I am not new to cruising. However, Holland America is the worst by far.
Although the M.S. Oosterdam is a beautiful ship with lovely, public areas and beautiful staterooms (I had a superior suite.) You might as well sail on a barge with a staff of the local McDonalds.
My trip on the M.S. Oosterdam was my first and last cruise with Holland America. I feel as if I was lied to about the service and that Holland America misrepresents their product. They are not a "premium" cruise line unless you consider being ignored, ran into and "self service" an upscale elegant experience.
The rooms are nicely appointed (probably the nicest of any cruise I'd been on) complete with a minibar in the room. However, the minibar is never restocked. I like having bottled water, and so I drank it the first day of the cruise and I guess it was unreasonable to expect the water to be replaced (even though I am being charged for it.)
Like other cruise lines the M.S. Oosterdam offers room service. However if you ever need to call them be prepared for your call to immediately to gointo a queue, in which your call will go unanswered for 30 minutes. I guess the think that made me the most upset about the 3 times this happened was that I was calling for water that should have been replaced anyways.
Your room will be clean upon check-in, but do not expect any of the extras that you get on other cruise lines. The cabin steward will only make the bed and change the towels in your room and at his convenience. Unlike with other cruise line if you leave a jacket out, it will not get hung up it will just be moved out of the steward's way.
Holland America does not want you ironing in your stateroom for safety reasons so if you need something pressed you just need to call the cabin steward and they will come get it, well at least that is the idea. The same idea is true for shoeshine as well. However, on the occasions that I called my cabin steward he would not show up for four hours and then he would let me know in no uncertain terms what an inconvenience it was. Because of the cabin steward, I did not have my shoes to wear with my tuxedo on the first formal night, as I had requested that they be shined at 9AM, by 1PM when they were not picked up I had to call again and they were not returned until the next day.
On the first day of my cruise I had notified the cabin steward that the robes were missing from my room, by the time I was leaving the ship, no robes had ever been replaced in my stateroom.
In my stateroom the temperature would vary drastically so I had to take two blankets from one of the decks because I couldn't get the cabin steward to bring me any additional blankets. Adjustments of the thermostat could not control the huge swings in cabin temperature. Each night I would need to replace the blankets myself. Once again unlike other cruise lines the cabin steward would not replace the blankets even though he found them on the bed each morning.
On the last day of the cruise the cabin steward cam bursting into my room at 6:30 AM unannounced to make up the room, although this was not the first time this had happened, this time I happened to still be asleep and was startled.
I guess that each stateroom is supposed to have a bowel of fruit in them. This is news to me since; I never saw one in my room. Also a recent article I read states that on the first formal night corsages and boutonnières will be delivered to your room. I wouldn't wait around for them to show up, as the cruise will be over before they ever do.
A helpful guide of where things are located on the ship was delivered to my stateroom on the last night of the cruise, obviously of little use by then.
Outside of my cabin the service was not any better. I have never had such a difficult time in getting served drinks in my life. The cocktail servers would ignore you completely or take your drink order and then disappear for 20-30 minutes. This shocked me considering how most other cruise lines your offered drinks continually.
Holland America offers an afternoon tea, however you'd better bring your own hot water and eat a large lunch before going. Although tradition is to serve petit fores and finger sandwiches at tea, you will be lucky if the attendants even acknowledge your presence. I sat horrified as guests where getting up going to the service stations and were getting there own hot water, because non was being offered by the crew. Let me clarify that tea is served in the DINING ROOM not in a self-serve restaurant.
Unlike on ALL other cruise lines the staff will not acknowledge you in the halls. Even on budget lines like Carnival ships the staff is polite and courteous and will acknowledge you and offer a friendly "hello" or "Good Evening". On Holland America the only greeting your liable to get is when the staff runs into you because you're in their way, or as they step in front of you in the Lido restaurant so they can get some food. On the Oosterdam the crew eats in the Lido restaurant. I guess they are in a hurry so they can get back to ignoring you.
I purchased fountain drink cards before boarding the ship. I would not recommend them as my nephew, was ignored by the wait staff and would was once again notified in no uncertain terms that they were too busy to get him any beverages.
I was HORRIFIED at the service on the ship and so I notified the onboard guest relation's manager, who sent a $10 bottle of wine to my room. Considering my room was $3,200, my mothers cabin was $2,600 I ordered $700 in flowers, onboard credit for my family, toy packs for my nephew, prepaid for spa packages, and champagne and wine before I even got on the ship I had spent $6,500 for a seven day cruise. I was fine with this as I was promised an elegant cruise with superior service. All of the Holland America Literature leads you to believe that they are a premium cruise line. I know I certainly paid a premium price however the level of service was on par with a Denny's.
However I guess what added the most insult to the overall injury was when I spoke to customer relation's manger and wrote a letter to Holland America telling them about my experience and they told me that the service is better on some of their other ships because they are smaller. See, according to Holland America these new "Vista" class ships the Westerdam, Ooosterdam, etc. carry more passengers than their older ships, so if you want a better cruise experience you should take one of those ships.
My letter Holland America received a response of thanks for the information, but everyone else on your ship rated the cruise great! See you again sometime! I have a better idea for Holland America, why don't I just take another cruise line altogether?
Buyer beware on this ship you will pay premium price for a substandard level of service. Unless they are giving this cruise away your money is better spent on Royal Caribbean or Celebrity.
I had sailed this ship in December on the three-night pre-inaugural and could not wait to get back on it. We were not disappointed. We received our upgrade to an aft balcony cabin, although it was a bit lower than we had been before (Deck 4). Though the balcony was oversized, as all are on the aft, it was stained with soot from the smokestacks. The cushioned chair and lounge with a blanket was most appreciated and used, though.
This ship has so many textures and colors it makes many other ships pale by comparison. It seemed that no matter where you were on this ship, a few steps led you into another décor, and all were equally distinct and tasteful. This vessel made you feel that you were indeed in the midst of royalty.
