This was our 13th cruise with HAL and our second on the Veendam. Embarkation: We filled out our forms online and were processed through quickly and processionally. We arrived very early and did have to wait outside until the terminal allowed entry but there were great people to chat with and we met one of the on board entertainers we had sailed with previously and had a good time while waiting.
Arrival: When we were able to board, quite early I might add, we were greeted at the top of the gangway by the CD and his staff. There were many staff smiling and happy to assist us with everything. Our cabin was ready so we were able to go to it with no delay at all.
Cabin: Our cabin was spacious and tastefully decorated. The Veendam is about to go in for refit but the cabins did not reflect this as practically all the SOE had been done on the soft goods (bedding, etc). They did not have the DVD or flat screen TV but the room was wonderful anyway. Our room steward Sri was fanatical about keeping our cabin spotless. Need anything? Ask Sri and it would appear as if by magic. With no fuss and no bother.
Staff: The staff as always was amazing. By the third day all the staff we encountered on a daily basis knew our names and our preferences. The tray boy at the Lido, Herry, is one of the most wonderful service people I've ever met and we've met some great ones over the years. The HM Nick Berger and his lovely wife Staci made this one of the most enjoyable cruises we've had. Their attention to detail and grace under pressure is something else and not to be missed.
Captain: Captain Russel-Dunford is in our opinion of the best Captain's HAL has ever had. He is amazingly informative and updated us daily on all the happenings around us.
Activity Staff: John Challenger is the CD and what a wonderful one he is! His daily morning trivia games were not to be missed and were strangely enough one of the more fun things to do; his sense of humor is really well honed. His staff Rimy, Craig, and Shelly, one of the sweetest girls you'd ever want to meet.. The only sour note here was the bingo caller Deb she appeared to be surly and unfriendly to most passengers, luckily we don't play so we were able to avoid her mostly.
Dining: We were confirmed for early seating but when we arrived at our cabin we were listed for late. I contacted the maitre d' Guy and was changed with no hassle to early. The service in the main dining room is impeccable, our waiters Rudy, Ruth and Bambang were quick and efficient. The menu did get a bit boring at times but considering the length of the cruise it was more than acceptable. As for the taste and quality of the food, some was marvelous some was good, and some was merely edible. It was all enjoyable and I gained nine pounds so you know something was right. We ate dinner in the Lido several times and they even had the lobster, beef wellington, and other delicacies at the Lido that normally are only served in the dining room. We are breakfast and lunch in the Lido almost daily. The only downside was that they no longer make first breakfast potatoes, they have frozen, preformed hash browns very reminiscent of McDonalds. Other than that the food in the Lido was wonderful.
Room Service: We used room service frequently and it was always hot, fresh and quick. We were called after almost every delivery to ascertain that we received our order in a timely and efficient manner. We found this special attention to detail comforting. The room service delivery always requested permission to enter, laid out our trays and offered assistance with anything we might need.
Fellow Passengers: The other guests we sailed with had an average age on about 60. There were younger and older but due to the length of the cruise mostly the passengers were retired. I don't believe there were more than two children and they were infants. We found the people to be courteous and anxious to make friends. We met many persons we hope to continue to correspond with.
We would sail again on the Veendam any time anywhere. We found the staff and crew to be gracious, kindly and attentive. We were made to feel at home and we did.
The following is a day by day description of the cruise and our impressions of the people and places we visited.
20050928 -- Departed Phoenix: 4am Arrived Long Beach: noon Made good time and arrived at Quartzsite for breakfast. Avis didn't shuttle us but got a cab at the Queen Mary. The ship is an old and elegant lady. The amount of gorgeous wood all over her is mind boggling. She is shabby and needs a lot of work. That appears to be an ongoing thing. The self-walking tour was cool. The cabins were great with built in wood furniture and bookcases. Originally there was 1 bathroom for every 2 cabins. There were rotating fans high on the walls and 4 faucets 2 for regular and 2 for saltwater.
