We took Holland America's Oosterdam on a short three-night cruise from Vancouver to Seattle.
Gary and I flew into Seattle on Monday night and our friends Jill and Steve picked us up at the airport and drove us to their hometown of Olympia, WA. On Tuesday we picked up a rental car with Jill and Steve and drove two vehicles to Seattle. We left their car at the pier in Seattle and all drove to Vancouver in the other.
Crossing the border was a breeze. We proceeded to our hotel, The Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre -- very nice and a steal at $89 (U.S.), including taxes, via Priceline. The Sheraton is a four-star hotel and the prices begin at $199 (Canadian) on the company website. The hotel is convenient to the pier and the rental car facility.
We arrived at the pier at 10:30 a.m. We were among the first in line and HAL personnel began embarkation at 11 a.m. After a few computer glitches (we were told they were implementing a new check-in procedure and they had a few bugs to work out) we boarded the ship at 11:30. Even with the computer problems, the staff was very pleasant and accommodating.
The ship is pleasing to the eye on first glance. The cabins were not ready until 2 p.m., so we went to the Lido Restaurant on deck 9 for lunch. The Lido Restaurant is one of the prettiest café-style restaurants I've seen on any ship. It has typical tables, but also bench-type seats and comfortable wicker chairs. The food was very good and the staff was pleasant.
After lunch, we explored the ship. As I said, my first impression of the ship was that it was pleasing to the eye. But as the cruise went on, I began to notice some negative aspects. One of the most noticeable is the lack of artwork in the corridors. The artwork in the stairways was very pleasing and to my taste, but the hallways were devoid of artwork and quite stark.
We also noticed a lack of windows throughout the ship's public areas; nor are there many cozy seating areas. Three exceptions: the Pinnacle Restaurant, the Vista Dining Room and the Crow's Nest Bar. We were fortunate to be seated near the window in both restaurants, which made mealtime more special. We really enjoy the ocean views while cruising. In the Crow's Nest Bar, there are about a dozen reclining leather chairs in front of large windows for enjoying the ocean view. Judging by the wear, it is obvious they are used a lot.
This ship is less than two years old, but it appeared quite worn on the inside. The corners of the walls in the corridors were marked up and the carpet on the stairs was almost worn through in places. Much of the furniture in the public areas was stained.
HAL offers "white glove escort service" to your cabin. Jill and Steve decided to take advantage of this service. However, they were disappointed when the escort pointed down the hall and told them their cabin was "down there." Even though they had a suite, it didn't get them escorted to their door.
We booked a VA guarantee category (deluxe veranda outside). Our cabin was assigned seven days prior to sailing and we were lucky to receive cabin 8124, an aft cabin. We had aft cabins on a few Royal Caribbean cruises and loved them. The only problem with this aft balcony was that is was totally covered on top. Had this been a Caribbean cruise, we would have been disappointed to not have the sun on our balcony. The balcony itself was quite large, with one lounge chair, two wicker chairs and a table.
Our cabin had a couple of differences from the previous RCCL, Celebrity and Princess cruises we've been on. On the positive side, we had a full bathtub instead of just a shower stall, and wonderful bedding. On the negative side, there isn't much storage space for toiletries in the bathroom. The TV sits on the desk and takes up much of the storage room also.
Our cabin attendant was very good. We didn't see much of him since this was only being a three-day cruise, but one day, he saw us in the hallway and addressed us by name. This is something I have not experienced since our Celebrity cruises. I was quite impressed.
Our friends, Jill and Steve, had a suite – cabin 6158, a corner aft. Their balcony was the largest I've ever seen. It wrapped around the corner and this space was actually usable. We had a corner aft on a previous RCCL cruise and the wraparound was small and useless. One disadvantage to the aft balconies on Oosterdam is a lack of privacy. Because they are tiered, each deck can look down on the one below. Only the wrap-around portion on the side is obstructed from view from above.
We had breakfast and lunch in the Lido Restaurant every day. The food was always hot and very good. One very special touch is the freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast. You'll also find hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza and southwestern food in various areas. The ice cream was always free and plentiful, and they provide a nice assortment of sugar-free desserts.
