Oosterdam Cruise Review by susanlordjackson
- Sail Date: July 2009
- Destination: Western Mediterranean
- Cabin Type: Deluxe Ocean-View Verandah Stateroom
Our party of 4 was made up of myself and my husband (DH) (40's and 50's, British expats living in the USA for the past 20 years) and our daughter (DD) and her friend, (RHSD) both 15. It was the friends first trip out of the USA and her first cruise. This was our 14th cruise and we have sailed predominantly with Celebrity. Our last 2 cruises with Celebrity (Med Summer 2008 on Galaxy and the Solstice Inaugural in November 2008) just didn't measure up to their previous high standards, especially when it came to food, so we were ready for a change. Our son was booked on a People to People Ambassador trip to Australia and this HAL sailing fitted perfectly into the period he was away.
We flew from Washington Dulles on 4th July on Lufthansa to Barcelona via Munich. Service on board was like in the old days, with hot towels, complimentary cocktails, wine with dinner and after dinner drinks. Flights were on time and even though we had a tight connection and 2 coaching stands rather than gates, we made our Barcelona flight. Took a taxi from the airport to the hotel.
We stayed at the Hotel 1898 on the Ramblas, just south of Placa Catalunya. Hotel was great and surprisingly quiet considering it's location. We spent time on the rooftop terrace, swimming, sipping Cava and eating tapas. The next morning we took a taxi to the ship and arrived at the port around 11:30.
To describe check in at the port as chaotic would be very generous. We checked-in online at home and had printed our boarding passes. At the terminal were given check in number 9 and then heard them calling number 12 to check in. Huh? We lined up and were at the check in desks in about 15 minutes. I think the agent we got was new to the job as she seemed very flustered. I had a notarized Power of Attorney (as requested by HAL) giving us permission to take RHSD on the cruise. The agent had no idea what it was, and then had a problem with my passport. Eventually a supervisor sorted it out and we were given our number 9 back for boarding. Of course number 11 was boarding by now so we went to the front of the line. After a brief photo stop we were onboard and herded into an elevator up to the lido deck. I asked if the dining room was open, but was told it wasn't. (Checking later on the daily programme it was listed as being open from 12 noon until 1pm, grrr!).
To be honest I usually avoid the lido whenever possible as it is always crowded and there is never anywhere to sit. We eventually found a table out by the pool with Lena and the Halcats blaring out, and waiters constantly pushing wine cards, soda cards, cocktail cards, wine packages and sommelier dinners. I felt like my head would burst and just wanted to go somewhere quiet.
Our cabin was ready at 1:30 and was just what we expected having had a similar aft VA on deck 4 of the Westerdam previously. The verandah was roomy enough for a chaise lounge, armchair and ottoman, chair and a small table, and the overhang from the deck 5 verandah covered about 18" of it. The bathroom was big enough for a bathtub, which was nice. The cabin was roomy and had space between the bed and the living area. The girls had an inside cabin nearby which was much smaller and only had a shower. Both cabins had the same stewards, Fullah and Neru who did an excellent job cleaning our cabin and did the best they could with the girls cabin. Suitcases came quickly and we unpacked straight away. There was plenty of closet and drawer space and the suitcases were easily stored under the bed.
It seemed strange overnighting in Barcelona, as usually at this point in the cruise we are ready for lifeboat drill and sailaway. We decided to not go back into town and checked out the Crows Nest for pre-dinner drinks instead. Hmm. What have they done to the Crows Nest? I love the Crows Nest bar and I love the library come computer centre, but I don't think I like them together. We introduced ourselves to the bar staff and ordered what would become our "usual" - the split of Henkel champagne and a Corona.
We had main seating dinner, 8pm, and our table (#92) for 4 by the upper level railing overlooked the staircase and a small landing on which we hoped they would sometimes have live dinner music performing. Unfortunately they didn't. I think it would have added to the atmosphere on formal night in a classier way than the creased white chair covers did! Our waiter was Jeffrie and his assistant was Riski. They did a really good job of taking care of us and coping with the girls picky appetites.
