B A C K G R O U N D
When I learnt that I had to go to the United States this Summer, I had already booked our annual family holiday- it was to be a 7 night cruise in the Western Mediterranean on the Seabourn Spirit. Upon realizing that could no longer be, I cancelled with Seabourn and started looking for a cruise departing from the USA. Two things intrigued me about the Veendam's offering- one, was the size of the ship, as she is very much the last relatively small, 55,000 ton cruise ship deployed on one week 'Sun' cruises during the Summer ex. USA from a major cruise line. Second was the nature of her itinerary- she sailed the Bermuda run of 'old', visiting St. George prior to sailing for an hour or so into Hamilton, Bermuda, docking right on Front Street. This was the Bermuda voyage of old, the classical Bermudan cruise that took you right into the heart of the island, and didn't strew you on the Royal Navy Dockyard miles away from anything of interest. You saw Bermuda for what it really was, something that is rare on today's island cruises (i.e. St. Thomas, St. Martin). And so, I booked an outside cabin, class FF Number 716. The fare per person for this cruise was $1199.
P R E- C R U I S E
I arrived in New York one week prior to the departure of the cruise. I stayed in The Ritz-Carlton, New York Battery Park, which although not bad was very much over-priced and I would struggle to justify staying here again. It was not akin to all the other Ritz-Carlton hotels I have stayed in, and although being on Battery Park proved tranquil at night, it was a 40 minute subway ride to anyplace of interest besides Wall Street. Again, the hotel wasn't terrible by any stretch, but for the cut-throat market that New York City is, the Ritz left a lot to be desired.
E M B A R K A T I O N
This was a quick, sound embarkation. Upon arriving at the Manhattan docks, a porter took our luggage and we moved into the terminal. Upon completing the signing of the medical form, we arrived at the check in desk where we quickly completed the procedure before being handed our cruise card, clearing security and then boarding the beautiful M/S Veendam. 5+ stars, a great embarkation.
T H E S H I P
The Veendam was recently very extensively refurbished, even being partially re-built. This has created a cruise ship which is traditional in design, yet has all the modernity that one would expect from a vessel of this age. The Explorers Cafe, a library, coffee shop, lounge and internet cafe area seemed very much like the Seabourn Square, which is quite a compliment. It was a lovely area to have on the ship. The two tiered main dining room, with a string quartet playing every night was also reminiscent of dining being an event, not the mere consumption of food- the theater was a comfortable show lounge, although I would recommend going to a show early. The Lido was akin to that of any cruise ship, with enough tables. The stern pool with the movies under the stars screen was a great addition to the ship, as was the culinary arts center which doubled into quite a nice cinema. The fitness center was more than adequate, with commanding views of the bow. Through a little-known about corridor, which you can access either from the fitness center or the promenade, one can right onto the bow of the ship. The Veendam had a sophisticated ambiance about her, with all of the comforts, intimacy and familiarity you would expect from a smaller ship, coupled with most, if not all of the features one would find on the larger vessels. When all is said and done, she was a lovely measured balance.
E N T E R T A I N T M E N T
The entertainment aboard was plentiful and varied, if not a slight tad more sedate than that found on the larger vessels on this route. The evening shows all were great, as were the cabaret acts that really did make you roar in laughter. There were interesting dance classes, seminars, music all over the ship, pool games on deck, dancing on deck too, the disco at night, and so on. It was lively, fun, but not over-the-top or in your face. The Culinary Arts Center had a varied program which was great for foodies, and there was also a dedicated wine tasting area. The Arts Center coupled into a cinema, and HAL would keep a table of popcorn, etc. ready at the entrance. Julie, the Cruise Director did her job well. Overall a fine balance in the on board entertainment.
