We thought that this cruise to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan & Puerto Vallarta would be a nice change from the rainy winter of Vancouver, BC.
San Diego is beautiful. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt on a good Priceline rate. The Grand Hyatt is a twin towered, 1600 room, marble lobbied Hotel with excellent service and good food, located 5 minutes from the cruise terminal and 10 minutes from the airport. We had a room on the 22nd floor with a harbor view and electric drapes. We skipped renting a car and cabbed around downtown and the Gaslamp District near the hotel.
We had a tasty Italian meal in the trendy Gaslamp District at a restaurant called Boca, and we bought a couple of bottles of wine for the cruise and cabbed back to our hotel. There was no problem bringing wine aboard but you can't bring hard liquor.
was a pleasure. We had completed our immigration forms on the Internet, and with our passports in hand and a quick credit card swipe, we were quickly processed and given our cruise cards. We strolled toward the ship passing long lines of passengers still filling out forms and fumbling with their proof of citizenship.
WELCOME ABOARD PHOTO
We were photographed during the boarding process in front of a backdrop of 3 tired looking Mexican blankets. We don't understand why they don't take the pictures in a better spot. When the pictures were displayed that evening they had photo-shopped in the cruise date and ship information but there was no real sense of a cruise ship in this photo. The price of $20.95 for the picture with the 3-blanket background made it easy for us not to buy it.
It's a hand sanitizer world now. Finally. We first saw it on a ship in 2002. We have been carrying a small bottle of it at all times, not just on cruises. It's everywhere on this ship, offered during the boarding process, at the dining rooms and buffets, etc. We've sailed on a ship with a code red, Noro virus protocol and it's not very cruisey. Most of these viruses are spread by shaking hands or by touching railings, elevator buttons, door knobs and handles, etc. We have sailed on a ship where the Captain did not shake hands with anyone. We feel that no Captain, Hotel Director, Cruise staffer, waiter, steward or any crew should offer to shake hands with any passenger, as a health precaution. We saluted the amused Captain of the Oosterdam at a reception.
We like this spacious, Vista class ship cabin of 398 square feet including the balcony. There are double sinks in the bathroom, with a mirrored and canted medicine cabinet at each end of the counter –- it allows you to see front, back and sideways. There were soothing jacuzzi jets in the tub, and a separate stall shower. There are good mattresses, nice robes and a great cabin layout. There is a vanity table with excellent lighting and a separate writing and working desk with an electrical outlet. There are 2 phones and, on each side of the bed, lighting controls to regulate the ambiance in the cabin, which includes small nightlights you can use to get around a dark cabin. There is an additional window, and I'm writing this sitting at the writing desk looking at the scenery go by through this extra window. There are drawers everywhere in this cabin, along with 2 closets and plenty of shelves and 2 very helpful, well placed hooks. This cabin outshines those of Celebrity M class and Royal Caribbean Radiance class. The balcony is extra large also, with 4 comfortable wicker-like chairs. Good width and depth. We've had balconies on other cruise lines that had only enough depth to sit straight up in a chair without being able to fully extend one's legs. The balcony's see-through barrier under the well maintained varnished railing is sparkling clean. This is also a totally private balcony. Our cabin attendant is Sutoyo, and he is thorough and unobtrusive, quickly adapting to our dining and recreation schedules.
There's always something to deal with, though. The cabin heat and AC work very well. Too well. There is no 'on/ off' switch for the very loud ceiling fan that propels the system in the cabin. You can't change the fan speed or turn the fan off. It's not that noticeable during the day, but when the ship quiets down the "white noise" is intolerable. When I called the front desk about this they quickly sent us earplugs, so this is not the first time they have heard about the never-ending fan. Ramona, the Guest Relations Supervisor, came to our rescue. She coordinated a meeting with us and Jerry, the Air Conditioning tech, in our cabin. After everyone understood the problem, she listened to the fan with us while Jerry went to isolate our cabin in the centralized AC/Heating system and lower our fan in the control room. Problem solved. Thank you, Ramona and Jerry.