We were pleasantly surprised by the number of choices and the high quality of the food in the dining room compared to our recent experiences on Celebrity. It was a pleasure to be forced to decide between 3 or 4 things that you would have loved to order rather than picking the one item on the menu that you thought you could possibly eat. Typically there were four appetizers, three soups including a chilled one, a salad, eight entrees and desserts. Additionally french onion soup, Caesar salad, steak and salmon were always available. We had been eating healthily before our trip so stuck with seafood, fish and chicken on the ship and really enjoyed our choices. Often fish is overcooked on ships but we found all the fish we ordered, bar one, to be cooked perfectly. We ate in the dining room 9 out of 12 nights.
We were a bit worried about the Master Chef's dinner on the last night as I had read unfavorable reports about it online and didn't think we would enjoy it. Fortunately on the Oosterdam there was none of the singing and dancing that I was dreading and the only "performance" part was the Baked Alaska parade, which is pretty standard on all ships.
We ordered wine with dinner every night but the last. I thought the selection was somewhat limited and overpriced - not too many bottles under $40. On the last night we brought our own wine to the dining room, a bottle of Prosecco that we had bought in Dubrovnik, and the wine steward was kind enough to open it for us and not charge us corkage. It was a very nice gesture and we appreciated it very much.
We ate a couple of very nice breakfasts and lunches in the dining room, during its limited opening hours. The meals were always delicious and hot and it was a more relaxing alternative to the buffet.
We ate in the Pinnacle Grill on two occasions, the first for the Sommelier Wine Dinner and the second for their regular dinner. I cannot enthuse enough about the Sommelier dinner, other to say that it is probably the best meal we have ever eaten! The dinner cost $69 per person and there were 6 courses, each paired with a wine chosen to complement the food. We started with a cocktail called Jade, which was champagne mixed with midori. First course was a caramelized orange scallop paired with a kir royale. Second was an asian style cod with pickled warm cucumber, paired with a chardonnay. Then came a wild mushroom cappuccino and pinot noir followed by "spoom". Spoom seemed to be champagne and sorbet in the same glass, a bit like a rich man's root beer float! After than came lamb paired with cabernet sauvignon and a selection of cheeses served with port. The final course was a grand marnier soufflE served with a glass of grand marnier. Then when we couldn't eat another bite they brought out coffee and exquisite truffles. It was truly a memorable meal!
Our other meal in the Pinnacle Grill was also memorable, but not for what we ate, but what we didn't get to eat. All week, while eating healthily, we had been looking forward to Steak Diane, which comes with a mushroom sauce, french fries and a side of sautEed mushrooms. The sort of meal someone on weightwatchers would fantasize about for months! Unfortunately it was not to be as mushrooms were not available that night. How bizarre! We thoroughly enjoyed the main courses that we chose by default, the lamb and the surf and turf, but I can't help wondering how much better it would have been if we'd been able to have what we really wanted! Oh and by the way, the French fries in the Pinnacle were out of this world, and well worth the calories! At the end of the meal we were too full to eat our truffles so we asked the waitress of she could wrap them so we could give them to the girls. Not only did she wrap them, but she wrapped a couple of dozen more, so we had incredible pillow chocolates for the remainder of the cruise!
We planned to eat in Canaletto the night we got back from Rome as we didn't want to have to rush to get ready for dinner after a long and tiring day. When we tried to make a reservation we were told Canalettos would be closed that night, but that the entire lido would be serving the Canaletto menu. We waited until 8:30 as we thought the crowds would be gone by then. Instead it was a seething mass of humanity. Apparently the ship tours had all got back late as President Obama was in Rome that day and roads were closed so the tour buses were unable to leave on time. All the tables were full but Boozee the bar waiter found us one that had just been vacated and said he would get us a bottle of wine and set up the table while we queued for food. He was as good as his word. The food wasn't great. Things like desserts and cheeses and the antipasto displays just weren't being refilled when they were empty, so towards the end of the evening pickings were slim. We retreated to our verandah with the bottle of wine and ordered shrimp cocktails, a cheese plate and a fruit plate and had a nice quiet picnic under the stars instead.
