Although we have cruised quite often, this was our first cruise with Holland America. We had always heard so many wonderful things about HAL so that we decided to sail with them when we realized that HAL was one of the cruise lines sailing the ports of call we were interested in visiting. BUT due to a prevailing CLICHÉ about Holland America's demographics we were a bit worried that we would be surrounded by a sea of blue hair and a prevailing odor of moth balls FALSE,FALSE, FALSE! A diverse group of passengers, the greatest majority middle-age. There were also some teens and twenty-somethings, as well as a few teetering-tottering elderly passengers (my mother included)
Due to scheduling conflicts, our friends, with whom we normally cruise could not join us therefore it was just me, my wife JoAnn and my mother. Since she can't vacation on her own due to mobility issues this was a nice way of getting her to go somewhere without her worrying about flights, transfers etc.
Arrival & Boarding
We flew into San Diego the day before the cruise on a non-stop flight from NYC on JetBlue. Kudos to JetBlue on every aspect of their flight. I would highly recommend this airline to anyone.
We stayed at the Hampton Inn, which was only 1 block further inland from the Holiday Inn by the cruise terminal. Very nice accommodations, and with the money saved by staying at the Hampton Inn instead of the Holiday Inn we had a very nice dinner at Seaport Village which was within walking distance of the hotel. In the morning the hotel offered complimentary breakfast (which was very good) as well as complimentary shuttle service to the pier.
In the morning I got up bright and early to see the Oosterdam pull into port. NO SHIP IN SIGHT. I checked every 15 min. or so and still NO SHIP IN SIGHT. Reason being due to very bad weather the ship docked late, but considering their late arrival, and everyone wanting to board early, the cruise line did a very nice job of getting everyone off as quick as possible and everyone on again as soon as possible.
Check in at the pier was very well organized and it wasn't long before we entered the ship and were whisked off to the buffet area since the cabins were not ready yet. After a delicious lunch it was announced that our cabins were ready and we made our way to our home away from home for the week.
We had a partially obstructed ocean view cabin on deck 4 very nice accommodations, floor to ceiling window, with plenty of closet space and the bathroom had a tub. Beds were comfortable, flat screen TV, and at night we were greeted by a towel animal with chocolate.
A little after 3 pm we went out on deck 4 for the web cam wave, but a friend of ours called and said there was a pole in the way, so we trudged off to the observation deck on deck 10 where she said she could see us.
Our muster drill at 4:15 was no more than a photo-op for the ship's photo staff. More people were busy chatting and waving into the cameras and video cameras than paying attention to the directions. More of a social event than anything else.
Our ship left San Diego on time, and we watched San Diego disappear in the distance.
Impressions of the Oosterdam
I thought the Oosterdam was comparable to staying at a classy boutique-style hotel. There was no massive lobby, or grand sized lounges. Everything was cozy. It doesn't take long to figure out that the to do decks were 2 & 3 and the buffet/pool deck was on deck 9.
A very nice first time experience for us were the ocean view elevators which did get quite a few Oohs and Aahs the first few days. At first everyone wanted to take those elevators, but by the third day ANY elevator was fine.
Very nice art work, murals and tile work abounded, and the fresh floral arrangements all around were soothing to the eyes.
Since we were not thrilled with Personal Choice Dining on our last cruise with Princess, we made sure to book Traditional Dining as we always had in the past. We had upper level dining at 8 pm but unfortunately the dining experience always lasted till 10 pm ( which in my book is TOO long to sit for a meal) even though we arrived punctually at 8. Our dining room steward/busboy as well as our wine steward were very pleasant. My wife was a bit disappointed that they did not offer more choices for wine by the glass in the dining room. She enjoys trying a different wine every evening with dinner, but they push the wine by the bottle on HAL. We were seated with wonderful dinner companions who really made our dining experience a pleasure. We did not eat at the Pinnacle Grill, but in passing never noticed many people there. I suppose most people found the dining room food to be good enough not to have to pay a surcharge for better food. I cannot, in all fairness, say that HAL's service throughout the ship is better than other cruise lines we have sailed in the past. We have always been happy with the service on all our cruises as was the case on this cruise.