is the ship's newspaper, with a well organized schedule of the day's activities, dining etc. Under the continuing heading of 'there's always something,' the paper told us under the boldfaced heading "IMPORTANT TIME CHANGE" that during the night of Saturday/Sunday the ship's clocks will be set FORWARD one hour... 'Please adjust your watches and clocks before retiring Saturday night', our first night on the ship. It was wrong info and shouldn't have been in the paper. We adjusted our timepieces and prepared to go to the dining room for breakfast. We saw the clock display on the ship's TV channel and called the front desk and found we were one hour early. The desk told us it was the same paper from last week and last week they did the time change and decided not to this week but the paper was already printed. We wish they had posted notices in the elevators and announced/posted the mistake on the ship's TV channel and not just in the Vista Lounge during the welcome aboard show.
The Daily Program has a conveniently perforated edge, which detaches the lower half of it. This portion includes the daily event and show schedule on one side and a separate listing of the food/bar service hours and locations of all of the food venues on the reverse. There is an additional entertainment and services listing with hours and locations. It all folds easily into one's pocket. The ads are on a separate pull out sheet. This is the best organized ship's paper we have seen.
TV & DVD PLAYER
This is the first cruise we have been on that our cabin had a DVD player. There is also a DVD catalog at the Hotel Desk where you can check out some DVD's. The TV is a good sized flatscreen that can be easily turned on a pedestal. We always bring DVD's for the airplane ride to watch on our laptops, and it's a pleasure to be able to watch on a cabin TV instead of a laptop with headphones. One minor cavil: the spiffy LG flatscreen has the jack blocked where you would connect a home video camera, so you can't plug in your vidcam even though this is a nice modern TV. We want better satellite programming too from North American stations when we are cruising in North America. There were also some recent movies and some film classics shown on one of the ship's TV channels.
PERSONAL CELL PHONES
The ships are now charging you to use your cell phone at sea. They have installed repeaters/signal boosters that they are selling as an attractive feature, but that surcharge your personal cell at a high rate. They don't do this when the ship is in a port, though. HAL was upfront and there was info about this in the cruise documents. Thank you, HAL. We cruised on the Celebrity Summit on an Alaska cruise in May '06 and found ourselves surcharged to a bill of nearly $600.00, because we were not informed by Celebrity that this charge was being added. The charge was $3.00 per minute. We ended up getting a small credit from our service provider and from Celebrity customer relations, but this didn't even begin to cover the big bill. We used to use our cells whenever we could get a signal, but that's changed now.
EDUCATIONAL INTERACTIVE DRINKING
We didn't make this phrase up, it's a heading in the Daily Program newspaper about wine tasting seminars. We quote: "These are excellent opportunities to learn what the process is for developing and selecting a fine wine. These interactive experiences are also a fun way to meet and socialize." We never knew drinking was such a noble undertaking. Strolling an area of the main deck a few days later, we saw a notice guiding us to our 'Martini class graduation certificate.'
We were in the Lido asking a staff member where we could find the dessert that looked like lemon meringue pie, which we had seen pass by on a cruiser's tray (but it was not pie; it was custard), and who should come up to our conversation but Executive Chef Andreas Sommerfeld, himself! There will be carrot cake though, we learned -- a second favorite.
The Lido is very clean. No residual smell of meals past, because the buffet serving lines are always being wiped down. There are trays and assistance for those who need it. Tables are bussed quickly and readied for the next passenger. The napkin and silverware setups are placed on the tables, ready when you arrive -- no holding up the buffet lines with passengers fumbling for silverware. There is a deli/wrap station, a pasta & pizza bar, ice cream station, taco bar, omelet station and a Wok station with sushi, fried rice, etc. -- just about anything you could ask for in a buffet setting. There is the Terrace Grill outside the buffet in the pool area with hamburgers, hot dogs and a taco bar. The Lido buffet is the best tasting buffet we've eaten from in a while, and the salad bar is always fresh. Dinner is also served in the buffet area for those who prefer to dine there. We notice there are passengers who never want to dress and venture into the main dining room, and they too are very happy with this buffet. There is free, high quality ice cream available too, not just free during regular meal times. Celebrity is charging for ice cream in the off meal hours now.
