My husband, two grade school aged sons and I went on a 14 day cruise with Volendam leaving on January 2, 2011 from Sydney. This was our second cruise. Our first was 14 months ago, and was a ~12 day cruise from Barcelona on a Royal Caribbean ship that we enjoyed greatly.
We had booked our flights ourselves, and had spent one night in a local hotel that we had found. A friend who had moved to Sydney from the US picked us up at our hotel, and after he gave us a lovely tour of Sydney, dropped us off at the ship. Check in was a snap.
Our sons had one interior room and my husband and I had a second interior room adjacent to theirs. It was clean and tidy, and the room steward and his assistant were both excellent. In general, though, when you book interior rooms, I think there's not a lot of variation between ships.
I've read elsewhere of people saying the Volendam is old and tired looking. I thought it was clean and looked very nice with fresh flowers seemingly everywhere. The one exception would be the central atrium, which does look a bit dated, and has some sort of design that reminded my husband of a tacky Star Trek warp coil. The other thing upon which people have commented is that others have found the Volendam to be smoky. I had been very worried about this. I quit smoking some 10 years ago, and I am now one of those former smokers who is completely intolerant of any smoke, much to my husband's irritation (as he--a lifetime non smoker--somehow managed to graciously endure my smoking without grumbling, and I now swear whenever I am anywhere near smoke.) Other than the casino, I did not notice any smoke.
The remainder of the ship was beautiful. Although the ship didn't have a rock climbing wall or putt putt course like our prior Royal Caribbean cruise, it did have a great library. It had a more than adequate gymnasium, with functioning equipment, and very infrequent waits for treadmills.
In terms of activities, I was again pleasantly surprised. I knew HAL is an "older person's cruise line", and was not expecting many activities that would entertain my husband and me. We were wrong. They had multiple aerobic classes for which there were not extra charges, and the two staff in the gym as well as the "life stylist" had excellent routines. There was the usual fun trivia, but there were also cooking classes, martini making classes, dance classes. We were busy and entertained all day. Ingo the wine cellar master was entertaining and educational, and we enjoyed him immensely.
We had a great dining experience. For the first 4 days, we just ate at the Lido buffet with our kids, but we then realized we could take the kids to the kids' club ("Club HAL") and go to the dining room called the Rotterdam by ourselves. The food was AWESOME, the service great, the wine reasonably priced, and we were seated with two awesome sisters who we enjoyed meeting and getting to know. I don't eat meat, and their vegetarian options were great. My husband, an unrepentant carnivore, was very pleased with his food as well, particularly enjoying his surf and turf dinner.
I went to only a few of the shows. They were not quite as good as on our prior ship, but this was a smaller ship with a much smaller theater and stage than before. I did wonder if the costume designer was under the influence of hallucinogens when he or she picked out the outfits, but the very able dancers were still able to perform well while dressed as igloos and Viking ships.
Service was great overall. I really didn't see much of the cruise director, but the employees in the gym, the cellar master, and the life stylist we saw regularly and we liked all of them very much. The captain was a serious man, and initially put us off with his generally fearful worldview. We did however have a tragedy that occurred on the ship--an employee, while working on routine maintenance, went overboard and died. The captain was honest and forthright about all of this as it was occurring, and was obviously devastated by this. His handling of this awful loss was very impressive and more than made up for his tendency to tell sad stories over the PA.
The kids' club, Club HAL, was great. The kids loved it, and even begged to be left on board on port days so they could go to the kids' club. Hours were good at the kids' club, and my husband and I had more than enough couple time.
As it was school vacation down under, there were about 160 kids on the ship, but overall the kids were fairly well behaved, although near the end, the kids did get a little rowdy at the pool on a few occasions.
For port days, we booked our own expeditions in advance, and that was definitely a money saver. I'd like to give a special shout out to our tour guide out of Christchurch, who did an awesome job, and who we found at www.hikingguys.com.nz. The ports were great and New Zealand is just a great country.
Disembarkation went smoothly.
In summary, we had a great trip. We had multiple reservations about this trip and ship based on reviews we had read here prior to going, but we were thrilled with our experience. Again, this was only our second cruise ever, but we felt that the service and the food on this ship was better than on our prior ship (which was still also quite good).