Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: October 6th, 2007
10 Tips You Need to Know About the Oosterdam Mexican Riviera Cruise
Overall. For us, any cruise is a spectacular and wonderful experience. We really enjoyed the food, service, cabin, ship, entertainment and ports on this cruise. If you are considering this cruise – go! This was our 3rd cruise and our first with HAL. We have also cruised with RCL and Princess. We did this same itinerary last year on the Diamond Princess. This cruise on the Oosterdam left from San Diego and made stops in Cabo, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta and then back to San Diego.
This was our first cruise in a Suite. Our 3 cruises have been in an ocean view cabin, a balcony and now this suite. The suite was by far the largest cabin we have experienced. Overall, we were just as happy with the balcony and will probably stick to balcony cabins on future cruises unless the suite price is close to the balcony price
Now that we’ve taken a few cruises, we have points of reference to compare our experiences. We were expecting HAL to be a notch above RCL and Princess since they are a “premium” cruise line. This was a great cruise, but we would rank our RCL and Princess cruises as slightly better than this HAL cruise. There were a number of minor issues, but nothing interfered with our complete enjoyment and relaxation during this cruise. We’ve made notes of our minor issues in the sections below.
AIRPORT TO CRUISE TERMINAL. Our flight arrived at the San Diego airport. This was a chartered cruise and the travel agency had arranged transfers to the pier for most passengers. After getting our bags at the airport, we were informed that there would be a long wait for the group shuttles to the pier. We opted to take a short taxi ride to the pier rather than wait with the crowd at the airport. We also took a cab back to the airport at the end of the cruise. Cab fare from the airport to the pier is cheap – about $10 and about a 10 minute ride.
TIP 1: Save money on transfers and just take a cab if you need to get from the San Diego airport to the pier for a cruise – it is quick and cheap!
CRUISE TERMINAL. We arrived at the dock at about 1 PM, and there was a small line waiting to check baggage outside the cruise terminal. You drop your bags outside in the parking lot before you enter the cruise terminal – we started to take our bags with us into the terminal and had to do an about face to drop them off. We then entered the cruise terminal and were pleased to find very short lines through the security check point. We moved quickly through security and then found ourselves in a much longer line to get to the HAL check in counters. Even so, the wait was less than 30 minutes to the counter. We had done the online check in and had our HAL pre-boarding passes, so we were shuttled to the shorter line. Those without their pre-boarding passes had to wait in the longer lines.
TIP 2: Have your passport & HAL online pre-boarding passes when you arrive at the terminal and you’ll get onboard quicker!
CABIN. By 2 PM we were onboard and found our cabin was ready. We dropped our carry on bags in the cabin and headed to the Lido Buffet and then on to exploration of our new home for the week. Our suite was SS8082 on the Navigation deck. This is the highest deck with cabins on the ship. The suite is very large. The bathroom is spacious with 2 sinks, a full-size jetted bathtub and a separate shower. There is a large queen bed with 6 pillows – 2 each of soft, medium and hard pillows. We loved the extra pillows. There was also a sofa, plenty of drawers and closet space and a very large verandah. The verandah included a small table and chairs for eating or drinks plus 2 comfortable cushioned chairs with ottomans. We love having a balcony and will select a balcony cabin for future cruises. We’re not as convinced on the suite. The 2 advantages of the suite compared to a balcony are the bathtub and the extra storage space. We brought plenty with us, but there was so much room, we didn’t use all the storage space provided.
TIP 3: If you can live without a bathtub and a lot of extra storage space, save some money and reserve a balcony cabin. If you love a nice bath – then spring for the suite on this ship!
SAN DIEGO. Since we arrived & boarded fairly early we had time to explore the exterior decks and take in the views from onboard ship in the harbor. To the south of the ship, we could see the docked USS Midway & museum. While in port there were a few air force jets that screamed over the harbor – what a thrill! On the north side, we could see Star of India (the world’s oldest active ship) and the B-39 Soviet Attack Submarine museum. There were boats and activity all around the harbor next to the cruise terminal. We also noticed that there is a Holiday Inn at the Bay straight across the street from the cruise terminal.
TIP 4: If you can add a day before or after your cruise, stay at the Holiday Inn at the Bay. You can WALK from the hotel to the cruise terminal and there are an incredible variety of inviting activities and restaurants right at your doorstep!
