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We sailed on the Holland-America Oosterdam’s 18-day Panama Canal cruise (January 15-February 5, 2020) from San Diego to Fort Lauderdale. My wife and I are in our 70’s, and we are four-star HAL Mariners. We had temperatures that were mostly in the 70’s and 80’s and lots and lots of sunshine. (There was very little rain during these 18 days.) We packed sunscreen and some 30% Deet insect repellent (we did not experience much in the way of mosquitoes, but some of the tours advised using insect repellent). Dining: Before we sailed I noticed that there were some negative reviews about the Oosterdam posted on Cruise Critic. Our experience, however, was mostly positive and often extremely positive. For example, we’ve been on seven HAL cruises, and the food on this one was the best we’ve had. We ate dinner in the Main Dining Room each night except for one night at the Pinnacle Grill (very good), one at the Canaletto (extremely good – in fact, we enjoyed it more than the Pinnacle), and one night when we ordered dinner through Room Service off the Main Dining Room menu. (Since we did not eat at the Lido buffet, I can’t comment on that.) We did take advantage of the Main Dining Room’s Club Orange. It can get you into the Main Dining Room faster (priority seating), though not necessarily faster service once you’re seated. On our cruise it included an additional entrée each meal that was not included on the regular menu. One of our wine stewards (Joey) was especially good. I liked his recommendations. An added bonus was that he made some origami for us. (It was a side talent of his!) The Main Dining Room menus each night included a good mix of well-prepared popular dishes (steak, salmon) and some adventuresome gourmet food with an emphasis on dishes that reflected the ports we were visiting. The soups were outstanding. They were made with flavorful stocks, free of grease, well-seasoned with interesting combinations of ingredients. One negative was that during the first week of the cruise, getting seated in the Dining Room seemed hectic and somewhat disorganized. One night, in fact, they were totally confused as to which table we were being assigned to. As the cruise continued, things got better. I suspect that the staff were aware of the problem and taking steps to fix it. In addition, while always friendly, the serving staff seemed more pressured and harried than on previous cruises. I know that other reviews have found them to be understaffed, and I am inclined to agree. Talks: Edgar Jiménez, HAL’s Mexican Cultural Ambassador, was outstanding. His lectures covered a great deal of Mexican history, culture, geography, and geology and lots of information about the Mexican ports we visited (Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, Huatulco, and Puerto Chiapas). He was enjoyable, entertaining, and a gifted teacher/lecturer. Much less successful, I think, were the talks given by the ship’s cruise director. His presentation on the Panama Canal was particularly disappointing. He admitted that he had never been to the Canal before and was using a PowerPoint and script that had been prepared for him in HAL’s corporate offices in Seattle. I was surprised that a Panama Canal cruise did not bring onboard speakers who were knowledgeable about the history and engineering of the Canal. Transiting the Canal was, of course, the highlight of the cruise. Some of us were up as early as 5:30 a.m., though it wasn’t until 6:30 a.m. that we could start witnessing anything. It takes most of the day to transit the Canal, and throughout the journey the TVs in the rooms and the loudspeakers on the decks broadcast commentary at key points in the transit. I re-read David McCullough’s The Path Between the Seas while I was on this cruise, and I am glad I did. It added a lot to my appreciation of what we were seeing. Entertainment: The Lincoln Center Stage quintet (string quartet plus pianist) was outstanding! They played to mostly packed houses. I liked that they discussed the music they were about to play and why it meant so much to them. We saw a few Mainstage performances. The comedian, Tim, was funny. I liked the dancers, too. The most unforgettable was the live music they provided to accompany a screening of the BBC Planet Earth II video. The nature photography was spellbinding, and the music was the perfect accompaniment to it. We didn’t spend too much time at the piano bar, but the two guys who performed there and their audience seemed to be enjoying themselves. The Internet and HAL’s Navigator App: Our package included Premium Internet Service, and it was mostly great. This was our first experience with loading HAL’s Navigator App on our phone and iPad. The app still needs some work, I believe, but it was helpful, especially since you could access shipboard events from it. I liked that it let me see the day’s dinner menus, though, curiously, it did not include the desserts. (You could see the desserts if you accessed the menu from the room’s TV, however.) In addition, it wasn’t always able to pull up my account, though, again, I could see it on our TV. I hope that future enhancements include being able to pull up such useful information as which location they are disembarking the ship from when we are in port. Since it is not always easy to hear announcements from the captain or cruise director (the Oosterdam’s sound system could use an update!), it would also be helpful to post these announcements to the app (or at least allow you to replay them from the app. The Casino: The big plus was that there was no smoking allowed in the casino, which passengers often traverse in order to get to the Mainstage on Deck 2. I do very little gambling, but on previous cruises I might play blackjack for one or two nights on an 18-day cruise. I didn’t play at all on this cruise because their blackjack table paid only 6 for 5 for a blackjack, instead of the usual 3 for 2 and let dealers hit soft 17’s. Worse yet, the lowest minimum bet was $6. When I asked the bit boss what they paid for a blackjack on a $6 bet, he answered $7. Of course, no serious gambler would ever play blackjack on a cruise ship and I expect the house to have an edge, but this seemed so downright greedy and excessive that I decided not to play. Smoking: Smoking was prohibited in the staterooms and balconies and public areas and was allowed only on one small section of the ship – outside by the Seaview Pool Bar on Deck 9. So this was a great cruise for non-smokers, and a lousy one for heavy smokers. A few other notes: We booked our pre-cruise hotel through HAL and came three nights before to enjoy San Diego. The hotel was the Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina, and, frankly, it was a disappointment. While the staff were friendly, our room was a bit dismal. It overlooked a parking lot in the Main Tower. Something was out of whack with there HVAC system, which meant that the public rooms were uncomfortably cold, and so, too, was our room. It was not a hotel I’d return to. We heard very few complaints from other passengers onboard except for complaints about the time it took to get seated in the Main Dining Room. I noticed that later in the cruise the Maître D’ staff and chefs were going from table-to-table to ask passengers what they thought. They seemed genuinely interested in listening, and I respect that a lot. We appreciated the fact that HAL cruises do not bombard you with lots of intrusive announcements over the ship’s PA system. Like all HAL cruises this was a great choice for an older crowd who want a relaxing experience and like to read, listen to music, play card games, have good conversations with fellow passengers, and eat well.

