Skip to main content

Cruise Ship Review

ms Oosterdam - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

From the get-go, Holland America's Vista Class has suffered a bit of an identity crisis. This is not unexpected from a design intended to bridge the gap between Holland America's venerable passengers and younger couples and families.

My first experience with the class was with Westerdam, the third in the series of four. To my taste the emphasis had shifted too far toward the youthful energy extreme, what with atrium barstools upholstered in day-glo purples and yellows.

My recent sailing on the second ship in the series, Oosterdam, confirmed to me that the path to the proper balance of refinement and exuberance is a swinging pendulum, not a straight arrow trajectory. On Oosterdam, the bones of a typical Holland America interior are draped in a much bolder color palette than in the past. Big, bright red, orange and gold hues abound in the public rooms, most noticeably in the three-deck tall Vista Show Lounge. Blue and aquamarine carpets provide a colorful counterpoint throughout the ship. However, some elements are, to my eye, not youthful, but simply tacky, as for example, the cast plaster benches with painted pseudo-classical sculpted backs and gold lame cushions that grace the midships main elevator lobbies, along with false columns and escutcheons spray-painted in gold.

Adding to the energy level -- in a good way -- are the four glass elevators mounted on the outside of the hull, providing a dramatic shifting perspective for those traversing the 11 passenger decks.

Given the fact that the Vista Class ships are meant not to abandon the Holland America legacy of refined elegance but rather to add to those core qualities, it's important to note here that, at least on the sailing we reviewed, the gentle, accommodating service afforded by the Indonesian and Filipino stewards was still front and center.

In 2009, Oosterdam went through a "Signature of Excellence" dry dock. Structural changes included the addition of 34 new staterooms and the development of a new Pinnacle Bar, available both as a pre-prandial watering hole for those dining in that Holland America signature alternative dining venue, and, for the first time, to all other passengers as well. Also added were a new library-cum-coffee bar-cum Internet Café, a new alternative Italian eatery, new intimate screening room, and dedicated enrichment facilities -- all of which will be discussed in detail in the body of this review.Editor's note: Beginning January 16, 2015, Oosterdam will offer world-class musical performances with the B.B. King's Blues Club experience, five nights a week in the Queen's Lounge.

From the get-go, Holland America's Vista Class has suffered a bit of an identity crisis. This is not unexpected from a design intended to bridge the gap between Holland America's venerable passengers and younger couples and families.

My first experience with the class was with Westerdam, the third in the series of four. To my taste the emphasis had shifted too far toward the youthful energy extreme, what with atrium barstools upholstered in day-glo purples and yellows.

My recent sailing on the second ship in the series, Oosterdam, confirmed to me that the path to the proper balance of refinement and exuberance is a swinging pendulum, not a straight arrow trajectory. On Oosterdam, the bones of a typical Holland America interior are draped in a much bolder color palette than in the past. Big, bright red, orange and gold hues abound in the public rooms, most noticeably in the three-deck tall Vista Show Lounge. Blue and aquamarine carpets provide a colorful counterpoint throughout the ship. However, some elements are, to my eye, not youthful, but simply tacky, as for example, the cast plaster benches with painted pseudo-classical sculpted backs and gold lame cushions that grace the midships main elevator lobbies, along with false columns and escutcheons spray-painted in gold.

Adding to the energy level -- in a good way -- are the four glass elevators mounted on the outside of the hull, providing a dramatic shifting perspective for those traversing the 11 passenger decks.

Given the fact that the Vista Class ships are meant not to abandon the Holland America legacy of refined elegance but rather to add to those core qualities, it's important to note here that, at least on the sailing we reviewed, the gentle, accommodating service afforded by the Indonesian and Filipino stewards was still front and center.

In 2009, Oosterdam went through a "Signature of Excellence" dry dock. Structural changes included the addition of 34 new staterooms and the development of a new Pinnacle Bar, available both as a pre-prandial watering hole for those dining in that Holland America signature alternative dining venue, and, for the first time, to all other passengers as well. Also added were a new library-cum-coffee bar-cum Internet Café, a new alternative Italian eatery, new intimate screening room, and dedicated enrichment facilities -- all of which will be discussed in detail in the body of this review.

Dining

Once sporting a cuisine that could be charitably dubbed an ode to bland, Holland America now features a variety and quality of menu offerings that improve with every year. Under the culinary design and supervision of master chef Rudi Sodamin, Oosterdam's cuisine includes spicier, more palate-challenging choices (New York strip steak with spicy pear salsa); entrees and appetizers keyed to the local cuisine of the itinerary's port calls -- in our case, Mexico (Chicken Mole, Duck and black bean quesadilla); and the fusion of that local cuisine with others (Southwestern-style manicotti, tuna carpaccio with jicama chips and papaya-ginger relish).

Oosterdam continues Holland America's innovative "As You Wish" dining plan. Recognizing that open and set seating formats have relatively equal number of proponents, HAL offers both. Oosterdam's Vista dining room is a two-deck affair at the aft end of the ship. One deck is allocated for those choosing conventional fixed-seating dining (5:45 p.m. and 8 p.m.) and the other for open seating nightly between 5:15 p.m. and 9 p.m. Open-seating passengers can either make reservations or simply walk into the Vista. For those who wish to be seated at particularly small (two-top) or large (more than six) tables should avail themselves of the reservation system. Those who are happy either dining alone or joining a table of strangers, depending on availability, need not. The Vista also serves breakfast and lunch on a daily basis, even on port days.

The room, though large and lavish, is, at the same time, warm and welcoming, thanks in part to the ample use of reds and golds, and to the predominance of curved rather than geometric angles. The sculpted ceiling cuts down the noise level, even when the room is full, so acoustics are excellent. Rosenthal china reinforces the restaurant's stylish, upscale ambience.

Typical dinner menus include four items each in the Appetizer and Soups and Salad categories, and seven entrees. One item in each of the menu categories is identified as "Greenhouse Spa Cuisine" (Greenhouse Spa is the Steiner-operated spa and fitness facility). The spa items are all vegetarian, and there was a second vegetarian entrée most evenings. The menu also includes an unchanging list of plainer standbys: onion soup, Caesar salad, salmon, chicken or steak. A separate dessert menu offers four dessert choices (of which one always included chocolate and one was sugar-free) as well as sliced fruit and assorted cheese plates. One drawback, to our thinking, was that the wine list was a bit thinly populated. The Vista also serves afternoon tea daily, a Holland America tradition.

Vista also offers a 22-dish, vegetarian-only menu for lunch and dinner; it consists of appetizers, salads, soups and entrees. Options include dishes like portobello mushroom and chipotle quesadillas, Vietnamese vegetable spring rolls or spicy lentil and garbanzo salad.

The Pinnacle Grill, a Holland America standard, is a popular alternative. But with only 144 seats for a passenger complement of 1,916, getting reservations early -- like right after embarkation -- is a must, especially since most passengers we talked to felt there were enough desirable items on the menu to warrant a second visit. Formal nights are the most popular. (Hint: the reservationists establish a station outside the Lido Restaurant, which is usually everyone's first stop once getting aboard, and is a lot less jammed than going to the maitre d's podium at the restaurant, itself.)

Fleetwide, the Pinnacle has created an image -- Pacific Northwest Cuisine -- that translates essentially to a steak and chop house with seafood options (think Morton's). The seafood, in this case, has the Northeastern Pacific Ocean as its provenance: rock lobster, king salmon and black cod. New to the menu are skewers, including red meat, poultry, seafood and veggies-only. There is a $20 cover charge to dine in the Pinnacle. On sea days, the Pinnacle is also open for a reservations-only lunch, featuring lighter fare -- more seafood, soups and salads. I particularly enjoyed a Pacific Rim beef salad featuring Thai-spiced sliced flank steak over a melange of mixed greens. Cover charge for lunch is $10.

The Lido Restaurant is, to our thinking, the weakest link in the ship's food chain. A buffet venue on a ship of nearly 2,000 passengers should be able to sport a hefty variety of choices, especially for breakfast. There is ample room and enough stations set up to support such a variety, but by and large the choices were conventional. There were no international choices (no British, Asian, etc.) unless you include Belgian waffles and French toast as international. The one unique effort was a made-to-order Eggs Benedict station whose chefs would prepare a dozen or so variations on the poached egg on English muffin theme.

Lunch choices were marginally better with Asian/sushi, sandwich and pizza stations, though we found salad choices limited and uninspired. There are plenty of seating options in terms of table size, seating type -- chairs or banquettes -- and interior versus window placement. Stewards can usually be found to help a passenger transport their dishes to the table. The Lido also serves a casual alternative dinner and late-night snacks nightly.

Canaletto, a tiny (54-seat) Italian eatery, has been carved out of a corner of the Lido Restaurant and is open for dinner only. There is no charge for eating at Canaletto, but reservations are required. There are the expected primi choices (antipasti and pastas) but we felt the secondi entree choices really shined. I especially enjoyed a cod putanesca.

As an adjunct to the Lido Restaurant, there is an outdoor grill that makes excellent burgers and fries -- among other choices -- as well as a do-it-yourself taco bar.

Twenty-four hour room service is available gratis, and the menu is fairly extensive, which is a blessing, since room service does not include the night's dinner menu from the Vista Dining Room.

Gratuity

The ship automatically charges $11.50 per person, per night, to passengers' shipboard accounts. Bar personnel are tipped by an automatic 15 percent gratuity tacked onto bar bills.