WINE & SPIRITS ONBOARD. We had read online that HAL sells wine cards for house wine during the cruise. We like wine, so we wanted to taste the house wine. The house Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay were all fine for Dan but the house White Zinfandel was not as good for Janean. We bought a wine card for Dan and opted to buy wine by the bottle and glass for Janean. We had to ask 4 servers before we found someone with a wine card we could buy. The servers seemed less than excited about selling the wine cards, but the card worked nicely once we found it and it saved us money. The house selections are limited and may not work for you, but if you can find a house wine, it will only cost about $4 per glass with the wine card (compared to $40-60 plus for a bottle or $6-10 plus for wine by the glass). On day 1, we also had an enthusiastic server sell us a cocktail card for discounted cocktails. He was persuasive and fun, so we bought a card. The cocktail card was a little more frustrating to use. HAL has a limited definition for “cocktails”. If you don’t order a specific “foo-foo” drink, your drink won’t work with the cocktail card. Dan likes a bourbon and water after dinner, but that is not a “cocktail” on the Oosterdam. We had to resort to asking for a whisky-sour, but “hold the sour and add water instead” to be able to use the card. The servers were put out and pretty rigid about what could and couldn’t be ordered with the cocktail card. The cocktail card cost is about $5 per drink, which can be lower than the $5-$8 price per cocktail depending upon what you order.
TIP 5: If you drink wine or spirits, wait until you are on the ship and taste the house wine or confirm that your preferred drink is on the “cocktail” list. The cards can save you money, but make sure you like what you can order with the cards before you buy the card.
THE SHIP. The Oosterdam has 936 cabins and will accommodate 1848 guests. It is easy to find your way around this ship. We really liked the 4 glass elevators which are mid-ship – a pair on the starboard and another pair on the port side. The glass elevators seemed to be less busy also. The Lido Buffet takes up most of the Lido deck. You can’t miss it once you’re on the Lido deck. The Vista Dining for dinners is aft and again, once you get aft and on the right deck – you can’t miss it. The Promenade deck has a deck that completely encircles the ship. It is a pleasant way to walk off some of those big meals! Three laps around the ship equals one mile. We very much enjoyed the upper observation deck. You can sit in the hot tub, lie in a lounge or Adirondack chair or kick back with a drink at a table. Dan particularly enjoyed the wide-angle view of the sea and the horizon off the aft observation deck – the wake view from the rear of the ship is amazing.
TIP 6: Take an exploration stroll around the public areas of the ship during the day and find a great window seat for ocean viewing - there are many choice seats in the empty bars with great views of the ocean.
Related to the ship, there were a few issues. We noticed stray “sewer” smells around different parts of the ship and at different times of the day. We haven’t noticed unpleasant odors on the other cruises we’ve taken, but we had at least 2-3 encounters with this unpleasant odor every day while on the Oosterdam. Also, our dinner companions had a plumbing problem during the cruise. We’re not sure what happened or what caused the problem, but a number of cabins were without water for several hours on one day during the cruise. The A/C didn’t keep up with the heat while docked in Puerto Vallarta. The Oosterdam uses ocean water to help cool the ship. While we were docked in Puerto Vallarta, the ship’s temperature rose into the 80s everywhere onboard. It hit the crew of the ship hardest – they had been in the cool Alaskan climate all summer – this was their first cruise of the season to Mexico. The afternoon and evening in Puerto Vallarta were uncomfortably warm everywhere on the ship making passengers and crew pretty uncomfortable.
ENTERTAINMENT. Showtime with Joel Mason is a tribute/comedy act to Elton John and he is AMAZING! The Romanian Tempo String Quartet in the Explorer’s Lounge was wonderful! The karaoke competition on this cruise was incredible. Most of the participants had already cut CDs of their own music. We would have paid to see most of the karaoke performers at their own shows! The Broadway shows (A Rock & Roll tribute & An Island Music tribute) were ok. The comedienne Julie Barr was funny. The piano player in the Piano Bar didn’t keep us in the Piano Bar (which is unusual for us – we love piano players). We missed the magic show and the piano player in the Crow’s nest.
TIP 7: Do NOT miss the Showtime with Joel Mason - Elton John show!
DINING. HAL is still pretty traditional. We prefer the anytime dining options and less formal attire. We were stuck with 5:30 PM early seating and missed dinner 3 times on this cruise due to the early start time. We prefer less formal attire for dining options – which are very limited on this ship. Men are asked to wear a suit or tux for the 2 formal nights and a coat to dinner ALL other nights on this 7 day cruise. According to HAL policy, if you’re not in a coat, your only other dining option is the buffet or room service. Thankfully, reality onboard is much different than the written HAL dress code. Most fellow cruisers were less formally dressed than we were – and BRAVO to them! HAL should loosen the written dress code because reality is much less formal than their dress code states. We would have packed much lighter and enjoyed the cruise more if we had known that the dress code is not really that formal.
