This was our 22nd cruise and the 7th with HAL, previously sailing with Cunard (4), Disney (4), Princess (4), Royal Caribbean (2) and Celebrity (1). We wanted to avoid the hurricane season to Bermuda later this year as we did not have much luck the first time we went in August 2006 with our kids. Back then, we were on RCCL Empress of the Seas, which has now left their fleet, and encountered the remnants of Hurricane Ernesto on the journey back to Philadelphia. In August 2010 we were on the Caribbean Princess to Canada and New England when Hurricane Earl ruined our plans. Last year in late August 2011, who could forget Hurricane Irene. We now avoid travelling anywhere near the east coast in late August because the statistical odds are high that you can expect a major weather-related problem. All this effort to avoid travelling near end August and we still could not avoid bad weather for this voyage.
This was the 1st of 19 cruises for the Veendam to Bermuda. From speaking to the onboard staff and from other discussions on cruisecritic, no HAL ship will be coming back to Bermuda next year or anytime in the future with a Bermuda-only destination, although HAL ships will continue to call here for a day (or two) as part of multi-port itineraries or transatlantic crossings. While docked in Bermuda, all the casinos and shops are closed due to Bermuda's laws. This obviously reduced income for the ship, compounded by having to pay wages (someone said it was reduced but I don't know) to employees who cannot work.
We are six hour drive from NYC and after looking at all the options to get to the port such as Amtrak, bus, driving or flying, we chose driving because of the convenience of going when you want. With the cruise leaving and arriving on a Sunday, the reduced traffic in Manhattan makes driving there much easier. We stayed on the NJ side as there was no need to stay in Manhattan the night before. Parking is $35 per night or $245 for the week at the port. No other good options to save money and ensure our car is safe. If driving, you should arrive at the parking lot early as by about 1 pm, there was only one or two parking spots left. There are always one or two ships leaving on the same day. The overflow parking is on 59th St for the same price and you still have to cab it from there, thus reducing the convenience of driving. We met a couple who arrived at the ship at about 4:15 pm due to multiple delays enroute. As always, have a backup plan which could include flying to Bermuda to meet the ship.
We arrived at the terminal at about 10 am. We were on the ship by 11:30 am and the rooms were all ready. This is unusual but probably due to the fact that the ship sailed almost empty from Ft Lauderdale to Manhattan after the last South America cruise disembarked most passengers in Florida.
We had a midship oceanview cabin (E763) on deck 4 which we were grateful to have as there was minimal motion sickness here with the rough seas. We couldn't eat dinner on the two formal days, Monday and Thursday, due to heavy seas. It was that bad for us. Much worse going but there was a half day of rough seas on the way back. This is one time we were glad not to get an aft or bow cabin. No issues for air conditioning or ventilation but temperatures never exceeded the mid-70s throughout the week although it may be an issue in July and August.
Temperatures in Bermuda were in the low 70s and fairly cool, low 60s enroute and back. We couldn't have really enjoyed a balcony or lanai cabin due to the rough seas or windy conditions during the sea days. When docked in Bermuda, the ship's starboard side faces Front St. The traffic is noisy during the day and there is a nightclub called Cafe Cairo at 93 Front St which is open till 3 am. Their music is quite loud and can be heard from the outdoor promenade deck although it didn't bother us very much in our oceanview room. Something to keep in mind if you get a balcony or lanai room and want peace and quiet.
As we sailed out of Manhattan, there was a very low pressure system in the area with 5 inches of rain forecasted for the NYC area, including a floodwatch. As expected, the weather was expected to provide very rough seas and we headed south towards South Carolina before heading back towards Bermuda. This resulted in a 9 hour delay so instead of arriving at 10 am on Tuesday, we arrived at 7 pm, losing out on most of this day by staying at sea. We chose Veendam for the extra time in port but, as always, expect the unexpected. A staff member told me that in an entire season of Bermuda cruising last year, he did not have one voyage where both the outbound and inbound transit at sea were smooth and pleasant.
Food and service was great for us, as always. We really enjoy the special menu items from the council of chefs such as Charlie Trotter, Rudi Sodamin and Marcus Samuelsson. We had open dining which we really enjoy, eating when you want, although we had a 45 minute wait one night.
