Doing some research BEFORE booking our passage, Cruise Critic rated HAL Veendam with 4 stars out of 5 stars. Pretty good odds, I thought, but my expectations were still rather low. Past cruises produced some pros and cons that I was willing to put up with. I didn't think this one would be any different - especially in today's cost-cutting economy. Much to my surprise, I was so pleased with the Veendam cruise that it even prompted me to write a favorable review.
To start, the food on board the ship was very good! Choices were the Rotterdam dining room, Canaletto Italian restaurant, The Pinnacle Grill and, of course, the Lido Buffet. The Pinnacle Grill is their top-of-the-line steak/seafood restaurant that has a $20. pp up-charge. Well worth the extra money with superior service, food selection/quality and atmosphere. The Rotterdam dining room also had a very good selection on the menu and all of it was presented well with a close-to-excellent quality. Even the Lido Buffet offered a wide variety of food that was well presented, good tasting and served to you. For a buffet, it was a step above the rest. The biggest surprise was the Italian restaurant, Canaletto. There is no up-charge here but if there was, we would have paid it. You start out with an antipasto of grilled vegetables, Italian meats and fresh mozzarella. That is served while you are looking over your menu. Italian bread, focotta bread and rolls are served next along with a bottle of extra-virgin olive oil and a bottle of balsamic vinegar for dipping. You are given a 4-course meal that included appetizer, soup or salad, an entree and dessert. And, as most cruise ships, if you ask for a repeat course, they bring it to you! When coffee and dessert are served, the last surprise is a mound of cotton candy on your table. Yes, cotton candy! Don't know the reason or custom but it is cute, none the less.
Next was the great service. In ALL of the restaurants, lounges and public areas, everyone was exceptionally nice! It was almost like they were happy to be working! Go figure! Every waiter/waitress had a smile, some asked your name and were even very happy to help you. We choose the open seating and made RSVP each evening to requested a table for 2. You can chose any option you like. We also ate in a different restaurant every night so we never had the same waiter twice. Every new face we met each day (breakfast, lunch, dinner) was polite, respectful and very nice!
Last, entertainment was also very good. Each lounge had quality music to listen and dance to. A classical string quartet played exceptionally well. A three-piece band was perfect for dancing and the piano bar was fun! Shows in the Showroom At Sea were also really good. Can't think of one complaint.
The cruise staff on-board the Veendam work very hard to make it an enjoyable cruise. Some activities were the normal cruise games: bingo, trivia, cards and casino but things like an evening pool party with music and dancing was fun. A technology room to access the Internet/email/etc. and classes to learn more - along with a cafe' for Int'l coffee. The Spa/fitness room also offered wellness and relaxation classes. The biggest surprise was the Culinary Arts Center that offered party planning, mixology and craft classes. Very entertaining. I guess the state-of-the-art mega ships offer all of that stuff, too but it was still a pleasant surprise.
Holland, having older ships, tend to give you a little more room in the cabins. Something you lose on the newer ships. Our cabin and bathroom had plenty of room for 2 people to move around without bunking into each other like pinballs. The cabin steward was always on top of things. He came in to clean the bath each time we left. It was nice to have a clean bathroom every time we went in.
All in all, a good experience. If I had to post any cons, it would be that this is not a ship for young kids. It's mostly an older crowd. Kids and teens did have an area geared for them but once they joined their parents, I suspect they were a little bored. There was a pool and six hot tubs, along with a movie screen outside but there is only so much swimming a kid can do. Cruise photographs were little to be desired and not very good..unless you really had to have one. The shops were a little over priced but what ship isn't. Also, if you can, don't get a cabin that faces port side. There is some noise, lots of light from the street and you can hear folks get on and off the ship all hours of the night.
I would certainly recommend this cruise and ship to family or friends.