass't CD: Everett (the Baby-Faced Bingo Boy) Daryl (Team Trivia), Lee (DJ). Stephanie, Terri Cruiser #1 and ATM Machine: Cindy (aka Mom) Cruiser #2 and June high school graduate: Anne (age 18)
This will take some time, so grab a snack, a pillow, and a blanket. I have many pages of notes. I will try to categorize so you can skip parts.
DISCLAIMER: I realize that HAL does not run the cruise line specifically to my taste, and that's fine. And, as my dad always said, It's a difference of opinion that makes horse races. Having said that, I wonder if I was on a different ship than all of you who think the Oosterdam is the best ship ever. I really didn't like it from the first hours on board. More on that later.
CABIN: I decorated our cabin door with a poster commemorating Annie's graduation. Shoot me. We were on kind of a dead end hallway, and few people had to pass by and look at it. Our neighbors thought it was great. The mailboxes were a good addition. Kept me from breaking my bloomin' neck from sliding on flyers on the floor. The cabin location was not good. It was very noisy on the aft pool deck, and from people going in and out of the Lido. We even heard a group up there moving tables and chairs and laughing at 4:00AM. And of course we heard the deck cleaning crew early every morning. This was an upgrade from VH Guarantee. Sounds like a good deal. But even though the VH was a small forward cabin with steel verandah railing, I'd bet it wasn't nearly as noisy. Avoid any cabins on Deck 8 under the pool areas, as you will hear people scooting chairs and tables, kids running and jumping, people dropping things, and women walking in high heels. Maybe under the Lido restaurant is OK because it's carpeted. Our cabin steward, Inda, was superb. I spoke to him in Indonesian phrases I learned from postings on the board (thank you, Brian and others) and he really got a kick out of my efforts. I also learned as I went along, and practiced on the Lido staff and our dining room stewards. They appreciated it as well. If you can, please make the effort. It makes all the difference. We had towel animals twice a day, and they had a class on making them yourself on the last sea day. Some of the animals were very cute, and some kind of, um, scary. We saved a couple of them on the back of the couch for the entire cruise. Note: All verandah pax are no longer gifted with personalized stationery as in years past. This is now only provided to Suite pax.
EMBARKATION: Pretty fast, and efficient, but there is a lot of walking involved. Roller skates would help. If one is not up to a lot of walking, HAL provides wheel chairs. If you have used the ship's transfer service, there is a long walk from the baggage claim area at Sea-Tac to the buses. At least it's not under construction anymore. The bus dropped us off on the Princess side of the pier, so it was a hike around to the south side to the HAL area. And it was a hike through the building and out to the gangway. High tide, so the gangway was uphill. Upon entering the ship on Deck 2, we found that HAL has embraced the idea of, We'll sort of wave you in the general direction of your cabin and you can read the numbers on the doors. But this was OK, and it probably saves wear and tear on the carpet from all the stewards running back and forth to the Atrium. Once we got to our cabin, we were able to divest ourselves of our carry-on bags, which by this time had become a grand nuisance, and we couldn't stand the sight of them anymore. We kicked them under the bed. Which is about the only storage space you have, incidentally. The only drawers are in the night stands, and two big drawers under the ends of the beds. But the steward uses these for the bedspreads. The closets, with pull-down shelves, are thankfully quite generous. The safe had a number pad (choose your own 4 digits). Our checked luggage arrived just shortly after we did: Us-about 1:45PM....Luggage-about 2:00PM.
