Our embarkation and departure were delayed due to an outbreak of the Noro Virus and the CDC made the ship remain in port until it could undergo a thorough cleaning and sanitization. This was certainly not the fault of Holland America and they did accomodate the waiting passengers with a free shuttle to a shopping and dining area in Fort Lauderdale while we were waiting.
Once on board the name of the game was "Wash Your Hands, Wash Your Hands, and Wash Them Again!" I have to say that kudos must be given to the crew who worked many, many extra hours to constantly clean every surface that was touched by anyone. Even the entertainers and casino dealers were given duties to monitor hand washing stations to ensure that everyone complied. Because of the red alert instituted by CDC the jacuzzis were empty, the library shelves locked down, magazines removed, and all self service in the buffet suspended. There was no salt, pepper, napkins, utensils, or centerpieces on any of the tables. This condition lasted for the first 8 days of the cruise. Once 48 hours passed with no new cases the conditions were down graded to "yellow alert" on Sunday of the second week. With the yellow alert there was some self service allowed, jacuzzis were filled but not heated, the library shelves were unlocked and magazines put back on the racks. This reprieve lasted until Friday when once again passengers got sick and we were put back into "red alert" status.
So while I readily acknowledge that these conditions were not the fault of Holland America or the staff on the Veendam they did affect our trip but are not the reasons we would probably not travel with them again.
Passengers: We met some very nice people on board but overall the passengers were a much older crowd. We were told by staff members that the average age was over 70. By 10:00 PM every night the ship was like a ghost town with almost no one in the casino, most of the lounges empty, and the halls and public areas mostly deserted. If you like to party into the night then this is not the cruise line for you.
Entertainment: The entertainment was fine. We went to the shows every evening and for the most part enjoyed them. I enjoyed several demonstrations in the Culinary Arts Center and my husband watched several movies but there was not really much of interest to do during the day. There was the usual overpriced Bingo games and ridiculously overpriced Art Auctions but not much else.
Excursions/ Ports of Call: The main reason we took this cruise was to see the Panama Canal and that was pretty awesome. The port talk on the canal's history was especially helpful and we thoroughly enjoyed that part of our trip. Other than the canal we liked Aruba and were pleasantly surprised at Zihuatanjo, it is a very clean little fishing village that we enjoyed very much. We participated in a couple of excursions with the ship but really dislike the cattle car feeling of being herded into a bus with 60 or 70 other people. We prefer to do independent tours or excursions but were told during the port talks that at least some of the ports were dangerous and warned not to go off by yourself. We were told not to wear jewelry, not to dress fancy, and not to take anything ashore we did not absolutely need. In Puerto Quetzal, we took a taxi into town and were dropped off by the central plaza and the driver agreed to pick us up in two hours. It was market day and the streets were pretty full of people and lots of little moto-cabs. (motorcyle two person cabs). We saw everything we wanted to see in less than half an hour and went to sit on a bench in the plaza to wait for our cab. After a short time a police woman came up to us and asked how we got there and whether we came by bus. I am able to converse reasonably well in Spanish and told her we came by taxi. Her response was, "NO!" She told us not to go outside the the plaza area and not to take any of the little cabs because they would rob us. She left and came back in less than a minute with a man. She told us that he was a good man, was safe and told us to go with him and go back to the ship. So we followed her instructions and returned to the ship! We really question why Holland America chooses to make port stops where their own staff instructs the passengers that it is dangerous.
Food: We had breakfast in the Lido Buffet every morning and it was fine. The selection was the same every single day but we could mix it up a little on our own by choosing hot cereal, waffles, omelettes cooked to order, fruit, egg cooked to order, as well as juice, coffee, etc.
Lunch time offerings included sandwiches and a few other buffet offerings but we really never ate lunch there except for a couple of times after returning from a shore excursion. Both times that we tried to have lunch in the afternoon we found the selection to be depleted and sorely lacking. We went a few times for an ice cream which we enjoyed, afterall what can you do to ice cream?
For dinner we chose open seating and ate in the dining room most nights. The food in the Main Dining Room was good but not particularly memorable. We always shared a table with other passengers because we like to meet new people. Dinner always took close to two hours and made it a rush to get to the 8:00 PM show. A couple of times we had to wolf down dessert and bolt and another time skipped it altogether due to time. We ate one night each in the Pinnacle Grill and at Canaletto's (the Italian Restaurant) compliments of our travel agent. Both of these meals were quite good and the service was excellent.
Dinner in the Lido Buffet was horrible. The selections were limited, the meat almost always over cooked and dried out, the vegetables over cooked, the salad bar and dressings depleted, and the seating limited. Every night half of the buffet area was closed and reserved for staff and officers during prime dinner hours leaving everyone else to try and find seating in the other half. After two or three attempts to get a good meal in the buffet because we didn't feel like dressing up or we were tired we gave up and went to the dining room every night.
Cabin: Our cabin was fine and seemed a little larger than the cabin on some other cruise lines we have used. It was large enough for a night stand on each side of the bed and a sofa across from the desk/dressing table. There was ample drawer and closet space and the bathroom was a decent size. Our room was very noisy and anytime we were moving the room creaked and squeaked and at times it sounded as if we had been invaded by large animals scratching in the carpet and walls. The ship is older approaching 20 years so maybe that is just how an old ship sounds but I don't remember that much creaking and noise on other ships in which we have traveled.
In summary: We had a good time and enjoyed crossing the Panama Canal but the passengers were much older (or at least seemed much older), there were limited activities, the food was not that good and some of the ports are dangerous unless you are on an expensive cruise line sponsored excursion. It was the first time we have taken a cruise where we were ready to be off the ship several days before the cruise actually ended.