Gratuity

The ship automatically charges $11 per person, per night, to passengers' shipboard accounts. Bar personnel are tipped by an automatic 15 percent gratuity tacked onto bar bills.

Dress Code

Casual is the universal daytime dress code, the only variations dictated by latitude (you certainly would dress differently for St. John, USVI, than for St. John's, Newfoundland), or by activity (as in going by motorcoach versus by motorbike). Two formal nights take place on seven-night sailings; three on sailings of 10 or more days. We found fewer gents going the full-on black tie route than we would have expected. Also, though the Holland America information pamphlet states that there would also be five "informal" -- sport jacket for men -- nights with only two "dressy casual" evenings, we found this not to be the case. On non-formal nights, dressy casual wear was the universal choice, with the exception of those taking dinner in the Pinnacle Grill, where jacket (with or without tie) was the rule.

Fellow Passengers

The Vista Class ships, though paying lip service to catering to multi-generational travelers, clearly appeal mostly to Holland America's core demographic: mature, sophisticated, well-traveled couples, the majority of whom are HAL repeaters.

Family

Judging from the modest amount of physical space devoted to Oosterdam's youth facilities and the limited extent and variety of kids' programs, it's difficult not to perceive a low prioritization for the family demographic. Kids' areas include a video arcade (open to adults as well), the Loft (teen club) and Club HAL, the main facility for children ages 3 through 12. Youngsters are broken into three groups based on age: Kids (3 - 7); Tweens (8 - 12); and Teens (13 - 17). Typical activities include board and video games, movies and TV show screenings, quizzes and game show-type competitions. Children under three are not admitted into the Club HAL program, though the children's cruise staff may, from time to time, schedule "toddler time" in the Club HAL playroom. Parents must stay with the toddlers during these sessions.

Kids' menus are available for both the Vista Dining Room and the Lido Buffet, and parents may request, in advance of sailing date, commercial baby food through HAL's Ship Services Department (additional fee charged).

Organized activities end nightly at 10 p.m. Nighttime group babysitting is available from 10 p.m. through midnight for a fee of $5 per hour per child. Limited private babysitting may be available through Reception at other times, and for children under three, at a rate of $8 per hour for the first child, and $5 per hour for each additional child.

Fitness and Recreation

The Greenhouse Spa, Oosterdam's spa and fitness facility, is operated by Steiner's Elemis brand, and a great deal of space and attention is devoted to the enterprise. The central pivot point for the operation is the Greenhouse Spa Retreat, a for-fee reserved area with a "thermal suite" featuring a full slate of heat treatments, dry saunas and steam rooms, with a large, seawater hydrotherapy pool, around which are arranged heated tiled chaises. Rates for admission to the facility run $199 for singles and $249 per couple for a seven-night sailing. Day passes are available at $40 per person.

The main spa offers facials and massages, including couples (or friends) massages and a whole menu of spa offerings keyed to kids, including mother-and-daughter and father-and-son side-by-side massages, non-tanning bronzing and anti-acne facials.

Other treatments include acupuncture, full hair and nail services (for men and women), and teeth whitening.

The commodious fitness center has plenty of machines for circuit training, aerobics, cardiovascular exercises, Pilates and spinning. Classes are offered for many of these regimens, but, alas, the days of onboard group fitness classes being offered gratis as a ship-provided amenity are long gone. A typical one-hour class (e.g., spinning, yoga, Pilates) runs $12.

There are two pool areas: the Lido Deck's central, main pool with its Holland America signature bronze sculpture at one end (in this case, cavorting penguins) is the family-oriented spot. The smaller aft pool -- a more laid-back area -- is designated adults only. Each area has an ample complement of very comfortable lounges, with additional ones one deck above on Observation Deck. The central pool area also features three whirlpools and a retractable Magradome.

Passengers can circumnavigate the ship on Promenade Deck (while soaking up the atmosphere of the golden age of the transatlantic steamers and strolling by the classic teak deck chaises.)

Oosterdam also features a volleyball court and a basketball half-court.

Entertainment

We give Oosterdam high marks in the Entertainment category. We especially liked two permanent enrichment facilities, each operated in partnership with onshore heavy hitters in their fields of expertise, and each physically designed for their enrichment specialty. The Queen's Lounge, an alternative lounge/theater standby on Vista Class ships, has had a makeover to become -- at least during daytime hours -- The Culinary Arts Center, with permanent cooking, preparation and viewing equipment to ideally instruct attendees on the preparation of various dishes. A general purpose meeting/conference/seminar room has become Digital Workshop, a dedicated computing education facility, with two rows of eight computers fronting a large, wall-mounted flat-screen monitor hooked into the instructor's computer, to graphically demonstrate each program step as students follow along on their own workstations.

The Culinary Arts Center is operated in partnership with Food & Wine magazine. Offerings include wine tastings ($15 fee required), cocktail tastings and mixology classes, cooking, cake decorating, flower arranging, and garnishing classes.

The Digital Workshop is powered by Microsoft, which provides both the software and the instructors, dubbed "techsperts." The curriculum in the digital workshop concentrates heavily on processing and editing digital photos and videos, blogging, and Internet publishing. In addition to class time, one-on-one time with the techsperts is available daily.

Other daytime entertainment and enrichment activities include language classes, bingo, cruise staff-conducted trivia and sports (ping pong, putting and chipping, etc.) competitions, movie screenings in the new screening room (with freshly popped popcorn), art auctions and casino tournaments.

The main nighttime showroom is the three-deck Vista Lounge. It is a beautiful room done in rich reds and golds. Seating is, for the most part, in plush, conventional theater seats. Usable tables are few and far between, and the chair arms do not have drink holders. But the biggest shortcoming -- and, in our view a major Vista-Class deficiency -- is the physical architecture of the room. It is simply too tall and too compressed front-to-back. In an attempt to maximize capacity, the balcony extends forward over a huge percentage of the main floor. Not only is this claustrophobic for those seated under the overhang, but the design forces the placement of support columns far closer to the stage than in most showrooms. The result is that a large number of seats have blocked sightlines. To make matters worse, this design scheme fails to create sufficient seating for a ship of Oosterdam's size, accommodating only about 45 percent of the double-occupancy capacity of 1,916.

The events scheduled in the Vista are top-notch, however. On a one-week itinerary there are generally three production shows produced by super-pro Stiletto Entertainment, a Holland America exclusive. You can also expect magic, juggling, comedy and cruise staff/audience participation shows. On most cruises the Indonesian crew members put on a bang-up show, as well.

Other nighttime offerings include up-tempo dance bands, jazz combos, solo instrumentalists and a classical string quartet. A DJ holds forth in the Northern Lights Disco late nights. On tropical sailings, there is usually a Reggae/Soca pool band. One of the most popular -- and deservedly so, we think -- venues is the Piano Bar. On every Holland America ship I've sailed the Piano Bar performers have always wowed the crowds. On our sailing the room was about three-quarters full on the first two or three nights, after which it became impossible to get a seat around the piano unless you showed up a half-hour before the pianist did. On the same nights a stroll through the other music venues onboard showed ample empty seating.

The shore excursion department does a credible job, and the range of available tours has been expanded from the HAL older demographic of the past to include more eco-tourism and adventure activities from zip lining to scuba diving.

Cabins

On paper Oosterdam's accommodation scheme seems like a cruiser's dream come true. Six hundred thirty-nine (66.7 percent) of the total complement of cabins have balconies (79.5 percent of outsides). The least expensive of these cabins (Deluxe Verandah Outside) measures a seemingly spacious 254 square feet (the balcony accounting for 54 square feet).

If space is important, at the upper end are the two top-of-the-line Penthouse Verandah Suites (measuring 1,000 square feet plus 318-square-foot balconies). Deluxe and Superior Verandah Suites range from 398 square feet to 700 square feet, balcony footage included. All suites have dressing rooms, sofa beds, whirlpool tubs, separate shower stalls and dual vanities. The balconies are equipped with a table that's suitable for dining.

Suite passengers have access to the private Neptune Lounge, though, ironically, with a capacity of only 25, the lounge will accommodate less than 8 percent of the double occupancy capacity of the suite-level staterooms. Though there is a concierge in the Neptune Lounge, there are no butlers for passengers residing in these accommodations.

At the other end of the spectrum are 154 Standard Inside cabins (measuring from 170 - 200 square feet) and 165 Standard Outsides (measuring a slim 185 square feet). Twenty-eight cabins are designated wheelchair accessible.

All classes of stateroom benefit from the line's "Signature of Excellence" campaign, most notably the exceedingly comfy "Euro-top" beds, high thread-count linens and Egyptian cotton towels. Other cabin amenities include waffle/terry-cloth robes, flat-panel TVs, DVD players, makeup mirrors, hair dryers, direct dial phones with voicemail (inoperative on our cruise), minibars (tended to manually by cabin stewards) and programmable safes. DVDs can be checked out from the Explorations Library. Bathroom amenities -- provided by Steiner offshoot, Elemis -- include two types of soap, bath and shower gel, conditioner, and shampoo. All non-suite staterooms except inside cabins have tub/shower combinations, a Holland America tradition that gets a big thumbs-up from us.

We don't look quite so kindly on some of the other attributes of our Deluxe Verandah Outside stateroom. Holland America championed spacious accommodations back in the days when the mantra was: "Who needs a big cabin? You only go there to sleep, shower and change clothes." Now, all the other players in the Premium category seem to have jumped on the spaciousness bandwagon and, in fact, many have leapt ahead.

