I’m back. Back from two weeks onboard Holland America Line’s MS Oosterdam. I didn’t expect to not be in communication with you while I was gone and thought I’d be able to spend a few hours each day in the ship’s library keeping in touch. However, the internet charges were opportunistic to say the least and speed certainly wasn’t a feature of the service. Despite these frustrations, we had a very special and enjoyable family holiday even though our Archie wasn’t able to join us.
The cruise was titled Pacific Treasures and over 14 nights it was to take us to seven destinations in three countries, New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Fiji. All countries you need to have on your ‘must see’ list.
We had never before had a cruise holiday and now that we are home I can definitely confirm that this won’t be our last cruising experience.
When deciding between a holiday where you have to board a plane to get to your destination or go on a cruise, I think cruising is only going to become more popular. These days economy travel on budget airlines is so vile and unpleasant starting with the long queues at airports, the over-crowded terminals with their horrid food courts, the delayed flights, canceled flights, cramped flights, lack of service, lack of leg room, having to pay for everything including head-sets and bottles of water, and then the lost baggage, the two days of holiday time taken up with traveling, and then battling home with jet lag. The horror of it all is giving good reason to instead, look at a holiday on the high seas. Especially in a country like Australia where wherever you go you’re almost always looking at a long-haul flight with a heavy serve of jet-lag.
So if you’re not up for a road trip (and we’re not and I’ve blogged about that before), you’re other option is cruising.
A few Sunday’s ago we took a taxi to the International Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay. I thought we were able to board the ship at 11am but found out it was 1pm. Easy mistake! However, we were able to check in our bags and then, as you don’t need hand luggage while cruising, we had nothing to lug around while we went touring our city for a couple of hours.
Back at the terminal, getting through customs and immigration was relatively painless with swift moving queues as there aren’t hoards of people because the only people in the terminal are those going on the same cruise.
After 20 minutes or so we walked onto the ship and immediately we were on holiday. And we hadn’t even left Circular Quay.
We found our way to our cabins. I’d booked two adjoining verandah cabins. The rooms weren’t inter-connecting (yeah) but our steward unlocked the partition on the balcony so we could all be together outside the cabins.
Our cabins were 6148 and 6150 and almost at the very rear of the ship. We booked late so all the cabins in the mid-ship section were totally booked. These cabins go first as they are in the most central and most stable parts of the ship. Anything aft or stern is less popular because of the distances you walk and the movement. But we thought our cabins were perfectly positioned as they were in very low-traffic areas and so were very quiet. And much to our complete surprise, the seas were as calm as a millpond for the entire 14 days at sea.
The size of the cabin wasn’t generous and it was a challenge sometimes for me to navigate around Carl’s proportions but seriously, when there’s so much to do outside of the cabin, we mostly just returned to the cabin so we could retire to bed.
The bed was fluffy so you would sink into it as soon as you laid down and so comfortable and combined with the gentle rocking you were definitely guaranteed a good night’s rest. I will miss it!
The cabin’s are air-conditioning and can be adjusted to suit your level of preference and Carl’s learned not to complain about the warmer than standard setting. Who wants to live in a fridge!
There was a small desk area with a bar fridge and a little sofa to sit on. Hair dryers, bath robes, shower caps, a lighted magnifying mirror as well as toiletries by Elemis including shampoo, conditioner and body wash are also included. I liked the shampoo and conditioner but the body wash smelt like toothpaste.
Anyway…back to that first afternoon…
Having checked our bags through so early, by the time we made our way to our cabins, our luggage was already in the room. But not Carl’s. No, his was missing and our steward told him to be patient. A few more hours went by and no luggage. Then Carl was summoned to Deck 1 as there was a problem. Miss Arabella and I were in hysterics because Carl always has problems with security. The problem this time was that Carl, in his preparedness, had read on-line a ‘How to Cruise’ manual and it told him that cabins rarely have enough power points so pack a power board.
The power board Carl had packed was duly confiscated as it is considered a fire risk. That sorted, Carl could take his suitcase up to our cabin.
But he had to hurry because now we were ordered to our life boat stations which were held directly underneath your assigned life boat. Lifeboat 16 dangled above us. It looked very large but even so, I wasn’t sure how the 150 of us grouped under it would ever fit into it but I guess in a time of emergency, elbow-room isn’t a priority.
One of the actors on the cruise was taking us through the demonstration. He asked us to move back, move back, move back until we were almost standing on the person behind us and we were huddled shoulder to shoulder. It was a very warm day and there was no air. I had tall people in front of me so couldn’t see a thing and neither could Alfie who was saying, ‘I can’t see; what did he do with the life jacket?’ And the actor was showing us how to tie it up but only those in the front row could see. Then I heard him say that we all had to pay attention as people who don’t know what they’re doing in an emergency are a danger to others and just as we were about to get the crucial information, an elderly gentleman in the very back row, collapsed. I yelled out, ‘We need help back here’, and the actor rushed forward looking absolutely stressed and like he’d never role-played any medical emergencies. We had to create space and air-flow so stepped aside and that revealed the poor man who’d ‘hit the deck’ literally and he was very grey and not moving. The ship’s doctor arrived and we were all sent back to our cabins. The gentleman recovered but had there been an emergency situation, no one in Lifeboat 16 would have been of any use.
Then it was up to the top deck for sail-away and even though I live in Sydney and see the harbour a few times a week, there’s nothing more beautiful than on a summer’s day, heading out of the harbour through the heads. It was definitely time for a champagne and we stood on the deck as the horn blew and the tug boats nudged the ship into position and we were away. Heading north-east to the Isle of Pines in New Caledonia.
We had dinner in the Italian restaurant where you pay an additional US$10.00pp and I was hoping for an authentic Italian dining experience however found the cuisine to be American-Italian. Big on servings but nothing genuinely Italian. What made up for the tough gnocchi and pate appetiser (is that not French?) was our view over the ocean where we saw a pod of dolphins swimming beside the ship during the sunset; a beautiful sight and a huge thrill.
Back in our cabin I discovered the rooms are serviced daily with an evening turndown service. Chocolates had been placed on the end of the bed with a little note saying, ‘The ship’s captain and crew wish you a restful sleep tonight as we look to tomorrow’s horizons’. I clapped my hands.
I then tried to plug in my phone and laptop and discovered we couldn’t because the one and only power point was an American one. I quick call through to reception and we were able to hire an adaptor.
Miss Arabella’s issues were much more serious. She had a big ‘M’ stamped on her purchasing card, (the ship runs on a cashless society). ‘M’ stands for minor and it meant she couldn’t be served alcohol. In Australia she’s had that right for almost 18 months but with this being an American ship it had to abide by US laws and as such, she was classified as a minor. She wasn’t pleased.
And that was our first day on the MS Oosterdam. It was a terrific and exciting start to our Pacific Treasures Cruise.
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