Having just returned from a seven-night cruise to Bermuda on the Holland America Veendam from Manhattan, I can summarize the experience in one word -- unique.
The ship provided several positive unique offerings:
- The Ocean view stateroom was one of the largest I have had on any cruise ship. It even included a full-sized bath tub.
- The nightly entertainment in the Showroom had an air of elegance and sophistication with truly exceptional talent.
- The culinary arts center, in which cooking demonstrations are offered daily, was something that should not be missed.
- While I feel that I am very tech savvy I am grateful that I chose to partake in the Digital Learning Lab where I spent an hour learning to enhance all of my vacation pictures. Thus leaving with a useful skill that I did not have upon arrival.
- Live entertainment in nearly every bar area, including a solo pianist, guitar player, a live band and even a string quartet.
- A retractable roof over the pool area so that it could be used in the case of bad weather.
- While the dining experience was a disaster (see below), the offerings of steak, lobster, lamb shank, etc. in the general buffet were unique and classy offerings I've not seen on other cruise lines.
- A 5K walk around the ship for the Susan G. Komen foundation is a worthwhile offering.
On the other hand the negatives far outweighed the positives and would keep me from ever cruising with Holland America again:
- The muster drill really does set the tone for the vacation, and this one was truly unique and should have indicated what the rest of my Holland America experience would be like. On this ship, roll is called on a barely audible bullhorn and your name is checked off (as if you are back in your elementary school classroom). It was long and laborious. I wondered why they didn't check your room card as you arrived to your muster station as every other cruise line has done.
- Unique and curious maintenance schedule -- Sea Days, in which every person was on the ship, were used to paint and varnish passenger areas; overwhelming staterooms and dining rooms with toxic fumes, closing seating areas which were needed by guests, and required you to avoid ladders and maintenance men that were out in passenger areas. I wonder why they did not do this while at port for three days when most of the passengers were enjoying the beach.
- At 4:30 one evening guests were asked to vacate the pool deck so that set up could begin for a party that was to begin at 9:30. While I watched them set up and decorate eight round tables and four umbrellas, I wondered what party planner would need five hours for such a set-up.
- On the final sea day, the pool was drained at 5:30. It seemed overall that on that final sea day, the current passengers were forgotten in order to prepare for the new passengers arriving the next day.
- The pool, spa, and fitness center closed at 9:00 PM.
While most cruise ships are known for their food, this ship was severely lacking. Overall, the Lido buffet experience was one of the most dreadful parts of my day.
o There was a 48 hour grace period in which all food was served to you in order to prevent disease, which I can understand and for which I am grateful. After which the buffet was to be opened for self-service. Unfortunately, the buffets never did open for self service; instead long lines prevailed while two servers were in charge of manning approximately 15 feet of buffet space. Furthermore, there were no distinct lines, often people just jumped in. The two servers were unable to multi-task and keep track of so much going on at once and therefore only focused on one guest at a time. By the end of the week people were just asking for enough plates to feed the entire family, rather than making each family member stand in the long line. Out of curiosity, one morning for breakfast, I timed my time in line; it took me 20 minutes to get my breakfast.
o I felt as I was on a diet cruise of which I did not sign up. The portion sizes were extremely small. Without exaggeration, one night I was served 1 Â½ baby carrots, Â½ cookie, Â½ of strip steak, and a teaspoon of sour cream on my baked potato. By the end of the week all the passengers were getting more aggressive and demanding larger portion sizes. Yes, we could get in line for all we could eat, but it meant another 20 minute wait. It is also the first cruise I've been on in which food was not available for 24 hours.
o Two nights were BBQ nights in which there were only two main dishes for dinner, fish or steak (or ribs). And only one or two vegetable selections. If you did not like those choices, it was room service for you!
o The ship is truly run by a skeleton crew. Most meals I had to bus my own tables -- cleaning tables before I sat at them and cleaning up after myself. One day by the pool, a bar server came by and took my drink glasses, but no one returned to take the rest of my lunch dishes. Moreover, the casino was never fully staffed, the pool side service was lacking, and the inside bars did not have enough servers.
o While the ship seemed remarkably understaffed, I found it curious that the crew was often standing in line with me at meals, and that entire sides of the dining room were reserved for crew only. While I understand the crew must eat, I do not think it is appropriate that they eat when clearly the crew that is on duty need so much help meeting the needs of the passengers.
There are some side notes which need to serve as warning. First, do not pay extra money for a "lanai" room. These rooms appear to be balcony rooms, when in actuality they open up to the main deck in which all passengers are allowed walk past your room/window/slider, talk, congregate and smoke at all hours of the day and night. Thus you have no privacy. You are "reserved" lounge chairs on the deck in front of your room, but if you are not using them, any passenger can sit in the deck chair for which you paid. Speaking of deck chairs, there are literally only 30 around the pool area, most of which are staked out by 7AM. If you plan on lounging by the pool, make sure you are an early riser.
While we did not have any issue with our a/c, some people did complain that their rooms were hot.
We were awoken at 5 AM every day at sea by what sounded like rivets being driven into the side of the ship. I do not know if this occurred all over the ship, but it was not the way I anticipated being awoken each day.
I do want to end with a few more positives. Most importantly our cabin stewards were remarkable in their speed and service. Self-service laundry facilities were a welcome and inexpensive option to be able to return home with clean clothes and no worries. Check-in and check-out were quick and efficient, and our luggage arrived to our room on the first night in record time.
Overall, while the pink sandy beaches, blue water and cool ocean breezes of Bermuda were remarkable to enjoy, I would only do so again on another cruise line.