LIDO RESTAURANT: Not stopping to unpack, and following the urge to get started on the week's consumption of huge amounts of food, we headed up to the Lido (just out to the aft staircase and up one floor...very convenient!) When we got to the top of the stairs, we were at once amazed and confused (or maybe dazed and confused!) It is pretty jazzy dEcor for HAL...red and purple and yellow. And instead of one food line, there are stations: deli, hot food (The Bistro), The Wok, Italian, desserts, and the cut-throughs (2) have Continental breakfast and beverages in the morning, and salad bar and beverages the rest of the day. Plus an extra beverage bar forward of the lines. There is also an eating area forward of the stations that has a wood floor and wicker chairs. Very pretty. The stations are a pretty good plan, as it is no longer necessary to enter the Lido, grab a tray, and wait interminably while the diners ahead of you in line stare at the cheese as though they've never seen it before, holding up the line something fierce. You should be able to find sustenance at whatever station you manage to stumble across...and stumble is the operative word here. The food service area is a very cramped and crowded place. It is difficult to move (especially with a tray) and not be in someone's way, much less try to pass port-to-port. And there are traffic cones around the Italian station (why?????) which does not help. Usually, a smiling steward will take your tray at the end of the line, find you a table, and fetch your beverage. Or maybe they just did that for me because I'm old. Who knows. Anyway, it cuts down on folks wandering around trying to find beverages, salads, and desserts. There were several lunches and one dinner where seating was at a real premium. For instance, the day in Ketchikan, which had a 12:30PM All Aboard plus the salmon bake on the Lido pool deck, was just bedlam. After making TWO full circuits (two port and two starboard) of the entire Lido Restaurant, the Lido pool deck, and even the aft pool deck (even though it was raining buckets) we said, Nuts to this, and took our trays down to our cabin. Same thing the evening of the Victoria call. I was only able to enjoy bread pudding once. It was not offered at the dessert station, and I asked for it one day and the steward disappeared and never returned. Anne brought me a dish of it one day, and I said, Did you have to go to the back door, knock three times, and say Joe sent ya? Too bad. It was one of my favorite things, along with the muesli (which is now just Muesli and not Bircher's Muesli. Same great stuff, though. Desserts are so pretty and taste so bland. Don't know how they do it. I think the chefs are unaccustomed to the American Sweet Tooth, and the fact that we like our treats SWEET! At this point I would like to enter a personal observation, and I am hoping that my characterizations do not reflect the majority of HAL pax. Our cruise seemed to have an inordinate amount of folks whom HAL had convinced in the brochure that they were The most important people on Earth. because lots and lots of people acted as if they were just that. And it was our job (the polite and considerate folks) to A) Get out of their way at all times, and B) Let them push in ahead of you at every opportunity. This condition also applied if they were finished with their meal, but not yet done chatting, or deciding on shore excursions, or just gazing out the window. Never mind the multitude of souls with a full tray in search of a place to sit. Myself, I just can't imagine being that inconsiderate. But I guess a lot of folks can, and do. Amazing. Note to HAL: get rid of the piano and provide some space for people to MOVE AROUND! One other note about the Lido and I'll move on: At lunch, the Italian station and/or the Wok uses so much garlic that it is almost to the point of Appetite Suppression. I do not like garlic, its aroma, or its affect on my digestive system. And being blasted with its essence in this way is very off-putting. Just my opinion. I'm sure there are those who think this olfactory assault is just short of Heaven. Good for them. GETTING AROUND: For a ship of this size, this is more difficult than you might think. I do not like the way this ship is designed and laid out in the public areas. Aisles are narrow, and since people travel in pods, getting around all the mobile roadblocks was sometimes very frustrating. And I certainly do not mean to cast aspersions on my fellow travelers who are mobility impaired, but the proliferation of scooters doesn't help matters. One of those in the elevators, and you're waiting for the next car. And since I've brought it up, I cannot understand why it was designed so that the forward set of elevators/stairs, when accessing Deck 9 (Lido Deck), dumps people out in the middle of the Spa. The WayOut is to the port side only, and through a narrow hallway. Also concerning elevators: the mid-ships glass elevators are nice, but if you happen to have an adjacent verandah cabin, don't count on a lot of privacy. There will be elevators whizzing by at all times, and most of the folks riding them will be looking over to see what you're up to on your verandah. The Shops-oy!-the Shops! Way too much merchandise in way too little space. It is impossible to seven browse, much less stop to look at anything, without being in someone's way. The layout is worse than a maze...little dead end areas that you can't get out of because everybody else has followed you in. And on the first day when they are restocking, don't even think about it. Also, if they are having a drawing for Inch of Gold or whatever (a not uncommon occurrence), hopeful winners all congregate in the aisle to wait, so if you're headed to the Vista Lounge, the Internet Center, or the Library, it's better to just turn around, go down to Deck 2, forward, and back upstairs.
