Number of Cruises: 20+
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: February 26th, 2005
Itinerary: Mexican Riviera
After 20+ cruises this one ranked very close to the top, though the weather could have been warmer with the first two and last two days temperature in the mid 60's, the three port days in between in the mid 70's. Excellent staff and crew all around, spotlessly clean and a beautiful ship throughout, we often stopped just to admire the many works of art on board. We’d definitely take this ship again, I have a hard time thinking of any negative aspects.
But before the story of the ship, I'll cover the preliminaries. We arrived the day before, for one night at the Holiday Inn Bayside, that's the one on the other side of the bay, they picked us up at the airport within 10 minutes of calling and I would recommend the place to anyone. It's a fairly typical Holiday Inn but the staff make it stand out, they have a free shuttle to the port at 11, 12, 1 & 2pm and they were also kind enough to drive us down to collect the Trolley for a city tour. We booked online at $98 per night for a poolside room, if you're considering Holiday Inn, join the Priority Rewards club, it gives you extra privilages and we received a small gift, two free drinks and excellent service, you can join for free at https://secure.ichotelsgroup.com/h/...e&offerId=WBJHI
Well organized, we arrived at the terminal just after 1pm and it took about 30 minutes from taxi to ship. On board you wait until they announce that the cabins are ready, so we had something to eat in the Lido restaurant then made our way to the cabin around 2pm. The benefit of all this is clearer at disembarkation, when you're allowed to stay in your cabin until ready to get off and room service is available up to the last minute. This was really a good feature compared to other experiences we've had at disembarkation and when our turn was called we were off, found our luggage and were in a taxi within 20 minutes, even the taxis were well organized, as soon as you arrive you're given a numbered ticket and each person is allocated a taxi in order, all controlled by a pretty stern looking dock security lady, no pushing or line jumping and all quite civilized.
We had a verandah cabin number 6148 which wasn't overly spacious, but was more than ample, good size shower and a sitting area in addition to the most comfortable bed I've ever slept on. We really enjoyed the verandah, our first, the only downside if you consider it so, is that we tended to spend more time in the cabin since we could step outside so easily. Budi, our steward kept the place spotless and the Champagne bucket filled with ice.
I must mention that if you haven't booked yet and you intend getting an outside cabin then make sure it's an even numbered cabin, that way you'll get the best view on the way down as the ship sails closer to land than it does on the way back and more importantly, when you anchor at Cabo you'll have a spectacular view of the arches.
FOOD AND DRINK:
We dined at 5.45pm, upper restaurant, table 25 and our waiter, Bakat, was pleasant and professional, a minor irritant though with the wine waiter, who twice took a drink order from me then didn't bring anything, I think he had to many tables to take care of.
We were fortunate to have wonderful tablemates, four other couples from various parts of the States, so dinner was never boring.
Food was good and well presented, though not the best I've had, I only had one appetizer that I didnt enjoy and that was the chilled avocado soup which I thought had way to much pepper in it.
We dined at the Pinnacle restaurant on the third night, it is physically very beautiful and the steak was perfect, though the experience was a little marred as our corner table had a view into the kitchen and the noise of dishes etc was with us throughout. If you're going, ask for a table away from the kitchen. I don't think I'd 'do' the Pinnacle Grill again, the food was good but the food in the main restaurant is also good and doesn't have the extra tarif.
Breakfast we had on our verandah from room service, a full cooked breakfast is available and always arrived right on time. For lunch we alternated between pool deck Grill/Lido and room service, which was as good as I've had anywhere, with great choice including ice-cream, though I found they weren't always interested in picking up the trays after, HAL requests that you call to have your tray picked up rather than leave it in the hallway.
The price of drinks on deck and in the bars is expensive, $5.26 for a scotch, which is in line with most other cruise lines, but encourages us to bring along a bottle of our own regardless of ships policy on bringing liquor on board.
MUSIC AND ENTERTAINMENT:
Cruise director Peter Daems was entertaining and always ready to tell you 'a little story' and while I found most of the entertainment average, there were exceptions.
A couple of stage productions by the cruise cast. I haven't been to one of these in a while, as after you've seen 5 or 6 of them, they all tend to look and sound the same, but for some reason we ended up going and were pleasantly surprised by the talented cast, we actually enjoyed them.
A singer, Bobby Black, he had the voice but was just missing something, slightly boring, except for his rendition of 'Mustang Sally'. There was also a 2 man acrobatic act, like something you'd see on the Ed Sullivan show, they were a bit dated, but fairly good at what they did. (Incidentally, we met them at the airport when we were leaving San Diego and they told us their contract had been unexpectedly terminated as many passengers had complained about them, not sure what the complaints were about, I can only think that people gave them low ratings on the comment cards, they seemed like nice enough guys to talk to).
