This was our tenth cruise with five cruiselines over a period of 14 years. We always choose verandah or mini-suite accommodation and have been happy with every experience so far. We had read differing views of Volendam but were prepared to take the chance on a 16-day round-trip cruise, Sydney to New Zealand, for Christmas and New Year.
What a surprise! This is the most gorgeous ship that measures up to, and often exceeds, some other high-end vessels. The decor is simply stunning in the Florentine style and lounge areas extremely comfortable and inviting. The only comparison we can make is Pacific Princess, also beautiful. We always begin the day with a light room-service breakfast, the only type usually available. Another surprise - a full breakfast menu for the first time, served on Rosenthal china with HOT tea and coffee. Also, we often eat lunch in the dining room, but we found the atmosphere and environment in the Lido buffet was quiet and spotlessly clean with genuinely friendly staff. Not the noisy mosh pit we've experienced many times! The Lido food was better than that offered by some dining rooms on other ships, especially the dreadful Rhapsody of the Seas, with a wide variety clearly separated into Asian, Italian, entrees, etc.
We had pre-dinner drinks in the Ocean Bar every night and found the staff and service friendly. Music from jazz to modern was provided by the Neptune Trio, piano, bass and drums. It was a perfect background for a view of the sea or a whizz around the dance floor at the end of the day.
Dinner in the Dining Room was always delicious. The food was prepared to perfection - the ship serves the best beef we've ever eaten - and variety unlimited. There's lots of duck and lobster, not offered routinely on many cruise ships, and service was impeccable. Our wine steward, Belinda from the Phillipines, was a joy to see each night and had good knowledge of the wines on offer. A string quartet played from the balcony during dinner. Christmas and New Year celebrations were just that, with staff going the extra mile to entertain us. Our final night in the dining room was remarkable, with waitstaff dancing into the room singing, twirling plates on poles, waving napkins, as well as the grand alaska (without the flambe, thanks to OHS). It was a bit sad to leave and that's our indication of enjoyment. We were particularly impressed with the fact that we had been allocated our requested table for two, something we have almost had to beg for on other ships where we have loyalty status.
We booked for a special night in Pinnacle Grill to celebrate Le Cirque, an iconic New York restaurant which has authorised Holland America to provide dinners from its menu. For $59 a person, including matched wines, we had an extraordinary evening. It's the most beautiful restaurant at sea that we have found and a very, very special place.
Following the principle of starting with two positive things before a negative, we must say the following:
Our verandah accommodation (deluxe verandah is twice the price) was compact, but after the shock of entering a narrow space between bathroom and wardrobe where both doors can't be opened simultaneously, we settled in and found an abundance of storage (and I'm an over-packer) and must draw potential passengers' notice to the fact that there are two big concealed shoe drawers at the end of the beds. Also, it is a great pity that the open-plan casino spews cigarette smoke from the slot-machine area at one end and the bar from the other into the open walkway between show-lounge, Ocean Bar, shops and Piano Bar. The adjacent and barely divided Piano Bar is especially inviting and after trying it on day one we felt sorry for the excellent female performer there night after night with a poor early audience. Perhaps the smokers came later and took a regular three steps into the casino for a puff. Only 17% of Australians smoke and we manage to avoid it most of the time at home. Staff at the open-plan shop opposite the casino are concerned at the impact it has on their business and a glass partition might solve the problem, but might also deter the company's desirable impulse gamblers.
We had one small problem when the ship was unprepared for the need for electric adaptors and were without for a couple of days. When an offer of lunch at Pinnacle Grill ($10 each) wasn't possible for us, the $20 was credited to our shipboard account by understanding Front Office staff. Take note, Princess Cruises!
Embarkation from Sydney's Overseas terminal was unimpressive, as usual, for a landmark position, but disembarkation was well-managed. Again for the first time, room-service breakfast was not suspended at a time when it was most appreciated. We chose late departure of 8.45am and it was seamless.
Congratulations, Holland America, for our memorable cruise experience - you will certainly be seeing us again, despite the rewards offered by our loyalty to other lines.