Since this was a 14-night Panama Canal sailing, it provided plenty of sea days to thoroughly explore the ship and all it offers.
While the Internet service is a bit costly, it is nice to be able to retrieve e-mails if you must (75 cents a minute, and if you use your own laptop, an additional $10a day). You can buy packages of minutes that will bring the price down to 55 cents for the maximum amount. Still, most ports offer Internet cafes for $2 to $3.50 per hour.
While the Thermal Suite was listed at $15 a day, along with the Thermal Pool, they raised the price while we were on board to $20 a day. Thus these features pretty much went unused for the majority of the cruise.
Dane the Cruise Director did provide many activities for the guests to enjoy. But perhaps because most of the passengers were retirees, these activities were limited to more of the hand or thought type. Bingo was a constant, with one day actually sporting three sessions. The guest lecturer, Dr. Jay Wolffe, was a superb addition to the cruise, and made going through the canal a most viable experience. It also confirmed my suspicion that the only real way to see the canal is to go completely through Atlantic to Pacific. The turnarounds leave too much out of the experience.
The food on the Oosterdam was fantastic. The Pinnacle Grill, which received absolutely rave reviews from those who ventured there, provided portions that were much larger, and desserts not offered elsewhere on ship. But the staff and the cuisine in the Vista Dining Room were both superb, so it was hard to not stay there every evening. The Lido evening venue is in desperate need of improvement. The food, while being the same menu as the Vista, was without taste and service was almost nonexistent. However, breakfast and lunch in the Lido were probably the best I experienced on ship. The hand-dipped ice cream (which changed flavors daily) was most delightful. The poolside grill offered excellent burgers and hot dogs as well as huge brats and sausages. We also had two barbeques poolside with baby-back ribs grilled just like home in the backyard along with steak and chicken. All the food staff works very hard to provide outstanding meals and service, and they are among the friendliest in the industry.
The two weakest parts of our cruise had to be the entertainment and shore excursions. The entertainment did not fit the tastes of my wife and me, although most passengers enjoyed the recitals, magicians, and juggler/comedian. I prefer entertainers -- people like Tony Tillman. We were presented with two stage shows by the cast of the Oosterdam. "Rockin' Road" was enjoyable, but the high energy I witnessed when I first saw it in December seemed lagging. However, "Escape" seemed a better fit for the styles and voices of the singers and dancers, providing a more enjoyable performance with greater energy and excitement than "Rockin' Road." Neither one seemed to go over the top like I have witnessed on other cruise lines.
Given that there were 14 nights to fill with different entertainment each night, Dane settled for the comedian/jugglers-magicians as his main focus -- a couple of off-the-strip Vegas acts that were entertaining, but past their prime even for off-the-strip Vegas. The highlight of the entertainment was Marty Allen. He still has the crowds roaring and is as funny as ever. The day after his performance, he and the cruise director did a "coffee chat" where Dane asked a couple of simple questions and Marty just took off...it was actually funnier than his act. People were holding their sides during this and he genuinely would look at the audience with such innocence. The Vista lounge was full of passengers and laughter for a good hour.
Overall, Holland America still provides one of the finest products per dollar spent of all of the major cruise lines. If you want relaxation, great cuisine, and a decor that is second to none with unparalleled pampering and service, Holland America is the answer. I found the overall condition of the ship to be excellent, with constant maintenance going on. A friendlier, more cordial cruise staff I have never experienced.
I had high hopes for the Oosterdam due in part to my trip on the Veendam two years ago. I had wanted to do a Panama Canal cruise for 30 years and booked the Oosterdam nine months in advance.
Embarkation was handled well, my cabin steward was outstanding, my bus boy for dinner was outstanding but the waiter was average.
Dinner service was slow, with just about every meal taking 2 hours. Time between courses was longer than necessary. I know this was not the waiter or bus boy's fault. HAL hasn't figured out how to serve 925 passengers per seating even though they have gone to 4 seatings.
Breakfast service in the dining room was absolutely abysmal. The Passenger Relations officer ended up telling me not to cruise on Holland America based on the service I had received. I was totally in shock.
The Panama Canal was fantastic as well as the other ports we visited, however service has rapidly gone downhill on HAL in the last two years and they still haven't figured out how to get 1850 passengers off the ship efficiently. The drink waiters and waitresses asked me if Iwanted a drink 15 times an hour - became old real fast.
I wrote a letter to HAL and I'm curious to see the response I get. I have already booked my next cruise and this time I'm going to try Silversea Cruises. Would never go on another cruise on HAL on a Vista Class (85,000 ton) ship. They seem to be fine on the 50,000 to 60,000 ships but they still don't get it when it comes to more than 1300 passengers on one ship.
My husband and I just returned from the Oosterdam and absolutely loved it! We read many reviews of this ship both pro and con and could not find a thing wrong - in fact it was outstanding. We've cruised with RCCL, Disney and Premier. The age group was fine with us. We are in our late 40s with no children. Holland America is not just for the older crowd any longer. We found a wide range of ages on board even some children. We booked directly through HAL last minute and got a fantastic rate. There were so many nooks and crannies throughout the ship - so much variety. The daytime activitiy schedule was amazing from digital camera classes to yoga for couples. Since we like to cruise casually we only had breakfast twice in the Vista Dining Room. The room is lovely with a good menu for breakfast and excellent service. All other meals we used the Lido deck which had a wide variety. The new food stations are a wonderful idea. We never had to wait in line for anything.