Our accommodations felt more crowded than we would have expected out of a 200-square-foot interior. The room felt narrow, and portions of it were difficult for two people to navigate simultaneously. Likewise, storage space was limited, especially drawer space, although a couple of days into the cruise, we found a hidden set of deep drawers under the bed (though one of the two drawers was appropriated by the cabin steward for bedspread and extra blanket). The desk was virtually unusable, except, perhaps, for putting on makeup. Switching out the old CRT TV for the new flat-screen, wall-mounted set during the 2009 dry dock helped a bit, but the TV's position in the farthest corner of the narrow room made viewing in bed awkward. And the desk had barely enough room for a small laptop.

The most serious problem with the in-cabin television, however, was software rather than hardware. Unlike those of most modern ships, Oosterdam's TV system totally lacked interactivity -- no ability to access one's onboard account, book restaurant reservations or shore excursions, order from room service, or view dining room menus. And non-interactive programming was limited as well, offering only a handful of cable channels (CNN, ESPN, TNT and the Cartoon Network on our cruise), plus a closed-circuit movie channel and "ship commercial" channels for shore excursions, onboard shopping and "official" off-ship shopping.

Lastly, our balcony was sufficiently large enough to accommodate more than the plastic faux rattan verandah furniture -- a chair, hassock and tiny table too small for any serious usage.

Public Rooms

Nowhere is Oosterdam's position as a bridge between Holland America's past and future more evident than in its public rooms. Long time HAL fans will find the Ocean Bar and Explorer's Lounge comfortingly familiar, though half of the Explorer's Lounge has been appropriated for Park West's art auction operation. The vertically truncated atrium (at three decks) topped by a large, rotating Waterford crystal globe is understated and elegant.

One change that has both positive and negative repercussions is the restructuring of the shopping area on Deck 3. Shopping areas have been a major bottleneck on most HAL ships, as they span the full width of the ships' sprawling midway between the show lounge and dining room, capitalizing on the most heavily traveled walkway onboard. On Oosterdam, walls have been taken down and the whole area is far more open. That's great, and traffic now moves much more smoothly and quickly between bow and stern. The problem is that this restructuring comes off looking like a joint venture between Little Switzerland, WalMart and Istanbul's Grand Bazaar. It is tough to tell where one shop ends and the next begins, and shop identities are muddled, with the exception of the priciest emporia, which still maintain their separate, closed-off identities.

We found the casino was roomy enough horizontally, but the low ceiling, coupled with the designation of the entire venue as a smoking-permitted room, created an unpleasant ambiance. Choices for the serious gamer were limited as well, with only 11 tables to 130 slot machines, including many penny slots.

Adjacent to the casino is the sports bar, and Holland America has blended the identities of the two rooms by having video poker machines built into the bar itself and installing one of those computer-operated multi-player Texas Hold-'Em tables in the center of the room. This makes the entire center-ship gaming operation more reminiscent of land-based gambling resorts, which, no doubt, strikes the correct chord with those for whom the pursuit of the big win is a high vacation priority.

Far and away our favorite new public space -- and a big hit with all the passengers we encountered there -- is Explorations Cafe, a combination Internet cafe, library, coffee bar and quiet activities area (jigsaw puzzles, crosswords and board games). Holland America carved out space for this facility -- operated in partnership with the New York Times -- by splitting the Crow's Nest (the ship's uppermost observation lounge) down the middle. The large amount of window exposure provides ample natural light for comfortable reading conditions. The shelves are stacked with a variety of books, including a number of sections keyed to the Times' sponsorship (e.g., a unit devoted to New York Times bestsellers and one given over to books published by the Times' publishing arm). Two tables have giant printouts of New York Times crossword puzzles across their entire surfaces, which are covered with clear plexiglass. Felt tip pens are distributed by the librarian, allowing passengers to fill in one or all of the words on the plexiglass.

Here, 18 computers are plugged into the Internet through a fast, dependable satellite link, and Wi-Fi access is available throughout the ship. The Windstar Cafe -- the coffee bar in Oosterdam's original configuration -- has been moved upstairs to be part of the Explorations Cafe grouping. In addition to hot and cold coffee concoctions (with or without alcohol), the bar serves tea, chai and smoothies. Charges for non-alcoholic beverages range from $1.20 to $4.45, and from $5.50 to $5.75 for drinks containing alcohol.

Dining

Once sporting a cuisine that could be charitably dubbed an ode to bland, Holland America now features a variety and quality of menu offerings that improve with every year. Under the culinary design and supervision of master chef Rudi Sodamin, Oosterdam's cuisine includes spicier, more palate-challenging choices (New York strip steak with spicy pear salsa); entrees and appetizers keyed to the local cuisine of the itinerary's port calls -- in our case, Mexico (Chicken Mole, Duck and black bean quesadilla); and the fusion of that local cuisine with others (Southwestern-style manicotti, tuna carpaccio with jicama chips and papaya-ginger relish).

Oosterdam continues Holland America's innovative "As You Wish" dining plan. Recognizing that open and set seating formats have relatively equal number of proponents, HAL offers both. Oosterdam's Vista dining room is a two-deck affair at the aft end of the ship. One deck is allocated for those choosing conventional fixed-seating dining (5:45 p.m. and 8 p.m.) and the other for open seating nightly between 5:15 p.m. and 9 p.m. Open-seating passengers can either make reservations or simply walk into the Vista. For those who wish to be seated at particularly small (two-top) or large (more than six) tables should avail themselves of the reservation system. Those who are happy either dining alone or joining a table of strangers, depending on availability, need not. The Vista also serves breakfast and lunch on a daily basis, even on port days.

The room, though large and lavish, is, at the same time, warm and welcoming, thanks in part to the ample use of reds and golds, and to the predominance of curved rather than geometric angles. The sculpted ceiling cuts down the noise level, even when the room is full, so acoustics are excellent. Rosenthal china reinforces the restaurant's stylish, upscale ambience.

Typical dinner menus include four items each in the Appetizer and Soups and Salad categories, and seven entrees. One item in each of the menu categories is identified as "Greenhouse Spa Cuisine" (Greenhouse Spa is the Steiner-operated spa and fitness facility). The spa items are all vegetarian, and there was a second vegetarian entrée most evenings. The menu also includes an unchanging list of plainer standbys: onion soup, Caesar salad, salmon, chicken or steak. A separate dessert menu offers four dessert choices (of which one always included chocolate and one was sugar-free) as well as sliced fruit and assorted cheese plates. One drawback, to our thinking, was that the wine list was a bit thinly populated. The Vista also serves afternoon tea daily, a Holland America tradition.

The Pinnacle Grill, a Holland America standard, is a popular alternative. But with only 144 seats for a passenger complement of 1,916, getting reservations early -- like right after embarkation -- is a must, especially since most passengers we talked to felt there were enough desirable items on the menu to warrant a second visit. Formal nights are the most popular. (Hint: the reservationists establish a station outside the Lido Restaurant, which is usually everyone's first stop once getting aboard, and is a lot less jammed than going to the maitre d's podium at the restaurant, itself.)

Fleetwide, the Pinnacle has created an image -- Pacific Northwest Cuisine -- that translates essentially to a steak and chop house with seafood options (think Morton's). The seafood, in this case, has the Northeastern Pacific Ocean as its provenance: rock lobster, king salmon and black cod. New to the menu are skewers, including red meat, poultry, seafood and veggies-only. There is a $20 cover charge to dine in the Pinnacle. On sea days, the Pinnacle is also open for a reservations-only lunch, featuring lighter fare -- more seafood, soups and salads. I particularly enjoyed a Pacific Rim beef salad featuring Thai-spiced sliced flank steak over a melange of mixed greens. Cover charge for lunch is $10.

The Lido Restaurant is, to our thinking, the weakest link in the ship's food chain. A buffet venue on a ship of nearly 2,000 passengers should be able to sport a hefty variety of choices, especially for breakfast. There is ample room and enough stations set up to support such a variety, but by and large the choices were conventional. There were no international choices (no British, Asian, etc.) unless you include Belgian waffles and French toast as international. The one unique effort was a made-to-order Eggs Benedict station whose chefs would prepare a dozen or so variations on the poached egg on English muffin theme.

Lunch choices were marginally better with Asian/sushi, sandwich and pizza stations, though we found salad choices limited and uninspired. There are plenty of seating options in terms of table size, seating type -- chairs or banquettes -- and interior versus window placement. Stewards can usually be found to help a passenger transport their dishes to the table. The Lido also serves a casual alternative dinner and late-night snacks nightly.

Canaletto, a tiny (54-seat) Italian eatery, has been carved out of a corner of the Lido Restaurant and is open for dinner only. There is no charge for eating at Canaletto, but reservations are required. There are the expected primi choices (antipasti and pastas) but we felt the secondi entree choices really shined. I especially enjoyed a cod putanesca.

As an adjunct to the Lido Restaurant, there is an outdoor grill that makes excellent burgers and fries -- among other choices -- as well as a do-it-yourself taco bar.

Twenty-four hour room service is available gratis, and the menu is fairly extensive, which is a blessing, since room service does not include the night's dinner menu from the Vista Dining Room.From the get-go, Holland America's Vista Class has suffered a bit of an identity crisis. This is not unexpected from a design intended to bridge the gap between Holland America's venerable passengers and younger couples and families.

My first experience with the class was with Westerdam, the third in the series of four. To my taste the emphasis had shifted too far toward the youthful energy extreme, what with atrium barstools upholstered in day-glo purples and yellows.

