We booked our cruise to Bermuda with HAL having high expectations based on past experience with the line. We sailed to Alaska last fall on the Oosterdam and everything was fantastic. Nice clean spacious ship. Impeccable customer service. Great food and entertainment. It was a wonderful cruise despite the non-stop rain and gray days. HAL was impressive.
Sadly, our experience on our cruise to Bermuda could not have been more different. The first thing we noticed about the outside of the Veendam was the fact that she was filthy. Rust stained the otherwise white paint and the windows were cloudy looking. Overall the ship appeared old, dinghy and run down.
On board things weren't much better. The carpet was worn in many areas, the decor in our cabin was dated, the elevators had scratches on the doors with pieces missing from the inside, the railings on deck were weathered and rough, and again it all had the appearance that the vessel was nor being maintained very well.
Once in our room, we noticed the configuration was wrong. We booked a king sized bed, and we got two singles with an end table separating them. This was an easy enough fix that the attendant made by pushing the beds together just before we turned in for the night. Lack of attention to detail. The door leading to our balcony was covered in sea spray and dirt from the previous cruise and was difficult to even see out of. The table outside was rusty and the cushions on the deck chairs were wet despite it being a beautiful sunny afternoon.
The Cabin: The room itself seemed dated and worn despite the alleged overhaul of the ship in 2009. Worse than that was the fact that the A/C was almost non-existent. Even at the lowest setting it was consistently tepid (never going below 76 degrees) and muggy. We contacted the front desk and they sent someone to measure the temperature and airflow. The person who came agreed that it was "hot" and said they would do something on their end to fix it since air was barely seeping out of only one small section of the vent. Whatever fix was made on their end, changed absolutely nothing on ours. Even after stripping down to our underwear, we were still sweating just sitting on the bed. We propped the door to the balcony open and attempted to get some sleep. After a restless night, we awoke in a pool of sweat.
The rest of the cruise was equally uncomfortable and frustrating, even after they brought us a fan. Crew members came by frequently to check on the A/C after we called to complain, and the front desk called numerous times to check in, but it was never actually fixed. We were given a fan (which occupied the ONLY outlet in the cabin), they extended their sincerest apologies, and a brought us a bottle of wine for the inconvenience. It felt like we were visiting a cut rate hotel in a third-world hot humid climate. Definitely not the accommodations we expected after paying thousands of dollars for the cruise. To charge a laptop or cell phone we had to unplug the fan to access the only outlet in the cabin that accepted an American configuration.
In addition to the A/C, the overall condition of our stateroom was NOT acceptable either. Simply put, it was dirty. The bathroom smelled like a latrine the entire time. We had to keep the door closed to keep from stinking up the cabin. There was urine on the back of the toilet at the wall from previous passengers that I ended up wiping off thinking that was the source of the smell. It wasn't. It continued to stink throughout the trip. The shower had mildew in the grout in between the tiles. The telephone had dust accumulated in the cradle and the receiver was dirty, as were the remote controls. The corners of the carpet had also accumulated a layer of dust and it appeared not to have been thoroughly vacuumed in a long time. Our ice bucket even still had water in it from the previous passengers.
We bought a pizza at Flannagans in Bermuda and brought a piece back to the cabin to put in the fridge. When we took it out to eat later in the evening, a pepper fell onto the carpet next to the vinyl couch. My wife said, "If we leave it, I'll bet it stays there the whole week." She was right. It never got vacuumed up in the daily "cleaning" by the attendant. Once we finally told the attendant about it, he made sure to get it up next time around. Insult to injury is the fact that HAL automatically charges an additional surcharge of $23/night as a "housekeeping" gratuity for the cabin crew. Amazing.
The food: Well, sadly things in the food department weren't much better. The Lido deck closes at 8pm, which is completely ridiculous given the fact that most people are out sightseeing into the evening. We ate in the main dining room several times (when we weren't prevented from eating there because of "formal night") and found it mediocre at best. The first night the service and food were pretty good. The second time we sat and waited for 25 minutes without so much as bread on the table. Finally the drink attendant came somewhat apologetically saying that our server was "running round like chicken." I took that to mean he was busy which was why he apparently couldn't get to our table. The odd thing was, it was now 8:45pm and the restaurant was half empty. We decided to leave and eat at the Lido instead. Yes, that's when we discovered that the Lido closes down at 8pm. Frustration. We ended up ordering room service cheeseburgers which came both cold and grossly overdone, and had to enjoy them in a warm dirty room. Shortly thereafter an attendant came to our door interrupting our meal and apologizing for the delay at the main dining room. He was there to give us another complimentary bottle of wine as a concession to being ignored for a half hour at dinner.
The next time we visited the formal dining room, I ordered the NY strip steak "medium rare." The thin steak arrived blackened on the outside and well done on the inside. My wife grabbed a roll out of the basket and found a "bite" missing, either that or someone broke off a hunk before it made it to our table. We both suspected that it came directly from another table but it's impossible to know for sure. At least the Coke I ordered with the meal was good. BTW, the formal dining room was always warm (roughly 80 degrees) and the windows in the back were difficult to see out of because of the hazy film/sea spray on them which looked to have been there for quite a while.
Entertainment: The one thing we were looking forward to was the comedian scheduled for the second night of the trip. As it turned out, the seas were a bit rough for the Broadway singers and dancers regularly scheduled on the first night, so HAL switched the comedian to the first night (I guess they figured he would have less trouble standing up). We never heard the announcement, so on day two we went to see the comedian only to find the Broadway singers.
Excursions: We signed up for an all day trip for our first day in Bermuda to do some sightseeing. It was expensive, but we figured it was a good way to get around the island and check things out. Well, due to the bad weather we experienced en route to the island we ended up arriving in port several hours after the scheduled excursion was supposed to leave. Apparently an announcement was made (either the night before or early that morning) that it was rescheduled to a few hours later. Of course, we never heard the announcement and consequently missed the tour. After giving us some grief, HAL put us on a 3 hour tour of the Zoo, Aquarium and Caves. It wasn't what we signed up for but it wasn't too bad either. We ended up just hiring a cabbie for the day to show us the island which was the highlight of the trip.
I won't complain about the prices of drinks, the forced gratuities, the cost of internet, the weather, the rough seas or things like this since we knew what we were signing up for when we booked the cruise. It was the attention to detail, the poor management, the dirty/run down ship, the lack of A/C and bad customer service that made this trip a bummer. HAL needs to do something about the Veendam and her management or else they will continue to lose loyal cruisers to the other lines.
Will we sail with HAL again? Maybe, since our first experience was wonderful, but I can tell you for certain we will never set foot on the Veendam again. In all likelihood we will give another line a try.