We flew into Vancouver on United (Baltimore to Chicago to Vancouver) on Saturday, July 11th. DW had frequent flyer mileage points on United. We never had our carry-on luggage challenged before, but the gate agents in Baltimore questioned our two bags.
DW was able to fit her carry-on into the test form at the gate. I didn't even try it since my bag was carrying my suit for formal nights. Reluctantly, I had the bag tagged thru to Vancouver. So much for my spare change of clothes! When we were on the Boeing 757 we discovered two things: one was that my wife's carry-on easily fit into the overhead bin, and second, the plane was only one-third full which would have allowed me to easily fit the bag under an empty seat! Besides, the bag would have fit the overhead bin too. It wasn't a good beginning for our vacation, me wondering if my cases would arrive in Vancouver. It was a mystery why the gate agents were so obstinate in denying us space on the plane for our carry-ons, beyond my conspiracy theory that United only wanted to charge me additional fees for checking in another bag!
We arrived in Vancouver after 10:30 pm, cleared Customs, claimed our luggage (everything arrived ok), and picked up the shuttle to the Holiday Inn Express near the
Airport. Room was clean and comfortable. A nice hot breakfast was included in the Room charge. We picked up a City tour after 8:00 am, took in the sights of Vancouver, and were deposited at Canada Place at 12:30 pm. Checked-in our luggage on arrival with the porters. We had to fill out luggage tags at the porter station since our cruise documents never arrived before we left home. No long lines at check-in, secured our ID cards, and were on the ship before 1:30 pm. Our cabin (679 Main Deck) was ready, So we dropped off our backpacks and headed for the Lido Restaurant for lunch.
Cabin: Outside cabin, Main Deck 679, clean and nicely laid out. Only problem was that the left window pane was dirty. It appeared to be an oily residue that a water hose could not wash off. Our room steward never introduced himself or his coworker to us. No business card was left on the desk. A bottle of wine and chocolate covered strawberries were already delivered (a Welcome aboard gift from our Internet travel agency.) During the cruise, DW had to request ice for the room and some days, no ice was delivered at all.
Dining: We requested early seating when we booked the cruise in February 2009, but we were given Open Seating. We were disappointed with this concept of constantly making reservations for a dining time. There was no way that this was 'anytime dining' as HAL keeps calling it. We found out that our requested dining times were mysteriously unavailable even when we phoned just after 8 am. It seemed that the anytime dining was setup to suit various time intervals. You could not expect to show up at your convenience, without a reservation, and expect to be seated. Many passengers were turned away and given pagers if they were lucky. We never experienced this treatement when we tried NCL open seating in the dining rooms. I also believe that the Veendam is too small for HAL's concept of open seating.
Food quality in the dining room was good to very good. We took our breakfasts in the Lido Restaurant. We had no complaints. Fresh squeezed orange juice was a welcomed surprise. Coffee was to my taste. DW bought a travel mug for large servings of hot tea (in order to keep warm!). Lunch in the Lido was good. The one evening we had a late afternoon hiking excursion in Haines, we tried the Lido for dinner and promptly left. EntrEe selections were few and appeared dried out. Half of the Lido was reserved for Staff and Officer dining. I never saw that arrangement before. We ate dinner one night at the Italian section. We were not impressed with it. We didn't try the Pinnacle dining room experience.
Excursions: We booked all our excursions through HAL. Except for the Kanai Fjord's Cruise in Seward (heavy seas and rain), we enjoyed the excursions.
Spa: DW enjoys her massages and treatments. She said that the Staff was professional. I had one full body massage after my "Bike and Brew" excursion in Juneau. I was not impressed with the massage.
Ship environment: Our cabin thermostat had a difficult time maintaing a set temperature. I suspected that when the ship was in port, air circulators were turned off to save energy and cost. Public rooms, like the showroom and Deck 8 lounges were very cold and drafty.
Entertainment: We saw all the production shows except for a comedian/juggler on our
Northbound leg. Very good productions considering the size of the showroom and HAL's concept of lounge entertainment. We noticed empty seats for the 10 pm shows.
The String ensemble sounded fine at their venue. Overheard the pianist and guitar player while moving about the ship. We never ran into the HAL Cats.
Crew staffing in general: Staff was always pleasant when we met them in hallways. Room stewards did an adequate job maintaining our cabin (except for the ice situation). Lido wait staff was efficient. Now the dining room staff was another story: very uneven service even during dinner time. We had one lunch seating during the cruise where the wait staff completely fell apart with our table order and timing. This was despite a request that we order everything including dessert at the beginning of the meal. I just wonder if the ship had new employees in training because I can not explain the uneven levels of dining room service.
Formal nights: An observation, in main dining room, staff didn't enforce the dress code. Again, I believe it is due to 'open seating' and trying to keep passengers happy. We had 4 formal nights in total.
Travel Guide: We were fortunate to have a native Alaskan on the Northbound leg.
We attended her Powerpoint lectures, and she added personal information about her Clan, even wearing traditional clothing outfits and going barefoot since it was her Clan's custom. Our Sounthbound leg had a Fairbanks based journalist, repeating the same lectures, but dressed in casual cruise wear and high heels!
Park Ranger guides: All rangers who boarded the ship for the Glacier Bay visits were excellent. Very personalized commentary was given by the rangers.
Disembarkation: We were not allowed to take US Direct service with the reason given that our 11:15 am flight departure was too early. The minimum flight departure was listed as 11:30 am. HAL actually did us a favor since we did Express departure at around 7:30 am, cleared Canadian Customs and walked right into a shuttle desk in the terminal. The $16 per passenger ride got us into a small walk-in shuttle, leaving the port by 7:55 am, and arriving at the Airport by 8:25 am. DW and I checked in with United, checked our luggage thru to Baltimore (including the carry-ons), passed thru Customs and Security and were sitting at our departure gate by 9:30 am.
General Comments: This was our second cruise with HAL, and most likely won't be our last. Until I read that the Veendam's service level has improved dramatically, I won't sail on her again. Despite the interior temperature problems, the ship was clean and well maintained. I think the Retreat make-over on Lido deck was a mistake. It will be crowded on warm weather cruises, and I believe the shallow pool will be taken over by families with small children. The Mix lounge area on deck 8 was nice and cozy. The draft beer selections were welcomed and priced reasonably.