This is my first attempt at writing a review and I feel obligated to do so because I've gained so much useful information from reading the reviews of others. First, some personal information: I am 60-years-old and my wife is, well, younger. This is our fifth cruise, the second to the Mexican Riviera and the first on Holland America Lines.
We loved it! The ship was not only beautiful but well maintained and the mostly-Indonesian crew was absolutely magnificent. From our room steward, Agus, to our head-waiter, Zaini, and his assistant, Jaswadi, the service we received from them and other Oosterdam crewmembers was uniformly wonderful. We would sail HAL again in a heartbeat and we would highly recommend HAL to others.
The food in the main dining room was great and served in very generous portions but if we were still hungry we were always offered more. The jumbo shrimp cocktail appetizer was my favorite.
The entertainment was also great. We had three rotating acts. The ship's singers/dancers performed two tributes, one to rock-and-roll and one to Broadway musicals. They were joined in the rotation by an extremely talented singer named Bobby Black anda fabulous comedian/juggler named Barnaby, a former college English literature professor who decided one day to take the road less traveled.
Our itinerary was Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. The only tour we took was the combination Land's End and scenic drive in Cabo. In both Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta-which, by the way, is by far my favorite place in Mexico-we shopped and sampled the local beverages.
There were a few bumps in the road. They were minor-some might even say petty-annoyances that in no way effected our enjoyment of the cruise. I mention them only because others may benefit from knowing about them.
We had a mini-fridge in our cabin but it was crammed full of beer, hard liquor and water that HAL charged you for consuming. Bottom line, you had a fridge in your cabin that couldn't be used to keep anything of yours cold because there was no free space. Worse yet, HAL locked the fridge on the fourth day of the cruise.
Disembarking was, for us, both good and bad. Customs cleared the first group of passengers at 8:30 and we were off the ship by 8:45. Pretty good! Unfortunately only one of our two bags was dockside. The missing bag problem, we found out, was caused by the color-coded luggage tag system used by many, if not all, of the cruise lines to identify the luggage of the various groups of departing passengers. We were given ivory-colored tags and one of our bags was inadvertently put with the yellow-colored tags. No big problem, except for the fact that US Customs hadn't cleared the yellow-tagged luggage and we had a plane to catch. We were lucky because the yellow-tagged luggage was cleared about 30 minutes after we got off the ship and we were able to find our other bag and get to the airport.
One final thought: This was our first trip to San Diego and the little we saw of the city was beautiful.
Don Lopez Parker, Colorado
I was very impressed with the Oosterdam. I must us a power wheelchair, and the veranda cabin I had was fully accessible. The only problem area was the balcony - the door was rather heavy and difficult to keep open so I could get through with my chair. It was quite a treat to have room service every morning, and to have such a comfortable bed. The fresh fruit bowl was always full, too!
The spa facilities are very nice; a hydropool pass was well worth the money.
Every employee was very pleasant and helpful. As an example, in the dining room, each night a chair was pulled out for me so I could roll into my place. After the first night, there was a glass of iced tea at my place accompanied by a plate of lemon slices (I like lots of lemon in my tea). I never requested this - the wait staff simply noticed and provided.
Being disabled does have its advantages - it was fairly quick for me to embark and disembark in port. The tenders, however, are not terribly easy to use if one can't walkfar.
The food was outstanding.
I was very pleased with 16 elevators available to me; it was very easy to explore the ship on my own. The Queen's Lounge, where my seminar met, was not very accessible.
All in all, I felt like a queeen and am looking forward to my next cruise on Holland America.
P.S. They have the best price for robes, which includes monogramming!