P O R T S OF C A L L
St. George, Bermuda- When we arrived at St. George we were informed that the port had been cancelled for all but excursion guests, as one of the two tenders had had an engine failure and was unable to sail that day. Holland America Line offered non-excursion passengers a free bus transfer from Hamilton to go back and see St. George (about 40 minutes drive) as compensation. As I had taken the Bermuda island tour, we were put on tenders to St. George- as soon as our tender left the Veendam raised her anchor and set out for the 1 hour cruise into Hamilton. Upon boarding the bus for out tour, we only spent minimum time in the parish, as we had a tour of the entire island coming up. Nonetheless, from what one saw St. George really is a beautiful part of Bermuda- think St. Martin prior to the cruise boom, when she was still as she used to be. Islands people living their lives, shops, etc. designed to cater to the Bermudan people, not tourists. One needs not speak about the beauty of Bermudan beeches, for they really are something else. Nothing can possibly compare (I, myself, live on an island, and the Bermudan beeches blew me away). Although the future Veendam cruises in 2012 will not include St. George, I would strongly recommend getting on a bus and spending some time there.
Hamilton, Bermuda- As Bermuda is such a small island, our stay in Hamilton was very much a stay of every parish in the country, as our great excursion took us on a round trip of the entire island. As I have repeatedly said, outside of the Royal Navy Dockyard, Bermuda is very much an relatively untouched, not overtly touristy place, which makes it all the better. As the Veendam docks right on Front Street, she acts as your city center hotel- you get off the ship and voila, you are in the heart of Hamilton. The city itself is fully walk-able, and
has some good shopping, quite comfortable surroundings as well as a colonial British flair that reminded me of my own country (itself a former British island colony). I took a diving excursion which was one of the best dives I have undertaken, and we dived a recent wreck of a ferry which was good in the sense that they had cleaned her out to make her accessible to non-wreck divers. The beeches in Bermuda, again, need no introduction as they are truly fabulous, especially if you go to anyone other than Horseshoe, which can get quite crowded.
C A B I N-
Our cabin, Class FF Number 716 on A Deck was very comfortable, and had as much space as I expected. Two twin beds as well as a sofa that extended into a third bed during the nights, and a sitting area in the morning/daytime hours. The toilet, although small, had enough space with a bathtub that coupled as a shower. I do believe, however, that although there was nothing outwardly wrong with the cabin, the toilet needs a freshening up. Nonetheless, overall, a comfortable place to dwell and sleep in, enough room, good storage space and a good sea-view from the picture window. We had air conditioning problems for the first two nights, but to be honest they were not too extreme. It was fixed after two nights, a letter of apology was sent to us, as well as a credit which was more than generous.
S E R V I C E-
The service on board was wonderful, and, as HAL markets itself, premium. The waiters were great, the room steward attentive and friendly, the excursion staff helpful, the cruise director approachable, and the bar staff were courteous. Everything was as needed to be. The reception helped a lot in many situations. The Captain, however, was far less visible than that of any master in a cruise I have previously taken. He did seem to live in his own cocoon and never mixed with passengers. Even when I sent him a letter about a wonderful experience, I received a message from the Guest Relations supervisor telling me that they were pleased- the Captain didn't do anything less than his duty, which although fine, isn't what I expected. Beside this, which I wouldn't even call a gripe, the service on board was truly great.
F O O D
This is where the Veendam really shone. When once considers this isn't a luxury cruise, the food was approaching luxury standards. Exciting menus, everything was cooked very well, tasted wonderful and dinner was something to look forward too every evening. The lido also had a wide variety of food, although lunch would end at 2:30 every day, which was about the time I'd come back aboard from touring Bermuda. They had nothing but very light snacks until dinner, which was a shame. Some days the burger joint and pizzeria would be open at this time, and in those situations there was no problem. I think it is vital for a cruise ship to have at least one eatery serving food during all daytime hours, other than room service. Other than that, the food was superb.
C O N C L U S I O N
Will I be returning to Bermuda in the future? Yes, yes and yes ! Will I be returning to HAL in the future? Three yeses. Both proved to be wonderful and replenishing. It is a shame that HAL are pulling this itinerary after 2012, so if I were you I'd do everything to experience it before then. This is the last remnant of 'classical' Bermudan cruising, of going to the islands through their real gateways, St. George and Hamilton, not the massive cruise port on the North of the island. When the Veendam departs Bermuda for the last time, an era in Bermudan cruising would be over. The Veendam is a delightful ship, that offers a premium experience with great value for money. This is a wonderful cruise vacation that was very much a 'premium' experience that I would full heartily recommend.