This is my first review. So while not as eloquent as other reviewers :-), I thought I'd share what turned out to be a wonderful vacation on the Holland America Veendam.
We have travelled on 2 other cruises (Princess) and chose this one because of the unique opportunity to visit Tierra Del Feugo, the Falklands, and Antarctica -- places I've always wanted to see but never imagined I would. Naturally the only basis of comparison I have are the two Princess cruises we've been on -- one on the Star Princess to the Baltic, and the other on the Dawn Princess to Alaska.
Highlights for me included:
* Problem-free logistics: Compared to those who described Rio as an uncomfortable and tedious check-in experience, Buenos Aires was wonderful. The terminal was modern and clean, but we only spent a few minutes there, so didn't really get a chance to take it all in. We took a cab from our hotel (Marriott). We could have walked, but it was about a mile and a half, and the neighbourhoods closer to the terminal didn't seem all that safe to me. For the cab to accommodate our bags (family of 3 for a 17-day cruise), we needed to order the 'van'. The hotel called the van and it was a quick inexpensive trip to the terminal. One tip: be sure to order your van ahead of time on cruise days -- the cabs can be in very high demand. Another tip: cab drivers don't tend to speak English -- we wrote down our information. But even with my semester of Spanish, I could communicate a few phrases, and my impression of the people of Argentina was a level of friendliness and cordiality beyond what I've experienced most places.
* Club HAL: Was a great experience for our 10-year old, even though there were few kids on this type of cruise. I think they combined the younger kids with the 'tween' kids. The staff of 4 did a great job, and our child often begged for extra time to go there. They had games, videos, puzzles, tours, and many other activities, and even got to go as a group to some of the shows.
* The food: Is difficult to critique because different people have different tastes. We ate dinner in the Rotterdam dining room, and our other meals on the Lido semi-self-serve deck. Unlike on the Princess cruises, we got to have the same table and the same dining room staff with each meal. The service was a little superior to Princess, but the food was quite a bit better. Over 17-days, nothing felt repetitious. I arranged to have my meals prepared for 'low sodium' which meant selecting my menu items the night before. I often find that makes food taste better, even for those not on a low sodium diet; in our case, everything was made to perfection. I only had one fish that I didn't care for, mostly because I'm not fond of the flavour of that particular fish. Coffee on the Lido was kind of awful, but the espresso coffee in the Explorations Lounge (Library) was excellent -- there the staff knew my name after the first day.
On our day trip at the Orsono Volcano out of Puerto Montt, Chile, we had the best salmon and Chilean wine -- I thanked our guide for picking out that particular place for our lunch stop.
* The Adagio Strings: Ended up being our primary entertainment. Wonderful to listen to in the lounges especially. They played in the dining room, but the acoustics made them difficult to hear. They were great, and could even take requests. We chatted with the violinist on one occasion, and ended up getting their CD. It was pretty hard to find any moment of the day in which the Adagio String Quartet wasn't playing somewhere on the ship.
* Information and Safety: The captain gave us updates on the sailing conditions ahead of us. We appreciated knowing, since the seas on the Drake Passage are usually quite rough. On our Alaska Cruise, we hit rough seas without any notice, and the passengers and crew were ill prepared as a result. The safety briefing was done while still docked, and twice, a fire alarm resulted in the ship coming to a full stop while they investigated. We happened to be at one of the staging areas during one of the events, and crew were fully dressed in fire gear within a couple of minutes of the alarm. We got plenty of information about the crane accident (below). And Holland America kept us informed by email regarding things we needed to know before the cruise. At the Amelie Glacier, the captain warned us that if the glacier had receded, we might not get to see what we had hoped -- only because the waters had not yet been properly charted near the glacier. I also appreciated being served in the Lido cafeteria the first two days as a measure to reduce the spread of contagions from newly arriving passengers.
* The ports: This was mostly a sight-seeing cruise. I initially had my reservations because it didn't sound as interesting to view scenery from the deck of a ship than to go on hikes and experience the sights in person. But the experience ended up exceeding my expectations by far; in fact places like Antarctica were breathtaking beyond description. We had unusually pleasant weather during all of the Antarctic leg of the trip, and I loved being able to get up high to see the completely untarnished waters and coastline, the smooth waters occasionally broken up by groups of penguins porpoising through the water. From the ship the Amelie Glacier was spectacular, and the glaciers sailing out of Punta Arenas an unexpectedly beautiful landscape.