Let me start out by saying this was our ninth cruise...first time on Holland America, and will be our last time on Holland America. We took the bus from Cruise Connections from Jacksonville which was 45 minutes late picking us up. (The excuse for being late was he was tied up in traffic, but I can't imagine heavy traffic at 5:30 on a Sunday morning). We arrived at 12:30 and the embarkation was a nightmare. The line was so long and slow moving, it took us until 2:00 to board (that was suppose to be the fast line because we filled out our immigration papers online). We went to our suite, which was very nice, but the toilet seat was broken, and it took until 7:00 that night to have it replaced. We had requested an 8:00 dinner with a table for 8-10. When we got there, our dinner time was 8:30, and it was a table for two. Service in the dining room was extremely slow. We sat for 20 minutes with dirty dishes in front of us. We were celebrating our 10th anniversary, and our travel agent musthave informed them. That night, after our meal, a man came over with a small cake with a candle. He asked if we were the Adams', and set the cake on the table and walked off. We sat there for 20 minutes, but no one ever came back, so we left. The next night, our waiter asked why we left. Every other cruise we have been on, the waiters entertained with singing & dancing each night. The only time there was anything like that, was one night the waiters walked through carrying baked Alaska with music playing.
After shopping in St. Marteen, we returned to the ship to find we had no air conditioning in our room. It was out all afternoon. Around 6:30 the air came back on for about a minute then the lights, air, and water went out. We couldn't even get ready for dinner, so we ate at the buffet. When we got back to the room around 9:00, everything was working. There was also a pipe dripping on our balcony, and the water was running on our balcony and the balcony next door. We called and reported it. When the service man got there, he said that was normal and left. I really don't think having a wet balcony floor the entire cruise is normal.
The entertainment consisted of a juggler (who spent a lot of time picking up objects he dropped) and a below average magician. Then one night for the main entertainment they had some of the Filipino crew in tee shirts and jeans do some kind of dance. We got up and left. The only enjoyable entertainment was a singer named Bobby Black and the ships singers & dancers.
Also, I have never been on a ship that rocked side to side so much. All the passagers were complaining about it. I have never been seasick before, but on this cruise, I had to take Dramamine twice. One lady I talked to said her room-mate was in the bed seasick. People were reeling from one side to the other in the hallways when trying to walk. The seas didn't seem that rough to cause all this rocking. I was on the Carnival Glory last year, and went throught a tropical depression. That ship didn't rock at all.
I would like to compliment our steward and room service. Our steward took great care of us, and room service was very prompt. Also, the ship was beautiful and we were extremely pleased with our room.
We disembarked around 9:45, ready to get home. Our bus was not there, and we had to stand outside and wait until 12:00 for the bus to arrive. We were the last ones waiting...all other busses had been gone. Again, we were told our bus was in traffic. There was no toilet paper or hand cleaner in the bathroom on the bus.
Every other cruise we've been on we wished it was longer, but on this cruise, we were glad to get off the ship and go home.
We booked our HAL cruise with great expectations, however the Oosterdam just didn't live up to those expectations. Embarcation went quite well, even with the new security in place. We stood in line for perhaps 45 minutes, but then quickly cleared onto the ship. Our cabin was O.K., but very, very small, and without much drawer space available. We booked an inside minimum, and were bumped up to deck seven which was a very nice location.
The food overall, was without much imagination, somewhat bland, and not many choices. The filet was exceptionally good, and very very tender however.
Entertainment was the highlight of the cruise, and was quite good. The big shows were outstanding, and the comedians and singers also very very good.
Service in the dining room was marginal at best. The waiters and bus persons seem to have too many tables, and since the tips are "automatic" they now have no incentive to deliver the service that they once gave. Our cabin steward, did do a great job. We never saw him, but the cabin was always spotless, and made up.
To sum it up, I won't do HAL again,unless it is a bargin, or perhaps on one of the smaller ships. Think I'll stick to Celebrity, or Princess.
Embarkation went smooth and we felt real good to get on early and tho we could not go to our room were able to eat upstairs while we looked out at a Princess line that stretched down the block in the hot sun unable to even start getting on til the standard time.Thanks Hal for letting us on into public areas.
Entering the room we too thought Hey no Drawers. But 3 closets (Two hanging areas and one with shelves) Hey look here two drawers in each night stand. look here two drawers pull out of the couch bottom and wow 2 big drawers come from the base of the bed.I didn't bring more than this did you? The 6th deck balcony had the most comfortable furniture we ever had in 11 cruises. Our 8pm dinner mates were Fantasic and we became fast friends to the point we cancelled our alternate dinning reservation to stay with them and later found out they too had changed plans.there were 6 of us and we shared some tours and swapped books as we finished them.
