We just returned from the 7 day Boston to Quebec cruise on the Holland America Veendam. This was my first cruise though my wife and mother-in-law, who I travelled with, had been on small ship cruises to Alaska and Germany before. My expectations and perspective are based on research on Cruise Critic and other web sources and supported by conversation with other more experienced cruisers on the ship.
Overall I rate the experience as a 3 of 6 - middle of the road but frankly just not good enough. Some very good, some great, but most just OK or less. The ship was well maintained but was certainly past its prime. The staff (mostly from the Philippines) were consistently friendly, helpful, and made a great effort to know your name and personal preferences.
The itinerary was good - Boston, Bar Harbor, Halifax, Sydney, Charlottetown, and Quebec, but the short times in port (average 8 AM to 4 PM) made visiting very hectic. The HAL excursions were expensive and we chose not to use them, a good decision based on comments from those who did.
Our cabin was a Lanai which had sliding door directly out to a public promenade. We liked this very much and had all the privacy we needed. The stateroom itself was fairly small and made more so by the excess of useless furniture and throw pillows that we spent too much time just moving out of the way. My opinion as a noobie is that there shouldn't be anything in the cabin that isn't functional and useful - there just isn't any extra space.
The food was a disappointment. Sorry but it was cafeteria quality in the MDR as well as the Lido. Over cooked meats and seafood, no sauces, soggy vegetables, etc. The best choices were always those that did not need to be cooked - salmon and tuna tartar, beef carpaccio, salads, and desserts, or those that could hold up to excessive hold times like soups.
HAL was good in moving people around - embarkation, disembarkation, on and off at ports, etc. Well organized.
Entertainment and on board recreation was weak. The theater was incredibly uncomfortable with many seats having obstructed views, The performers were second rate at best. The pool was tiny and dominated by screaming kids jumping around unsupervised.
My biggest beef though was how HAL "nickels and dimes" you from start to finish. Drinks are expensive, no free Wi-Fi (you had to pay through the nose for any internet access - complete crap), they bombarded you with photos to pay excessive amounts for (including interrupting every dinner with a photographer and forcing you to run a gauntlet of photo stations to get through the ship), etc.
Others may have a different view but my preference is give me top quality, add the quality to the price, give me great service on the ship, and leave me alone. HAL did not do this and we will not be back. Our next trip is booked with Azamara and I hope and expect that we will have a different experience. If not, our cruising days are done.