Number of Cruises: 25+
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: November 7, 2003
The Oosterdam is a new ship, and
it was at capacity with 1801 passengers, most of whom were Americans, with 400
Canadians and a large contingent of Koreans on a Korean radio convention.
Although Holland America is attempting to attract younger passengers, the
average age of the people onboard was over 70. The decor of this ship is a
retro-50s look, and the public rooms were all attractive, though they seemed
chopped up in certain areas. The library was right in the middle of the shops
which seemed an odd placement. Although the ship was large, I didn't have any
problems finding my way around. However, since the ship was at capacity, there
were always waits for an elevator and one or more elevators were always out of
service. There were also lines in the Lido cafe, and people saved seats for
their family and friends.
My cabin was a N guarantee (lowest priced inside), and on the day of sailing I was upgraded to a J category, but it was the same small inside cabin a few decks up. There was enough storage space in the cabin, though there were only two drawers (in the bedside stands), and the hairdryer was in a cabinet with glassware. Each cabin has a mini-bar, but the prices are the same as hotel prices so I never used it. The bathroom was a good size. One improvement was that there is now a rack outside each cabin door for all those flyers that used to be shoved underneath the cabin door.
The food was good to very good, though service in the dining room was slow. The waiter seemed to be busy, so it wasn't due to his lack of diligence. The head waiter frequently had to assist with filling water glasses, etc. We were also getting our food cold until people at my table complained. The flaming desserts are now served in the Explorer's Lounge. The food in the Lido seems to have improved since my last cruise with Holland America, especially in terms of variety. They now have food courts or stations in addition to the cafeteria lines. These islands serve omelets at breakfast, sandwiches at lunch, etc. There is also a grill for hot dogs, hamburgers, polish sausage, etc. along with a taco bar. I didn't eat in the alternate restaurant for which there is a charge, and I never saw many people in there when I passed by. They also have a coffee bar where there is a charge, but, again, there weren't many people using it.
The entertainment was generally good. I attended every floor show which is a first for me, but my table companions went every night so I did, too. Flamengo dancers were brought on board when we were in Malaga, Spain and they were my favorite floor show.
This was a port-intensive trip. We were to spend two days in Venice, but due to delays, and the airline removing our luggage on the flight from Amsterdam to Venice, we wasted a lot of time in line filling in lost luggage forms in the airport in Venice. Holland America's embarkation procedures seem excessively slow. They even had all the passengers wipe their hands on a wet disposable wipe as they entered the boarding area. No one explained the point of this exercise. At any rate it was 3:30 p.m. before my group got on the ship, and it was 9 p.m. before we got our luggage. There were a lot of passengers with lost luggage, and it was quite the topic of conversation.
The next day was a shore excursion to Venice to see the Doge's Palace, the Bridge of Sighs, and St. Mark's Square. We were delayed leaving the ship for an hour because it was raining heavily outside, and the passengers refused to leave the gangplank. When we finally got off, we had to board motor launches and it was about a 20 minute trip into Venice. I can say I saw Venice, but this short visit did not do it justice.
The next port was Loutraki, Greece where many of the passengers took the trip into Athens for the day. We had to tender in. I toured Corinth where I had stayed in 1981, and it was well worth a return visit. We saw the Temple of Appollo, the Roman toilets, and the Corinth canal.
The next day we were in Corfu, Greece. I took the Paleokastritsa and Corfu town tour which first took us to the resort area of Paleokastritsa where four busloads of tourists visited a small 12th century Greek Orthodox monastery. We saw the Greek Orthodox church of St. Spiridon in Corfu. People commented that Corfu didn't look like Greece. It doesn't have those old whitewashed buildings, and it has a strong Italian and French flavor. There is a picturesque old town and a great old fort jutting out into the sea. There was a ship shuttle bus at Corfu, so one could easily do this port without taking a shore excursion.
Next came Valletta, Malta where I took a tour of Malta's capitals old and new. Malta is comprised of five islands with 400,000 people. It is the 2nd most densely populated country in the world. We were taken to St. John's Co-Cathedral where the crowds of tourists were so thick we literally couldn't move. The ship was about a twenty minute (uphill) walk from town, so I went back on my own after lunch and there was no one in the cathedral. It was worth the walk to see Valletta without the hoards of tourists that were there in the morning. This is another port that one could do on one's own.
The next day we were in Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy. I took a city tour that took us up to the old walled city, and we toured a museum, then went to a scenic lookout, and had a drive along the beach.
Livorno, Italy came next. This is a large and busy port. We took a 30 minute drive through Tuscany to Pisa where we left the coach and then had a 10-minute walk to the old walled city to see the three buildings at Pisa -- the bapistery, the cathedral, and the bell tower (the leaning tower.) All have recently been cleaned, and this is an impressive complex. One can climb up the leaning tower for 15 Euros if one is so inclined. Later that afternoon we took a free shuttle bus provided by the cruise line into Livorno to do some shopping.
We had to tender in at Monte Carlo, Monaco the next day. I had debated what shore excursion to take, and decide on Nice and Eze which turned out to be a good choice. We got to see a lot of the French Riviera, and, although the water isn't as blue as it would be in summer, the scenery was still splendid. That afternoon I went up the mountain in Monte Carlo to see the old town and the royal palace. The palace is closed to visitors from November 1 until March, so I only saw the outside.
We had another day at sea, then were in Malaga, Spain where we took the shore excursion to Granada to see the Alhambra, one of the finest examples of Moorish architecture in the world. There were 500 people on the ship's shore excursion, and our guide there said they get 7000 visitors a day. They do break people into groups of 30 to do the tour. The tour of Alhambra takes about three hours, and then we all had lunch at a local hotel before heading back to Malaga.
The next day we were in Gibraltor, U.K. where I took a 1 1/2 hour tour that turned into a 2 1/2 hour tour of Gibraltor's highlights. I'd seen cruise itineraries where the ships just passed by the famous rock, but I'm sure glad I got a chance to see Gibraltor. It is a worthwhile port. One can also see Africa (Morocco) from Gibraltor, and even walk across the border to Spain. The runway of the airport runs through town, and gates come down when a plane is landing or taking off. We also saw the famous Barbery Apes. I walked back to Gibraltor after lunch which was about a 20 minute walk from where the ship was docked. The streets were crowded with shoppers. There were two other cruise ships in port that day, including a Russian (older) ship the Maxim Goriky. I had told the guide that I'd never seen so many tourists, and he said I should be there in July or August if I wanted to see crowds. No thank you!
Our final port was Lisbon, Portugal, but about 500 passengers were staying on the ship for another 12-day segment and transatlantic crossing while 1300 of us were getting off in Lisbon. I was told by the front desk that I'd be called to disembark at 7:40 a.m., and I was called at 8:00 a.m. Our bus left for the airport by 8:30 a.m. for a 12:40 p.m. flight on TAP to Newark Liberty. It was lucky I was on one of the first buses, as there appeared to be about 1000 people in line to check in at TAP. The entire flight experience with Air Portugal was an experience best forgotten.
This ship is now going to be used in the North American mass market doing Caribbean and Alaska cruises. Holland America is not offering the itinerary I took in the Mediterranean next year, so I'm glad I took the cruise when I did.
I've sailed on the Volendam and the Amsterdam, two of the newer Holland America ships, and I preferred both of these ships to the Oosterdam, in terms of size and decor.