I am a solo male traveller (57 yrs.) who was looking for a quiet restful hassle free type of vacation.With my October 2007 7-night cruise on Holland America's Volendam (Eastern Caribbean), this was exactly what I got.
To begin with, I got a very good deal when I booked on-line. I presumed this was because it is still hurricane season in October in the Caribbean and there is a chance one's itinerary could be changed as well as storms and rough seas. Our weather could not have been more perfect. We had not a drop of rain and skies were clear and seas calm the entire week. If you come from a dry climate you might find the humidity of this region a bit challenging but the ship was beautifully air-conditioned throughout.
I flew into Ft. Lauderdale from Montreal the day before. Planes can be delayed and this eliminated the stress of worrying about missing the boat. I would highly recommend this option. I stayed at the Comfort Inn on Sterling Ave. What a great choice! The internet rate was $89. There was a free shuttle from the air-port. I just called the hotel and they picked me up within twenty minutes. The room was very nice,large, clean and cool. There was a lovely outdoor pool area with palm trees and a poolside bar for those who enjoy a drink. The free breakfast was one of the best I have encountered anywhere. Boxed cold cereals,packaged instant oatmeal, fresh fruit, toast, bagels, waffles, yogurt, muffins and plenty of good coffee or tea.
The hotel then provided a free shuttle to the ship. I arrived about 11 a.m. and started a quick embarkation process. I had pre-registered and obtained my boarding pass on-line. This greatly quickens the procedure. From start to finish it was no more that 30 minutes before I was walking up the gang plank and posing for a welcome aboard picture. (Note: The cruise photographer takes pictures throughout the voyage but there is absolutely no pressure to purchase any of them. They are displayed in the Photo Gallery daily and those you do not wish to purchase are shredded at you request)
Once on board we were invited to lunch in the Lido deck as our cabins would not be ready until about 2 p.m. The food in the Lido restaurant is varied with many selections and well prepared. This is a cafeteria style restaurant so you will line up at busy hours. The ice-cream bar and desert table ( my weakness) was a sweet tooth's dream come true.
I had a outside cabin on the Dolphin deck which was very roomy(especially being solo). I found the beds extremely comfortable. The bathroom was huge by cruise ship standards with a nice marble vanity and a tub/shower combo. There was plenty of a closet and drawer space as well.It was clean and well maintained throughout the voyage. The TV was of great quality with something for everyone. It included CNN, TSN, 2 movie channels plus a classic TV channel. Ship info and ship entertainment are also broadcast. There are also 4 music channels pumped into the cabin with various genres of music.If this is not enough there is also a DVD player. DVD's are available for rent. I brought a few of my favorites from home.
Let me say a bit about packing here. Dress during the day is casual, shorts & T-shirts. Evenings are smart casual. Slacks and a collared shirts are fine for the men. Formal nights a dark suit or tux are requested. There are several options for laundry and pressing. There is self-serve laundry on the ship. A load will cost $2. to wash, $1 to dry.(Quarters are available at the front desk)
As well there are irons and ironing boards that are free of charge. Ironing in staterooms is not allowed as a fire-safety measure. There is also a laundry service. I believe it is $12 for what you can get into one of the laundry bags provided. I used the pressing service. This was more expensive but convenient. 5 shirts and a suit cost me $23. There is a more expensive express service.With the ordinary service getting your clothes back will take over 24 hrs. so plan ahead for your dress-up clothes. A free shoe shine service is also available.
The main activity I wanted to engage in while on board was relaxing in a deck chair and watching the sea roll by. Each evening there is newsletter outlining activities for the next day delivered to your stateroom. There is no pressure to join any of them but if one wishes to be active there seems to be lots to do. Also delivered each day is a mini NY Times news sheet. In addition to this I received a special Canadian supplement with news from Canada. I imagine other nationals received something similar. A very nice touch I thought.
