This was my 16th cruise to date having sailed on Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess & Royal Caribbean previously.
This was my first short 3 night cruise, others were either 7 day Alaska cruises, or 10 or 11 day Caribbean, Mexican Riviera or Hawaii repositioning cruises.
Previous cruising on Holland America Line includes an 18 night Vancouver to Hawaii and return to San Diego onboard the Statendam and two 7 night Alaska Inside Passage cruises on the Volendam.
This particular itinerary left Vancouver on Weds May 4, sailed to Astoria, Oregon for Thurs May 5 (Day 2), Fri May 6 Victoria BC (Day 3) and disembarked in Seattle, Washington on Saturday May 7/05.
I knew (or at least had a very good feeling) that this was going to be a great trip from the moment I found out that I'd had a visit from the "upgrade fairy" and had my cabin (booked a guaranteed outside "D" category) upgraded all the way to a VB Verandah category balcony cabin on the Upper Verandah deck - WOW, first time ever I lucked out, and a real nice upgrade at that!!! Thanks HAL .
Considering this is the very beginning of the Alaska cruising season from Vancouver, Canada Place and Holland America operations were functioning very smoothly indeed. I heard of very few computer terminals being temporarily down, and apparently it got quite crowded later in the afternoon, but when I went through it couldn't have been smoother sailing.
I was dropped off at Canada Place at around noon. Being it was such a short cruise (and no formal wear nights) I packed very light and managed everything in a carry-on. Within moments I was through U.S. immigration and into the lineup to obtain room key. Holland America has greatly improved their check-in processes. No longer does one have to visit the front desk during the cruise to register their credit card, but it is done up front, beforehand while checking on, as it is on other cruise lines. This makes things run a lot smoother and makes good sense. As I mentioned last year in a different HAL review and others have said, DO fill out your immigration forms beforehand on the computer and take a printed out copy of the forms with you to your check-in pier. This WILL save everyone a lot of time and allows you to board the ship that much quicker than those who haven't done this very simple bit of preparation for their embarkation. Dining room seating is given out before boarding now as well, rather than finding out when you go to your room.
Once on board one can go up directly to the Lido deck and enjoy a nice leisurely lunch buffet while waiting for their cabin to be ready. Also on the Lido Deck 9 is the outside Terrace Grill open serving hamburgers, hotdogs and tacos. Bags can be taken with you or dropped off in the Piano lounge for storage. An announcement was made shortly after 1:30 pm to the effect that the cabins were now ready for occupancy. As I wanted to check mine out and hang up my clothes all taken in carry-on, I went directly to mine first chance.
The stateroom I had (#6118) port side was on the Upper Verandah deck on Oosterdam in Cat VB and was very nice and spacious indeed. Nothing was lacking --- all nice toiletries provided, hair dryer (not that I need it) in desk in living room, tub with shower. I was traveling alone on this trip and had tons of storage space, way more than I could ever use. I'd think it to be very sufficient for 2 traveling a week or more. Nice wicker type balcony furniture. The beds are simply wonderful, so comfortable and fabulous duvets on them as well. Fully stocked mini-bar, fruit in room, and did not even see my super efficient room steward even once! Contrary to what I'd read in another review, the TV sets DO have the yellow "VIDEO INPUT" plugs to view your digital camera pictures on the TV screen.
Food --- I did not get to the Pinnacle Grill on this particular cruise, so I can't say for sure --- all I can say is it was the same menu as other Pinnacle's and I've eaten at them on Statendam and Volendam and they were scrumptious! I heard from other people on this cruise who did eat there that were very impressed. I can say that the food in both the dining room and the Lido deck was wonderful the whole trip --- everything I had, bar none. On other HAL trips I've stuck to mostly seafood as have felt they excelled there, but this trip I was very pleased with all the food (and excellent desserts!) consumed. Had room service one morning - excellent delivery, great food.
I was far more impressed with the overall feel of this ship than with other HAL ship styles. From little touches like all the tables in the Lido having various shades of live beautiful orchids on them to the array of artwork throughout the ship, very special and unique rooms like the Library or the Oak room with lovely faux finishes all lent themselves to an earthy homey feel.
The Oosterdam singers and dancers were great in their production show in the Vista Lounge.
There are many different venues to relax or have fun in. Sports Bar, Piano Bar (nice room, did not care for this particular pianist however), Odyssey Bar (bar at the Pinnacle Grill), Northern Lights (disco, my favourite for late night activity - great DJ "Jazzy" )Explorer's Lounge, Ocean Bar, Sea View at the Aft Pool Lido Deck, Lido Bar at the Lido Pool and the Crow's Nest upstairs on Deck 10. A very nice room (I'm not a smoker myself but like that they try to accommodate everyone) has been added beside the Crow's Nest which is called the Oak Room and it is a smoking and Cigar Lounge with nice furniture and a fireplace in it. It also has doors to the outside which I imagine is how they keep it smelling fresh.
Northern Lights: The Oosterdam has a specific set out Disco "Northern Lights" on the second floor next to the casino. I think it is quite an advantage over the older type HAL ships which try to combine the Crow's Nest and turn it into a disco later on at night. This allows the Crow's Nest to have one set of entertainment geared to an older crowd who prefers a softer, more romantic waltz type of dancing, while the disco can "pump up" the adrenaline for those who enjoy a little faster music to dance to.
The Oosterdam staff are very pleasant with warm words and genuine smiles at all times. I heard so many first time cruisers also comment how nice they thought everything was and they'd be back.
Astoria Oregon: Seaside & Cannon Beach - These are beautiful beachside towns on the Oregon Coast. During the summer one can't move in those towns due to so many tourists, but May being so early in the season yet everything was deserted. It was quite windy down at the ocean, so it was more a chance to shop at various boutiques and artsy shops. Very nice scenic tour.
Victoria, BC: Whale Watching - Being that I live on the Mainland of BC in Vancouver and get over to the Island a few times a year, I decided to bypass the usual staid tours of Butchart Gardens , Horse Drawn Carriage Rides, High Tea at the Empress Hotel etc.. and go for a more adventurous and decidedly more aquatic tour. The tour company HAL used in Victoria for the whale watching was called Naturally Salty Excursions. There were only 12 of us from our ship taking this, so we luckily got to take a small 12 seat craft out for our discoveries. We were out in the choppy Straits for several hours and covered many miles however were unfortunate that afternoon and did not see any pods of whales at all. Many had been spotted closer to Vancouver and hadn't been sited at all that day near Vancouver Island on the various tours. We did however see some porpoises, seals and a couple of eagles and had a great informative day with our tour guide Ian Stothart. Definitely enjoyable.
Disembarkation went very smoothly. Orange and Black stripes had me off the ship by 9:10 and outside waiting for the tour bus. Being that my flight home to Vancouver wasn't until 3:30 pm, I took the Seattle Highlights/Pike Place Market Tour which also takes you to SeaTac airport afterwards. This is an enjoyable tour with over an hour at Pike Place Market.
This cruise, although too short in number of days, was one of the nicest ever sailed. I will definitely cruise on a "Vista" vessel again.