My recent sailing on the second ship in the series, Oosterdam, confirmed to me that the path to the proper balance of refinement and exuberance is a swinging pendulum, not a straight arrow trajectory. On Oosterdam, the bones of a typical Holland America interior are draped in a much bolder color palette than in the past. Big, bright red, orange and gold hues abound in the public rooms, most noticeably in the three-deck tall Vista Show Lounge. Blue and aquamarine carpets provide a colorful counterpoint throughout the ship. However, some elements are, to my eye, not youthful, but simply tacky, as for example, the cast plaster benches with painted pseudo-classical sculpted backs and gold lame cushions that grace the midships main elevator lobbies, along with false columns and escutcheons spray-painted in gold.

Adding to the energy level -- in a good way -- are the four glass elevators mounted on the outside of the hull, providing a dramatic shifting perspective for those traversing the 11 passenger decks.

Given the fact that the Vista Class ships are meant not to abandon the Holland America legacy of refined elegance but rather to add to those core qualities, it's important to note here that, at least on the sailing we reviewed, the gentle, accommodating service afforded by the Indonesian and Filipino stewards was still front and center.

In 2009, Oosterdam went through a "Signature of Excellence" dry dock. Structural changes included the addition of 34 new staterooms and the development of a new Pinnacle Bar, available both as a pre-prandial watering hole for those dining in that Holland America signature alternative dining venue, and, for the first time, to all other passengers as well. Also added were a new library-cum-coffee bar-cum Internet Café, a new alternative Italian eatery, new intimate screening room, and dedicated enrichment facilities -- all of which will be discussed in detail in the body of this review.

Gratuity

The ship automatically charges $11 per person, per night, to passengers' shipboard accounts. Bar personnel are tipped by an automatic 15 percent gratuity tacked onto bar bills.

--by Steve Faber, Cruise Critic contributor

Dress Code

Casual is the universal daytime dress code, the only variations dictated by latitude (you certainly would dress differently for St. John, USVI, than for St. John's, Newfoundland), or by activity (as in going by motorcoach versus by motorbike). Two formal nights take place on seven-night sailings; three on sailings of 10 or more days. We found fewer gents going the full-on black tie route than we would have expected. Also, though the Holland America information pamphlet states that there would also be five "informal" -- sport jacket for men -- nights with only two "dressy casual" evenings, we found this not to be the case. On non-formal nights, dressy casual wear was the universal choice, with the exception of those taking dinner in the Pinnacle Grill, where jacket (with or without tie) was the rule.

Fellow Passengers

The Vista Class ships, though paying lip service to catering to multi-generational travelers, clearly appeal mostly to Holland America's core demographic: mature, sophisticated, well-traveled couples, the majority of whom are HAL repeaters.

Family

Judging from the modest amount of physical space devoted to Oosterdam's youth facilities and the limited extent and variety of kids' programs, it's difficult not to perceive a low prioritization for the family demographic. Kids' areas include a video arcade (open to adults as well), the Loft (teen club) and Club HAL, the main facility for children ages 3 through 12. Youngsters are broken into three groups based on age: Kids (3 - 7); Tweens (8 - 12); and Teens (13 - 17). Typical activities include board and video games, movies and TV show screenings, quizzes and game show-type competitions. Children under three are not admitted into the Club HAL program, though the children's cruise staff may, from time to time, schedule "toddler time" in the Club HAL playroom. Parents must stay with the toddlers during these sessions.

Kids' menus are available for both the Vista Dining Room and the Lido Buffet, and parents may request, in advance of sailing date, commercial baby food through HAL's Ship Services Department (additional fee charged).

Organized activities end nightly at 10 p.m. Nighttime group babysitting is available from 10 p.m. through midnight for a fee of $5 per hour per child. Limited private babysitting may be available through Reception at other times, and for children under three, at a rate of $8 per hour for the first child, and $5 per hour for each additional child.

Fitness and Recreation

The Greenhouse Spa, Oosterdam's spa and fitness facility, is operated by Steiner's Elemis brand, and a great deal of space and attention is devoted to the enterprise. The central pivot point for the operation is the Greenhouse Spa Retreat, a for-fee reserved area with a "thermal suite" featuring a full slate of heat treatments, dry saunas and steam rooms, with a large, seawater hydrotherapy pool, around which are arranged heated tiled chaises. Rates for admission to the facility run $199 for singles and $249 per couple for a seven-night sailing. Day passes are available at $40 per person.

The main spa offers facials and massages, including couples (or friends) massages and a whole menu of spa offerings keyed to kids, including mother-and-daughter and father-and-son side-by-side massages, non-tanning bronzing and anti-acne facials.

Other treatments include acupuncture, full hair and nail services (for men and women), and teeth whitening.

The commodious fitness center has plenty of machines for circuit training, aerobics, cardiovascular exercises, Pilates and spinning. Classes are offered for many of these regimens, but, alas, the days of onboard group fitness classes being offered gratis as a ship-provided amenity are long gone. A typical one-hour class (e.g., spinning, yoga, Pilates) runs $12.

There are two pool areas: the Lido Deck's central, main pool with its Holland America signature bronze sculpture at one end (in this case, cavorting penguins) is the family-oriented spot. The smaller aft pool -- a more laid-back area -- is designated adults only. Each area has an ample complement of very comfortable lounges, with additional ones one deck above on Observation Deck. The central pool area also features three whirlpools and a retractable Magradome.

Passengers can circumnavigate the ship on Promenade Deck (while soaking up the atmosphere of the golden age of the transatlantic steamers and strolling by the classic teak deck chaises.)

Oosterdam also features a volleyball court and a basketball half-court.

Entertainment

We give Oosterdam high marks in the Entertainment category. We especially liked two permanent enrichment facilities, each operated in partnership with onshore heavy hitters in their fields of expertise, and each physically designed for their enrichment specialty. The Queen's Lounge, an alternative lounge/theater standby on Vista Class ships, has had a makeover to become -- at least during daytime hours -- The Culinary Arts Center, with permanent cooking, preparation and viewing equipment to ideally instruct attendees on the preparation of various dishes. A general purpose meeting/conference/seminar room has become Digital Workshop, a dedicated computing education facility, with two rows of eight computers fronting a large, wall-mounted flat-screen monitor hooked into the instructor's computer, to graphically demonstrate each program step as students follow along on their own workstations.

The Culinary Arts Center is operated in partnership with Food & Wine magazine. Offerings include wine tastings ($15 fee required), cocktail tastings and mixology classes, cooking, cake decorating, flower arranging, and garnishing classes.

The Digital Workshop is powered by Microsoft, which provides both the software and the instructors, dubbed "techsperts." The curriculum in the digital workshop concentrates heavily on processing and editing digital photos and videos, blogging, and Internet publishing. In addition to class time, one-on-one time with the techsperts is available daily.

Other daytime entertainment and enrichment activities include language classes, bingo, cruise staff-conducted trivia and sports (ping pong, putting and chipping, etc.) competitions, movie screenings in the new screening room (with freshly popped popcorn), art auctions and casino tournaments.

The main nighttime showroom is the three-deck Vista Lounge. It is a beautiful room done in rich reds and golds. Seating is, for the most part, in plush, conventional theater seats. Usable tables are few and far between, and the chair arms do not have drink holders. But the biggest shortcoming -- and, in our view a major Vista-Class deficiency -- is the physical architecture of the room. It is simply too tall and too compressed front-to-back. In an attempt to maximize capacity, the balcony extends forward over a huge percentage of the main floor. Not only is this claustrophobic for those seated under the overhang, but the design forces the placement of support columns far closer to the stage than in most showrooms. The result is that a large number of seats have blocked sightlines. To make matters worse, this design scheme fails to create sufficient seating for a ship of Oosterdam's size, accommodating only about 45 percent of the double-occupancy capacity of 1,916.

The events scheduled in the Vista are top-notch, however. On a one-week itinerary there are generally three production shows produced by super-pro Stiletto Entertainment, a Holland America exclusive. You can also expect magic, juggling, comedy and cruise staff/audience participation shows. On most cruises the Indonesian crew members put on a bang-up show, as well.

Other nighttime offerings include up-tempo dance bands, jazz combos, solo instrumentalists and a classical string quartet. A DJ holds forth in the Northern Lights Disco late nights. On tropical sailings, there is usually a Reggae/Soca pool band. One of the most popular -- and deservedly so, we think -- venues is the Piano Bar. On every Holland America ship I've sailed the Piano Bar performers have always wowed the crowds. On our sailing the room was about three-quarters full on the first two or three nights, after which it became impossible to get a seat around the piano unless you showed up a half-hour before the pianist did. On the same nights a stroll through the other music venues onboard showed ample empty seating.

The shore excursion department does a credible job, and the range of available tours has been expanded from the HAL older demographic of the past to include more eco-tourism and adventure activities from zip lining to scuba diving.

Cabins

On paper Oosterdam's accommodation scheme seems like a cruiser's dream come true. Six hundred thirty-nine (66.7 percent) of the total complement of cabins have balconies (79.5 percent of outsides). The least expensive of these cabins (Deluxe Verandah Outside) measures a seemingly spacious 254 square feet (the balcony accounting for 54 square feet).

If space is important, at the upper end are the two top-of-the-line Penthouse Verandah Suites (measuring 1,000 square feet plus 318-square-foot balconies). Deluxe and Superior Verandah Suites range from 398 square feet to 700 square feet, balcony footage included. All suites have dressing rooms, sofa beds, whirlpool tubs, separate shower stalls and dual vanities. The balconies are equipped with a table that's suitable for dining.

