Yet again the HAL ship and crew exceeded my expectations- we were delighted with our Christmas/New Year cruise on the Volendam. The itinerary was well planned giving an overnight in Hong Kong on the ship which was berthed at a glorious harborside airconditioned multistory shopping centre. This is particularly rare in Hong Kong and whilst the centre was crammed with Christmas shoppers, it was very easy to access the ship and slip off the ship for last minute shopping and free internet at starbucks. Of course the view from the lounge, dining room or decks of the harbour lights and laser show was spectacular.
This trip had extensive port calls and I especially liked the 4 stops in Vietnam covering the north, centre and south, which gave a nice taste of the regional variety and hsitory of the relatively small but fascinating country.
Cambodia provided contrast as an early emerging country, very poor but historically rich. HAL might like to think about enriching visits to Cambodia with more effort into giving customers some stories from travellers experiences of culture. We took a sightseeing trip which really lacked heart as sightseeing hard lives without context is more sad than enriching.
I have visited Thailand before and again enjoyed this vibrant country although we declined the arduous transfers to Bangkok and took some short local excursions which were well conducted. I still get a bit sad with the tourist elephant shows though. It might be time for tour providers to move to presenting these majestic animals in a natural environment rather than a circus. A mother even had her 3 month old calf chained to her during the "performance".
Arrival at Singapore unfortunately coincided with three other ships so we plastered a smile on our dial to cope with unusual crowds, baffling directions and long waits for our transfer to the airport. It made a few people less than cheery, but honestly it was a minor annoyance after such a lovely trip.
The Volendam is not my favourite HAL ship- that would be the Oosterdam, but who would like to be on the same ship over and over- or have each ship in the exact same design and decoration? Whilst our oceanview cabin was perfectly placed midships and hardly allowed for any movement I really missed the balcony for a convenient private space to enjoy the sea views. I have only compliments for the cleanliness, attention of the stewards and comfort factors of the stateroom. There is plenty of storage space, mini bar and ice, but a secret is that you can hire a barfridge for a small cost to keep your own wine and cans cold. The other tip is to spoil yourself with a "suite amenities" package (cost variees with duration of the cruise). This package provides unlimited daily laundry; initial 2L spirits and wine set up; two monogrammed bathrobes to take home; dinner at the Pinnacle; daily canapes or high tea in your cabin; and $100 in beverage cards. You also get suite disembarkation privilages including final day breakfast in Pinnacle and a final joy of NOT having to place your luggage outside the cabin on the final night.
We discovered all her sides and loved the lounges tucked away here and there. The fellow passengers were an amazing mix from absolutely all corners of the world, not surprising as HK is such a central embarkation port. This alone provides the crew with new challenges trying to cater for massive variety in tastes, language and culture. In my observation they were alert to this and proved why HAL is well know for its international appeal rather than appealing to the american cruise segment.