The food was wonderful all around. My only complaint is that there was too much of it. Be prepared to put on a few pounds. I preferred to have breakfast in my cabin. In general I found the room service menu to be adequate and varied as long as one did not intend to use it for every meal. The breakfast menu had plenty of the things I like to eat in the morning. Just fill out the breakfast request card. Check off the items & time you wish and hang it on your door handle before 2.a.m.They will do the rest. Very satisfactory.
I enjoyed a light lunch in the Lido restaurant. To avoid the line-ups try to be there at opening 11:30 or wait until near the end of lunch service, I think around 2:30
DINNER IN THE MAIN DINING ROOM
This was something I looked forward to each evening. The menu is posted at the entrance after lunch so one can check it out and ponder what delicious dishes to order. I am no gourmet but I thought the menu was varied, delicious and beautifully presented with impeccable service. Considering these guys do three seatings an evening it was really remarkable.
I was assigned a table with five other solo travellers. We at least had that in common. Sometimes it can feel like you are the only non-coupled person on the planet, so I thought this was a nice touch.
I thought the public areas were lovely. The theme of the Volendam was flowers and there were elaborate as well as smaller bouquets placed throughout the public rooms. In addition to this there were many paintings an other objet d'art to enjoy. The library was well stocked with books DVD's, board games,jig-saw and crossword puzzles.There were perhaps 20 computers available but be warned using them will cost you plenty! I do not gamble so I cannot comment on the Casino although it seemed to be quite busy with the usual games and slots. Nor am I a big drinker but I did enjoy a spiked coffee after dinner in the Explorations Lounge where there was a stringed quartet playing classical pieces. There was also a decent size shopping area. One nice service was that evenings before shore excursions, a list of "guaranteed shops" on shore was provided. This meant that they had been checked out and were selling genuine articles and not knock offs. I did not attend all of the evening shows but the ones I did I enjoyed and were of a good quality. I was entertained and I think that is the point. Also check out the movie theater. There is a different feature shown several times a day. Apart from the Lido restaurant at lunch time, I found this ship to have a feeling of being uncrowded. That was nice.
Definitely an slower, older crowd, although there were some younger folks as well. That suited me fine as I was not looking for a party ship. How often at 57 and a bit overweight does one get to feel young and thin? I spoke to one man who had teenage grandchildren who've cruised Holland America and one of the bigger party ships as well. They told him they preferred Holland America because there were so few teens enrolled in the teen program, that they were treated like kings. On the party ships they had to wait in line for everything.
I did three of these which I booked on line. There were several options available to chose from at each port. I knew it would be hot so I chose ones that were not too long and did not involve a great deal of activity. I found they were well organized and the guides pleasant and informative. I did a mini-bus tour of San Juan including stops at one of the forts, a beach and old San Juan. I did similar at St.Thomas. It is quite mountainous and we were taken to the highest point where the views were spectacular. Nassau included a visit to a garden/zoo place where the pink flamingos put on a most amusing show.
Another very nice touch (one of so many) on the part of Holland America was this; when we arrived back at the ship from out day out in the heat, a steward was waiting at the bottom of the gangplank handing us damp, cool towels to freshen up with. Very nice.
I cannot say enough about the service on the Volendam. It was A+ at all times and delivered with a smile.It was the many small thoughtful touches, like the cool towels that helped made this trip so enjoyable. You may well forget what day of the week it is with this level of indulgence, but not to worry. Each time you step into one of the elevators you will be reminded. The carpets are changed daily and the day of the week is printed on them.
If you follow the instructions which are given days in advance regarding luggage, custom forms etc.and listen for category to be called then there will be no delays or problems. Also recommended is to attend the disembarkation talk given on the next to last day of the cruise. Not only will you pick up useful information but as a finale the crew from all the services gather to supply a very touching musical farewell.
In short if you are looking for a relaxing, slow-paced holiday with impeccable service and amenities then I have no reservations about recommending Holland America's MS Volendam.