The 24/7 pizza/pasta, ice cream and dessert stationwas hard to resist. The Phillipino and Indonesian crew were outstanding and very accommodating. The spa was the best we've ever found at sea. Quite a good size. Take advantage of the scalp massage and hydrotherapy pool - it was heaven! We booked a private guide for Jamaica and it was well worth it. We saw the real Jamaica with wonderful people and interesting out-of-the way places to see. Grand Cayman was a great shopping port. On Cozumel we took a taxi to the Allegro Cozumel all-inclusve resort just ten minutes from the pier. I had Emailed the resort before leaving home asking about day passes. The guest relations manager Emailed us with a rate of $35 pp for all food and drink plus use of all facilities. This was a great bargain with wonderful snorkeling as well. It is a smaller all-inclusive resort patterned after a Polynesian village with thatch roof bungalows with hammocks on every porch. Very nice place and great staff as well. Upon leaving the guest relations manager thanked us again for visiting the resort and personally called us a taxi for our return trip to the pier and some shopping. This was a wonderful cruise. Embarkation and debarkation were smooth and flawless. We are now spoiled with HAL and will find it difficult to cruise any other line again.
We had enjoyed sailing on the Veendam last year,but were disappointed with our experience on this newer ship. The colourschemes certainly were not dull! Beautiful artwork, more traditional than some lines, but at least things to admire and detailed enough to warrant a close look at replicas and unusual items; much better than what I call Grade 4 reject-type modern art on some lines that look like kindergarten crayoning practice.
Overall a beautiful ship! Was a bit mystified by the bad peeling and unvarnished state of many visible wooden railings on such a new vessel and no upkeep being done. Tasty meals and excellent quality of meats and steaks; however this was spoiled by very slow service in the dining room. Our servers just brought 2 plates at a time--no trays used, so lots of waiting. You are out of luck if you like to eat lots of vegetables. Apparently these are used for decor only! 2 marble -sized potatoes or a slice of tomato doesn't count as a serving to me. Portions have definitely become smaller, but you do get filled up if you eat all the courses. Don't bothertrying the informal dining. Despite use of tablecloths in the evening, service is not nearly as good as during the day. Lots of help to get to the table, but noone clearing up, so soupbowls and other plates just piled up on the table, and items quickly got cold. Enough moaning. The price was great and we unexpectedly got upgraded to a veranda which was lovely, so would do it again anytime. There are positives and negatives with ALL the lines, as we have noted over the years. Just accentuate the positive and don't dwell on the other bits!
Deluxe Veranda Suite Cabin 7069
We sailed on the ms Zuiderdam's 13th voyage last February and although there were some issues that caused us some concern, it was a totally enjoyable cruise. The mean spirited reviews I've read of her are totally and completely exaggerated and unfair. A good time was had by all of us in spite of a few minor glitches the crew had getting used to their new ship.
Our cruise last week on her sister, the ms Oosterdam was by far the best cruise experience we've had.
Where do I begin?
We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 for 2 nights to relax before our cruise and we highly recommend you do this. The hotel is great with rooms with marina views and a lovely pool. The hotel is only minutes from Port Everglades and you can purchase this Pre Cruise package via HAL. It is well the worth the money in order to get yourself nice and relaxed for the cruise. Transportation from the airport and from the hotel to the ship was included.
Since we had a Deluxe Veranda Suite, Embarkation was a breeze. We hadour own area to check in, no line, no waiting. We simply walked up to the counter, provided the agent with our documents, received our boarding cards, went through security and were on the ship within 15 minutes. This was our second cruise with HAL's Deluxe Veranda Suite and it is truly a treat. Very spacious, nicely decorated, a changing area, and large bathroom with whirlpool tub and shower stall. Cannot say enough about how much we loved sitting on the veranda, which was huge, as we enjoyed our morning coffee. We will never book any other type of cabin and it is money well spent.
All guests in Suites enjoy the compliments of the Neptune lounge. A wonderful perk which included coffee/tea service all day, drinks, snacks, finger sandwiches, etc. Arlene who works there is a sweet, lovely person who will help you with anything you need. As a matter of fact, Arlene remembered us from when we were on the Zuiderdam last year and was happy to see us again. Rudy, our cabin steward, was fantastic and he couldn't do enough for us.
The ship is beautiful and the décor is noticeably toned down from that of the Zuiderdam. The decks/halls are easy to maneuver and well lit. Comments of halls being dark and uneasy to find your way around is nonsense.
The food on the Lido was delicious and the service was terrific. The choices were well varied and the desserts were yummy.
We were 2nd seating on deck 3 of the Vista dining room, table 59, right along the windows directly on the stern. If you read negative comments about people moaning about vibrations, think to yourself for just one-minute......you're sitting above the massive engines, and you wonder why the room might vibrate for a moment or two? Give me a break! There was little or no vibrations, certainly not enough to notice, let along ruin a truly wonderful dining experience every evening. Our waiter Mahrub and our busboy, Yudi, were EXCEPTIONAL. The food was excellent and the portions were in perfect amounts. Some appetizers/meals were so good; we had second portions that were delivered immediately.
The ports of call were fun but since everyone can differ on them, I'll only speak of the lovely, fantastic, wonderful, beautiful, dreamy, Half Moon Cay.
Instead of being in the cold snow and ice of Connecticut on Valentines Day, we were on one of the most beautiful beaches we've ever seen with soft white sand, in the warm sun, swimming in crystal clear water. This port of call is the one reason why we wouldn't sail with anyone else but HAL and if you haven't sailed HAL, you should consider it so you can visit this private island paradise. This was our 2nd visit there and cannot wait until the 3rd, and the 4th and the.....you get the picture.
The nit picky, moaning, whiny reviews I've read of HAL ships are so unfair and it bothers me that some people can be so mean. HAL is an excellent cruise line and the fabulous time we had on the Oosterdam was not in our imaginations.
Yes, the average age of the passengers was around 60, (our group of 6 ranged from 20 something to 50 something) but we met sincerely nice, friendly people who were there for the same reason we were..... to have fun, relax, and have a good time, and guess what? WE HAD AN AWESOME TIME!! This ms geritol stuff is nonsense and totally uncalled for. If you want to go on vacation on a "party" ship with hundreds of drunken slobs, then maybe HAL isn't the line for you.
