Cruises

Holland America Line ms Oosterdam Review

Holland America's modest-sized Oosterdam promises an outsized experience.

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Overview

With eight dedicated bars, plus a coffee shop, Oosterdam had plenty of options for imbibing at almost all hours. By day, the bar action was around the Lido Bar, facing the central pool area. In the evening, Deck 2 invited bar hopping, with various styles of live and DJ’d music available.

Although Holland America does not currently sell an all-inclusive drinks package, pre-paid beverage cards could be purchased, in $50, $100 and $250 increments. The $50 soda card availed a discount of 50 percent off all sodas; the $100 and $250 cards discounted alcoholic drinks by 5 and 10 percent respectively. Happy hour was available at select bars on most nights of the cruise: From 4 to 5 p.m. at the Ocean Bar and Crow’s Nest, and 11 p.m. to midnight at Northern Lights. A 15 percent service charge was added to all drink orders.

In light of the current craze for hoppy, artisanal brews, we found Oosterdam’s beer list to be uninspired. The usual domestics were available, plus Corona, Amstel Light, Heineken, Beck’s, Stella Artois and Grolsch. Only the inclusion of a few Alaskan beers broke the monotony. Wines available by the glass started at $5 for Santa Carolina chardonnay and ranged up to $11 for Labouré roi Pouilly Fuissé on the white side; in between was Chateau Ste. Michelle riesling, Nobilo sauvignon blanc, Rosemount Estate chardonnay. The red wine list included Batasiolo Barbara d’Asti, Meridian pinot noir, Wolf Blass cabernet sauvignon and Les Closiers Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Champagnes included Domaine Chandon Brut, Nicolas Feuillatte Epernay Brut and Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut. Wines by the bottle included a good representation from the Pacific Northwest, where Holland America is based.

The ship’s standard bar menu included mojito, margarita, daiquiris, etc.—all of which could be made with the classic recipe or with mango, strawberry, or banana. Cosmopolitans could be made in the traditional style, or with grapefruit, candy apple or apricot liqueurs. Most other signature cocktails had their own twist—the Royal Manhattan used bourbon, red vermouth and a dash of angostura bitters—but there was a Vintage Collection page that handled the classics without embellishments. Drinks were made with the ship’s house spirits—but call spirits were available for .50 cents extra and “premium spirits” were $1 more.

Mocktails were available at most of the ship’s bars, and included Frozen Peach Margarita, Melon Mint No’jito and Cool as a Cucumber. Juices by the glass were complimentary.

Cabin Overview

We found six main cabin types to choose from on Oosterdam—Interior, Ocean-view, Verandah Suites, Signature Suites, Neptune Suites, and five Pinnacle Suites that average 1150 square feet, plus balcony. About two-thirds of the Oosterdam’s cabins have balconies, more than we’ve found on most Holland America ships, while the remaining cabins are either Interiors or Ocean-Views. Within each category are price variations, primarily based on location and/or view.

Interior cabins can be as small as 151 square feet—pretty tight quarters, if you ask us—so it’s worth discussing actual cabin size with a Holland America rep (or a travel agent) before locking in your booking.

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.

Club HAL, the Loft, Video Arcade

Located on Deck 10 at midship, Holland America’s youth program—which goes under the name Club HAL—had dedicated venues for three age groups. For ages 3-7 an adult was required to sign kids in and out, the room was stocked with board games; scheduled activities included Vacation Journals, Tag, Jenga and a Pajama Party.

Another space was set aside for tweens ages 8-12 and had video games; scheduled activities included Wii, Ping Pong Challenge and Vacation Photo Frames; sign in/out was handled by tweens with adult permission. Both of these areas were supervised for most of the day and evening, from 8 or 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. (with set staff breaks at meal times). Sitting services were available for $5 per hour (per child) from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.

For ages 13-17 there was a separate teen venue called The Loft, with a DJ booth, a stage, Internet stations and couches for hanging out. This venue was not staffed during our cruise, but there were scheduled activities through the day and evening—teens could come and go as they wanted.

An unsupervised room with Xbox and Wii games was available; the equipment could not be removed from the Youth Center. There was also a small, dark, loud video arcade next to Club HAL.

Dining Overview

From basic pool grill and well-stocked buffet to an elegant specialty restaurant, there was a decent array of dining choices on Oosterdam. Cuisine is one of Holland America’s focus areas, and we had a number of satisfying meals. The menu for Vista, the main dining room, changes nightly, and each night’s selection features an appetizer and entrée selection from Holland America’s “Culinary Council,” a quintet of noteworthy chefs. Set seating times for the main dining room were 5:30 and 7:45 p.m. but passengers could also opt for open seating, available between 5:15 and 9 p.m. The Vista Dining Room was open for breakfast daily, and for lunch on sea days, and was home to afternoon tea service.

We found good food at the main buffet (serving breakfast, lunch and dinner daily) plus we had a couple satisfactory lunches at the Terrace Grill, the poolside buffet option. There are two surcharge restaurants, Pinnacle Grill and Canaletto, and especially for a voyage of a week or longer we advise trying one or both.

