Admittedly, a Holland America cruise was not DW's first choice for her birthday. It took some convincing... For all the reasons why, see here:
Yet the itinerary and the deal were hard to pass up. So we gave HAL a second chance... and we're glad that we did.
From the get-go, it was clear that the crew aboard Veendam are friendly and professional. 'Happy' can be a tricky word, but they do seem happy and seem to work together cohesively to deliver a quality experience for the passengers.
Our stateroom team, Suri and Dewi, were great -- always saying hi, getting our names correct from the first day. Most importantly, they did an extremely thorough job in keeping the cabin clean, perhaps the best we've seen on any cruise. That's saying a lot, considering the cost cutting in the industry and how many cabins a team has to look after today.
We had open seating in the MDR, and can thank Zen (Head waiter? He wears a waiter uniform but takes reservations at the podium) for taking care of us from the first day. By day three, we'd found the team (Aloysius and I. Made) whose section we wanted to sit in, and Zen always made sure we got a table for two with these guys. They served their tables with efficiency and a warm, friendly nature. We could count on them for recommendations and for making sure that all was cooked properly and that our needs and wants were being met. Courses were paced well, food came out at proper temperature, and nearly everything was seasoned and spiced to our liking. We partook of the cheese course each evening in the MDR, choosing from a menu of 15 cheeses and enjoying a nice variety of some of our favourites.
"A Tale of Two Steaks"
With our previous debacle with a steak in Pinnacle aboard Eurodam (and an otherwise sub-par dining experience on that ship), it's reasonable to say that we had lower expectations coming into this cruise. We were treated to a pleasant surprise all the way around. And no better example can I think of than the strip loin in the Veendam MDR. DW ordered it on Tuesday, asked for 'medium,' and got a perfectly cooked steak. Following her cue, I ordered the same thing on Wednesday. Now I'm usually more of a 'medium rare' guy, but this time I ordered it medium as hers had been so nice. The steak I received was medium rare -- and I'd have been happy to eat it. Our waiters were having none of it, however, insisting that they bring a new one. The second steak was closer to medium well, and this time Zen got into the mix and brought a third steak -- perfectly medium, for which I couldn't thank him enough. All this occurred within a few minutes' time, and they kept coming by throughout the meal (and all the others) to make sure we were happy.
That was the tone of the whole week, friendliness and professionalism from most everyone we encountered. Crew members always said hello, asked us how we were -- not just our 'regulars' but even crew members that we'd pass by randomly (always a good sign in the service industry, when someone who may have 'nothing to gain' is just as friendly as anyone else, rather than the 'not my job' mentality that we see too often elsewhere).
The ship is in fine shape. One must know going in that Veendam is 16 years old, will show age especially in exterior spots, and won't have some of the bells and whistles. But it's a very comfortable ship, well laid out, and easy to get around. The promenade deck is one of our favourite features with HAL, and Veendam's promenade is nice and wide, a great spot to walk or to relax.
What could have been better? Our cabin (342) did get stuffy at times, even with the AC set at its lowest; they measured the temperatures a couple of times, but the issue was more of air flow, with the sofa area adequate but the head of the bed lacking proper circulation (the temperature of air coming out was fine at 17C, but the volume of air was insufficient and the other side of the room was at 23C or warmer). The front desk was very responsive to this, and a fan was brought in. Some may find it a bit less than ideal, others would have no qualms at all, and for us it did not impact the overall enjoyment of the cruise in any way.
Captain Van der Hoeven made the decision to depart Hamilton early, to get out ahead of the approaching storm. While the other ships at Dockyards stayed on their original schedule, we had the added challenge of having to negotiate a narrow passage. It had been windy all week, and winds were forecast to pick up to gale force. The captain's presentation in the showroom was much appreciated, and we didn't mind at all getting/having to spend more time on the ship and a bit less in Bermuda. Nonetheless, despite missing the better part of a day, we always enjoy Bermuda and this time was no exception. Too bad that HAL won't be returning to Hamilton next year -- it's an ideal itinerary and docking location. We caught Harbour Nights this time, and caught up with friends and family. Got out to Warwick Long Bay and the adjacent beaches; and also spent a day at Tucker's Point and the club and hotel nearby.
I'd previously written that Holland America showed much potential for us, but that the execution on our first cruise with them left much to be desired. We were very happy to see much of this potential realized, and feel very positive about our experiences aboard Veendam. While we won't be able to do the Bermuda cruise again with Holland America for the foreseeable future, we will look at HAL for other itineraries and in a very favourable light.
Here are some Holland America images: