September 9th, 2007 HAL Veendam cruise from New York City to Montreal, Canada.
Being nervous about missing the ship from some horror stories I had heard about NYC, we opted to fly in a day early and stay at the hotel provided by HAL so as to have all the transfers from the airport to the hotel and then to the ship. Plus, I had a friend I needed to discuss some things with and we were able to do that over dinner on September 8th.
Our flight from Central Kentucky to Reagan National in Washington and then on to JFK went without any problems. We arrived a few minutes early into JFK and proceeded to the baggage claim area. Our luggage was almost there on the retrieval carousel when we got there. Everything we checked had made it OK.
Our paper work from HAL said a representative would be there to meet us and get us on the transportation to the hotel. No one was. I asked an airline information employee if he knew what was going on. He advised that HAL reps were usually standing there waiting for passengers to claim their luggage. We waited and waited - no one showed up. I had to call the emergency number and was told that they would check and call me right back. In about 15 minutes they called me and advised they had someone on the way. Another 15 minutes and a HAL rep came in the door. It seems my wife and I were the only ones flying in to JFK at this particular time of day and we had sort of slipped through the cracks. Then we had to wait about another 15 minutes for a private van HAL called to take us into the city. The drive wasn't bad for a Saturday afternoon and we finally made it to the hotel about an hour later than we had anticipated.
The HAL hotel we were given was the NY Sheraton Towers on 7th Ave between 52nd and 53rd streets. A nice location, but a terrible hotel. The room we had was very small, didn't even have a chair in it, no internet service (had to go to the lobby for service) and was extremely noisy that evening. We were on the same floor where there was a large banquet room and there was something going on there that evening. That wasn't so bad, but when the party broke up the cleaning crews were up and down the hall all night talking, yelling at each other, and banging equipment into the elevators. I hardly slept that night at all. For the price we paid, not a good experience.
On Sunday morning, the day we would board the ship, my wife and I walked across the street to Lindy's for breakfast. Very good food and service, but as with everything in NYC, very expensive. But, what the heck, we would eat free for the next 10 days! We boarded our bus to the ship and reached the pier about 12:30 PM. My wife and I had previously been on The Mercury out of San Diego last November. It probably took 15 minutes on that cruise to get through the check in process. HAL and NYC was a different story. There were probably 300-400 people in the waiting area, a big hall with folding chairs, people just sitting there waiting to be called to the check in area. So, we joined in for the wait. They were taking groups based on a number given to you when you entered this large hall. We had to sit and wait about 20 minutes. They finally called the number for our group and we walked into the next big hall only to find a massive line that looked like something at Disney World. Back and forth through the roped off lanes they had set up. It took a good 45 minutes before we finally reached a check in desk. That process went fairly quick and easy.
We received our room key/charge card for the cruise and some other propaganda they were passing out and made our way to another long line to be cleared for entry to the gangway area. Another 15 minutes gone. We made it to our stateroom at about 2:00 PM, dropped off our carry-ons and made our way to deck 11 for lunch!
We had previously sailed on the Veendam about 7 years ago in Alaska. From what I remembered from that voyage, she looked a little tired this time. The main open areas looked OK, but there were places where paint was chipped off and some seating was worn. Wonder when she will be updated again? After lunch we explored around the ship some to get our bearings and to see where our table for the evening meal was in the restaurant. Another couple we have known for years were going to cruise with us and we were told we would have a table for just the four of us. We did, and in a very nice location near the aft windows. After this we went back to our stateroom to prepare for the mandatory life jacket drill. They announced the drill and we joined others at our life boat station for the usual talk about what would happen in a real emergency. After the drill we found that some of our luggage had already arrived at our room, so the unpacking process started before it was time for dinner. We were to have sailed at 4:30 PM. Didn't come close. We finally sailed two hours late. The thing I had want to do most this first cruise day was stand on the deck and watch the skyline as we left NY harbor. Well, our seating for the evening meal was at 6:15, so we were sitting at our table eating when we finally backed out into the Hudson River and made our way along Manhattan to the Atlantic Ocean. And, it was getting dark out side at that hour. We passed close to The Statue of Liberty and I was able to get a few pictures out the back window. A few minutes latter we went under the Varrazano Narrows Bridge and were finally out to sea. After dinner it was time for the show, a short one this evening to introduce us to who would be performing in up coming nights. Then, back to our room to finish unpacking and settle in for the night. We had gotten up the night before at 3:30 AM to catch our plane and then hardly any sleep while at the hotel, so we ready for bed. Newport, RI We arrived a bit late into Newport Harbor since we had left so late from NYC. As we had been there before we hadn't signed up for a tour but would have a leisurely breakfast and tender ashore to walk around a while. We did so and were back on board in time for lunch. Our friends who were cruising with took a tour so we didn't see them until the evening meal. I had time for a nap that afternoon while my wife found a quiet place that was comfortable and she could cross stitch. A very nice day with a smooth trip so far. The ship left the harbor about 45 minutes late for the trip to Boston. Boston, MA
We had scheduled the Freedom Trail walking tour for this AM. It as supposed to be at 9:15 AM. The ship was just about docking at that time so everything would be running late. We stepped off the ship at the pier and our bus was waiting to take us to where the walk would start. They divided us into two groups of about 22 each and our guide started us off in the north end at Paul Revere's Home and the Old North Church. It was cloudy, windy and looked as if it would rain. As we came out of the Old North Church rain it did indeed and never stopped the rest of the day. But we all walked where the tour took as. We had plastic rain ponchos that helped, but my shoes are still drying out.