Greenhouse Spa and Salon, Gym

Oosterdam’s spa and salon is managed by Steiner Leisure, the same outfit that oversees spa facilities on a majority of cruise ships. The seductive Greenhouse Spa is located on Deck 9 forward and a wide variety of treatments were available, at prices slightly higher than we find at most quality resorts. Treatments were discounted on port days, and other specials became available as the cruise went on, particularly for those booking multiple appointments.

The prices ranged from $119 for a 50-minute Well Being Massage to $279 for a 100-minute AromaSpa Seaweed Massage and Float. A couples or friends massage was $269 for a 50-minute session. The salon offered facials starting from $119 for the 50-minute LaTherapie Hydralift Facial. Manicure and pedicure services started at $45 and $65 respectively. The menu of services also included waxing, tooth whitening and acupuncture—all of which were heavily promoted with leaflets that arrived in our cabin daily.

A couple sections of the spa were devoted to the Greenhouse Spa Retreat, a spa within the spa with a very appealing indoor hydropool bubbling away; the Retreat also offered a thermal suite (akin to a Turkish bath) with dry heat, steam and aromatherapy chambers, and heated ceramic loungers. A seven-day pass to use the Retreat was $129 ($199 for couples); we found the add-on excessive, but others signed up quickly for this parcel of semi-exclusivity.

Oosterdam’s gym was accessed through the entrance to the spa. While the overall facility was in good shape and well-maintained much of the cardio equipment was made up of older Cybex machines. The gym was generally not crowded except early morning.

There was a roster of fitness classes—most were free, including daily tai chi (twice on sea days), abs conditioning, pool aerobics and dance aerobics, most of them taught by the ship’s “Lifestylist” and announced in the daily Explorer newsletter. Yoga and spinning classes were $12 per session. The Body Sculpt Boot Camp was priced $120 for four 30-minute circuit-based sessions.

A 15-percent gratuity was automatically added to the bill for all treatments.

Explorations Café

We love Holland America’s coffee venue, the Explorations Café. Usually intermingled with the ship’s internet station and an above-average library, the café on Oosterdam was no exception, with Scandinavian leather couches and a few very popular leather loungers to sink into. Located on Deck 10 forward, it was a great perch for enjoying the scenery.

All the standard espresso drinks were available with a surcharge, and the cappuccino we had was just fine. Baristas tend to fill orders in to-go cups—12- and 16-oz sizes—but we requested a ceramic cup to watch the world go by. Tazo tea drinks (including chai tea lattes) were also available. Spiked coffee drinks included Irish Coffee (with Bailey’s Irish Cream), Icy Bourbon Mint (bourbon, crème de menthe and chocolate) and coffee nudge (crème de cacao and brandy). The café has a small deli counter with between-meal snacks offered free of charge. In the morning we found muffins, cinnamon rolls, donuts, pastries, croissants and goblets of fruit and berries, while later in the day finger sandwiches, cakes and cookies emerged. We highly recommend the chocolate pecan brownie.

One of the tables always had a jigsaw puzzle in progress, and various board games could be borrowed. Pick up a copy of the day’s New York Times Digest (in print) or access the electronic version on the ship’s computers at no charge. There were 16 PCs available for use. Although a librarian was sometimes present, a sign posted throughout the café says: “Books are electronically monitored to prevent theft”—apparently a problem for travel books covering ports of call (the travel book selection was pretty good). Bookcases were locked up each evening.

Vista Dining Room

Oosterdam’s main dining room is a two-story affair, located on decks 2 and 3. With a number of tables offering sea views, the room is elegantly appointed in red, with crisp white linens, china, fresh flowers and pepper grinders adorning each table. We were dining anytime (rather than during the two set seatings nightly); wait times for a table were less than 10 minutes for each dinner. One complaint we had was that tables for two were mostly snuggled against four-tops, meaning there was little privacy for couples.

We had several appealing dishes, including an excellent beef carpaccio served paper-thin with Reggiano-Parmigiano, perfectly punched with spicy mustard. Gold Rush soup was a delicious pureé of fennel and yellow tomato, with a decadent dollop of crème fraîche. Another starter, chilled rainbow trout tartare with salmon caviar and marinated shrimp, was intriguing. The fresh breads served by Holland America were varied, and it was hard to not stuff ourselves with the nutty dark loaf. Several vegetarian entrées were available nightly.

Entrées we liked included the halibut poached in olive oil, with dollops chorizo cream—a dish we had on another Holland America ship with less success. Lamb chops were nicely done, medium well, with good flavor and a smoked paprika-rosemary crust. The flank steak was excellent, tender, still pinkish (as we requested). At lunch one day we had a fish called basa—new to us—lightly cooked with lemon and leeks; we would have happily ordered this again. Desserts were generally good, especially the simple “purse” made of phyllo dough and plumped with dark chocolate.

But the Master Chefs International Dinner was a disappointment, an ambitious menu covering a lot of geographical turf. Brie in crispy phyllo is a cute idea, but it sat in a swamp of overly sweet apple-cranberry chutney, and the tiny pocket of cheese was served at room temperature. A salad of shiitake mushrooms was fine, but orecchiette with Italian sausage and escarole was awful—a dish lacking in any character. Instead, the pasta was coasted with a pasty cream with little cheese flavor while the “ribbons” of escarole were nearly invisible—it was a starch bomb. Another night, “gourmet greens” was merely a pile of romaine, a couple thick wedges of pear and pithy orange and a half a shard of pecan—what exactly made this “gourmet”?

