We sailed as a couple on the Veendam’s first cruise of 2014 to this area from May 10-17, 2014. The ship had just sailed from Ft. Lauderdale on May 1 to Quebec City and our south bound cruise ended in Boston.
This was our 30th cruise and the tenth with Holland America, also previously sailing with Cunard (6), Princess (5), Disney (5), Royal Caribbean (2) and Celebrity (2). We sailed this same itinerary, also on the Veendam, a few years ago in October but there was little fall foliage to see and the weather was unpleasant, lots of rain. The weather for this cruise was supposed to be cool and wet, with forecasted temperatures not expected to exceed 10C/50F. The reality was sunshine all week, with temperatures mostly in the 16-18C/60-65F range.
We took the VIA Rail train (Canada’s version of Amtrak) to Quebec City, and then flew back to Toronto from Boston. The good thing about this southbound itinerary is that the first night is an overnight in Quebec City so that you can arrive anytime that day, or even the next day prior to sailing at 4 pm, and not have to worry about the ship leaving without you.
We initially booked an ocean view (unobstructed) but then paid for an upgrade to a verandah suite a week before sailing as the ship was not full and the price for the upgrade was reasonable. We ended up with stateroom A165, midship, on the starboard side, which is the side you want to be on for the southbound trip so you get to see the coast and spectacular scenery. If you are on the port side for this itinerary, you only get to see water. If you are going northbound and leaving from Boston, you will want to be on the port side if you can.
Food overall was very good, although the prime rib beef the first night was a bit tough. Otherwise, we have learned to manage our expectations with cruise line food and enjoy the overall experience. We had the Anytime Dining and never waited for a table for more than a few minutes. Only disappointing part was that the Rotterdam Main Dining Room was not open for lunch throughout the entire week, perhaps because the ship was not sailing full, but there are always passengers who do not go ashore at ports and they may not prefer the buffet.
Entertainment was good, as always, in our opinion. These are always the highlight of our cruises. There are some really talented singers and dancers, many with Broadway experience, although some of the singers had pitch problems occasionally. Two Broadway-style production shows were Bob Mackie’s Broadway and Street Singin’. There was also a welcome aboard show called Listen to the Music, other nights had Hilby the juggler, the comedy of Lee Bayless and Dancing with the Stars at Sea. They also had local performers come aboard in Sydney, with a fiddler, pianist and bagpiper playing Cape Breton music.
In Quebec City, we did our own walking tour of the area, with so many shops and areas to explore. Our starboard verandah room allowed us spectacular night time views of the Chateau Frontenac Hotel in Quebec City for the only overnight stay at a port.
In Charlottetown, we rented a car from Enterprise (they will come to pick you up but make arrangements before you leave home if you do not have a Canadian cell/mobile phone) and then drove out to Cavendish, New Glasgow, Anne of Green Gables Museum in the Prince Edward Island National Park, North Rustico. Total car rental and gas cost $70 and we travelled at our own pace. The last time we were here on the Veendam, there were very high winds and a lot of rain, so it was a very pleasant day this time. Beautiful countryside and friendly people.
In Sydney, we just walked around the town and the boardwalk. The last time we were here, we rented a car from Enterprise and drove the Cabot Trail as far north as Ingonish.
In Halifax, we rented a car from Enterprise located in the Via Rail station (1161 Hollis St) which is across the street and about 100 yards from the ship terminal. We drove the Lighthouse Route out to Peggy’s Cove, then saw the Swissair Flight 111 Memorial, had a full lobster lunch at the Sou’Wester restaurant at Peggy’s Cove, then back to Halifax and the Fairview Lawn Cemetery to visit the Titanic gravesite. This trip took us most of the day and the car rental and gas cost less than $80, which is great when compared to the ship’s excursion costs, as long as you are comfortable driving. The car traffic in the area was never a problem, just leave lots of time to get back to the ship. Use a GPS if possible.
In Bar Harbor, we waited to get to port before deciding what to do, in case of bad weather. In the other ports, if there was bad weather, we would have simply cancelled the car rental arrangements. Once in Bar Harbour, there were clear sunny skies and really pleasant temperatures, so we took the 30 minute Bar Harbor tour ($10 per person) and the 2½ hour tour ($30 per person) through Acadia National Park (including three 15 minute stops at Cadillac Mountain Summit, Sieur de Monts Springs and Thunder Hole) with Oli’s Trolleys (www.olistrolley.com). Check if the Island Explorer (www.exploreacadia.com) is operating when you get here as this is a free local bus service but it starts in June sometime and does not go to Cadillac Mountain summit. We had another lobster bake lunch at Geddy’s on Main St for clam chowder, whole steamed lobster, various sides and blueberry pie - yummmm. Then a walk along the Main St and along the shore path.
In Boston, we arrived around 7 am and self-help disembarkation started at 7:45 am when the ship was cleared. There is usually a long line up for a taxi at the cruise terminal, not sure why, so be prepared for a good wait. If you have time and not too much luggage, consider taking the local bus (www.mbta.com) either to downtown or the airport. For the city, take SL2 bus, the stop is across the street to your left when you exit the terminal, then to South Station and to downtown. For Boston Logan Airport, take the SL2 bus to Silver Line Way, then transfer to the SL1 bus which takes you to Logan, all for $2 per person.
A couple of comments to conclude this review. First, many people were complaining about the alcohol policy and what you are allowed to take on board. The letter we received once we got on board stated that you are allowed only one bottle (750 ml) of wine or champagne for each guest. No other alcohol, especially beer or liquor, is allowed and they will retain it for the week and then return it to you at the end of the cruise. Second, there were some minor issues which caused us some frustration and should have been taken care of if there was attention paid to details, but as I said, we learn to manage our expectations and just remember that we are on vacation, then make the most out of it.
Overall, a great cruise and great value, made even better with the excellent weather. Cruising is a great way to see a lot of ports in a short time without having to worry about getting from one port to another. All the ports on this itinerary are very beautiful with lots of friendly people, but not sure I would want to spend a week at any of these locations. London, Paris, Rome, Hong Kong, Tuscany - these are the places you want to stay for more than a day.
Hope this was helpful. Happy cruising!