Suite passengers have access to the private Neptune Lounge, though, ironically, with a capacity of only 25, the lounge will accommodate less than 8 percent of the double occupancy capacity of the suite-level staterooms. Though there is a concierge in the Neptune Lounge, there are no butlers for passengers residing in these accommodations.

At the other end of the spectrum are 154 Standard Inside cabins (measuring from 170 - 200 square feet) and 165 Standard Outsides (measuring a slim 185 square feet). Twenty-eight cabins are designated wheelchair accessible.

All classes of stateroom benefit from the line's "Signature of Excellence" campaign, most notably the exceedingly comfy "Euro-top" beds, high thread-count linens and Egyptian cotton towels. Other cabin amenities include waffle/terry-cloth robes, flat-panel TVs, DVD players, makeup mirrors, hair dryers, direct dial phones with voicemail (inoperative on our cruise), minibars (tended to manually by cabin stewards) and programmable safes. DVDs can be checked out from the Explorations Library. Bathroom amenities -- provided by Steiner offshoot, Elemis -- include two types of soap, bath and shower gel, conditioner, and shampoo. All non-suite staterooms except inside cabins have tub/shower combinations, a Holland America tradition that gets a big thumbs-up from us.

We don't look quite so kindly on some of the other attributes of our Deluxe Verandah Outside stateroom. Holland America championed spacious accommodations back in the days when the mantra was: "Who needs a big cabin? You only go there to sleep, shower and change clothes." Now, all the other players in the Premium category seem to have jumped on the spaciousness bandwagon and, in fact, many have leapt ahead.

Our accommodations felt more crowded than we would have expected out of a 200-square-foot interior. The room felt narrow, and portions of it were difficult for two people to navigate simultaneously. Likewise, storage space was limited, especially drawer space, although a couple of days into the cruise, we found a hidden set of deep drawers under the bed (though one of the two drawers was appropriated by the cabin steward for bedspread and extra blanket). The desk was virtually unusable, except, perhaps, for putting on makeup. Switching out the old CRT TV for the new flat-screen, wall-mounted set during the 2009 dry dock helped a bit, but the TV's position in the farthest corner of the narrow room made viewing in bed awkward. And the desk had barely enough room for a small laptop.

The most serious problem with the in-cabin television, however, was software rather than hardware. Unlike those of most modern ships, Oosterdam's TV system totally lacked interactivity -- no ability to access one's onboard account, book restaurant reservations or shore excursions, order from room service, or view dining room menus. And non-interactive programming was limited as well, offering only a handful of cable channels (CNN, ESPN, TNT and the Cartoon Network on our cruise), plus a closed-circuit movie channel and "ship commercial" channels for shore excursions, onboard shopping and "official" off-ship shopping.

Lastly, our balcony was sufficiently large enough to accommodate more than the plastic faux rattan verandah furniture -- a chair, hassock and tiny table too small for any serious usage.

Public Rooms

Nowhere is Oosterdam's position as a bridge between Holland America's past and future more evident than in its public rooms. Long time HAL fans will find the Ocean Bar and Explorer's Lounge comfortingly familiar, though half of the Explorer's Lounge has been appropriated for Park West's art auction operation. The vertically truncated atrium (at three decks) topped by a large, rotating Waterford crystal globe is understated and elegant.

One change that has both positive and negative repercussions is the restructuring of the shopping area on Deck 3. Shopping areas have been a major bottleneck on most HAL ships, as they span the full width of the ships' sprawling midway between the show lounge and dining room, capitalizing on the most heavily traveled walkway onboard. On Oosterdam, walls have been taken down and the whole area is far more open. That's great, and traffic now moves much more smoothly and quickly between bow and stern. The problem is that this restructuring comes off looking like a joint venture between Little Switzerland, WalMart and Istanbul's Grand Bazaar. It is tough to tell where one shop ends and the next begins, and shop identities are muddled, with the exception of the priciest emporia, which still maintain their separate, closed-off identities.

We found the casino was roomy enough horizontally, but the low ceiling, coupled with the designation of the entire venue as a smoking-permitted room, created an unpleasant ambiance. Choices for the serious gamer were limited as well, with only 11 tables to 130 slot machines, including many penny slots.

Adjacent to the casino is the sports bar, and Holland America has blended the identities of the two rooms by having video poker machines built into the bar itself and installing one of those computer-operated multi-player Texas Hold-'Em tables in the center of the room. This makes the entire center-ship gaming operation more reminiscent of land-based gambling resorts, which, no doubt, strikes the correct chord with those for whom the pursuit of the big win is a high vacation priority.

Far and away our favorite new public space -- and a big hit with all the passengers we encountered there -- is Explorations Cafe, a combination Internet cafe, library, coffee bar and quiet activities area (jigsaw puzzles, crosswords and board games). Holland America carved out space for this facility -- operated in partnership with the New York Times -- by splitting the Crow's Nest (the ship's uppermost observation lounge) down the middle. The large amount of window exposure provides ample natural light for comfortable reading conditions. The shelves are stacked with a variety of books, including a number of sections keyed to the Times' sponsorship (e.g., a unit devoted to New York Times bestsellers and one given over to books published by the Times' publishing arm). Two tables have giant printouts of New York Times crossword puzzles across their entire surfaces, which are covered with clear plexiglass. Felt tip pens are distributed by the librarian, allowing passengers to fill in one or all of the words on the plexiglass.

Here, 18 computers are plugged into the Internet through a fast, dependable satellite link, and Wi-Fi access is available throughout the ship. The Windstar Cafe -- the coffee bar in Oosterdam's original configuration -- has been moved upstairs to be part of the Explorations Cafe grouping. In addition to hot and cold coffee concoctions (with or without alcohol), the bar serves tea, chai and smoothies. Charges for non-alcoholic beverages range from $1.20 to $4.45, and from $5.50 to $5.75 for drinks containing alcohol.

Dining

Once sporting a cuisine that could be charitably dubbed an ode to bland, Holland America now features a variety and quality of menu offerings that improve with every year. Under the culinary design and supervision of master chef Rudi Sodamin, Oosterdam's cuisine includes spicier, more palate-challenging choices (New York strip steak with spicy pear salsa); entrees and appetizers keyed to the local cuisine of the itinerary's port calls -- in our case, Mexico (Chicken Mole, Duck and black bean quesadilla); and the fusion of that local cuisine with others (Southwestern-style manicotti, tuna carpaccio with jicama chips and papaya-ginger relish).

Oosterdam continues Holland America's innovative "As You Wish" dining plan. Recognizing that open and set seating formats have relatively equal number of proponents, HAL offers both. Oosterdam's Vista dining room is a two-deck affair at the aft end of the ship. One deck is allocated for those choosing conventional fixed-seating dining (5:45 p.m. and 8 p.m.) and the other for open seating nightly between 5:15 p.m. and 9 p.m. Open-seating passengers can either make reservations or simply walk into the Vista. For those who wish to be seated at particularly small (two-top) or large (more than six) tables should avail themselves of the reservation system. Those who are happy either dining alone or joining a table of strangers, depending on availability, need not. The Vista also serves breakfast and lunch on a daily basis, even on port days.

The room, though large and lavish, is, at the same time, warm and welcoming, thanks in part to the ample use of reds and golds, and to the predominance of curved rather than geometric angles. The sculpted ceiling cuts down the noise level, even when the room is full, so acoustics are excellent. Rosenthal china reinforces the restaurant's stylish, upscale ambience.

Typical dinner menus include four items each in the Appetizer and Soups and Salad categories, and seven entrees. One item in each of the menu categories is identified as "Greenhouse Spa Cuisine" (Greenhouse Spa is the Steiner-operated spa and fitness facility). The spa items are all vegetarian, and there was a second vegetarian entrée most evenings. The menu also includes an unchanging list of plainer standbys: onion soup, Caesar salad, salmon, chicken or steak. A separate dessert menu offers four dessert choices (of which one always included chocolate and one was sugar-free) as well as sliced fruit and assorted cheese plates. One drawback, to our thinking, was that the wine list was a bit thinly populated. The Vista also serves afternoon tea daily, a Holland America tradition.

The Pinnacle Grill, a Holland America standard, is a popular alternative. But with only 144 seats for a passenger complement of 1,916, getting reservations early -- like right after embarkation -- is a must, especially since most passengers we talked to felt there were enough desirable items on the menu to warrant a second visit. Formal nights are the most popular. (Hint: the reservationists establish a station outside the Lido Restaurant, which is usually everyone's first stop once getting aboard, and is a lot less jammed than going to the maitre d's podium at the restaurant, itself.)

Fleetwide, the Pinnacle has created an image -- Pacific Northwest Cuisine -- that translates essentially to a steak and chop house with seafood options (think Morton's). The seafood, in this case, has the Northeastern Pacific Ocean as its provenance: rock lobster, king salmon and black cod. New to the menu are skewers, including red meat, poultry, seafood and veggies-only. There is a $20 cover charge to dine in the Pinnacle. On sea days, the Pinnacle is also open for a reservations-only lunch, featuring lighter fare -- more seafood, soups and salads. I particularly enjoyed a Pacific Rim beef salad featuring Thai-spiced sliced flank steak over a melange of mixed greens. Cover charge for lunch is $10.

