A cruise has been a dream for many years, and for many, dreams don't come true; so I'm fortunate that mine did! I'm single, 60, and was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when I was 10 years old. Life has been a challenge and very unpredictable, due to long hospitalizations for joint replacement surgeries, pain control, and infections, so it's not easy to plan ahead. I'm 95% independent in my own home and have a positive attitude, but the real world presents some difficulties especially when traveling. Prior to sailing, my concerns were steep ship gangways, bathroom facilities, unlocking and opening a heavy cabin door, and struggling to cut up my food in front of others. I use a small power wheelchair and can walk short distances. I'd booked a HC cabin and I knew if I ran into difficulties my friends Carole and Stan were only a phone call away on the next deck up.
Travel To Port of Embarkation.
I picked Carole & Stan up in Red Deer and headed for the airport in Calgary. We parked at Park2Go ($11.95 a day) then took the shuttle bus (free) for the 9 minute drive to the West Jet departure drop off. A speedy check in as always with West Jet. At 3pm I headed through security to pre-board the flight to Vancouver, leaving Carole & Stan to check into the Delta Hotel as they weren't flying out until the next morning. It was an excellent smooth flight with great views of the snow capped Rocky Mountains. Our arrival was on time and the temp was 25c in Vancouver.
West Jet had my wheelchair ready at the door of the plane, helped with my luggage, and escorted me to a wheelchair accessible taxi; even helping the taxi guy secure my wheelchair down. WEST JET YOU ARE THE BEST!
Fare to the Delta Suites on West Hastings Street was $30. I used air miles so only had the taxes to pay for. It's a lovely hotel, very clean with friendly and efficient staff. Check in was swift (no warm cookie though) and my luggage was taken to my room on the 5th floor. Nice room. Spacious, clean, comfy bed, and I loved the lemon soap in the bathroom. I ordered a plate of cheese, fruit and crackers plus a glass of wine. The bill was $27 which included the room service charge of $4 but it was very nice and presentation was lovely. After a good nights sleep I checked out, with reception calling for a wheelchair accessible taxi. Within minutes it arrived to take me to the pier (a $5 fare.)
Embarkation at Canada Place.
Suitcase was whisked away by a porter. There were scooters available for rent at $55 a day inside the terminal. At 10:55am I'm through immigration and directed over to the "HAL Welcome to the Volendam sign." I'm escorted by HAL personnel to a long bank teller type arrangement where I show my passport, ticket, fill in a short form, have a photo taken with a web cam, and then given my ship card. It wasn't too long before an announcement was made saying that boarding would be delayed until 1pm (an hour later than scheduled.) This was because the Volendam had arrived into Vancouver with the norovirus and was being disinfected. I did ask if we would be in code red and was told no, which was true. During the delay we were given tea, coffee, orange juice, cookies and coupon books. All HAL personnel looking smart in navy & red, & were friendly and courteous during this waiting period. Actual embarking was smooth, with crew welcoming us aboard and directing us to the Lido for lunch.
At approx. 2:30pm an announcement was made that the cabins were ready. I headed down to the Dolphin Deck and found aft FF1955 which was wheelchair accessible. It was the last cabin at the end of a very long corridor (thank goodness for my wheels!) Used the ship card to unlock the door (not heavy) which had a handle (much easier than a knob.) Wide doorway with no lip for easy entry. Cabin was roomy and clean. Lots of closet, shelf and drawer space. Note 1: Drawers had no handles, they were the type you have to place your fingers under the front edge to open, which I found a little difficult, as would the majority of seniors with arthritis. Suggestion 1: Add handles. Note 2: Closet doors had the recessed handles, again a little difficult for crippled fingers. Suggestion 2: Add handles. A safe was located in 1 of the closets and 2 lockable drawers were located between the beds. Beds were a good height for my type of disability, and very comfortable. Note 3: Only 1 electrical outlet but in a good location on the wall above the dresser. Suggestion 3: Add an additional outlet in HC rooms. My wheelchair had to be recharged every night but I had brought an extension cord with extra outlets. An alarm switch & light switches (which controlled all lights) were conveniently located at the head of each bed. Also a phone beside the bed was neatly labeled with extension numbers and 911.
