A First Timer’s Holland America Cruise Experience

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

(UPDATED AUGUST 2022) Holland America is one of the world’s leading cruise brands, offering sailings worldwide, including the fantastic world cruise. Holland America invited me to cruise to the Mexican Riviera, also a first for me. I gladly agreed and started studying the website as we veteran cruisers do. I found through my research and the cruise itself that Holland America has a stellar reputation in the cruise industry with an easy-to-navigate cruise ship. Here is a first-timer’s guide to cruising with Holland America as I experienced it. 


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 under 2000 guests, which to me is a mid-size ship. I appreciated that there were no people tripping over each other like some of the larger vessels.

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 an excellent job in my book. Brand loyalty in the cruising world is essential!


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 between the bed and closet area if we needed them.

The bathroom held a bathtub/shower combo and offered Elemis Aromapure products. Elemis is my favorite Skin Care line, so I was over the moon with this particular amenity. Included were shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel. Storage solutions were the medicine cabinet on the wall and a shelf under the sink.

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


My Favorite Ship Activities

Trivia is the one activity I eagerly await; it is so much fun in a cruise ship setting. Who knew that random bits of factual information could bring out the antics 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 few cruise lines that do it well, and Holland America made the cut. Afternoon tea is complimentary, plus you don’t even have to be a tea drinker to participate.


Come and enjoy white-gloved, silver tray service tea, 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.


Enjoyable Ship Activities

Holland America has a Lincoln Center Stage concert series 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. The casino was the only thing I didn’t really care for on the boat. It was tiny 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 the Screening Room and sometimes on the Main Stage. At other times, the Main Stage was used for big production shows that played twice so that each dining group had 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 missed that one.

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


Ship Tastings

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, which was educational and fun. The tables were set beautifully, and we paired our five wine samplings with cheese and crackers.

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


Oosterdam Dining Options

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, you know?) or ready to unwind and enjoy an extended dining experience over a good conversation.


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 precisely how we placed it, and it was right on the dot for timeliness.


Specialty 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 terrific!

Kim and I were so full of 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.


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.


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.


Holland America’s 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 consider in the future.


The 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 skin and relaxation. 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.


Want to know what Holland America’s Club Orange includes? This Zaandam post explains the perks.

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, conversing with new friends, watching the whales 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.


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.

Our Ports of Call: Cabo San Lucas

Our favorites went in order as we cruised. Cabo San Lucas (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 great fun. We had plenty of time on the excursion, and the facility was modern and lovely.



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 with a sensational Mexican folklore show! Such an incredible 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 recommend the cruise line charge a few more bucks and offer at least a drink and snack during the performance rather than paying outright.


Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta is 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 later dropped off for a food tour 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. For 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 more.

All this takes place at Las Caletas cove, which is 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!


Holland America: Knocked it Out of the Park

We had a wonderful time in Mexico and are highly convinced that Holland America is one of the best cruise lines to enjoy adventures on the high seas.

I was happy to witness and see 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!


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