The first night we had dinner in the Vista Dining Room. We had a table for four at the far end of the dining room, right beside the window. Here, I noticed another touch missing from this cruise. Our waiter did pull our chairs out and seat us, but he did not place the napkins in our laps, as I've grown accustomed to on previous cruises. Our waiter and assistant waiter provided good service, but seemed quite busy and didn't have time to chat or make recommendations. The two meals we had in the Vista were very good. The last night, they had the Baked Alaska parade (that, along with a small dish of cookies, was the only dessert choice that night).
The second night, we had dinner in the specialty restaurant, The Pinnacle. I heard it was famous for its beef, so we ordered the steak. We also asked for one additional entrée so we could try the shrimp scampi, and our waiter said he would have to ask if it was okay. This is something we have never experienced before on a ship. But, after he asked, it was okay for us to have the extra entrée. The food was excellent and the service was very good. The Pinnacle was well worth the $20 per person charge. I made our reservation a couple of weeks prior to sailing by calling HAL, although you can wait until you are onboard and make your reservation via telephone or in person.
The first evening, the entertainment in the Vista Lounge was a ventriloquist and we decided to pass. Instead, the four of us went to the hot tub next to the enclosed pool. Much to our surprise, the pools and hot tubs close at 10 p.m. However, we did enjoy the little bit of time we had there.
The second evening, the entertainment in the Vista Lounge was called "Escape," performed by the ships singers and dancers. The show was very good. The third night the entertainment was a stand-up comedian who was good, but ran a bit too long.
After the show on the last night, the casino and shops stayed open until 11:30 p.m. After the show at 10:15, we decided to do our souvenir shopping. On the way from the theater to the shops, we passed through the casino. Everyone had just been told the casino was closing immediately. We then made our way to the shops to find they too had closed suddenly. We asked one of the clerks why and she said that we found ourselves in Canadian waters and word came down from the bridge to close everything immediately.
We were quite disappointed in some of the staff on this ship. The Cruise Director was not as polished as we are used to; nor was the Port and Shopping Ambassador, who struggled with her presentation of the ports. She seemed very uncomfortable in front of the TV camera. At times, it seemed like this was a training cruise.
Ports of Call
Astoria, Oregon: Astoria is a small town with not much to offer as far as shore excursions. The locals set up tables dockside to sell their wares. After shopping here, we took the shuttle into town and explored a bit.
Victoria, B.C.: In Victoria, Gary and I booked the whale watching excursion for the afternoon. In the morning, we walked along the pier out to the lighthouse next to the dock. We went back to the ship for lunch and then back off for the excursion. We had a very small group and thus got the smaller of the boats for the excursion, which turned out to be a blessing as we were all able to stay inside the boat on that chilly day. Although we didn't have any luck seeing whales, we did see harbor porpoise and a bald eagle. Our captain/guide was very good and quite enjoyable. On the way to pick up the boat, we were able to see some of the town and it looked lovely.
Seattle: We explored Pike Place Market and it is just awesome. I've never seen so many beautiful cut flowers in one place. The fresh seafood was another really cool feature of this marketplace. We then went to top of the Space Needle for some wonderful views of Seattle.
Although I point out some negative aspects of this cruise, we did have a great time. We cannot possibly have a bad time sailing with friends. I can best sum up our first experience with Holland America by saying, "We liked it, but we didn't love it". The "wow" factor of the ship just wasn't there for me. I am happy we tried HAL, but I still prefer RCCL and Celebrity.
One nice feature of the Vista class ship is that it has an aft stairway and elevators. This was quite convenient to get to the Lido restaurant for breakfast and lunch.
During disembarkation, you do not have to wait in a common area. You are permitted to wait in your cabin. I'm sure this makes more work for the cabin attendants once you leave and I guess that is why the cabins are not ready until 2 p.m. for new passengers. Also, they serve a full breakfast in the Lido Restaurant on disembarkation day, instead of the abbreviated version I've witnessed on previous cruises. I'm also told that room service was available on disembarkation morning.