We drove from Daytona the day prior to the cruise and our friends drove in from North Carolina. We stayed at Holiday Inn Express at Rocky Points great, SAFE location and the shuttle service to the port was very efficient in both directions (and included in the rate when you get the "Cruise and Stay" package).
We have cruised with HAL 4 times prior to this and we enjoyed ourselves every time, but the Veendam is the oldest ship we've been on and we weren't sure if it would detract from the total enjoyment of the cruise. In spite of reports of "torn carpets", "cracked tile", "rusty hull(?)", etc., we did not find anything of any substance that took away from our overall very pleasant cruise experience. On our past HAL cruises, we've always tried to take the initiative to establish a friendship with the crew members and the crew of the Veendam has to be one of the friendliest we thoroughly enjoyed being their guests for a week.
Our cabin was an outside on the Lower Promenade deck, which we've had before and were generally satisfied with. These particular outside cabins really are a bit shorter than the outsides on the A Deck and Main Deck, but they're adequate for 2 people.
We did AYW dining but chose the same waiter each night(either early or late). The food was excellent as usual in all venues as well as room service. Before and/or after dinner we spent time relaxing in The Explorer's Lounge listening to the "Gloria Strings" ensemble. They were from Ukraine very disciplined and VERY entertaining the entertainment highlight of the cruise.
Embark/disembark was a snap first time for Tampa and we love it.