After last summer's sensational experience cruising to Alaska on the Westerdam, I couldn't resist booking the Veendam to Bermuda out of NYC. We live in northern NJ so our drive to the pier was painless on the morning of 8/1/10. Our little group consisted of DH, DD (16y/o), DM (86y/o), and myself (DW.) We were aboard by 12noon and went up to the Front Desk to sign me up for a cooking class. Next we sought out the dining room manager to make reservations for the evening as well as to request a change from Anytime Dining to Early Fixed.
Thanks to my fellow Cruise Critic travelers for the tip, we headed over to the dining room hoping to avoid the lunch crowd at the Lido. We had a lovely, relaxed lunch which really seemed to jump-start our vacation. Shortly after lunch, the cabins were ready and we were pleasantly surprised by how nice our category "C" outside cabins were (Main Deck.) They were perfectly clean, with the bathrooms appearing to have been recently renovated. We met our cabin stewards and their friendliness and sincere willingness to please us was evident. Over the course of the week, they did not disappoint!
My months of worry over the possibility of inadequate AC on the Veendam was unnecessary. While the fan that I requested was there in the cabin waiting for me upon boarding, I never needed it. My husband referred to our cabin as the "igloo" but I loved the coolness. My DD and DM were also very comfortable next door (580.) The thermostats in both cabins seemed to work properly too.
Breakfasts and lunches ere always eaten in the Lido (with the exception of the Mariner Brunch which you should avoid!) and the service, selection, and food quality was quite good. HAL's efforts to prevent a Noro Virus outbreak by having the crew serve for the first few days seems to be successful. They have it working fairly well with minimal inconveniences for passengers.
We were thrilled when we were switched to Early Fixed dining and our waiters were fabulous. DM enjoys eating early and then heading off to the 8pm show. The entertainers on this cruise were really talented and their shows shouldn't be missed!
The retreat area (formerly the aft pool) is an embarrassment. The hundreds of loose tiles makes for a huge safety hazard. Someone certainly goofed by selling this concept to HAL. If using the pools on board was important to us, this situation could be a deal breaker for our family. My DD felt that the teen leaders on the Veendam were not up to the fine standard set by those on the Westerdam last summer. She also noted that some of the teens aboard were a bit "rough around the edges" and she learned to steer clear of them.
Our plans for Bermuda were simple and low key. We went to the beaches to swim, snorkel, and just relax. Thanks again to my fellow CC travelers for education me on the best bets for transportation, etc. We chose to hire taxis since we were 4 people rather than dealing with buses or ferries. We felt it was money well spent not only for the convenience (we were carrying snorkel equipment, a beach umbrella, and a folding chair for DM) but also for the wonderful conversation with the taxi drivers and their Bermudian commentary. They really added a wonderful personal touch to our experience.
While there had been considerable discussion within CC about tendering to St. George's, our experience on Tuesday was beyond belief. Due to a "possible" security concern, hundreds of Veendam passengers were forced to wait for more than 3 hours in the heat and blazing sun while Bermudian officials (police, customs personnel, sniffing dogs, marine divers, etc.) loaded, unloaded, searched, and researched the ferry being used to shuttle us between the ship and port. While there was a tent for us, it was inadequate and offered shade to only a portion of the crowd. This crowd contained many children, elderly, and physically challenged passengers. There were a few HAL personnel serving us water but for hours, we weren't offered information or any reassurance that we would be allowed back to the ship in a timely manner. Naturally the crowd became annoyed, especially when more passengers began arriving planning on catching the 4:30pm ferry and got ahead of those who were still there from 2pm! Fortunately, while none of the at-risk passengers (like my 86 y/o mother!) collapsed due to the heat and stress, the experience was deplorable. I honestly don't believe that HAL should continue to utilize the Bermuda ferry and put their passengers at risk again.
When we moved to Hamilton the following day, it was comforting to know that we didn't have to deal with tendering. Our experiences at Horseshoe Bay were glorious. We loved the vistas, the powdery sand, and the wonderful snorkeling opportunities right from he beach. Another day we took a little taxi tour of the island when we visited the Crystal/Fantasy Caves. We were able to negotiate a price with a driver who waited for us at the caves. It was a good morning excursion since we needed a break form too much sun exposure!
The Veendam is a lovely ship and our experiences, with the exception of the tendering nightmare in St. George's made for a great cruise.