Nice wide door into the bathroom which was spacious and very clean. High toilet (yippee) and a good sized roll in shower. Hand held shower and controls were well located for wheelchair users. Good grab rails and a seat which folded down. Now that I know my main concerns are not a concern, I can relax.
I loved the size of the Volendam with approx. 1450 passengers and 650 crew. This meant after meeting them, I'd see them out and about to say hi too. There were beautiful arrangements of fresh flowers everywhere, and rose bowls on desks and dining room tables. In the Lido there were flowering orchids on each table and some great art work on the walls all around the ship. Personally I loved the dEcor of reds and purples! It looked clean and well cared for (despite it's age of 10 years) and you could always see crew (unobtrusibly) vacuuming and polishing. Windows were washed in each port, and in Ketchikan I even saw them painting the outside of the ship!!
It was easy to navigate around the Volendam in a wheelchair. I quickly learned when going over those aluminum strips on the floors that if I approached them on the sides, rather than the middle, it wasn't as much of a bump!!! I spent a lot of time on the aft Lido deck where the outer glass doors opened automatically, but the inner ones didn't. It was never a problem though, as there were always crew or passengers to do the honors.
Another favorite place was the promenade deck which goes right around the ship. These doors where heavier and opened manually. Also the door lip was thicker and not as easy to navigate over, and there was a little bit of a slope on the outside of the door. Be warned!!! Reduce speed, especially if your wheelchair has small back wheels like mine does....you could easily be catapulted out!!! I encountered the same set up when getting on or off the ship's gangway. It's a little scary until you've done it a few times, but crew are readily available to help out, so it was never a problem.
The lower level of The Frans Hals Lounge is wheelchair accessible but the upper level has 3 steps.
Breakfast and lunch were eaten in the Lido Restaurant and there were NO trays! I later learnt from David, the Cruise Consultant, this was only the 3rd week without trays on the Volendam, and that food wastage had decreased dramatically. I never found this to be a problem despite all the hoopla on CC. I was helped by staff that went with me, so all I had to do was say what I wanted; they put it on the plate, and took it to my table. Excellent variety of food and hot. I loved breakfast, and my fried eggs were flipped while those boys smiled, sang and waved. The Lido was busy and it was the only place I encountered crowds. I liked the fact that you didn't have to line up but could go directly to the station you wanted i.e. bread, salad, meat, fruit, Italian etc. Cutlery was wrapped in the napkin and already on the table.
We chose early fixed dining in the Upper Rotterdam Dining Room (the only way to go in my opinion) at a table for 8. It was lovely getting to know our other dining companions, as well as David (the Future Cruise Consultant) who joined us for two evenings. Pipit the Assistant Dining Room Manager was delightful, as were our waiters Wiwit and Suparta. I had decided to ask to speak to the Maitre'd in regards to having my meat cut up, rather than struggle in front of strangers!!!! When I asked Wiwit about speaking to him, he asked if he could help, so I told him my situation. His response was "I will cut it up for you. I am your waiter you are my queen." I never had to ask again! The menus (I have copies) had a good variety for all courses. The food was delicious; cooked to perfection, and beautifully presented. Service could not be faulted in any way. I just wish I could have sampled everything, (one night I did have 2 desserts!!!)
Pipit thank you for all your kindness. ....I miss you! It was always a pleasure to see you in the dining room, and along with Wiwit and Suparta you made our evening meals memorable and fun.
We also enjoyed a lovely dinner in the Pinnacle one evening. I had the filet mignon which was cooked to perfection, and the chocolate volcano cake was to die for! Service was impeccable. A wonderful dining experience and well worth the cover charge of $20. However, we did miss Pipit and "our boys" from the dining room, and my filet mignon there was just as good!
