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Judy Johnson

Age: 51

Occupation:ESL Teacher

Number of Cruises: 8

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Oosterdam

Sailing Date: 2009-07-18

Itinerary: Eastern Mediterranean

We thoroughly enjoyed our recent experience aboard the ms Oosterdam cruising the Eastern Mediterranean. We are no strangers to cruises; this is the eighth time we have traveled by ship, once before on Holland America. The ship was spotlessly clean and much less shop-worn than some ships we've sailed on. The itinerary was excellent, and the crew members were unfailingly friendly. We especially loved Kadek, a young man from Bali who mostly worked on the Lido deck. He knew our names by the second day, and he always greeted us with a cheerful hello whenever he saw us. We also had the best-ever cabin steward. The captain was wonderful; he was the most accessible captain of any ship we've sailed on. One of the highlights of the cruise was the captain's cooking demonstration--very cool and certainly not something a lot of captains do! The captain must also be highly commended for turning back to Turkey to get two crew members to the hospital when they were injured during the night. It made us a little late to our next port of call, but we support the captain's decision and give him the highest possible praise for keeping things in the correct perspective--preservation of life and health over pleasing the passengers.

The food aboard the Oosterdam was outstanding. We have eaten quite a bit of cruise ship food over the years, and it has all been good. However, the food on this cruise was beyond expectations. My husband couldn't get over the seven different kinds of Eggs Benedict on the Lido deck. I thought the waffles were dynamite. We frequently made a trip through the Lido in the afternoon for my husband to get a dish of soft-serve ice cream--another item he couldn't get enough of. I loved the homemade and really delicious cookies available every day on the Lido, but I'm the original Cookie Monster. The burger stand was great, and the taco bar was a welcome shot of Tex-Mex to these two Texans. We signed up for the open seating dining for the first time on this cruise, and we loved it. We only had to wait to be seated once, and that was because we arrived at the dining room just after the first show had dismissed--an error in timing on our part. We met so many nice people and enjoyed conversing with them immensely. I was only disappointed with my dinner on two occasions, and again, that was my fault, and not the food's. I just didn't make wise choices those two nights. We dined one night in the Pinnacle Grill and found it to be amazing. The food and service were absolutely impeccable.

Our stateroom was a very nice inside cabin on Deck 7. It was quiet and roomy with a nice little fridge. We had plenty of storage space, some of which I didn't even discover until the last day of the cruise! As I mentioned, our cabin steward was wonderful. We loved the cute towel animals, and it was always a treat to get back from dinner and the show to see what critter awaited us. The bed was extremely comfortable, and the bathroom was quite roomy. My only suggestion would be the addition of a comfortable chair. Our only chair wasn't too great.

We loved the cooking demonstrations in the Culinary Arts Center. Chef Sheldon was awesome--so fun and relaxed. Mary provided recipes for us so we could recreate the dishes at home, and we enjoyed the samples immensely. The captain's cooking demonstration was a rare treat. Holland America offers many more shipboard activities than some lines, so much so that some days I couldn't do all the things I wanted to do. The entertainment on board was good, though not as flashy as some ships we've sailed on before. We didn't care for the soloist on board, and I thought the new "Garage Band" show was a bit offensive and too risque. The illusionist was excellent, and Katzenjammer--four hands on one piano--was awesome. Another reviewer has criticized the Mamma Mia sing-along, but we thought it was fun and appropriate since we were sailing in the Greek Isles. We really enjoyed the afternoon teas we attended as well. And the disembarkation talk, usually not a fun-filled event, was absolutely hilarious because of the excellent Cruise Director. We did not frequent the bars or dance clubs, so I really cannot address their quality.

We took three shore excursions--one in Istanbul, one in Ephesus, and one in Katakolon. Don't miss Ephesus. There are several shore excursion choices depending on how much you want to see. We chose the Ephesus and House of the Virgin Mary excursion. Mary's house was sweet and shady and very serene. Although crowded, everyone was quiet and respectful. Ephesus was very hot, but what an awesome place! It really made biblical history come alive to actually see the location of parts of the New Testament. Our guide was fabulous--so knowledgeable. I think some sort of guided tour is a must at Ephesus, or you wouldn't really understand all that you are seeing. Friends on the ship also recommended going to the Terrace Houses at Ephesus. My only suggestion for the Ephesus excursion would be that it should include some complimentary water. Many shore excursions in Mexico and other hot destinations do include a bottle of water or a soda or something. That would have been a very welcome addition. The Ancient Olympia shore excursion was great, too. Because of the distance from Katakolon to Olympia, I think it would be more difficult do Olympia on your own. Again, our guide was excellent and very knowledgeable. Without her, Olympia might have just looked like some piles of rocks. There is some welcome shade at Olympia, as well as nice restroom facilities. We booked the Panoramic Istanbul trip, and I think we might have done better with the longer excursion that day. I felt like I didn't get to see enough of Istanbul. My suggestion would be to make that excursion about an hour longer and include St. Sophia. We didn't get into Istanbul early enough on our overnight stay to make it to St. Sophia before it closed, and I felt a little cheated that I missed it. We probably could have done Istanbul on our own since there is a decent train and tram system, and that might have been a better choice. One of the ship's officers advised me during a chance meeting in the elevator to walk up the hill from the dock area to Taksim Square. I don't think we made it all the way to the square, but we thoroughly enjoyed the walk up to that general area. We appreciated his suggestion very much. We did Venice independently, and we toured Athens with new-found friends from the ship. Athens was easy to do because of the excellent, if crowded, Metro train from Piraeus to the city center. A lovely young Greek gentleman advised us of the stop we needed to take to visit the Acropolis. We also toured Mykonos and Santorini on our own, as we felt that no shore excursion was really necessary.

This trip definitely fits into the "once in a lifetime" category, much like our trip to Australia and New Zealand. I would highly recommend the Oosterdam, Holland America, and Captain van der Loo. We had an amazing time and enjoyed every minute. It is easy to become jaded and critical and focus on the little things that were wrong on a trip, but I think you've missed the point of travel if you do that. There will always be some complications or some little details that weren't exactly as you hoped. I found very, very few of these details on this trip--it was wonderful in every respect. I loved Holland America to Alaska on the old Nieuw Amsterdam, and I loved the Eastern Mediterranean on the Oosterdam. We will definitely sail with HAL again--many more times, I hope!

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