My wife and I were really looking forward to this tour. The date this day was 9/11. We had traveled to Boston on the original 9/11 when the World Trade Center attacks happened. That day in 2001 we did nothing but turn around return to where we had come from as Boston was being shut down. And, what a miserable day we had this time, too. It rained and rained and rained.
We are enjoying being with good friends on the cruise. I have found the food to be somewhat of a disappointment, though. Compared to The Mercury and a river cruise we did in Europe a few years ago, the food isn't up to what I expected it to be. More on this later. We left about on time this evening for Bar Harbor and had some very rough seas. I had some difficult times and even with a patch and ginger tablets I was feeling the effects of the large swells we were crossing. Being in the prone position helps so I turned in early.
Bar Harbor, Maine
We awoke to a nice day to anchor in Bar Harbor. We were scheduled for the Acadia Park our and took a tender to shore to meet the bus. Had a very knowledgeable guide and a nice trip around the park with a brief stop atop Cadillac Mountain for some spectacular views of the area. After arriving back in the downtown area of Bar Harbor we looked in some of the shops for a while, then a tender back to the ship. All in all a nice day. Back on the ship I was able to take a short nap before the evening meal began. Fresh sea air does that to you.
We awoke this AM docking in Halifax. A Carnival ship and the HAL ship, Maasdam were already at the terminal so we had to dock down in the cargo ship area. They ran a shuttle bus between our ship and the main terminal which as nice. It was a nice day in Halifax so my wife and I walked the half mile to the downtown area. We had visited this area before so, again, no tour from the company this day. We were back for lunch and rested in the afternoon.
As mentioned above my wife is a big counted cross stitch person - never leaves home without what ever she is working on at the time. She found a comfortable couch on Deck 8 and was all alone doing her thing when the crew started setting up for tea. People started showing up and she had a very nice time meeting some new ladies and cross stitching while drinking tea. We passed on the show this evening but stopped by the casino to play some nickel slots. I never win anything but my wife won a couple of bucks. Fun entertainment for probably $5.00 costs. We aren't big timer casino people. Off to bed for the trip to Sydney where we will dock tomorrow AM.
The ship backed into the dock which took a little while, but would give us a straight shot out to sea when it was time to leave. The weather today was fantastic. 70 degrees, not much breeze and not a cloud in the sky. We and our friends walked the short distance to the downtown area to see what was going on. Not much in this little town. We found out we weren't really in Sydney, but in an area across the river from Sidney. But there were some stores and interesting sights to see. Back to the ship for lunch and a restful afternoon.
I might mention that the terminal at this small dock had a very nice shopping area and craft mall set up. They seemed to do a brisk business with the passengers and nothing was over priced. They must realize that ship passengers are their bread and butter so they don't try to gouge anyone. When we started pulling out of the dock area they had a brass band playing and lots of the local folks standing at on the pavement waving goodbye. A nice touch from a small town.
The evening meal tonight was the Chef's Parade. All the wait staff were dressed like chefs and we all had chef's hats at our table to wear. A big production was made of the serving of each course. The food was very good this evening. After dinner we attended the show in the lounge. A young English woman who played the Oboe and English Horn. A nice ending to a busy day. The seas were calm as we left the port but that was about to change.
When we woke up I could tell something wasn't right. Where I expected the sun to be rising wasn't happening. It was rising on the other side of the ship. We were going the wrong direction. My wife and I and our friends went to the Lido for breakfast (much better service and food prep than in the dining room for breakfast, in my opinion) and about half way through the meal the captain came on the PA system with "an important announcement."
