Volendam Cruise Review by dockman: 17 days Hong Kong to Singapore
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17 days Hong Kong to Singapore
I have been on over sixty cruises to include many Holland America Cruises. I will attempt to review this cruise and provide what I hope will be some information to assist other cruisers and perhaps even get Holland to rethink some of their planning for future cruises.
Volendam is a very nice ship that carries 1400 passengers. Our cruise was not full and I would estimate maybe 1200 or so. The ship was recently refurbished with all new softgoods..carpets/upholstery/drapes, beds etc. It is in very good condition and is plenty big without being some 4000 passenger monster. The self service laundry is nice for long trips....wash $2....dry $1 ...us quarters avail at front desk and free soap in machines...good machines. Avoid lines by doing laundry late night or on port days.
Typical Holland library with a good selection of books. Internet is available at usual cruise super inflated prices of 75 cents a minute though they do have "plans" that come out More cheaper if you buy a block of time. The wifi signal seems to cover the entire ship so if you absolutely MUST surf the web and don't mind the prices you can do it from your stateroom.
As usual the Holland Indonesian/Filipino staff is always smiling and provides some of the best most gracious service of any cruise line. And the Dutch officers are their usual efficient selves.
One of the YOUNGEST Holland cruises I have experienced. About 80 teens on board with many families with children but were all amazingly well behaved . Much more international than most Holland cruises with perhaps only half of the passengers Americans. Many aussies, kiwis, brits. Euros and even a group of about 40 Russians along with a good size group of Asians from Hong Kong, Singapore, etc.
Typical Holland cruise with good food at the Lido , the two level dining room, the pinnacle (25$) the Italian restaurant which is part of lido (10$). Room service simple quick and good as well. This cruise had only one or two outdoor pool side buffets which seemed strange as the weather was perfect and most Holland cruises have more. You can choose fixed dining times in the top level of the dining room or dine as you wish in the bottom. I never had to wait more than a minute or two for a table as long as you are willing to share. The menu selections were fine but frankly seemed not as varied as other Holland cruises Service was very good all except one night when it was slow.. Nice burgers/tacos/etc available out by the pool.
Some of the worst I have seen on a Holland cruise. Most consisted of a single guitar player or sax player or singer which was more suited/expected as a lounge act and certainly not a HEADLINER.
Not sure if Holland is trying to skimp but it really was pitiful. The entertainers were reasonably talented but again they seemed more suited to the lounges.
Only at Laem Chabang Thailand did they bring on local entertainers who were all adults and seemed to be a hit with the passengers. UNFORTUNATELY in my estimation Holland SHOULD bring on local school kids in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand who would be thrilled to come aboard and sing/dance etc...the kids are dirt poor and it would have been VERY easy for Holland to arrange that via their local port operator and NO DOUBT the passengers would have LOVED it and likely would have been happy to throw a few dollars into a collection to help out some very poor kids. PLEASE Holland consider doing this in the future. The kids might not be as "professional" but that is what makes them so special to see their eyes light up and their pride in performing their local cultures songs/dances...give them a ship tour and let them eat in the buffet line and it would make a big impression on them and the guests.
No lectures/professors at all which again seems to be a new skimping by Holland. With all the history of the ports we visited it would have been nice to have a few lectures by a knowledgeable expert .....cost is minimal to Holland and again would have been welcome by the passengers.
Best "lecture" was done by the hotel manager who did a one hour presentation with pictures showing how the volendam was refurbished in 14 days which is truly a herculean task...excellent presentation.
Seems to me the Holland newsletter has gone downhill...a new format is in place but gives very very little info on the entertainers/staff etc. Typical is the person's name and he is a "guitarist" etc. Surely this can be done better.
As is usual the port info handouts are simply AWFUL. Not so much as the approximate exchange rate is given much less any info as to where to find wifi etc which MANY guests want to know. Very little or NO information as to local transport options. Again it seems to be all about pushing people to buy the Holland tours and be led around like children on some overpriced long bus tour. If you prefer to explore on your own you are truly on your own and should do your own research in advance.