We really enjoyed our unhurried breakfasts in Vista, with its subdued ambience. The varied menu started with simpler dishes like fruits, cold cuts, yogurts, cold and hot cereals, egg and cheese sandwiches, bagel and lox. But many other options were available, from Belgian waffles and pancakes (with banana or blueberry) to egg white frittata Italiana, and eggs Benedict (and Florentine, Royale). International options ranged from Scandinavian (smoked salmon, pickled herring, hard boiled egg, dark rye bread), Dutch breakfast (Uitsmijter, an open-face sandwich with thick white bread, ham, aged Gouda, and two eggs sunny side up), Japanese breakfast (miso soup, white rice, tamagoyaki and broiled salmon), to the classic full English breakfast (scrambled eggs, English banger sausage, bacon, baked beans, hash browns, grilled half tomato).

The Vista Dining Room was used for the daily afternoon tea, featuring desserts, finger sandwiches and (on one day) cupcakes. One afternoon was dedicated to an Indonesian tea service and included coffee from Sumatra and Celebes. Tasty rice dumplings were served, along with warm scones with clotted cream and preserves.

About Our Cruise

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.

The Pinnacle Grill is one of our favorite specialty restaurants at sea, and the one on Oosterdam did not disappoint.

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.

Retail

We found a fairly standard selection of merchandize in Oosterdam’s shopping arcade. The interconnected shops were located at midship on Deck 3. Cruise apparel themed to our destination was available, along with Holland America logo merchandize such as T-shirts, caps, beach towels, mugs and Oosterdam ship models. There was a selection of jewelry, watches, fragrances, skin care products and binoculars. Sundries included candy, chips, toothpaste, deodorant, feminine napkins, disposable lighters and razors. Duty free cigarettes and liquor were also available.

Oosterdam’s Photo Gallery was also on Deck 3, near the Vista Dining Room, and a staff of photographers was on hand to capture guests on the ship. These included informal snaps in front of designated backdrops, as well as more formal portrait sessions. The shots were assembled each day and showcased here for us to buy.

Located on Deck 2, the Art Gallery featured a collection of artworks represented by Park West Gallery. Art auctions were conducted several days of our cruise, held in the adjacent Explorer’s Lounge.

Our Cabin: Obstructed Ocean-View

We chose an Ocean-view cabin for this cruise, and to save a few extra dollars to opted for one advertised as a “fully obstructed” view on Deck 4 (all other Ocean-views were found on Deck 1). This meant we had a lifeboat blocking most of our sea view; there were also a few cabins classified as offering “partial sea views,” but gauging from the one next to ours even these seemed pretty limited.

But we were fairly happy with our quarters. We had a floor-to-ceiling window, somewhat like a door leading to a balcony (minus the balcony), providing sufficient natural light we crave during the day. Fronting the window was a sheer, which provided adequate privacy when pulled, and there was a curtain that blocked out all light.

We measured our cabin at about 186 square feet, slightly larger than the 174-180 square feet shown on Holland America’s website. Our bed was a plush Sealy Posturpedic mattress, or rather—two mattresses joined together. The seam was apparent, even covered by a pillowtop. There were pillow-level reading lights on either side of the bed—not bright, but still useful. On either side of the bed were small nightstands with drawers, plus a phone. Additional lighting included a fluorescent blub above the window, plus a vertical bulb above the desk.

The narrow desk was built into one wall and opposite was a five-foot-wide sofa with worn fabric. There were two outlets at the desk, one 115-volt, one 220-volt, but no others in the room. Fronting the sofa was a coffee table—its height could be adjusted, and it was just large enough to fit a meal for two. The older TV model was a 20-inch screen—slightly smaller than we like for viewing from bed, and the unit did not pivot. Under the desk was a small cabinet containing a hair dryer (First Class 1600) that could be plugged in at the desk and a selection of glasses—cocktail, wine and champagne; we used a few of ours and they were not usually replaced.

The closet space was sufficient, with shelves that could be folded up, allowing space to store luggage upright or additional garments on hangers. In addition to the dinky safe, there was a wicker basket where we could leave our shoes for shining—a welcome amenity not found on most mainstream cruise ships. A curtain could be drawn separating the small closet/hallway area from the sleeping area, providing dressing/bathroom privacy for a non-couple that might be sharing the room. The ice bucket was refilled twice daily by our cabin attendant.

If our bathroom was bland in décor, it offered a couple nice plusses. There was a bathtub, adequate for a proper bath (45 inches long and 16 inches deep) and the bath products were by Elemis. A plug for shavers only could be switched to accommodate 110V or 220V.

We had only a couple quibbles with our room. There was a fan over the bed that whirred through the night, a little more loudly than it should have. The leather chair at the desk wobbled badly and needed a tune-up.

Pools

There are two main pools on Oosterdam, both on Deck 9. The focal point for most is the Lido Pool, located at midship and covered by a retractable glass ceiling. The roof was opened when the weather allowed during the day, but was closed at most other points. Three of the ship’s hot tubs flanked this pool, along with an iceberg sculpture at one end topped by giddy penguins. Ping Pong tables were available (and busy). Sun loungers line the pool, along with tables for dining (the Terrace Grill was in this area, and the Lido Restaurant nearby).