We occasionally used the lido for lunch. We particularly enjoyed the asian station with it's soups and freshly cooked stir fries.
Towards the end of the cruise we discovered afternoon tea in the Explorers Lounge. It was very civilized, with a selection of teas, scones, sandwiches and pastries served by a white gloved waiter. The scones were the best I have had outside of England. One day we went to Indonesian Tea served in the dining room. The waiters were wearing Indonesian dress and served Indonesian desserts and teas as well as the standard afternoon tea.
If HAL is streets ahead of Celebrity with its food, it unfortunately falls short with its entertainment. For late seating, the shows were before dinner, which was a bit of a rush after a day in port. Trivia and Name that Tune always seemed to be while we were still eating dinner.
On the positive side, we saw 2 production shows, one was a dance show and the other a musical and both were excellent. The other great act was Leo Ward, the illusionist. His show was very impressive. He also performed as a comedian in a late night show early on in the cruise, which we didn't see. From some of the comedy he did during his illusionist show, I wish we had caught his comedy act as well.
On the downside was a show featuring a tenor. We left after the first few minutes. Not really our cup of tea although lots of other people seemed to be enjoying him. Another night the entertainment was a "Mamma Mia" movie singalong. No thank you.
We took dancing lessons before our trip and were hoping to be able to dance on board. There was a dance venue with live ballroom / latin music every night, but it was aimed at people at least 20-30 years older than us, and because the people dancing were of a very high standard, they did not seem to appreciate novices having a go.
We enjoyed listening to the string quartet and thought how much they would have enhanced formal night dinners had they played live in the dining room. They played once in the Crows Nest during a wine and cheese sailaway party from Dubrovnik, which made a pleasant change.
Lena and the Halcats were good, if only they had turned them down a little. The ship had a nightclub but the loudness of the music seemed to drive people away rather than draw them in. Volume for me really was an issue.
We pretty much found the ship to be dead after dinner, which was disappointing. The worst night was when we left Taormina at 10 or 11pm, and the following day was a sea day. After the long tiring port days people seemed ready to party. There was a pool party which was fun (we finally got to meringue and salsa!), and very well attended, but which finished at 11pm. Our options then were to go to the nightclub which, (after nights of disco, Motown, music through the decades and 80's, that we were too tired to stay up for), was doing 90's music at ear splitting volume, so we didn't bother with that. We tried the piano bar, but that sounded like a load of drunks singing along with an out of tune piano player. Our last option was the dancing venue but after Moon River and Stranger on the Shore et al, we gave up and went to bed. I really feel they should have kept the pool party going until midnight with Lena and the Halcats, or played music that was more multi generational in the nightclub that night.
If we thought the entertainment in general was lacking something, the girls found the teen club to be totally underwhelming. For starters 13-19 year olds were lumped in together and the activity every evening was playing card games. To make matters worse, the teens were not allowed to just hang out with their new friends in the teen room, but had to participate in the card games or leave. Every night in the daily programme they listed a "teen disco" and every night at that time it was card games instead. On other cruises they had Wii sports, guitar hero, karaoke, casino nights, scavenger hunts etc and we hardly ever saw our teens. On this cruise hanging out with the parents was more fun than teen club, and for a teen that is really sad. We did notice that the teen staff had other duties on this ship such as checking in people for shore excursions and accompanying tours. Perhaps the teen counselors were too tired to do their proper job well? The outcome is that DD says she won't go on another HAL cruise and RHSD says she doesn't want to go on a ship again as it was boring.
We used the spa twice for massages. We indulged in a couples massage and a hot stones massage. Both were excellent. I would recommend not using the spa flip flops as they were hard molded plastic and had razor sharp edges, and were quite uncomfortable. I have become smart enough over the years to never mention anything about my appearance or lifestyle that I am "concerned about" in the initial spa questionnaire as I have learnt from experience that this will lead to a sales spiel for some or other product, outrageously priced, that will supposedly fix it. This time I didn't write anything and the masseuse tried to sell me something for the black bags under my eyes! I thanked her for pointing them out, said they gave me character and declined the product, and to my surprise the hard sell ended immediately. I was thrilled.
