Cruising with Holland America: My First Cruise Experience

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I experienced cruising to Puerto Vallarta and Cabo, Mexico with Holland America and concluded that it is the best cruise for first-timers.

Holland America is one of the leading cruise brands in the world, offering sailings around the world, including the amazing world cruise.

With over 40 ocean and river cruises under my belt, I finally got to experience cruising with Holland America, my first time with the brand.

I was invited by Holland America to cruise to the Mexican Riviera, also a first for me. I gladly agreed and started studying the website as we veteran cruisers do.

What I found through my research and the cruise itself, is that Holland America has a stellar reputation in the cruise industry with an easy to navigate cruise ship.

waiter holland America cocktails

The Oosterdam Cruise Ship

My friend, Kim, and I boarded the cruise ship in San Diego, California. We were both immensely pleased with the attractive decor onboard the Holland America Oosterdam (pronounced long O-ster-dam).

Classic and chic best describe the warm and welcoming oceanliner. The boat holds right under 2000 guests, which to me is a mid-size ship. There were not people tripping all over each other like some of the larger vessels, which I appreciated.

The Oosterdam’s floor plan was easy to navigate. Most of the folks Kim and I met and interacted with were all repeat Holland America cruisers, a sign that the cruise line is doing a good job in my book. Brand loyalty in the cruising world is important!

holland america oosterdam library and common rooms

Our Verandah Suite Room

The layout of our stateroom was functional and we both liked it. Our beds were remarkably comfortable and high enough to where the suitcases could easily fit underneath. This aided in storage.

A sitting area with a couch, swivel table, and desk with vanity took up part of the room while the bed with nightstands and a triple closet with a small safe took up the rest. A flat-screen TV hung on the wall in a wooden cut out that resembled a decorative picture frame. It looked very nice.

We had a mini-fridge to keep our drinks cold and the lighting was controlled by switches at our bedside, a major cruise ship plus. Privacy curtains were available if we needed them between the bed and closet area.

Our verandah suite stateroom on Holland America's Oosterdam.

The bathroom held a bathtub/shower combo and offered Elemis Aromapure products. Elemis happens to be my favorite Skin Care line in the world so I was over the moon with this particular amenity. Included were shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel. A medicine cabinet hung on the wall and a shelf under the sink offered storage solutions for all of our toiletries.

A small balcony afforded us ocean views at any time and two typical deck chairs with a small table.

Large staterooms with plenty of room are one of the reasons that Holland America is the best cruise line for first timers.

My Favorite Ship Activities

Trivia is the one activity I so eagerly await; it is so much fun in a cruise ship setting. Who knew that random bits of factual information could ever bring out the antics that it does at group trivia?

Winners of trivia typically get some worthless trinket but on Holland America, we won a bottle of champagne once and lapel cruise pins another. Very nice! Of course, winners get bragging rights, which is the whole point.

Afternoon tea is another perk for me. I’ve only sailed with a couple of cruise lines that do it well and Holland America certainly made the cut. Afternoon tea is free, plus you don’t even have to be a tea drinker to participate.

Come and enjoy white-gloved, silver tray service tea along with bite-size sandwiches, pastries, and delicious scones with cream and jam.

The ship’s newsletter, What & Where, will help guide you with suggestions for the day’s itinerary.

holland america cruise afternoon tea pastries

Other Ship Activites to Enjoy

Holland America has a Lincoln Center Stage concert series that is in an intimate setting with incredibly talented live musicians performing chamber music.

Digital workshops were available to those with windows computers and in the small casino, the expected slot tournament. For me, the casino was the only thing that I didn’t really care for on the boat. It was very small and did not have a good variety of slot machines. Table games were available as well as video poker.

Movies were another popular option with current run films playing daily in both the Screening Room and sometimes on the Main Stage. At other times, the Main Stage was used for big production shows that play twice so that each dining group has a chance to see them.

In addition to the shows starring the dancers and singers of Holland America, were two special guests onboard our ship. One act was a comedian and the other included a little dog, though we didn’t catch that one.

The Art Gallery was a highly-visited area on the boat and we saw many Sold tags added to paintings and pictures each day.

Holland America is the best cruise line for first timers or seasoned cruisers.

Tastings Aboard the Ship

Alcohol tastings and samplings were popular in the cruise ship bars and dining rooms, showcasing items like martinis, scotch, beer, tequila, and wine. Kim and I went to the wine tasting and it was educational and loads of fun. The tables were set beautifully and we paired our five wine samplings with cheese and crackers.

If you’ve always wanted to learn more about wine or just enjoy a really nice glass, this is the class for you. Being a travel writer, I’ve been to many wine tastings in the past but I actually came away having learned something from this one. The wines we sampled were mid to high price range and definitely a great bang for your buck.

