This was our first trip to New Zealand and our first cruise, and it was a wonderful vacation. Our experience was A+ on every level. The crew of the Volendam made our vacation very special, the service was outstanding. I consider myself a very tough consumer, and I was very pleased on this cruise. Please keep in mind that this was our first cruise, so this review might seem rather elementary to seasoned cruisers.
We had a verandah room, and we were greeted every day with a beautiful view. If you are able to spring for a balcony room, you will not be disappointed. *We were very fortunate to have booked via a HAL email with discounted pricing, otherwise we could never had afforded it. We were traveling with our 2 youngest (teenaged) sons, and we were able to pay only $399 for the second boy. The kids had an interior cabin on the dolphin deck. I am certain that he ate more than $399 in food alone from the buffet. :) We did find that the dolphin deck smelled strongly of mildew, at least in the port side hall.
Our cabin and dining stewards treated us like royalty on a daily basis. We could not have asked for more. We just cannot say enough about the staff, every interaction was genuinely pleasant. We never waited in line for anything, seating was readily available everywhere we went, and disembarkations were cleanly organized and easy. The only issue we encountered was getting the HAL airport shuttle to and from the airport. (This is an additional fee). This was highly disorganized, a few of these senior cruisers are really pushy. Once on the shuttle, all was well, but getting on the shuttle was difficult. No big deal, in the grand scheme of things. Most people were pleasant.
We found the Rotterdam Dining Room to be elegant and tasty. We also dined once in the Pinnacle Grill, which is an additional fee. I recommend trying it at least once, and you can make your reservation prior to sailing. It was just a notch above the Rotterdam. I am gluten free, and HAL did a fantastic job for me. The Rotterdam gave me a daily menu in advance, so that they could be prepared for me at dinner. HAL also allows you to pre order gluten free breads and pasta free of charge prior to sailing, so they can order them for the cruise. I was fed gluten by mistake at the Pinnacle Grill, even though I asked twice about an ingredient. But mistakes do happen, and the dining service was impeccable for the remainder of the cruise, they were very diligent. This was really refreshing. On the ship, only iced tea, coffee and water are included in your meal. If you want soda or wine, consider buying a discounted soda or wine card in advance from HAL, it will give you a discount. The wine card is only good for the house wines. You can also bring your own wine onto the ship for your use.
Many people have noted in reviews that the ship is starting to look "dated" or a little drab, but truthfully, it was fine. On par with any other hotel handling 1440 people a day. We enjoyed the library/ internet cafe, where we found the staff to be really helpful, patient and kind. They rent DVD's and books for the cruise as well. We also visited the casino, which is small but more than adequate for the ship. We enjoyed the dealers very much. We did visit the spa several times, and found it to be pleasant. It can be a little pricey, like many other spas, but there will be specials throughout the cruise. Also, the gift shop usually has a sale at the end of the cruise, so try to hold off on purchases. Ask the retail folks if there is an upcoming sale, they will usually tell you. You can also purchase internet access/ wifi from the ships plan, and they also run specials. It is a little pricey, but better than nothing. Do not plan on using this service for downloading pictures or big files, it is slower that your home connections, naturally. But it is fine for basic email and sending some pictures home. Again, the staff here was wonderfully patient. You can also read daily NY Times excerpts for free online in the internet cafe.
The ship does have laundry facilities with ironing boards and irons, but some days it got crowded and pushy, and after my first go round I caved in and just had the ship's laundry do the wash. It is $20 per bag of laundry, or $96 for laundry service for the full cruise. The washers are $2,dryers $1, although I found a washer that was only $1. HAL provides soap free of charge. There is also a clothesline in every stateroom shower/ tub for delicates and swimwear, etc. The ship's laundry service did a great job for us, we had no worries.
We only did 2 of the lesser priced shore excursions thru HAL, as they are VERY expensive. We found the HAL excursions to be very well organized on every level. We were fortunate to have arranged many activities online independently prior to sailing. We found this to be much more reasonably priced, and we were able to pay in NZD, which is a better deal. We hired a private driver guide in both Christchurch and Rotorua (Tauranga) This was a VERY economical alternative to the ship excursions, as you pay per CAR, not per person, and it is a fraction of the HAL pricing. Our guides were both long term Kiwis who had extensive knowledge of all things NZ, and took us to some great places that we would never have had time to visit with a big bus ship excursion. Plus, we controlled the timeline. We also found that many attractions have a family discount, especially during their summer holiday. Many websites will also offer you an online discount. Doing a little homework will save you some serious $. For example, HAL wanted over $800usd for 4 of us to ride the beautiful Taieri Gorge Railway. We booked directly with Taieri online and paid $172nzd. Here is the difference: HAL trip picks you up at ship. We took the free shuttle to and from the ship, which dropped us off just several blocks ( an easy walk) from the train station. And the HAL train car served wine and a small snack. I can buy a lot of wine with my extra $600. And our tour actually went further, and we were able to eat lunch in the tiny town of Middlemarch mid-ride. So for our family, it was an easy decision.