Lots of rusty areas around the ship but there was lots of painting and maintenance work. The ship is showing its age. There were times when there was sewage smell and we saw many fans on the floor, presumably drying out carpet. Some of the refurbished areas including the Mix was nice. They really need a more serious refurbishment the next time including removal of all the ceiling lights in the Rotterdam which are falling off, which is why there is a large cargo net underneath to catch falling lights. Of all their ships, we like Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam the best and will stay with these larger ships in the future, whenever possible.
Lifeboat drill could be better organized. Perhaps with Costa ship sinking, that's why they have everyone go outdoors to the promenade deck. Everyone, especially those with mobility problems could be standing for up to 45 minutes as cabin numbers are called for those who did not register with the attendant. Add wet or cold weather and it gets downright unpleasant. On Princess, they tell you to go various lounges but maybe this has changed recently.
Nice gym on board and we also used the very very small pool. We didn't use the spas or casinos. Entertainment consisted of four shows, a welcome aboard 'Listen to the Music, Broadway, Street Singin' and Encore. Two comedians and Wednesday night is movie night (J. Edgar was shown for us) because of Harbour Nights on Front Street in Hamilton when the street is closed and there are shopping kiosks, food and live entertainment.
As for excursions, lots of good choices from the ship's excursion desk. You could also venture out on your own as we did. We had done a lot with our kids the first time so we did the low-cost version this time by buying a two day transportation pass for $20. We lost a full day but a three day pass would have cost $28. We left on Friday just after 12 noon so no need for a bus pass that day as we stayed in downtown Hamilton. This pass allows unlimited travel on buses and ferries. We went to: (1) St George, including watching the annual Peppercorn Ceremony with the Premier, Governor, Bermuda Regiment, horse drawn carriages and all the pomp and circumstance this event entails (2) Royal Naval Dockyard by ferry (3) Somerset village by bus from Dockyard (4) Botanical Gardens (5) Horseshoe Bay Beach (if you take the #7 bus, be aware that there is a good 10 minute walk downhill to the water's edge and then back up but there is a shuttle which charges $1 going down and $2 going back up) (6) Gibbs Hill Lighthouse (again, there is a good 10 minute walk uphill from where the #7 drops you off). We also did a walking tour of downtown Hamilton including great views from Fort Hamilton. Be aware there is a good uphill walk to the fort so not for everyone especially if you have mobility problems. Pink poles at bus stops indicate going to Hamilton and blue poles indicate travel away from the city. Passes are available at the bus station at the corner of Washington and Church St. Guide maps are available at the kiosk when you exit the ship's terminal. The Hamilton City Hall has the Arts Centre and Bermuda National gallery which is free.
We called home from the onboard ship satellite system for $7.95 per minute. We did not use the ship's Internet. If you want to make phone calls when ashore, do as we did by buying Bermuda Telecom phone cards from the Perot Post Office on Queen St. $5 cards for 12 minutes to the US or Canada or $10 cards for 24 minutes. There are phone booths in the ship terminal. There are also lots of Internet cafes, see the Bermuda reference guide map. If you want free Internet, go to the public library on Queen St. next to the Perot Post Office. Ask for a free access code to use their computers (there are 5) which gives you 30 minutes at one sitting. If busy, you may have to wait a few minutes. There is a limit of 30 minutes per day per person but the staff is very friendly and will give you more time if you want.
The disembarkation was mass confusion. We registered for self-disembarkation (carrying all of our own luggage) and we were supposed to be called at 7:30 am. We were called at 8 am but there was such a mass of people waiting and crowding near deck 5 forward stairway exit that it was 8:30 before we got off the ship. When we got into the terminal ,we were surprised to see that a lot of the luggage for everyone else had not been off-loaded yet. Customs agents have to clear each set of luggage according to color code and it was probably a long wait for some. It was probably 11 am before everyone got off the ship. With NCL Star and Gem also there at the terminal, we only had four customs agent. Despite our luck at getting off the ship early, we were selected "at random" for an agricultural search. First time for us. Taken to a side room, asked questions, opened bags. We always comply with the customs forms about declaring that we have no meat, fruit, vegetables, plants or organic material. We occasionally take a couple of Danish or muffins from the ship for the road but we always declare these so there has never been a problem.
To conclude, everyone in Bermuda is very friendly and it's a great place to visit. We really enjoyed ourselves despite the rough seas. Maybe third visit will be better.
Thanks for reading and hope this was helpful. Fair winds and following seas to all.