Ports visited, Kobe and Nagasaki Japan, Busan S Korea, Dalian China, Beijing China, Shanghai China, Hong Kong China.
Our fifth "Dam" ship, first time Volendam. Cabin was an outside on Main deck.
Embarkation was slower than we would have liked, but once onboard our cabin was ready and luggage was delivered shortly afterwards.
Thought Volendam was looking a little tired in places, especially outside on Lido deck where some maintenance and revarnishing would help.
From day one our dirty cabin window remained dirty throughout the 14 days, and the bathroom tiling was showing its age, otherwise the cabin was kept immaculate by our steward and all was in good order. Plenty storage, the bed was supremely comfortable as usual and nice to see that the Elemis toiletries are still there. We really do enjoy the cabins on HAL.
Overall the standard of cleaning was very high in all public areas and for the first 2 days everything was served to us in an effort to reduce the possibility of illness. This is good although the use of hand sanitisers could be more enforced as many passengers ignore them.
We found the food quality, choice and presentation to our liking, and the additional Asian menu choices were fun to try so no complaints there apart from the usual dire tasting regular coffee. We were on Anytime Dining, ate in the diningroom almost every evening, and although did not usually have to wait long if we avoided the busiest periods, we did have lots of problems trying to get a decent table for two on the evenings we preferred to eat alone. We almost always found ourselves next to a serving station. Too many people are reserving the nicer tables for two for every evening at the same time, blocking others from using them. Defeats the purpose of "Anytime Dining", but the diningroom staff could surely occasionally put a couple on a table for four without other diners as there were often unoccupied nicer tables available throughout the time we were dining. Alcoholic drinks prices have increased to the extent that we now cut back, especially on wine with dinner. Heard quite a number of complaints about pricing, although the happy hours are welcome and at least the bars are busy instead of empty and have a nicer atmosphere.
Entertainment was, as usual, a bit hit or miss but we thought the singers were an improvement on previous shows. They could not only sing well but a couple of them were outstanding. We usually avoid the solo acts, such as magicians, comedians etc. so cannot comment on them as we prefer to spend our time in Oceans with the trio. Enjoyed the screenings of first run films in both the large theatre and the smaller cinema. We did not notice any listings in the daily programmes for lecturers. There were port talks (to sell shorex) and info for independent sightseeing with the port info person, but no actual lectures relating to the history, culture, religion or anything else relating to the countries we were visiting. We have seen lecturers on other HAL ships but not this time.
We thought the formal evenings were a bit of a let down. Wondered why so many passengers made the effort to dress formally. Captain made a brief (very brief) appearance at the Welcome Drinks otherwise we never really saw him. The Mariners Brunch was disappointing too. The CD introduced the Captain who spoke for approximately 2 minutes then left. As nothing else happened, it was a bit of a non-event.
Weather was mostly good when we were in port, but the smog/pollution in some of the ports is bad.
Bureaucracy on this trip is daunting. Even before we left, there was much confusion as to whether Chinese visas should be Single, Double or Multiple Entry. On this sailing it appeared to make no difference although the fees passengers had paid varied considerably depending on which of the options they chose. Passports in and out the office, passport receipts to keep and exchange at various times, photocopies to be carried and checked and rechecked every time we left or boarded, temperatures taken, officials from one country or another almost always onboard, it never stopped. This is not the fault of HAL and must have created an enormous amount of work for the staff. Be prepared to have this.
Spent 2 nights in Osaka before boarding in Kobe, spent 3 nights in Hong Kong after disembarkation to finish sightseeing from previous trips.
At every port we were giving the name of the ship, the dock number and the port address in the local language to show to local taxi drivers. We also sometimes had the names of the top sights in local language. We especially enjoyed the Japanese ports, and the local Tourist Info offices were on hand with info for independent sightseeing. In Nagasaki and Kobe this is very easy. Surprisingly, at Busan (S Korea)despite seeing signs for it at the dock there was no free shuttle into town although we had expected this from reading other thread. Tourist info had volunteers arranging taxis, cost approx US$4 each way. Dalian we had free shuttles to a city centre location. Shaghai had free shuttles for the very short trip to the Bund although it was barely 10 minutes walk. These finished very early (I think around 6-30pm) despite us overnighting. At Tianjin (for Beijing) there were free shuttles to a local shopping centre, again stopping very early despite an overnight.
We greatly enjoyed our two days in Shanghai a lot, in part due to our excellent docking location close to one end of the Bund and with front row seats of the Pudong area directly opposite. Lovely during the day, but outstanding at night when the buildings and little river cruise boats are illuminated. We could have done with more time although we packed a lot into our two days.
Beijing was the best and the worst. We knew when we booked the shorex that they would be a bit of an expensive endurance test with little sightseeing, but these were our only shorex as it was a little out of our comfort zone for independent or private touring, although many passengers did do their own thing here despite the logistical and bureaucratic difficulties. Again, two full days, but the port of Tianjin is 2 1/2 to 3 hours drive away depending on traffic. We were mostly 3 hours each way. Very early starts and late returns. The coaches we had were built for little Chinese people and were very uncomfortable for taller people. On one of the days there was so little leg room we had to take separate seats and sit sideways both directions as our legs would not otherwise fit. Next day, were amongst the first on our coach and managed to find seats with slightly more legroom although others were not so lucky. Both day tours were around 11 or 12 hours duration and cost around $250pp each day. Include time for lunch and driving between sights, and there was too little time left for actual sightseeing. I think on our first day we had just short of 3 hours and around 4 the second day. We thought these tours were vastly overpriced considering the majority of the time was spent on uncomfortable coaches. Perhaps HAL could look at either dropping Beijing altogether in favour of somewhere else, or tweak itineraries so that cruises either begin or end in Beijing where passengers could spend time in hotels actually in the city as sights such as the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace need more than 90 minutes or so.
Overall it was a good trip but not a great trip, in part because of Beijing being so frustrating, although we did get to see the places we wanted to see.