After eighteen cruises on other lines (Cunard, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival, and Costa) our family ( my husband, myself, and our seventeen year old son) just got back from our first 'dam' cruise on the March 15-22 sailing of the Veendam. Our adventure started in Toronto, Canada where we began the long drive to Florida. We survived the sudden snow/ice storm that came out of nowhere in the mountains of Kentucky (at night) and the dense fog the next morning in Tennessee…….we were definitely glad to see that Florida sunshine as we arrived in Tampa the day before our cruise! Embarkation at the port could not have been easier.
We arrived at the pier at 11:00 AM and were processed onto the ship almost immediately. The Hal agent was very friendly but she did put my husband's photo on my sail card and vice versa, an error which we had to correct at the front desk after we boarded. Our cabin was an OV in the aft section of A deck on the starboard side. After reading so many threads about air conditioning problems and noise in this area of the Veendam we were delighted to find that our cabin had neither issue….it was just perfect. We loved having a bathtub for the first time and our teenager really appreciated the sofa bed instead of having to clamber up onto the usual fold-out, bunk-style bed found on most other cruise lines. Our cabin was very spacious with lots of room for the way-too-many clothes that we always seem to bring on our cruises. The illuminated make-up mirror was a nice addition and something I have not had before in my cabin…not even on the QM2. Our cabin steward, Idwar, was one of the most friendly and attentive stewards we have ever had. He happily worked around our schedule (teenager sleeping in every day, AYW dining) keeping our cabin clean and well supplied with everything we needed. His creative towel animals were some of the most detailed we have seen on our many cruises.
We had chosen the AYWD option and having been in some long lines for 'freestyle dining' on our NCL cruises, we opted to make a dinner reservation for our first evening on the Veendam. We were given a table for four at 7:15 PM. We loved our waiter (Widodo) so much that we continually reserved this table and time every two days for the whole cruise! So many posters on the HAL board have written about the superior service on Holland America ships, and this was absolutely true in our experience. Widodo was friendly, charming, conversational, solicitous, and very efficient, not only with our family but with all of the tables in his section. In casual conversation, we happened to mention that our son would be turning eighteen in the week following our cruise. At our next dinner Widodo brought a decorated birthday cake to the table for our son, who unfortunately had just left to meet friends. The following morning, Widodo turned up at our cabin to personally deliver the cake! At another dinner, Widodo overheard me telling my husband that I would give him my lobster tail when our surf and turf entrees arrived (I don't like seafood). When our dinners came I had two steaks , and my husband had two lobster tails and a steak! These are only two examples of the wonderful dining experiences we had every night on the Veendam. The food was delicious and the portions were plentiful. Our wine steward, Norwin, was also exceptional…..always there to greet us by name with a huge smile when we arrived at our table each night, and back with our drinks almost immediately. HAL's service was superior in every way on this cruise….we were continually greeted with a friendly smile and a "hello" by every crew member we met throughout the ship. This alone is enough to make us want to book another HAL cruise!
Many people have written about the Veendam looking worn and run down, and there is no doubt if you go looking for signs of wear, you will find them, but the overall impression was of elegance and cleanliness….everything was maintained scrupulously. The art collection was very impressive. We have been used to larger mega-ships in recent years and the cozy intimacy of the smaller Veendam was a refreshing change. It is true though, that the age demographic on HAL tends to be older….even though this was a spring break cruise, the majority of passengers seemed to be elderly. Our teenager found plenty of friends to hang around with but the Veendam was very quiet after 11:00 PM…we are used to lively bars, late night comedy shows, and seeing lots of people out and about at night, and we did miss those things on this cruise. The entertainment on the Veendam was hit and miss. Highlights were Richard Griffin and Haley Jane (illusionists), Lee Bayless (comedian), the Bryan G show, and the wonderful Filipino crew show. The two Broadway -style production shows did not even come close to matching the wonderful extravaganzas we have enjoyed on other cruise lines. We did like having the option of going to the Veendam's sizeable movie theatre (with popcorn!) where we caught a few recent movies. Luckily, our week on the Veendam came with beautiful, sunny skies and warm weather. Our family had already been to most of the ports before on this itinerary. In Key West we walked around on our own and enjoyed a visit to the Hemingway House….just loved all the cats, especially since we were missing our own two kitties at home. In Belize we did the ship's Airboat Adventure excursion…very exciting and interesting! In Guatemala we took the ship's Trolley Tour of Two Cities….a real eye-opener of how people live in a third world country. The pier send-off as the ship left port for the last time was very moving….the Veendam will be missed there. In Costa Maya we decided to just chill and enjoy some 'beverages'in the restaurant/bar near the pier. All in all, there were many things about this cruise that we loved and other things we thought could have been improved upon (the shows, the Lido, the night life), but our overall impression was that this was a great ship, an excellent cruise line, and good value for the money. We will definitely be back on Holland America in the future!