Embarkation from Tampa was relatively easy. We flew in the night before and stayed in a downtown hotel, which provided free shuttle service to the port, which was 5 minutes away. It took about an hour to get through the line and we were on the ship enjoying lunch by 1pm of embarkation day.
The Veendam holds only about 1200 passengers--small by today's standards. It is an easy ship to familiarize oneself with and we quickly learned our way around the ship.
Our cabin was large by cruise ship standards. It was 197 square feet and had all the conveniences we needed. The closets were more than adequate for a week's cruise and the bathroom even had a small tub. Our cabin boy did a great job of keeping the room neat and clean and knew our names and called us by them by the second day. Our first big mistake was signing up for the 6:15 dinner seating, which we later learned was highly populated by the very elderly and by children. I don't like eating very late, as I don't sleep well and the next dinner is at 8pm. Holland America has not gone to free style dining and there are still 4 assigned seatings for dinner. We ended up being seated with 2 very elderly couples. One was deaf and the other had nothing to say. It was a boring and tedious first meal, although the food was delicious. My husband decided immediately to ask for a table change, as he refused to endure this situation for a week. The dining room hostess was very accommodating, and surprisingly, showed him a seating plan which revealed everyone's names and ages. It surprised me even more when I realized that we had purchased this cruise almost 9 months earlier and couldn't understand why they had paired us up with diners 20 years older than us.
The next night, we got there early and looked over the possible tables that had openings at the 8pm seating. We spotted a foursome at a table for six that looked very promising. There was lively conversation going on among four attractive people about our age. We joined them and had a wonderful experience. From that night on, our table was inevitably the last to leave the dining room and every meal was a delight. I'm sure we'll get together in the future, as we were very compatible on every level.
We found the food in general to be very good. We usually ate breakfast in the Lido grill cafeteria style, lunch there also, except at sea days, when a leisurely lunch in the Rotterdam dining room was very pleasant, and dinner with our new friends in the dining room also. There were plenty of choices and everything was hot and prepared as ordered. The waiters were attentive and the wines were not overpriced.
In the Lido grill, ice cream and desserts were available most of the afternoon and evening and iced tea and coffee or tea were always available. There was also a more formal afternoon tea every day.We don't drink soda, but I would imagine that at $1.75 each, a big soda drinker could run up quite a tab!
A favorite spot on the ship for my husband was the Explorations lounge, which is a lovely library, complete with lots of new books, puzzles, internet stations, music listening stations, lounge chairs, crossword puzzles and peace and quiet. There are quite a few bars and lounges and quiet nooks to sit and read, think, have a drink, or listen to music during the day and evening.
There is also a lovely movie theatre showing first run movies 4 times a day, and this room also serves as the culinary arts center where the executive chef does free cooking demonstrations several times during the cruise.
I enjoyed sitting poolside by one of the two pools and never had trouble finding a free lounge chair.
For exercise, I enjoyed walking on the lower promenade deck, which goes all the way around the ship. My husband went to the gym every day, and he was pleased that this was free. On a recent Carnival cruise that he had taken, there was a $10. charge to use the gym. On the highest Sports deck, there is also a volleyball and basketball court.
There were very few kids on our cruise, but we did peak into the teen oasis area, which was empty. This was unfortunate, as it was a really cute secluded area restricted just to teens with a waterfall, special lounge chairs and would be nice for teens to escape to.
Looking at the shore excursions ahead of time, they looked rather expensive to me, and I hate to book ahead of time, as I worry about the weather and how I might be feeling that day. We took our chances and booked excursions from the locals on the docks at each port and did just fine, for about half the price the cruise line was asking. Here's a quick rundown of what we did: Key West-- we took the Conch Train for a tour of the island. You can book this right where the ship docks. It runs all day long. All the local museums are also within walking distance of the ship. you don't need a guided tour here.