20050929 -- The Veendam was docked when we woke up! Got in line at: 9:30 am went onboard at: 11:30 am got to room at: 11:35 am Our cabin was ready when we arrived. Our cabin steward Sri is very nice. We saw our bags in the hall and brought them ourselves. Unpacked by 5:00 pm. They didn't have our name at the Pinnacle Grill but it was taken care of. The service as always was excellent.
20050930 -- Great day! Had a good Lido breakfast. Today they had the Cruise Critic meeting. The C.D. John Challenger set it up. There were drinks and appetizers for all. Met our fellow CCers and the hotel manager Nick Berger with wife Staci were there. It was a nice event. During dinner Captain Russell-Dunford told us hurricane Otis was around. We didn't stop at Cabo San Lucas. The waves were wonderful! Lots of motion.
20051001 -- We decided to book the back to back to the Caribbean. Since the hurricane caused us to miss Cabo they set everyone up with free champagne.
20051002 -- Another beautiful day at sea. Today was the Captains formal reception. Went to the casino and put in a few nickels and won 1000! Then dropped 3 quarters in and won 200!! Good lucky day.
20051003 -- October 3, 2005 Due to hurricane Otis we arrived in Acapulco about 11:00am. We lost our thrusters and docking was an interesting sight. They threw lines out to the dock and then winched the ship in using her on-board winches. The city itself hasn't changed, it is still dirty and crowded. We raised anchor about 5:00pm and sailed toward Huatulco.
20051004 -- October 4 2005 Arrived in Huatulco about 6:00am. The pilot boat was so tiny coming out to the ship. Went into town at 7:00am. The town is as beautiful and clean as we remember. It was a very short day and we raised anchor at 1:30 pm. Captain says we may not be able to dock in Costa Rica and the weather may prevent from tendering in.
20051005 -- A sea day today. A very calm day with nothing going on. No movement at all to speak of the sea is smooth as glass.
20051006 -- Costa Rica! Wow, what a fantastic day we had today. We arrived at 7:30 am and for the only time we can remember they had the people on tours cleared to get off one hour before everyone else. We tendered in to Puerta Caldera. There really was nothing at the dock where we landed. There was a small mercado with the most beautiful wood carvings and painted wood. We purchased a beautiful hand painted coaster set and a lovely rosewood domino set. Then we found a cab driver that took us and an older woman on the tour of a lifetime. We were gone for 3 1/2 hours! We went to Central Pacific Coast. He took us to a marvelous hotel the Villa Caletas. Very exclusive! There were only 36 rooms and each room had its own infinity swimming pool. There was a great amphitheater for watching the sunset. Absolutely gorgeous. We also stopped at a local restaurant on the beach has sodas and chips and salsa. The best salsa I've ever had. We saw macaws, toucans, monkeys and the biggest spiders we've ever seen. We saw a working oxcart with two oxen, the Rio Grande Talolinga full of huge crocodiles. All of this for $25.00 per person. We pulled out at 7:00 pm.
20051007 -- Very quiet sea day. Cruised the Golfo Dulce , it was so green and pretty. Didn't see any wildlife although some said they did. Saw a great comedian/ventriloquist in the theater this evening. Matilda with Patrick. Matilda is a Jamaican dummy. The accent was amazing and he talked so fast we couldn't imagine how. Were awakened about 3am by violent lightning that lit the cabin up like daylight.
20051008 -- Panama Canal! Entered the canal about 7am and picked up the pilot about 5am. They brought fresh Panama rolls on-board soft, sweet rolls filled with crushed mandarin oranges and vanilla custard. Quite good. Finished the transit about 4pm. Saw the completed Centennial bridge. Had a good trip through. The ship put out awnings for shade and had ice water and tea available.
20051009 -- Another lovely, calm, quiet sea day.
