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One of the larger vessels in the midsized Holland America fleet, Oosterdam offered many of the venues and features we’ve enjoyed on other ships of this venerable line. Launched in 2003 and carrying 1,916 passengers, Oosterdam operates popular 7-day Alaska cruises each summer. But most of the year is spent down under, with longer voyages around Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. What a life!
With calving glaciers and pirouetting humpbacks in mind, we signed up for a cruise to the 49th state.
A cruise line dating back to 1873, the Holland America Line has lots of history and tradition running through its veins—much of its coursing through Oosterdam. The (now) Seattle-based company doesn’t quite fit the category of luxury lines, but there are welcome amenities that separate these ships from some of the other big-name brands: Bathtubs in most cabins, a DVD borrowing library, and real orange juice for breakfast are some of the extras that usually cost extra on Holland America’s competitors. And, as one of the newer and larger vessels in the fleet, Oosterdam had all the features regular Holland America guests are familiar with—the inviting Explorations Café, the Pinnacle Grill steakhouse, and the Culinary Arts Center, where cooking shows transpire in a show kitchen.
For those of us who’ve been on Holland America cruises before, Oosterdam delivered a comfortably predictable cruise experience. The line caters to a somewhat older crowd than we encounter on the ships of Princess and Royal Caribbean. We enjoy traveling with this generation, but for anyone counting on a cruise experience fueled by rock climbing walls and energetic nightlife, Oosterdam is not for you. The ship has a decent kids facility, but there was just a handful of under-18s aboard our cruise, allowing an adult atmosphere to prevail.
Where Oosterdam delivered was in basic creature comforts. Our cabin was average-sized—a slightly larger Ocean-view than we’ve had on lines such as Princess, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian. To save a few dollars we booked an obstructed view, and although we couldn’t see much beyond the lifeboat in front of most of the window, we appreciated the opening that offered floor-to-ceiling natural light. We slept well in the soft but supportive bed.
Our meals in the main dining room and at the buffet were uneven. When dishes were good, they were excellent, but we had a few clunkers that just didn’t work for us. The Terrace Grill hasn’t impressed us on other Holland America ships, but on Oosterdam this venue—a poolside buffet—is worth trying. Holland America charges a supplement for two restaurants onboard. Canaletto serves what we’d call Italian comfort food, and it was alright for a change of pace one evening. But the Pinnacle Grill is one of our favorite specialty restaurants at sea, and the one on Oosterdam did not disappoint—we’d definitely recommend it for a special night.
The ship has a small museum’s worth of art scattered through the common areas. We enjoyed the mini gallery of paintings in the forward stairwell by Captain Stephen Card, of various Holland America ships, old and new, in exotic settings.
We had a few issues with Oosterdam’s operation. Midway through our cruise we obtained a statement of our account and spotted several inaccuracies, which we requested be fixed. The day before checkout they hadn’t all been addressed and we made another request. On our final statement, one had still not been taken off. Guests shouldn’t have to stand in line three times at the front desk to have mistakes fixed.
We’ve been on other ships of this vintage and found upkeep and condition to be better. Paint splotches, dented walls, dirty windows and worn carpets made the decade-old Oosterdam look older than her years. We also found that the signage indicating deck level was difficult to read or find when using the stairwells.
An unexplained operational problem caused arrival at our final port of call (Victoria, BC) to be delayed by almost two hours. A number of cruisers had planned shore excursions canceled.
A few other complaints are actually repeat issues for us with Holland America, starting with the conservative style of shows and entertainment. Canned music predominates at stage shows, and the material is geared to a distinctly older audience. Something just a little bit edgier and more original would be welcomed by many of these passengers. We know you can’t please everyone (and we don't advocate this approach), but despite some talented performers, Holland America’s entertainment offerings are virtually devoid of authenticity or flavor.
We also find Holland America’s process for the mandatory Muster Drill during embarkation to be clumsy and outdated. This emergency drill takes place outdoors on the promenade deck, but rather than use key card scanners (as most cruise lines have converted to), the crew on Oosterdam must still laboriously read from a list of cabins to determine that all passengers are present.
Finally, Holland America Line markets their commitment to the environment and sustainability, but we got tired of the reams of printed sales pitches that landed in our room each day. From spa specials to shore excursion collateral, art auctions to photo deals, we started to feel like a small forest was being felled in service of pumping up our checkout bill. A pre-printed card landed on our pillow each night that said: “The ship’s captain and crew wish you a restful sleep tonight as we look forward to tomorrow’s horizons.” Seven nights in a row we received that same bit of fluff—wouldn’t just one on the first night have sufficed?
Our cruise aboard Oosterdam delivered a predictable Holland America experience—and this wasn’t a bad thing. Despite a few issues with our particular journey, most cruisers will find Holland America offers a happy medium between the budget mass-market cruise lines and the pricy premium brands.
Oosterdam is not a ship for those who need high-energy entertainment or activities: The stage shows felt like something closer to the Lawrence Welk Show than to Dancing With the Stars; there's no surf simulator or rock climbing wall to keep younger souls enthralled; and by 10 p.m. the ship’s diversions settled into a low simmer—passengers didn’t seem to want much late at night.
But meals were more satisfying than the typical big cruise line experience, with a bit more variety. The ship’s common areas offered good artwork, and the string quartet playing in the evening was soothing. The Oosterdam crew was a pleasure to sail with. They kept the smiles and cheer coming in a way that didn’t feel like they were following a corporate handbook. And we love the Explorations Café, the ship’s epicenter for reading, caffeine fixes and camaraderie. With its diverse range of Alaskan and South Pacific itineraries, a cruise aboard Oosterdam is a good way to see a number of fine ports.
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