Last year on the Celebrity Solstice we had our lifeboat drill in one of the specialty restaurants, which was our muster station. They showed a video and a passenger behind us prattled away on his cellphone the entire time. Some people carried their life jackets. We never saw our lifeboat station and I remember thinking how unprepared some of the passengers would be in a real emergency if that was the extent of the muster drill.
On HAL, by comparison, we mustered out on deck, under the lifeboats, in our life jackets, men behind, women and children in the front. The crew checked that each of our life jackets were on properly and then did a roll call of all the passengers. The Captain gave a safety talk over the loudspeaker. This was much more realistic than on the Solstice and people paid attention.
After enjoying Celebrity's smoke free cabins and verandahs, as a non-smoker I was a bit worried that HAL, permitting smoking in both cabins and on verandahs, would end up being the smokers cruiseline of choice, and a rather smelly experience. I was relieved when I walked in our cabin and it didn't smell smoky and only very occasionally did I smell someone smoking on one of the other verandahs. The aft pool bar was the cigar bar in the evening and that didn't bother us at all. On the whole there were only a couple of really smelly areas we came across, one was the casino and the other the sports bar next to it. The hallway outside one of the forward cabins on our deck reeked of smoke, and I was glad we weren't staying in that cabin next. It seems HAL has managed to accommodate both smokers and non-smokers pretty well although I think stopping smoking in the cabins would be a further step in the right direction.
We took an Eastern Mediterranean cruise last year and were glad that only 2 of the ports were repeated on this western Mediterranean cruise.
Barcelona Day 2
We got up early, had room service breakfast and were off the ship and heading for the Sagrada Familia by 8:30. It truly is an amazing building and is currently under renovation so it was impossible to get a photo of it without a crane somewhere in the picture. Took another taxi to Placa Catalunya and headed off down Las Ramblas. Had a good look round the local market and then explored the gothic area and the girls did some clothes shopping. We managed to run into a demonstration outside a government building, and made a hasty departure when the riot police arrived! Took a taxi back to the ship and had a late lunch. Luckily the lido wasn't crowded and we ate from the asian station.
Monte Carlo. This is the port I was most looking forward to as I had worked in the area one summer while I was in college and I was wondering if it was still as fabulous as I remembered it being.
Had a lazy morning as we were not due to anchor until noon and then tender at 1pm at the earliest. We had a private tour booked and as tender tickets were not due to be handed out until 1pm we decided to go to the dining room for lunch. Our lunch was great. We had soup and fish and had a lovely table to ourselves by the window with a view overlooking Monte Carlo. Much more civilized than the lido. We had just ordered when they announced that they were ready ahead of time and had time to tender a few independent travelers before the ship tours were due to tender, if they got to the departure point quickly, not an option for us, but useful to know for the future.
We picked up tender tickets around 12:45 (it pays to get in line early!) and were on the first non-HAL tour tender and ashore around 1pm. It was particularly rough (well to someone with vertigo combined with a fear of falling into the water when stepping on and off boats!) but we got ashore OK. We had booked a private tour for 7 of us through Revelation Tours for Euro 350 for 5 hours and were scheduled to visit Monte Carlo, The Rock of Monaco, Eze Village and Nice. Our driver/guide was Frankie. He suggested that as our ship wasn't leaving until 10pm, we could hire him for an extra hour for an additional Euro 70 and see St Paul de Vence, which he described as a stunning walled town, so we agreed. We started off in Monte Carlo by the Casino and the Hotel de Paris. It was fabulous and just how I remembered it. Next stop was St Paul de Vence and it truly was a lovely little town with narrow winding streets and bijou little shops. Stopped for a takeaway ham and cheese sandwich before heading off to Nice.
