This was a 14 day cruise from Sydney, Australia to Auckland, New Zealand. As we live in Auckland this cruise was ideal for a relaxing holiday with no long air flights. We flew to Sydney three days beforehand for a little sightseeing and shopping first. The embarkation process was both good and bad. Firstly no one seemed to know exactly where Wharf 5 in Darling Harbour was. I had looked it up and thought I knew - and it turned out I was right. However the hotel said they had been given a different location when they'd rung Holland America that morning for other guests. The taxi driver had poor English and ended up taking us via a very long (and complicated route) but we finally got there at 12.30pm. We were surprised that there were no porters to take our bags so we had to take them along in one direction to drop them off and then walk all the way back to join the queues to embark. However once on the ship, we were delighted to be told we could go to our cabin immediately. This is a new policy on Holland America and started on the Volendam and was much appreciated. We were also very pleased when our bags arrived 10 minutes after we reached our cabin - wonderful service. It was also great not to have to wear our life jackets for the safety drill so we could go straight up on deck afterwards.
The ship was lovely with very attractive dEcor with the exception of that odd, coloured column in the atrium. The furnishings were getting a little shabby in places but no doubt are to be upgraded in the upcoming refurbishment. We had an inside cabin on the Lower Promenade which was good value. It only took me a couple of days to get over wanting to pull the curtains back and after that we never noticed that we didn't have a window. We liked being able to walk out to either side of the lovely teak decks. We love the comfortable steamer chairs out there - great place to read a book and watch the sea go by.
The cabin had plenty of room with lots of storage space and we found the bathroom with just a shower was preferable to getting in and out of a small tub to have a shower. It was kept clean by our stewards but we would have liked the sheets to be changed a little more often especially as the top one was badly wrinkled. The bed was very comfortable and supportive. The TV is placed very high up so the only comfortable place to watch from is the bed. We loved the free DVD loan service but it was lucky I'd read about it on Cruise Critic as there wasn't a booklet in our cabin. But one was delivered as soon as we asked for it and delivery and pick up were always within a few minutes of the phone request. The choice from over 1000 movies was great.
We've cruised on the Volendam's sister ship, the Zaandam so the ship layout was familiar and works well. We spent most of our free time up in the Crows Nest, great for scenic viewing and also had cocktails there during happy hour. We also enjoyed Team Trivia up there most days and met some lovely, friendly people. Cruise Director, Drew, ran things well with a pleasant, easy manner. We went to several shows and enjoyed them all especially the magician and the pianist. The new Explorations Cafe with library with a good choice of books and internet is a great place to relax. We didn't use the internet but found places ashore to check email at reasonable prices. There were plenty of activities provided on sea days and the problem was trying to fit them all in.
We chose anytime dining as the fixed times were too early or too late for our taste. Also we enjoy meeting and chatting with different people at dinner. We did a have a table to ourselves a few times but were happy to share. Our first experience of anytime dining wasn't positive. We arrived just after 7.30pm and were offered a table for two upstairs and were given a slip with the table number. We went on up to the next level to find people queuing for the 8.15pm sitting. We went to the desk but were then told that we'd also have to wait half an hour for our table to be ready. We pointed out that this wasn't our idea of anytime dining and were finally given a table at 8pm. Lesson learnt - not to accept a table upstairs again. After that we always said we were happy to share and only to wait for a table on a couple of nights. We found that choosing our dining time was better if we wanted to go to the show after dinner. On the last night, when we had to go at a fixed time for the Master Chefs dinner (not something we enjoyed much) we had to leave early in order to get a seat at the show and many people turned up late.
The food in the dining room was good but the appetizers were nearly always tiny. Soups were very good as were most of the main dishes but Holland America still doesn't do desserts very well. Many were very bland and again the servings were often very small. There were exceptions such as the hot Grand Marnier soufflE which was excellent. We were all surprised to be advised after boarding that the four formal nights had been reduced to three. Being told that beforehand would have prevented most of the women from packing four outfits. The dress for formal nights wasn't as dressy as we'd experienced previously but there were enough tuxedos that my husband didn't feel out of place. Food in the Lido was what we'd expected and reasonably good. It was good to see that only staff were allowed to serve the food for the first few days as a prevention measure against a virus outbreak then the rules were relaxed. The ice-cream bar was a favourite and the praline pecan was the best!
We didn't book any ship tours. For the ports we'd been to and knew well we just went into town and looked around. For other that we hadn't visited before, we'd booked a rental car in advance and went exploring. Most of the ports are commercial and you have to take a shuttle bus in and out. They were free in Burnie and Napier but others were provided by the ship at $US15 return per person which was very high especially as they said you couldn't buy a one way ticket. However we found out later that you could in fact get a one-way ticket. Cruising through Milford, Doubtful and Dusky Sounds was a highlight and not to be missed as was the last lovely sunny day of scenic cruising around White Island and other islands before docking in Auckland.
The only downside to the trip was the Christchurch earthquake which happened just the day after the ship had been docked in Lyttleton harbour. If it had been a day later, it's hard to imagine that there wouldn't have been casualties among the passengers as so many had gone into the centre of the city. Being New Zealanders, it cast a dampener on our spirits but we were heartened by the sincere sympathy offered by other passengers. As the ship only carried CNN news we did find strange to be in our own country but cut off from all local news. We went and bought newspapers in the next ports and received updates on our cellphones from family.
Disembarkation was in Auckland which, with Melbourne and Wellington, had a proper cruise terminal. The silent disembarkation didn't work as well as being called by number which I had on my last cruise with another line. We went at the time given to find there were long queues backed up of people who were due to start a tour. But we were soon off to be greeted by family who'd come to whisk us home - a perfect end to a great cruise.