The crew: waiter and bus boy were pleasantand accomidating but a bit shy.Their service was fine. The wine steward was more outgoing and very helpful and remembered everything we liked from night to night. The Room steward did his job but we seldom saw him.We had an excellent repore with a waitress in Northern lights lounge who even sang to us when we meet her at the beach and joked with her. We also established a joking relationship with one of the photographers that carried thru to our tablemates. The food was satisfactory. I loved the hazlenut coated fish. A couple times I thought the vegetable portions were a bit small.And the waiter's recommendations were right on on a couple of not the best dishes of the day. I liked all the shows we saw especially the 50's 60's production. But I really loved the crew show and could have sat thru it twice. Too bad some didn't give it a shot. Those kids put their all into it, running right back to work after. The Rice planting skit was hilarious, I even watched it again next day on tv and still laughed as hard.The songs and dances from their countries were wonderful.
Our hike in Tortola's rain forest was so fun because of a great guide who said it is your tour and you will be the entertainment. And he drew us in volunteering a leader and a caboose and having us make up the narration about what we were seeing before he gave the correct narration. The group really got into it.Then we all went to the beach. A fabulous day. Half moon cay was a very relaxing day and in spite of the hurricanes that had just been there they had it all presentable to us with a few missing roofs and such.
Bigger is not better! Compared to smaller HAL ships, this one is too big for even the crew to handle. An example is the laundry which quickly becam overwhelmed and overnight became 72 hours or longer.
The food is quite bland (purposely so according to the food and beverage manager) and not up to the HAL standard we had enjoyed on other of their cruises. The extra cost Pinnacle Cafe was very good for dinner but disappointing at lunch. Not surprisingly, beverage costs were inflated even above wheat we had found on other cruises...$28 for a bottle of wine widely available at about $8 and over $2 for a coke. And, the formerly outstanding Philipino bar staff messed up every drink we ordered.
The biggest disappointment was the S category "Deluxe Verandah Suite" we had selected at the stern of the ship. A mammoth verandah did not compensate for a very small living area...so small that the TV had to be removed to have a place to put our laptop or write a postcard.
The crew, particularly the dining room and room stewards were just a great as we had found them tobe on earlier HAL cruises.
All in all, a very disappointing cruise in light or our having chosen to purchase deluxe accomodations.
Just returned from a 7-day Alaskan cruise on the Oosterdam....WOW! Great Food, Great Service....wonderful cabin and a beautiful ship. Our waiter, Davis was exceptional...every night!! Never wanted for anything. Our cabin steward was also great. We never wanted for anything.
If we used anything from our mini-bar it was replenished the next day...room service was very good and arrived right on schedule. This was our best cruise yet. Holland America has never dissapointed us. Captain Mercer did a wonderful job too. I would highly recommend this ship to anyone!
The food was wonderful and presented very nicely. The whole ship was decorated beautifully. If you want an overall great experience....Oosterdam is it.
This was my first cruise, with a friend on his first cruise. We went for 2 weeks (or b2b), May 22nd and May 29th. I have health problems and if I was not well enough to enjoy or see something one week, well, we'd be back next week! We are both in our late 50's.
Having the two weeks also gave us more time to get acquainted with the ship and staff. We definitely knew (mostly) what to expect by the second week. These ratings and comments will be mine, as my friend went with me as a favor to me, and he frankly expected more than I did. He had a good time but he would possibly not rate some things as highly as I do (like the food).
Embarkation - with an S category cabin we had no line to wait in, but the HAL people seemed in general to be harried and overwhelmed. They were mostly less than friendly. The woman who took our tickets might have been new because she made quite a few mistakes, had trouble understanding that we were boarding for two weeks (English washer first language), made mistakes we had to correct, and seemed not to know quite what she was doing through the whole process. The one smiling person I encountered was trying to stop me - as I was finally through the hassles - to hawk something the ship was selling on board.
Cabin - As several people have said on the boards, the S cabins are worth every penny. We were in #7065, next to the glass elevator. I'd been a little concerned initially about privacy (with people on the elevators able to see our verandah) but people rarely seemed to be looking anywhere but out to sea. Occasionally I'd see someone looking and give them a smile and a wave, and mostly got the same back. They could not see into our cabin, at all.
