There was really nothing outstanding, good or bad, about this trip. It's been 2 years since my last cruise on HAL and since the price was right and the itinerary interesting, I thought I'd give them another try.
I flew into QC the day before the ship departed and opted for HAL transfers from the airport to the Hilton and then to the ship the next day. I opted for the Hilton hotel as it was the most reasonably priced and I was really just looking for a place to sleep for the night. The hotel was clean, quite, comfortable and safe. I had a view of the old city and since it was drizzling, opted to spend the evening watching a light show that was going on from the comfort of my hotel room window. The next morning was a bit overcast but dry, and since my pickup for the ship wasn't until 11:00 AM, I headed out early to do some exploring on my own. The transfer from the hotel to the ship went smoothly and quickly, as did embarkation. I was on the ship and in my cabin before noon. Disembarkation in Boston went just as smoothly. I was in the first independent group, and was off the ship, had my luggage and was having breakfast with a friend in Boston within 30 minutes. The rest of the review I'll break down into categories.
The Veendam is a smaller ship, accommodating approximately 1200 passengers, which suits me well. I wouldn't be comfortable on a mega-ship. The decor in the public areas was very dated (velour covered furniture, 1980ish style), but the areas appeared to be very well maintained. There was always someone polishing, cleaning or painting. One area that was problematic was the lower promenade deck. There was some sort of maintenance going on that resulted in a portion of the deck being closed for much of the cruise, making it impossible to walk all the way around the ship. Walkers would have to go inside, down a hallway, and then back outside to continue their walk, which resulted in a LOT of door slamming. The Retreat area is baffling. The outdoor pool was removed and replaced with an elevated area containing several hot tubs of different sizes and shapes. I used the hot tubs a couple of times and had the area pretty much to myself. The Explorations Cafe was a popular area and competition for the Eames chairs was stiff.
I had a mid-ship Lanai cabin on the port side. It was clean, but showed many signs of wear, particularly the furniture with lots of scratches, dents, dings and even some peeling paint/varnish on a chair. Because the cabin is quite small, there is a small love seat rather than a sofa. I should emphasize the size of the cabin. It is SMALL. I had it all to myself, and can't imagine having to share it with someone. The closets are well organized and I had plenty of storage for everything but my suitcase. I use a standard 25" suitcase, and there was no where to store it. It didn't fit under the bed, and the closet was not deep enough. I ended up stuffing it under the small desk. There was some sort of VERY loud, mechanical clanging/slamming noise that happened repeatedly and often. Both my neighbors and I complained to the front desk about it, only to be greeted with puzzled looks and denials of it happening. It was never resolved. I loved the Lanai concept with a private entrance to the lower promenade deck and two reserved deck chairs. In practice, it was difficult to use the chairs because there were always other people sitting in them who complained when told they would need to move. HAL needs to do a much better job of indicating that those chairs are reserved than just a tiny little sign posted on the wall above. Larger signage and announcements by the CD directing folks to areas that are open for general use would be a good start.
This is one area where cut-backs were most apparent. On my last trip, I thought that while the food was plentiful and presented beautifully, it was mostly tasteless. It has deteriorated. Selection in the Lido was quite limited. The salad bar offerings were very slim. In the evenings when I walked through, it was very crowded as only one side was open as the other side was serving officers and staff. Oddly, I thought they had their own dining room in the crew area. I opted to eat in the main dining room most evening, using open seating. Again, the food was presented beautifully, but was mostly tasteless and never, ever served hot. I treated myself to a dinner at Pinnacle, and was delighted with that meal. The food was tasty and served at the appropriate temperature. For breakfast, I opted for room service on 5 mornings, and each time there was something wrong with my order. Wine prices were outrageous. I understand that there is a significant markup on adult beverages throughout the industry, but I absolutely refuse to pay $15 for a glass of wine that retails for $7.99 a bottle in my local grocery store. This is definitely NOT a cruise line for foodies.
I loved Quebec City, Halifax and Bar Harbor and would most definitely return for another, extended visit. Port times in all ports (except QC where we overnighted) seemed quite short and were often 60-90 minutes less than what was stated on the itinerary. In QC, I had signed up for a cycling excursion which was canceled due to lack of participants. I ended up taking a trip to St. Anne Canyon and a winery. The canyon was beautiful and I would've loved to spend enough time there to hike all the way down to the bottom and back. In Charlottetown, it was pouring rain, but I went on a scheduled photography excursion anyway. Once you're wet, you can't get any wetter. In Sydney, I wanted to take a hiking trip, but again, it was canceled due to lack of participants so I walked around town on my own. Certainly, the attraction of this port must lie outside of Sydney as it's just another small town. In Halifax, I ended up taking a short tour of the town on a horse drawn carriage and then exploring on my own as kayaking was canceled, again for lack of participants. There's a common theme here. HAL definitely caters to the non-active demographic. In Bar Harbor, I took a wonderful jet boat tour of lighthouses and then explored the town on my own. I've been to the national park before, and knew that just a couple of hours there wouldn't do it justice.
This is another area where cutbacks are apparent. I never met my room stewards until the 3rd day as they were overwhelmed with the number of rooms they were assigned. Service in the main dining room was very slow, with a couple of dinners taking nearly 3 hours to complete. Room service never got my breakfast order correct. Everyone was pleasant to talk with, but there just aren't enough people.
I only went to a couple of shows and didn't stay for their completion. They were that bad. Barebones sets and 3rd rate performers. On board activities were limited to a couple of putting contests, bingo and trivia...all geared to the sedentary set.
Overall, this trip was just average. A couple of great moments, nothing awful, but not remarkable in any way. There was some beautiful scenery as we cruised along and I was able to keep myself occupied to the extent that I wanted to be. It is clear, however; that HAL caters to the senior crowd so I may need to wait another 25 years before I cruise with them again.