Ian and Elaine Hill
Number of Cruises: First Cruise
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: January 11th, 2004
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
As first time cruisers, we really didn’t know what to expect. Sure, we read up on a lot of areas that had us worried, our travel agent was most helpful and of course our friends tried to explain what to expect. So we have to tell all the first timers, relax and don’t worry, everything will likely go smoothly.
We sailed the new Holland America’s “OOSTERDAM” on January 11th, 2004 for 7 days on the Western Caribbean cruise with 4 ports of call. Half Moon Key which is their private island, Ocho Rios, Jamaica, Georgetown, Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico. We embarked at around 1:30 p.m. after taking about 45 minutes to go through the registration and getting our pictures taken and ship card. We had a few hours to tour the ship before our luggage arrived and participate in the mandatory lifeboat and lifejacket drill at 4:30 p.m. If first impressions are anything, you will be impressed by the size and the rich feeling the OOSTERDAM has. We had upgraded our cabin by a couple of categories and it was well worth it. A good size veranda was icing on the cake. (Most OOSTERDAM rooms have verandas). This was our home for 7 days and was very comfortable.
We booked the early dinner sitting and was glad of that. We had a smaller table for 6 and the 2 couples at our table were very nice. We seemed to hit it off right away and made dining a pleasure for us. This first night was quite rough (due to the inclement weather) and it caused a lot of people to forgo the delicious meal. We did find every dinner to be a wonderful selection of different items all served in a 5 course meal. Can’t make up your mind what you want? Order everything, they will bring it to you. But be forewarned, most servings are a good size to begin with. We were anxious to get the night started anyways so after supper, off we went to explore.
We took in every show in the main showroom at 8:30 pm in the Vista Lounge and every show was fabulous. We did receive a listing of each days events on the ship and this was most helpful in planning your day and evening.
You have a choice of the early dinner sitting (6 p.m.) or the late sitting (8:15 p.m.). We found the early sitting was to our liking. (The only time we went against our travel agents recommendations). There were also other restaurants to eat at too if you didn’t want the formal dining. We found the pizza and ice cream in the Lido Restaurant late at night was a favorite. Free room service 24hrs. per day was a definite plus. We found ourselves ordering a light breakfast from room service when we first awoke, and going up to the main dining room for the complete breakfast after we got mobile. All in all, the food was first class and plentiful. The Thursday night ‘DESSERT EXTRAVAGANZA” was a feast you had to see to believe (and taste). No wonder we put on 6 pounds in these 7 days.
The main showroom had their big show every night. One night it was a comedian, a juggling team, an illusionist, 2 big production shows, a musical act. All were excellent. The shows lasted about an hour, so you have time to take in other activities on the ship before retiring for the night. We did trivia, name that tune and numerous other things before going for our late night pizza.
Our cabin steward was very good and friendly. The turndown service at night with the chocolates on the pillow was a nice touch. The towels were always clean and fresh through out the day. We were served at our dinner by a very friendly and happy waiter. The wine steward and maitre d’ were most helpful and friendly and the gentleman that was fairly new who assisted the waiter will get better as he gains more experience.
The ship has a lady that gives talks about upcoming shore excursions. If you miss her live talk in the morning in the Vista Lounge, it is taped and shown in your stateroom 24 hrs. per day on TV. She supplies a ton of good information and tips for the next days port. We had 4 ports of call as follows;
Day 1, HALF MOON KEY;
This is Holland America’s private island. The ship didn’t dock here and we had to take little “tenders” to go from the ship to the island. We elected to take a relaxing day and just lay on the beach. They supplied us with a free BBQ with hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, ribs, salads and desserts. A Caribbean band kept the atmosphere alive.
Day 2, AT SEA;
This was a real fun day with lots of ship activities to keep us busy. We certainly enjoyed the pace and the many choices of things to do if you want
Day 3, OCHO RIOS, JAMAICA
We docked in a port here, so it was just a matter of walking off the ship and into a waiting taxi. We choose the Dolphin Touch and Dunn River Falls tour. The dolphin touch was a very rewarding experience as these clever animals were following our commands and then they rewarded us with a kiss each. The Falls were breath taking and well worth the time to view them. A lot of people choose to climb the falls, we took the stairs and stayed dry. We came back to the ship for lunch then went back on land and went shopping. The ship set sail at 4 pm and we had plenty of time to clean up before we took on another fabulous meal.
Day 4, GEORGETOWN, GRAND CAYMAN
Again we had to “tender” onto land, here we choose to do a city tour, a visit to the Turtle Farm and we even went to “HELL”. This is an area of very jagged rocky terrain (just like hell, they say) and across the way was a shop called Heaven. We did a walk of the main street and did some shopping. A very relaxing and a different atmosphere from Jamaica.
Day 5, COZUMEL
We were here the longest, 14 hours. We choose to do the Atlantis Submarine here, and this is a very worthwhile excursion. After we came back had lunch on the ship and went back and toured the very busy streets and many vendors set up. This is a very active city, more for the party goers than us laid back folks. We returned to the ship and had another enjoyable meal and took part in a lot of the ship activities.
Day 6, AT SEA
Another fun filled day at sea but a sad one as we are on our way back to Fort Lauderdale. The morning started off with a disembarkation talk and crew farewell. The talk was very informative for us first timers, as it explained what to expect the next day and also Holland America’s no tipping policy.
(Tipping is optional, it is up to the individual if and how much you choose to tip). We tipped the crew after dinner tonight that looked after us on a daily basis; the dining room head waiter and assistant, wine steward, and the cabin steward.. A preliminary bill was received this day stating your ship account balance. We were pleasantly surprised at ours and even went down and did more shopping at the ships shops. Again we had a day filled with many activities but we managed to find a couple of hours to enjoy our veranda.
Day 7, DISEMBARKMENT
We were off the ship at 9:15 (Immigration held up the disembarkment) and with our plane not leaving until 5:15p.m., we did an Everglades tour. We enjoyed the tour very much.
HOLLAND AMERICA made our first cruise an unforgettable one. From the ship itself, to the meals, entertainment and the friendly staff, to the shore excursions, they made you feel special. Any holiday is only what you make it, but when you have a staff of 800 helping you enjoy yourself, it’s pretty easy to see why most cruisers always enjoy themselves. I don’t imagine our experiences on this cruise would be too different from the other cruise lines, but Holland America was a great choice for us. Thanks Bridget.