Lido Buffet Two thumbs up!! If I had three thumbs, all three would be up. The BEST buffet restaurant of any cruise line we've ever sailed so far. The choices were amazing and it all tasted GREAT!
We're not much into gambling, or lounge acts, or shows/revues, but by looking a the daily program it was very similar to those venues offered by all the mainstream cruise lines.
My wife, who works in a library, was very impressed by the selection of books offered in the library.
Internet Center TOO EXPENSIVE!!
The shops on this ship were not separate stores, rather one big store arranged by areas and they carried the usual array of things you wonder why you bought them once you arrive home
Culinary Arts: My wife signed up for one of the hands-on cooking classes ($29) and enjoyed herself immensely. I am looking forward to seeing those dishes on the dinner table one of these years!
On Deck for the Cure: What a nice thing HAL is doing to help fight Breast Cancer. My wife took part in what ended up being quite a nice turn out for the 5K walk on Promenade Deck (9 times around the ship)
Cascade of the Bells: Bell ringer group from Portland Oregon offered 2 concerts during the week. A very well performed special treat for us.
Power Outage: For about 5 minutes the ship lost all power...we were out on the Promenade Deck. All the cabins went dark, but lobbies, lounges etc. maintained lighting. It was eerily quiet with no mechanical noises and no engines. I told my wife that now she know what it's like to sail on a Windstar Cruise (which we could not afford)
Cruise Critic Gathering: Thanks to lougee for making arrangements with HAL for our meeting with Hotel Director James Deering, as well as constructiondude for keeping track of who's who throughout the posts. It was wonderful to FINALLY meet everyone face to face after months of chatting online. Mr. Deering is a very distinguished well spoken gentleman, and when it came to answering some of the sticky questions posed by fellow CruiseCritics members in regards to dress code, demographics etc very diplomatic.
The whole dress code issue that is a constant prevailing battle-rouser on the message boards was one of our biggest worries when planning our packing strategies for this particular cruise. I suppose from reading the message boards I was under the impression that I would be attending a Cotillion Ball on Formal Night& and Informal Night would be just a step below&
First off- there was NO Informal Night! After all of our planning on what should we pack, not pack, what's right, what's wrong all for nothing!
There were 2 formal nights and 5 casual nights.
Interesting: when they explained in the Daily Program what is appropriate or not appropriate dinner attire in the dining rooms they only mentioned for the men! For example: FORMAL NIGHT: Jacket and tie for the gentlemen - tuxedo suggested Hmmm, no guidelines for the women!? CASUAL NIGHT: no shorts, swimwear or workout attire permitted. P.S. The word JEANS was never mentioned in the daily program.
How did everyone dress for dinner?.. EXACTLY LIKE THEY DO FOR ALL THE OTHER CRUISES WE'VE BEEN ON except we saw no one with baseball caps on. For formal nights most men wore suits, quite a few with sports jackets and ties (some with open collars) as well as a handful of tuxedos but tuxedos was not the majority. For the ladies, there were some evening gowns, some with cocktail length black dresses, and quite a number of women with black pants and a fancier blouse.
Ports of Call
I won't spend much time explaining what we saw or didn't.. since everyone has their own wants and needs once off the ship
Our ports of call included Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. I still remember hearing those ports of call mentioned on the original Love Boat series. Since we have been to Cozumel and Playa del Carmen we already had an idea of what to expect when we arrived at these ports of call. All in all our favorite was Puerto Vallarta. It was the only stop where both my wife and I agreed that we could spend a week here at an all-inclusive resort.
Final thought A week passes by quickly but thank goodness for a good memory and a good digital camera we will spend much time reflecting on our wonderful cruise aboard the Oosterdam.