A few minuses, but overall lots and lots of pluses

Oosterdam Cruise Review by ElEl

2 people found this helpful
Trip Details
We sailed on the Holland-America Oosterdam’s 18-day Panama Canal cruise (January 15-February 5, 2020) from San Diego to Fort Lauderdale. My wife and I are in our 70’s, and we are four-star HAL Mariners.

We had temperatures that were mostly in the 70’s and 80’s and lots and lots of sunshine. (There was very little rain during these 18 days.) We packed sunscreen and some 30% Deet insect repellent (we did not experience much in the way of mosquitoes, but some of the tours advised using insect repellent).

Dining:

Before we sailed I noticed that there were some negative reviews about the Oosterdam posted on Cruise Critic. Our experience, however, was mostly positive and often extremely positive. For example, we’ve been on seven HAL cruises, and the food on this one was the best we’ve had. We ate dinner in the Main Dining Room each night except for one night at the Pinnacle Grill (very good), one at the Canaletto (extremely good – in fact, we enjoyed it more than the Pinnacle), and one night when we ordered dinner through Room Service off the Main Dining Room menu. (Since we did not eat at the Lido buffet, I can’t comment on that.)

We did take advantage of the Main Dining Room’s Club Orange. It can get you into the Main Dining Room faster (priority seating), though not necessarily faster service once you’re seated. On our cruise it included an additional entrée each meal that was not included on the regular menu.

One of our wine stewards (Joey) was especially good. I liked his recommendations. An added bonus was that he made some origami for us. (It was a side talent of his!)

The Main Dining Room menus each night included a good mix of well-prepared popular dishes (steak, salmon) and some adventuresome gourmet food with an emphasis on dishes that reflected the ports we were visiting. The soups were outstanding. They were made with flavorful stocks, free of grease, well-seasoned with interesting combinations of ingredients.

One negative was that during the first week of the cruise, getting seated in the Dining Room seemed hectic and somewhat disorganized. One night, in fact, they were totally confused as to which table we were being assigned to. As the cruise continued, things got better. I suspect that the staff were aware of the problem and taking steps to fix it. In addition, while always friendly, the serving staff seemed more pressured and harried than on previous cruises. I know that other reviews have found them to be understaffed, and I am inclined to agree.

Talks:

Edgar Jiménez, HAL’s Mexican Cultural Ambassador, was outstanding. His lectures covered a great deal of Mexican history, culture, geography, and geology and lots of information about the Mexican ports we visited (Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, Huatulco, and Puerto Chiapas). He was enjoyable, entertaining, and a gifted teacher/lecturer.

Much less successful, I think, were the talks given by the ship’s cruise director. His presentation on the Panama Canal was particularly disappointing. He admitted that he had never been to the Canal before and was using a PowerPoint and script that had been prepared for him in HAL’s corporate offices in Seattle. I was surprised that a Panama Canal cruise did not bring onboard speakers who were knowledgeable about the history and engineering of the Canal.

