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J. Davies

Age: 54

Occupation:desktop publisher

Number of Cruises: 3

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Oosterdam

Sailing Date: November 14th, 2004

Itinerary: Western Caribbean


A very enjoyable cruise, in spite of the first two days spent in high seas, which today’s flat-bottomed cruise ships can’t handle. Very happy with the staff and crew of the Oosterdam. Many signs of the greed of corporate headquarters. Still good value, but things are starting to turn sour pretty fast. No comment on any areas we didn't take part in; casino, sports bar, Cayman Islands.

We’d happily take the same cruise again. The good things far outweighed the not-so-good.

EMBARKATION/DISEMBARKATION:

Well organized. Mostly very polite personnel in the terminal. Stayed in our cabin until we could disembark.

FOOD AND DRINK:

Good things:
Food much better than two years ago on the Maasdam. Really good flavor and variety both in main dining room and Lido buffet. Excellent table service by Yasin and Effendi.

The midnight chocolate buffet spectacular.

Pinnacle restaurant was beautiful and dinner was great with perfect service. For lunch a few days later slow service. A “gift meal certificate” was delivered to our cabin that turned out to be just the confirmation for our paid reservation.. That’s tacky.

Not so good things:
They got my drink order wrong three times in the piano bar. The waiter attempted to explain that this was my mistake, rather than try to put it right. Is this the result of the automatic gratuity system?

Very crowded buffet, especially the day of sailing.

"Gratuity" added to the $27.50 unlimited soda card when we bought it. My gripe is not about the money; it's about being ripped off.

The high price of (watery) drinks in the bars- for instance, $10 for a double bourbon which was mostly ice. Also high prices for drinks in the cabin refrigerators.

MUSIC AND ENTERTAINMENT:

A long time ago, I was a musician on several cruise ships for a couple of years, so I have a particular interest in this. The shows in cruise ship theaters are much bigger than they used to be, but the music around the ships is much the same.

Good things:
A really fine violinist, with piano and bass players, in the Explorer's lounge, playing light classics, standards and Hungarian music in a very civilized atmosphere. Good bands also in the Ocean bar and the Crow's Nest bar.

Very funny Cruise Director, Eric Dowis. We enjoyed the Liar's Club and the Newly Wed games led by him and his assistant Cat, who also made the Bingo sessions a pleasure.

A professional husband and wife magic act, Fallon Magic. He does convincing magic tricks and talks fast, and she is a fine dancer and acrobat; fine looking too.

An exceptional singer, Bobby Black, also a real gentleman.

Not so good things:
Poor singing in the production show, particularly in contrast to the pre-recorded backup singers. The girl singer, Kelly, was good, and the dancing and the special effects were fine.

Electronic keyboards made to look like real grand pianos. I understand that saves the cost of having real pianos tuned, but it would be classier to use the undisguised keyboards. I predict the next step will be HAL using silk flowers instead of real ones. They will also sell 10 ounce beer cans for $4.50 if they can get away with it.

The piano bar man was technically a good player and singer, but didn't convey much emotion and didn’t hold our attention.

Personally, I don't think a string of jokes from the Cruise Director about having sex with animals, during the Liar’s Club, belongs in a show that children are watching. Call me old fashioned if you like. It was funny but only suitable for adults.

The Top Ten Things Passengers Say has been the same for years now, and all the jokes are all over the Internet. The Great Pretender show was what we'd seen on the Maasdam two years ago, almost word-for-word. Also, while the Indonesian crew show was entertaining, again, it was almost exactly the same material as we’d seen two years earlier on the Maasdam. We enjoyed the hand-clapping dance, the monkey king and the bamboo orchestra, but the cheesy pop music sung badly by solo crew members received only polite applause.

Piped music at the aft pool is loud pop music for people in their twenties, with tense music. For instance, Sting's "Every Breath You Take", which is basically a stalker song. Not relaxing. By contrast, when we were on the catamaran at Cozumel, they played Jimmy Buffet, Beach Boys, Beatles and K.C. and the Sunshine Band. This stuff's better for all age groups, and, well, it's happy.

THE SHIP:

Good things:

Inside every square inch is beautiful and well maintained. The dining rooms and the theater are all gorgeous. Our bed was really comfortable and the cabin had enough storage area. The verandah was perfect, especially for early room-service breakfasts, and they kept it clean.

Excellent housekeeping by Indra, our steward.

Friendly cruise staff, stewards and waiters throughout the ship.

Captain Jonathan Mercer took good care of us, literally finding shelter from the high waves, and he kept us well informed. He even gave us an extra detour on the last day so we could see Havana glittering in the sunlight.

Other passengers; we met really nice, interesting people at mealtimes and around the ship. They were also very appreciative of the crew and of the shows.

We loved the hydro pool; basically a large Jacuzzi. Very relaxing and an okay price at $15 a day.

The stores on board had some surprisingly good deals on clothes and souvenirs and a bottle of brandy. Helpful staff.

