San Francisco Bay Area
CruiseClout score: 95.0
Oosterdam: Wide-ranging itineraries on stylish ship
Oosterdam, which made its maiden voyage in 2003, may not be the youngest belle at the ball, but she's anything but stodgy. On a recent sailing to Alaska, the 1,900-passenger ship felt comfortable and just modern enough for a weeklong journey filled with scenic wonders on shore and culinary and entertainment discoveries on board.
Symbolic of Holland America Line's 140-year history of circumnavigating the globe, the centerpiece of the ms Oosterdam is a Waterford crystal globe, grandly displayed in a three-story atrium. First-time cruisers aboard this ship will quickly recognize the traditional touches that make Holland America cruisers regulars: a warm palette of colors accentuating an extensive use of crystal, marble, inlaid woods and brass, priceless artwork and antiques and a full wrap-around teak promenade deck with padded deck chairs. In short, you'll find a combination of old-world style and modern comforts.
Who will like sailing on Oosterdam
Oosterdam appeals mostly to Holland America's core demographic: mature, sophisticated, well-traveled couples, the majority of whom have sailed with Holland America before. But there were also two or three dozen children on board, riveted to the Lido Pool, and a large number of nature lovers who wanted to take in the grandeur of Alaska.
Where Holland America's Oosterdam sails
Oosterdam's sailing schedule hits many different parts of the world including Alaska, the Mediterranean, Oceania, Australia and New Zealand, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Hawaii, the Pacific West Coast, the Panama Canal and the Mexican Riviera — take your pick!
Where I went & what I loved
Hard as it is for even me to believe, this was my first cruise to Alaska, so my family and I decided to take Oosterdam's 7-day Inside Passage itinerary from Seattle to Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka, Victoria, B.C. and Hubbard Glacier. We loved every one of the destinations for different reasons: Juneau for its charming downtown at the foot of majestic fog-shrouded peaks, Ketchikan for the thrilling ziplining adventure through spruce and cedar treetops, Sitka for its nature conservatory and mirror lakes, Victoria for its wonderfully accessible seaside walkways and charming cafes. (Tip: Check out Nourish Cafe, 225 Quebec St., right on the waterfront, for farm-to-table goodness.) An hours-long encounter with majestic Hubbard Glacier, with its blue ice and frozen tundra, was teeth-chattering but a raw reminder of the Alaska ecosystem's fragility. The four-hour whale-watching excursion in Auke Bay with Gastineau Guiding was also well worth it.
An hours-long encounter with majestic Hubbard Glacier, with its blue ice and frozen tundra, was teeth-chattering but a raw reminder of the Alaska ecosystem's fragility. The four-hour whale-watching excursion in Auke Bay with Gastineau Guiding was also well worth it.
Dining on Oosterdam
Dining proved to be one of the highlights and unexpected pleasures aboard Oosterdam, with reservations easy to make and a pleasant variety of choices. The ship offers both As You Wish (anytime) dining as well as set seating times.
Master chef Rudi Sodamin oversees a kitchen that offers extensive dining options, including "light and healthy" items, continental and ethnic cuisines, and vegetarian dishes. The alternative dining venues cost a bit extra but I found the added value well worth it.
- Vista Dining Room: The main dining room, open for lunch, breakfast and dinner, offers top-flight service and typically a choice of seven dinner entrees plus appetizers, soups and salads. Look for tried-and-true standbys for the most part. For us, winners included the carpaccio, raspberry soup and soft shell crabs.
- Pinnacle Grill: This intimate reservations-only venue with seating for 144 offers a sophisticated dining experience in a classy setting. Aside from the Bulgari china, Riedel stemware, Frette linens and a top-notch wine list, Pinnacle leans heavily to exquisitely cooked steaks and seafood, including king salmon and rock lobster. Try the steak entree. Cover charge: $35 per person.
- Rudi's Sel de Mer: One night during a seven-night sailing Pinnacle Grill transforms into a South-of-France seafood brasserie featuring a modern take on French classics such as fruits de mer, salt-encrusted Dover sole, rack of lamb, scallops and bouillabaisse. Cover charge: $49 per person.
- Canaletto: We wound up at an almost empty Canaletto on the first night of the cruise and returned three nights later, when fellow passengers had discovered this Italian gem. The 54-seat venue, cordoned off from the rest of Lido Market, offers a wide choice of antipasti, pastas and fish entrees. Buffalo mozzarella made for a yummy appetizer, the lamb chops were cooked to perfection, and the desserts — including a lemon tarte and cannoli — were worth the trip to the gym on board. Cover charge: $15 per person.
- Lido Market: This informal buffet-service venue offers great sea views for all three meals and features a variety of fresh, cooked-to-order specialties. We made it our go-to spot for breakfast but skipped it altogether for dinner.
- Dive-In at the Terrace Grill: For lunch at poolside, you can't beat Dive-In with its cooked-to-order gourmet burgers, hot dogs and fries.
