Our first cruise experience was in 1998 on a Western Caribbean cruise on the then almost-new Veendam. We loved it and were hooked on cruising from then on! But, for various reasons (price, itinerary, timing, etc.), we have not travelled on Holland America since. However, this year, we noticed a Veendam cruise that was very desirable because of its embarkation port and itinerary. We were a little worried about the age of the Veendam now because of a bad experience on an "elderly" NCL ship a few years ago. However, we were not disappointed. Our Veendam cruise was as wonderful as the first one and the ship was as great as it was before even though it was just going into drydock for upgrading. Our cabin was roomy and well equipped, the food was wonderful, the crew were extremely friendly and efficient, and they still have fresh flowers everywhere!
Embarkation at Tampa was an absolute breeze, maybe partly because we didn't arrive there until 3:30 after dining with relatives in Tampa. But our luggage arrived at our rooms very promptly and all was in order. LIfeboat drill was very well organized and we were impressed that everyone had to check in by names. (We haven't had this on other cruises.) The captain kept us well-informed throughout the whole cruise. We were unable to book Early Dining so were registered as Open Dining but when we spoke to the Dining Room Steward, we were put on a permanent reservation for Early Dining which was great. The evening shows were great . . . . . we appreciated the "cleanness" of the entertainment compared to other cruiselines. The comedian was hilarious, the magician was amazing, and the music shows were well done.
We especially enjoyed our stop at Sta. Tomas, de Castella in Guatemala. We had spent some months in Guatemala several years ago so it brought back a lot of memories. The merchants in the building by the pier were friendly and not too pushy and everything was very neat and attractive. We managed to find a van and driver for a reasonable price who was willing to take us wherever we wanted to go. We visited banana plantations down near the Honduran border as well as a Mayan museum with a very beautiful garden behind with many tropical flowers and plants. He stopped and bought roses for the ladies in our group as well as fresh-cut pineapple for all (at a roadside stand) that was absolutely delicious. We had a wonderful day! We would recommend Hubert to anyone. The send-off party at the pier was very heartwarming, too.
Costa Maya was a little disappointing. The stores are very "touristy" and the merchants very pushy. Their starting prices were absurd and they would quickly drop them when you said "no". I hope no one ever gives them their first price. I guess this port is being rebuilt after the hurricane of a few years ago so considering that, it is pretty attractive. However, we were expecting a nice beach. It was nice to sit by the beautiful water under the umbrellas and there were lots of lounges but the "sand" was unusual and there was no swimming area. We had visited Belize City and Key West before so there was nothing unusual there.
Disembarkation was easy even though we, as Canadians, had to get up early to report to U.S. immigration. However, we were able to enjoy a good breakfast in the dining room and were out on the sidewalk waiting for relatives pick us up by 8:30.
We enjoyed the Veendam very much and appreciated the smaller number of passengers. There were no great lineups anywhere. All in all, a great cruise with wonderful weather every day! Holland America's attention to detail and extra touches convinced us that future cruises will be Holland America if possible.