Wow. That's all I can say about Holland America. I'm 33 years old and have most recently been on Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean. Neither of them even approach Holland America's "Signature of Excellence" theme. The Veendam ship is obviously older than newer, larger ships. The clientele were also older. Our toilet had trouble the last couple of days. The guy handing out towels at the Hamilton gangway was unusually hesitant on giving us an additional towel for the beach one day. And the pizza at Slice was pretty cardboardy when we first set sail from NY.
THAT is my list of all the bad stuff. I'm a very discerning person and am considered overly critical by my friends. I always knew Holland America had a reputation for higher quality and service, but this was just very unexpected...
First of all, although sold-out, the ship never felt more than half full. Neither embarking nor disembarking took more than 30 minutes at peak time. Our room steward was remarkable - he introduced himself and answered a dozen questions when we first got to our rooms which were surprisingly ready immediately upon embarking at 12:30PM. He must've turned the beds and cleaned the rooms 4 times a day. He made a young female friend feel very safe and comfortable across the hall from us, as she was traveling solo. The food in the main dining room, Rotterdam, was delicious. The variety was terrific and it was nice to not "pay up" to get unique offerings and such freshness. The attention to detail was impeccable. Even the dozens of food options at the Lido Buffet was unexpectedly original and of the highest quality. I loved my Eggs Benedict and chicken salad/bacon melts!!! One afternoon I was surprised with lamb curry and nearly caused an accident because I lifted my arms with excitement, almost hitting the guy walking behind me as we passed through the Lido buffet. Any Manhattan restaurant would have been jealous of that lamb's tenderness. The rack of lamb and lamb chops in the main restaurant were perfect as well. The selections were always very original, included fresh ingredients, and were just-made. Now, the Pinnacle Grill, the one "pay-up" restaurant on the ship. It is not to be missed but book early! We did "Evening at Le Cirque" there for $39 which was slightly over-rated b/c the food selection was limited to Manhattan 's Le Cirque chef's menu. Don't get me wrong, it was very fun and delicious. We did the regular Pinnacle Grill the last night and paid $25 and were presented with the same superb service, and high-quality tableware, but a more expansive menu. They easily remembered us from 3 nights prior, took pride as they conversed and explained everything, and purposefully gave us the same table as the Evening at Le Cirque. The Dutch maitre d even spent more time with us and arranged for my friend's birthday cake surprise! The friendliness and intimacy of it all was so welcoming and differed tremendously from pay-up restaurants on NCL. It would have been an exceptional night in Manhattan , but it was even more so in the Atlantic . My filet mignon (Steak Dianne) was perfectly done just as my Chateaubriand was at Le Cirque when I asked for "just shy of medium". Wow, did they hit exactly what I wanted!! The Steak Dianne was flambEed at our tableside (set on fire)! It was amazing. Very classy. Not to be missed is the Lobster Macaroni and Cheese along with the creamed spinach, whipped potatoes and scalloped potato side dishes.
And now for the best part...sitting listening to the classical music of the 4 string quartet, Adagio Strings, before and after dinner. We'd move on to the lounge with the guitar player singing Elton John or sit by the piano bar for some Neil Diamond before or after the Broadway shows in their cocktail lounge-like Showroom. I can't believe Ejay Day from American Idol is one of the performers! Very impressive. Please keep in mind that most of my opinions are comparisons between Holland America offerings and those from my experiences on NCL and RCL ships. But when the HAL representative on the phone said to expect "old-school Hollywood ", she wasn't kidding.
If you're ready to give up a rock-climbing wall for being pampered and spoiled by service, food and a relaxed environment, then consider a Bermuda cruise on the Veendam.