Cruise Holidays - Attheta Travel

I am proud to be certified by CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) as an Elite Cruise Counselor. The Cruise Counselor Certification Program is CLIA's most comprehensive training which requires agents to successfully complete a number of compulsory training courses and exams, attend cruise conferences, and conduct ship inspections. Anita Thompson, Attheta Travel, dba Cruise Holidays.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cruise Report -- Oosterdam, Mexican Rivera

Seven day cruise to the Mexican Riveria aboard the Oosterdam.
December 4  - December 12, 2010
Garry Thompson

Day 1
We had an easy flight to San Diego from Oklahoma City. Our itinerary included a 90 minute layover in Las Vegas – just enough time for an early lunch and watch people gamble in the terminal. We didn’t experience any security delays or issues at the airport in OKC. However, we did have an “over-achiever” flight attendant on the leg to San Diego: she wouldn’t let Anita sit in the exit row seat until Anita proved she could lift her own bag into the overhead storage. The flight attendant would not let me put the bag in the overhead. In all the years I have flown, I have never encountered that requirement. Guess next time Anita should bring a smaller bag – or not expect to sit in the exit row.

As we approached the airport, we could see the Oosterdam in the harbor – just a few miles from the airport. A quick $10 taxi ride took us to the ship at the B street pier. San Diego is building a much needed cruise ship pier. Now, the cruise lines are using an old warehouse. No escalator here – use the stairs or wait for a crowded elevator.

The harbor is full of commercial and leisure boats. Across the bay from San Diego is a large navy base. There were two aircraft carriers docked within our view, along with several smaller ships. We couldn’t see any names on the ships, just large numbers.

The Oosterdam is a clean ship, but is seven years old and is starting to show its age. It doesn’t have a large atrium – unlike most cruise ships, we had a “closed in” feeling as we toured the main public areas. As expected, we had a mature group of traveling companions. However, there were a few younger families on board the ship, traveling with children.

We were pleased to find a promenade deck that went entirely around the ship. Three laps around the deck equals a mile and we were able to finish our exercise before the muster drill. After looking at the menus and prepared food in the buffet, we realize that we really need to exercise on this trip.

We didn’t take – or wear – our life jackets to the mandatory muster drill. Instead of sitting in one of the public venues for the drill, we gathered on the promenade deck (without life jackets), beneath our assigned life boat. Fortunately, it was a cool day and the sun was setting. In all of our cruise experience, this was only the second cruise where we were herded into tight groups and listened to the safety instructions. This was NOT a good experience: Holland America could learn a lot from their sister companies. This is one area where Princess Cruises excels.

We were assigned to “Open Seating” for dinner and joined two couples at their table. Since the other two couples were traveling together, we felt as if we were intruding on a private dinner party. However, the other guests tried to make us feel welcome to join their conversation. One of the two couples at our table told us they had cruised more than 80 times… Wow!

We skipped the shows and had an early evening. Guess I am getting old… Let the “younger crowd” enjoy the nightlife. Joke; remember this is a Holland America ship!

Day 2 – at sea
Slept in, enjoyed the gentle rocking of the ship at sea. The bridge reported moderate seas, but the lack of ship movement indicated a calm sea. Just what I like! Our cabin is on deck 5 and coffee/breakfast was on deck 9. After a light breakfast, we went for our two mile walk around the promenade deck. The warm air and very little wind made for an enjoyable walk. During that time, we passed two different pods of dolphins. The first pod contained more than 40 dolphins. The second pod (passed 30 minutes later) was a much smaller group.

We spent the afternoon on our balcony, reading – a great afternoon. I might have gotten too much sun. Hope not, we have another day at sea before landfall on Tuesday.

Day 3 – at sea
Today, we should have slowed for several hours of whale watching in a bay alongside Baja Calafornia. However, heavy fog denied us that opportunity. We continued South – heading for Mazatlan. During this southward journey, we did see four whales. We believe these were Gray Whales, but they were too far from the ship to identify. All we could see was the spout and the back/tail for the whales where they dove for deeper water. Anyway, it was exciting!

After a light breakfast, we took our two mile walk around the promenade deck. Then Anita visited the on board shops – again. Not sure what she expected to find that was different, but she tried – and enjoyed trying.

For lunch, we were back on the Lido deck, having hamburgers and listening to MoTown music from the 60s. It was nice! We spent the afternoon in our cabin and on our balcony reading. Yes, we enjoyed the day!

For the past two days, we have tried to see the afternoon movie in the theater – they are first run movies, but we were unable to find a seat. The theater is very small, less than 40 comfortable chairs and other passengers tend to grab/hoard seats. That’s a bummer!

