The entertainment on Volendam is surprisingly diverse, with nightly shows in the two-tiered, 580-seat Frans Hals lounge. Holland America's brand-new Dancing With the Stars at Sea is offered there, too; passengers volunteer to be partnered with dancers from the ship's production staff who teach their wards some moves, which they perform during the final showdown on the last night of the sailing. The audience then elects a winner. Frans Hals was also the setting for a magician and the Marriage Game during our sailing.
In lieu of Broadway-style production shows, the ship's singers and dancers put together a series of pop and country song revues. We're told that the cruise line has made some fleetwide changes and now offers three shorter performances a night instead of two longer ones in order to accommodate those with As You Wish dining.
A perennial Holland America Line favorite is the crew show, with folkloric presentations from the native countries of these hardworking individuals.
The smallish casino gets quite lively at table games (blackjack, roulette, poker) and at the wide assortment of slot machines.
Baroque and classical after-dinner music is offered in the Explorer Lounge (complete with brandy, coffee and divine chocolates), and there's dance music in The Ocean Bar before and after dinner times. Recent-run movies are shown both in-cabin on a rotating basis and in the 120-seat Wajang Theatre, where the scent of freshly made popcorn filters into the surrounding areas. Other daytime and evening activities include scavenger hunts, art auctions, karaoke and high-stakes bingo.
Enrichment abounds onboard. The ship's former Queen's Room is now home to the Microsoft Digital Workshop program, comprising complimentary classes led by Microsoft-trained "techsperts." Passengers can learn to use computers to enhance photos (Windows Live Photo Gallery), produce and publish videos onto a DVD (Windows Movie Maker) and create personal web pages or blogs (Windows Live Services and Windows Live Writer). In addition, one-on-one coaching, called "Techspert Time," is available for more than 20 hours each week. The onboard Culinary Arts Center, which is housed in the Wajang Theater, allows cruisers to watch cooking demonstrations from a mix of cruise line and land-based guest chefs. Passengers can get in on the action, too; on our sailing, a guest chef offered a hands-on bread pudding class.
Local experts also came onboard our Alaska sailing to narrate the scenery as we glided through Glacier Bay. Their commentary was broadcast on the Lower Promenade Deck so we could hear it as we stood outside shivering and snapping photos.
Be careful of promotional activities veiled as enrichment. We did a for-fee tasting of four Alaskan beers and later found out they're sold onboard. (We received a "head on over to the bar to buy more" pitch at the conclusion of the event.) You'll also encounter wine-tastings, shore excursion pitches, health seminars, art discussions and future cruise talks (which, in all fairness, did seem to offer some impressive discounts, according to fellow passengers who attended).
Shore excursion offerings are varied and cater to a wide range of interests and fitness levels. They also tend to focus on destination-specific highlights and activities. On an Alaska cruise, you can enjoy a salmon bake, followed by a visit to a salmon hatchery; go glacier trekking (or just view the glacier from the comfort of the visitor's center); join a musher and his team of mutts for a fast-paced jaunt; take a train ride hundreds of feet up the side of a mountain for spectacular views; or hop on a bus to tour totem pole parks. Prices ranged from as little as $50 (salmon bake) to more than $500 (helicopter ride and glacier trekking).
Volendam Public Rooms
Bright colors prevail throughout most of the ship; the theme is "flowers," which indeed can be found in abundance on public decks. Floral fabrics and tapestries appear in unexpected places and huge vases of tropical floral arrangements and smaller vases of chrysanthemums are positioned on desks and tables in almost all public areas. Art and sculpture also seem thematic; you'll find many pieces throughout the ship, particularly at the bottoms of stairwells.
Volendam is an easy ship through which to maneuver; both its size and layout make it comfortable within minutes of boarding. While our sailing was completely sold out, not once did we have a feeling of crowding or experience any long lines, except in the Lido Restaurant during busy mealtimes.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of this ship is the sundry hidden "nooks and crannies" located around the public decks. Perfect for intimate conversation or just to hide out and read, these spaces include the Explorations Cafe, Explorers Lounge, Ocean Bar and the area across from the Piano Bar. All offer sofas, armchairs facing sweeping vistas, and corner banquettes away from the crowd.
The central, circular three-story atrium -- anchored by a colorful, space-age crystal pole that we jokingly referred to as the mothership, since its base was right next to our cabin -- is surrounded by shops, offices and guest service counters. On the Lower Promenade Deck, a lonely piano sits off to one side, abandoned. The hotel director, beverage manager, culinary operations manager and cruise director have offices there, and you can also find scales to weigh your luggage before disembarkation. One floor up, the Promenade Deck holds the front desk, the shore excursions counter and desk for the guest relations manager. The Upper Promenade Deck has a wide assortment of shops surrounding the atrium, selling watches and other jewelry; duty-free alcohol, perfume and cologne; logowear; souvenirs related to the ship's itinerary; and sundries like toothpaste and candy bars. Passengers will also find cozy seating and little tables placed around the perimeter railing.
