My thoughts and opinions of our Christmas cruise aboard the MS Veendam. This was my first cruise on HAL but my 18th cruise overall. After reading so many reviews on the boards I did not know what to expect so was worried about the condition of the ship but I have to say the ship being 11 years old did not show wear and tear as I had expected. Our air conditioning in our cabin worked fine. I had to sleep with 2 blankets at night because it was so cold. The toilets didn't work a couple of times but corrected themselves within the hour. The carpeting looked almost new through out the ship and the walls in the cabin did not show wear and tear as I had read previously. The ship was moving along at a brisk pace, didn't seem to be broken at all. The food was fine. Not the best cuisine I have tasted at sea but it was just fine. We could always find something to eat and never went hungry. The lobster tail was rather small and the steak they served with the lobster was tough but other times we ordered steak and it was delicious. The food on Lido deck for lunch was not very appetizing but they always made sandwiches to order and then toasted the bread, and had ingredients for salads and we were very happy. They always had tons of cookies, and their famous bread pudding out on the buffet, and ice cream was available for free through out the day. They even served the ice cream in the huge expensive waffle cones if you wanted it. For free. There was only one midnight buffet and since the crowd is older the midnight buffet was served at 10:30pm. You didn't have to stay up late to partake. There was so much food they told me they had to grind it up in the disposal at the end of the night. They don't save anything for the next day. There was no line at the buffet. No pushing or shoving like I have seen on other lines. In fact they asked me if I would like to be first in the buffet line to get the thing started and I was shocked that I was so honored. There were tables set up all over the pool deck where the buffet was served and everyone found a spot to sit and eat all the goodies. They had a buffet dinner on the deck one night and decorated the pool area with a Mexican theme. They served sausage and ribs and mai mai and chicken. Also corn on the cob, different salads, rolls and fresh fruit. We decided not to go to the dining room that night and enjoy the BBQ dinner. They served all you can drink pina coladas in a pineapple too at the BBQ.
There were fresh flower arrangements everywhere on the ship and they were beautiful to look at. The thing I did notice is that they don't have nice artwork in each of the stair landings. I thought that odd as usually ships have beautiful painting on each of the landings as you walk up the stairs. The pictures in the hallways as you walked to the cabins looked cheap as did the painting in our cabin. But this was just my impression compared to what I have seen on other cruise lines.
We had early seating at 6:30pm and attended the shows each night at 8:30pm. They only had one production show with dancing, singing and costumes and this was a disappointment. We look forward to these shows and only got to partake one evening. The entertainment booked for this week was awful. I met people who were cruising for the first time and were wondering why the entertainment was so bad. I couldn't answer them. I have never seen such poor entertainment on a ship before. The cruise director was also awful. I would call him Mr Drip. He had no personality, never cracked a joke, never smiled. Every morning he woke me up at 9 am to read me the daily program that I had read myself the night before. This was quite annoying. They had a fire drill one morning at 9am and it was a sea day. This also woke us up. Why they didn't do the fire drill on a port day is beyond me. Around 9:30pm after the show was over it was hit or miss with what to do for the rest of the evening. They did show movies in their theater starting at 1015pm or so but the movies that they presented this week were not ones that I would have liked to see. Examples of a few of the movies shown in the theater are Christmas at the Maxwells, Stardust, and Bourne Ultimatum. This line also does not show nice first run movies in the cabins all day like we are used to. All the cabin movies were PG rated. Each cabin has its own DVD player so bring your DVD's from home if you like. Or you can rent DVDs in the library for $3.00 a day. Too much trouble for me to rent and return in a day. I am on vacation. But if you like to go to lounges and listen to music and maybe dance or watch others dance then that is what you will be doing for your nightly entertainment. The shops on board didn't have anything exciting to purchase this cruise. I talked to others and they said the same thing. All they were pushing the whole week was costume jewelry at cheap prices. If you are into that you will have fun shopping. But other than that the shops were boring at best. The shops stayed open until 10:30pm each night and they had drawings for give aways each evening at 10:30pm if you picked up a raffle ticket.
No buffet food available at night after dinner. The pizza and burger stations close up so if you are hungry late at night you will not even be able to find a cookie to eat.
