Four adults in our group, my sister, brother-in-law, husband and myself. Sister is an experienced cruiser, this is only my second. We chose HAL for their embarkation location (Manhattan, very convenient for my sister and b-i-l who live nearby) and reputation of HAL as a step up from other lines.
Our first reaction when seeing Veendam at port next to Norwegian Dawn was "Mamma Ship" (Dawn), "Baby Ship" (Veendam). It looked so small in comparison. Little did we know what an advantage that would turn out to be.
Boarding the ship went very smoothly and efficiently, no problems whatsoever. We explored a little and made our way to the Lido for lunch. We were surprised to be served at the buffet stations, everything, even salad was dished out for you (this was the case for the first 2 days and then the buffet was self-serve). This made for some lines and grumbling, but we felt it a small inconvenience for making sure we stayed healthy. I've never seen this done before and give HAL high marks for their thoroughness. We were pleasantly surprised by our cabins, adjacent ocean-view on deck 4. I've never been down that low and it didn't bother me at all. There were little touches in the room that impressed us. First the bathroom had a REAL tub, and individual little bottles of Elemis shampoo and other gels. Each cabin received a HAL tote bag, which came in very handy. I especially liked the lighted magnifying mirror - little touch that meant a lot. Another perk was the availabilitiy of self-serve laundry facilities. I used them twice whicvh made all the difference. Having flown into NYC, we only brought carry-ons (unlike my sister who could bring her entire wardrobe aboard if she wanted to) being able to wash clothes was great. On our previous cruise on RC, there was no self-service laundry, and washing clothes in the sink and hanging them around the cabin got tiresome very quickly. Thank you HAL!!! We made our way up to the deck to watch NYC at sail-away. Breathtaking sight, especially going under the Verazanno Bridge.
The food was perfect, not so drop dead delicious that we were tempted to overeat, but certainly fresh, well-prepared, and a large enough variety of options to satisfy. We ate all breakfasts and lunches in the Lido, and most dinners in the MDR. We found the MDR service sometimes slow, we once skipped dessert to make it to the shows.
Speaking of the shows, they were exceptional. I have only seen bigger, glitzier productions on my other cruise, but HAL went totally for quality. The singers and dancers were outstanding and their range of talent was tremendous. The comedian was hysterical and we wish he had had another night's performance. The culinary art activities were engaging and interesting and my sister made friends with the wonderful Rashida who led this segment of the program. My sister did not miss one program. I especially liked the kitchen tour. Spotless (in case you were wondering) and so efficient. The escalators in the kitchen were a big surprise.
Perhaps our best-loved activity was listening to the Adagio Strings every night. This was a string quartet with a repertoire that was amazing. We listened every night and hardly ever heard the same piece twice. The talent this group had was wonderful. It didn't hurt that they put out little chocolate truffles to make the experience even more delightful. Not too many passengers took advantage of this group which was sad - they were tucked away like a hidden treasure. I would put them front and center.
Our voyage had an additional treat, the Boy's Choir of Maryland was on our ship, a group of boys aged 7-18 who sing around the world. They performed for us and received lots of love from the passengers. It was very interesting to talk to them along the trip as well.
I am a gym rat and this was the only complaint I had. It was small and here were only 2 elliptical machines, one of which was broken. The gym otherwise was well equipped, but oftentimes busy with a . A few more machines wouldn't hurt.
The ports were great. The tenders at St. Georges were a little off-putting for going ashore, you had to plan your day accordingly as the tenders only left every 2 hours. We went to the beach at Tobacco Bay (a good walk from the dock) and had a great time.
Hamilton was a blast. We "parallel parked" along the main street, which was so convenient. I asked the crew about this, and apparently this spot is reserved for Veendam, as all the other ships are too big and must dock at the Dockyards and take a cab or ferry to town. Veendam passengers could just walk off the ship and be right downtown at shops and restaurants. The street fair Wednesday night was so lively and fun. Bermuda is a wonderful place to visit. The people are so friendly and the island is unlike Caribbean islands in that it isn't poor and there are no beggars or hecklers. As a woman, I felt totally fine wandering on my own. Coming back aboard was another nice treat. There was a crew member at the gangway with a cooler of icy cold washcloths to freshen us up. So nice. They really thought of little details that matter.
On our last day at sea we encountered some rough weather which surprisingly didn't bother any of us. We actually found it kind of fun to be rocking and watching the waves was mesmerizing.
We were so sad to leave our Veendam home and go back to reality. I would definitely sail with HAL again.