A female comedian, can't remember her name, think it's a psychological block, my wife almost died laughing at her while I sat practically unaffected as did the guy next to me, perhaps we didnt relate to her humour which was all based on 'womans problems'.
We missed the juggler and magician but were told they were quite good.
It's time for HAL to invest some money in getting some entertainment that people will want to see, look at Celebrity with Cirque du Soleil.
The Great Pretender show, we didn't see so I can't comment, but we did enjoy the Indonesian crew show , some parts are a bit cheesy, but the Indonesian crew seem to enjoy doing it and this percolated down to the audience, it brought back many pleasant memories from a holiday in Bali we had some years ago.
Explorer's Lounge etc-
A violinist, with piano and bass players, playing classics and standards to an appreciative audience. Good bands in the Ocean Bar and the Crows Nest and a competent enough player in the Piano Bar
Outstanding items worth mention are the general beauty of the ship, the excellent staff in every department (what cruise have you ever been on where a passing officer inquires if you're being treated well and even removes a dirty ashtray from your table) the ship is spotless and it's no surprise that they've earned top marks in the cruise ratings for the most recent two inspections.
The stores on board were not overly expensive and even had a few good deals, they have a free draw on several occasions and if you have the winning ticket and are present the prize is quite reasonable, a thin gold (coloured?) necklace and pendant once, I think.
On the internet and even in their brochures I found the ship looked garish, even gaudy, but it's a completely different story on board, the colours match perfectly and some unusual combinations really work well and as I said already, you could almost spend a day just looking round all the artwork on board.
Since our last HAL cruise, they've changed the tipping arrangements from 'no tipping required' to $10 per person per day. I have a real problem with this being called a tip, why dont they just call it what it is, a service charge and add it to the cost of the cruise, the whole purpose of a tip is to have a direct and immediate effect on the person you're dealing with to give them the incentive to improve their performance. I know it's old fashioned, but it works, we know what happens in communist countries where reward is not based on performance, the entire system becomes mediocre. Anyway I've rambled on enough about that.
Being a long time Princess cruiser, I'm not used to paying for internet access, it's free on Princess after 5 cruises with them. you are considered Platinum level and are granted some useful privileges, one of which is free unlimited internet. Having said that, I found HAL internet access expensive and only used it once, 12 minutes cost $12.95, that's $0.75 per minute + a $3.95 one time set-up fee.
We took the Old Town Trolley tour it can be joined at several places around town and takes 2 hours round trip to see all the highlights. Well worth it, it showed us enough to know that we will come back some day and spend more time.
Cabo San Lucas:
We were tendered in here but didn't mind as we'd such a beautiful anchorage right opposite the 'arches' (see my comments under CABIN). We didn't book any excursion here and just walked into town to see the main square and do some shopping, didnt find much choice or any bargains, so we ended up in a seafront bar enjoying the 2 for 1 Coronas with nachos and salsa (US$8, 4 beers, nachos & salsa).
Basically an industrial port, you get the little train/trolley ride through the dock area to the tourist info center where you're bombarded, first with timeshare offers, then with tour offers. Most were good natured and after 'no gracias' a few times gave up, we accepted a 3 hour city tour $20 each by A/C van with our driver Louis, there's not a lot to see in town but at least it showed us around town though 60 percent of it was shopping stops at places picked by our driver.
Tendered in again, despite the fact that we were the first ship to arrive of four that were in port. Again we didn't book an excursion, I had done enough research on line to know what I wanted to see, so we took a $3 taxi ride into town getting dropped off at the near end of the Malecon, a beachfront boardwalk running for several miles. The plan was to walk, shop, make it to the little island in the middle of the river, see the old town and make it back to the main square to visit the Virgin of Guadalupe church where if you make it before noon you can watch two burly guys ring the bells. The plan got stretched a little and we didn't reach the church 'til about 1pm, but we enjoyed it all the same. Taxis are plentiful and easy to hire for the $3 per person ride back to the ship, make sure you tell the driver which gate and it may save you a bit of a walk.
As I'm sure you've realized we really enjoyed this cruise, I think Captain Van Donselaar and hotel manager James Deering have done it all right, the entire crew does an excellent job, it's a beautiful ship, good food and entertainment, now if only they could fix the weather. I hate to overuse the word, but excellent is the best description, I'd make a point of taking the
Oosterdam again, if the price is right.