At first I wondered why there was both a tub (with whirlpool) and shower, and another separate shower, other than for people in a rush to get ready for formal night, and maybe if more than 2 people were in the cabin. However, on the days when we had some rather rough seas, I was really glad we had the "extra" enclosed shower with three sides that were easy to lean into, rather than the two sides of the tub/shower combination.
The two sinks and vanity cabinets were a plus.
The beds are heavenly. I haven't slept that well in years. I'm getting a new mattress.
We received all the suite amenities mentioned in other reviews.
These cabins are about 518 sq. ft. including verandah, and they are not only roomy, but come with extras like a flat screen TV that swivels for viewing anywhere in the room, DVD player, DVD player (with a fair selection of DVD's from the Neptune from classic to newer), CD player (with poor selection of CD's from the Neptune, at least when we looked), lots and lots of places to put all the clothes we brought (and didn't need) for two weeks, plenty of comfortable seating and/or napping room, not to mention the Neptune Lounge.
Did I mention the Neptune Lounge! That is another huge plus for many reasons, one of which is the coffee. Room service coffee is undrinkable, in my opinion (I have high standards in that department) and being able to step into the Neptune Lounge for the best-from-a-machine-coffee I've ever had, was terrific. They also have wonderful things available for snacks from morning to night.
However, getting half and half is another matter. The Neptune Lounge sometimes had half and half, sometimes it was 1%. I'm not kidding! Our first night in the Pinnacle Grille, our waiter told us they had no half and half. I asked another waiter, and she said the same thing. About half way (no pun intended) through the meal, our waiter ceremoniously brought some half and half. Our second night in the Pinnacle, they had cream. In the Vista dining room, sometimes there was cream, sometimes something else entirely.
I think I always got half and half from room service, but I had my friend buy two pints of half and half in Juneau (our first port) since if you can't tell, I'm a little fanatical about my coffee and cream.
Staff - and stewards - a mixed bag but mostly very good. The concierge's were always helpful and were we ever glad we had them, several times, to straighten things out for us. For example, they made reservations and got a confirmation for us the first week for the Pinnacle Grille for our second Saturday. The concierge logged it, as they log everything they do for guests, including the fact that the reservation was made and confirmed through Peter, the Pinnacle manager. That Saturday, we were informed by the Pinnacle staff that there was no reservation and they could not accommodate us. The concierge got on the phone (as did I) and about 2 hours and several conversations later, they informed us that they'd moved heaven and earth to fit us in. Now I know that it's not necessarily tables available but wait staff available that determines reservations but guess what? There were two to three other couples, at the most from 6:00 PM that night (our requested time) to 7:20 PM, when a few more people started to arrive. There were other lapses that should not have occurred, but most of the staff were generally very good to excellent.
Our cabin steward, waiters and assistants, and the concierge's were wonderful as were many of the HAL people, but others, a few too many "others", were not up to any standard that HAL should be aiming for. Whoever handled the phone calls in the Pinnacle about our lost reservation was terrible (may have been more than one person) as they kept trying to shift the blame to the concierge staff. Some of the staff in the Lido were sour and sometimes they didn't know where things were, like the milk. Turns out that wasn't at the "drinks" station but at the ice cream station.
The wine steward was strange. After the first night, he'd just plonk (yes, "plonk") down a glass of white wine in front of my friend (I usually had coffee), the same that he'd ordered on the first night. This same steward would whirl away after plonking down the glass of wine, so that on the night my friend knew he did not want that same wine, he hunted the steward down first, to tell him he'd be having a different wine that night.
Room service was prompt, often coming way too early. Mostly that wasn't a problem for me but an hour earlier than requested on many occasions, even when specifically requested "no earlier than" could use some improvement.
The staff people who took care of our mini-bar were a pain. I forgot to have our room steward remove all the things in there so we could store some things we really wanted, and despite several explanations to the staff that we had not and would not use the items supplied, we were charged for items we didn't use. The concierge fixed that but we had to go through the whole thing again the second week.
Laundry - free to S suites, was mostly good except that one of my friend's shirts was bleached white (despite a note to use only cold water and no bleach), and the iron-on tape they use for identification was scratchy and I ripped some holes in my underwear getting it off.
