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C. Carnell

Age: 66

Occupation:Retired

Number of Cruises: 6

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Oosterdam

Sailing Date: January 18th, 2004

Itinerary: Western Caribbean


Reviews for the ports visited abound elsewhere and so are not given here. I am concentrating on the ship because it is so new and there are so few reviews available.

INTRODUCTION: This was our 6th ocean cruise and our 4th on Holland-America (prior HAL: Ryndam around South America, Noordam to southern Caribbean, and Veendam repositioning through Panama Canal). All those are 1200+ passenger ships, whereas Oosterdam is built to carry 1800+ passengers. We think the huge delay we experienced at checkin, the overcrowding in the Lido at lunchtime, and the generally lower level of service we and other passengers experienced, are the result of having half again as many passengers but not taking extra measures (number of staff especially but also space in some cases) to accommodate that many additional people. HAL's biggest asset, and a reason they have been our favorite cruise line, is the wonderful Indonesian and Filipino staff--cheerful, hard working, patient, friendly, and capable--but on this cruise we felt they were understaffed for the work load. For an example, in the Lido and all around the Lido Pool area at both breakfast and lunch, dirty dishes, trays and vacated tables were not cleared promptly (thus exacerbating the overcrowding because incoming people could not find tables) and water and coffee were seldom refilled. This is not the level of service we expect on HAL and many others also commented negatively about it. Other service lapses are noted here and there below.

CHECKIN: Almost 3 hours elapsed between when we got on line at 12:30 p.m. and arrived in our cabin a little after 3 p.m. I thought maybe this was caused by the fact that a tour group of 400+ had arrived just before us, but when I questioned one of the red-jacketed shore staff she said "It's always like this every Sunday." This was a very unpleasant way to start what was supposed to be a relaxing vacation. We were also surprised that when we finally arrived on board we were greeted and then simply pointed in the direction of our stateroom instead of being personally escorted to it as we have been on every other HAL cruise--one more cutback in level of service, that does not give the voyage a good start.

In chatting with various passengers during the cruise we heard some more 'horror stories.' One woman asked in the Dining Room for a cheeseburger without the bun and with blue cheese instead of cheddar, and was refused "because that is a special order." (When the plate came she removed her own bun and scraped off the cheddar as best she could.) Another couple ordered Room Service for lunch, with a sandwich for the wife and chef's salad with thousand island dressing for the husband. They noticed that the menu said the sandwich would come with chips, so they asked for some chips along with the salad, too. When the tray arrived, there was no dressing on the salad BUT broken chips were sprinkled all over the top of it. Are all these things unrelated, or do they indicate a deterioration that will alienate HAL's faithful clientele?

GOOD CHANGES & NICE TOUCHES:
On Oosterdam you get one magnetized card that is not only your ship ID for going ashore and charging purchases in the ship's stores, but also opens the lock on your stateroom door. Additionally, the in-cabin safe works via a 4-digit PIN you select, so you don't need to swipe a credit card to use it. This means that instead of carrying 3 plastic cards around, you only need one (the key/ID card). However, the key card was iffy--we had to exchange ours twice at the Front Desk before we got a set that worked reliably. Hint: If your card doesn't open the door, rub the UPC area on your clothing and try again!

Also apparently HAL has relaxed the rule against bringing your own drinks on board. We saw a fellow at checkin with 2 cases of Coke--and later, in the ship's liquor store the clerk said we could take our bottle with us to our room and consume it during the cruise if we liked. When we bought liquor ashore and carried it back on board nobody turned a hair. I asked at the Front Office and they said all HAL ships now allow passengers to bring drinks on board BUT if you have wine you want to drink with dinner you will be charged corkage in the dining room. I think this sensible policy change may reduce bar profits a little bit but creates good will--not to mention eliminating passenger arguments with staff, who were previously supposed to enforce the prior unpopular rule.

Foot-pedal-activated drinking fountains here and there on the Promenade Deck.

You can walk through fore and aft on all passenger decks--the kitchen does not block off the dining room deck but instead is along the port side, leaving room for a corridor to starboard.

THE SHIP: Decor was handsome, mostly in blues and greens, with pleasant and quite varied artwork scattered around. The fresh flower arrangements were not as huge and lavish as on some HAL ships, but still very nice. It's worthwhile to look UP in many areas--to see "books" on the coffered library ceiling, or foam "scallop shells" above the tables around the Lido pool (this latter also helped reduce noise there). And at the Lido Bar the seats are a hoot--a row of fanciful brass dolphins standing on their noses with their tail fins spread out to make the sitting place!

