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141 Holland America Holiday Cruise Reviews

The reason we choose this cruise, well just to be away from the family for a change over the Christmas & New Year and we were not disappointed The ship & crew were fantastic, the food again was really, really great with plenty ... Read More
The reason we choose this cruise, well just to be away from the family for a change over the Christmas & New Year and we were not disappointed The ship & crew were fantastic, the food again was really, really great with plenty to choose from The ship was decked out in Christmas decorations & New years eve was a blast, with great entertainment on the Lido pool deck Fiji was not to our liking due to the locals being a little over the top. Mystery Island was a blessing however. Maybe we should have done some shore excursions as some of the other passengers did and were very pleased with their decision. Also met up with some great passengers and had a very good time. We had a great choice of food with goose for Christmas eve & the Pinnacle grill was fantastic with great food & service. To sum it up, we loved the cruise, the staff, the service and the people. Read Less
Sail Date December 2016
We have previously completed HAL cruises to Myanmar and Hong Kong from Singapore. This Indonesia cruise was the missing link. We have been to Singapore many, many times. Stayed at Sofitel So. The only highlights were the Telok Ayer Food ... Read More
We have previously completed HAL cruises to Myanmar and Hong Kong from Singapore. This Indonesia cruise was the missing link. We have been to Singapore many, many times. Stayed at Sofitel So. The only highlights were the Telok Ayer Food Market next door to the hotel. and the Botanic Gardens. Most ports of call were forgettable with heavy traffic. Shuttles only went to shopping malls. Lombok was the highlight. Komodo Island lizards are not much bigger than our large monitor lizards and much smaller than our crocodiles. We highly recommend Putu Supartana, a private driver in Bali (putusupartana@yahoo.com). He intimately knows the island, will recommend places to visit and can bypass the horrible traffic congestion. Overall an average cruise. HAL service is becoming less customer focussed but the ship staff were still excellent. Port information was minimal but port transfers were good. We did not do any ship excursions as they are too expensive and poor value. Other passenger statements reflected a lot of time in traffic on shore excursions. Main dining room food was good but the Pinnacle Grill needs to change its menu as it is still the same from 3 cruises ago. The lack of a cocktail of the day was a disappointment. Oceanview cabin better than other cruise lines and cabin staff excellent. Nightly entertainment was average. Two local culture shows were poor. Being a christmas/new year cruise the number of children was relatively low, unobtrusive and well behaved. A typical mid-60's HAL crowd. We would not do this cruise again as the ports of call are poor. However Indonesia is our nearest neighbour and we have been to more interesting, less tourist orientated places. Read Less
Sail Date December 2016
We chose this cruise as we had sailed on Holland America before and wanted to be away at Christmas. We were not disappointed. Embarkation was trouble free with quick access to the ship. We sailed this time in a forward cabin 704 which ... Read More
We chose this cruise as we had sailed on Holland America before and wanted to be away at Christmas. We were not disappointed. Embarkation was trouble free with quick access to the ship. We sailed this time in a forward cabin 704 which is an accessible cabin. Cabin was spacious but found being forward was noisier that being mid ship or stern with the sound of the ropes and anchor noises. During rough weather the waves tended to go up into the anchor area and caused this to bang against the boat. This did only happen on two occasions during the trip. We ate most of our meals in the Rotterdam room and out attendants, Hendra and Juli could not be faulted, they were friendly, professional and helpful. They did everything they possibly could to please. Noel, our sommelier was friendly, knowledgeable and was always at the ready to supply our drinks. The staff in the Crows Nest and Mix Bar were exceptional. Overall the crew seemed happy and engaging. Although the entertainment is more low key than in some of the more family orientated ships like RCA, Princess or Celebrity, we found the entertainment more than enough, after all this is a place to relax as well as enjoy oneself. The trivia times were great fun, with A/Cruise Director Joep being a great compere. There was plenty to do on board if you wanted to, I had great intentions of checking out the cooking demonstrations in the culinary arts centre, but never got there. There is a well stocked library which has many board, card games and relaxing cafe and lounge in which to play them as well as trivia, movies, shows, art auctions, a casino, dance classes. I enjoyed the size of the ship, it was the friendliest ship I have ever been on, this goes for fellow passengers and crew. One of the reasons for choosing Holland America was because there was no flow rider, ice skating rink, no needless bells and whistles and therefore not too many children. Those that were on board enjoyed the Hal's Kids Club and were on the whole well behaved and well mannered. The ports were great and most of them had shuttle buses (including accessible ones) to take you to information centres in the city centres. Also many volunteers were on hand to assist. Only port I had a problem with was Tauranga due to my mobility but local port authority kindly drove us to the port entrance. Overall, I think more should be done about facilities at ports but this is not a Holland America issue. Having travelled on RCA earlier in the year and being on board with a large amount of people having to wait in line was a problem. There is also a lack of room in the public areas due to adding in paying restaurants and making these areas smaller. This is not the case on Holland America, no waiting for lifts, plenty of room in the public areas if there was an activity happening. Smaller ships have their advantages. Debarkation went smoothly. Overall we had a wonderful relaxing and enjoyable holiday and would step back on board in a heartbeat. Read Less
Sail Date December 2016
We had a two week cruise around the Eastern and Western Caribbean on the Nieuw Amsterdam at the end of January 2015. After a flight from London Heathrow on an American Airlines plane, there was a weather system of some sort so hours of ... Read More
