We had heard from friends that HAL was the best cruise travel experience so we were looking forward to this trip to the Western Caribbean. Traveling with friends who were first time cruiser's, the Veendam did not disappoint.
Embarkation at Tampa was a breeze. If driving, be sure to use Valet Parking. When you disembark you're in your car loaded up within 10 minutes once you pass thought Customs. From leaving the ship to leaving the port took less than 30 minutes.
The first stop, Key West, was an adventure. This stop is best if you don't use the HAL booked excursions. Everything you need to see during this short visit is in a very compact city center. Belize, if you don't book a Mayan Ruin trip, don't waste your time with the tourist oriented restricted shopping offered at their Cruise Center. We booked our trip to Xuantunich through Belizecruiseexcursions.com, 10 passenger Van instead of an old bus with the HAL excursion. This trip is worth the time and money. We heard from others that the tube rafting experience was great.
Santo Tomas De Castillo is a good reason to enjoy a day on board. Nothing there close, $30.00 taxi for a 5-minute trip to downtown shopping, and not much to see in this Industrial Port stop. Cozumel was not much better, but at least it was tourist oriented with decent shopping and cold beer.
This was the first trip for this ship using what HAL calls open seating for the dinner meal. They had a very difficult time pulling it off. Service was very slow, up to 2 hours for a 4-course meal. If you want to walk up and wait for a table, it worked well as long as you have a very small group. If you wanted to make reservations, be aware, you will be limited to either a 5:30pm or 7:15pm seating. You get the same quality with much faster and friendlier service with hot food using the Lido at your choice of time with no delays. The quality of food presented was very good with great choices available.
Entertainment was excellent with lots to do for whatever your interest shows, bingo, casino, cooking classes, movies, and exercise. Watch out for the Internet Service. It's very slow, very expensive, and very bandwidth restricted. Don't even think of using voip services or sending e-mail with photos. You will spend 75% of your time online just waiting.
Overall, a very enjoyable trip on a quality ship.