This outdoor Sea View Pool on the aft deck was a good spot when the weather cooperated; the pool temperature was noticeably cooler than the Lido Pool. But there were also a pair of hot tubs—a good place for enjoying the view. Smoking was allowed on the starboard side of the pool, next to the bar.

Room for Improvement

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.

Paint splotches, dented walls, dirty windows and worn carpets made the decade-old Oosterdam look older than her years.

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.

Rather than use key card scanners (as most cruise lines have converted to), the crew must still laboriously read from a list of cabins to determine that all passengers are present.

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?

Other Recreation

Active sports are not a big focus for Holland America. There were shuffleboard courts (found on Deck 10) and ping pong tables (Deck 9), and then on Deck 11 there was a sports court with a couple tattered nets ringing the hoops. No formal or informal play was scheduled during our cruise.

Lido Restaurant

Oosterdam’s main buffet venue is a compact set-up, but it offers a pleasing variety of food options. It was usually quite crowded in the morning (which motivated us toward the calmer terrain of the Vista Dining Room), but if one came early or late it wasn’t too hard to find a table. Lunch was also busy, but dinner was always lightly attended. Two buffet lanes had a similar selection, with seating areas running along the windows on each side; tables were brightened with potted orchids.

For the first 48 hours of our cruise, no self-service was allowed—only crewmembers could put food onto our plates (to help minimize spread of contagious diseases).

For breakfast, the standard selection was well represented, including various pastries and breads (toasted to order) with lots of packaged preserves to choose from. The cold station included fresh sliced fruit and fruit salad, yogurts, smoked salmon with cream cheese, capers and sliced red onion, packaged cereals, muesli; hot oatmeal was also available. At the griddle we found blueberry pancakes, French toast and waffles topped with whipped cream and strawberries or cherries. Poached egg dishes included various eggs benedict—Florentine, Messina, Stanley crab, Scottish and Italian—along with traditional Omelet station, with assorted meats and veggies, or an omelet of the day.

At breakfast there was delicious freshly squeezed orange juice available, along with about eight other juices. A pair of self-service beverage stations flanked the buffet lines and availed coffee, tea, iced tea and lemonade. In addition to standard coffee, which we found a bit bland, there was a dark roast, which was much more flavorful (not great coffee, mind you, but definitely above-average cruise ship java). Other drinks could be ordered from the nearby Lido Bar.

For lunch, the salad bar included prepared salads such as Waldorf, brown rice salad with roast vegetables, citrus chicken salad, roast beef salad with green beans, etc. There were two soups daily, such as cheddar and crab, barley and mushroom, and cock-a-leekie. At the pasta bar we found a daily baked pasta such as lasagna or baked ziti along with various noodles and sauces, including pesto, pinenuts and sun-dried tomatoes, pomodoro and Alfredo; four different pizzas were available by the slice. In addition to a carving station (baked ham, rotisserie chicken, meatloaf), entrées available at lunch included Puerto Rican grilled pork, country-style buttermilk chicken, tempe and roast vegetable quiche, cilantro and mint-crusted tilapia, and Swiss steak. Asian items were a regular feature and included such fare as coconut curry, almond jasmine rice, chicken korma, Indonesian tofu and tempeh curry. We also enjoyed the sandwich bar, which had daily suggestions such as a Thai chicken wrap, grilled Ruben, Cobb salad wrap.

There was a dessert station offering scooped ice cream, and a daily fruit pie, cupcake, mousse, and cheese cake, along with cookies, brownies, fruit tarts, cream puffs, etc.; sugar-free desserts were also available daily.

At dinnertime, passenger focus shifted to some of the ship’s more full-scale offerings, but we found excellent casual choices available here, including some of what was offered at the Vista. Among the entrée choices were quail with apricot bread stuffing, brown butter gnocchi with roasted squash, bourbon-glazed beef with Portobello mushrooms, and tofu and vegetable korma. We had dinner here the last night of the cruise and found the lamb souvlaki surprisingly good—pink inside, with tzatziki sauce on side for dipping, and accompanied by a pleasing variety of vegetables.

The Lido also offered a themed late night snack spread on most evenings: American one night, Indonesian, the next, etc.

Crow's Nest

Sharing the forward section of Deck 10 with the café, the Crow’s Nest bar on Oosterdam didn’t see as much traffic as it does on other Holland America ships. We like this location for enjoying the passing scenery but, whether because it was cheek-by-jowl with the café or because the cruise director put the late evening focus on the Northern Lights disco, Crow’s Nest was often quiet. The venue was used for morning tai chi sessions and afternoon trivia contests, and in the early evening, a solo guitarist would perform, when a few more people would show up for a cocktail before dinner. The standard drink menu was available; the dance floor never saw action that we observed.

Internet Facilities

At the Explorations Café there were 16 PCs available for guests. The basic price for internet access was .75 per minute, plus a one-time $3.95 charge for activation; this same fee structure applied to WiFi access for laptops. Various packages were available that brought the price down—100 minutes for $55 (.55/minute), 250 minutes for $100 (.40/minute), etc.