When we were in St.Marten, there were 5 other cruise ships in port. When we were walking back to the "O dam" we were stopped by many passengers from other ships to ask us how we liked HAL and the Oosterdam....of course we told them it was fantastic and you know what they told us about their ships? Lets just say that they were very jealous of us as we walked up the gangway of the "O dam" and onto such a beautiful ship. Anyone who has booked this ship will have a terrific time and if you don't we can only say that it would be your own fault. We will definitely be booking our next cruise with HAL and will sail with no one else.
A bit of background first, this was our 11th cruise, with the breakdown as follows: HAL 2, Princess 4, RCCL 4, NCL 1.
We book our own air and since we leave out of Boston during the winter we head down a day early. Booked our air right through the American Airlines , after searching they did come up with the best pricing. We used the E ticket check in, again avoiding all the lines and had a great flight down to Fort Lauderdale. Upon arriving, we got our bags and headed over to our rental car. We opted to use dollar for our rental. I had booked with another agency but keep taking a peek at the prices and finally got a compact car for 15.00, 20 dollars with the taxes. Picking up the car was very smooth, you leave the terminal head over to the right, the dollar bus picks you up drops you off at your car and away you go.
We had booked a room at the airport Hilton thorough priceline, but the Hilton changed to Wyndham on Dec 1st. We arrived at the hotel at about11ish, with the hopes of checking in early, they said come back at 1, 130 etc etc, without going into a long dissertation here, the bathrooms in the lobby area were FILTHY beyond believe. The customer service was terrible; not so much with trying to get into the rooms early but the way that they handled everything. If and when we go back, we will ensure that we do not go there.
Sunday am, dropped the car off, the dollar bus dropped us off at terminal 26 to begin our cruise. We handed the bags over to the porters, tipped them, but they were very nice reminding us to ensure we had our tickets, medication etc. We were in the line about 1045, at 1100 the doors opened to the terminal and the process began. We were given our boarding number and got in line, one line for the suite passengers, one line for those who filled out the immigration forms online and one for those who did not. We had filled out our forms on line and got in the short line, quite frankly no real value filling them out on line, the rep said "oh good for you filling it out on line." That process took all of 10 minutes and we headed up stairs, passing through the Xray machine and carrying our water and soda with us. Upstairs we waited about 15 minutes and they started calling off the numbers. They tell you with the early boarding to head up to a public area as the staterooms are not available till about 115 and they will call you. We headed up to the lido deck to get some lunch, and then went to the cabin dropped off our water, soda and stuff (this was about 1215) and then back to the lido pool for the afternoon. They did call folks to the cabins about 115 and the decks really cleared off then. Life boat drill went off at 430.
I will not describe the ship, that stuff is well documented.
Entertainment. Our cruise director was Gary Walker. He and his staff did a great job throughout the week. We had the following entertainers: Bernie McGrenahan Comedian, The Oosterdam singers and dancers, Master Illusionist Leo Ward, The Mikes, and Jody Reynolds. We felt that this was some very strong entertainment. Last year on HAL there audience was very lame in their response, this week the audience was very receptive to the entertainment. This was the last week for the dancers so it will be interesting how the new ones compare.
Lounges. Crows nest, there is a group up there B4 and we enjoyed the music they played, we would head up there to dance before dinner, after dinner and after the shows. Great job. The Alex Bellegarade Trio in the ocean bar area played nice music but a bit up tempo almost seemed like they were having a personal jam fest. The Caribbean Breeze played sounds of the islands on the lido deck but only about 4 hours a day at two different times and we enjoyed their up tempo style and music. Although we did not go there, we heard very positive comments about the piano bar and Champagne strings in the explorers lounge. Queens lounge is used for the daily movies.
FOOD We had all our dinners in the vista dinning room, all other meals in the lido area with the exception of 2 breakfasts. We had room service for one breakfast (we never use room service for that as we get up and head to the club etc for the treadmills, bikes), and on that morning we had rain (only day all week), delivery was prompt, on time and hot. The other breakfast we had in the dining room, a bit of a disappointment. We had the eggs benedict, sauce had no flavor and one of my eggs still had the shell, perhaps to keep it warm. Service in the dinning room, it was good but I think they are stretching these folks to thin. Our wait staff had 24 folks and that leaves very little time to get to know them or them to know you. It was good service and the head waiter helped out quite abit, not just in our area but all over. Food, was good. There were good selections, great presentation etc. But I will say like I have many other times this is ship board food being massed produced. One night with the prime rib, had a small portion of potatoes, 3 or 4 pieces of carrot, and 2 slices of a squash. Point being the portions have really diminished since we have started cruising, oh yes you can get more if you want though. The food on the lido deck is nothing more than a large buffet, plenty of choices, sushi, Italian, deli etc. For breakfast there is express line, scrambled eggs bacon etc. an omelet line, and a line for eggs meat potatoes. Overall service very good, food good, nothing that I would rate as 5 star cuisine. Ice cream bar open 1130 - 1 am, pizza pasta bar open 1130 - 1 am, the late night snack that goes from 11 -12 will vary, Italian, Indonesian, American, French.
PHOTO SERVICE the location of the Photo gallery is in one of the worst possible locations, as soon as you leave the vista dining room and it gets very congested. Now we and many others thought this was one of the worst groups of photographers we have ever encountered. In our area of the dining room, there were no photos taken of anyone of the tables on formal night, they were rude. I am not that only one that felt this way. Prices of course like everything else continue to go up on those shipboard photos.
Ship over all, we enjoy the layout of the vista class ship. On the promenade deck, deck 3, 3 times around equals a mile, so some real nice walking running can be done there. We never had a problem using the facilities in the gym. We would get there around 7ish, and use the bikes, treadmills, machines and free weights without a problem. They do offer classes but charge 11 per class, body fit ball, yoga etc, I think for 40 dollars you can get unlimited classes. There are some free stretching classes as well.
Plenty of activities on the ship for you to do or not do, games, tea, auctions, rum cake tasting, I took a tour of the kitchen (very impressive), karaoke etc.
