ms Volendam 10 Day Southern Caribbean & Panama Canal Sunfarer Float, 03-12 to 03-22-08
The Search for Some Global Warming Cruise
Ship Stats: 61,000 GT, 26 Ft. Draft, 777.6 Ft. Length, 111 Ft. Wide, 1999 Launch, 1485 Passengers, 601 Crew, Distance Covered: 3371 NM, Fuel Consumption: 85 Gal / Mile, Potable Water Prod.: 370,000 Gal / Day
Ship Staff: Master: Capt. Pieter Visser, Hotel Manager: Theo Haanen, Dining Rm. Manager: Raj Kantharaju, Executive Chef: Nizam Nor, Cruise Director: Rebecca Fabischek
Personal Staff: DW of 35+ years, Judy
PRE-PORT TRAVEL (Departed 0500 Prescott, Arrived Sky King (aka Sky Harbor) airport 0700): Spent well over an hour (with another 1000 souls) snaking along the winding chrome posts adorned with seat belt strapping as folks continued to cough, fart and whine. Also, a gaggle of cell phone gabbers kept us entertained making sure their conversations could be heard throughout the terminal. We boarded our winged cigar tube (US AIR) @0900 and proceeded out to the tarmac where we enjoyed a warm and cozy two hour delay due to a faulty relay switch. Following the delay bonus and the four hour flight we touched down in beautiful Ft. La-de-da. We schlepped our luggage out to the curb to await our Sleep Inn chariot. And, being smokers, we were in need of a coffin nail or two. Could have used a blast of bourbon also but to date no outside bars have been opened by the pickup portals (seems like a money maker to me). This was another freebie stay at the Sleep Inn in La-la land from cc points. Clean room, functioning plumbing & TV, complimentary shuttles & full breakfast works for us. Following check-in we went across the street to load up on wine at Publix for the cruise, had a libation & shower and then made our way back to the shopping center to have some Italian eats. We returned to the room to slap some tags on the luggage and box of potables and to become one with Morpheus.
EMBARKATION DAY I shot down to the Walgreens on the corner following breakfast and picked up a cheapo straw hat with a chin string. One mustn't be hatless on a cruise, no? Sassy casual don't you know. Following checkout via shuttle we zoomed down to the pier for a flawless check-in. Main DR was closed for lunch so up to the Lido for buffet goodies AND A LONG AWAITED MARGARITA (to be followed by several mango daiquiris after life boat muster). The cabin was ready 1300ish or so.
AS YOU MIGHT WISH DINING: We had late upper traditional seating, table for two, by the rail as per our preference. After talking with folks during DR breakfasts it seemed like a 50-50 split as to the merits & pitfalls of AYWD. I do know that after talking with our waiter that he certainly was not to enthralled with the change. I think it will probably shake out just fine as they tweak the system.
CABIN (Dolphin Deck, Outside, Amidships, Port Side): Everything looked great. No dust bunnies, soiled skivvies or other hazards noted on arrival. Looked like they even rinsed out the bed linens real nice for us, the stool in the head went whoosh okay and the ice bucket was full. Life is good Jethro. After a cordial greeting with our steward Imam I told him our requirements were minimal: 2 buckets of ice refreshed A.M. & P.M. , an extra towel for DW's nightly hair drying ritual and a couple of boxes of Kleenex for the bedside stands. The appointments for the cabin looked a bit worn but then again so am I. I prefer the bed against the bulkhead and the couch by the window configuration but it was not to be (just the opposite). I'm not a big fan of the RV (aka, teacup) bathtubs since my contortionist bathing skills have dwindled appreciably over the years. But then again, so what?
CASINO: I no longer gamble, however, my DW donated forty or fifty clams to the HAL coffers via the slots. Every time I passed the casino during the evening it appeared that gambling was brisk and the tables were crowded.
DEMOGRAPHICS: Typical HAL crowd. Some youngsters (I prefer mine prepared well-done or deep fried if they're unruly), those going through their mid-life crisis and, of course, close relatives (age wise) of God. Some of the near centenarians seemed a bit more, well, frumpier then noted on prior floats. Just a useless observation. Perhaps the cold winter & flu season had something to do with it.