The Lido Restaurant is, to our thinking, the weakest link in the ship's food chain. A buffet venue on a ship of nearly 2,000 passengers should be able to sport a hefty variety of choices, especially for breakfast. There is ample room and enough stations set up to support such a variety, but by and large the choices were conventional. There were no international choices (no British, Asian, etc.) unless you include Belgian waffles and French toast as international. The one unique effort was a made-to-order Eggs Benedict station whose chefs would prepare a dozen or so variations on the poached egg on English muffin theme.

Lunch choices were marginally better with Asian/sushi, sandwich and pizza stations, though we found salad choices limited and uninspired. There are plenty of seating options in terms of table size, seating type -- chairs or banquettes -- and interior versus window placement. Stewards can usually be found to help a passenger transport their dishes to the table. The Lido also serves a casual alternative dinner and late-night snacks nightly.

Canaletto, a tiny (54-seat) Italian eatery, has been carved out of a corner of the Lido Restaurant and is open for dinner only. There is no charge for eating at Canaletto, but reservations are required. There are the expected primi choices (antipasti and pastas) but we felt the secondi entree choices really shined. I especially enjoyed a cod putanesca.

As an adjunct to the Lido Restaurant, there is an outdoor grill that makes excellent burgers and fries -- among other choices -- as well as a do-it-yourself taco bar.

Twenty-four hour room service is available gratis, and the menu is fairly extensive, which is a blessing, since room service does not include the night's dinner menu from the Vista Dining Room.Oosterdam (that's "oh" as opposed to "ooh") is a big, beautiful vessel where all the bells and whistles of a 21st century cruise ship meet this once oh-so-staid company's impressive 130-year maritime history -- and everyone wins.

Highlights include the four elegant exterior glass elevators which look out over the sea, a newly formatted, easy-to-read ship newspaper and program, and the beautiful signature Crow's Nest placed forward on Deck 10. Other innovative features are rapidly catching on with repeat passengers and first-timers alike. Among these include a revamped Lido, the creation of a nightclub (so loud, late-night music doesn't scare away Crow's Nesters), and a slightly different pattern of public rooms.

Some of the old HAL traditions are still around though veteran passengers may need to adjust to a different approach. Locating Ocean Bar or Explorer's Lounger requires a bit of extra navigation. The Java Bar, with its complimentary espresso and cappuccino, has been replaced by the "Windstar Cafe" -- and now specialty coffees are an extra charge (espresso and cappuccino are still complimentary in the dining room).

Oosterdam, like the Zuiderdam before it, has gone against tradition with bright, bold, colors and designs, 360 degrees removed from the expected blues and whites (Delft-like) that have long symbolized Seattle-based HAL. Red is the primary color here, orange reds, pink-y reds and deep, wine hues find their way all over the vessel from Club HAL, the children's own Kid Zone play-room on Deck 10, to the Vista Dining Room on Decks Two and Three.

Oosterdam is second in the Vista Class of ships (Zuiderdam was first and two others -- Westerdam and Noordam launched in April 2004 and summer 2006, respectively). Zuiderdam changed course design-wise from the design of ships brought on line in the 1990's. On those vessels, cabins, for instance, featured sitting areas between window and bathroom (though had far fewer balconies).

Ultimately, Holland America's efforts to broaden its appeal with Oosterdam (and its predecessor) offer both a high comfort level and many of cruising's newer, more contemporary touches. On our trip it was clear that long-time Holland America travelers, famously loyal to the line, warmed to the "new" as long as they could count on enough of an homage to tradition.

Dining

Dinner in the attractive two-level Vista dining room is offered via the As You Wish dining format. Passengers can opt for two set seating times or take advantage of a flexible option at dinner (breakfast and lunch are already open seating). You request either option during the booking phase. One level of the dining room will be dedicated to traditional "early or main seating" while the other will be open from 5:15 - 9 p.m. daily. Passengers opting for the flexible option can make reservations ahead of time -- or simply walk in.

A lovely Rosenthal flatware service makes for an attractive table. Notable menu items include a wonderful snapper dish, excellent sole, tasty and well prepared lamb chops. Service is good; food is brought in a timely manner and if your server observes you are not eating with gusto he quickly will offer an alternative. Iced tea and coffee are promptly refilled. A silver sculptured ceiling is graceful and exceptional -- and adds elegance to the dining room ambiance. Tables are nicely spaced and conversation is made easy by good acoustics.

Wine selections range from moderate to pretty pricey and include whites and reds from "Captain's reserve" which are offered at discounted prices. Wine packages for the week are also available.

The Lido on the Oosterdam offers that proverbial something for everyone: Breakfast options include full breakfast, Continental and omelet stations. Then at lunch, passengers can choose from salads, Asian specialties, pasta and pizza, deli fixings for sandwiches, a traditional buffet line, a grill and a Taco/Fajita bar. Of course it wouldn't be Holland America without the complimentary ice cream and yogurt bar. The evening-only no-fee Canaletto, housed in a corner of the Lido, is available aboard Oosterdam as of May 2009. The Italian restaurant, named after the famed Venetian artist, features a first course of Italian-styled antipasti and a set menu of pasta dishes and desserts (gelato is just one). The eatery features waiter service and decoratively arranged tables.

The "food station" concept replaces the long buffet line with everything in a row. One of the prettiest Lido areas on any ship, the hot pinks, orange-y red, yellows, blues and turquoises, are tied together in plaid draperies and laminated table tops. Plenty of help is in evidence and if you request aid in carrying your tray, you will get it -- but know that help isn't offered automatically. Cloth napkins holding forks, knives and spoons, are found at each place setting, eliminating the need to juggle flatware along with a tray.

The absolute pinnacle of food, service and presentation, is the Pinnacle Grill at the Odyssey Restaurant. The menu includes an outstanding filet mignon, better than a Morton's or Palm, delicious cioppino, and dramatically presented Baked Alaska. It is a dining experience designed for the gourmet. The room features red jacquard banquets and blue leather seats while a collage of famed Dutch Masters look on approvingly from on high. A $20 per person surcharge applies. A HAL tradition, tea is served each afternoon, usually in the Explorer's Lounge (sometimes in the dining room). Once weekly there's a "Dutch High Tea" and live music accompanies this high caloric repast.

And if you want pizza or ice cream at 1 a.m., the Lido offers both, plus the option of 24-hour coffee and tea.

Twenty-four hour room service is timely and served hot, just make sure your room has the space for the experience (see accommodations, below). Room service breakfast menus offer both continental and hot entree choices; the 24-hour menu features burgers, sandwiches and salads, along with other basics like salmon and grilled chicken. Dining room menus are not available. Mini bars contain water, cold drinks and liquor for which there is a charge.

If you have any specific dietary needs -- kosher, vegetarian, sugar-free -- let the line know when booking or speak with the dining room captain upon boarding. Every effort will be made to accommodate your needs.

Public Rooms

Holland America has created a great fusion of color and fine art throughout the vessel and the result is a wonderfully vibrant spirit throughout.

The main lobby is on the first floor of a cozy three-story atrium, topped by a graceful Waterford crystal globe (miniature replicas are sold in the gift shop).

Ship layout is relatively easy to follow. Most of the public rooms are on decks two and three. Of these, highlights include the Sports Bar; we love the leather couches, which make it a comfy place to watch games on TV. The Casino is airy and spacious with 11 table games and 130 slots. A staff of 25 dealers and technicians keep the pace going quickly. At sea, the casino's slots begin their singing at 9 a.m. and table games about 10 a.m. -- and there's no definitive closing hour (the casino shuts down when the last player leaves).

The Vista Lounge, the ship's main show room, is a large room and features comfortable seating but beware of 10 poles, which provide terrible sight lines (the result is that everyone bunches together in the better-viewing areas, which leaves the pole areas vastly empty). We can't understand why HAL can come up with all the latest audio-video high-tech features -- which are terrific -- but still not provide better sight lines.

Another favorite is the Ocean Bar, which has wonderfully cozy little nooks that look out over the sea. For night owls, the Northern Lights nightclub features intriguing lighting and black banquettes covered with what resembles diamond dust.

Our favorite room of all is The Crow's Nest, a HAL classic. Located atop the ship, it's got a fabulous bank of 10 recliner chairs in front of floor to ceiling windows offers a real bird's eye view of the sea. The room is used once a week for a luncheon for suite guests, for dance classes and for bingo. It is also a great lounge for a pre-dinner drink.

The ship has, of course, the obligatory shops. On Oosterdam, the merchandise moves around daily and it all gets a bit confusing, like an on-sea flea market. Everything from liquor to diamonds and Russian dolls are displayed at some time during the week (but the bottle of rum you spotted on Sunday night -- and decided to buy a few days later -- may never show up again).

An Internet Cafe, with 18 stations keeps travelers connected to home and loved ones. Prices are competitive with other lines and package prices are offered.

Cabins

Anything dubbed category "B" or below is small, about 200 square feet (with a verandah add another 40 square feet).

Possibly because of the proliferation of verandahs on Oosterdam and some new public areas, stateroom space has been eliminated. HAL ships of a decade ago featured much more cabin room. Compare this to Statendam-class cabins in a similar price range that are dubbed mini-suites at 284 square feet (including verandah). These are cramped, with no drawer space to speak of (two bedside tables barely count). If one guest is using the closet, the second passenger has to wait to pass by. A desk/vanity table is more than half taken up by a television set which should be wall-mounted (and management claims they will be doing so). Room service requires placing half the items on the couch or the floor to accommodate even a simple breakfast at the diminutive table. Closet space is adequate and the bathrooms in "B" category are larger than in similar staterooms on other lines, complete with tub, but floor space is extremely limited.