The Digital Workshop, located on Deck 3, offered classes in Windows-based programs, taught using 14 Sony laptops, each equipped with a mouse. Classes were very popular (usually more attendees than computers), and pitched to a variety of skill levels, with a special emphasis on beginners. Topics included photo editing, the Cloud, file and folder management, PC security and Hotmail. There was also a class in camera basics, perfect for those who boarded the cruise with a brand new camera. The room was locked when not being used for classes.

Cabin Amenities

Bathtubs are available in all cabins except Interior. Standard features throughout all cabins include terry cloth bathrobes, a basket for fresh fruit on request (apples, bananas, pears and oranges), shoe shining service, lighted makeup mirror, ice bucket refilled daily and small safe. All cabins have a flat-screen TV and DVD player. A library of nearly 1000 recent and classic movies and TV shows are available on DVDs, loaned at the front desk and delivered to cabins on request. Free popcorn on request, along with candies, chips and snacks for $1.

Piano Bar

Cozy and dark, this venue did not open until 8:30 each evening, but the room filled quickly as the well prepared piano man started taking requests. Themed music trivia was conducted most nights—stage and screen one night, Frank Sinatra the next. Despite the proximity to the smoky Casino and Sports Bar also on Deck 2, ventilation was good—not much smoke leaked in. The ship’s standard cocktail list was available at the Piano Bar.

Conclusion

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.

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.

Dress Codes

By day, the dress on Oosterdam is relaxed and casual. Holland America asks that shoes and a cover-up be worn over a bathing suit when passing through public areas inside the ship.

On a typical seven-night cruise there are two formal nights scheduled, with tuxedos, dark suit or jacket and tie required for men and suit, gown or cocktail dress for women. But even on formal night, a substantial number of guests were dressed informally (men without jacket/tie). The rest of the cruise was defined as smart casual—slacks and collared shirts for men, casual dresses, slacks or informal evening wear for women. T-shirts, shorts, etc. were not allowed in public areas after dark.

Decks Overview

Deck 3 was home to Oosterdam’s promenade deck, wrapping around the entire ship. Deck chairs were lined up at midship and provided a good place to hang out and enjoy the view. Smoking was permitted on the starboard side of the deck. Three laps around the ship equaled a mile, and there was a relatively wide deck area. This was also where the Muster Stations were located, and the embarkation drill took place here, beneath the lifeboats.

Located behind the Crow’s Nest, the Observation Deck runs most of the length of the ship and comfy wooden loungers were set up most days. Deck 11, above the Crow’s Nest, is the highest public area of the ship; metal loungers are stationed here but they remained stacked and unused for most of our cruise.

Other Cabins

We did not stay in the rest of these cabins, but we have summaries here provided by Holland America Line. Note that photos below have been provided by the cruise line and not our reviewer.

Large or Standard Interior
2 lower beds convertible to 1 queen-size bed, shower. Approximately 151-233 sq. ft.
Stateroom amenities include:
Luxurious beds featuring Sealy® Premium Euro-Top mattresses and finely woven cotton linens
Deluxe waffle weave and terry cloth bathrobes for use during your voyage
100% Egyptian cotton towels
Premium massage showerheads
5X magnifying make-up mirrors and salon-quality hair dryers
Fragrant soaps, lotions, shampoo and other bath amenities from Elemis Aromapure
Complimentary fresh fruit on request
Elegant ice bucket and serving tray for in-stateroom beverages
Flat-panel TV and DVD player
Ice service, shoeshine service and nightly turndown service

Verandah
2 lower beds convertible to 1 queen-size bed, bathtub, shower, sitting area, private verandah, floor-to-ceiling windows. Approximately 212-359 sq. ft. including verandah.
Stateroom amenities include:
Our signature Mariner’s Dream™ bed featuring plush Sealy Posturepedic® Euro-Top mattress and finely woven cotton linens
Luxurious bathrobes for use during your voyage
100% Egyptian cotton towels
Premium massage showerhead
5x magnifying lighted make-up mirror and salon-quality hair dryer
Fragrant soaps, lotions, shampoo and other bath amenities from Elemis Aromapure
Complimentary fresh fruit on request
Elegant ice bucket and serving tray for in-stateroom beverages
Flat-panel TV and DVD player
Ice service

Signature Suites
2 lower beds convertible to 1 queen-size bed, bathroom with dual sink vanity, full-size whirlpool bath, shower and additional shower stall, large sitting area, private verandah, 1 sofa bed for 1 person, floor-to-ceiling windows. Approximately 372-384 sq. ft. including verandah.
Include all the stateroom amenities, plus:
A variety of firm, medium and soft pillows
No-host mini-bar for easy entertaining
Personalized cruise stationery
Oversized bath towels
One-touch telephone concierge service
Fresh flowers
Complimentary DVD library