Food - in general was pretty good. My filet mignon was really well-done (I requested medium rare) on our first night in the Pinnacle, and yes, I could have sent it back but I really didn't want the fuss or the wait. The flavor was excellent. The Vista dining room is mostly pretty good, but not excellent. Presentation was better than the food itself, but not excellent. As others have said, some food is pretty bland (and I'm not a big fan of hot spicy food!).
The Lido has an okay selection of food, but the strong smell of garlic (and I love garlic) was a little too strong.
Room service food is okay. Never more than that. They did their best to accommodate "off menu" requests, however.
I'm going to give my opinion on the art with a caveat first - I'm no expert. Nonetheless, I think the art is overrated by HAL. I'm just not sure where they spent that $1 million. Maybe $100 (dollars) here and $150 there.
Atmosphere - I didn't like the so-called art auction's noise level, the daily pieces of junk mail advertising ship's specials and other shopping specials or the loud announcements about bingo and some of the other entertainment. They could seriously tone down the consumeritis level. I was grateful that none of these announcements were piped into the cabins. I also didn't like the in-your-face photographers at the first meals, at every disembarkation and other places on the ship. People must have complained because this seemed to be toned down a bit the second week, or maybe I was just more wily about avoiding them. (Photos were also seriously over-priced.)
But I did like the many small areas to sit and read, visit, watch the beautiful scenery go by, or just daydream. Except for those darn hawking announcements and the intrusively noisy art auctions. That stuff is Not classy (didn't think I'd ever say something like that about a HAL ship). Since no one else has mentioned this in any of the reviews I've read, or on any of the boards, I'm mentioning it twice with the expectation that it will not change unless others feel the same and say so.
The Crow's Nest was particularly enjoyable on our night in Victoria. It was quiet with many people ashore and the view is beautiful.
Excursions - I went on one only; the floatplane to the Misty Fjords. That was stunning despite the low cloud cover, well organized and definitely worth the money. The only down side, if it mattered to anyone (and it didn't matter at all to me) was the in-flight narration on tape that skipped many parts. My friend went on the helicopter excursion to Mendenhall (sp?) Glacier and he said that was spectacular and the bus driver was funny and informative. I did not leave the ship for any sightseeing as that was not my interest.
Passengers - the first week were fine and mostly were fine the second week except for the group that was somewhere over our head that week. We could have asked the concierge, or someone else, to speak to them, or probably even found them ourselves with little difficulty, but we didn't. Partly the white noise from the air conditioning helped to lessen the impact of all the jumping up and down and slamming of doors and partly I was too relaxed to let myself work up enough energy to do anything about it.
Our first week was generally colder, rainier and the sea was much rougher, with many people suffering from sea-sickness. A few people were sick the second week, but not nearly as many.
I didn't go to any shows as again, that was not my interest. I did hear the music from small groups as we walked by and they were okay. The musicians in the Vista dining room on our second formal night were better.
I might go with HAL again, but definitely not on a Vista class ship or any ship for over 1,000 passengers. Just too much of the hawking and herd mentality. It was not my first choice to begin with but the ships I might have preferred were not where I wanted to be sailing.
Again as others have mentioned, I went with a positive attitude and was willing to overlook most problems unless there was a fairly simple way to fix it, or it was a major concern. When I say I was "relaxed" enough to overlook the passengers overhead, that really means something, as I would normally have a big problem with that level of noise.
It's easy to see why so many seniors sail with Holland America Line (HAL), it's the service. I saw several people in wheel chairs at check-in and they did not have to ask for assistance a crew member took each one through check-in and onto the ship. Once aboard crew members are always looking for ways they can assist passengers. Also on this ship they have come to the aid of those with vision problems. Cabin numbers are also in Braille and the elevators are interesting again with Braille lettering for each deck and when you arrive at a deck a voice announces both the name and number of the deck. Holland America is the cruise line to take if you are challenged and might be in need of assistance.