TIP 8: If you prefer informal, you can pack lighter and dress less formally than HAL requests – long pants and a button up shirt are the only real requirement for men – even on formal dining nights.
VISTA DINING ROOM. The food was spectacular and the dining room service was great! There was one minor annoyance at dinner. Dan used his discount wine card to order wine with our dinners. He received more than one lecture and scowl, complete with cringed nose about drinking the “cheap” wine when he used his wine card at dinner. Yes, the house wine costs less with the card and isn’t as good as the $10 per glass vintages, but it was very acceptable to Dan. We’re guessing that the wine stewards may be paid a commission on their wine/spirits sales. Whether that is the case or not, the service shouldn’t be based on the price of the wine. Dinners would have been more enjoyable if the wine steward had pleasantly served the house wine & wished him bon appétit.
LIDO BUFFET. The food and service were great. It can be hard to find a seat at times. Janean loved the fresh garlic on the dishes at the pasta bar. Dan is an ice cream freak – he attacked the ice cream bar often. He also loved the dessert cheese plates. There is a stand-out food server onboard & if you’re lucky you’ll have him at your dinner table. But, if not, he is also at the Lido Buffet for breakfast and lunch to greet EVERYONE. His name is Hunky Dory (sing it when you say it!) and everyone on this cruise knows who he is! By day 2 Hunky Dory knew our names and greeted us by name every day the rest of the cruise. He was calling all the guests by their first name. What a fun & amazing young man – he personalized the service and made dining an experience!
CABO. We took the Todos Santos (Hotel California) shore excursion. We recommend avoiding this shore excursion for the next several months. There is significant highway construction north of Cabo on Highway 19. The 42 mile drive took about 2.5 hours each way. We’re not sure when the construction will be finished but any shore excursions that go north of Cabo will head right into the heart of the construction. We spent about 5 hours on the bus and barely over an hour in Todos Santos. The drive up the peninsula was pretty – but that is too much bus time for us. Also, Hotel California was hardly accessible on the tour – they weren’t quite ready for the tourist season. The shore excursion season had just started, but this trip was a bust for us.
Tip 9: If you don’t like to spend precious shore excursion time on a bus, avoid road trips and excursions heading north of Cabo until highway 19 construction is done.
MAZATLAN. We took the Copala/Concordia shore excursion. The brick making stop is an interesting and informal stop on the side of the road to watch an adobe brick making demonstration. It will make you appreciate your job – whatever it is! The man making the bricks had a 6-pack of muscles - on his back! The furniture/pottery making was a little disappointing. The bus stops at the “furniture factory” which is really a souvenir shopping stop. They have the power tools and there is actual woodworking being done, but it’s a stop to sell you their stuff. The wooden rolling pin we bought split within days after we returned home. We’re glad we didn’t shell out more money for anything else at this stop. In Concordia, there is a laid back pueblo and a 16th century cathedral but not much time to explore. Copala is the highlight of the trip. It is a 16th century gold & silver mining pueblo, now home to 900 people complete with cobblestone roads, donkeys, a small art gallery, a cathedral and a great Mexican lunch buffet. The surrounding jungle mountains are gorgeous. It was a beautiful setting and a fun shore excursion for us.
TIP 10: The jewelry at the informal brick making stop was the lowest priced jewelry we found on all of our Mexico stops – if you want some inexpensive jewelry buy it where you see the brick making demonstration.
PUERTO VALLARTA. We had planned on the Yelapa/Majahuitas catamaran shore excursion. The brochure said that we would have access to 2 private beaches on this trip. Fortunately, we read the cards about the shore excursion that were left in our cabin. We discovered that there was “no beach access” on this trip. This was the Oosterdam’s first trip to Mexico of the season. It appears they hadn’t worked out the kinks yet. The revised excursion would have had us on the catamaran all day in the hot sun with only kayaks and snorkeling allowed when we stopped – no beach access. The front desk told us we would be charged 10% for canceling. We appealed based on the change from what was printed in the brochure. It was fairly frustrating having to show them their own brochure and explain what had changed. To their credit, they did cancel and did not charge us the 10% fee. We made up our own excursion. We took a 30 minute cab south to the El Presidente Intercontinental Hotel, had lunch next to the beach, used their secluded beach, had massages on the beachfront, saw 2 turtles hatch, swam in the ocean with a couple of manta rays and had a wonderful time. All told, we spent about the same including massages as we would have on the catamaran excursion. We were happy that we changed our plans.
DISEMBARKATION. We were in the last group to disembark. We were off the ship by about 11 AM. We did cut our flight a little close as the process took longer than we had expected, but fortunately the airport is close to the cruise terminal.