VISTA DINING ROOM
On 2 levels aft. Big windows. Feels very plush and cruisey. Reds, oranges and dark woods everywhere in the familiar Holland America style. Fresh one or two page menus are used depending on the time of day. We bring up the menus because we have been unhappy on some other cruises to be handed a menu placed in a dirty menu cover. The Oosterdam keeps it simple, and when they proffer a menu or menu cover it is clean.
At the other end of the ship is the Vista Lounge, the ship's theatre. We understand that HAL would want its new ship class/brand 'Vista' (the Oosterdam is one of 4 new Vista class ships) to be reflected in the names of the ship's major venues, but we found this doubling up on the name 'Vista' didn't help us getting around the ship at first. Those corridors can be long when you have to double back, especially since that involves meandering through lounges and the casino. On noticing that the Vista Lounge has no vista, we just mentally called it the 'no Vista Lounge,' and went the other way. (By the way, it is also not a lounge; it is the theatre, and functions for various cruise staffed events.)
We thank our dining room steward Tua and his assistant Dian. They quickly have become familiar with our preferences. We switched from the early seating, very desirable to most passengers, to the second seating, with the assistance of Second Maitre d' Fabian. We made this change because we will not be stuck with a time that's too early or too late for us. We like the new dinner time schedule that Holland America has instituted. First seating passengers may arrive at the dining room anytime between 5:30 and 6PM. Second seating diners may arrive anytime between 8PM and 9PM. The comfort of having the same wait team and table with flexibility time wise is great.
The food is excellent. This dining room seems to even surpass Celebrity's, which has been the standard by which we compare other cruise lines in this price range. The food is really good in this room. We didn't have to resort to the default menu with the always available chicken breast or steak on this cruise. We saw Executive Chef Andreas Sommerfeld at various different times, checking on his food venues. Thank you, Chef! This dining room also serves free cappuccino with meals. The other cruise lines are charging for this now, even in the main dining room.
A nice succulent lobster tail has become an endangered species on cruise ship dining room menus. On our Sept. '06 Radiance cruise, lobster was available only one night, as part of a seafood brochette on the final formal night. On the Oosterdam also it was available only once, on the final formal night as part of a surf and turf entree, coupled with a small filet. The lobster tail was about 2 1/2 inches long. We ordered another to confirm this measurement and are sad to report that the dinky piece of lobster is all you get now. But, they very graciously brought us more!
Is the Oosterdam's alternative restaurant. Beautiful room. Passengers in Deluxe category suites may breakfast here with the same menu as the main dining room. For lunch and dinner, the cafe is open to all passengers for a service charge of $15.00 at lunch and $30.00 for dinner. We never see many passengers using the place at lunch and not that many more at dinner. We tried it for lunch and had a lovely soup, salad and appetizers. We foolishly chose the 'gourmet hamburger' as our entree and were disappointed. One slice of a tired tomato and wilted lettuce were part of this, so called gourmet, entree. We couldn't discern much difference from the free burgers grilled by the pool other than size. We had swell desserts and cappuccinos to make up for it. The Pinnacle menu also promised us shoestring fries but they were the heftier kind. We were served a burger in the main dining room at lunch a couple of days later, and we had a better burger with real, crispy shoestring fries.
We've eaten at alternative ship's restaurants before and have had much more food and better service. That's what the extra charge is about. We arrived at the restaurant at 12:40 (the Pinnacle opened at noon on this day). We requested a change of tablecloth because our high quality linen tablecloth was visibly and colorfully dirty in four places. The staff instead suggested a change of table. We didn't want to move from our nice window table and asked again to change the filthy tablecloth and they did so grudgingly. There was only one table occupied other than ours in this very empty restaurant, and we waited awhile before someone took our order. The wine steward became our intermediary going to get a waiter for us on 3 occasions. There was very poor service, which indicates very poor management in this venue. We suspect the waiters are demoralized by the lack of attendance and tips at the restaurant and were also unhappy we came in 20 minutes from closing on the day we were docked in Mazatlan. We have mixed feeling about these alternative 'fee' restaurants. We like to try them, but for the extra $$$$ the food has to be measurably better than that available in the main dining room, or it is not worth it. We'll stick with the main dining room here on the Oosterdam. We have trouble believing that Chef Andreas Sommerfeld had anything to do with our meal at the Pinnacle. The Lido buffet is much better for lunch than this place.