Check-in in San Diego was a breeze; we live near by so our granddaughter drove us. We arrived at 11am which seemed the perfect time, we drove in next to the ship, off loaded our luggage which porters took and went inside to the check-in. It is not necessary to tip the porters, they are paid well but do havetheir hand out. By 11:30 we were on the ship and ten minutes after that were having a nice lunch in the Lido Restaurant. If you are also driving but need to park there is always plenty of parking right across the street from the ship. There is also a Holiday Inn right there if you want to arrive early and see a bit of San Diego. There is plenty of public transport near by.
We were well satisfied with our cabin 5001 category SS. It was a wheelchair accessible cabin which I wanted. Because I made my travel arrangements with Cruises-N-More I was able to select my cabin on-line by number and I also found they had the best rates. The cabins are smaller than those on the Statendam/Ryndam ships which we have also sailed on. The inside cabins were the smallest I have seen in memory.
A nice touch is that there are no paper napkins or styrofoam cups in any of the dining rooms, all china and all linens. They even have linen towels in the public restrooms, they are individually rolled up and you use a fresh one each time you dry your hands.
I don't see how anyone could complain about the food, the selection is extraordinary. At lunch in the Lido you can get hotdogs, cheeseburgers, fries, Mexican food, salads, soups, several different main dishes and on and on. The desert bar is something else, pies, cakes, puddings, custards, ice cream, yogurt and more, what a pig I made of myself. You have several selections of where to eat for dinner the Odyssey Restaurant, Main Dining room or the Lido which serves the same menu and more than the main dining room. Eating in the main dining room is much like eating in Europe where things are at a slower pace. You can expect to spend a relaxing one and one half hours at dinner. If you are traveling with children or just like to gulp your food then the Lido is a much faster alternative.
If you like flowers you will love the Oosterdam, they are everywhere, and beautiful.
This would be a wonderful ship to take to Alaska or the Panama Canal because there are so many places to sit and view what is going on and there are several forward decks that would be wonderful to use while watching the canal locks open before you.
HAL has always been weak on the entertainment side of cruising; Princess does an excellent job in this area. There were only two stage shows that we thought were any good but we did enjoy music and dancing to tunes from the 40s & 50s both before and after dinner in the Ocean Bar.
The only tour we took was whale watching in Cabo San Lucas, we have been visiting Mexico since 1959 so we have taken most tours one or more times. The whale watching was not exceptional, one could do as well off the California coast, but it was fun. I signed up for the tour on-line before leaving home and our tickets were in our cabin on arrival, nice! If you wish one of the smaller whale watching boats, they are about 20ft and get much closer to the whales, you can get those for the asking when you get off the ships tender in port. The price is $20.00 per person minimum two people.
Unfortunately, many passengers became ill. I had what seemed to be a cold which kept me in bed for a straight 18 hours days 4 & 5, and even now two days after getting off the ship I have still not fully recovered. My wife became ill on day 5 and I had to request assistance in getting her off the ship, she is still quite ill. We were not alone, on the return we had to make an unscheduled stop in Cabo San Lucas so a passenger could go by air ambulance back to the US. Then when we arrived in San Diego an ambulance arrived to take another passenger and then I heard many other stories of those who were not well. But don't let this stop you from going.
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream." Mark Twain
A very enjoyable cruise, in spite of the first two days spent in high seas, which today's flat-bottomed cruise ships can't handle. Very happy with the staff and crew of the Oosterdam. Many signs of the greed of corporate headquarters. Still good value, but things are starting to turn sour pretty fast. No comment on any areas we didn't take part in; casino, sports bar, Cayman Islands.
We'd happily take the same cruise again. The good things far outweighed the not-so-good.
Well organized. Mostly very polite personnel in the terminal. Stayed in our cabin until we could disembark.
FOOD AND DRINK:
Good things: Food much better than two years ago on the Maasdam. Really good flavor and variety both in main dining room and Lido buffet. Excellent table service by Yasin and Effendi.
The midnight chocolate buffet spectacular.
Pinnacle restaurant was beautiful and dinner was great with perfect service. For lunch a few days later slow service. A "gift meal certificate" was delivered to our cabin that turned out to be just the confirmation for our paid reservation.. That's tacky.
Not so good things: They got my drink order wrong three times in the pianobar. The waiter attempted to explain that this was my mistake, rather than try to put it right. Is this the result of the automatic gratuity system?
Very crowded buffet, especially the day of sailing.