The Photo Gallery is another bottleneck. Folks looking at pictures along the walls can bollix up traffic going to the Dining Room to no end. And the Promenade deck! At the points where the ship indents in the middle, the deck is constricted to a passage for one person to get by. The morning of On Deck For the Cure (for which HAL deserves much praise!) the 150 of us who were walking all came to a crashing halt at these points. I am astonished at the design. Running or jogging on this deck is not prohibited as it is on the other classes of ships. I suppose this is because there is a public deck below, and not cabins. It is still annoying to be in the library and hear Thump, thump, thump above your head.
Overall, the layout is nice if there are maybe 100 people on the ship, but not 1800. To me, this ship is just not very user friendly for this number of passengers.
ENTERTAINMENT: Moving right along, we come to the entertainment portion of the review. First off, I will whine about why they chose dark green paper and black printing for the Today at a Glance portion of the Daily Program. It is hard enough for us old folks to read without this adding to the problem. Plus, the highlighters don't work worth a crap on dark green paper. The special Lido pool deck lunches were not mentioned in Today at a Glance, but in tiny print at the bottom of the FOOD column on the backside of the page. I didn't even know to look there until the last day. Also not mentioned in Today at a Glance was the Daily Quiz. Anne and I have enjoyed doing the Quiz on all of our cruises, and we won every day! (Maybe a new HAL record??) Our Cabin Steward was more astonished with each passing night when he delivered our prizes. But because of the lack of notification, we also speculated that we were the only two playing! By the end of the week, from Quizzes and Trivia, we had accumulated so many dam prizes, we said we were having a HAL Logo Sale in our cabin Friday morning. We had 6 O dam mugs, 3 luggage straps, a key chain, a luggage tag, and a flashlight. We ended up giving most of it away. Team Trivia with Daryl was just about our favorite activity. We had different partners almost every day, and won 3 or 4 times. We had a great time with the Scavenger Hunt, and the games before Late Seating dinner, except that they should start them 15 or 30 minutes earlier, as they ran over into dinner. I realize we had a window of 8-9 to arrive at dinner, but our table mates were always there promptly at 8, as were we, since it was 10:00PM back home and way past my bedtime, much less dinner time.
We did not play Bingo. Well, one day we wandered in under false pretenses. The session was advertised as Bring a piece of chocolate and receive a Bingo card! Since we had saved most of our nightly pillow treats, we showed up ready to be given lots of cards. Actually what the deal turned out to be was that for every pack of cards you bought, if you brought a chocolate, you would be given a free card equal to the number you bought. Buy One, Get One Free, in other words. Since the cards were sold in $20 packs, we decided we didn't want to play that bad, so we sat and watched and ate the chocolates we brought!
We watched the Superstar shows and enjoyed the many lectures that were offered on the many facets of life in Alaska. The Tlingits who boarded at Yakutat to narrate the Hubbard Glacier visit also gave a wonderful presentation about their lifestyle in Yakutat. The Naturalist, Cindy, (no relation) got us all up to the Crow's Nest early Monday morning to watch for whales in Frederick Sound south of Juneau.
Alas, the professional entertainment was disappointing. The cast of singers and dancers were very talented and full of energy, happy to be doing what they were doing. The costumes and sets were good, and the stage had multi-level areas, and an a section that lowered for scene changes. But the shows.....not good. Maybe it was just me, but the songs chosen were trite and unimaginative. We saw Rockin' Road and Escape. Both almost boring. The brought-on-board entertainers weren't much better. For the fourth cruise in a row (different ships) we were subjected to Drew and Angela DV8 Reality Magic. We didn't like it the first time, and never went back to see if it had gotten any better.
On the Veendam two years ago, we even went to see the pair give a talk and demo in the afternoon, and they are very friendly and nice folks. Their show just sucks. The comic was Bernie McGrenahan, who was kind of on auto-pilot, and was his own best audience. There was a ventriloquist, Mike Robinson, with the requisite smart-aleck dummy. We lasted ten minutes at that show. And there was the Neil Diamondwell, I don't know what to call it. Stylist, I guess. He talked and sang like Neil Diamond. It's OK if you like that sort of thing. Everybody loved him. Except me. The Elton John guy is much better.
I always used to look forward to the evening's entertainment, but this cruise really did not meet my expectations. I have been on cruises where one or two acts weren't so good, but never the whole week.