Nice again was just as I remembered it. The palm tree lined Promenade des Anglais with its exclusive hotels on one side and the beach on the other. It was stunning and took me back to my youth. Next stop was Eze, a small village clinging to the rocks high above the coast. Despite us telling Frankie we really weren't interested in visiting the perfume factory, somehow we ended up there. Eventually we escaped and got to explore Eze proper. Our final stop was The Rock in Monaco where the Grimaldi Castle is located. From here there were stunning views over the harbour. It positively oozed money!
Somehow we managed to tender back to the ship without falling in and changed quickly and headed off to dinner. Watched the ship sail out of Monte Carlo and had an early night as our next port stop was to be Livorno for Florence, and we had an 8am private tour booked.
We joined a full day tour of Pisa and Florence that a fellow CCer had booked through Unforgettable Tuscany for Euro 500 for a party of 6. We got to Pisa before the first tour bus and we had 9:30 reservations to climb the Tower. After that we drove to Florence and visited the Accademia to see the Statue of David. There was a very good Thomas Mapplethorpe exhibition there as well. Paolo, our guide, took us to lunch and ordered several traditional dishes for us to share. After that we had free time in Florence and then he drove us back to the ship through the countryside.
We had spent 5 days in Rome pre and post cruise last year and took a Rome and Vatican City private tour with Manilo Tranquili so the RHSD could see the sights. The full day tour cost Euro 500 for 6. Unfortunately our visit coincided with President Obama's visit to Rome for the G8 summit, so we had to rearrange the order of our tour as we had planned to visit the Vatican in the afternoon but discovered that it was going to be closed for the Presidents private visit then. We visited St Peters in the morning and then the rest of the day was a blur as we whizzed from sight to sight. We had planned to visit the Basilica of San Clemente but it was closing for lunch just as we got there. In the afternoon we visited the catacombs, which I thought were a let down. With hindsight, the hour we spent at the catacombs would have been better spent actually walking through the Forum and Coliseum. We left Rome around 4:30 as Manilo was worried about road closures for the Presidents visit. He was right. We got back to the ship at the time we expected, but some of the ships tours didn't get back until 8pm, due to delays and road closures.
This was an afternoon and evening port stop and we took the ships tour to Taormina and the Greco Roman Theatre. We did the same tour last year so there were no surprises. It's always nice to see Mt Etna smoking in the distance.
This was to be our chill out day, just wandering around the port by ourselves. We were on the first tender to shore after the ship excursions. I had hoped to persuade a taxi driver to drive us to the top of the Palamidi Fortress, but they just laughed at us and said they wanted to do tours to Mycaenae and Epidaurus. One driver offered to take us for Euro 20 but I declined. DH and RHSD decided to climb the 900 stairs to the top and DD and myself explored and went to the beach for an hour. We met up again, wandered around town and had lunch before heading back to the ship.
Katakolon We booked a ships tour to Ancient Olympia. The tour guide was superb and really brought to life through her narration what in reality was just piles of stones. She also accompanied us around the museum and highlighted some of the most important treasures. My favorite was the male statue that is said to have the most perfect buttocks! Katakolon itself was a good place for souvenirs - the olive oil soap was very nice.
We took a taxi to the old town and explored by ourselves. Had lunch by the cricket pitch, visited the castle, and RHSC indulged in some shopping. Not the most interesting of ports.
Got off the ship as early as we could and took a taxi to the Pile Gate. Bought tickets to walk the walls and were among the first up there. What a spectacular view! You could see the sea and marina looking out and a myriad of orange colored tiled roofs looking in. Walked the entire wall and spent lots of time taking photos. Went into the town and explored a little then had a refreshment stop and had "toast" (grilled ham and cheese sandwich) and sandwiches. Shopped for souvenirs and a nice bottle of Prosecco and were back onboard in time for lunch.
Venice Day 1
Had a late breakfast in the dining room. Waiters were amazed when I ordered "Eggs Benedict" without the hollandaise sauce. I told them I called them "skinny benedicts" and they were for dieters, they said they called them poached eggs, LOL!! Went on deck and watched as we sailed around Venice and into our berth. What fabulous photo opportunities! We were berthed next to barges laden with fireworks for Redentore. I'm not sure whether the fireworks would be launched from that location or if they would be towed into the lagoon later.