We liked all the ports, but we were really sad that we did not have the opportunity for a day trip in Milford Sound, as it is breathtaking. There is a tender stop here, but only for a specific overnight shore excursion.
The ship provided commentary on nature and notable sights while cruising, and we found it very interesting. They would also review upcoming ports in the Frans Hals Lounge, we found these to be helpful and informative.
We did not attend any shows, but heard many good comments from others who did. The showroom was very nice and had good visibility. We played bingo in there, and actually won on several occassions. It was actually rather fun, I must admit.
The gym is well equipped and included in the pricing. Specialty classes are extra. There is a lovely teak promenade deck for walking or lounging, which was very enjoyable on the nice days. We also did some serious stair climbing to help us stay in shape, but there are 3 elevator bays conveniently located throughout the ship. Very accessible. The ship has two small plain vanilla pools, one is uncovered on the back of the ship, the other is in a semi covered portion of the Lido, with a glass roof that opens. Both pools are in close proximity to food and bars.
There are several lovely lounges, many with some sort of musical entertainment. In our opinion, there seemed to be plenty of things to do on the ship if you really wanted to, at least for our 2 week cruise.
Our kids got a little bored at the end, as to be expected. There were not many kids on board, maybe 15 max, and we hardly ever saw them. I did get the feeling that some of the senior cruisers were not overly thrilled at having ANY children of board, and you could sense it. All the kids we did see were well behaved. The only bad behavior we saw was from pushy adults. The cruise prior to us had over 250 children on board.
Beds...these were hands down the best beds we have ever slept in while on vacation. We slept very well on them, which is highly unusual for us.We were stocked with plenty of pillows too. We also found the rooms to be quiet, with the exception of a next door neighbor who seemed to always be slamming his doors.
The only serious issue we had on the cruise is that the kid's interior cabin, #1944 reeked horribly of cigarette smoke, as clearly the last passenger was chain smoking in the room, which is technically not allowed. HAL should really have caught this sooner, as it was overwhelming. They did work to try and eradicate the stench at our request, but there is only so much you can do. They did endeavor twice to fumigate, and at our urging they changed the curtains on the faux window. The cruise was sold out, so there was no other room avail, and we did not have an extra bed in ours or we would have moved them. All their clothes and suitcases stunk. Some of the hallways on the ship also smelled heavily of smoke, which we deduced was coming from workrooms for some of the crew. It was really overwhelming, but we are non-smokers who are probably more aware. It sounds like HAL is considering doing away with all smoking except for some outdoor deck areas, which would thrill us immensely. Right now, they allow smoking in the casino and some of the interior lounges, which really surprised us. I will say that HAL was very kind about following up on the room after several days, which I thought was a nice touch.
All in all, we really enjoyed our trip and this cruise. If we were to choose to cruise again, I would rebook on the Volendam without hesitation. We heartily recommend this ship and the outstanding service we received. And we doubt that we will ever see any other place in the world that we will enjoy more than the scenery and the people of New Zealand.
Port 2 is Christchurch, a truly a garden city. We toured with Craig Rome, our private guide. Crag showed us the many beautiful sights of Christchurch, Canterbury, the Avon river, the many botanical gardens and churches, and the beautiful and lively town square. He also toured us around the peninsula. Craig made the most of our one day in town, and we could have never have seen all of the sights without him at the helm. He also indulged some of our individual requests for things like vintage bookstores and antique stores. He gave us a fantastic overview of the history of the area. Hiring an independent guide can be a really economical way to tour the area, as they charge per car, not per person.
Rotorua (Tauranga) is by far our most favorite place in New Zealand, and we are already planning to return again. We toured with Grumpy's Limo, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Again, much cheaper than a HAL shore excursion,and it was tailored to us. Our guide had great recommendations, and was able to take us to many more places than ever would have been possible with a group tour. We loved the Buried Village, Wai O Tomo, and the Agrodome/ Agroventures. He toured us through the volcano covered region of 14 lakes. Grumpy would have toured us until midnight if we let him, but WE were too tired, ha ha. It was amazingly beautiful.
Napier was another favorite of ours. This beach front art deco town was charming in every way. We took the "Duck boat" tour, which was fun and enjoyable, with great hosts. It gave us a great overview of the town.