The one exception was the Crew Show. We were fortunate to be on board the Indonesian week, and it's my favorite. The Angklung (and you can bet I had to go dig out the program and look up how to spell THAT!) Orchestra really fascinates me. On previous cruises, usually after the late show Anne and I would head off to bed, or for a last cup of tea and reading in the Lido. But Daryl insisted that we come to Northern Lights every night. And did we have fun! Tuesday was Disco Night, and it was a blast. I did the Electric Slide, the Hustle (this was my era, gang!) and Lee and Everett taught us new dances. The next night was Country Night, and even though it's not my favorite type of music, I was out there learning the Cotton Eyed Joe and lots of other dances.
The last night was 15-20 minutes of music from each decade, starting with the '60s. Every time the decade changed, we had New Year's Eve and threw streamers. What a great time! I think I blew out my knee, though. But it was worth it! CLUB HAL: Needless to say, Anne did not join Club HAL on this cruise, but there were many kids on board. I want to say that the Club HAL counselors did a fantastic job of keeping them busy, as they were never intrusive or running wildly around the ship. They had their own clubhouse way up on the Observation Deck, and it seemed to be where they mostly stayed. The teen group had their own space as well, with video games and computers.
NEW DINING STYLE: As many of you know, an experiment is taking place on the Oosterdam concerning a rather watered down version of free style dining. I didn't really think it was a good compromise. If you're going to offer variable dining times, seat people as they come into the dining room and fill up tables with those who arrive at the same time. OR stick to the regular set times so that all are served the same course at the same time. The eight at our table were all there promptly at 8, but at tables where folks wandered in at all times, the poor stewards looked like Keystone Kops trying to keep up with who was having which course. This seems to me to be a huge burden on the stewards, whose job is difficult enough as it is. But the Suits in Seattle don't have to implement it, so they think it's a brilliant idea, I suppose. Just a quick note to address a subject on the boards: there IS a definite vibration in the lower dining room aft. We ate breakfast back there one morning, and I had to take my coffee cup out of the saucer and put it on the tablecloth before it drove me nuts.
PINNACLE GRILL (or, since the Odam has not undergone the upgrade yet, The Pinnacle at the Odyssey): Good food. Wonderful presentation. Nice surroundings. One tiny problem. I made the reservation (a gift from our TA, and there seemed to be a lot of these) IN PERSON on Sunday morning. The young lady entered the reservation into the computer (a phrase I've come to hate) as Tuesday evening, 6:00PM (a much better dinner time for me.) When we presented ourselves at 5:58PM on Tuesday, our reservation could not be found. The gentleman asked if I could have confused Tuesday at 6:00PM with Thursday at 6:30PM. No. So they squeezed us in, even though the room was occupied by perhaps four other parties. Having read that the service in the Pinnacle was glacially slow, I was expecting to spend some time here. But the service from Chris and Ohno was efficient and timely. Chris was rather taken with Anne, so I guess that helped. Or maybe since they were squeezing us in they needed to turn the table. Whatever. We both had the small filet. Delicious. I had scalloped potatoes and spinach. Also delicious. For dessert I enjoyed the triple crème brulee, and Anne had the most ginormous piece of Baked Alaska I have ever seen. With Cherries Jubilee on top. Flamed. Amazing. A good experience all around. I'm glad we went. If you are really into slow, long drawn-out meals, I suggest you eat breakfast or lunch in the main dining room. Only the lower room is open for breakfast, and the day we ate there, only three other tables were occupied. But man, it took almost an hour for orange juice, one of the daily specials, and coffee. I noticed they offered a 30 minute Express Breakfast with limited items. My guess is the items were water, and the rolls already on the table.