Good menu, a variety of food and drink. Very cruisey feeling to breakfast on our balcony. Hot items properly hot and cold items cold. I don't think we've ever before had room service deliver an English muffin still hot from the toaster. Don't forget to tip these servers who bring food to your cabin.
We get a package of 100 one dollar US bills and feel free to tip at will. There is always something left from the package of one dollar bills. We do not spoil it for other travelers, by over tipping. We tip porters, room service, bar servers & soda servers, jitney drivers, etc. We are retired, but we can't in good conscience ignore the hard working staff who don't fall in to the dining steward or cabin attendant, ten dollar per passenger, per day, tip pool or bar waiter 15% on call drinks. We watched an expensively dressed couple get off a jitney in Mazatlan laden with packages and goodies. The jitney driver helped them off with their packages and they ignored his tip bucket. They merely waved goodbye to him. A buck or two says thank you in any language for a service.
Tighter than previous cruises. Even the small coin denomination slots are "they get nothing" tight. I guess they figure they have a captive audience who's leaving soon so they get all they can. Speaking of shipboard casinos, why can't we get a sports bet down during the NCAA March madness?
We understand that work has to be done seven days a week. We would be glad to have one cruise day a week where the dining room was closed. It would mean eating at the buffet instead, and the cruise line could also have a barbecue or additional theme buffet in the pool area. We know that wait staff need to work these events, but hopefully schedules could be juggled so that they could have at least one day a month off. We would have no trouble with the automatic tipping for that off day either. We wouldn't mind one day without our cabin steward too. We would be glad to make our bed that day. These hard working troops are visibly tired and continue to soldier on behalf of the passengers. One day off a month could be done.
SODA AND WINE CARDS
This is the first time we have seen a bar/fountain soda card with a drink limit. The price was reasonable, $19.00 US, which was less than half of what we paid on Royal Caribbean in Sept. '06. The HAL card limits you to 20 soda drinks from the bar soda machine. No cans. In reality they use cans some of the time and give you a smaller drink than on the other cruise lines by giving you part of a can in a shorter glass. We're happy with the fountain soda and prefer the tall soda glass used on many cruise lines.
We've seen wine packages before on HAL but this is the first wine card. There is Merlot, white, blush and champagne offered with the card. The card was $36.00 US, making house wine $3.60 per glass. We were told by the steward who sold us the card that the tip is included in the package. We like to give the hard working servers a dollar or two with our order when we order drinks using the wine or soda card. If you buy a cocktail at the bar a 15% tip is built in; the tip is not as much with the wine and soda cards.
We spoke to knowledgeable staffers who say the card system is unfair, because the card seller gets the lion's share of the wine or soda card tip at the time most cards are purchased, during the boarding process. If a cocktail server is on a different shift or manning another venue, they miss out on the tips to be made selling the cards. It's hard on their morale and removes their incentive to sell more drinks in the case of the wine card. We tipped our dining room wine steward a dollar per drink whenever we used the wine or soda card. He seemed to be walking around wearing a sandwich board that said "I really am too good for this." Use of the wine card reduces their ability to sell wine upgrades, lessening the wine steward's income. HAL is going to have to speak with their wine stewards about this.
I understand HAL counting the wine carefully, but not the fountain soda. I don't want to carry a soda punch card. I just want a sticker on my room card. We find ourselves two days before the end of the cruise, rushing to get our cards fully punched.
Nice cozy room. Decent variety. Librarian keeps regular hours. Here's the bad part: When you check out a book, a $30.00 charge goes on your bill. When you return a book the charge is to be reversed. We're about to look for a receipt for a book that was returned but the bill shows no credit for it. They debit you in the computer when you check out books, but give you a hand written receipt upon return of the books that takes a couple of days to get posted to your hotel bill. You have to check your hotel bill to make sure these charges get reversed. I recognize that some people can't help stealing books, but thirty dollars is a bit stiff for books that are mostly used and dirty and didn't cost thirty when they were new. Some of the books are extremely stained with food and drink, have multiple dogeared pages, etc.