Bars & lounges
You won't find a shortage of bars and lounges aboard Oosterdam. Choices include the posh Gallery Bar (pictured above), stylish Ocean Bar, cozy Pinnacle Bar, Explorer's Lounge next to Lincoln Center Stage and the Lido Bar and Sea View Bar on the deck 9 next to the two pools. The Neptune Lounge is available to Penthouse and Deluxe Verandah Suite guests. The Queen's Lounge served chiefly as the venue for the B.B. King All-Star Band shows.
In addition to the winning cuisine and diverting excursions, I was also pleasantly surprised by the quality of the entertainment on board. Just after the cruise ended I posted video interviews of the lead singers in the B.B. King All-Star Band and with three of the musicians with Lincoln Center Stage. Here were some of the entertainment highlights:
- B.B. King All-Star Band: We came back three nights to hear this tight ensemble, which played some blues but mostly funk, Motown, reggae, Supremes, Elvis and even some jazz. Don't miss them!
- Lincoln Center Stage: I've always loved the classics — and have even attended New York Philharmonic concerts in Lincoln Center — so I was taken with the quintet's performance of 14 different programs with a repertoire that ranges from familiar classics to pop hits from Coldplay, the Police, Queen and Radiohead. And more than a few cruisers who weren't concert-goers stopped by and were swept up by the musicianship. Bravo!
- Alaska in Photos: On our cruise, we loved the beautiful high-def nature short produced by BBC Earth with an accompanying live classical ensemble.
There was also piano music, a comedian who was fairly entertaining and a cast of Billboard Onboard performers singing familiar pop hits whom we found less than enthralling.
Activities on board
Some of the top activities on Oosterdam during our sailing included:
- Lido Pool: Warm days with light, salty breezes are made for lounging poolside with an icy beverage in one hand and an epic novel in the other. Depending on the weather, the retractable glass roof may be open or closed. If you prefer, there's always the aft pool.
- Crow's Nest: Gotta say, we loved spending time atop the ship taking in the 270-degree views of the passing landscapes and seascapes during the day.
- The Culinary Arts Center: The ship's state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen offers interactive gourmet cooking lessons taught by master chefs or culinary guests. The sessions that we saw were packed.
- Game shows: Cruise director Erin Duffey keeps the action moving with daily trivia contests in the Crow's Nest.
- The Greenhouse Spa & Salon: The award-winning spa features thermal suites, a hydrotherapy and thalassotherapy pool, heated ceramic lounges and more. There's an extra cost to use it.
Fun could also be had at the casino, watching big-screen movies, playing cards and bridge, art auctions, learning Windows 10 and one of our favorites: afternoon tea time. Note that Holland America doesn't do the amusement park at sea thing, so you won't find waterslides, bumper cars, rock climbing or simulated skydiving.
On an Alaska cruise, you really need to snag a veranda stateroom to watch the passing show, but we like balconies on just about any cruise. On Oosterdam 639 of the cabins have balconies — that's two-thirds of all staterooms. Our balcony stateroom, coming in at 200 square feet, was a tight fit for three people (including a teen) but had all the amenities we needed: two double beds, a sofa bed, small desk, TV offering a handful of cable channels (MSNBC, CNN, ESPN) plus an on-demand catalog of movies that weren't half bad. The bathroom had a nice shower-tub combo that offered shower gel, conditioner and shampoo.
Other room options include the posh Penthouse Verandah Suites (1,000 square feet plus 318-square-foot balconies). Deluxe and Superior Verandah Suites come in at 398 to 700 square feet if you include balcony footage. All suites feature dressing rooms, sofa beds, whirlpool tubs, separate shower stalls and dual vanities.
The ship also has 154 Standard Inside cabins (170 to 200 square feet) and 165 Standard Outside cabins (185 square feet).
Holland America welcomes children, but it's not known as a cruise line that appeals to families with young kids. That said, you'll find:
- Club HAL, the dedicated youth facilities and activities for kids ages 3 to 12; activities are supervised and age appropriate.
- The Loft, designed exclusively for teens (13-17) to socialize and hang out with people their own age. The Loft was empty during our voyage.
Oosterdam embraces the latest industry and environment-friendly technologies such as her use of a diesel-electric power plant for optimal energy efficiency and an Azipod propulsion system that maximizes maneuverability.
To be candid, Internet sucked throughout the voyage — which is still par for the course for most cruise lines today, alas. Wi-fi download speed topped out at 1.16 Mbps and upload speed was 0.38 Mbps. At times I couldn't get online for 10 straight minutes or more. I waited until I was on shore to upload most of my photos and videos to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, though I did have one troubling incident where my iPhone's signal was hijacked by Cellular at Sea.
Expect to pay $13.50 per person per day for the excellent service you'll receive if you stay in a veranda, oceanview or inside cabin; those staying in suites pay $15 per person per day.
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In our Oosterdam series
Top highlights on this ship
- A waterford crystal globe displayed in a three-story atrium.
- Take a stroll on the full wraparound teak promenade deck with padded deck chairs.
- Hawaii, Oceania, Alaska or the Panama Canal... take your pick!
- Visit the Cigar Room reminiscent of a Victorian society club.