Background Information - We live outside Melbourne so it was a quick flight to Sydney and then a cab to Circular Quay for embarkation. Online pre-cruise registration made it a simple and comfortable process. On board, we had a fabulous view of Sydney on a warm Sunday afternoon - ferries, tall ships, jet boats, live music, people climbing the Harbour Bridge - fantastic atmosphere! We really felt special waving good-by to the 100s of people who had wandered on to Circular Quay to see the ship off.
There were a few 'special' perks from our travel agency for my birthday - red roses, 3 bottles of excellent wine and a Pinnacle Grill dinner. This was our 3rd cruise, 2nd with HAL, and our 1st over 7 days. The itinerary was the essential choice for us - Sydney to Darwin by way of the Great Barrier Reef and the Timor Sea, followed by 4 ports in Indonesia - Komodo, Bali, Semarang, Jakarta - and ending in Singapore. On reflection, 19 days with 8 'at sea' days was about 4 days too long for us.
Ship Info - Volendam went into a 2 wk dry dock when we left her in Singapore. According to senior staff we talked with, all public area carpet was being replaced and the teak - floors, railings, furnishings etc. - stripped and refinished. However, while some bits looked tired (including a cracked toilet seat in the deck 4 MDR ladies' restroom), Volendam was clean and polished. The art work aboard, as per HAL's reputation, was splendid. We knew that the weather was going to be hot and humid and it was, but it was tolerable and it was always good to get back to the air conditioning on Volendam! Temperatures did vary quite a lot across the different public areas though.
Stateroom - Our cabin-1 of 3 OV cabins on Verandah Deck and one of the 'wheelchair-friendly' staterooms-was large enough to entertain 2 other couples one PM. Very comfortable, plenty of space for all our stuff. Mattress good, pillows past retirement age. BTW, we do not need a HC cabin, but it was available when we booked 14 months in advance and we booked it with the understanding that, if it was required by a wheelchair dependent person, HAL would move us to an equivalent or better cabin. Our CS, Badra, was outstanding, thoughtful and efficient. The towel animals - a new one every night! - were heaps of fun! It was great to see him visiting his family (1st time in 11 months)in Jakarta.
Dining - We had 'any time' dining and never had to wait more than 5 minutes for a table in MDR. We sat at tables of 2, 4, 6, 8 or 10. 10 is too big for open conversation, but service and food were both good to great. We were lucky to have the GBR pilot at our table one night - fabulous conversation! We thoroughly enjoyed the Pinnacle Grill, preferring the regular menu to the Le Cirque menu. Ate at Caneletto's twice. A not-very-special Italian restaurant, but the veal and pasta were good. At the Lido, we mostly stuck to the omelet station for breakfast and either salads or burgers for lunch.
Entertainment - We missed far more shows than we saw, due to conflict between dining times and show times. However, featured singers, especially the Australian soprano, were excellent and the production cast worked hard. By all accounts, the staff shows were good.
Service - Staff we encountered were universally excellent. From our cabin attendant, to the wine stewards and staff in the Pinnacle Grill, everyone knew our names and even staff we passed in corridors or on stairs always had a smile and a greeting for us. I need to make special mention of Hans, the Sommelier and Beverage Manager, Martyn, front of house at the Pinnacle Grill, Rene, the Hotel Manager, Katie in Shore Excursions and Rachel, the Spa Manager. All were fabulous! HAL should treasure all their staff, for they are very special!
Activities - On board ship, we made good use of the Spa. My DH, a chiropractor, found his massage therapist had a sore elbow and treated it. Next thing we knew, he was providing 'master classes' for the acupuncturist, trainers and spa therapists on 'at sea' days. These were enjoyed by all. We enjoyed the GBR pilot's talks on the Reef, its geography and regional history, used the aft pool several times and liked both Explorations Cafe and the Crows Nest for just sitting and taking it easy. We didn't visit the casino or the Wajang Theatre. The smell of cigarette smoke, while noticeable when you walked past the casino or on the starboard side of the aft pool, was not too intrusive. We never noticed any in our cabin - probably because no one smoked on the balcony next door. HAL asked whether we would prefer to cruise on a smoking or smoke-free ship in the future. It would appear that they are still unable to make up their minds as to which is the better economic decision. We came down on the smoke-free side. Hope they take notice! The Photo Shop was a bit disappointing, nothing much to choose from in ship's photos, which was in sharp contrast to our Alaska cruise in 2007. Also, there seemed to be a lack of knowledge about what is contained in various packages/indulgences that passengers may purchase online before embarking on the cruise. I had to provide proof that a photo sheet was included in my 'Romance Package' before they would supply it.
Port & Shore Excursions - We are active 55+ year olds and scuba diving is one of our passions. We visited friends in Brisbane and dived off both Hamilton Island and Cairns. Both dive trips were excellent. Four days of scenic cruising between Cairns and Darwin were interesting with stunning scenery, while the Indonesian ports were eye-popping in a number of ways! Borobodur was amazing, as were the dragons on Komodo and both Uluwatu Temple and the terraced rice paddies in Bali. But what will stay with me about Indonesia is just how crowded it is and how many people there are. Singapore almost seemed spacious in comparison, which is odd, as its population density is just as great.
Disembarkation - Just as smooth and easy as embarkation was. We had the Highlights of Singapore tour which then took us directly to the airport. No hassles with carrying luggage around! Our flight home was smooth and comfortable, although full, on a Qantas A380 in transit from London.
Summary - Such a wonderful cruise! It certainly met all of our expectations and exceeded them in so many ways. As mentioned above, 18 days was probably a little too long for us, as we are much more active than many of our fellow cruisers. However, would I cruise with HAL again? Absolutely. In fact, we booked our next cruise - 14 days in Alaska in August 2012 - while on board!