The Master Chef's Dinner was very enjoyable, although the menu was more limited. Service was quicker than I anticipated despite the dancing between act 1 & 2. I thought the cut out menu and chef's hat were a nice touch. The Dutch High Tea and Dessert Extravaganza were awesome. There were also late night buffets and the Salmon Bake on the Lido Deck which I didn't even sample!! The only food I found that wasn't to my taste was the pizza from the Terrance Grill. It was the 4 cheese one. The taste was there but it was very dry, as though there wasn't any sauce on it.
On the evening before leaving the ship I decided to try out in room dining. The burger was one of the best I've ever had! Service was prompt and the burger was hot. I had also planned on having breakfast in my cabin the next morning, but it was the only night the card menu wasn't in my room. I called in room dining and they said to call the office. I did, but after waiting for a full 5 minutes there was no reply so I abandoned the idea.
Although there were lots going on I never participated in anything. I would have liked to do the trivia, attend some of the culinary classes and the Microsoft workshop. The weather was just so warm that I spent most of the time on the aft deck enjoying the scenery and watching for wildlife.
The shows were great, and the Volendam singers and dancers are actually people that work on the ship too!!! The John Denver Tribute with Jim and Anne Curry was excellent, as were the jugglers Wilde & James. The comedian and magician were OK. Patti the cruise director was great in getting passengers involved in various game shows which were fun to watch. I didn't enjoy Frankie in the Piano Bar or Janel & the Hal Cats in the Crow's Nest. The Neptunes in the Ocean Bar played great music to listen or dance too.
Not to be missed is the Indonesian Crew Show. Truly talented singers and dancers who entertained us for an hour and played 3 music pieces with an instrument called an angklung which is made out of bamboo. I could have listened to them all night. Very well done in my opinion.
Port & Shore Excursions.
We cruised around Tracy Arm Fjord but because of so much ice in the water we only got 12 miles in. It was sunny and warm and I enjoyed the scenery while relaxing.
Glacier Bay was another beautiful day and the glaciers were awesome with the various colors of blues and greens. Pea soup and hot chocolate were served outside on the deck. I Saw some small glacier calving and you could hear them. I can only imagine the sound of larger calving as we were a little early in the season for that. We did see some whales at the entrance of the Bay but they were too far away and too quick to take a photo. Captain Bos was good at letting us know when wildlife was spotted.
It was hot in Juneau and a lovely clear day for going on the tram up Mount Roberts ($27 and you can go up and down as many times as you want.) Got some great photos of the Volendam from up there, as well as the Island Princess who was in port with us. The 20 minute show (free) about the Tlingit community was very interesting. Juneau and the tram were completely wheelchair accessible.
It was also a clear day in Skagway so we browsed the stores then boarded the White Pass Railway for the 3 hour train ride. It's located directly across from where the ship docks. The scenery with the snow capped mountains was magnificent as we went through tunnels and over bridges. It was well worth the $127 for the ride and to hear the history. Complimentary bottled water was certainly appreciated on this hot day. Skagway is wheelchair accessible as is one of the coaches of the train.
It was cloudy coming into Ketchikan but it turned into another warm day. It was also very crowded as the Carnival Spirit, Norwegian Star and Island Princess were in port too.They are bigger ships than the Volendam. Again Ketchikan is wheelchair accessible but those boardwalks make for a bumpy ride! After a quick look around town and a fish (Alaskan halibut) and chip lunch at the Ketchikan Fish House, (I'm sorry but we get better fish (Alaskan halibut) and chips at Original Joes in Red Deer,) we were happy to get back on our "little" ship.
The Muster Drill went well and in an orderly fashion. I did have to ask for help in putting my life jacket on though, and friends were shocked that nobody had come to my cabin to get me. I was also told to stand in the back row and I would have thought that children and the disabled would have been placed in the front row. However, this was only a practice!