20051010 -- Arrived in Aruba about 6am. Were cleared and off the ship by 7:30am. A very quaint and pretty town. A lot of pink houses with gingerbread trim. We walked about the town and looked at all the closed shops. The humidity was terrible and we went to Crystal casino as it had air conditioning. It was a very pretty place with crystal chandeliers everywhere. We went back to the ship and changed for swimming, went out and caught the local bus for $2 round-trip. We met three girls from Chicago who were staying at the Wyndham resort. They said to come there as they had a great beach with facilities, so we did. The hotel was wonderful with exotic birds everywhere outside. VC took my picture with a parrot on my arm. When I said hello, it replied. The water was warm and the sand powdery. We rented a chaise lounge and towels and stayed for a few hours. Returned to the ship for lunch and a shower then off to the post office to mail post cards. Got a couple of neat tee shirts. The Divi-Divi trees are cool. We were docked next to the Norwegian Dream. Pulled out around 6:30pm. All in all another wonderful day in Paradise!
20051011 -- Another lovely, calm, quiet sea day.
20051012 -- Wednesday - Grenada The spice islands! A strange town. Beautiful in its way lush and green, with filthy streets and ram-shackle housing. The people are very friendly and greeted us with welcomes to their island. The taxis were very expensive, they wanted $15 each way to take us to a beach that wasn't very far away at all! We docked around 6:30am. Left the ship at 7:00am not much was open so we walked around in the beastly humidity. Went to the open air market where we purchased several spice necklaces (they were really cool) and lots of spices. They had lots of narrow streets and biiig hills. We walked through this narrow assed tunnel barely room for a single car and no path for people to walk on just huddle close to the walls. The tunnel crosses through a giant hill that separates the old dock from the new one. We walked to the marina where we found a nice shop with some wonderful shirts and spices. When we left there a cabbie picked us up and offered a good deal on a city tour. We joined the driver named Lollipop, also a police officer, and he took us up into the forest. We saw cocoa and spice trees, waterfalls and lovely flowers, orchids, angel trumpets, birds of paradise among others. Two waterfalls and at the largest there were stalls selling local flowers and such. The locals had bundles on their heads and lots of local color. There were young men that wanted $20.00 to dive into the falls. It was very picturesque. We returned to the ship for the third time about 1:00 pm and the ship pulled out at 3:30pm. A wonderful day on a beautiful island.
20051013 -- Thursday - at sea Fairly quiet day. Wanted to go to the lecture by the new speaker on the Amazon. Went early and couldn't find a seat Decided to watch it on TV. A formal night and mariner meeting. Out of all the passengers on-board only 18 are NOT mariners!! They gave out 91 copper medallions. Big dessert extravaganza tonight but missed it.
20051014 -- CROSSING THE EQUATOR Friday - Today Neptunus Rex came to the ship!! He paraded through the Navigation deck in all his glory with two mermaids by his side. The jail cage was filled with pollywogs who were to be made to suffer. The trio played a dirge while the pollywogs were lead in wearing "chains" and placed in the cage. They were several from many departments. They were made to kiss the fish a large El Dorado Mahi-Mahi. They were lead out kicking and screaming one at a time placed on a table and the "Doctors and Nurses" covered them with oatmeal, chocolate pudding, mustard, catsup, mayo, relish, lettuce, custard etc. It was disgusting!! They all stank and depending on the Captain and officers thumbs up or down they would jump into the pool or have to sit in the sun until the ceremony was over. We were squatting right at the edge of the pool where the newly made shellbacks awaited the end. When we returned to the cabin we were given a certificate stating we were found worthy and made shellbacks. It was marvelous fun and took over 300 pix.
20051015 -- Saturday - The mouth of the Amazon is humongous and the water is very muddy indeed. We crossed the equator at 10:25am and are officially in the Southern Hemisphere!! We dropped anchor at 11:15am waiting for the Brazilian officials to clear the ship to enter the Amazon, the Captain said should take about 4 hours. It actually took them over 6 hours to clear the ship and then some of then stayed on-board. Those that left went with cigarettes and booze. No-one could believe it took so long to clear. Apparently they insisted on checking all the yellow fever certificates.