Decor is, however, pleasant -- as it is throughout the ship -- with rusty red the primary color. All cabins offer hair dryers, television sets with CNN and a number of films, nice toiletries and good service. All also feature in-room computer data ports.

On this ship, it pays to upgrade; deluxe verandah suites are fabulous and worth the splurge (highlights include a generously-sized living area and bedroom, high-tech toys like DVD players, bathrooms with twin sinks and a Jacuzzi, and a twice-the-standard-size balcony with oh-so-comfy chairs and footrests, not to mention a table large enough for dining). Suite guests have their own lounge, Neptune Lounge, where evening hors d'oeuvres and cocktails are served; the concierge can make spa and restaurant reservations and offer general port advice.

Oosterdam is equipped with 28 wheelchair accessible staterooms and is sensitive to being maneuverable for the physically challenged traveler.

Entertainment

Oosterdam's entertainment is varied: from big production features to individual performers ranging from comics to illusionists. We loved the usual Crew Show, with its Indonesian performers.

Disco night and country line dancing is offered in Northern Lights and movies -- complete with freshly made popcorn -- are shown each evening after dinner in the Queen's Lounge.

A video arcade and intimate piano bar are additional entertainment venues.BR>
Daily programs list cooking and dance classes, the ever-present bingo and art auctions, Ping-Pong, team trivia, volleyball and basketball, aerobics, and spa and salon demonstrations. Shore excursion and port-shopping talks are offered live and in-cabin.

Wine tasting and cooking courses are popular.

The ship has a state-of-the-art Internet facility. The rate is 75 cents per minute and various plans are available (such as 100 minutes for $55). There is a $3.95 start-up fee. Oosterdam even has a wireless program; Wi-Fi is $10 per day plus per minute charges. Laptops can be rented.

New to Oosterdam in 2008 is the Microsoft Digital Workshops program, comprised of complimentary classes led by Microsoft-trained "techsperts." Passengers can learn to use computers to enhance photos (Windows Live Photo Gallery), produce and publish videos onto a DVD (Windows Movie Maker) and create personal webpages or blogs (Windows Live Services and Windows Live Writer). In addition, one-on-one coaching, called "Techspert Time," is available for more than 20 hours each week.

Fitness and Recreation

Two pools and literally hundreds of deck chairs attract sun worshippers by the boatload and even on sea days there seems to be sufficient space. The main pool, with its retractable ceiling, features a sculpture of four frolicking penguins at one end and a trio of lighted plane trees at the other. The second pool, located aft, is quieter.

The ship features a promenade deck, which is quite popular (three times around is a mile).

The Greenhouse Spa and Salon offers a variety of hair and nail treatments as well as massages and facials. The Frangipani scalp massage is a favorite and the hydrotherapy pool (at $15 per person per day) a popular addition. This indoor pool (check out the gorgeous hand painted wall murals and the lovely tile work) is designed to reduce aches and pains and offer tranquility. There is a fee for sauna and steam.

The Gymnasium offers a blood pressure station, scale, six television sets, free weights with a 50-pound maximum, lots of Indian balls for aerobics, four step machines, two cross-country ski machines, 17 exercyles of all types, 11 treadmills, 11 weight machines, attendants on duty, plenty of fresh water and towels and disinfectant wipes.

A golf simulator is available, featuring well known courses, with fees starting at $30 per person for an hour of golf in a group of three or four. Private lessons are also available.

Family

Club HAL is for kids and the number of kids aged 5-17 on the manifest dictates the number of supervised programs for youngsters offered on any given cruise. On holiday cruises and during school vacations, the children's programs are very active. The program varies, depending on numbers of kids traveling; on school holiday season sailings, it divides kids into specific age categories (and aims its programming at age-appropriate levels). When there are few participants, they are all pretty much lumped together. The ship has a specially-dedicated teen area called Wave Runner, which features a dance floor and big-screen movie corner.

Fellow Passengers

These are folks who have traveled before -- often on HAL -- but they've all pretty much been around the block. While skewing younger than earlier ships in the fleet, Oosterdam will never overwhelm with young families, though it's clear there's an effort to create a variety of programming geared to attract passengers of all ages and keep them happy. Where once all you saw on HAL ships were retirees, a decidedly younger group appears to be choosing the venerable line and programming has risen to the occasion. Wine tasting and cooking courses are popular and increased Greenhouse Spa and fitness programs -- the hydrotherapy suites and pool, for example -- are geared to younger cruisers. Latte lovers enjoy the Windstar Cafe with its blue and light wood decor -- and the sometimes frantic Northern Lights club attracts a younger crowd.

Dress Code

A seven-day cruise involves two formal nights, three informal nights and four casual nights. Casual doesn't mean shorts or jeans; it means slacks and a shirt. Informal requires a jacket, but ties are optional. Formalwear, for both men and women, can be rented onboard. On formal nights, about a third of the men wear tuxedos.

Gratuity

Holland America, which many years ago maintained a "no tipping necessary" policy, is now more in-line with other mainstream cruise lines. The line automatically adds $11 per person, per day to onboard accounts, which is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills; note that gratuities are not automatically tacked on to spa treatments.Oosterdam (that's "oh" as opposed to "ooh") is a big, beautiful vessel where all the bells and whistles of a 21st century cruise ship meet this once oh-so-staid company's impressive 130-year maritime history -- and everyone wins.

Highlights include the four elegant exterior glass elevators which look out over the sea, a newly formatted, easy-to-read ship newspaper and program, and the beautiful signature Crow's Nest placed forward on Deck 10. Other innovative features are rapidly catching on with repeat passengers and first-timers alike. Among these include a revamped Lido, the creation of a nightclub (so loud, late-night music doesn't scare away Crow's Nesters), and a slightly different pattern of public rooms.

Some of the old HAL traditions are still around though veteran passengers may need to adjust to a different approach. Locating Ocean Bar or Explorer's Lounger requires a bit of extra navigation. The Java Bar, with its complimentary espresso and cappuccino, has been replaced by the "Windstar Cafe" -- and now specialty coffees are an extra charge (espresso and cappuccino are still complimentary in the dining room).

Oosterdam, like the Zuiderdam before it, has gone against tradition with bright, bold, colors and designs, 360 degrees removed from the expected blues and whites (Delft-like) that have long symbolized Seattle-based HAL. Red is the primary color here, orange reds, pink-y reds and deep, wine hues find their way all over the vessel from Club HAL, the children's own Kid Zone play-room on Deck 10, to the Vista Dining Room on Decks Two and Three.

Oosterdam is second in the Vista Class of ships (Zuiderdam was first and two others -- Westerdam and Noordam launched in April 2004 and summer 2006, respectively). Zuiderdam changed course design-wise from the design of ships brought on line in the 1990's. On those vessels, cabins, for instance, featured sitting areas between window and bathroom (though had far fewer balconies).

Ultimately, Holland America's efforts to broaden its appeal with Oosterdam (and its predecessor) offer both a high comfort level and many of cruising's newer, more contemporary touches. On our trip it was clear that long-time Holland America travelers, famously loyal to the line, warmed to the "new" as long as they could count on enough of an homage to tradition.

Dining

Dinner in the attractive two-level Vista dining room is offered via the As You Wish dining format. Passengers can opt for two set seating times or take advantage of a flexible option at dinner (breakfast and lunch are already open seating). You request either option during the booking phase. One level of the dining room will be dedicated to traditional "early or main seating" while the other will be open from 5:15 - 9 p.m. daily. Passengers opting for the flexible option can make reservations ahead of time -- or simply walk in.

A lovely Rosenthal flatware service makes for an attractive table. Notable menu items include a wonderful snapper dish, excellent sole, tasty and well prepared lamb chops. Service is good; food is brought in a timely manner and if your server observes you are not eating with gusto he quickly will offer an alternative. Iced tea and coffee are promptly refilled. A silver sculptured ceiling is graceful and exceptional -- and adds elegance to the dining room ambiance. Tables are nicely spaced and conversation is made easy by good acoustics.

Wine selections range from moderate to pretty pricey and include whites and reds from "Captain's reserve" which are offered at discounted prices. Wine packages for the week are also available.

The Lido on the Oosterdam offers that proverbial something for everyone: Breakfast options include full breakfast, Continental and omelet stations. Then at lunch, passengers can choose from salads, Asian specialties, pasta and pizza, deli fixings for sandwiches, a traditional buffet line, a grill and a Taco/Fajita bar. Of course it wouldn't be Holland America without the complimentary ice cream and yogurt bar. The evening-only no-fee Canaletto, housed in a corner of the Lido, is available aboard Oosterdam as of May 2009. The Italian restaurant, named after the famed Venetian artist, features a first course of Italian-styled antipasti and a set menu of pasta dishes and desserts (gelato is just one). The eatery features waiter service and decoratively arranged tables.

The "food station" concept replaces the long buffet line with everything in a row. One of the prettiest Lido areas on any ship, the hot pinks, orange-y red, yellows, blues and turquoises, are tied together in plaid draperies and laminated table tops. Plenty of help is in evidence and if you request aid in carrying your tray, you will get it -- but know that help isn't offered automatically. Cloth napkins holding forks, knives and spoons, are found at each place setting, eliminating the need to juggle flatware along with a tray.