Cabin was outstanding, good use of space, the mini bar is filled and if you use it they put it on your tab and you can get if refilled if necessary.
Ports of call
Half moon cay, we like this port, great fun in the water, good snorkeling head way down to the left and follow the rocks out to where the boats tender in. Bring a couple of rolls with you; the fish enjoy breaking bread with you. The barbecue lunch was great, even with two ships in port. Hint, if you take the little shuttle to the barbecue or walk there is a tendency for the folks to bunch up in one left, keep going to your left as they have about 6-8 lines open, shortest ones are near where the crew lines are.
Ochio Rios, we opted to go to the sandals resort at Dunns river for the day, they took us out on a snorkeling trip, and we were in the water for about 55 minutes. Lunch, all drinks, use of the pools, chairs etc all included, as well as all non motorized sports. Very safe and clean.
Grand Cayman, we had to dock at the alternate port due to choppy seas, 3 ships in port, 2 others by passed the island. It was a real problem at the dock and many tours from the ship were cancelled. We went with a sting ray tour operator right on the pier, as we had missed our capt marvins trip due to the dock congestion. It was fantastic.
Cozumel, we opted to take a cab to Chunkanab park for the day. One note here is that if you want to swim with the dolphins, then book it online with dolphin discovery you can save quite a bit of money over the ship excursion for the same tour.
Disembarkation. They want you out of your cabin and in the public areas by 0800, ship gets into FLL at about 5 am, we started leaving the ship at 0845. They do call by numbers but the crowd by the gangway tells me that there are many folks going off out of order. We were about the 10 11th folks off, grabbed our bags and went to the cabs and by 910 we were sitting at gate F8 waiting for our flight to Boston.
Overall impressions: We cruise because we like the Caribbean, the ship way of life and although it is going through many changes, I think it is still a great value for your money. Not as many tuxedos as in the past, informal night (jacket required but no tie) many without jackets, sneakers. But it is their vacation as well.
Would we cruise HAL again, I think so. They have a nice product.
My wife and I took the January 11 cruise to the western Caribbean on the MS Oosterdam. For openers, I should point out that we have in the past become Holland America fans: I returned from a year in Europe in 1959 on the old Statendam, we cruised in January 2002 to the eastern Caribbean (eight days) on the old Westerdam, and this past October and November on the Ryndam (ten days) to the Sea of Cortez and the Mexican Riviera. In between we also sailed from San Diego to Ft. Lauderdale in December 2002 aboard Celebrity's Infinity. We hope in the future to repeat the Sea of Cortez cruise and eventually cruise to Hawaii and Alaska.
The arrival and embarkation in Ft. Lauderdale went smoothly. We had used frequent flier miles to fly to Ft. Lauderdale the day before the departure, and took the reasonably priced Days Inn shuttle to the pier at 1:00. Since I am an amputee using a three-wheeled mobility scooter in such situations, we were immediately sent to the head of the handicapped line and were aboard with luggage delivered by 2:15. The cabin we hadbeen assigned, #6091, did prove to be somewhat of a disappointment. When our agent informed me of the arrangement by phone, I checked the deck plan on a non-HAL website and noted that this cabin was directly adjacent to one of the exterior glassed-in elevators, and called the agent (Cruise Club of America) to express our concern about privacy on the balcony. She called the Seattle HAL office and was told that there was no problem, since the balcony was adequately screened off. But the moment we stepped out onto the balcony we noted that there was a lack of privacy: elevator riders could see into all of our balcony. We went immediately to the Front Office to see if there could be a change, but were told by the person at the desk that no changes could be made, since the ship was full. My wife, who is very sensitive about privacy, then asked to see her supervisor, who was able to change us to cabin #4178, right at the stern, where we had a balcony easily twice the size of the one at #6091, with plenty of privacy. The point here is that we feel something should be done to screen all balconies adjacent to the glass elevators.
In general we found the ship very attractive and tastefully decorated, but I did note a few things where some simple effort could achieve significant improvement. A case in point were the Jacuzzis both astern and amidship on the Lido deck: they were all much too cool, scarcely above body temperature, to do any good for a sore back. My therapist at home says that the temperature of a whirlpool should be at least 105° to have any therapeutic effect. I realize that there are probably some guests for whom this temperature would be too hot, but with five such pools on board, I would think it a simple matter to have at least one at an appropriate temperature, with a warning sign for overly sensitive guests.
And there were problems with the sauna, as well: I spent 25 minutes sitting at the uppermost level without even breaking a sweat, and could find no control to adjust the heat. Again there are probably some passengers for whom a proper sauna would be too hot, but they could be warned away by an appropriate sign. The main problem with the sauna, however, cannot be remedied for this ship nor, I assume, her sister ship, the Zuiderdam: the space is simply too small. On the Ryndam I was disappointed because the drinking fountain and the toilet inthe sauna area were out of order during the entire voyage, but on the Oosterdam such amenities are totally lacking! It was as if the designers had at the last moment discovered a tiny unused space and decided to stick a sauna in it, The space there is so tight that there's room for only one person to sit on the bench to change clothes! I have seen larger saunas than this in private homes, and I hope that this problem can be addressed before the new Westerdam goes into service.
We also found the music on board rather annoying. On all of our previous cruises there had been a string quartet playing soothing, tasteful chamber music in the main dining room, but on the Oosterdam there was a piano "stylist" who must have been on the lower level, since we couldn't see him on the upper, playing what my wife accurately described as "bar music", saying she could practically smell the booze and cigarette smoke. Further, this music was evidently amplified for those on the upper level, with the result that conversation with the friendly couple at the table adjacent to ours was difficult. The music on the Lido deck also came as a disappointment. On the Westerdam there was a steel band playing authentic Caribbean music that was really fun, but on the Oosterdam the band seemed to have lost any Jamaican roots it might have had, playing jazzed up amplified music that to us was enervating.