20051016 -- Sunday- Santerem We docked about noon due to the hang up in getting cleared. We cleared and got off about 12:30 pm. As it was Sunday not much was open. We took a shuttle bus into "town" for $2 each, each way. There were 2 stores open and 6 or 7 stalls in town but their stuff was expensive. We got a key chain and a little carved river boat. At the town they had lovely hand painted tee shirts for $18 which seemed pricey. When we got back to the dock we checked with the stall sellers there and the same shirts were $7. So we each got one they are very nice. The ship left Santerem about 6:00 pm.
20051017 -- Monday - Boca de Valeria Wow! What a cool village. Really local natives coming right up to the ship in teeny tiny canoes. The Captain had to send out security to stop them from trying to climb up the back of the ship. The clustered around the tenders while they were loading and unloading. The Captain had to request that we do not feed the Natives as they begged for us to drop food over the side. Never saw anything like it in my life. We dropped anchor at 7:00am and were off the ship by 8:00am. It was terrible hot and humid but well worth the trip. The locals dressed their kids up in jungle feathers with bows and arrows.. We saw the stilt houses and the satellite dish in the center of town. There were monkeys, toucans and parrots. it was really cool and we enjoyed it very much. When you get off the ship here in the Amazon the crew are waiting port side to spray you with Off. We should lift anchor at 2:00pm. PINK DOLPHINS! They were everywhere around the ship. I couldn't believe that we actually saw them, some of them were almost red - how marvelous. In the village there were stalls set up with local handicrafts at quite good prices.
20051018 -- Tuesday - Manaus Made good time through the night, docked around 9:30am. Left the ship around 10:30am and went with Amsterdam-Sauer to the Tropical Resort where their store is located. They gave out free necklaces and gave us a private taxi to go to the hotel and then take us where ever we wanted to go in the city. At their store looked at their jewelry to be polite then walked around the hotel grounds through some jungle and down to the beach. We tried a local soft drink made from local fruit it tasted like cream soda mixed with apples it was quite good. Terribly humid and hot here! We left the hotel and the cab driver took us to the famous Teatro Amazonas, their opera house. It was fantastic. beautiful architecture and wood floors. Amazing frescoes and painted ceilings. On the return trip we saw some of the worst slums we've ever seen, even worse than Panama City!! We picked up some hat pins and returned to the ship and called it a day. An overnight port - more tomorrow.
20051019 -- Wednesday - Manaus continued Went out about 8:30am to find the post office. HA! Found a kid who spoke some English and wanted to practice on us. Portuguese is close to Spanish but the words for post office are not. He ended up taking us to the opera house but he was nice so we gave him a tip although we thought we would die from the humidity before we made it back to the ship. Mailed off all our post cards from the front office. It was hot but we enjoyed seeing the city.
20051020 -- Thursday - Parintins Dropped anchor around 10:30am. We had to wait to tender in as the water was so low it made the dock too high and the ships carpenters had to build some portable stairs from the tender to the pier. From the dock there was a hill, a very steep hill about 35 to 40 degree angle to go up before you reached the town proper. We hired a tricycle for 1/2 the price the Shorex wanted and he rode us around the town. Went to some stalls, got hat pins, alligator teeth, and a lovely parrot plaque. The heat here was the worst in the Amazon. We got back to the ship as quickly as possible. Pulled anchor at 5:45pm and headed out of the Amazon and back to the ocean.
20051021 -- Friday- sea day A beautiful sunrise. Today the M/S Veendam broke her speed record as we maintained a speed of 23 knots! Another first - it was her first time in the Southern Hemisphere. Sometime tonight we re-cross the equator. Dropped off the Brazilian pilots & officials, their women and their booze at 6:30pm in Macapa. It was something to watch them jump from the ship into a tiny boat.