DRESS CODE: I didn't take my laser crowd counter or clipboard but my overeducated guess would be that on formal evenings perhaps 35% of men were decked out in dinner jackets/ tuxes, 40% in some sort of matching dark suit, and the remainder donning a rather eclectic hodgepodge of Goodwill wear. We like to dress up in the more traditional manner but what other's do is, well, their thing. I didn't see any leather T-shirts or plaid 'gommer' shorts worn in the DR on formal or sassy casual nights. No juicy gossip to report.
ENTERTAINMENT: Not really a strong suit of this cruise but there were certainly exceptions. But first let me get this off my chest. During the entire cruise the show times were @ 7 & 9 P.M. What bright light bulb in Seattle thought this one up? Needless to say, it was my only major bug-a-boo for us (well, not that major mind you) on this cruise. We generally enjoy cocktails and dancing in the Ocean Bar or Crow's Nest prior to late seating, have a leisure dinner and then, perhaps, attend the show. Well, obviously it's logistically impossible to do so, at least for us, with the 'new & improved' show schedule. So we didn't catch any of the shows and had to bury our misery (NOT!) in the bar lounges instead. Now for rating the ongoing entertainment IMO:
Excellent / Above Average Category : Ocean Breeze Strings, Tom Scott
Average / Mediocre : HAL Cats, DJ Bob, Piano Man Charley, The Manila Quartet. Enough said.
EXPLORER'S CAFÉ: Well appointed with lots of books and magazines. I checked out a couple of mindless tomes filled with murder, mystery and raw sex. My kind of cruise reading.
EXPLORER'S SERIES LECTURES: One of the highlights of our cruise. Richard Detrich gave informative, well organized power point presentations on the Canal (and building thereof), Panamanian history, culture & politics, a focused lecture on coffees and advise on those planning to find new retirement digs. His enthusiasm for Panama was infectious.
FOOD, DINING ROOM: I find the new menu quite adequate. I won't really comment on specific dishes other then the fact that I'm a fishy kind of guy although I do really enjoy HAL's lamb and venison preparations. I was able to order off menu as long as I mentioned it the evening before (Halibut Steaks, etc. : I don't care for deep fried Cod, etc). One ongoing problem with HAL (& other lines) is that hot items need to be served hot and cold items need to be chilled adequately and not served at room temperature. I mentioned this and wrote a comment card following the first dinner and henceforth item temperatures were improved. Otherwise the food was very good overall. Some items a tad bland, others prepared just right. But again quite subjective so I'll let it rest.
LIFE BOAT MUSTER: Slicker than boiled bear fat. Well organized, no ship shutterbugs or obvious drunks noted.
LAUNDRY: Sent out pretty much everything that would require ironing (shirts, slacks, formal wear, etc.) using the $30 unlimited pressing option. I slipped Imam Five clams to be sure everything got back by early afternoon the next day (and it was) since our first formal would be the following evening. We used the pressing service pretty much every day for touching up prior evening wear. We did a 'cram the bag' on the 7th day of the cruise for $12. Everything came back just spiffy with no lint balls on the Jockey's.
LIDO DINING: Since we dined in the DR every night (other than the Aruba barbecue evening) we used the Lido for breakfasts and lunches only. Always a great spread and service. My only suggestion to the manager was to have longer serving spoons for the rear compartments in the salad bar. This would alleviate the need for passengers to stick their entire arms (and shoulders for the vertically challenged) under the sneeze guard to reach some of the condiments.
MAINTENANCE, SHIP: Everything looked great overall. An occasional water stain on a ceiling, a nick or two inside the elevator doors, a crack in the DR window, a worn chair here and there but it certainly beats our digs. We set our thermostat at it's lowest setting in the cabin upon embarkation and it pretty much stayed @ 72 degrees throughout the trip. There was a telltale sewage odor for an hour or so one sea day on the Promenade Deck but no biggie as far as I'm concerned. It amazes me that such a large ship with so many moving parts and a passenger and crew count north of 2000 that more problems don't occur. HAL maintains their ships quite well IMO.
MARINER BRUNCH: Since the had quite a few Mariners on-board there were two brunches on various sea days. They didn't have any ceremonial award of medals like the evening functions of bygone days nor a brief speech of some sort by the captain. Speaking of Captain Visser, I was slightly disappointed that his visibility during the cruise (walking the decks every now and again, etc) was basically nil. Just another observation. We should be receiving our HAL copper gedunk medals on the next float. I would assume they would have some sort of ritual elsewhere for the medallion folks.
