This was our 9th or 10th cruise (can't remember any more), our first Holland America. We've sailed RCCL, Princess (2x) and NCL (1x). We are in our later 40's, and usually travel without our son, although he's been on 3 cruises with us (he's 20). We were hesitant to sail HAL, as our perception of it has always been a cruise line for the retired set, and maybe a little more upper crust than the other cruise lines we've sailed. We were very pleasantly surprised to find that neither was the case. The median age for the 4-day Pacific Coast segment was about what we expected, but when we picked up the Alaska-bound crowd in Vancouver, that changed. And the atmosphere on the ship was very relaxed, comfortable; we loved it! Another thing we noticed was that the crew were also very relaxed, seemed to enjoy their jobs, were cheerful and polite and not forced or desperate to earn their income. They ate in the same dining rooms as we, came and went through the public areas, were very pleasant and enjoyable.
We flew non-stop to San Diego a day before we embarked the ship, and got into San Diego about 9:30 am. We arrived at the Westin Horton Plaza (Gaslamp) between 10:00 and 10:30 am, and asked if we could leave our bags until check-in, and they asked if we wanted to go ahead and check in...of course!! And they didn't charge us any extra. They were very accommodating and helpful, the hotel was very beautiful and clean, our room was quiet (on the 10th floor), with a partial view of the bay, a very comfortable bed, and they allowed us to check out by 1:00 pm without any additional charge.
We embarked the ship in the early afternoon on the 28th of April, there was no line at all, and we had done the on-line check in, so all we had to do was show ID and our credit card, go through security check and walk onto the ship. The ship wasn't full for the 4-day segment to Vancouver, so that probably influenced the amount of people checking in, but it was very seamless. We had an inside cabin on the Deck 4, the lowest passenger deck, and there was no cabin immediately on either side of us, and the cabin was laid out sideways, so we actually had a lot of room and it was very comfortable. The bed was VERY comfortable - we had a Tempurpedic bed at home, so we're usually not thrilled with beds away from home, but this was wonderfully comfy! Our cabin steward was Aprilla, who took excellent care of us. There was quite a bit of noise from the deck below us at the beginning and the end of our cruise, as I think the holding area for the luggage must have been below us...you could hear the machinery backing up (beep,beep) and thumping. But it wasn't all week.
We had open dining, not an assigned table/dining time, which we were hesitant about, as we enjoy having the same tablemates all week. However, we thoroughly enjoyed the open dining, and had excellent tablemates every night. We think that since the Veendam is a much smaller ship than others we've sailed on recently, we actually saw our tablemates quite often around the ship and even on shore! The menu was varied, the food was as good as any we've had on any cruise, and service was excellent.
The Lido Restaurant (on Deck 11) was very well organized - we really liked that the service was basically in a line, and they served you rather than the mad dash from station to station we've experienced elsewhere. AND there was glass between diners and servers, so other people's germs weren't exposed to your food before you got it! Also, they were preparing food as you went through the line, so it hadn't necessarily been sitting in a serving dish for a long time. The food was VERY good for buffet food, and choices were numerous. My husband loved the bread pudding, and I loved the mixed fruit cobbler that they had almost every day as well. There was a salmon bake on the Lido deck on the day we were in Glacier Bay, and it was very good. Also a chocolate buffet (really, a dessert buffet) one night, and it was very well organized and nicely presented (there were 4 serving lines).
We only took one ship's excursion, and that was to Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, BC. It was on time, the driver was very fun and informative, and he took us on a driving tour around Victoria that was very interesting and allowed us to see a lot more of the city than we would have on our own. The Castle was nice, but I wish I'd chosen Butchart Gardens (didn't because I thought it would be rainy & cold, but it wasn't!). It was a nice tour, though.
The weather was windy and cool up the Pacific Coast, although we had sunshine while in Victoria. Vancouver was cool and cloudy, but it didn't rain. We walked from Canada Place to Stanley Park (over a mile), and I wish we'd had more time (and energy, after walking there!) to explore the park. It was very beautiful, and there's so much there to see.
Our first Alaska port was Juneau, and it was cool and misting, but we were able to go to the Mendenhall Glacier and hike around the area.
Our second port was Skagway, where we rode the White Pass & Yukon Railroad - the scenery was very beautiful, and as we got higher in the pass, it was snowing. You could easily imagine the miners hiking up the pass, and the incredible journey they undertook.
Our day in Glacier Bay was incredible - sunny, calm winds, snow-capped mountains, indescribably beautiful. We were out on the deck most of the day, enjoying the scenery, looking for wildlife. There was a naturalist on board who was very knowledgeable and helpful in what to look for, pointing out wildlife, and answering questions. There were also park rangers on board for the day, narrating over the PA system. They served hot Dutch pea soup on deck in the late morning, and of course the salmon bake for lunch on deck. What a wonderful day - it was the highlight of the whole trip!
Our last day in Alaska was at Ketchikan, where we took a float plane trip over Misty Fjords in a Dehavilland Beaver - again, amazing scenery and a very enjoyable trip. Well worth the money, and what a way to see the fjords!
We were the only ship in port in all three Alaska ports, which meant that it wasn't crowded in town, in the shops, on the tours...a nice change from our last Caribbean cruise! The weather was probably in the 40's in Alaska, but we were prepared with plenty of warm clothing (layers) and jackets and hiking shoes (waterproof).
The Veendam is not a new ship, it does show some wear, but it is still a beautiful ship, clean and in good repair. There is some very interesting artwork all around the ship. The Explorations Cafe is a very inviting space, with recliners, comfy chairs, a coffee shop, internet, magazines, library, places to play games or chat or read. We went to some of the evening shows, not all - saw Perfect Gentlemen (a barbershop quartet), a couple of comedians...the Ruben's Lounge is very comfortable, good views from almost anywhere, and always a seat available. Really enjoyed the Crow's Nest bar (on Deck 12), for its bar servers as well as the incredible views up there. Bar service all over the ship was the most laid-back we've ever experienced! The HalCats band on the ship was superb - excellent musicians! And the Lakota Strings group was very well liked. Room service was always very prompt, and pleasant. A nice touch was cloth hand towels in the public rest rooms. The staff seemed willing to be very helpful, above and beyond what was expected.
We signed up for Signature Express (US Direct) service for debarkation in Vancouver, and WOW! Easiest debarkation we've ever had. It was WELL worth the $16 for the service plus the $25 for the ship-to-airport transfer (HAL). They print your boarding passes & luggage tags for you, and your luggage goes from your stateroom to your home airport (you don't have to pick it out of the pile of luggage on the pier, lug it to the airport, go through customs, stand in line & check in). On the last morning, you gather in the show lounge, they take you as a group to your bus, you're "sealed" in the bus to the airport, customs officials come on the bus and take care of Canadian customs, you're taken to the airport terminal where you go inside, go through security (there was no one else in this security line), and you're ready to board your plane! I highly recommend it, if it's offered!
All in all, a wonderful cruise! We loved Alaska, we loved Holland America, and are spoiled now - it will be hard to go back to the other cruise lines we've sailed after being so pampered!