20051022 -- Saturday - at sea Wonderful to wake up to the OCEAN again! Pretty quiet day, the Captain came over the intercom and told us how glad he was to look out his window and see the deep blue sea again. 20051023 Sunday - A fairly quiet sea day until the Captain came on and said that hurricanes Wilma and Alpha might meet up in the Bahamas so for safeties sake he was canceling Half Moon Cay! I am not at all pleased. He did say we would go to an alternate port St. Kitts. We would stay there a full day instead of the half day originally planned for HMC. We've never been to either place so that part is OK. They had the grand buffet in the Rotterdam today, it was lovely. So much wonderfully pretty food. Such a lot of creativity and work went into this.
20051024 -- Monday - Barbados Today we snorkel with the turtles! WOW! What a fantastic time we had. We docked about 7am and met our group at 8am in the Reubens Lounge. We went through the terminal and got on a bus that took us to the marina about one mile away. Our catamaran "El Tigre" with Captain Nick and crew awaited us. We all got settled and the catamaran took us a few miles out and dropped anchor in about 18 feet of water. They feed the turtles every day at the same time there so there was no lack of turtle participation. As soon as we hit the water they came, big, beautiful and so graceful in the water. Touched them and swam with them and took their pix it was truly spectacular. Spent about an hour there and then the rum punch came out and the boat headed to Paradise Beach. There were water toys there and a beautiful clear, warm, blue watered beach. The sand was golden and sugary. They had kayaks, banana boats and something called "Big Mable" that I took a ride on. Great fun! Oh when we first reached this deserted beach and got off the boat onto the sand there was a lady waiting there with a clipboard and a survey! Really! She wanted to know how we found out about the beach; she just watched us get off a tour boat! We spent about 4 and a half hours on what was supposed to be a 3 hour tour. Returned to the ship, changed clothes and went out and did some shopping in the terminal.
20051025 -- Tuesday - St. Kitts A beautiful island but town is quite a ways from the port. Today at 9am is a rehearsal for the Great Pretenders show. Lots of fun. I'm Aretha Franklin and a party girl. We docked about 10:30am. It's really hot here. Wandered into the port area, there is a lovely little shopping village that they are building. We did some shopping and made a short day of it and returned to the ship by 1pm. Got into my poodle skirt and got ready for the show. Got quite a few compliments on my outfit. Went backstage at 9:15pm put on my wig and went to town with my Aretha act! Went to the sock hop afterwards in the Crows Nest. Was up until almost 1am was just barely back into the cabin when the ship begin to stop to drop a passenger off in St, Thomas. He misread his dial while diving, ran out of air, panicked and came up to fast. They did not have a hyperbaric chamber in St, Kitts so we had to take him to St, Thomas for medical care. About 300 people were up on Promenade deck in their bathrobes watching this take place. A dock worker looked up and yelled that we were crazy and should be in bed at that time of the morning. 20051026 Wednesday - at sea Another lovely day at sea. Today they had a high tea. There was a fantastic lightning show over Haiti. We watched it of and on while we were doing laundry.
20051027 -- Thursday - Happy Birthday Had biscuits and gravy in the Lido this morning, it was surprisingly good. They deck stewards from the Lido, Ringo and Bernie, sang Happy Birthday to me this morning out on deck, it was so sweet. At noon there was another Cruise Critic party with booze and food, it was wonderful and when we got back to the cabin - the door was COVERED in balloons! Sri made a darling monkey from towels and hanging from a skirt hanger. And a birthday card from the Captain and staff. How nice. The cast show was great this evening and after Jeffrey (the lead male singer) came up to me during the show with the mic to sing part of his song with him, it was a great deal of fun. One of the officers bought me a birthday drink prior to the black and white ball. It was fabulous. Every one looked so pretty (or handsome) I danced with the Captain, the Hotel Manager, the Cruise Director, several cadets, the Doctor and lots of others. What a wonderful time I had on my birthday.
20051028 -- Friday - At sea Our wonderful cruise is almost over. Still don't know what room we will be in for our back to back but at least we'll be here instead of going home! We won a little and lost a little at the casino today. We spent quite a lot of time there actually. Said goodbye to all our new friends and some of our old ones. Now we get to meet a whole other group of potential friends.......Cool.