"Gratuity" added to the $27.50 unlimited soda card when we bought it. My gripe is not about the money; it's about being ripped off.
The high price of (watery) drinks in the bars- for instance, $10 for a double bourbon which was mostly ice. Also high prices for drinks in the cabin refrigerators.
MUSIC AND ENTERTAINMENT:
A long time ago, I was a musician on several cruise ships for a couple of years, so I have a particular interest in this. The shows in cruise ship theaters are much bigger than they used to be, but the music around the ships is much the same.
Good things: A really fine violinist, with piano and bass players, in the Explorer's lounge, playing light classics, standards and Hungarian music in a very civilized atmosphere. Good bands also in the Ocean bar and the Crow's Nest bar.
Very funny Cruise Director, Eric Dowis. We enjoyed the Liar's Club and the Newly Wed games led by him and his assistant Cat, who also made the Bingo sessions a pleasure.
A professional husband and wife magic act, Fallon Magic. He does convincing magic tricks and talks fast, and she is a fine dancer and acrobat; fine looking too.
An exceptional singer, Bobby Black, also a real gentleman.
Not so good things: Poor singing in the production show, particularly in contrast to the pre-recorded backup singers. The girl singer, Kelly, was good, and the dancing and the special effects were fine.
Electronic keyboards made to look like real grand pianos. I understand that saves the cost of having real pianos tuned, but it would be classier to use the undisguised keyboards. I predict the next step will be HAL using silk flowers instead of real ones. They will also sell 10 ounce beer cans for $4.50 if they can get away with it.
The piano bar man was technically a good player and singer, but didn't convey much emotion and didn't hold our attention.
Personally, I don't think a string of jokes from the Cruise Director about having sex with animals, during the Liar's Club, belongs in a show that children are watching. Call me old fashioned if you like. It was funny but only suitable for adults.
The Top Ten Things Passengers Say has been the same for years now, and all the jokes are all over the Internet. The Great Pretender show was what we'd seen on the Maasdam two years ago, almost word-for-word. Also, while the Indonesian crew show was entertaining, again, it was almost exactly the same material as we'd seen two years earlier on the Maasdam. We enjoyed the hand-clapping dance, the monkey king and the bamboo orchestra, but the cheesy pop music sung badly by solo crew members received only polite applause.
Piped music at the aft pool is loud pop music for people in their twenties, with tense music. For instance, Sting's "Every Breath You Take", which is basically a stalker song. Not relaxing. By contrast, when we were on the catamaran at Cozumel, they played Jimmy Buffet, Beach Boys, Beatles and K.C. and the Sunshine Band. This stuff's better for all age groups, and, well, it's happy.
Good things: Inside every square inch is beautiful and well maintained. The dining rooms and the theater are all gorgeous. Our bed was really comfortable and the cabin had enough storage area. The verandah was perfect, especially for early room-service breakfasts, and they kept it clean.
Excellent housekeeping by Indra, our steward.
Friendly cruise staff, stewards and waiters throughout the ship.
Captain Jonathan Mercer took good care of us, literally finding shelter from the high waves, and he kept us well informed. He even gave us an extra detour on the last day so we could see Havana glittering in the sunlight.
Other passengers; we met really nice, interesting people at mealtimes and around the ship. They were also very appreciative of the crew and of the shows.
We loved the hydro pool; basically a large Jacuzzi. Very relaxing and an okay price at $15 a day.
The stores on board had some surprisingly good deals on clothes and souvenirs and a bottle of brandy. Helpful staff.
Not so good things: From the outside Oosterdam looks like a condo and the two skewed funnels give it an awkward, unstreamlined appearance.
Small rear pool and deck space for such a large ship. The extra size of the ship evidently is just to have more income-producing verandah cabins, not more space for each passenger.
HAL wants you to call to have your room-service trays taken away, but when we called the crew didn't always come for them, so we ended up leaving them in the hallways overnight anyway.
Tipping is no longer at the discretion of the guests and is therefore no longer tipping. Instead, $70 "gratuity" per person was automatically added to the cost of the cruise.
