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 $10 a 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.