Neptune Suites
2 lower beds convertible to 1 king-size bed, bathroom with dual sink vanity, full-size whirlpool bath, shower and additional shower stall, large sitting area, dressing room, private verandah, 1 sofa bed for 2 persons, floor-to-ceiling windows. Approximately 500-712 sq. ft. including verandah.
Suite amenities include:
Use of the exclusive Neptune Lounge and personal concierge service
Complimentary laundry, pressing and dry cleaning throughout your cruise
Complimentary sparkling wine served in the Neptune Lounge upon embarkation
Complimentary bottled water provided in suite at embarkation
Gorgeous corsages and boutonnieres for the first formal night
Cold hors d’oeuvres served before dinner each evening on request
Binoculars and umbrellas for your use on the cruise
Cocktail party with ship’s officers
Priority boarding for tendered ports of call
Special disembarkation service
Priority dining and seating requests
Exclusive daily breakfast service
High tea service in suite on request
Elegant wooden clothing brush, lint remover and shoehorn for keeping clothing immaculate
Fragrant bath salts and exfoliating loofah mitt for an invigorating shower experience
Neptune Lounge: A very special amenity exclusively for guests cruising in a Neptune or Pinnacle Suite, the industry-leading Neptune Lounge features a private place to relax, socialize with other suite guests and enjoy the personalized service of a concierge. The fleet-wide lounges provide worktables, large screen television, library, sofas and chairs, refreshments throughout the day and wi-fi for a small charge. One-Touch 24-hour Concierge Service is available when the Neptune Lounge is closed.

Pinnacle Suites
Bedroom with 1 king-size bed, oversize whirlpool bath & shower & additional shower stall, living room, dining room, dressing room, private verandah with whirlpool, pantry, 1 sofa bed for 2 persons, microwave, refrigerator, guest toilet, private stereo system, floor-to-ceiling windows. Approximately 1,150 sq. ft. including verandah.
Include all the suite amenities, plus:
Neptune Lounge: A very special amenity exclusively for guests cruising in a Neptune or Pinnacle Suite, the industry-leading Neptune Lounge features a private place to relax, socialize with other suite guests and enjoy the personalized service of a concierge. The fleet-wide lounges provide worktables, large screen television, library, sofas and chairs, refreshments throughout the day and wi-fi for a small charge. One-Touch 24-hour Concierge Service is available when the Neptune Lounge is closed.

Canaletto Restaurant

Found on all of the Holland America ships, Canaletto uses an underutilized corner of the Lido Restaurant each evening, transforming it into an Italian venue with a separate menu. Formerly a no-charge alternative restaurant, in 2012 a $10 surcharge was instituted for dining here and the menu was revised. This Canaletto meal on Oosterdam was our first experience with the surcharge and new menu. Our take: The food is slightly improved if still nothing special, the service and ambience is the same (no need to improve on real candles and a real red rose), and noise from the nearby Lido is unobtrusive. But the surcharge is modest enough that we think Canaletto is worth a try, as least for a change of pace, especially on a longer voyage.

As before, the meal starts with a basket of bread and bottles of olive oil and syrupy sweet Balsamic vinegar. The garlic bread was liberally soaked with garlic butter—it was scrumptious but we thought of what our doctor at home would say (oh well). An appealing plate of antipasti was offered for us to select from—roasted vegetables, tomatoes, mozzarella, olives, calamari and slices of meat. We chose the Italian herb sausage and cannellini beans as a starter, served astride a tarn of creamy polenta. For an entrée we opted for the chicken cacciatore “alla forno,” also served with the tasty polenta. We liked the dish as comfort food, but felt it could have used a bit more sparkle.

A supposed signature item at Canaletto that has previously missed us on every other occasion we have dined here is a plate of white cotton candy. It’s a simple, cute touch, and kind of made the actual dessert we ordered redundant. It was a lemoncello cream, a copious serving in a big goblet. While it tasted pretty much as one would expect, it lacked any of the alcoholic kick we would like from anything called lemoncello anything.

Shows and Entertainment

The Vista Lounge is Oosterdam’s showroom, an attractive venue primped with a red and black color scheme. Front row balcony seating provided good sightlines, but seats toward the rear of the balcony were not so good. Holland America relies on canned musical backing tracks for most of its 45-minute stage shows—the death of spontaneity. The conservative choice of material made it clear what Oosterdam’s target demographic was, and we just didn’t feel old enough.

The show “Garage Band” started embarrassingly, with a five-man band mock-playing to the backing track. Only the singing was live, and this sounded sweetened as well. The dancing, however, was pretty strong, with decent choreography around a garage-music theme—tunes like “Pink Cadillac,” “Macho Man,” and “She Drives Me Crazy” all got a workout. It was, however, a spunkier set than some Holland America shows. The show called “Stage and Screen” was a little better, offering a mix of camp and flash. This tribute to Bob Mackie costumes (the guy behind Cher’s better outrages) is staged on other Holland America ships, but the 14-person cast was much better on Oosterdam. The juvenile synth backing track is awful, but dancing and choreography is pretty strong. Complaint: The use of stage smoke was excessive.

Another night offered a comedienne, and her regular act was bland, stilted—the usual airport security, weight and Alaska jokes. But a late show on a second night was advertised as adult comedy, and the comedienne’s unbridled personality came through, a much better set. One late-night event featured the Indonesian crew show—these are always a hit-and-miss affair, but the best acts generated enthusiastic applause.

The Queen’s Lounge and Culinary Art Center is a show kitchen at sea, a decent-sized venue designed for cooking demonstrations, with seating in a semi-circle. Two video screens projected the goings-on at the cooking counter, hosted by the on-board party planner and chefs from Oosterdam’s kitchen. The demonstrations and lessons were fairly routine compared to some of what we’ve seen on the Cooking Channel—preparations for steak Diane and chocolate mousse espresso, etc. This room was also used for trivia contests, flower arranging demonstrations, and most nights a band played various kinds of dance music. A small bar at the back was sometimes open.