Elevator lobbies were spacious, doors elegant, and the 4 glass-walled outside elevators amidships were fun to ride. All elevators were generally prompt and uncrowded.

Vista Lounge (biggest theatre) had enough seating for all who wanted to see the show, and excellent sight-lines except for a few pillars. Entry to it was from Decks 1, 2 or 3, which made it easier to get people in and out. Only the "orchestra" seats had little tables for drinks and as usual nobody pushed drink sales.

Queen's Lounge was movie theatre, again with good seating and sight lines, but a wider and shallower room rather than like a standard theatre.

Unfortunately much of the carpet on stairs and in elevators was a solid dark royal blue color that showed absolutely every piece of lint, dust, grain of sand or other trash. As a result, the elevators always looked dirty and the stairs usually did too. They need to change that carpet for something textured that will not look filthy just minutes after being vacuumed. (We also did not see much vacuuming going on, which surprised us as on other ships you see it constantly. Another sign of under-staffing?)

All shops and many lounges are now on the Promenade Deck, instead of the cabins found there on the other HAL ships--cabins that while being "ocean view" lacked a sense of privacy because people on deck are walking just outside your window.

Shopping area is a confusing, crowded jumble with people milling around instead of clearly defined corridors and separate shops.

Lots of display space in Photo Gallery (outside Dining Room) but with so many passengers it was hard to find "our" pictures.

The Promenade Deck chairs are the handsome HAL classic teak with striped cushions. In the Lido, on stateroom balconies and other areas the chairs are tan wicker-looking plastic. Unfortunately only the Penthouse Suites have a lounge chair on the balcony--all the other cabin balconies have only "sit up" chairs. And around the pool and on the upper decks, even the lounge chairs did not go completely flat, so lying on your stomach involved contortion and/or discomfort!

Because of the outside elevators and also the rearrangement of cabin decks, the Promenade Deck is constricted in some places, and so does not give long unobstructed views. But with so many balcony cabins, few people were sitting out there and we had plenty of room to walk around the deck (3 laps = 1 mile). However during the Boat Drill it was hard to get to your station because of crowding on the narrower parts of that deck.

There's no "B" deck (psychological reason?) but they've added a "Rotterdam" cabin deck up above.

No free Java Bar, but self-serve coffee and tea are available 24 hours a day in the Lido and if you don't see milk just ask at the ice cream counter or the dessert station. The Windstar Cafe SELLS fancy coffees, and "gives" you a pastry if you buy a coffee, with or without shots.

CABIN: Typical HAL decor with blond "wood" walls and furniture. Balcony cabin may be a few inches to one foot smaller in both width and length than in the 1200+ passenger ships--several other passengers also commented on this. More "plastic" looking, especially in the bathroom, where for example the medicine cabinet is molded plastic with walls so thick there is little actual storage space inside (but a good long shelf under the sink and counter held the overflow). Balcony decking was plastic too, supposed to look like teak--only partly successful (and dirty, besides). Few drawers in cabin, but lots of shelves in the closets. Adequate lighting with the usual confusing array of switches. The draw-drapery did a good job of keeping out morning light if I slept late. Spare blanket was in under-bed drawer, but also room under bed for empty suitcases. Hooks on wall that obviously once WERE for complimentary terrycloth robes (no longer supplied)--and a couple of empty holes where we think the explanatory plate used to be fastened (saying robes could be purchased to take home if desired). Effective cooling system even in the tropics, but no numbers on the thermostat so it was a guessing game as to how much to move the pointer if you wanted it just a little cooler or a little warmer. Hair dryer hidden behind a desk door, along with wine glasses. Plaid "lap rugs" (afghan sized) were stowed in cabinets above the sofa and were handy when it was kinda cool on the balcony but we still wanted to sit out.

FITNESS: Normally 2 morning and 2 afternoon sets of classes, with about half of them free and the rest at $11 each, but for a one-time payment of $40 you could take all you wanted all week. My husband enjoyed this, trying out spin cycle, Pilates, fit ball, yoga and others with the 2 onboard instructors.

SPA, CASINO, BINGO: We didn't patronize, so cannot comment.

ALTERNATIVE RESTAURANT: We did not go but talked with several couples who did and said it was a wonderful experience and worth the extra cost.