Sorry if this review highlights too many negatives as it truly is a wonderful cruise and as an experienced cruiser I am able to navigate around the problems with little or no hassles...but many of the passengers are novice cruisers and the items I mention cause problems and complaints.
It certainly does SEEM to me that Holland since being taken over by carnival is more about squeezing every penny more than ever before although in fairness Holland is WAY WAY better at not nickel and diming you to death than royal Caribbean/princess/carnival etc.
Hong Kong: Flew into Hong Kong two days early. Very easy bus transfer for $5 usd or so that took me right to the Park hotel in Kowloon. Excellent hotel with very very good location. Paid about $165 a night. Only disappointment was they wanted another 20 usd for wifi usage. In fact all over Hong Kong wifi is amazingly NOT EASY to find for free as it is the vast majority of modern cities. Even though McDonalds etc claims free wifi you must have some local Hong Kong system to use it. Did finally find a simple little coffee shop near the hotel that had it. (take back exit turn right and about 50 meters up on left is a coffee shop). Hong Kong has a great subway system and easy to get around. For a treat go to the soho area on Hong Kong island which is built on the side of a cliff and is all bars and restaurants and the main area for expats. Star ferry of course also close by and easy to get to hong kong island.
Taxi to the ship was easy and inexpensive.
LONG lines to board the ship at 1 pm. For some unknown reason Holland had decided to hand out a one page info sheet regarding the visas you would need for china/Vietnam/Cambodia and Thailand. In all my cruises I have never seen such a poorly written single piece of paper that managed to totally confuse most every single passenger.
You had to check if you wanted an "individual or group" visa with no explanation. The group visas were about $20 each cheaper than the individual. In addition they first said you needed a visa for sanya though that was clearly incorrect for most nationalities. Bottom line was I checked group visas and saved about $60 or more usd while those who checked the more OBVIOUS individual visa paid extra and in the end it MADE NO DIFFERENCE AT ALL as I was certainly not a "group" but had no problem. NEVER any explanation or refund to those who checked and paid more for group. Why Holland could not provide the visa info in the online tour docs is a mystery but they sure managed to confuse the hell out of most all passengers and slow down the embarkation as people naturally were confused. All total I ended up paying about $125 for the necessary visas while others paid close to $200.
Sailing away from Hong Kong is very beautiful with lots and lots of nice lights.
Holland provided a free shuttle into town but did not provide any info as to where the shuttle would go or what might be within walking distance so unfortunately most passengers did not have a clue which way to walk etc. A beautiful beach was only about 7 min walk from the drop point but it seems only a few people actually figured it out which was sad as it was a nice area ...most only found a boring shopping center. The Sanya port has a brand new set of high rise buildings and at night they all light up with a very nice light show.
A major disappointment in scheduling as the ENTIRE reason to go there is to cruise through the limestone formations and enjoy the scenery. For some very strange reason we set anchor at 5 am in pitch dark and then left at 7 pm again in pitch dark so the only part of halong bay visible was near the port. Holland was anxious to sell everyone a shore excursion with a boat ride through the bay which was fine but it would have been NICE if we could have actually also sailed in/out of the bay in DAYLIGHT.
The port is about 15 mins from the main part of town. Holland provided a shuttle bus for $12 usd roundtrip that drops near the big markets. Again no real info as to what might be near the drop point but most were able to figure it out. Da nang is a pleasant enough city and the markets are interesting. Tons of motorbikes everywhere and traffic appears to be totally chaos . Lots of little tea/coffee shops to sit and watch the chaos . Free wifi available in lobby of most hotels.
Again Holland offered a shuttle for $12 roundtrip and even though they said it was a 30 minute ride I timed it at 11 minutes. Again no info on what was near shuttle drop but most were able to figure out the beach front promenade and the neighborhoods a block or two back from the beach. A very fast growing beach resort Nah Trang is a pleasant port.