When I arrived in my cabin the first day there was a letter saying if I needed help with my wheelchair to contact the front office. This was followed up with a phone call the next day. Thanks HAL for this kind gesture which was greatly appreciated but thankfully not needed.
Overall I found the ship to be very warm and the air conditioning wasn't working for a couple of hours after leaving Vancouver. In my cabin I had the control turned to the lowest setting but it never seemed to cool down. This was rectified by asking for a fan, which helped especially at night time.
Staff in the ship stores were not that friendly and very slow. I bought a "gold by the inch" necklace and was told to pick it up the next morning at 9am. I went the next afternoon and it wasn't ready, so I had to wait in line for them to put the clasp on.
I appreciated the fact that photographers were not 'always in your face,' and when photos were taken they were displayed in the gallery for purchasing, so there was no pressure to buy.
Captain Bos kept us informed of points of interest, weather and wildlife. He reminded us about how important it was to wash our hands and use the hand sanitizer, and explained they don't shake hands for sanitary reasons. Instead they put knuckles to knuckles or elbow to elbow. This worked very well for me with my crippled hands!! Although I never felt a thing, he made the announcement that it had been confirmed there had been a small earthquake under the sea one day.
Our C.C. Meet and Greet was held on our first sea day in the Crow's Nest. Although we were a small group of 9 everyone showed up plus 2 who hadn't registered. It was lovely to meet in person those we had come to know over the computer, especially as we were all "newbies" to cruising! Sincere thanks to Jacqueline for being my partner in crime in putting it together, and for the collages and bookmarks that we now have to remember our time together.
Special thanks to Captain Peter Bos, Francis - Guest Relations Manager, Matt - Beverage Manager, Willem - Hotel Manager and Arun - Culinary Operations Manager for attending our C.C. Meet and Greet, and for the complimentary champagne, mimosas, bloody marys, tea, coffee and cookies. Thanks to Arun, Thomas and Chef Ron for the private tour of the well run (and spotlessly clean) galley. We all appreciated you taking time out of your busy schedules, and for explaining the procedures that go on in your domain. I must remember to take a leaf out of your book and only open my fridge once a day! Also thanks to Anna Babcock & Jocelyn at the HAL office in Seattle for the prompt and efficient response to my phone call, and continuing contact in arranging our C.C. Meet & Greet.
I couldn't have asked for better! This was consistent throughout the ship. Hasan my cabin steward remembered my name, kept my room clean & orderly, filled the ice bucket, made me wonderful towel animals, left a chocolate and turned the bed down every night. Office staff delivered invitations, answered queries, and contacted individual CC'ers about the galley tour. Dining room staff were superb. Pipit welcomed us with a warm smile every evening, and was always available to help me in the Lido for breakfast and lunch. Happy smiling faces around the ship show they love what they are doing, despite being away from family and loved ones for long periods of time. It is unfortunate that our many countries don't get along as well as the personnel on a cruise ship despite their different nationalities and cultures. If they did our world would be a much happier and peaceful one.
Unfortunately all good things must come to an end.
The disembarkation package was in the cabin the day before leaving the ship. Luggage tags where color coded and numbered and tagged luggage was to be put outside the cabin door before midnight.
After breakfast in the Lido and a last goodbye to Pipit and the boys, I waited sadly for my color & number to be called at 9am. At 9:15am they were announced along with the deck where I had to disembark. There were no line ups as my ship card was scanned one last time. I went through immigration and out to a taxi and was at the airport by 10am. LLL
HAL! I'm hooked!! It truly was a wonderful cruise, and I shall never forget the kindness and friendship extended to me by the crew and passengers onboard the Volendam June 3 - 10, 2009. I wouldn't hesitate to cruise alone in the future, and it by far exceeded my expectations (and research) in every way. I came home feeling as though I'd left my family behind!!!! I've already paid a deposit on a future cruise and can't wait until I'm back on the Volendam again.