America’s Test Kitchen (my first time learning about this endeavor) was a cooking demonstration available on sea days. The classes, such as “Getting to Know Chilies”, drew a good-sized crowd and offered those attending printed recipes to take with them at the end.

The Oosterdam is going into dry dock soon. I wonder if they will make it to where the food samples can be prepared and shared with the audience for this class?

Do you know why I recommend Holland America as the best cruise lines for first timers?

Dining Options on the Oosterdam

There were plenty of options for eating onboard the cruise ship. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks were served in the Lido Market (buffet style) while the Dining Room, a lovely two-level restaurant, was open for seated full-service meals.

Part of the charm of cruising is getting to know your wait staff and maître d. The team paid close attention to our every need and gauged whether we were in a hurry (trivia, ya know?), or ready to unwind and enjoy a long dining experience over good conversation.

holland america oosterdam food

The Dine-In was on the pool deck and served traditional burgers, chicken, and seriously good fries. Each item offered upscale toppings and was prepared to order, not just thrown together with a cold piece of cheese like many cruise ships I have been on.

A fix-your-own Mexican bar was steps away offering fajita and nacho options with every condiment you could imagine. Don’t miss the creamed corn crab salad. Yum! Both bars were open from 11:30-5:30 daily.

In-room dining is available and twice we called for warm cookies and fruit/cheese trays while we watched Game of Thrones in our room.

We also had breakfast delivered before a port day and everything was perfect. Our eggs were hot, the order was exactly how we placed it, and it was right on the dot for timeliness.

holland america sandwich and fries

Additional Fee Dining Options

The ship’s two pay restaurants, Canaletto and Pinnacle Grill, were exceptional! I highly recommend spending the extra money to enjoy them. Canaletto, an Italian restaurant with a $15 price tag, offers two appetizers to share, an entree, and dessert. The service was impeccable and the food was amazing!

Kim and I were so full from the appetizers that we canceled one of the main entrees and just shared one. We could only hold one bite of dessert but that Torta Caprese al Limone (lemon tart) was incredibly luscious. The exceptional ladies who waited on us waved hello or came to speak to us for the remainder of the cruise.

Oosterdam's Canaletto dining room offered exceptional service and food.

Pinnacle Grill charges a hefty $35, but trust me, it is more than worth it! At first, I was skeptical about paying that much additional money, but our dining experience was one for the books.

From start to finish, our meal was truly incredible, from the freshly baked basket of assorted bread to the tableside Caesar Salad, and the succulent Lamb Chop to the Filet Mignon with bearnaise sauce. I polished off my dinner then treated myself to a few bites of the delicate souffle to satisfy my sweet tooth.

Do you know why I recommend Holland America as the best cruise lines for first timers?

Swimming Pools and Outdoor Offerings

Holland America’s Oosterdam ship has two swimming pools. Basketball and volleyball courts are on the same deck. Under the Lido Dome in the adult pool area, a Mexican folklore show took place several times throughout our cruise.

The cruise ship decor on the Holland America Oosterdam is stately and classy.

Holland America Shopping and Music

Holland America had a few shops for those interested in logo souvenirs, jewelry, clothing, sundries, and alcohol. Several items were featured in the adult pool area daily at discounted prices.

B.B. King’s All-Stars was the life of the party onboard the Oosterdam. A talented group of musicians played three short sets nightly and kept the blood pumping with blues and jazz, featuring both a trumpet and saxophone. The singers were great and we visited the club each night.

Other than a few sporadic dance classes offered by the cruise staff, this was the only place for dancing of any type. We heard several guests complain about that. We even met a few people from abroad who only cruise to enjoy dancing. I hope this is something Holland America will take into consideration in the future.

Plenty of fun activities is one of the reasons that Holland America is the best cruise line for first timers.

Oosterdam’s Greenhouse Spa and Salon

The Greenhouse Spa and Salon is where guests get pampered and dolled up on the ship. Choose from a menu of massages, body treatments, hair and make-up services, men’s grooming, facials, and more in this tranquil facility offering, you guessed it, Elemis products.

I loved the thermal pool, which is great for your skin and for relaxing. Guests can purchase a guest pass or pay a fee to use the facility during the entire cruise.

Next door, a full gym with state-of-the-art cardio and weight machines helps keep the cruise pounds away. Classes like abs, yoga, total body conditioning, and indoor cycling are offered throughout the day, though some may charge an additional fee.

The Crow’s Nest: Oosterdam’s Fun Hub

In over 40 cruises, I’ve never seen or been to a particular room on a ship that had as much energy or liveliness as the Crow’s Nest. This enormous room, with huge windows for scenic cruising, is seriously where the fun resides on the cruise.