There’s also a small Screening Room on Deck 3. There are just 31 seats, but they reclined comfortably. The screen was 90 inches wide, and presentation was definitely not Hollywood screening room quality. But maybe we’re just picky.

Laundry Facilities

There was no public laundry room on Oosterdam. In addition to dry cleaning at the usual exorbitant rates, there were laundry packages available. All the laundry we could fit in a Holland America laundry bag—not quite a full load for most washers—was $20, with 48-hour turnaround promised. Unlimited laundry and pressing on a seven-day cruise was $49; unlimited pressing only was $28.

Ocean Bar

This was one of Oosterdam’s most popular bars, with live music nightly by the ship’s band, the HALcats. Though they have a fairly routine set list, the musicians were all solid performers and quite a few cruisers got up and danced for some of the tunes. The bar is reasonably large, with a parquet dance floor.

Pinnacle Grill and Pinnacle Bar

Holland America’s premium restaurant fleet-wide is the Pinnacle Grill. There is a $25 cover charge for dinner, but this is one specialty restaurant at sea that justifies the add-on. Although the focus is on chops—Sterling Silver premium beef—the menu also features broiled king salmon, lobster tail, cedar planked black cod and shrimp scampi, plus a selection of skewered dishes. Also, one night of each cruise the venue is transformed into “An Evening at Le Cirque in the Pinnacle Grill,” a tribute to the famed Le Cirque restaurant in New York, replete with Bvlgari china. On this evening guests will find a set menu with optional wine pairings, and reservation are required; there is a $39 supplement for this meal. On certain days, the Pinnacle Grill also hosts lunch, with a $10 surcharge. (You can read about our Le Cirque experience as well as lunch at the Pinnacle Grill aboard Holland America’s Veendam here.)

Editor's note: In January 2014 Holland America increased surcharges for Pinnacle Grill. Dinner is now $29 and Le Cirque dinners are now $49.

Our past meals at Pinnacle Grill have generally been very good, and our experience at the restaurant aboard Oosterdam did not disappoint. As one of the larger ships in the fleet, a little more space is given to the venue here, and the setting is elegant, with fine plate-ware and Riedel stemware. One caveat: the backlighted reproductions of paintings by Dutch masters are yellowed and faded—in a word, tacky.

The meal started with a basket of assorted breads, three flavored butters and three varieties of sea salt (pink, red and black). This was followed by an amuse-bousch—an oversized fried ravioli with mushroom filling. It’s perky but one is enough. We like the Caesar salad at Pinnacle because—prepared tableside—it is redolent with garlic, Worstershire, Tabasco and as much anchovy as we want. Delish! Seeking a lighter entrée, we were going to order the salmon but our waiter recommended we stick with the meat offerings, specifically recommending the filet mignon. We chose the 7-oz cut (a 10-oz is also available) and ordered it medium—it arrived cooked perfectly. The steak was liberally peppered, which we liked (those less fond of pepper might ask for them to hold back a bit). It was an excellent cut, with a trough of béarnaise sauce and a frill of shaved beet on the side. Our dessert, chocolate velvet soufflé, came in a bowl with a side of Grand Marnier-flavored cream—it was terrific.

The wine list at Pinnacle Grill was almost identical to the one offered at the Vista Dining Room, but with the addition of a few very high-end recommendations. Opposite the restaurant entrance was the Pinnacle Bar. It was a good place for perusing the wine list (we snagged a couple tastes of bottles available by the glass), and for people watching.

Sports Bar

This was effectively the bar for the adjacent casino and, as such, the space was very smoky—only the casino was more smoke-plagued. The whole section of the ship should have better ventilation. Sports on TV were often playing and counter had built-in monitors for gambling at the bar. The ship’s standard cocktail list was available.

Casino

Games available in Oosterdam’s casino included Roulette, Blackjack, Craps, Three Card Poker, Texas Hold ‘Em, and there were slot machines (coinless) ranging from penny to $5 play, plus Video Poker. Blackjack, Texas Hold ‘Em and slots tournaments were held. Holland America also has a player’s club, Club 21, accessed using your key card. Guests under 18 are not allowed in the casino; smoking was permitted.

General Health & Saftey

Holland America does not let guests come near the food counters for the first 48 hours of a cruise, to minimize the transference of stomach ailments. Crew won’t even shake your hand the first two days. While we applaud the policy, it does create crowding problems at the Lido, where servers load the plates.

Just prior to sailing, roll call was taken by hand, outloud during the Emergency Drill, held on the Promenade Deck. This laborious attendance taking was antiquated—time to convert to a key card scanner system. The captain indicated that anyone who did not participate in the Muster Drill would not be allowed to sail.

Terrace Grill

This poolside buffet and grill was open daily for lunch. Though the selection was limited it evolved into a fairly tasty Mexican spread after the second day, with beef empanadas, black beans, shrimp Vera Cruz, beef escabeche, rice and corn chips filling the untended buffet counter. This was decent stuff, spicier than we would have expected, with various toppings offered—sour cream, cheese, tomatoes, jalapenos and onions; our only disappointment was that the guacamole tasted watered down.