Also enervating were the constant announcements. On the first day, just before the boat drill, there was an announcement that for the rest of the cruise only emergency messages would be directed to be heard in the cabins, yet in our cabin we could hear all the announcements about bingo games, lotteries, and sales so clearly that they often interrupted afternoon naps.
We generally found the staff at the shore excursion desk knowledgeable and helpful, but there was one significant exception in my case, the excursion from Cozumel to the ruins at Tulum. We had originally booked this excursion online, to include the Xei-ha national aquarium, and when we discovered from the pink excursion envelope in our cabin that this excursion had been canceled, we went to the excursion desk to rebook the Tulum trip alone. At this point both the agents at the desk tried to dissuade me from this trip, saying that I would be unable to use my mobility scooter, and would thus find the excursion too much for me. Since my sister, who is at least 150 pounds overweight and has back problems even worse than mine, did take and enjoy this trip while on a Princess cruise in the heat of the previous summer, I insisted that I be permitted to buy this excursion, and was required to sign a waiver to the effect that I had been prewarned about the exertion and difficulty. When we actually got to Tulum, I discovered that I could use the scooter, and they even provided an individual guide to assist me over the few obstacles I encountered. The next day I went to the excursion desk to inform them of their error, but it was closed for the rest of the cruise, since Cozumel was the last port of call. I had the distinct impression that neither of the women in that department had actually made the Tulum trip and couldn't know how helpful the staff there were. One further suggestion: Why not arrange an opportunity for parasailing in Ocho Rios as an offering to your guests? My wife, who had done this on our Ryndam cruise, actually went out and found a provider who came directly to our pier and had no qualms about taking on a 75 year old amputee (Ya, no problem, mon!), and I had one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life!
One further suggestion concerning equipment in the cabin: from my observation of other passengers on deck and on excursions, I would estimate that fully 90% of the guests on board were using either camcorders or digital still cameras, and sometimes even both, and I've been using digital cameras for five years now. In view of such preferences on the part of your guests, wouldn't it make sense to equip cabin TV sets with audio and video inputs on the front of the set? Then one could view and even edit the photographic products of ones day. Such TV sets are actually more common and no more expensive on today's market than sets without such inputs. Surely your guests would appreciate such convenience and become even more devoted HAL fans! Another problem with the cabins is the arrangement of shower controls. My wife and I have lived in Germany and Austria over five years and traveled widely throughout Europe, and had never before encountered such an arrangement, where the left knob controls temperature and the right one controls volume of flow. Since we are now experienced HAL cruisers we no longer get scalded by trying to cool the water by turning the right knob (in the US, always the cold water control), but other passengers we encountered did experience such discomfort. At the end of our Westerdam cruise, I went to the Front Office and suggested that a simple placard be posted in cabin bathrooms to clarify the arrangement and was told that this was a splendid idea. I'm chagrined to find that there has been no follow through on it.
The only further observation I have has to do with the food and service aboard. We have recently heard that our beloved HAL has been bought out by Carnival Cruise Lines, and it would appear that service and quality of food are suffering to some extent by Carnivalization. On our first night aboard we noticed that the assistant waiters were staggering through the dining room with incredible loads of covered dishes; one paused near our table long enough for me to count seventeen such dishes in his stack! When we asked our very efficient, polite, and friendly chief waiter about this, he ruefully replied that, whereas previously HAL had provided two assistants for each waiter, now two waiters had to share a single assistant, an economy which clearly leads to deterioration of the excellent service to which we've become accustomed on HAL ships. And while the quality of food on this cruise was mostly up to our expectations, we did notice some deterioration. On "Turf and Surf" night, for instance, the lobster tails we were served were smaller than the prawns we'd had on previous cruises, and the filet mignon was so small and overcooked that it should have been described as a medallion of beef, if not a hockey puck. And while on past cruises we had been able to order shrimp cocktails every night, even when they weren't on the menu, when we tried to order them on the second night our waiter told us that we could get them only at extra cost. This practice does not conform to our previous expectations of HAL service!
In closing, I should say that while we will certainly continue to choose some Holland America cruises in the future, we are saddened by the minor disappointments on this last cruise. It's a little like having to watch the Yankees or the Green Bay Packers, the former leaders of their leagues, slide downhill. We hope the trend can be reversed!
Eastern Caribbean (Jan 4-11/2004). We have had five past cruises on HAL, and while this was a good cruise, it was 'off' from past experiences with HAL on other ships. We particularly didn't like the 'nickel & diming' that occurred that had not been part of past HAL experiences (i.e. wine tasting price was up from $5 to $7.50, but you couldn't apply that fee to a bottle of wine as on past cruises; $.75/min for internet usage which hardly anyone took advantage of; soliciting of drinks in the Lido Restaurant; etc). Wine prices were excessive and quadruple the price of purchasing the same bottle of wine at home.
Pluses included: a nice B cabin with large bathroom (though the balcony was small); Lido food was very good; good service by the staff generally (some cruise staff for activities were a bit testy); embarkation was handled smoothly and we got on the ship by noon; the Sport's Bar was a nice addition; pre-selecting shore excursion on HAL's web site.
The ship layout seemed cramped in the public areas, though the casino and Crow's Nest lounge were large. The Vista Lounge had columns thathindered views of the stage. The shows were typical, but the HAL lead singers were too full of themselves which was irrating. The last night of the cruise the entertainment was only the ship's band. The Queen's Lounge was used for movies, but the chairs in the front were higher than the back lounges so sight lines were difficult. Meals in the main dining room (Vista Dining Room) were fairly ordinary and the portions (particularly vegetables) were small, though the presentation of food was excellent. Food quality seemed to improve during the week. Passengers could also ask for more and it was provided with no problem. Tables were fine as long as you weren't at an oval table that had 6 people and should have had 4. We take issue with charging for "Espresso coffee" in the Windstar Cafe and the new exclusive dining room for an extra $20/person. The onboard activities were good and offered a variety of choices for the passengers. The library had a small selection of books and games and again, there was a charge (though refundable) to check out books. There were no laundry facilities (available on other HAL ships) though you could 'pay' to have your clothing laundered and/or ironed. The decor was 'interesting' and we adjusted to the 'wild' colors by the third day. The Piano Bar was a bit weird for such a venue, in grays and black. All the pianos on the ship were electronic (except the piano never played in the Lido Restaurant), and particularly in the Piano Bar there should be a 'real' piano. In discussion with other past HAL passengers, it was felt by everyone we talked with that this ship was a 'little less' than they had experienced on other HAL cruises. We hope that HAL will raise the level of this ship to what we have experienced before and certainly hope that they have not regressed backwards on all their ships. We have been so satisfied/loyal in the past to HAL that we have been afraid to switch and not receive the same cruise vacation, but we think that for our next cruise we will try another cruise line.