Another bit of entertainment that only HAL has is the cooking demonstration in their cooking studio. This was a lot of fun to go to and we got to sample all the goodies they prepared during the show. Unfortunately they only had this available twice during the week. That was the only entertainment that was available during the day besides bingo a couple times during the week.
The workers on this ship are exceptional. They are from Indonesia and were always friendly and cheerful. Never saw anyone with a sour face on this ship. Even on Christmas when they were away from home they had a smile on their faces. The buffet line is not serve yourself. You tell them what you want and they fill your plate for you. This often slowed down the lines. At the end of the line there was always someone waiting to take your tray from you and bring it to a table. They are very conscious of taking care of senior citizens and even though I am not one, they carried my tray for me also.
There is something to be said about sailing on a smaller ship of only 1200 passengers. There is no budging going one and you don't need to push and shove to get what you need at the buffets or on lido deck. I really liked sailing on a smaller ship and this was the smallest one I have sailed on.
The pictures taken by the photographers were not professional at all. And the paper they printed on was not glossy. I was very disappointed in the quality of the photos that were taken of us on board. Some ships even correct imperfections before they print but HAL doesn't seem to do this. Of course I purchased them anyway since I had no choice, but they weren't as nice looking as I have had on other lines. They only have 2 photographers on the entire ship and on formal night there are only 2 back drops to pick from.
The only real wear and tear I noticed on this ship was the outside of the ship which needs a good painting and the Rubens Lounge. There are light bulbs burnt out all over the place in the show lounge and it really does detract from the look of the place. They really need to take the time to replace all those light bulbs. But really this is the only terrible thing I noticed on this ship as needing replacement.
If you love all kinds of cookies and rice pudding to die for, and ice cream any time of day then the HAL line is the way to go.
We also purchased a soda card. HAL does this a little differently too. There are 20 soda punches on there and once you have used up all 20 sodas the card is through. The card could be purchased for $20.00. This was nice because the whole family could use the same card and it did last the entire cruise for all five of us.
My 22 yr old son spent each night in the Crow's Nest and met people his age to hang out with until all hours of the morning. My twin 17 yr olds met kids the first night in the teen center and did their own thing with their new friends each night. No one got back to the room before 2 am each night. Considering there were only 75 teens on the cruise for the week I thought this was remarkable. All in all everyone had a great relaxing week.
My biggest complaint was the entertainment and the cruise director. Would I sail HAL again in the near future. No....... I am early 50s and I have at least 15 more years to go before I need to sail HAL. I still like all kinds of entertainment going on at night to choose from. Sailing with an older crowd is rather nice. I didn't mind sailing with older folks. They are interesting to talk to and not rude or pushy in different venues. There was always a seat at the show lounge, and always a treadmill for me to use in the health club. They don't sit in the sun at the pool so there was always a chair at the pool.
I did have a run in with the purser's desk. They sent me a letter that my credit card was no good and I should visit them before the day was through. I ran down there and made sure they were using the right credit card number. I thought everything was squared away with them and went to purchase photos at the photo shop. My card was turned off. I was really upset about this. They said my card was still no good and I could use their phone to call my credit card company. I called them using their phone and had them talk directly to my credit card company which said I had tons of credit left on the card. My card company also said they never even sent a test charge to them which got me mad. Why would they shut off our charging privileges without even sending a test charge to our credit company to see if there was money on there. They were very rude in this instance but luckily the phone call straightened everything out.
Feel free to ask me any questions and I hope I can answer them for you.
Key West Trolley Tour bought ourselves at the port. Very interesting and a nice ride around the island.
Belize. Did thru the ship. Rather expensive. Had a city tour with a great guide who told us everything we ever wanted to know about Belize. Then we went on an airboat ride with ear protection. This was alot of fun. Saw tons of birds and a few crocodiles. They sold this tour as a manatee watching tour and we saw no manatees.
Guatemala. Did a boat ride tour thru the ship. Was supposed to see all types of flora and fauna and saw nothing. Not even a flower on a tree. This was a big waste. We were watching our watches to see when the hour and a half would be over. They also made us wear life jackets on the boat.