DINNER: As usual on HAL, if you don't sign up at least 4 months in advance you cannot get First Seating for dinner. We bought our tickets at the last minute so we knew this would be the case. However, we cannot eat as late as Second Seating so we went to the Lido every evening where they had a very nice setup. You got your own salad at the salad bar, chose an appetizer and/or soup on line, gave your entree order on that line, received a card with a number and carried your tray to sit where you pleased at a cloth-covered table. In a reasonable time your entree was brought to you at your table. Desserts, tea and coffee were also self-serve. The menu was almost the same as in the Dining Room, one exception being that no cold soups were offered (only the 2 hot ones) and the desserts were about the same every night (no flambees, no Baked Alaska parade, etc., but excellent cheesecake, chocolate cake, ice cream selection and others).

I often have cheeses instead of dessert, and I liked being able to pick up my cheese plate when I first entered and transfer the cheeses off their freezing cold plate onto a room-temperature one, so by the time I was ready for my cheese course everything had warmed up enough to release the full flavors!

Another thing I liked was that an example of each entree plate was displayed at the counter where you placed your order, so you could see what vegetables and starch accompanied each meat or fish choice. The staff was very cooperative about letting me have the vegetable selection that was supposed to go with some other entree. (Example: the steak had a small potato pancake and roasted slices of squash but instead I asked for and got the broccoli and baby carrots that supposedly went with the roast pork.)

Because we always ate dinner in the Lido, on the last night we tipped the head steward and the 4 table waiters plus "Bernie" (bar assistant) who had been very good about refilling our water glasses. Hint: if you do this, tip them the night BEFORE that, because the Lido is always very crowded the evening just before docking and a couple of extra guys were working there--made it hard to find the 4 we wanted to reward!

OTHER MEALS: Different Lido "stations" for sandwiches, salad bar (only one, so it always had a LONG line--they really should set up 2 separate salad bars as they have for most other items), drinks, pasta/pizza, stir-fry, regular cafeteria type line, desserts, etc.

(By the way, the bread pudding is NOT at the dessert station but instead is tucked away by one of the drink areas!)

The first few days of the cruise were very annoying because the Lido was jammed at lunchtime (fully open only 2 1/2 hours, 11:30-2). It was almost impossible to find a table anywhere inside the Lido or out by the pool during those hours, mostly because of the crowds but partly because the table stewards were slow to clear tables that had been vacated. Trays used to carry dishes were not collected promptly, thus making the room look even more crowded and messy.

Lunch menu in the main Dining Room was limited, repetitive and boring which probably caused more crowding in the Lido.

After a few days of irritation (forced to decide between too-limited lunch menu in Dining Room vs. terrible overcrowding in Lido), we worked out a system. Because in the morning the Lido was open 6-10:30 for "continental" breakfast and 6:30-10 for hot cooked-to-order items, crowding then was not too bad because passenger use was spread over 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours instead of only 2 1/2 hours for full service at lunch. So we'd have an early light breakfast (before exercising) and then stop there again for a light snack before the lines closed at 10 or 10:30. Then we would postpone even trying to have lunch until full service ended in the Lido after 2 p.m. and the crowd thinned out. Then we could get a burger, hot dog or fix-it-yourself tacos at the grill by the pool, plus inside the Lido a basic salad from the salad bar, pizza (pretty good, too) or pasta, with no trouble getting a table. Finally at 6:30 or shortly thereafter we would go to the Lido for dinner as described above.

The redesigned Lido with its different food "stations" and the tables in variously separated nooks looks very nice, but more work is needed to fine-tune the concept so everything moves better and overcrowding is reduced. One more comment about the Lido--the dishes seemed to be a French version of "Corelle" and had brushed colored bands around the rims. People with whom I spoke found them rather unattractive, as did I. And the coffee mugs were too small!

EVENING SHOWS IN VISTA LOUNGE: Two ensemble shows were noisy and flashy (lots of costume and wig changes, constant frenetic 'dancing') without being particularly musical or presenting 'standard' songs that have stood the test of time and the audience would recognize and appreciate. No other musical acts, unlike some other cruises. Comedians relied too much on tired old Viagra jokes. No "ship's orchestra"--but "the Vista Lounge Band" that seemed to consist of keyboard, 2 electric guitars, sax and percussion.

SUMMARY: After a rocky start we did enjoy our cruise because of the nice ports, lovely weather, our peaceful balcony, the beautiful ocean, each other's company and the ways we worked out to get around the little annoyances. We would even consider sailing again on Oosterdam or one of its 1800+ passenger sister ships, Zuiderdam and Westerdam (to be launched in spring 2004). But we would do so prepared for the fact that we would not get the same over-all service (nor lunchtime choices) as in the company's 1200+ passenger ships. The new 1800+ class ships are beautiful and do incorporate some welcome changes as noted above. We hope the company will take steps to reduce or eliminate the problems of crowding and poorer service described here.

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