As we were spending one extra night in Venice, we decided to see if our hotel, the Olimpia in Piazzale Roma, was walkable from the ship with luggage. I don't know if it was the heat or if we are unfit, but we barely made it there without luggage! On the plus side there was only one large bridge from the Piazzale to the hotel. We went into the hotel and checked we could store our luggage there early the next morning and were told, no problem and also confirmed our reservations were OK.
Decided to take the slow vaporetto and follow the Rick Steves tour down the Grand Canal. Unfortunately we couldn't get the prime outside seats he recommended, but made the best of the seats we found. Ended up near St Marks and had a quick look round and then decided to blow the budget and have a drink at the Cafe Florian. We happened to get there when they had music so straight away there was a Euro 6 music surcharge per person. We ordered 3 sodas, 2 club sandwiches and a milkshake and it came to a whopping Euro 101, but thankfully that did include the music and service charge. A once in a lifetime extravagance!
We had timed tickets for St Marks and had a wander round. It was very gothic, dark and oppressive. Quite creepy and very different in nature to St Peters in Rome. Interestingly, people dressed inappropriately at St Peters were turned away. At St Marks they were given paper cover ups to wear that resembled the wraps they give you in doctors offices! As Redentore was the next day, St Peters Square had a huge stage in it so wasn't how I imagined it would look. By now I had decided that Venice was overpriced and overcrowded and not for me. Walked through the alleys to the Rialto bridge and took a vaparetto back to Piazzale Roma and walked to the ship. We were hot and tired and really hoping there would be taxis at disembarkation!
Venice Day 2
We were among the last to disembark, between 9 and 9:15. We had skinny benedicts one last time in the dining room and then disembarked. There was a walk from the terminal to the baggage hall and then long lines for people trying to book transfers and water taxis. We resigned ourselves to dragging the luggage, but I was pretty sure I had seen a taxi rank, albeit and empty one, the day before. Today there were taxis there. Yes!!!! It wasn't cheap, but we got a ride to Piazzale Roma and dragged our bags over the bridge to the hotel.
We left our bags in the left luggage room and decided to follow the advice we had read elsewhere ie "throw away the map and get lost in Venice". We started to follow the Rialto and San Marco street signs and came across a deserted square with a lone gondolier standing reading a newspaper. We negotiated a price and he took DH, DD and RHSD on a 40 minute ride. I explored nearby alleyways, canals and squares and settled myself down in a cafe just as they arrived back. Had cappuccino and pastries and then took the girls to buy masks at a nearby shop where the mask maker was crafting his masks on the premises.
We revisited St Marks Square and then set off back towards the hotel, following the Piazzale Roma signs this time. We stopped at a small restaurant as I was determined RHSD would try Italian pizza and agree that it was better than American pizza, LOL. She loved it! Shopped for souvenirs - an Italia sweatshirt, statues and a Kaka football shirt and staggered back to the hotel. By this point I LOVED Venice!
We ate dinner at the Caffe La Rambla, quite appropriate I thought as 2 weeks earlier we were just beginning our trip on La Rambla in Barcelona. Had a fabulous meal, 2 bottles of prosecco, and the girls sampled the proprietors strawberry wine.
The following morning we had breakfast in the hotel and then took a taxi from Piazzale Roma to the airport. Had to wait an hour to check in and a couple of hours for the flight on Air Dolomiti from Venice to Munich which was delayed by 30 mins. Luckily we still made our connecting flight although it was boarding when we got to the gate.
In conclusion I have to say that this was a thoroughly enjoyable trip. We had great weather and the ports were superb. The ship was in excellent condition and the crew is truly an asset to the company. We probably had the best food we have ever had on a cruise on this trip, so there was a lot to like. If there had been a little more evening entertainment and a livelier Teen Club the trip would have been perfect.
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