This was my third time cruising with Holland America Line (HAL), at least according to my Mariner’s status, on the MS Oosterdam sailing out of Tampa, Florida on December 30, 2016 with stops in Key West (Florida), Mahogany Bay (Roatan, Honduras), Santo Tomás de Castilla (Guatemala), and Costa Maya (Mexico). HAL tends to appeal to an older demographic (think average age in the 70s) but it is also known to have excellent service with a staff of mostly Indonesians and Filipinos.
HIGHLIGHT: Mahogany Bay on the island of Roatan was amazing! I really love it when cruise lines have their own private island getaway. You don’t have to worry about crime or transportation. The Magical Flying Beach Chair is a must do. To save a few bucks, purchase your tickets on board before leaving the ship. This is a great way to get from the shopping area right off the dock to the beach area as it affords an amazing view. The only drawback is not being able to use the cruise card to purchase drinks at one of the bar/restaurants, so bring cash or cards.
STATEROOM: VF/Upper Promenade 4025 has an extra long veranda that juts out further than the ones above, so you have a wider view of the sky. It has a very comfortable bed with a flat screen TV right in front it on the wall. The bathroom was showing it’s age with the flooring worn away in some areas. But overall, spacious and relaxing with the old HAL palette of light browns, brass, and blue.
FOOD: Vista Main dining was hit or miss. In a few instances, dishes came out lukewarm. But the dining room was hot some nights due to the overhead bright lighting, which really made Gala Attire (formal) night a little unbearable. Nothing really creative or inventive on the plates, probably geared to the older clientele. Canaletto was where we had the best meal, even though this is not really a separate dining venue but rather a section of the Lido Market transformed into an Italian eatery. Whatever I had that was braised veal was very authentic in flavor and preparation. Pastas were perfect here too. But the Pinnacle Grill was a major disappointment. The steamed King crab legs were not king, but rather comparable to snow crab. They arrived at the table almost cold, but the giant grilled lobster tail came ever colder. Trying to make up for it with a filet mignon made our mistake colossal, as they were very small and this place is very expensive when you add up all the surcharges.
The Dive In by the pool that serves burgers and hot dogs during the day didn’t fare any better. With only a couple people working and a very small grill, you are given a restaurant pager with a wait time of 40 minutes or more during peak times. An epic failure. The buffet to the side doesn’t really help with lukewarm bins of stuff for building tacos, burritos, or salads. Room service for breakfast a couple times was better for breakfast, as the Lido Market gets jammed with people and not for the best food: omelets made in pans that were not non-stick so you get a mess when it’s served and poached eggs that were under done. Late night (think 10pm for this ship) at the Lido has great pizza though. Overall, I was disappointed with the food on this cruise. I remember it being so much better on previous HAL cruises.
SERVICE: For the most part, the service was above average, such as our stateroom steward, who also cleaned our room while we were gone. We only had to put the card out for service once. The main dining room waiters were prompt; however, the attendants at the Lido Market were hit or miss. More than once asking for a refill for coffee at the table was shot down with a “no.” Sometimes it took a while to get a drink in Vista or at the Ocean bar. The waiter in Pinnacle didn’t really get it and seemed kind of smug considering our bad experience.
ENTERTAINMENT: The dueling piano singers, blues club, and string quartets were very popular and busy areas on this cruise. Wasn’t too interested or impressed with the Main Stage performances. But this is a good cruise for just hanging out with drinks in one of the many colorful bars around the ship, my favorite being the Ocean Bar. The Navigator Application, which I discovered halfway into the cruise, works well at listing the activities for the day, so you don’t have to tear off the section in the paper “today ON LOCATION” delivered to the stateroom. The on-demand tv in the stateroom has a great selection of BBC nature programs.
PORTS: Key West is Key West: lots of shops, drinking and partying in the streets, and loads of tourists. Costa Maya: don’t bother taking the shuttle to the beaches. The water is filled with trash, seaweed, and rocks. We returned to the “town” or cruise terminal off the dock to just soak in the pool, have a drink in a bar, and watch the show in the main “square.” It is clear why there is a big sign I HEART ROA, in view of the ship when docked, because they did a fantastic job with Mahogany Bay on the island of Roatan. Guatemala was the complete opposite; with no infrastructure for tourism, I guess I missed out on what this country has to offer.
CONS: Guatemala was very disappointing. I don’t think this country gets it. There is no cruise terminal, just a bunch of shipping containers. Off to the side is an open air market: think hot and humid (no air conditioning). But the people are friendly and you can find some cool trinkets. But there are no taxis to get into town and the shore excursion with a trolley to do so, was sold out. They need to remove that gated off section (weather station?) to the right of the dock and put in a beach with a bar/restaurant.
CONCLUSION: It is clear that HAL being under the Carnival umbrella has whittled this line down to the mainstream category. As described by Carnival’s CEO, this line is to appeal to “mid-western values”, whatever that means. It’s not premium or luxury but it is very comfortable and relaxing. On more than one occasion I would see/hear an old person complaining about something: “if I was in a hurry, I wouldn’t be on this cruise” said one cranky old guy approaching the customer relations desk. But I enjoyed this classic ocean liner style cruise with her cozy cabins and no pressure to do anything attitude.