One of the most enjoyable locations on the ship is the multipurpose Explorations Cafe, which encompasses the ship's library, reading area (with super-comfy chairs), Internet center and coffee joint. The library is well-stocked, but it's only open during certain hours, and there's a drop slot for returning books if it's closed when you want to do so. There are several areas allocated for things like puzzles, chess and other board games, which, like the books, are also kept under lock and key. You will, however, find daily Sudoku and crossword puzzles available at all times. Ten Internet-ready desktop computers and printers are open for passenger use. Shipwide Wi-Fi is also offered for passengers who bring their own devices. Per-minute rates start at 75 cents. Money-saving packages can also be bought: 100 minutes for $55, 250 minutes for $100, 500 minutes for $175 and 1,000 minutes for $250. A one-time activation fee of $3.95 will also be charged, and printing costs 25 cents per page. We found connection speeds to be impressive.
The Crow's Nest, located forward at the top of the ship, is by night a hopping bar and club, with pre-dinner piano music and post-dinner dancing -- but this room truly shines during the day. Floor-to-ceiling windows surround the large space, which has seating divided into intimate groupings and sofas along the windows. It's an ideal place to curl up with a good book and a cup of coffee or glass of wine, or to just relax and ruminate, mesmerized by the views at the front and both sides of the ship. Daily trivia competitions and games like Battle of the Sexes are held there.
The Hudson Room on Deck 5 is used as a meeting space for everything from mass and Sabbath services to card-playing and jewelry seminars. The King's Room, another meeting space on Deck 5, was closed for our entire sailing. When we inquired about it at the front desk, we were told it's currently being used by the dining department.
Smoking is extremely limited on Volendam. It's allowed only in certain sections of the casino, on deck outside of the Crow's Nest on Deck 9 and outside on Deck 8, aft, starboard, by the Sea View Pool.
Five self-service laundry facilities are available onboard: one on Deck 2, two on Deck 3 and two on Deck 6. It costs $2 to wash one load of clothing and $1 to dry it. The machines are coin operated, and passengers can obtain coins at the front desk. Soap is provided. An iron and ironing board are available in each laundry room, free of charge.
The ship's medical center is located on Deck 1, forward.
Volendam Spa & Fitness
Volendam passengers on a strict exercise regimen will be hard-put to offer excuses if they allow their routine to lapse while onboard. Located forward on Lido Deck (Deck 8) is the large and well-equipped gym, with a wide range of equipment including Cybex weight machines, free weights, exercise balls, seven treadmills, four stationary bikes, seven bikes for spin classes, five ellipticals and two rowing machines, which can be used while watching one of the flat-screen televisions or while gazing through the wall of windows at the unfolding scenery from the bow. A fairly large aerobics section is also included in the gym, featuring daily classes; Pilates and yoga instruction is available for $12 per class. Athletic trainers are on hand to provide professional health consultations and screenings for a fee.
The Ocean Spa, also on Deck 8, is operated by Steiner of London and offers an array of pampering treatments (with eight treatment rooms) and salon services at prices comparable to other spas, both at sea and on land. Facials (from $119) and deep-tissue (from $129) and aromatherapy (from $195) massages are among the most popular treatments, while manicures (from $45), pedicures (from $65) and hair care (from $35) are available in the salon. There are men's and women's saunas and one coed steam room available to Volendam passengers as part of a cruise-long package ($149 per person or $199 for a couple). The pass also allows access to aromatherapy chambers, heated stone loungers and a thalassotherapy pool.
The Lido Pool, which has a retractable dome cover and the ship's two hot tubs at one end, serves as a focal point for the entire Lido Deck. It's a social environment, surrounded by the large Dolphin Bar at one end and a huge "dancing dolphins" sculpture and the Terrace Grill at the other. PVC chaises, webbed rather than slatted, ring the pool in this element-protected location. You'll also find a couple of Ping-Pong tables and a giant chess board. The Sea View Pool, on the other hand, is open and sunny, with more loungers, framed only by the view from the stern and the sea breeze. On our sailing, this pool was used for Holland America's version of the Polar Bear Plunge on a chilly sea day. Be aware that the starboard side of this area is one of just three places onboard where smokers can light up.
The Promenade deck is ideal for those who like to walk for their exercise (or for those who want to cozy up with provided wool blankets on the deck's quaint teak loungers). Once per voyage, passengers can sign up to participate in Holland America's On Deck for a Cause event. By adding $20 to his or her onboard account, each participant receives a T-shirt, and all proceeds from the 10-lap (5k) walk go to various national cancer research organizations. (The American Cancer Society is the U.S. organization supported by the walk.) Joggers can use the Sports Deck track. Active types can also find a netted tennis/volleyball/basketball court on the Sports Deck, as well as shuffleboard courts.