The Ship: Holland America Volendam The Cruise: 14 Night Singapore to Hong Kong The Dates: Jan 7-21 2013
The Cruisers: Alan (age: 61) & Susan (age: a few years younger than Alan, but I better not say exactly!). Our friends Kim and Charlotte also accompanied us from where we all live in Taipa, Macau.
The price: $799 pp for an inside cabin when booked about 30 days before departure.
This was our ninth cruise, but our first on Holland America. We'd heard that cruisers sometimes call Holland America "The Geriatric Line" so perhaps we've been avoiding them. After all, we're still young Woodstock generation spring chickens looking for the all-night party! Well, just kidding......not really!
We arrived in Singapore two days before our cruise and enjoyed two wonderful nights at the Swissotel , Merchant Court near Clarke Quay. On the day of embarkation , we arrived well relaxed at the cruise terminal around 12:30pm, or about half an hour after the earliest suggested check in time. Check in was lightning fast! We were in our cabins within twenty minutes! How did that happen? It's never happened that fast before!
We were in cabin 2676 on deck 2 a.k.a. Main Deck. Our inside cabin contained more storage space than any other cruise ship we've been on and more than we would ever use! It was almost a shame that now that we are older we are traveling much lighter. As the wife noted, the bed was also wonderfully comfortable, the best we've slept on for a cruise .
The bathroom was more than adequately equipped. The only downside was the shower curtain which if not manipulated properly might flood the bathroom floor. We also didn't particularly like the placement of the TV, so high up it was difficult to watch and use the remote. You had to fully extend your arm in an upward position just to change channels. But we weren't there to watch TV anyway.
Crew: Mostly Indonesian and Filipino with Dutch officers. Our Indonesian cabin attendant was great! He took wonderful care of us and entertained us with creative towel animals at night. We chose the open seating dining option. The downside of this option is that you have a different waiter almost every night and don't get to know any of them really well. However as we exited the dining room every night on the fourth floor, we did get to know a young Indonesian attractively dressed in a red uniform who passed out dates and ginger as a parting gift. He had an engaging smile and we always looked forward to talking with him each evening.
The Food: The food exceeded most of our expectations. We especially liked how there seemed to be special care taken with the seafood, not to overcook it. The shrimp, scallops, and lobster were excellent and I enjoyed a second or third serving on occasion. There were plenty of foods that we enjoyed both in the main dining room and in the Lido buffet on the pool deck. The tropical fruits were great especially the papaya and mango. A couple of the few things we did not care for were the green beans (too stringy) and the sushi (not much choice).
Entertainment: We attended nearly all of the shows in the main theater. We found most of the performances entertaining, but not as good as some other lines. We would however put two performers and one duo in the exceptional category. They were a Chinese dulcimer player named Xu, an African-American singer with an especially powerful voice named Ebony and a married couple from Belarus that wowed the crowd by dancing and changing clothes incredibly fast.
We were pleasantly surprised that the Microsoft computer classes on board were both free and highly informative. We enjoyed these on a couple of occasions. I think I paid for these on another line a few years ago.
I am somewhat of a trivia addict so I attended these nearly every day. They were fun and I met many interesting people during the course of the friendly competition. My only input would be that there could be more variety in the questions and also in creating different types of these shipboard games. For instance, on Celebrity they had a trivia game called "Battle of the Sexes" which was great fun.
Pools & Hot Tubs: I have to give the Volendam negative marks in this area. There are just two jacuzzi hot tubs on the ship. They are both located next to the main pool near the center of deck eight. The problem is that there is no supervision in this area. According to the posted signs children are not to use the hot tubs without adult supervision if they are under 16 years old. However during most afternoons the tubs were in fact full of unsupervised children. While most were respectful, a few were out of control. There was one particular overweight child that enjoyed splashing other guests and doing cannon balls into the hot tubs. On still another occasion, I heard him screaming while exiting the elevator next to the Lido Restaurant. As I entered the elevator I noticed the reason for his gleeful screams....he had pressed all the buttons and apparently felt proud of his actions! We began calling him Dennis the Menace! Many other guests commented on his behavior, but the crew and/or parents did nothing.
Intangibles: This is the first ship we have been on that allowed guests access to the bow and other areas forward and aft that are normally out of bounds. We enjoyed that.