Transiting the Canal was, of course, the highlight of the cruise. Some of us were up as early as 5:30 a.m., though it wasn’t until 6:30 a.m. that we could start witnessing anything. It takes most of the day to transit the Canal, and throughout the journey the TVs in the rooms and the loudspeakers on the decks broadcast commentary at key points in the transit. I re-read David McCullough’s The Path Between the Seas while I was on this cruise, and I am glad I did. It added a lot to my appreciation of what we were seeing.

Entertainment:

The Lincoln Center Stage quintet (string quartet plus pianist) was outstanding! They played to mostly packed houses. I liked that they discussed the music they were about to play and why it meant so much to them.

We saw a few Mainstage performances. The comedian, Tim, was funny. I liked the dancers, too. The most unforgettable was the live music they provided to accompany a screening of the BBC Planet Earth II video. The nature photography was spellbinding, and the music was the perfect accompaniment to it.

We didn’t spend too much time at the piano bar, but the two guys who performed there and their audience seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The Internet and HAL’s Navigator App:

Our package included Premium Internet Service, and it was mostly great. This was our first experience with loading HAL’s Navigator App on our phone and iPad. The app still needs some work, I believe, but it was helpful, especially since you could access shipboard events from it. I liked that it let me see the day’s dinner menus, though, curiously, it did not include the desserts. (You could see the desserts if you accessed the menu from the room’s TV, however.) In addition, it wasn’t always able to pull up my account, though, again, I could see it on our TV. I hope that future enhancements include being able to pull up such useful information as which location they are disembarking the ship from when we are in port. Since it is not always easy to hear announcements from the captain or cruise director (the Oosterdam’s sound system could use an update!), it would also be helpful to post these announcements to the app (or at least allow you to replay them from the app.

The Casino:

The big plus was that there was no smoking allowed in the casino, which passengers often traverse in order to get to the Mainstage on Deck 2. I do very little gambling, but on previous cruises I might play blackjack for one or two nights on an 18-day cruise. I didn’t play at all on this cruise because their blackjack table paid only 6 for 5 for a blackjack, instead of the usual 3 for 2 and let dealers hit soft 17’s. Worse yet, the lowest minimum bet was $6. When I asked the bit boss what they paid for a blackjack on a $6 bet, he answered $7. Of course, no serious gambler would ever play blackjack on a cruise ship and I expect the house to have an edge, but this seemed so downright greedy and excessive that I decided not to play.

Smoking:

Smoking was prohibited in the staterooms and balconies and public areas and was allowed only on one small section of the ship – outside by the Seaview Pool Bar on Deck 9. So this was a great cruise for non-smokers, and a lousy one for heavy smokers.

A few other notes:

We booked our pre-cruise hotel through HAL and came three nights before to enjoy San Diego. The hotel was the Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina, and, frankly, it was a disappointment. While the staff were friendly, our room was a bit dismal. It overlooked a parking lot in the Main Tower. Something was out of whack with there HVAC system, which meant that the public rooms were uncomfortably cold, and so, too, was our room. It was not a hotel I’d return to.

We heard very few complaints from other passengers onboard except for complaints about the time it took to get seated in the Main Dining Room. I noticed that later in the cruise the Maître D’ staff and chefs were going from table-to-table to ask passengers what they thought. They seemed genuinely interested in listening, and I respect that a lot.

We appreciated the fact that HAL cruises do not bombard you with lots of intrusive announcements over the ship’s PA system.

Like all HAL cruises this was a great choice for an older crowd who want a relaxing experience and like to read, listen to music, play card games, have good conversations with fellow passengers, and eat well.
ElEl’s Full Rating Summary
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Cabin Review

Neptune Deluxe Verandah Suite
Cabin SA
We were in a Neptune Suite, and it was extremely comfortable and well cared-for by our stewards, Amin and Epul, who were great. Our concierges in the Neptune Lounge (Claire and Erzsebet) were truly outstanding. They were relentlessly friendly and able to address any need (reservations, billing questions, spa appointments, questions about ports of call, exchanging large currency bills for smaller ones, pinning a corsage onto a lapel, in-suite dining, including hot hors d’oeuvres if you want it, etc., etc.). The Neptune Lounge was well-stocked with food and snacks during the day, including an honor bar starting at mid-day. There is attention to detail that I admire. For example, they bring a digital luggage scale into the Lounge the day before we disembark so that people can weigh their suitcases if they think they might be over the airlines’ 50-pound limit. As we’ve discovered on previous HAL cruises, the comforts of the Neptune Suite as well as the Neptune Lounge and the services of the concierges are worth the extra cost, at least as far as we’re concerned.
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