Number of Cruises: seven
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: January 25th, 2004
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
Upon leaving from bostons' logan airport & arriving at ft. lauderdale to begin our 7 day cruise I have decided to write this review with full honesty and an open mind. We normally cruise on princess but wanted to give hollandamerica lines (HAL) a try to compare cruise lines. After we left the baggage area we were greeted by a HAL spokeperson to lead us to an invisible bus. 40 minutes later it finally showed up & took us to the embarkation area. For whatever reason when we arrived we sat on the bus for another 20 min before unloading. Although we had electronically booked we had to (like everyone else) go through a 45 min line before boarding the oosterdam as they lost our electronic booking number. All I can say when we went aboard the oosterdam is "Wow" this ship is awesome. A very polite staff was there to direct us to our cabin where our cabin steward Jon was waiting to greet us. Our baggage came about one hour later. HAL states that their cabins are 25% larger, I ask larger than what, their previous size cabins? I found the decor very bland, the layout very hard to maneuver and a balcony door that opened out hitting a porch chair. Unlike most cruise lines including princess the door had no screen so as to air the stuffy cabin out and it closed automatically. You couldn't even jam it open. The bathroom was very large & bright with a nice tub & shower.
there was plenty of soap, shampoo etc but we had to call room service to replenish the shampoo as it ran out. The cabin also had a refigerator, however it was so stocked w/HALs alcohol product that there was no room for you. We didn't buy anything but checked the prices. A soda was $2.00 & a small bottle of wine (10 OZ) was $6.50. The temperature control could not be shut off & was very noisy.(we finally got used to it). Storage was very limited, 4 small bureau drawers. 3 closets & two more small drawers under settee sofa. Most drawers had HAL spare bedding in them & 1 closet had the life preservers which we put under the bed next to our suitcases. They offer room service which was very prompt to the point of one half hour earlier than requested time, that rushed things up a little in the AM especially if you were in the shower. The cabin was very well lit & very clean. We did have a problem w/the ice bucket which was mostly empty & had to call room wervice almost every eve to have ice delivered. (we did find out later that our cabin boy was under the weather, in fact never showed up on the last night. (tip night) We left him a little something anyhow. The meals were excellent with a friendly & polite waitstaff. Of course the deserts were scrumptious. One bad meal I had was a fish dish that arrived looking so good that I dug right in and to my surprise ended up with a mouthfull of bones. Now thats embarrassing to lilterally pull the bones out at the diner table but it was either that or choke. Our waiter called another waiter who proceeded to successfully de-bone my fish but by this time was ice cold so I settled for just the dessert. The ship did not seem like it had a full complment of passengers (1,850) which it actually did. I believe this was because of the ships layout, everything was fairly easy to find once you got used to it. The Lido deck (buffet style breakfast & lunch) offered a good variety but seating was hard during peak hours. I recommend you eat off peak hours.(1/2 hr before or after) I also recommend finding a table before you get in line or your food will get cold while looking for a table. The dinng rooms were superb as well as the wait staff & wine steward. In general the food was well presented, well prepared & very tasty. I didn't let my one fish dinner bother me that much, we even had a pretty good laugh over it. After 2 stops at the casino & not seeing any slots winning or hearing any bells go off I quit them. It seemed that they just weren't paying off. The entertainment was excellent, Las vegas type floor shows. The oosterdam cast singers & dancers were among the best we have seen. The comedians were very funny and very clean. (very rare these days) We were also entertained by a group called the five mikes who did the oldies similar to shanana of the fifty/sixty generation. I have to say they brought back memories even though these young men were not yet born. The ship offered 2 swimming pools, one aft and the larger one center ship which had a sliding roof such as the new football stadiums which closed in case of inclement weather. The main pool was very crowded.
The lounge chairs were so close together that you could not fit your legs between them. You had to slide in from the end of the chair to the back rest and I could not do it w/o messing up the provided beach towel I wanted to lay on. I recommend the aft deck. The ship also has exterior port & starboard elevators that extend outside of midship with a view that can't be beat. It also has a nice gym but very disappointing was the fact that they charged $11.00 pp per aerobic class (2 a day) which I have to say angered my wife & daughter who are work out nuts. Princess offers these classes free of charge.
Our first port of call was HALs private island: Half Moon Cay. This is a great stop, vey clean, good barbecue, plenty of water sports (small fee) nice music & well groomed polite staff. There is a bar but drinks aren't pushed at you while your at the beach or dining, in fact if you want a drink you have to go get it yourself. We did take the Eco lagoon cruise tour ($29.00 pp) which was well worth the price. A relaxing cruise aboard a glass bottom boat with 2 wonderful guides who made it very interesting & you actually get to hold a huge star fish as well as other marine animals/fish. The scenery is breath taking & the trip is not a physical challenge. I would recommend this tour. Our next stop was at ocho Rios, Jamaica. HAL should drop this from its itinerary. Stay on board the ship unless you enjoy seeing how the very unfortunate live. The filth and slums is everywhere. We were somewhat amazed that poeople still lived this way and were very depressed by it. (enough said) Our next port of call was Georgetown, cayman islands. We were scheduled to take a flightseeing tour but due to bad weather it was cancelled. In fact the ship had to moor on the east side of the island & we had to ferry in. A cab from there to georgetown was $16.00 pp round trip.Did a little shopping & saw some of the sights. Nice little town with friendly people. Now on to cozumel, mexico. Here we took the atlantis cubmarine tour ($89.00 pp)..This was a very good as well as educational tour. We saw seascapes that the average person does not. I know now why scuba diving is such a big sport. We also saw a large variety of fish, coral reefs, plantlife & such that were absolutely wonderful. This is a coast guard approved sub and a well worth while tour. We still had time for some shopping in cozumel and brother did we. Whew, was I glad to get back to the ship:-).. After a full day & night we arrived back in ft lauderdale & disembarked at 9:00 AM. Once again the dreaded bus. I am not aware of what took place but a very disgruntled bus driver threw his passengers off his bus & their luggage out onto a soaking wet tarmat as it was pouring. Our luck - we were in line waiting to board bus #711 & sure enough this was supposed to be our bus. The Holland staff only made matters worse by trying to bargain with this fruicake while its passengers were getting soaked. (about a 40 minute arguement) People were yellling that they would never go on a HAL cruise again, some were even saying worse things than that. Finally another bus came and things quieted down a little but I really thing HAL should double check the hired sub-contractors as I took some of these passengers very seriously. At the beginning of this review I said it was to be honest & true to the best of my knowledge. However I am not sure I should compare HAL to princess after only one cruise with them & five w/princess. I guess the question is: "would I take a hollandamerica cruise again"? the answer is yes. no one person is perfect & no one cruiseline is either. Both cruise lines have some good assets as well as not so good assets. Based on a 1 to 10 scale & 10 being the best I would say both lines are pretty equal, somewhere in the 7 to 8 area.. I do lean towards princess by a small margin but thats just a little one, they are both very well organized cruise lines. To close, happy sails to you...