The spa prices were predictably high. My wife had a very pleasant massage, but the experience was spoiled for her by the masseuse not only pushing product- over $100 worth of creams and ointments- but actually adding it to her bill, so that my wife had to tell her to take it off. This is not relaxing but really pushy and nasty.
Good things: A good time swimming with the dolphins at Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Once you get to the dolphins, it's all very well organized and a lot of fun.
A wonderful catamaran snorkel and beach party in Cozumel, with Fury catamarans. A great beach, beer and margaritas, good music and dancing on deck. It could hardly have been more fun. Even the captain of the Oosterdam was along with us and having a great time. This is about as good as things get on this planet.
Not so good things: Be warned- what they don't tell you about the Jamaica dolphin excursion is that you will have to wait for an hour, during which time, along with a tour of iguanas, macaws and snakes, they will try to sell you packets of coffee, coconut candy and a nice refreshing Red Stripe beer and they'll want to braid the ladies' hair.
SUGGESTIONS to Holland America Carnival, to make a good cruise excellent.
Cut the price of drinks in half. Passengers will drink way more, you'll still make plenty of profit and people won't resent being fleeced as they do now. Also, quit adding an automatic "gratuity" to each drink purchase. That's just another way of upping the price. Like most people, we tip generously for decent service anyway.
Remember that tipping is supposed to be about incentive. Our cruise director Eric stated that HAL formerly had no tipping policy but now had instituted "automatic" tipping. NOT SO. The previous policy had been genuine tipping, at the discretion of the passenger as merited by good service. The crew was motivated to do well to get the best possible tip. Now they're going to get their money regardless of what kind of job they do.
Rein in your spa people. Automatically adding $100 worth of ointments to the bill for a massage is unacceptable and it makes Holland America Carnival look like snake-oil hucksters.
Open up the main dining room for a buffet lunch on embarkation day to handle the overflow. Right now the Lido is a total zoo and gives a bad first impression to the cruise.
Consider what Celebrity is doing with Cirque du Soleil and come up with some fresh entertainment to replace the dated production shows. Consider paying a couple of really sensational singers instead of the singer/dancers you use now, even if it means having fewer dancers. We heard a few comments from different passengers about the poor quality of some of the singing.
Have a sign on each cabin door where the passengers can indicate that they will be out of the cabin for a while, so the steward doesn't have to keep knocking to find out if he can clean the room.
FINAL THOUGHTS: I have a simple dream. I predict that in due course a real entrepreneur will come along; a Richard Branson or a Ted Turner. This man, or woman, will create a cruise line that offers true value for money, where you'll know what you're going to get and how much you'll pay for it, and it will come at a reasonable price.
I think we're ready to get away from the $6 glass of wine half-filled, the $140 massage which ends with a pitch to sell you more product, and the $100-per-person shore excursion which starts with an hour-long opportunity for them to sell you more stuff before you reach the part you actually wanted, and we're certainly ready to get away from the $70 per person per week mandatory "gratuity". None of this is the end of the world, but I do suspect it is going to get much worse in the next few years.
The cruise lines have built huge ships to maximize their profitability and then convinced us that bigger is better. Maybe a handful of young people are more excited to be on mega ships with rock-climbing walls and ice-skating rinks but for most of us I believe we would have a better time in a smaller ship with a simpler style and fewer choices and without 1800 strangers around us every day.
My imaginary new line will cause industry giants Carnival and Royal Caribbean to drop their prices the way K Mart and Sears did in order to compete with Wal-Mart. After all, Carnival itself started with one ship, the Mardi Gras, in the 1970s. All we need is one or two smaller ships with fair pricing, decent drink prices, reasonable shore excursion rates and tipping the old-fashioned way, left up to the passengers. The ships probably won't need huge, subcontracted spas. (Is there anything more ridiculous than having a class on "how to reduce your waistline" on a cruise ship, of all places?) And instead of having flat, shallow bottoms, they'll have keels and stability, like the old ocean liners. (I know;dream on.)
There can still be casinos and bingo, but the entertainment can be simpler and better. (On this Oosterdam cruise we saw one singer, dressed simply in black, excite and move the audience way more than all the singers and dancers and special effects had in the "Las Vegas" shows before him.)
I would like very much to see those things, because I still love cruising and I believe it can be the best vacation ever.