Saigon(Ho Chi Min City)
The port for Saigon is absolutely nothing but industrial with zero within sight or walking distance. Holland was in full gear pushing overpriced tours to Saigon which is almost 3 HOURS one way. The port is run by a Vietnamese taxi mafia who quoted obscene prices for Saigon and even for the one semi nearby town of Vung Tao (11 kms $100 usd one way). All in all a HORRIBLE port and if you did not buy a Holland tour good luck. I heard more complaints on this port than any other.
A very interesting port call. Free shuttle by Holland to a chaotic market about 20 mins drive away. From there it was easy to hire a four person tuk tuk for about $5 usd to take you to the beautiful beach areas. Serendipity beach is a long white sand beach lined with chairs/umbrellas and nice clean looking water. It was New Years Eve and the locals were out in force with picnics etc getting ready for a major night time party. Lots and lots of open air bars/restaurants along the beach with bargain prices on drinks and food etc. For some very strange reason we sailed at 7 pm JUST as fireworks were starting up so naturally we missed the entire new year's celebration...Our next port of laem chabang was only 100 miles away (less than five hours sailing time) but rather than stay in port or even cruise off the coast to allow us to watch fireworks at shianokville the ship went out into the darkness where we sailed around in CIRCLES for the next 36 HOURS killing time . Why? Who knows as no explanation. SURELY it would have been cheaper, better to sit at anchor or at dock than to just ride around in circles??
The port for Bangkok and pattaya sits 1 Â½ hours from Bangkok and about 30 minutes from the beach resort of pattaya. Once again it is an industrial port only and it is over a two mile walk out to the gates / highway...so yet again you are held captive by Holland pushing ridiculously overpriced shore excursions and an even worse taxi mafia than Saigon. Even though all Bangkok and pattaya taxis have meters and USE them naturally at this port they refuse to use the meters and had posted fares of $50 usd one way to pattaya (normally about $12 usd with taxi meter) and over $130 usd one way to Bangkok which is normally about $30. Holland's shuttle to bkk is $60 per person roundtrip....by way of comparison a very nice bus leaves Bangkok/Pattaya every 30 minutes and goes right by laem chabang all the way to pattaya/bkk for $4 usd.
How sad that many people simply stayed on the ship in laem chabang rather than hassle with the transport problems. Both Bangkok and pattaya are great places to visit but between the laem chabang taxi mafia and the Holland gouge prices it is just one big hassle. Frankly Holland should either provide reasonably priced shuttle buses or skip both saigon and laem chabang for other ports that are not hours from cities and/or out in middle of nowhere and ruled by local taxi mafias.
Tender to the port of Na Thong (pronounced NATHAN by the Holland travel "expert" who seemed to think we had landed at Nathan road in Hong Kong or perhaps England and who knew less than nothing about Thailand. Easy tender in and tons of metered taxis and even cheaper songtaeows (pick up trucks with seats in the back that serve as local buses) ready to take you anywhere no problems. The port town itself is full of shops and restaurants etc with free wifi etc and is a very pleasant place to roam.
As expected very neat and tidy city with draconian laws against most anything like litter, chewing gum, jaywalking etc. Fantastic subway system makes getting around very easy. Bit of a hassle as every time you walk on or off ship you MUST go through passport control for some reason. Singapore is an EXPENSIVE city. Paid $12.50 usd for ONE BEER in a nothing special bar/restaurant. Six pack of Beer in a 7/11 is $30 usd. There is a duty free shop as you exit the ship where you can buy beer/wine/booze at much much lower prices. Singapore is not a good place to go pub crawling.
We disembarked in Singapore at the same time as a royal Caribbean ship so there were long lines to clear immigration and then a MASSIVE long line to get a taxi to the airport with a wait of an hour or more. Best advice is either get off very early or just WAIT until about 11 am to get off when the line has gone down or just sit in one of the coffee shops and relax rather than stand in line. Taxi fare to airport is only about $15 usd and takes 30 minutes. Holland sells a one way bus ride to the airport at $39 usd.
Singapore airport one of the best in the world. Free wifi throughout and plenty of shops/restaurants/comfortable sitting areas etc everywhere. Less
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Cabin review: HH Large Outside Stateroom (fully obstructed views)