Arriving just 1 day before the cruise began, we spent the night at the Holiday Inn Old City, which we chose due to the close proximity to the Rocks and the cruise port, it was so close to the port that we could even spot the funnel of the Volendam when she docked the next morning. Everything about the hotel was great from the service and atmosphere to its location and I highly recommend it to any one looking for a pre or post cruise hotel.
Having sailed on the Volendam once in 2009, the ship was as sharp and impeccable as it was 2 years ago. We were also delighted by the "cabin direct" initiative that allowed passengers to proceed to their staterooms immediately after boarding instead of heading to the buffet to wait. Although some of the public rooms were a little tired (especially at the Explorations Cafe), most of the public areas were still very well maintained and many of the furnishings and aesthetics were maintained when the ship dry docked in Singapore.
Our stateroom was a Verandah suite on the Navigation Deck (Deck 7), although I had initial worries that the extension of the Lido buffet above us would obstruct the view, it all quickly disappeared when the extension was not as large as I thought it would be (it even provided some shade at noon time when the sun was overhead). The room was large with ample drawers and closet space and the verandah was large as well with room for a small table, a chair and a lounger. The bathroom contained a "whirlpool" bath, which was a fun feature to have.
We dined at the main dining room for dinner and at the Lido for lunch and breakfast. We were pleasantly surprised when there were themed lunches on certain days, which included Indonesian and Indian cuisines; there was also a Australian BBQ dinner which we really enjoyed under the stars. The food was excellent most of the time, however the soup was extremely salty one night, but what we really appreciated was that our complaint was taken very seriously and were asked every night after if the soup was to our. We ate at Canaletto one night and really enjoyed our meal (especially the Lasagna) and wished that we ate there more often.
We did not participate in many activities during this cruise but there was no shortage of activities if one decides to participate. We did participate in the culinary demonstrations on the new Le Cirque dishes and Indonesian dishes and it was fun and pretty informative.
The service on this cruise was of the highest standard and is one of the main reasons why we keep returning to Holland America. Our cabin stewards Adi and Ayu were great and they would always remember our preferences and those towel animals never fails to amuse us! Our dining room stewards were equally as attentive and were always eager to serve even in the most stressful of situations when the dining room was fully occupied. Overall, the service provided by the crew on this cruise far exceeded our expectations and has been one of the best we've received since we started cruising with Holland America.
There were plenty of guest entertainers during the cruise from singers to guitarists to magicians and stand-up comedians. Most of them were pretty good except for one comedian where his jokes were mainly run-of-the-mill crude jokes that many passengers did not find amusing at all. The resident band, the HalCats was really good and we really enjoyed it when they were playing during the sail-away parties.
One of the reasons why we decided to book this cruise was that we have never visited many of the ports, which this cruise went to. Here's just a brief review of some of the ports on this cruise:
We loved Brisbane for its laidback vibe and although she was still recovering from the Queensland Floods from December 2010, it was still beautiful especially along the Brisbane River. We spent most of our day at the Queensland Museum South Bank, which had some great exhibits and was also free! The CityCat ferry from and to the cruise port was also an enjoyable mode of transport to enjoy the sights of Brisbane from the river.
Spent most of the day at Catseye Beach where cruise passengers could make use of the facilities there including the gorgeous swimming pools (although they were pretty deep).
The Great Barrier Reef tour from Cairns was pretty disappointing as there were many extra hidden charges such as extra helicopter and snorkeling tours, however, one must participate in at least one of the tours to fully appreciate the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, but the initial cost of the shore excursion should be reduced due to the "extras" one must purchase during the tour to fully enjoy it.
Darwin was a pretty compact city, which could easily be explored by foot in a day. The precinct around the cruise port was also very pretty with an artificial beach and cafes.
Komodo Island was an interesting place and it felt more like a forgotten island in the middle of nowhere, however, we did enjoy the jungle trek more than the Komodo Dragons which many thought were placed at the watering hole to amuse the tourists.
In Bali, we did the Bali heritage tour from the ship as we really wanted to visit the Besakih Temple and it's something that we recommend especially if you've been to touristy Nusa Dua and its surroundings.
Borobudur temple was another highlight of this cruise and we were not disappointed by its majestic size and its historical and cultural importance to Indonesia, which could be seen in its careful restoration. I would highly recommend taking the ships organized shore excursion, as we needed a police escort due to traffic jams in Semarang.
Jakarta was a very busy and modern city with skyscrapers dotting the skyline. There was some souvenir shopping activities during the tour and we also visited the city and puppet museums and the city square. Once again, I highly recommend taking a shore excursion either to the city or Bogor due to the traffic jams in Jakarta city.
We overnighted in Singapore. As a Singaporean, it was a pretty bizarre experience, as we had to overnight on the ship for when home was just a 20-minute drive away! But we did enjoy the empty ship on the first day in Singapore and just lazed around admiring the harbor, which we rarely see from a ships perspective.
Disembarkation on the second day was fuss-free and efficient, despite contractors and engineers loading equipment and supplies onto the ship in preparation for the dry dock. We got into a cab and were home in less than 20 minutes.
Overall, I cannot fault anything on this cruise. Every aspect of it was exceptional from the great food to the great service and the fact that the Volendam brought us home from Australia made this cruise even more special. We now cannot wait for our next Holland America cruise!