All the way forward. Great views. Clean and well maintained equipment. The music played sometimes in the Gym was of low volume so that when you turned on your IPod you weren't bothered by the music of the gym. Some ships leave the sound in the Gym to the level of a nightclub.
Not many, we're happy to report. We were bombarded on our last RCCL cruise. The Captain's daily report came into the cabin. No other cabin announcements were heard other than the obligatory lifeboat drill. The rest of the announcements were heard only in the public areas, or broadcast on Channel 40. Capt. Jonathan Mercer has excellent microphone technique, making it a pleasure to listen to his informative daily report.
Daniel McLellan is the Cruise Director. The announcements are kept at a minimum, and there are a lot of cruise staffed happenings every day. We are retired from the entertainment business but we don't attend many shows on board because as 2nd seating diners we have to go to the late show in order to see it. We would attend more shows if the Oosterdam had scheduled some early shows for the late diners, instead of us having to always stay up for a 10:30 PM show. Our last Celebrity Cruise had 6:30 PM shows for the late diners. We spoke to some of the performers on that cruise and they like to do early shows too. Our wish for an early show was granted the last full day of the cruise with a 6:45 PM show instead of a 10:30 PM.
The one comedian we saw was Janine Gardner, and she put on a great show that "killed" as they say in the comedy game. We enjoyed her immensely. She did only one show, at 10:30 PM, with her act billed as an adult show, and she was worth staying up for. We skipped the other Vista Lounge acts and preferred listening to the various smaller venues, such as the piano playing in the Crow's nest, Bob Style in the piano bar and the C-Sharp Quartet who play for dancing in the Ocean Bar. The Show band also plays for dancing in the Crow's nest, but when there is a show to do they are replaced some of the time by a solo piano player. Dancers need more than just a piano.
HOTEL MANAGER AND STAFF
I saw the hotel manager, James Deering, here, there and everywhere around the ship; talking to cabin stewards, chefs, passengers etc. So many hotel managers hide out from the public. Mr. Deering was front and center. The ship is well managed and sparkling clean, not just vacuumed and dusted. Ramona, the Guest Relations Supervisor, and the front desk staff were truly customer service oriented, and the Cabin Concierge Mica Castillo was very helpful. We appreciate their can-do, at-your-service attitude. We liked seeing that the cruise 'big-wigs' worked in offices accessible to the passengers, and kept the doors open.
We can't ever remember having this level of service in this cruise price range. There are 1906 passengers on this voyage, and we are all well served in all areas.
Nice room, good sightlines, located on decks 2 and 3. The sound was always perfectly done during the shows. Not too loud or too soft. Topnotch work by the technical crew. So many ships don't pay much attention to showroom sound.
Deck 10 all the way forward. Breathtaking views. There is a row of lazy boy type reclining chairs right in front of the windows. That's the good news. The bad news was that all but one of them is broken. When you sit down the chair back falls back into a reclining position without a lever being pulled.
Flowers and art works are everywhere. Lots of highspeed elevators. There is background music piped in. It's hard to find a lounge or bar that isn't engulfed in music. We love some of this music and welcome it at the right times, but when a bar or lounge isn't open and there are soft inviting sofas and chairs to sit in next to the big windows, we would prefer no music during the daylight hours in these venues. It's nice to have other quiet places during the day than just one's cabin.
CABO SAN LUCAS
We anchored offshore with a view of the rock formations at land's end. We tendered into town and walked the short distance around the marina to the hotels. An open taxi took us within a very short walk of a restaurant called 'The Crazy Lobster' (La Langosta Loca in Spanish), where we have had memorable meals on cruise stops. We first mentioned the place in our review of our Crystal Harmony cruise in 2002. The place is still memorable -- funky and inexpensive, with delicious food served in a very clean, pleasant open-sided structure with clean restrooms. We had huevos ala Mexicana (eggs scrambled with onions, tomatoes, and hot peppers), tortillas, guacamole as we like it (no dairy, the star of the show being a perfect avacado), and frijoles, with Pepsi's. It was under $12 US for the two of us. Lobster tail is $5 US per person. This restaurant is located on Calle Hildago at the Corner of Calle Zapata, a couple of blocks up from the main drag in front of the marina/hotel area, where the tenders land. The jewelry and trinkets shops are better priced here in this area, where the store rents are lower.