What a difference a day can make at sea. We were to have anchored in the Charlottetown harbor (dock under repairs) about 8:00 AM. Tenders would take us to our tours ashore. Well, that wasn't going to happen. A large weather depression (Gale Force Winds) was settling in over the Charlottetown area for the day and it would be too rough to anchor and use the tenders. So instead of one day at sea before our next port, we will have two. We were refunded our excursion fees and they revamped the schedule of activities to keep everyone entertain during the day.
A nice dinner in the main restaurant and the show this evening was a comedian/magician. He was very good and had the usual participation from members of the audience to help. Great fun.
The captain turned the ship back east on the route we had taken toward Charlottetown and reduced the speed to about half of what it could have been. We could see the storm behind us and the seas became very rough over night. A few times I was awoken from the ship bouncing about in the big waves.
A Day Sea
Today was to have been our only day at sea with no stops at a port. But, it was now the second day at sea and the cruise department did a nice job of keeping the passengers entertained. Had free champagne at dinner last night, too. Lots of things going on during the day, bingo, card tournaments, the casino was open all day, and so were the shops.
Mid-morning we entered the St Lawrence Seaway and followed the coastline of Quebec.
The seas have also calmed so it should be smooth sailing all the way to Montreal.
In the early morning the ship approached the Saguenay Region at the end of the Saguenay Fjord. We were able to drop anchor quite close to the docking area for the tenders, so a very short ride to reach land. After breakfast my wife and I took the tender ashore and walked around the town area. From the top of the large hill where the hospital sits, we were able to get some great views of the harbor and the ship. The town area is not much of a tourist area so no real shops that would cater to the ship's passengers. And, if you don't speak French, you have a problem communicating with the local folks as they simply do not speak English. We tendered back to the ship in time for lunch and rested in the afternoon. A very quiet day but lots of photo opportunities. The ship left the port as we were having our dinner and we were treated to a spectacular sunset directly behind us with the river reflecting the sun. Quite a view.
At bedtime we were back on the St Lawrence River headed for Quebec City.
I was awakened this morning about 4:00 as the ship started maneuvering for the dock in Quebec City. It was still dark when we were tied up to the dock. We are right below the Chateau Frontenac and the Old City. After breakfast in the Lido, we waited to disembark for an all day tour we had scheduled which even included lunch. As we were coming down the gangway the crew kept telling everyone to hang on to the railing as it was steep. As we reached the dock I tripped over a protrusion from the lower part of the railing and grabbed the handrail to keep from falling. There was a sharp piece of metal on the railing and I cut the palm of my hand badly. So, off to the ship's doctor and I missed the tour. Had 5 stitches and a big bandage as a souvenir of Quebec City. My wife went on the tour and was able to take a lot of pictures. After dinner tonight, which wasn't one of the better ones, we spent the evening packing for our departure from Montreal in the morning.
About 4:00 AM the ship started shaking and vibrating badly. The captain was using the thrusters to maneuver the ship into the dock slip. He had to turn 90 degrees and back in. It took almost an hour to complete the operation.
We had breakfast early and sat in our stateroom until almost 9:00 when they called us to leave the ship. We had the 2 hour tour of Montreal and the bus would then take us to the airport for the long flight home. This was one of the better tours we had. Very informative guide and we enjoyed it a lot. We arrived at the airport at noon and it took about an hour to get through the check in, customs and immigration process. But it is good to do all that and not have to go through the process in the US. But, we had a 3 hour wait for our plane to Detroit and then three hours in Detroit for our plane home. So, after being awakened at 4 in the morning, we were home at almost midnight. A very long day. General Observations About The Cruise
As mentioned above, we were on this ship about seven years ago. The experience this time wasn't near as nice as it was then, or compared to some other cruises we have had recently. The food wasn't anywhere as good as I had expected it to be, the menu selections were mediocre and while the service was adequate in the dining room, it could be sporadically missing in some areas, especially the refilling of drinks and coffee cups. It was as if the wait staff were tired. I thought the food and service in the Lido for breakfast and lunch were much better. The entertainment was weak and several nights almost non-existent. With a couple of exceptions, not even worth the trip to the theater. Not anywhere as good or elaborate as we have had on other cruises.
The Veendam was really the first cruise ship my wife and I had been on and I was looking forward to a renewed great experience. It simply didn't happen.
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