This is a very long review as I am trying to cover all the areas suggested by Cruise Critic.
We have cruised with HAL in the past and love the small ships. After a long and miserable winter we were eager for a break that would not break the budget. This cruise was ideal as for the first time in 30 plus cruises - we could drive to and from the ship instead of spending a lot of money on plane fares.
We drove from our home in New Brunswick to Quebec City and found our hotel near the airport without difficulty. We stayed at the Grand Times Hotel Aeroport de Quebec. I highly recommend this hotel. The staff at reception was very welcoming and were also bi-lingual - a big plus as my high school French is rarely used. The room was large and comfortable and very clean. Hotel does not have a dining room however a serve-yourself breakfast area is set up in the lobby and offers a surprisingly varied and more than adequate breakfast that was included with the room price. The hotel is just less than a city block from several restaurants all in comfortable walking distance. We had a thoroughly delicious meal at Mikes Restaurant that evening and after breakfast the next morning were taken to our ship as part of the package - knowing our car was parked at the hotel's spacious parking lot for free until our return from the cruise. Excellent bargain.
Boarding the ship was very quick and efficient - no long lines or snags of any kinds.
We dropped our carry on luggage in the cabin and headed to the dining room for lunch for returning Mariners. And from that point on it was total pampering and relaxation all the way.
This was our first cruise on the Veendam although we have been on sister ships the Maasdam and the Ryndam. We love these smaller ships - find that we get to know staff and they get to know us - enjoy the homey feeling of a ship where one can happily roam from room to room - from Crow's Nest to Lido to Library to lounge.
The ship was beautiful. We always enjoy seeing the lovely art, paintings, sculpture, antique furniture, etc. aboard the HAL ships and the Veendam was a pleasure to explore. I especially loved the magnificent Samurai armor on display on deck 7.
The ship was also immaculately clean. Housekeeping staff were constantly polishing and scrubbing and tidying up after passengers. The brass on the ship positively gleamed. The insistence for constant care in cleaning meant that the ship was also a very healthy ship - something always important where there are large numbers of people travelling together.
The Holland America staff is fabulous. It is the crew of the ship that 'make' the holiday for us. We were spoiled and pampered and made to feel like part of the HAL family. When cruising to European and exotic locations - the ports of call are of prime interest. This time the ports were not the attraction for us as we can easily drive from home to any of them and have visited many of them many times. This holiday the ship was the destination for us. And it certainly provided a wonderful vacation!
Entertainment - we thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment offered. The production shows were very enjoyable , lovely voices, nice music, enthusiastic dancing and in the case of the Bob Mackie's Broadway show - dozens of fantastic costumes. We especially enjoyed 'Encore' with soprano Loryn Cura and tenor Michael Bragg.
We enjoyed dancing to the music in the Ocean Bar, enjoyed the classical violin and piano music in the Explorers lounge, found the 'piano man' Andy in the piano bar to be very pleasant and enjoyed the music of the guitarist in the Mix while awaiting the evening trivia games.
We enjoyed the guest performers. One of the first was billed as Hilby 'the skinny German juggling boy'. Normally you could not get us to go to a juggling show - just not our thing. We shared a ride with this gentleman on the way to the ship and decided to see his show. This performer mixed comedy with the juggling and he was an absolute hoot. My hands were sore from clapping when we left that show. And we were glad we had gone to see him.
Lee Bayless was a pleasant comedian, focusing on life's humourous moments with a totally clean show, a refreshing change from some of today's comedians.
Cape Breton fiddle and bagpipe music was provided a couple of times on the cruise while in Nova Scotia waters. A strong Scottish heritage is in the province and it was a treat for many of the cruisers to hear the local music.
Another guest musician was a pianist Ryan Ahern. Although boogie woogie music is not a favourite of ours - he was a terrific showman and played a variety of music and we enjoyed his performance.
The more basic ship entertainment was also thoroughly enjoyed by us. The library is lovely and the first place we head to on ship to borrow some reading material. We usually manage to find a new (to us) author on each cruise and then continue reading his or her works when back at home. I attended one of the computer classes offered and found it very informative. My husband and I love Trivia and rarely ever missed a Trivia competition. We both enjoyed meeting and chatting with Mario Vines, the cruise director and with Marcel, in the entertainment staff - both of whom ran great trivia games. The only time I deliberately missed trivia was when there was a sjoelen (Dutch shuffleboard) competition. I became addicted to that game a few years ago on another HAL ship and on this cruise I think I taught the game to about 40 people in my two weeks on the ship. I must say here that I think Mario is the best cruise director we have encountered in all our cruises. He was very pleasant, hard-working and with a great sense of humour. His voice was easy to listen to over the PA when announcements were made - unlike some Cruise Directors to whom one would cheerfully like to give laryngitis after the first day. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting and interacting with Mario and Marcel - they added a lot to our cruise enjoyment.
Dining - where does one start? To say we loved the food on the Veendam would be an understatement. Whether it was breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner or a late night snack - the variety of choices, lovely appearance and delicious taste was outstanding. On the drive to and from the ship we ate at one particular restaurant on our route twice. Frankly I would not care if I went back to it or others in its chain for another couple of years. The food on ship is another story - I could happily eat all my meals there for months on end - something I cannot say about any restaurant on land.
In fourteen days we never ate the same meal twice - unless it was something we really could not resist. There is so much variety that sometimes it was really difficult to make a choice from the dinner menu as I would look at it and see three or four dishes that I really love. Most restaurants you find one dish you fancy but on the Veendam I always had to agonize over a decision as there were always several dishes available that I really enjoy. And the desserts and sweets.........trying to pick and choose from a myriad of tempting and fattening delights and not get off the ship weighing about 20 pounds more than boarding is a real challenge.
In a cruise stopping at Prince Edward Island - some of PEI's famous products are featured. My husband was in heaven with two stops there and the wonderful feasts of PEI mussels on those days.
The best part of the cruise for us was renewing friendships with so many of the crew that we had met on previous cruises - and in making new friends among the staff. Everyone we encountered on the cruise was great - I love to talk to everyone and had fun chatting about our local ports of call to staff and also getting some insight into their countries.
Our waiter in the evening, Wayan Swardana, really made our dinners so enjoyable. He was ably assisted by his runners, Erwin (week one) and Wahyu (week two) and Ruther, our wine steward who kept us happy with wines and after dinner drinks. 'Dana' enriched our dining experience with his advice on choices as well as stories on life in Bali. It was a real pleasure to make his acquaintance.
The staff in the Lido was great. Never went in there without smiles and hellos. I adore breakfasts and lunches there as so many choices. I can satisfy my love of Asian cuisine when on HAL ships. My only complaint would be that I cannot resist HAL's cookies.
Our stewards were, as always, wonderful. They turned chaos into neatness and did it with smiles, towel animals and chocolate treats. It was heaven to not have to lift a finger for two weeks.
There are so many people on ship that made our holiday so very special - and I will not name them as they know who they are and I don't want to embarrass. The ladies on reception deserve special mention for doing their jobs with a smile and a hello despite the horrible lack of manners by some passengers. One sees the best in some people on a cruise - but one also sees the worst - with the people who forget to pack their manners with them, the petty bullies, and the ones who feel rules only apply to other people.
When the cruise ended we wished we did not have to leave. We enjoyed every minute of our holiday and had a wonderful time on ship.
Leaving the ship was as easy as boarding it. We found our luggage easily, got a taxi to our car and drove home.
In summary, we had a wonderful two weeks - our experience with HAL was, as always, excellent.