In one area, the Explorations Cafe is nestled with daily puzzles, a small library (with many hardback photo books), hundreds of board games, cards, and the ship’s only coffee bar. Free pastries and small plates were available at the bar throughout the day. Both coffee and tea specialties were available for purchase.

The rest of the huge room was devoted to The Crow’s Nest, with several dozen seating arrangements for curling up with a good book, making conversation with new friends, watching the whales that we encountered more than once during our cruise, or playing trivia. It featured a killer happy hour and served small tapas plates each evening. This venue also served as the meeting place for daytime activities such as flower arranging and towel folding.

holland america oosterdam coffee bar treats
Do you know why I recommend Holland America as the best cruise lines for first timers?

Our Ports of Call

Cabo San Lucas

Our favorites went in order as we cruised. Cabo (though we were only around the port area) was great, but in ranked order, our least favorite. Kim and I did the Dolphin Encounter excursion with Cabo Adventures, which was only steps from the ship.

We suited up in wetsuits due to the frigid water temperatures and went in small groups with a team of marine mammal expert guides to capture a fantastic dolphin experience. We danced, kissed, petted, and tickled our cute dolphin, a beautiful girl named Yuki.

Though we did not buy the pictures (I will just let you be shocked at the price tag), it was a great deal of fun. We had plenty of time on the excursion and the facility was modern and lovely.

Cabo San Lucas is one of the cruise ports on Holland America's Mexican Riviera cruise.


Though I had never heard of Mazatlan, it was our second favorite cruise port. Our cruise excursion (Mexican Dance, Sightseeing, and Shopping) took us by bus through town for a few photo ops and a chance to go inside the stunning Mazatlán Cathedral.

We visited El Clavadista on the Malecon to see the cliff divers, which was more hype than excitement, then ended at a Mexican folklore show that was sensational! Such a wonderful team of talented performers brought regions of Mexico to life through song and dance. The costumes were brilliant and it seemed that everyone enjoyed their time.

I would recommend that the cruise line charge a few more bucks and offer at least a drink and snack during the performance rather than paying outright.

Mazatlan is one of the cruise ports on Holland America's Mexican Riviera cruise.

Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta is referred to as the most romantic city in Mexico and I can see why! The scenery is so beautiful that you have to see it to believe it. Kim and I started our day by taking an hour-long taxi tour of the downtown area where we were to later be dropped off for a food tour which we arranged on our own. We visited two lovely resorts with fantastic views of the city.

The Vallarta Food Tour was sensational; one of the best I’ve ever done. Over the course of three hours, Kim and I, along with our group of four others, strolled Old Town and downtown, learned countless things about Puerto Vallarta, and ate some amazing food.

Later that evening, we rejoined our group onboard the Oosterdam and set off with a cruise led excursion to Rhythms of the Night. If I had to rate one Caribbean/Mexico/Bahamas/Bermuda cruise excursion as #1 in over 40 cruises, this is it!

Described vaguely but perfectly in the brochure, Rhythms of the Night will leave you breathless in a high-energy, beautiful production featuring acrobats, dancers, theater, fire twirlers, and much, much more.

All of this takes places on at Las Caletas cove, reached by an hour-long boat ride. Our evening also had a tasty dinner buffet with wine and drinks. The views alone were worth the cost. This is one cruise excursion you will want to see for yourself!

Puerto Vallarta is one of the cruise ports on Holland America's Mexican Riviera cruise.

Holland America Knocked it Out of the Park

What a fantastic opportunity to sail with Holland America. We had a wonderful time in Mexico and are highly convinced that they are one of the best cruise lines out there to enjoy adventures on the high seas with.

I was happy to witness and see firsthand Holland America’s revered reputation amongst repeat cruisers.

Thank you, Holland America, for a fantastic time, and to everyone who loves cruising, keep on sailing. The allure is contagious!

Thanks to Holland America for inviting me to experience their cruise line. As with all of my posts, opinions and reviews are 100% mine and unbiased.

Oosterdam Photo Gallery

Holland America is the best cruise line for first timers.
Do you know why I recommend Holland America as the best cruise lines for first timers?
The Braised Short Ribs were my favorite dish at Canaletto on the Oosterdam.
Holland America is the best cruise line for first timers.
Do you know why I recommend Holland America as the best cruise lines for first timers?
After my cruise to the Mexican Riviera, I've concluded that Holland America is the best cruise line for first timers.
Fun picture with the Captain and Cruise Director, Taylor.
Do you know why I recommend Holland America as the best cruise lines for first timers?
A tasty fruit tray on the Holland America Oosterdam.
Do you know why I recommend Holland America as the best cruise lines for first timers?
Do you know why I recommend Holland America as the best cruise lines for first timers?
There are six different places to eat on the Holland America Oosterdam ship.
Holland America's Oosterdam is the best cruise line for first timers.

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cruise with Holland America

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