The Voyage, Ports of Call & Tour Excursions:
Our first night at sea was agony. The captain had warned us as we left Singapore that we would skirt the edges of a typhoon. Between 3-5am, the ship was really rocking, but by mid-morning things had returned to normal. After a sea day we arrived in Koh Samui. The ship was anchored near the town of Nathom on the northwest side of the island. After tendering and walking, we hired a taxi in downtown Nathom. I recommend resisting the temptation of hiring one off the pier. Similar to most places in southeast Asia, the price will drop as you get further away from the drop off point. We negotiated a trip of several hours to visit both the largest waterfall which is in the middle of the island and Chaweng Beach on the east side. Neither the waterfall nor the beach were spectacular, but they were okay and our short time there passed quickly. We had glimpses that made us think there were probably some better spots near some of the more exclusive resorts. On a future trip, we have plans to try one of the resorts on the neighboring island of Koh Phangan. Also Ang Thong Marine National Park looks enticing. Too bad we didn't have more time here!
Our next stop was Laem Chabang, the cruise port for Bangkok. Since we'd done Bangkok before and it's quite a distance away, we decided to stay on the ship. It was great to have the ship almost to ourselves! I would doubt there were even a hundred people left on board the first day of an overnight stay. It was like living on Johnny Depp's ghost ship!
Our next stop was Sihanoukville, Cambodia. We took a shuttle bus from the port into the downtown area. The town's buildings were an interesting mixture of new construction, squalor and rubble. One gets the impression though that the economy is improving and the people also reflect that. We hired a tuk-tuk to a nearby beach resort called Sokha Beach Resort and Spa. We enjoyed all of it.....the pool, beach and massage for several hours before returning to the ship.
The following stop was Phu My, Vietnam, the port city for Saigon. We joined a Cruise Critic tour run by Smile Tours for this stop. It is a long drive of roughly 2.5 hours from the cruise port to the downtown area. We visited the Presidential palace, some markets, and the War Remnants Museum. Our guide's English was sometimes difficult to understand, but at least it was about half the price of the Holland America tour. We both felt the war museum was a little too one sided and hard to stomach.
Our next stop was Nha Trang, Vietnam. We liked the slower pace of this beach resort town. There are plenty of nice hotels here including a Sheraton not far from where the shuttle bus dropped us off. However, my wife and I were a bit upset by the way Holland America advertised their shuttle bus. They said it would take approximately thirty minutes to reach the downtown area. It seemed a bit quick getting there so I decided to time our return trip. It took less than eight minutes! A number of ship passengers also told us they were upset with the travel information provided by the on-board port excursion director. They said he failed to mention a beautiful neighboring resort called Vin Pearl Island. Our ship actually parked right near the over the water gondola lift to the island. Those that I talked to that did visit Vin Pearl Island claimed it was wonderful.
Our next to last stop was Danang, Vietnam. The wife elected to stay on the cruise ship as we had been here before. I took the shuttle downtown and did some walking in the central business district. It was hard to have much fun given that I was constantly being asked if I wanted a ride in a tuk-tuk or to buy something. A number of other guests I talked with went to Hoi An and appeared to have enjoyed it much more.
Our last stop was Halong Bay. Since we had already done an excursion on a junk of Halong Bay a couple of years ago while sailing on Legend of the Seas, we decided to join another Cruise Critic organized tour of downtown Hanoi. Like Saigon, we again had a long mini-bus commute into the city of about three hours. However, this time we had a better guide. His name was Dinh Quang Giang. He helped my wife shop for clothes as well as buy spices in the market. We took a rickshaw ride through the city and visited Senator McCain's old residence a.k.a Hanoi Hilton. Besides visiting all the regular city highlights, our guide also introduced us to several mugs of delicious cold draft beer that cost only forty cents a glass. If you are interested in touring Hanoi at a reduced price, I suggest you contact Mr. Giang via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org He uses a reliable Mercedes Benz mini-bus, will quote you a fair price and speaks good English.
Disembarkation was as easy as boarding had been. Overall, this cruise was a great value for us and the positives far outweighed the few negatives. Perhaps Holland America is not for everyone. Nightlife usually ends by 11:30pm, but for the most part we enjoyed our time on Volendam. Just look out for Dennis the Menace!