The absolute pinnacle of food, service and presentation, is the Pinnacle Grill at the Odyssey Restaurant. The menu includes an outstanding filet mignon, better than a Morton's or Palm, delicious cioppino, and dramatically presented Baked Alaska. It is a dining experience designed for the gourmet. The room features red jacquard banquets and blue leather seats while a collage of famed Dutch Masters look on approvingly from on high. A $20 per person surcharge applies. A HAL tradition, tea is served each afternoon, usually in the Explorer's Lounge (sometimes in the dining room). Once weekly there's a "Dutch High Tea" and live music accompanies this high caloric repast.

And if you want pizza or ice cream at 1 a.m., the Lido offers both, plus the option of 24-hour coffee and tea.

Twenty-four hour room service is timely and served hot, just make sure your room has the space for the experience (see accommodations, below). Room service breakfast menus offer both continental and hot entree choices; the 24-hour menu features burgers, sandwiches and salads, along with other basics like salmon and grilled chicken. Dining room menus are not available. Mini bars contain water, cold drinks and liquor for which there is a charge.

If you have any specific dietary needs -- kosher, vegetarian, sugar-free -- let the line know when booking or speak with the dining room captain upon boarding. Every effort will be made to accommodate your needs.

Public Rooms

Holland America has created a great fusion of color and fine art throughout the vessel and the result is a wonderfully vibrant spirit throughout.

The main lobby is on the first floor of a cozy three-story atrium, topped by a graceful Waterford crystal globe (miniature replicas are sold in the gift shop).

Ship layout is relatively easy to follow. Most of the public rooms are on decks two and three. Of these, highlights include the Sports Bar; we love the leather couches, which make it a comfy place to watch games on TV. The Casino is airy and spacious with 11 table games and 130 slots. A staff of 25 dealers and technicians keep the pace going quickly. At sea, the casino's slots begin their singing at 9 a.m. and table games about 10 a.m. -- and there's no definitive closing hour (the casino shuts down when the last player leaves).

The Vista Lounge, the ship's main show room, is a large room and features comfortable seating but beware of 10 poles, which provide terrible sight lines (the result is that everyone bunches together in the better-viewing areas, which leaves the pole areas vastly empty). We can't understand why HAL can come up with all the latest audio-video high-tech features -- which are terrific -- but still not provide better sight lines.

Another favorite is the Ocean Bar, which has wonderfully cozy little nooks that look out over the sea. For night owls, the Northern Lights nightclub features intriguing lighting and black banquettes covered with what resembles diamond dust.

Our favorite room of all is The Crow's Nest, a HAL classic. Located atop the ship, it's got a fabulous bank of 10 recliner chairs in front of floor to ceiling windows offers a real bird's eye view of the sea. The room is used once a week for a luncheon for suite guests, for dance classes and for bingo. It is also a great lounge for a pre-dinner drink.

The ship has, of course, the obligatory shops. On Oosterdam, the merchandise moves around daily and it all gets a bit confusing, like an on-sea flea market. Everything from liquor to diamonds and Russian dolls are displayed at some time during the week (but the bottle of rum you spotted on Sunday night -- and decided to buy a few days later -- may never show up again).

An Internet Cafe, with 18 stations keeps travelers connected to home and loved ones. Prices are competitive with other lines and package prices are offered.

Cabins

Anything dubbed category "B" or below is small, about 200 square feet (with a verandah add another 40 square feet).

Possibly because of the proliferation of verandahs on Oosterdam and some new public areas, stateroom space has been eliminated. HAL ships of a decade ago featured much more cabin room. Compare this to Statendam-class cabins in a similar price range that are dubbed mini-suites at 284 square feet (including verandah). These are cramped, with no drawer space to speak of (two bedside tables barely count). If one guest is using the closet, the second passenger has to wait to pass by. A desk/vanity table is more than half taken up by a television set which should be wall-mounted (and management claims they will be doing so). Room service requires placing half the items on the couch or the floor to accommodate even a simple breakfast at the diminutive table. Closet space is adequate and the bathrooms in "B" category are larger than in similar staterooms on other lines, complete with tub, but floor space is extremely limited.

Decor is, however, pleasant -- as it is throughout the ship -- with rusty red the primary color. All cabins offer hair dryers, television sets with CNN and a number of films, nice toiletries and good service. All also feature in-room computer data ports.

On this ship, it pays to upgrade; deluxe verandah suites are fabulous and worth the splurge (highlights include a generously-sized living area and bedroom, high-tech toys like DVD players, bathrooms with twin sinks and a Jacuzzi, and a twice-the-standard-size balcony with oh-so-comfy chairs and footrests, not to mention a table large enough for dining). Suite guests have their own lounge, Neptune Lounge, where evening hors d'oeuvres and cocktails are served; the concierge can make spa and restaurant reservations and offer general port advice.

Oosterdam is equipped with 28 wheelchair accessible staterooms and is sensitive to being maneuverable for the physically challenged traveler.

Entertainment

Oosterdam's entertainment is varied: from big production features to individual performers ranging from comics to illusionists. We loved the usual Crew Show, with its Indonesian performers.

Disco night and country line dancing is offered in Northern Lights and movies -- complete with freshly made popcorn -- are shown each evening after dinner in the Queen's Lounge.

A video arcade and intimate piano bar are additional entertainment venues.BR>
Daily programs list cooking and dance classes, the ever-present bingo and art auctions, Ping-Pong, team trivia, volleyball and basketball, aerobics, and spa and salon demonstrations. Shore excursion and port-shopping talks are offered live and in-cabin.

Wine tasting and cooking courses are popular.

The ship has a state-of-the-art Internet facility. The rate is 75 cents per minute and various plans are available (such as 100 minutes for $55). There is a $3.95 start-up fee. Oosterdam even has a wireless program; Wi-Fi is $10 per day plus per minute charges. Laptops can be rented.

New to Oosterdam in 2008 is the Microsoft Digital Workshops program, comprised of complimentary classes led by Microsoft-trained "techsperts." Passengers can learn to use computers to enhance photos (Windows Live Photo Gallery), produce and publish videos onto a DVD (Windows Movie Maker) and create personal webpages or blogs (Windows Live Services and Windows Live Writer). In addition, one-on-one coaching, called "Techspert Time," is available for more than 20 hours each week.

Fitness and Recreation

Two pools and literally hundreds of deck chairs attract sun worshippers by the boatload and even on sea days there seems to be sufficient space. The main pool, with its retractable ceiling, features a sculpture of four frolicking penguins at one end and a trio of lighted plane trees at the other. The second pool, located aft, is quieter.

The ship features a promenade deck, which is quite popular (three times around is a mile).

The Greenhouse Spa and Salon offers a variety of hair and nail treatments as well as massages and facials. The Frangipani scalp massage is a favorite and the hydrotherapy pool (at $15 per person per day) a popular addition. This indoor pool (check out the gorgeous hand painted wall murals and the lovely tile work) is designed to reduce aches and pains and offer tranquility. There is a fee for sauna and steam.

The Gymnasium offers a blood pressure station, scale, six television sets, free weights with a 50-pound maximum, lots of Indian balls for aerobics, four step machines, two cross-country ski machines, 17 exercyles of all types, 11 treadmills, 11 weight machines, attendants on duty, plenty of fresh water and towels and disinfectant wipes.

A golf simulator is available, featuring well known courses, with fees starting at $30 per person for an hour of golf in a group of three or four. Private lessons are also available.

Family

Club HAL is for kids and the number of kids aged 5-17 on the manifest dictates the number of supervised programs for youngsters offered on any given cruise. On holiday cruises and during school vacations, the children's programs are very active. The program varies, depending on numbers of kids traveling; on school holiday season sailings, it divides kids into specific age categories (and aims its programming at age-appropriate levels). When there are few participants, they are all pretty much lumped together. The ship has a specially-dedicated teen area called Wave Runner, which features a dance floor and big-screen movie corner.

Fellow Passengers

These are folks who have traveled before -- often on HAL -- but they've all pretty much been around the block. While skewing younger than earlier ships in the fleet, Oosterdam will never overwhelm with young families, though it's clear there's an effort to create a variety of programming geared to attract passengers of all ages and keep them happy. Where once all you saw on HAL ships were retirees, a decidedly younger group appears to be choosing the venerable line and programming has risen to the occasion. Wine tasting and cooking courses are popular and increased Greenhouse Spa and fitness programs -- the hydrotherapy suites and pool, for example -- are geared to younger cruisers. Latte lovers enjoy the Windstar Cafe with its blue and light wood decor -- and the sometimes frantic Northern Lights club attracts a younger crowd.

Dress Code

A seven-day cruise involves two formal nights, three informal nights and four casual nights. Casual doesn't mean shorts or jeans; it means slacks and a shirt. Informal requires a jacket, but ties are optional. Formalwear, for both men and women, can be rented onboard. On formal nights, about a third of the men wear tuxedos.

Gratuity

Holland America, which many years ago maintained a "no tipping necessary" policy, is now more in-line with other mainstream cruise lines. The line automatically adds $11 per person, per day to onboard accounts, which is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills; note that gratuities are not automatically tacked on to spa treatments.

Cruise Critic

Cruise reviews are provided by CruiseCritic.com, an award-winning cruise community and online resource for objective cruise information, published by The Independent Traveler. Copyright 1995-2009, The Independent Traveler, Inc. All rights reserved. Travelocity.com LP neither assumes any liability nor makes any representations with respect to cruise reviews and other content provided by CruiseCritic.com. Before relying on any information in a cruise review, we recommend that passengers confirm the information with the cruise line.