Since there is a dire lack of reviews for this new ship. .here's mine. Overall it was a good cruise, but not to be rated at 4.5-5.0 as HAL's ships often achieve. While this ship had some hits, it had many misses.
This was our first HAL cruise. As I make my commentary I am comparing it to the other cruises we have taken in the last 3 years: Costa Atlantica (Xmas 2000); RC's Radiance of the Seas ( Xmas 2001), Norwegian Sun (8/2002), Carnival Spirit ( Xmas 2002), Carnival Legend ( 4/2003) . all very new ships, on which we booked a balcony (verandah) room.
Room: HAL's verandah @ 244 sq. ft (back of ship room # 5184) was the largest ( both the room and the verandah) we have had yet. Room was at least 18" wider and almost two feet longer than those on the other ships. Bathroom had a full size tub. While it had the standard 3 closets, it desperately lacked drawer space.
Service: Superb! All wait staff are either Indonesian or Philippi no ( all are males). Very well trained, very willing, very friendly. Ourcabin attendant "Hari" was terrific. Our dining room waiters ( Table # 36) "Andi" and "Alit" also provided very good service. Here HAL has a distinct advantage. Note this table was on the third floor .. Off to the side and had most of its view blocked due to ridiculous permanent lamp on the ledge above it. If at all possible, request a table on the second floor, views are much better.
What we were surprised at:
Cruisers: This cruise was populated by the "very mature". ( PS this writer and her hubby are in their mid 50's and early 60's). Many are "well-healed" patrons. On the two formal nights, most men were attired in TUXES and the ladies in gowns. For an XMAS cruise it had few children (214). Many patrons are repeat ( and only) HAL customers - large loyalty base. Many of these patrons with whom we spoke during the week, found the larger size ( 82,000 tons) ship a bit much to navigate. They said they preferred the older, smaller ships in HAL's line. Since we have always traveled on the larger ships, it was just fine with us.
Ship's Decoration: This was a surprise. This ship lacked the opulent decorations of many of the other 2000-2003 vintage ships. I can't say it's a pretty or beautiful ship. It's rather dark, with low ceilings in the common areas of deck 2 & 3. The Vista Dining room was attractive, but lack the pizzazz of other ships' dining rooms. The is no soaring atrium on this ship as there were in other ships. The Vista Lounge ( main theatre) is 3- storied. Here again not as attractively decorated as that of other ships. Staterooms are very similar to others, except the cabinetry is a lighter wood.
Here is the biggest surprise of all. Our expectations were that HAL provided very upscale food. Not so. It pales by comparison to the newer Carnival Ships, Costa and Norwegian Sun. The lido deck 9 food was average with the following exceptions. It had wonderful Pizza ( 7 varieties) available and freshly cooked about 10 hours a day). In the same area you could get custom made pasta such as carbonara with real parma ham. It was less appealing in fresh fruit and salad selections. Much of the fruit was not ripe enough. Also had a nice variety ( changing daily) of ice creams, sorbets, frozen yogurt. Waffles cones available every day as well as variety of self-serve toppings. On the pool deck, there was a burger/hot dog grill section ( all prepared) as well as mini buffet of tacos.
The main dining room was the biggest disappointment of all. Daily selections were light on seafood and fish, heavy on meats. We also felt that the meats ( steaks) were not the best quality and tenderized. The long awaited lobster night came on Xmas day. It was one small tail from which two strips of lobster were cut out and presented as medallions, outside the shell . with one small strip left in the tail. This tail, was no more than 4-5 0z. Overall, portions were downsized . as the standard diner plate was really a "luncheon-sized plate. In retrospect, this may not be a bad idea to control portions and food waste.
Baked Desserts: While you will find a huge selection of desserts showcased in the Lido, the quality was not there. Synthetic tasting ( little or no butter used). Dining room desserts were no better. We quickly learned that ice cream or sorbet was the best bet.
Gratis beverages are iced tea ( very small glasses and water) during the day and juices at breakfast only. A can of coca cola will set you back $1.95.
We had breakfast and lunch in the main dining room a few times. Breakfast was standard fare. But lunches were greatly disappointing. Soggy sandwiches, nothing notable or memorable.
As I said, it was a shock to us that the food was not as good as Carnival or other lines.
The Pinnacle dining room is the alternative dining for which you pay a $20 pp charge ( no tip added). Noteworthy: crab cakes . two tiny balls that were superb. I ordered the rib-eye . although flavorful, it was tough and somewhat fatty. Hubby ordered the filet. This too was not as tender as it should be. Curious that there was no lobster tails or stone crabs on the menu as there is on other ships. Halibut did make it on the menu. But who wants to pay extra for Halibut? Nothing else about the meal was memorable except the room itself. Highly decorated, definitely a showstopper with pewter wrought chairs, lovely linens and great lighting.
Here again, HAL drops back behind other lines. Two major productions were good, but lacked that pow. On other lines we have seen "broadway" quality shows. On the O, the female cast seemed much more mature, better dancers than their male counterparts who came across as very youthful and somewhat immature. The lead female singer did a great job belting out Celine Dion's and other divas songs.