* The ship: The Veendam is smaller than the ships of our other two cruises, but still had everything we wanted. We loved the wrap-around deck -- 4 laps equals a mile, and the deck gives you a vantage that is also sheltered from the sun. There were fewer shops, fewer sports options, fewer pools, no art museum, etc., but plenty of space so that even on the booked cruise, we never felt crowded. The coffee shop and library was especially nice -- much larger and much better equipped than we found on our other two cruises.
* The lectures: I'm not one to be interested in a lot of show entertainment, but I loved the lectures. I work with scientists, and enjoyed knowledgeable presentations about Antarctica and its wildlife. Having the dozen scientists from Palmer Station come aboard was a wonderful highlight. Their presentation was a little "light weight" but they fielded a very interesting and even challenging set of questions.
* The Falklands: I guess quite a few cruises to the Falklands get cancelled because of the weather. We lucked out. Our day trip was the 4-wheel jeep trip to Volunteer Point. While the drive was a little difficult, we saw a large part of the beautiful underpopulated countryside of the Falklands, and a King Penguin colony which was spectacularly set against a beach of the whitest sand I've ever seen. And it was fun to spend the day with our Falklander driver.
I don't mean to diminish our Princess cruise experiences. They were a real pleasure for us as well -- but in numerous ways, the Veendam was superior.
In my opinion the only criticisms I would have are:
* Crane Accident: Happened when we left Buenos Aires. In the tight conditions, the ship turned in such a way that a stationary crane on another ship tore through the railing on the upper deck, also breaking windows in the Crows Nest lounge. I was walking on deck 6 when it happened, so I don't have an eye witness perspective. Because of the necessary delays and investigation, it cancelled the Puerto Madryn port of our trip. I was a little surprised it didn't cause any other delay -- the ship resumed its schedule starting with The Falklands. The engineers took railing from a less critical part of the top deck, and welded it into place so that we'd have railing for the spectacular vistas of Antarctica. To me, it seemed like the accident could have been prevented; but I also realize that there's a lot about the situation I don't know...
* Passports: Holland America inexplicably takes your passport upon entering the ship -- something I've never had happen before. They couldn't offer a good explanation. Had we been told ahead of time this might happen, we could have arranged to have copies with us. Since we were booked on Holland America sponsored day trips, we didn't really need the passports. But I would rather have held onto them myself.
* Pizza: Wouldn't recommend it :-) Probably because the Dawn Princess had an excellent Pizza restaurant and spoiled us...
* Some other passengers: Could be rude -- I'm pretty sure it's just my culture compared to that of other places. I had the same criticism of our trip to the Baltic. On our Alaska cruise, though, where most of the passengers were from western states, I met more friendly people and saw less rudeness to the staff and to other passengers. This cruise was very multi-cultural, so of course an understanding and tolerance of other cultures is critical. An example was at the stations in the cafeteria -- I'm in the habit of forming a nice orderly line and waiting for service. Many of the passengers just crowded up to the counter, insisting on service without regard for others who had been waiting longer.
* Magdelena Island Penguin Colony: I loved the Penguins, but Holland America's web site did not mention that a somewhat industrial and uncomfortable ferry would make a crossing to the island, barely able to handle the rough seas from Punta Arenas. A larger boat, or a boat other than a car ferry could have been placed adjacent to the island, avoiding making a large number of the passengers severely sea sick. Others had also seen penguins out of Punta Arenas on trips that were more pleasant...
* Drake Passage: We had 30-foot swells and it was a rough crossing. The ship felt stable and safe, but it was pretty interesting trying to use the treadmill and have the floor drop from below during periodic lunges through the wave crests. I enjoyed it -- it made me understand why Antarctica wasn't really discovered until the 19th century even though ships routinely rounded Cape Horn. My wife on the other hand...
Others had criticized the environment (heating, air conditioning, toilets, etc.). I have the impression a lot of these problems have been worked on -- we never had problems with any of the environmental controls -- even going from a hot place like Buenos Aires, to a somewhat cool (about 45-degree) place like the Antarctic Peninsula. The ship was well kept and clean, and even modernized in many places. We sailed on the Star Princess when it was a new ship, and the Veendam seemed just as well kept and nice.
Overall, my complaints are lost in the noise when compared to how much we enjoyed this cruise. I loved the Veendam and would recommend it and Holland America for anyone wanting to do this type of cruise.