Day 4 – Mazatlan
Overnight, we changed our watches to a different time zone – moved an hour ahead to Mountain Time. Morning found us docked in Mazatlan. However, this is a working port with lots of cargo containers. From the upper levels of the ship, we could see the beach and the town. We took the shuttle to the pier welcome center and visited a few of the shops. Since we have been there before, we decided not to leave the dock area. There were a couple of bars near the welcome center so we had a Corona and listened to music – and watched the world go by. I did see something I had never seen before (thankfully) a leather belt (modeled after a gun holster) that held a bottle of Tequila salt, lime, and 6 shot glasses. I wonder how many of those belts they sell on spring break? Today was a nice day to enjoy the ship while most of our fellow travelers were off on tours.

Day 5– Puerto Vallarta
For this port, the ship docked a few miles north of the main square in a harbor area that was full of fishing and pleasure boats. Across the street from the pier was a Sam’s Club and a Super Walmart! We got off the ship and left the dock area for a walk. We did find a couple of market areas, but couldn’t find anything we couldn’t live without. No, didn’t see a Tequila belt! Another nice day to go back early and enjoy the comforts of the ship. Since Puerto Vallarta is in different time zone than Mazatlan, we were told to keep our watches on “ships time” and ignore the local clocks.

Docked in the harbor, was another cruise ship: The Silver Cloud from the Silver Sea Cruise Line, a luxury cruise line. This sighting was a first for me. Looking at the ship (without any reference material), I believe it can carry about 400 passengers.

Day 6 – Cabo San Lucas
When we arrived in the bay for our tender stop in Cabo, we found the SapphirePrincess already at anchor in the harbor. Cabo does not have a dock for large ships and the cruise ships must tender passengers to shore. Our ship dropped anchor about 500 yards from Los Arcos, the famous arch in the rocks on the point. We tried to take pictures of the arch, but the sun was on the wrong side.

Before our afternoon tour, we went into town to look around. Lots of bars, cafes, and trinket shops… Didn’t buy anything except a Corona and a bottle of water. Yes, the water was for Anita… At noon, we met our tour guide. We spent the afternoon on the beach at a nice hotel. Lunch and drinks were included in the cost of the tour. It was a nice way to spend the afternoon.

Day 7 – At sea
During the night, we regained the hour that we had lost due to the time change as we left San Diego. This extra hour allowed us to sleep in during this last day at sea. We watched a movie and had a late breakfast. After our meal, we did our six laps around the promenade deck. On this day, the seas were “rough.” No whale watching today. Spent the afternoon packing our bags for the trip home.

Day 8 San Diego
The ship arrived in San Diego about 7AM and we left for the airport before 10AM. We were allowed to choose our departure time and remain in our cabins until our group was called. Our breakfast in the dining room was disappointing – not to the level of other last meals on a cruise ship. Not a good way to end a cruise…

We took a taxi to the airport. The fare for two (including tip) was $12. Much cheaper and quicker than taking a transfer with the cruise line. The airport was like a zoo! I suspect much of the extra passenger traffic was due to the Christmas season. Once we got checked in, we discovered that many flights had been cancelled or delayed. The weather problem was caused by a major storm in the Chicago area. Our flight was thru Phoenix and we were home before 9PM.

Other thoughts about the ship
During the first 48 hours aboard ship, every drink and plate was filled/handled by the crew. This effort was to diminish the risk of norovirus. Per the crew, the risk of contamination is higher during the first 48 hours aboard ship. We really appreciate this effort.

All the steps on the stairways seem narrow -- more so than we remember on any other ship. We needed to be careful going up/down the stairs. Since we don’t use the elevators aboard ship, this is a new, uncomfortable, experience for us.

On 3 nights, we had dinner in the main dining room – the table service was very slow. Each night, we had different table mates and a different waiter. Therefore, I don't believe the slow delivery was caused our table mates or our waiters. The quality and presentation of the food was good, but I was very disappointed in the length of time required to deliver each dinner course.
One night, we ate at the Pinnacle Grill. The food was very good and the service was excellent. However, the steaks were too large. I cannot imagine how much food they must throw away each night. It was a great experience, but we don’t eat that much anymore.

Two of the nights, we are at the Canaletto restaurant – the Italian restaurant onboard the ship. There is no extra charge for this restaurant and the food is delicious and the service approaches that in the Pinnacle Grill. Normally, I am not a fan of Italian restaurants, but I really enjoyed the food – and the overall experience.

Anita & Garry Thompson