This two week cruise on the Veendam was a great itinerary that included several sea days. I had not cruised with HAL for about two years and was surprised at some of the cost -cutting measures I observed and the problems encountered on this ship.
This was my first experience with the Port of Tampa and I loved it. Great facilities and not too crowded. The Tampa airport was also a pleasure and much less congested than other FL airports used by the cruise lines. As others have noted, the pre-registered check-in line for embarkation was much longer and slower than the line for those who did not complete their paperwork online. Arriving on the ship, I was surprised to find that there is no longer a crew member to escort you to your cabin. When I finally located my cabin (after trying to maneuver my rolling carry-on past a bucket in the hallway that was catching a water leak) I went to the wrong cabin! Obviously my key did not work and I had to find a steward. Eventually we discovered my error...I was one cabin number off. As always, HAL cabins are great - clean and spacious with ample closet and drawer space and a decent sized bathroom. My steward did a great job although he sometimes forgot to replace items like the bathmat. And, oh those wonderful, comfortable beds! I slept like a baby.
Others have noted ongoing problems on the Veendam with air conditioning, plumbing and water leaks. The above-mentioned bucket remained in the corridor off-and-on for most of the cruise. There were frequently sewerage odors throughout the ship. The air conditioning did not seem to be working well in some areas. My cabin was okay most of the time but never totally cool. But some cabins had no AC at all. Carpets are stained and frayed throughout the ship. Elevators are a bit cranky. Rope lights have numerous burned out bulbs. There aren't as many floral arrangements around the ship as in the past. The number of staff and crew seems to have been reduced. Activities are not as numerous. There were also some mechanical problems causing us to reach our first port late. I understand the subsequent cruise missed two ports due to these problems.
The food is quintessential HAL...nothing fancy but you can always find something that is appealing. This goes for Lido buffets and the dining room. We had fabulous service in the dining room from our waiter A.A. HAL is very diligent about keeping food areas clean and using hand sanitizers. I just wish passengers would stop using their fingers to pick up items like cookies. That's why the tongs are provided! Some people just don't seem to get it about not touching food with their hands!
One area that disappointed me was shore excursions. With a staff of only two, you did not have the level of information as in the past. These two had minimal knowledge of the ports and the excursions that were offered. They would have to e-mail the operators for additional information and then get back to you which they did. In Isla de Margarita, the boat we were booked on had mechanical problems. The shore excursion manager was on the shore but did nothing to get information or try to resolve the problem. The passengers booked on the excursion had to handle everything and find our own answers.
I love the Ocean Bar for my pre-dinner cocktail but the ventilation was horrible and it was so warm and smoky that it was really unpleasant. The casino was the same way. HAL was doing some smoke free nights in the casino which I'm sure were welcome. One afternoon we had to be re-directed to the Ocean Bar to play trivia and the stale smoke smell was overwhelming. There was also no smoke free area on the Lido or Navigation pool decks.
Another thing I did not like is the practice of setting up tables in the corridors outside the shops to sell things. It looked like a flea market with people serving as carnival barkers to lure you to whatever they were peddling. It created real bottle necks and was just plain annoying.
In general, service is still great on HAL but I would not sail on the Veendam again until it receives some much needed TLC.