It was with some nervousness that we checked in at 12.30 p.m. at Tampa Cruise Terminal 2 because the local newspapers, TV and radio had been telling us of the Novovirus outbreak on the Veendam's previous 14-day cruise that had hit over 200 passengers. Barred from stopping at its last port of call, Grand Cayman, the ship had berthed a day early at 6 p.m. on Friday to start an intensive cleaning exercise. On checking in we were offered the option of canceling and getting a full cruise refund but we later found out that passengers in only 12 cabins opted out. Because the cleaning would not be completed to allow boarding to begin until 3 p.m. we were all offered a $10 per passenger credit if we wanted to leave the terminal and get some lunch at one of the many restaurants on Tampa's Channelside. So we went out to lunch and watched the ship being loaded and returned at 2.30 p.m. We boarded at 3.40 p.m. The ship didn't sail until 5.40 p.m. and with the early dinner sitting about to start lifeboat drill was put off until 10.30 a.m. Sunday.
To counter any further illness the ship was on a complete hygiene clamp down and passengers were not allowed to serve themselves with anything. Even the salt and pepper, sugar, etc., were taken off the tables and had to be served. During Friday night the ship had taken all cabin pillows, blankets and comforters to commercial cleaners to rid the soft furnishings of the virus. The casino chips had also been baked in ovens hot enough to kill the virus but not so hot as to make them melt. Everywhere you went on the ship there were dispensers for hand cleaning, even as you entered or left the casino. We were probably on the cleanest ship in the Caribbean. Captain Albert Schoonderbeek adopted an open information policy so we were updated each day on the situation and exhorted to keep washing our hands regularly. On the Sunday there was one case reported, but after that there were none for the rest of the week. As people with the bug can generally infect others for 72 hours after getting it the restrictions were kept up until Thursday and then were lifted. After 5 days of being served everything we were all a bit lost getting back to normality.
In our 11 cruises so far we had only been on one previous Holland America ship, the Zuiderdam, last November. The Veendam is smaller at 55,451 tons but it didn't feel much smaller, just perfectly scaled down. Our interior cabin #750 was on A deck (deck 4), the lowest, nicely placed amidships. It had been set up with a queen bed as we had requested. The room was more spacious than the interior cabin we had on the Zuiderdam as it also had a sofa. There was more than adequate closet and drawer space for a 7-day cruise and the cabin was also very quiet so all in all we were very pleased with the cabin. There is a wrap around promenade on deck 6 with some lovely padded teak steamer loungers which we found to be a relaxing place to be either at sea on in port. The main passenger facilities are located on decks 7 and 8 or up on decks 10, 11 & 12. Decks 7 and 8 have the two level dining rooms at the stern and the two level show lounge at the bow. All the other usual facilities are on these two decks. The second swimming pool is at the rear of deck 10 which otherwise just houses cabins. Deck 11 comprises the attractive and very airy Lido restaurant for casual breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks, plus the Lido pool with its opening glass roof and the gym and spa. The Crows Nest lounge has a commanding forward view on Deck 12.
We had been wait listed for early dining and being unable to change when we boarded we were so tired that we had an early dinner in the Lido on the first night. The following day we were able to switch to 6.15 p.m. dining because another couple wished to change to late dining. A lucky break! Our table for 10 was J looking out over the stern. While we found the food variety and quality very good in the Lido for breakfast and lunch we would only rate the dining room food satisfactory. Rarely did more than one entree appeal and a few of those choices were uninspiring, nowhere near the standard we have enjoyed on Celebrity. However, we could not fault the friendly and efficient service of our waiter Ono and his assistant Uus, both from the Philippines, as was our efficient cabin steward Suripto. Indeed all the staff and officers we encountered were friendly.
The first night's entertainment was Morry Coleman, reputedly the fastest banjo player in the world. Fast and entertaining he certainly was, and also quite a comedian. Sunday was the first of the production shows "Ultimate Broadway." Two others were "Up on the Roof" on the Tuesday and "Party Gras" on the Thursday. All were very musical, colorful, entertaining and not deafening loud as on some ships. Monday's show was the DV8 Reality Magic of Drew and Angela who amazed us with their illusions. Wednesday it was singer Karen Saunders turn to entertain us and she did the job admirably. On the last night the three main acts each did a shorter spot. On Monday we enjoyed an extra late night show, The Filipino Crew Show. It was well worth staying up late to enjoy their hidden singing and dancing talents. We enjoy all the shows, indeed they are a highlight of each day for us and they didn't let us down.
The ports of call were Grand Cayman on the Monday, Ocho Rios on the Tuesday and Costa Maya on the Thursday. We did our own thing in all but Ocho Rios. We like Grand Cayman, having been many times. It is a relaxed, clean, friendly, hospitable place to visit. We had not visited Jamaica or Ocho Rios before, so we took a half-day ship's tour to Dolphin Cove and Dunns River Falls, which we enjoyed. Then we had a walk around town, which was not so enjoyable, being pestered all the time by street sellers and store people. This was also our first visit to Costa Maya. It resembles a cruise company's private island, though in this case it is a creation of Mexico. Few people, ourselves included, did little more than walk along the pier and enjoy the beach, swimming pools, free open-air theater and stores. Apart from long tours to distant Mayan ruins and so called adventure tours there is nothing within reasonable distance anyway. Progresso is a better lesser-known port in that regard, but nevertheless we enjoyed a relaxing day in Costa Maya.
Two interesting differences: On Veendam the Java Cafe selections and the dessert Flambes were free, whereas they were chargeable extras on Zuiderdam last November. On Veendam we were offered a House Wine Special. We bought 10 vouchers for $34 (plus 15% gratuity) each valid for one glass of house wine, which is a $9.50 saving on the per glass price of $4.35. A similar deal was on offer for premium wines by the glass. We enjoy a glass of wine with dinner but not being wine aficionados we found the house Merlot and White Zinfandel very enjoyable.
In summary it was a spacious, relaxed and comfortable ship with acceptable if not inspiring food. Would we cruise with Holland America again? Yes, though we still prefer Celebrity.