On the way to 'The Crazy Lobster' we passed a jewelry store called 'Silverado's Queen,' which we stopped into after lunch. Harriette came away with a short strand of silver beads, and a necklace fashioned of braided and flattened strands of silver wire. This braid can be easily shaped by hand to conform to the wearer's neck.
The blue of the water is intense around Cabo San Lucas; a narrow strip where the water meets the tall jagged rocks appears emerald green.
An open air jitney takes you from the ship's gangway, across an area next to the berth which is filled with cargo containers, with trucks and oversized forklifts bustling about very close to the area where the taxis and local tours await. We are very glad that we were given a safe ride across this hard hat area. There is also an Internet cafe and a shopping plaza. Grab a taxi, and spend the day in the upperscale Gold Zone where the better hotels are, or head downtown for a taste of shopping at non tourist prices. We chose downtown.
Gets bigger and bigger every trip we make there. Construction everywhere. There seem to be no pollution controls on any vehicle. We like to souvenir shop across the street at a big Wal-Mart/Sam's Club complex. They have put in a pedestrian friendly traffic light, but the whole area is fenced. The Carnival Pride is berthed across our bow, and we are in the farthest away berth. Instead of going out the pedestrian gate next to the bus stop and the traffic light/crosswalk, right in front of where we docked, the gate guard is under orders that everyone walk around to a main driveway deeper within the complex, where taxis and vans await, and where a shopping plaza affiliated with the port is located. Instead of the walk to Wal-Mart being about 200 meters each way it's about 1600 meters each way. Made us a bit grumpy. We could have understood if no guard had been manning the gate and if the gate hadn't been in front of the new pedestrian traffic signal and the city bus to town stop. HAL needs to provide jitneys if we are to walk this far to just get off the ship and out of the port area. We capitulated and took a cab to the front door of Wal-Mart after we reached the cab stand. The fare was 5.00 dollars US. There is a shopping trap similar to this in Cozumel, which prevents you from just getting off the ships there. Not very cruisey.
We enjoy the "cruising" part of cruising. The sound of the ocean and the ship. Sailing into ports at dawn and sailing out in the late afternoon. We love to sit on the balcony watching the water gliding past and looking for sea life. The service was excellent in all departments we came in contact with. The only cruise line we have ever sailed on with better food was Crystal. Celebrity has been the best for us food wise but we were amazed at the food taste right down to the salads and appetizers available here on the Oosterdam. The buffet has so much to offer, all of it first rate.
We would like higher quality beef. The preparation is good but the meat is of a lesser quality.
We would like Internet packages that are a bit more reasonable with maybe a discounted middle of the night rate.
We want to be able to access our cruise account on the in room TV.
We would like to have a jazz trio with a vocalist to listen to. This trio could also cover for dancing while the house band is doing the production show.
There were some great theme buffets held in the pool area adjacent to the regular buffet during regular meal hours, which made them easy for us to attend, and the pull-out-all-the-stops 'Dessert Extravaganza' -- chocolate and crepes and pastry galore -- was held at the accessible hour of 10:30PM, not at midnight. We thank Oosterdam hotel management for this. We had a very enjoyable and pleasant cruise on the Oosterdam. We'll be watching the Internet for more cruise specials on HAL's Vista class ships.
Cruising continues to evolve. We prefer ships like the Oosterdam where cruisey feelings abound. We can't handle the mega ships with their nearly three thousand passengers, where every event is a herd rushing around like the crowd at a sporting event. We're looking forward to cruising out of Vancouver for our 2nd voyage on the Celebrity Mercury on May 4th, to Alaska. We'll see if Celebrity is keeping up with HAL in the food and service area.
Copyright 2007 by Patrick and Harriette Regan