My wife and I, along with another couple from San Diego area, and a third couple from the Seattle area cruised on the Oosterdam from San Diego on Jan 27th , a 7-day Mexican Riviera trip. We are all experienced cruisers. My wife and I have cruised on the Vista class ships of HAL before, including a 10 day Gems of the Baltic from Copenhagen on the Westerdam on June 30th, 2005. and on the Oosterdam this past Aug. to Hubbard Glacier with 67 classmates and friends. Our current group has cruised a total of 9 times previously with HAL on various ships, including an unforgettable journey on the Maasdam in the Caribbean on 9/11/2001.
San Diego departures are the easiest we have encountered. Parking vouchers from HAL provided complimentary parking nearby with easy transfer to the pier. From time of arrival on the pier at 11:15am, pre-printed immigration information in hand, we waited no more than 15 minutes before boarding the ship. Then to the Lido for the buffet luncheon. Our cabins (SS8094, VA 8096, VC 5141) were ready by 1:15 and we had our bags by 2:30pm with plenty of time to enjoy the spectacular San Diego harbor scene. After the obligatory safety drill we departed on schedule toward Cabo San Lucas.
The Oosterdam had received some upgrades since our sailing in August. Our stateroom, 8094) had new wall prints and flat screen TV and DVD player resulting in more desk space. This was the same cabin we had on the Alaskan cruise. I prefer the SS category staterooms with the larger decks, double sinks and a shower as well as a tub/shower combination. 8094 was our "meeting place" for this cruise. We were advised of the problem with the propulsion system and change in port call times. We all received a $25 per person ship board credit, as well as AAA credits of $25 each.
I had read a number of critical reviews about this ship over the past couple of months, mainly about service and the slower cruising speed. Our group of cruisers will tell you that the service was wonderful in all aspects. We have two ladies with slight handicaps and they were never without an offer of assistance from staff, including letters advising them of the use of tenders and inquiring if they needed special assistance (they did not).
On the issue of time in ports, we arrived on schedule and departed on schedule with the only shortened day being Puerta Vallarta. We departed at 6pm vs originally scheduled 11pm. The reason for this early departure was not "reduced cruising speed" but the fact we tendered to/from shore. The city had not completed the upgrade to the pier and only 1 ship could be in the harbor at a time, and that site goes to Carnival as they cruise there year around. Capt. Mercer obviously did not want to transfer guests to the ship in the dark from the tenders, and sunset occurred around 6pm. We arrived back in San Diego at 0530. Speed was not important.
All shore excursions were well managed, and better than similar ones we had on a previous Mexican Riviera cruise 3 years before. Tour guides and were excellent.
Dining: Thomas Krieger, executive chef, was on this ship during our Alaska cruise as well as on the Westerdam in the Baltic with us in 2005. In the dining room the variety of food and the quality on this cruise was outstanding, maybe the best we have had. We used the dining room for some breakfasts, a couple of lunches, and every dinner except one night at the Pinnacle Grill for a birthday celebration. The Lido breakfasts were adequate and fast and we all enjoyed the Terrace Grill for burgers and tacos on a couple of occasions. Room service in the morning and at lunch was on time and very good. I particularly enjoy the Wok in the Lido at lunch. The Pinnacle Grill was complimentary and a nice evenings experience. We all complimented both Thomas Krieger and Simon de Boer the Hotel Manager on the quality of the food, the outstanding service, and the overall cleanliness of the ship. As a retired infection control dental officer I can attest to the cleanliness of the ship and the attention to handwashing and sanitizing. Culinary Arts Center: a guest chef, Jason Wilson, presented two very entertaining and well done presentations. He is one of the "hot" new chefs in the Seattle area and spent some time training with Thomas Krieger in Singapore. Krieger assisted Jason in his presentations and their chemistry was wonderful. We plan to visit his restaurant "CRUSH" while in Seattle next month. This event was a great bonus on this cruise.
Entertainment: The Oosterdam singers and dancers were in their last weeks of their contracts, and they were the same group we saw in August. Their dancing and singing was more polished than before, and overall very enjoyable. The other entertainers were fabulous: Derrick Easan, an HBO and Comedy Central comedian had both a general and an "adult" show and was very funny and engaging. Peter Fernandez, a Latin crooner was all energy with a wonderful ability to switch from English to Spanish in his music, and finished with classical songs. He was entertain us again anytime. And finally, Bob Cates, a comedian-juggler was unbelievable. The entertainment was not to be missed on this cruise.
Staff: our dining room steward, Suparman (table 57) was very polished and attentive, and our cabin steward, Sugareta was a 10 year veteran. We did meet a few Lido and dining room staff from our August cruise and they remembered us this trip!
Cruisers: Holland America caters to their Mariners, and this cruise found more than 900 of the 1800 passengers to be Mariners. Yes, they (we) are a little older group, and more so on this cruise than on the Alaska cruise when more families can get away in the Summer.
Disembarking: our group specified leaving the ship at 9:30, and at 9:15 we heard our numbers called. We exited the ship, collected the bags, sent two guys for the cars, and were away from the pier by 10:15; and home by 11am.
Next: A group of 8 couples head to Rome for a Sept. 25th 10 day cruise on the Westerdam to the eastern Mediterranean. We can't wait.