Belize--Poor city center--not very appealing. Lots of tours offered at the dock. We did a tour with Belize Taxi Tour to the Altun Ha Mayan Ruins. It cost $40. We went in a 7 passenger van with a guide named Chris. Belize is an English speaking country, so there is no language barrier. She was a great guide and gave us lots of information about the country and also served as our guide at the ruins.There were many other tours available, all similar to those offered by the ship, for a lot less money. We had been warned that without a ship's tour, we might be bumped to the last tender(Belize is a tender port) but we got to the theatre early that morning where tender tickets were being given out, and were on the first tender into town. The ships dock 4 miles out and everyone, no matter what ship you arrive on, takes a tender into the port. No one on independent tours missed the ship, despite the ship's warning that they won't wait for you if you don't take their tour and you're late getting back.
Santo Tomas de Castillo, Guatemala- Beautiful scenery with mountains shrouded in clouds. There is nothing at the port at all except a container shipping commercial port. Without a guided tour, there is nothing to see or do except a few craft stands in the terminal. We booked a tour with Happy Fish and took the river boat ride to Lexington and down the River Dulce. We had the same tour for $40. that the ship charges $89. for. It was very nice, although there wasn't much in the way of wildlife to be seen. If you are interested at all in seeing some of the country, take a tour and do something. You will be disappointed in the port itself and can't just spend the day there walking around!
Costa Maya Mexico-- Horrible!! This stop should be abandoned until it can be improved. The day we were there, two enormous Carnival ships were also in port. With almost 7000 cruise passengers in "town" it was a zoo. At my age, I no longer want to buy cheap souvenirs or walk through endless stalls selling jewelry or liquor and this is all there was. The beach was very dirty and covered with litter. We did manage to take the bus to Mahahual for $3.00 and then picked up a snorkeling boat which took us on a 5 minute boat ride to a lovely reef where we snorkeled for 1/2 hour. This cost us $10. a piece. The whole atmosphere was so unpleasant to me that I just wanted to go right back to the ship afterwards to dry off and have a civilized lunch!If you're not a beach person, there are excursions to the Mayan ruins and I would advise them unless you absolutely want to snorkel or dive. In my mind, the beaches are just not that attractive or worth spending time at.
As for evenings on the ship, by the time we finished our dinner at about 10 pm, I was pretty tired, as I am an early riser. We usually went to the casino for a little bit, where my husband was pretty lucky at craps. We then went to the 10:15 show. Although my husband enjoyed the shows, I usually left them and went to bed. They were the typical cruise ship shows--singers, dancers, magicians, impressionists, comedians, piano players. No one was awful and it was all pretty wholesome, but just not very exciting. The music was very dated and probably appealed to the many 80 year olds on board.
As for the passengers in general--many were elderly, most were middle aged. There were a few young couples, and on our cruise, only 21 children. It was a pretty sedate crowd. I think the activities directors were pulling their hair out trying to get some action going. One day when they were trying to organize pool games, they needed 10 adults and had a hard time getting that many to volunteer! At the first singles get-together, 4 people showed up. One was an 85 year old man! This is not your ship if you're young and single and looking for action!
On disembarkation day, we chose to self carry our luggage so we could get off the ship early and not have to wait for our number to be called. Quite a few people opted for this. it would have worked well, except that in the Tampa terminal used by Holland America, you have to go down by elevator and it can only hold about 8 people and their luggage at a time, so it was slow going. Still, we were off the ship by 8:30 AM and there were taxis readily available, as we were going off on our own to the airport.
In general, I thought this was a great cruise. It was a quality product. There were no tasteless pool games, no constantly blaring intercoms, no screaming, out of control kids, teens, or drunken adults. The food was great, the ship was clean, and many, many precautions were taken to keep it a healthy ship. There are Purell dispensers everywhere, and hand shaking is discouraged. For us, who wanted to keep the price down, we managed to avoid buying a lot of drinks, we bought independent shore excursions, avoided the photographers, and simply enjoyed being at sea, meeting new people, and having a good time. I would go on another Holland America cruise in a minute!