The pianist Paul Pappas who appeared twice did a great job of playing a wide rendition of tunes. There was also a magician and comic as well as an acapello group. But we couldn't help thinking we saw more and better on other ships.
This ship gets kudos for not trying to gauge its cruisers with computerized machines etc. and cough up mega bucks on each game. They also gave away one heck of a "snowball jackpot" the last night .. $5,100+ won by an 11 year old boy.
They also had a raffle for a free cruise the last night. This one was strange. They had been selling tickets all week long at every bar on the ship, the front desk and at each daily bingo game. However on the last night there were very few tickets in the drawing bin. It made you wonder what happened to the tickets that had been sold all week long?
Ports of Call:
This was a major letdown. There were only 3 ports Vera Cruz (VC), Cozmel and Key West. This was the maiden voyage to VC. It was a major disappointment. There is virtually little to see with dismal shopping .. just cheap, low-end souvenirs. Nobody speaks English either. We walked around for a few hours looked the "spanish" exteriors of some of the older buildings and were back on the ship in just a few short hours. Irony . Hal allowed 7 am to 7pm in port. That was to accommodate visits to ruins, etc.
Cozumel: We were told that we would not be docking in San Miguel but at Playa Maya, outside of town and had to take a taxi to town. So where do we dock .. In Playa Langousta in San Miguel. No announcement of the switch was made. For those people who had never been to Cozumel .. They were trying to catch a cab to go to San Miguel when they were already there! The shopping is pretty much the same in Cozumel as it was a year ago . except that the jewelry is much more upscale and expensive. Went to Carlos and Charlie's, which is right opposite where the ship is docked. Fun place, loud and yes, some got up on the tables. Margaritas are potent. You get your money's worth. As usual it rained in buckets and we got wet again.
Key West: What happened here is a shame! It was the best port of call in which passengers got the least amount of time. So many of us were looking forward to this port. We were told that we would be docked at Mallory Square ( steps away from Duval street and the main areas). However, we were bumped by the Maasdam, which came in after us and took our position. So we docked at the military base. This required everyone to have to be shuttled down to Mallory Square by the Trolley or Conch train. There weren't a lot of them since these are the major form of touring for visitors to Key West. When we finally got off the ship, we waited in line for 40 minutes to catch the shuttle.
In Key West we had to clear Immigration. All (1,800+) passengers had to go to a room to hand in their documentation and have their passports reviewed. Unfortunately many passengers didn't show. It took an extra hour to get the ship cleared so passengers could get off. No one could get off until 1:00 pm ( we docked just before 10 am). By that time most decided to eat lunch and many got off closer to 1:30 - 2:00 pm, only to be faced with large delays getting downtown. It gave us only 3.5-4.0 hours to tour Key West. This was a shame .. What a great place!
If you haven't been there, use the Conch Train .. tours are $20 per adult for 90 minutes. PS the ship sells a 60 minute version for $24. The tour was wonderful. Note: The seats of the ( alternative tour method) " Trolley " are wooden and not as comfortable. We took the Trolley as our shuttle going back to the ship. We were glad we chose the Conch train for the actual tour.
Overall, we gave the shore excursions staff a very low rating. The few times I visited their desk, they could not answer my questions, nor did they get back to me. Ports and information was not as explained. On this ship, the shore excursions office does not generate the visitors maps nor ports description. It's the shopping consultant ( Jim Laery)who has that responsibility and he does not have an office. You had to hope that the port map got delivered to your room . which it didn't in our case . maybe because we were in the back of the boat???
There was also cancellation of a number of tours due to a lack of sign up. We had planned to do the Ft. Lauderdale boat and land excursion when we got off the ship to kill the long wait we had for our return flight home ( 5:00 pm). We notified only a day and a half before we landed back in FLL that it was cancelled. When I ask for the name of the tour director ( on land ) to see if I could book my own, they declined to give that information. It left us with a large ( ship's) credit that we had to spend on the last day, or else forfeit it. The last day I heard another passenger request the name of the tour company and she was declined that information.
Again, the Shore Excursion staff is a weak point of this ship!
The Gym is much smaller than other ship's gyms with very few little weight training equipment, but overloaded with stair steppers and tread mills. The low end Cybex equipment was a disappointed for people who like to work out. Absolutely no abs machinery of any type. Broken equipment had signs that said to be repaired. Not during the week we were there!
We read about the ventilation problems with the sister-ship Zuiderdam, specifically the smell of sewerage. Twice during our trip there was an overwhelming smell of sewerage, Once on the lido deck and once in our room. The smells did dissipate in a few minutes. Our floor was two levels above the main dining room. Each night we noticed strong smells of food in the fifth floor lobby by the elevator. Putting the two together, we were left with the thought that there may be something going on with the ship's ventilation. Arrivals/Departure:
One plus, HAL has an early arrivals program for embarking passengers. If you get there at 11:00 - 11:30 am, you can get checked in fairly quickly. You can't get into your room until 1:30 pm but you can dine in the Lido dining area. There was however, a great deal of confusion for the early arrivals as to where to bring their bags and where to go to check in. We were told to go several different locations for both ( by HAL check-in staff). Check-in was ok except HAL's credit card readers were not working. Half-way through the cruise, anyone who used a credit card was summoned to the front office to have it rescanned.
Departures were fairly smooth. Called by a number that you were given with your departures documents along with luggage tickets.
Once you got outside it was a zoo! Many different lines for various forms of transportation. Be aware the FLL airport is just a 5 minute ride from the pier. And that a cab ride including a tip is $12 for two people. HAL charges $12 pp if you didn't buy the whole transportation package from them. I think we got to the airport a whole lot quicker than the HAL bus.
We booked and paid for our cruise in October. However, HAL did not send our tickets to us until four days before we left. The tour Company ( Cruises-N-More) that we booked with and I called HAL many times and each time we called we got a different (Airborne) delivery date. This was poorly handled by the Cruise line and frustrating for us