Hotel Info - We arrived at the Tampa Marriott Westshore two days prior to embarkation. The hotel looks nice enough, and it was a bargain at $119 per night. However, we had terrible service from the front desk after requesting to be moved (after a night of extremely rowdy neighbors). The front desk clerk never apologized and just said that he "[couldn't] guarantee that won't happen again." Three in our party also got sick with norovirus, two on the first day on the ship. We found out later that 5 of the 6 original cases of noro on the ship were confirmed to have stayed at our hotel.
Embarkation - Well, embarkation was smooth, but apparently the agent who checked us in had issues. She knew I had a name change on my passport (from 8 years ago when I got married), but she still apparently put me in the system with my maiden name. So, my card read my married name, but it did not match up with what was in the system. Our room cards did not work, as a result. I had to go back three times over three days to get my name corrected in the system. It was a big hassle.
Cabin - We booked room 823, an inside room. It was quite large for an inside room. I did smell sewage several times. I called the front desk three times to have someone take a look at our bathroom (where the smell was coming from). They kept saying they put in a work order, but no one ever came.
Cabin Stewards - They were nice enough (Edward was our main steward), but partially since we had a lot of things in the room, they never cleaned the room to my satisfaction. They never wiped down surfaces. They never vacuumed. They simply made the bed and replenished the towels. One thing that was disgusting was that we removed the bed pad due to a vomit smell. We also removed the sheets. Well, they put the bed pad back on the bed. We kept smelling vomit, which made us ill. We had to keep spraying it with disinfectant. It never went away.
Ship Info - The Veendam was in the condition we expected to find after reading many CC reviews. Aft on the A deck starboard, there was a smell of sewage that overpowered at times. The carpet was worn and stained. It wasn't horrible, but it should all be fixed with the dry dock planned for April.
The pools were nice, though I only went in the Navigation pool once and I never went into the Lido pool. One note for family travelers: the Lido pool has a dolphin statue that a 4 year old cracked his head on (which required stitches). The ship was otherwise unremarkable. It was standard compared to other older cruise ships we've sailed on. There was nothing beautiful or special about it.
Activities - As we were tending to our sick 1-year-old and as my mother was quarantined, we attended so few activities.
We attended a Man vs. Woman game which was so cheesy that my mother, friend and I left 10 minutes.
I attended a 20s & 30s Mingle in the Crows Nest. That event combined with the Singles Meet & Greet since there were so few attendees. It still ended up being only 6 women and 1 man. That said, Doug the DJ was very friendly and so was Beth, the social coordinator. One plus is that Beth bought us all drinks. Free drinks = good.
Service & Food - I have a lot to say in this category, but I will make it brief. As far as dinner service went, I was fully satisfied. Even our drink steward, Norman, was personable and helpful. In fact, if you see him, please tell him that baby Sofia said hello. We only ate in the dining room maybe 3 times. This is very uncommon for us. Let's just say the food was so unremarkable and flavor-less that we never wanted more of anything. We didn't even finish what we had. I know everyone has their own taste buds, but I think the food is seasoned for senior citizens tastes (as well it should be, as the average passenger age was 70+). We just felt everything was "blah."
In the Lido, service was great. I always got help carrying my tray to my table. I had my baby in her stroller, so this was extremely helpful. Sadly, the food in the Lido was even worse than the food in the dining room, as if that were possible. The only redeeming thing I found was that there was some stir fry beef that I asked be made spicy. They had a bottle of hot chili oil under the counter and that spiced the beef up perfectly.
Ports of Call - Let me say this trip is billed as a Western Caribbean trip, but it is really a Central America trip.
Disembarkation - This was so easy! We were told to go down between 8:30 and 8:45. We did just that, went through customs breezily, and our luggage was all lined up together for pickup. We were able to get a porter very quickly (as no one else seemed to be using one). He got us a cab to the airport. I will say that it cost $25 for 3 of us and cost my parents $25 for the two of them. I think the shuttle may have been a little cheaper, but $25 was fair for the distance they had to drive. The cab driver did not help us unload our luggage, which was monstrous! We had to unload our daughter's carseat and 7 bags!!!
Norovirus Code Red - I had to add a specific comment section about this, as it was atrocious. I have been on a code red ship before on Carnival. It was handled well and contained. On the Veendam, the Noro was well-contained. However, there are some specific problems I had with how the outbreak was handled. One, we called the ship's nurse to complain that we were vomiting. She insisted it was sea-sickness. We let her know our daughter and mother had noro. She still insisted we had sea-sickness. However, instead of asking probing questions: Is that the only symptom, etc, she just didn't want us to admit we may have Noro. They were below the percentage of reporting to the CDC at that time, so I think they were trying to stay that way. We even called back hours later after taking the sea-sick pills and told her we still didn't feel better and we were still vomiting. She insisted we just wait until we get to port before jumping to any conclusions. Well, it turned out she was right, but her handling of the situation didn't seem right.
Also, even after reports of Noro were made, the ship staff still held the Lido Pool Party. They had a chocolate fountain that they let everyone dip their fruit into! My husband and friend stayed as far away from that as possible. How was it that some things were full-service only, but they let people stick their grubby hands into the fountain.
Another inconsistency was that in the Explorations Cafe, they had "Clean Pens" and "Used Pens" in different cups. However, on deck, the waiters kept using the same pen repeatedly for passengers to sign their bills.
It was unbelievable!
My final note on the outbreak is that my mother was completely neglected while quarantined. One example is she was told she would have a dedicated person to tend to her needs. This just wasn't the case. When she called to have her sheets changed (out of necessity), one day it took four hours and the next day it took nine! How miserable must she have been when she was confined to bed, but had to lie in messy sheets?! Also, when she felt good enough to eat, room service wouldn't bring her anything that wasn't on the room service menu, including parmesan cheese for her pasta. I'm sorry. I know that the room service menu is limited. However, when you have paid for your cruise and you are confined to your room, you should be able to get everything available in the dining room. Would they rather have had her break quarantine? IMO, that is just not right.
Kids Club - We were unable to use it since our DD is only 1, but a couple we met who had a 4 year old and a 7 year old said their kids loved it. There were only 9 children total on our voyage.
In conclusion, we all had a terrible time. If not for the small amount of time we were able to spend in port, I would say the whole trip was a bust. In all honesty, we will never likely travel HAL again. This is our second cruise with HAL with mediocre food and poor service. I know there are many loyal HAL fans on this board. I do see why you're loyal. HAL does treat seniors with great respect. I just don't think they know how to treat 30-somethings with a 1-year old child or 50-somethings who they force into quarantine.