Not so good things:
>From the outside Oosterdam looks like a condo and the two skewed funnels give it an awkward, unstreamlined appearance.

Small rear pool and deck space for such a large ship. The extra size of the ship evidently is just to have more income-producing verandah cabins, not more space for each passenger.

HAL wants you to call to have your room-service trays taken away, but when we called the crew didn't always come for them, so we ended up leaving them in the hallways overnight anyway.

Tipping is no longer at the discretion of the guests and is therefore no longer tipping. Instead, $70 "gratuity" per person was automatically added to the cost of the cruise.

The spa prices were predictably high. My wife had a very pleasant massage, but the experience was spoiled for her by the masseuse not only pushing product- over $100 worth of creams and ointments- but actually adding it to her bill, so that my wife had to tell her to take it off. This is not relaxing but really pushy and nasty.

SHORE EXCURSIONS:

Good things:

A good time swimming with the dolphins at Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Once you get to the dolphins, it's all very well organized and a lot of fun.

A wonderful catamaran snorkel and beach party in Cozumel, with Fury catamarans. A great beach, beer and margaritas, good music and dancing on deck. It could hardly have been more fun. Even the captain of the Oosterdam was along with us and having a great time. This is about as good as things get on this planet.

Not so good things:
Be warned- what they don't tell you about the Jamaica dolphin excursion is that you will have to wait for an hour, during which time, along with a tour of iguanas, macaws and snakes, they will try to sell you packets of coffee, coconut candy and a nice refreshing Red Stripe beer and they'll want to braid the ladies' hair.

SUGGESTIONS to Holland America Carnival, to make a good cruise excellent.

Cut the price of drinks in half. Passengers will drink way more, you'll still make plenty of profit and people won't resent being fleeced as they do now. Also, quit adding an automatic "gratuity" to each drink purchase. That's just another way of upping the price. Like most people, we tip generously for decent service anyway.

Remember that tipping is supposed to be about incentive. Our cruise director Eric stated that HAL formerly had no tipping policy but now had instituted “automatic” tipping. NOT SO. The previous policy had been genuine tipping, at the discretion of the passenger as merited by good service. The crew was motivated to do well to get the best possible tip. Now they’re going to get their money regardless of what kind of job they do.

Rein in your spa people. Automatically adding $100 worth of ointments to the bill for a massage is unacceptable and it makes Holland America Carnival look like snake-oil hucksters.

Open up the main dining room for a buffet lunch on embarkation day to handle the overflow. Right now the Lido is a total zoo and gives a bad first impression to the cruise.

Consider what Celebrity is doing with Cirque du Soleil and come up with some fresh entertainment to replace the dated production shows.

Consider paying a couple of really sensational singers instead of the singer/dancers you use now, even if it means having fewer dancers. We heard a few comments from different passengers about the poor quality of some of the singing.

Have a sign on each cabin door where the passengers can indicate that they will be out of the cabin for a while, so the steward doesn't have to keep knocking to find out if he can clean the room.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
I have a simple dream. I predict that in due course a real entrepreneur will come along; a Richard Branson or a Ted Turner. This man, or woman, will create a cruise line that offers true value for money, where you’ll know what you’re going to get and how much you’ll pay for it, and it will come at a reasonable price.

I think we’re ready to get away from the $6 glass of wine half-filled, the $140 massage which ends with a pitch to sell you more product, and the $100-per-person shore excursion which starts with an hour-long opportunity for them to sell you more stuff before you reach the part you actually wanted, and we’re certainly ready to get away from the $70 per person per week mandatory “gratuity”. None of this is the end of the world, but I do suspect it is going to get much worse in the next few years.

The cruise lines have built huge ships to maximize their profitability and then convinced us that bigger is better. Maybe a handful of young people are more excited to be on mega ships with rock-climbing walls and ice-skating rinks but for most of us I believe we would have a better time in a smaller ship with a simpler style and fewer choices and without 1800 strangers around us every day.

My imaginary new line will cause industry giants Carnival and Royal Caribbean to drop their prices the way K Mart and Sears did in order to compete with Wal-Mart. After all, Carnival itself started with one ship, the Mardi Gras, in the 1970s. All we need is one or two smaller ships with fair pricing, decent drink prices, reasonable shore excursion rates and tipping the old-fashioned way, left up to the passengers. The ships probably won’t need huge, subcontracted spas. (Is there anything more ridiculous than having a class on “how to reduce your waistline” on a cruise ship, of all places?) And instead of having flat, shallow bottoms, they’ll have keels and stability, like the old ocean liners. (I know;dream on…)

There can still be casinos and bingo, but the entertainment can be simpler and better. (On this Oosterdam cruise we saw one singer, dressed simply in black, excite and move the audience way more than all the singers and dancers and special effects had in the “Las Vegas” shows before him.)

I would like very much to see those things, because I still love cruising and I believe it can be the best vacation ever.
 

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