PINNACLE GRILL: I made reservations for dinner for the Master Chef night and a reservation for lunch for a sea day. Unfortunately, they switched the dancing dinner (which was kind of fun really-hadn't attended one for awhile) and I cancelled the reservation. Likewise, we were just to full from breakfast to appreciate a Pinnacle lunch so I cancelled that one also. With that said, we've had the opportunity to dine in the Pinnacle Grill on dozen times or so on other HAL vessels and they have always been excellent.
ROOM SERVICE: We tend to "Veg Out" mid-afternoon on sea days in our cabin. I generally order two cheese platters and two salmon platters to munch on while sipping wine and viewing a DVD. Port mornings we go for the door knob card breakfast. Except for one early morning request (0600-0630 delivery time frame) that didn't show up (we dashed up to the Lido @0635 so we'd be able to catch a 0700 independent tour) everything was delivered on a timely basis.
SERVICE, BEVERAGE & FOOD : Overall, outstanding as usual (including the housekeeping service). This is truly the backbone and reason for so many Mariner's / repeaters on HAL. We encountered a number of staff that we had met on prior cruises aboard the Prinsendam, Ryndam and Statendam. It was indeed like returning home.
SMOKING : Always a big bugaboo during these PC times. Since we smoke we spent all our pool and sunning time back by the aft pool. Likewise, we frequented the Ocean Bar & Crow's Nest in the evenings. I didn't observe a lot of 'scowling and waving' going on during this cruise so it seems a temporary truce has been reached.
SPA / SALON: DW signed us up on embarkation for the couple package for $160 (personally I prefer to just pay the $20pp/day when I wish to use it) but after many years of marital bliss I rather just smile and say those three little words , "That's great honey". Judy had some sort of voodoo coloring done with her hair that included the use of a roll of tin foil, various toxic chemicals and conditioners. Some gal named Olga gave me a hair snipping session and beard trim. All is good.
WEATHER: Couldn't be more perfect. More like a mill pond than a sea. I kind of missed a little 'rocking & rolling'. Mid 70's to mid80's with mucho humidity.
PORTS OF CALL / EXCURSIONS
HMC : We were able to tender in and enjoy the beach and surf. Didn't rent a toolshed. Just a clamshell. My darling beach bunny got fried which meant smearing her back throughout the cruise with Nivea. Food was very good and the service as usual exceptional.
ARUBA: We had contracted the Jolly Pirates folks for an afternoon sail,snorkel & suds sail but unfortunately engine problemos caused a cancellation. I was able to get a last minute sail & snorkel down on the beach with the DePalma folks on a catamaran. Great times had by all. BTW, city bus fare round-trip down to the beach as $2.30 USD. Got back to the ship by 1800 to enjoy the barbecue festivities.
CURACAO: I booked another sail & snorkel on the 'Bounty' with Capt. Perry. The price ($120/couple) included pick up and drop off service from the pier. Great day with another six couples.
PANAMA CANAL: We chose to do a HAL ferry transit excursion (no choice really, couldn't get off the ship otherwise) after going through the Gatun Locks. After having read McCullough's The Path Between the Seas and viewing his Nova documentary (which features the Prinsendam back when it was with Royal) I was pumped to get up close with the Pacific side locks. I wasn't disappointed. Men literally moved a mountain. Anywho, it was well worth the endless bus drives and humidity. Next visit we'll check out the Embera Village tour which I heard lots of good things about.
COSTA RICA :I booked a Charley Soto A1 tour via the internet prior to the cruise for $50 pp and what a great tour it was. We had a private car with a driver that provided us a great day. We visited a private plantation and played with a sloth, hit a banana plantation, did a hour long float on the Tortugero Canal via private boat and then reached Bonita Beach for lunch. After lunch we made our way down to the local supermarket to pick up some coffee and Nivea. Great day.
Debarkation: Quite smooth. We used the $15 pp boarding pass /express service and was quite pleased.
FINAL THOUGHTS : We enjoyed our voyage on the Volendam. However, we tend to prefer the Prinsendam & S-Class ships on HAL. Although if friends called and asked us to join them on the Volendam we wouldn't hesitate to do so.
We have a tentative bookings in Nov. on the Prinsendam for a 26 day 'jungle float' and again in Nov. '09 for 24 day 'bye-bye Europa' float. TA's been bugging us to give Seabourne a whirl in 2009. We'll see. So much to see, so little time. I can only thank God that we have our health and wherewithal to do so.
Thank you Volendam folks for an overall wonderful 'float' !
Bon Voyage & Good Health! Bob