TRANSPORTATION: Major beef here. First, may I say that I am a very easy going person, and if a trip goes reasonably well, I'm happy. I am not one who has to have everything perfect and has the Complete Come-Aparts if the least thing goes awry. We were told that because of the Odam's size, we had to dock at the far south dock in Juneau. The Zuiderdam was there at the same time, and she was made to anchor, even though there was pier space available. Be that as it may, they were charging $2 a head to shuttle you back and forth to town. On Gray Line buses. Which HAL owns. Same thing in Victoria, except it was now $5 per person (US) for half the time in port. Gray Line buses. This is Revenue Enhancement on HAL's part, pure and simple. Two years ago when we docked in Seward, the shuttle buses to downtown Seward were free. Is gas that expensive that they can't provide free shuttle service anymore? To make things more annoying, the port time is so short in Victoria. The Odam was putt-putting down the west side of Vancouver Island on Friday, flat calm, at 12 knots. Why not put on a little speed and change that Victoria port time to, say, 3 or 4PM to midnight? I'm not talking about just this cruise, but as a schedule change in future? I understand that extra time is planned into the schedule to perhaps allow for rougher seas and longer transit times. But wouldn't it be better to schedule an earlier port and then MAYBE be a little late? Our whale watching excursion returned to the west end of the harbor (pretty long walk from downtown) at 10 PM. The last shuttle left the Empress at 11:15 for an 11:30 All Aboard. The guide told us the bus driver would take those of us who wished to shop downtown before taking the others back to the pier. It was a double decker bus and took 15 minutes to load, and the bus driver evidently was unaware of the plan. He headed straight to the pier. By this time it was nearly 10:30PM. Once we unloaded at the pier (only slightly faster than loading) I asked if he was taking the bus back downtown. He asked if I had a ticket. I said, No. The shore excursion bus picked us up at the pier and took us to the harbor. Well, if I wanted to go downtown (obviously the last trip of the night) I still had to cough up $10 for the two of us. Anne was planning on buying lots of Canadian items, and really wanted to go. By the time we got back to the Empress, it was 10:40PM, and most shops were closing. We dashed into one, bought stuff, and barely made the last shuttle back to the pier. The message I received was: Hey! Come to Canada! Spend your money, We love it! But we are going to make it as difficult as we possibly can. Maybe it was because it was the end of the cruise, and I was depressed due to that, and tired from all the disco-ing, but this situation destroyed my last nerve. And I was a pretty sad/mad panda when we embarked the Odam that Friday night.
SHORE EXCURSIONS: I wasn't going to go into shore excursions, as that is so subjective. Let me just say that Allen Marine is the best in Southeast Alaska at boat-based tours.
In Juneau we saw 11 humpbacks bubblenet feeding, which is a rare sight. Digital cameras suck for this.
In Sitka, we saw hundreds of sea otters (male raft) and Sitka Sound was so smooth, they took us all the way out to St. Lazaria Island Wildlife Refuge. I have been to Sitka maybe 20 times, and I have never gotten to go out there, though I've always wanted to go. It was beautiful! Lots and lots of puffins and guillemots. Hundreds of sea stars (purple and orange) and sea anemones (green) at the tide line. What a trip!
Our kayaking trip in Ketchikan was canceled, not because it was raining (if they did that for all activities in Ketchikan, they would never do anything!) but after they took us all the way out to Knudson Cove (about 30 minutes), we found out that the first two groups had encountered strong winds and were stranded on the island. (They had to be rescued later by a landing craft!) Disappointing, but understandable. Luckily, our bus driver had not left to go back to town yet, or we would have been stuck out there for a while. So we ended up returning to town with plenty of time to spend money. Which we did.
DISEMBARKATION: This was easy and extremely well organized, considering all the luggage taken off the ship in a short amount of time. This was the only morning we had room service, as I could only imagine the nightmare in the Lido. We breezed through the terminal and on to the bus to Sea-Tac. Why does getting off the ship seem to go so much faster?
Here are the good things about Sea-Tac. If you are flying on certain airlines (Alaska was one, but I can't remember the others, sorry.) You are dropped at a tent at the north end of the terminal to check your bags. No long lines. Easy. Quick. Much better than the big lines inside the terminal. Also, air side of security, there is a huge place right in the middle of the terminal called Pacific Marketplace. Great shops. Huge food court with many choices (Ivar's seafood chowder in a bread bolle-terrific!) Huge windows with great panoramas of planes and scenery. Oh, and all the doors on the stalls in the women's restrooms open OUT! (Ladies will understand and appreciate this fact.)
CONCLUSION (FINALLY!!!): If you have stayed with me to this point, I thank you for listening. All in all, it was a wonderful week. The good ole HAL spirit and signature of excellence is thriving. The worst day cruising...etc. It went way too fast. I told the World Ocean and Cruise Liner Society in my report card that I am disinclined to sail the Odam again. Or any Vista Class ship. I look at some of the features of the ship and ask myself, What were they thinking??? I think that in some areas they sort of missed the boat. Just personal opinion. And the difference of opinion makes horse races!
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