So, I've been cruising about twice a year on NCL and had a few RC and Celebrity as well. Got tired of the nickel and dime style of NCL, but the change in service was the biggest thing. Everyone seemed too busy doing too much for too many passengers to say hi or smile.
I canceled my NCL cruise for December and took the Oosterdam for a 7 day Mexico trip out of San Diego.
San Diego Port: This was my first time out of San Diego as I alway go out of Long Beach. Long Beach has easier parking since it is right at the pier but it can be pricey. At San Diego, I prepaid at the Wyndam and walked across the street. Still easy to do, just not as quick and direct at Long Beach. It was cheaper though at San Diego though. I drive so getting to each port is about the same.
The terminal baggage was a mess at San Diego. Passengers will walking around since there wasn't clear signage and the port staff were rude and unhelpful. Big difference from Long Beach. The port staff, who I know are not employeed by HAL, are so much nicer and accommodating at Long Beach.
Inside the terminal, both are about the same. Boarding was quick. Lines were short and we only waiting about 10 minutes before we were called to board. The big positive for HAL is the ability to carry on sodas. My wife loves Diet Pepsi in the room so I brought a couple cases with us.
Oosterdam: Big positive is as usual for HAL from my reading is the rooms were ready. No waiting. NCL typically takes longer in my experience and Celebrity is just terrible and really makes you wait. Since I was lugging around 2 cases of Diet Pepsi, I wanted to get them into the room asap and HAL didn't disappoint.
Now the Oosterdam looks dated. However, I really liked the look. Not ultra-modern. Lots of wood and warm tones and colors. The room was a mid ship veranda, room 8066. Bed was nice, good pillows. Balcony door opens out instead of sliding like NCL.
One thing I wish they did like NCL, is have a channel for the Cruise Director and information about the exact ship and sailing. HAL has the generic stuff, but no channels for the Cruise Director to describe the events for the day. However, the On-Demand movies was a welcome surprise. A big free selection. NCL used to do this but has changed to pay per view style.
Elevators. If you've been on a ship like the NCL Bliss, elevators can be a big deal. The Bliss has a serious shortage of elevators. No idea why they designed it like that but they are always full and it just sucks the fun out of you to have to wait forever for an elevator. Not the case with the Oosterdam. Not only does it have 3 banks of elevators, but has additional glass elevators on the sides. What a pleasure to press a button and actually expect to get on the next available elevator. Hope HAL keeps this in mind as they build newer ships. Now in fairness, the older NCL ships I've been on, like the Gem, Jewel, etc which are smaller do have plenty of elevators too, but NCL seems to be pushing the bigger mega ships more and more out here on the west coast.
Food: Oosterdam does have a very limited restaurant selection. However, the food quality is the best I've experienced anywhere. Lido, MDR, were very good quality. Not a great deal of quantity in terms of selection, but the quality was great. Everything tasted fresh and flavorful. Also, the staff comes around and serves you beverages. Just like the old days. We had the coke package and I thought I would have to go find a bar and wait like you do on NCL. I was happy to see HAL still does this right. Plus the attitude from the servers is always happy and polite. Very impressed. The Pinnacle Grill was amazing. I'd stack it up against anywhere. We ate there twice and each experience was spot on. The Main Dinning Room was beautiful and the staff was as good as any restaurant I've been to on land much less the sea. Upon our arrival for our second dinner, they didn't need to ask our names. They greeted us by name and directed us to our table without asking us anything. They then offered the same sodas, diet coke and a sprite, from the previous night without us having to remind them what we were drinking. Impressive stuff after just one dinner.
Entertainment: Ok, this is a little lacking on the Oosterdam. I do like it that you don't have to reserve seats for the main shows, but there just aren't any. There was a comedian one night and an illusionist another night, but no Vegas style show or musical. I would have liked a main show or two. The performances at the Lincoln Center Stage were terrific but it was packed and people, including me were left to stand around and listen. It was very popular in a small setting. We did gamble in the casino quite a bit but there are not a lot of slots compared to the NCL Gem, etc. They seemed extremely tight initially, but later in the cruise we did hit some big payouts including 2 hand pays. The casino hosts were very nice and made sure we were well taken care of. A first for us on a cruise ship casino.
Overall, I was very happy with my cruise and would recommend it to anyone looking for a more relaxing cruise. If you want to dance and party every night, then this is not the ship for that. If you are stressed from work and need to disconnect and slow down life a bit, then yes, you will love HAL and the Oosterdam. They have a very nice observation lounge where it is easy to find a seat and chill. There's plenty of deck space but the pools are a little small so if you bring kids, the experience for them is not as varied as other cruise ships. Since I don't have any, it was perfect for me. Everything went at a nice leisurely pace which is exactly what I wanted. No drunks falling down. No loud banging music on deck all the time. No annoyingly loud drink of the day announcements. Just happy friendly staff in the hallways, restaurants, spa, everywhere. This is cruising like it used to be.
Oh, and disembarkation? We did Self Assist. I timed it. From the time I closed my stateroom door to the time I opened my car trunk was 35 minutes.
Loved this vacation!