The actual grill was nearby, where cheeseburgers, hot dogs and brockwurst dogs—served with French fries—were available.

In-Room Dining

Holland America offers better-than-average room service options, involving three separate menus. Breakfast could be ordered by choosing a delivery time between 6 and 10 a.m., using a door tag hung on the cabin door by 2 a.m. the night before. The selection included cold and hot choices: juice, fruit, yogurt, assorted breads and toast with preserves, packaged cold cereals, eggs any style (eggbeaters available), omelets, and ham, sausage or bacon. An expanded menu was also available from 12 noon to 10 p.m. and featured soups, salads, sandwiches, and a couple entrées (seared salmon and penne primavera). Finally, a 24-hour menu encompassed such basic fare as smoked salmon, mixed green salad, club sandwich, hamburger, omelet, cheese plate, fruit plate and a few desserts.

We ordered breakfast to be delivered between 8:30 and 9 a.m. The knock on the door came at 8:39. Eggs over easy, bacon and diced sautéed potatoes were all delivered hot; it helped that the ceramic plate sat atop a hot metal plate. Along with two glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice and hot coffee with milk, the meal was just what we ordered, and it was delivered on a tray with fresh flowers, salt and pepper shakers. A small sign on the tray asked us to not leave the tray outside the cabin door “for everyone’s safety.”

When we placed our lunch order by phone another day, we were told the order would be delivered in 20 to 25 minutes—it arrived in 19 minutes. The French onion soup was smartly packaged with a double layer of plastic wrap—one on the soup, another for the toast with melted Gruyère cheese on top. The soup was decent, with lots of onions in a meat broth that was not overly salty. But the second item—a grilled tuna melt—was neither grilled nor melted. It was a plain tuna salad on two pieces of bread with a slice of American cheese; there was iceberg lettuce, sliced onion, tomato and pickle on the side, along with potato chips. We wanted a grilled tuna melt.

Clinic

The medical center was located on Deck A (below Deck 1). Hours were 8 a.m. to 12 noon, and 2 to 6 p.m. daily. There was a physician available for more serious issues; consultations were to be charged to an on-board account.

Other Venues

Oosterdam’s three-story Atrium does not contain the grand type of sculpture that ornaments most of the Holland America ships, just a large, translucent earth-globe suspended from the ceiling. On Deck 1 was the Front Office, Shore Excursions Desk and Future Cruise Desk. A small lobby bar was tucked under stairs, though it was often closed—this should have been a vibrant area for socializing.

The Neptune Lounge is reserved for guests booked into Deluxe Verandah Suites, a private space tended by a concierge most hours. Nibbles are available throughout the day, along with worktables, an oversized TV, sofas, and computer stations where WiFi is offered at a reduced rate. The Hudson, Half Moon, Stuyvesant Rooms were spaces used for meetings. A few religious services were scheduled here during our cruise, along with informal card games.

The ship’s Library was located within the Explorations Café on Deck 10. There was an above-average selection of books, including a small array of travel books that could not be taken out of café area.

Explorer's Lounge

The Explorer’s Lounge, also on Deck 2 like most of the ship’s bars, was little used during our cruise. A string quartet played here nightly, and a waiter had a limited selection of drinks available. There is a piano, and it was sometimes used by a duo that played live. A small adjoining room (perhaps used for meeting space?) had reproductions of Frank Lloyd Wright drawings and furniture, with a large table for meetings.

Northern Lights

This was the ship’s disco, opening at 9:30 p.m. nightly. But that was too late for most of this crowd—the spot was often empty. It didn’t help that the music was usually a recorded track rather than a live DJ and the sound system hardly set our heart racing. Meanwhile, we tried to figure out just what was the meaning of the framed Laurel and Hardy black-and-white stills adorning the entry hallway.

Smoking Policy

Smoking was not permitted in Oosterdam guestrooms or anywhere indoors “with the exception of certain designated areas.” Smoking was permitted on the starboard sides of the Promenade Deck and the SeaView Pool deck, and indoors at the Casino, the Sports Bar, and at one corner of the Crow’s Nest bar. Smoking was also allowed on stateroom balconies.

Service

We found the staff aboard Oosterdam to be generally excellent and welcoming. The maitre d’ at the Vista Dining Room remembered us by name from our second visit onward. The crew was almost universally buoyant and upbeat, engaged with guests, and the crew at the main dining room seemed to know the menu well.

Lido Bar

When the weather was right (and even sometimes when it wasn’t) this area filled with pool and lounge lovers. A retractable roof protected the area from inclement weather, though it also locked in humidity (usually it was left open at least a crack, and only a couple sunny days was it fully opened). With its fish tail bar stools, the Lido Bar would get hopping at some points during our cruise. We loved the Bloody Mary cart that was stationed here on some mornings, plumped with shrimp, asparagus and more. This was also the de facto bar for the Lido Restaurant. Smoking was not allowed in this area.

Sea View Bar

The area of the ship was the best location for aft views, and a small bar was available with a full drink selection, along with a few tables. Smoking was allowed next to the bar.

General Policies

For information on Holland America’s tipping policy, see here.

For information on Holland America’s alcohol policy, see here.

For information on Holland America’s loyalty program, see here.

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