We had a two week cruise around the Eastern and Western Caribbean on the Nieuw Amsterdam at the end of January 2015. After a flight from London Heathrow on an American Airlines plane, there was a weather system of some sort so hours of turbulence made the flight uncomfortable, we made it to Miami. As the ESTA system was supposed to make life easier for tourists I don’t know what went wrong there but it took us over two hours to get through immigration. If we ever go on a Caribbean cruise again it will not be through the USA. We spent one night in the Sonesta hotel in Fort Lauderdale then boarded our ship. There was some problem at the boarding stage so it took over two hours to get through the system. We were in an inside cabin 7105 and it was quite comfortable. The air conditioning worked reasonably well but was slow to react when changing the dial, the bed was comfortable and the shower was very good. There was only one chair so being in the cabin wasn’t that comfortable. The first week we sailed the Eastern Caribbean to Grand Turk, Puerto Rico, St Thomas and we were supposed to stop at Half Moon Cay but the weather dictated we didn’t so we had an extra day at sea. It was cold in the evening on that part of the cruise and seemed to rain every night. The second week we sailed to Half Moon Cay, Grand Cayman, Cozumel and Key West. The weather was warmer for this week. We paid $45 each for a trip on Grand Turk and it was money wasted. There is very little to see there. On Tuesday January 27th we booked a trip for the following day on Puerto Rico at a cost of over $100 for two. I became ill the following morning so couldn’t go on the trip and my wife didn’t want to leave me. I spent two days in my cabin, missing Puerto Rico and St Thomas, and when my wife went to see the Shore Excursions team they said that we would have to cancel the excursion on the Monday, the day before we booked it, to get a refund. That made me mad. They have no idea of customer service so that makes me think I shall never use them again. We did several other trips with the ship and in the main they were ok, especially the one in Cozumel where we went to see the ruins at San Gervasio. However, on Key West we took an elongated trolley trip but there is very little to see outside of the main town. I had been led to believe that the USA was cheap but Key West is certainly not. The food on the ship was quite good with breakfast and lunch in the Lido being very good. However in the evening there was little on offer and I can only assume the management are of the opinion most people would eat in the main restaurants, which is not the case. We only eat in the main restaurant twice during our cruise. The first time it took two and a half hours and although the second time it only took an hour, we had a table for two, the restaurant was freezing so we were glad to get out of there. The entertainment was pretty good with the star of the cruise being a Steel Band from Trinidad called Island Magic. The BB King Blues Band are very good. Overall the Nieuw Amsterdam is a cold ship with air conditioning making many of the public rooms feeling inhospitable and on several occasions we had to leave an event because it was just too cold. Read Less
Sail Date January 2015
The Ship: The ship is wonderful. The retrofit changed a few things, so i recommend you also try the Maasdam to get a feel for the smaller ships. The Atrium is wonderful and still all the decks and spaces are so wondrful. The artwork is ... Read More
The Ship: The ship is wonderful. The retrofit changed a few things, so i recommend you also try the Maasdam to get a feel for the smaller ships. The Atrium is wonderful and still all the decks and spaces are so wondrful. The artwork is also wonderful. They changed happy hour times, but that is okay, we still made a few of them. We danced in the crows nest late one night and had a blast. I recommend you check out the deck plans. We always to scour them before we sail. The crew:The crew was amazing. Arthur and Gabriel of the front desk! They need a raise. Cyn of the spa, she was great. Our room stewerts were also amazing. The Entertainment: The on location stuff by Kinoa was amazing. His knowledge , his humor, his open heart full of aloha was so refreshing. This guy is so informed, a true native that you simply cant stump him. Dont miss his presentations. I even took some of gradma's jewlery to him, and he knew all of the hawaiian origins. The show Airborn was hilarious and inspiring. the singing and costumes were really good. The movies were all latest realeases. They show them the next day on the TV or in the Gym, so we saw alot of them. There is so much going on, dont fall prey to sitting in a lounger all day. Walk the decks, go to the cooking presentations, take the galley tour, go the library and just do it. It is nice to see Officers and the Captain enjoying a show or two some times too. The Dining: Prior to this cruise we always booked late seating. This time, due to negative people at our table, we jumped ship and switched to open seating. We found others of like mind that love their surroundings and love cruising and are generally happy with themselves to be fun to hang out with and did what we would normally do with our tabelmates. We ate at Canaletto together, went offshore together and got time to have a bite and talk. The dining was wonderful. For an 18 night cruise food did not repeat itself and was always fabulous. The soups were killer and we got to meet the saucier or soup guy and tell him so. The dining staff on this ship is top notch and clearly they have fun at work. They laugh and joke with us and each other and one night after dinner (we usually shiut the dining room down) they were celebrating a coworkers birthday at the very end of the shift with a with a pie in the face and icewater on his head. we all laughed and clapped at this rare human moment from folks who work so very very hard. The Gym: There is a good deck on the gym floor in which to take pics as most do, but also give the gym a try. We wend there everyday. It is free and they have good equipement. Just bring headphones so that you can also catch that movie you missed the day before , because they have screens and plug ins. The Spa:This is limited to 20 couples on this size ship and is a must do with 12 sea days. I am expecially glad we did, as the mineral tub was so ralaxing with a sea view and the ceramic hot beds were our daily moment of zen. There are also showers, steam rooms, two of them, one cooler one hot. If you can possibly afford it, just do it, and you wont regret it. The pools and hot tubs: THE pool (only one) was refilled with nice warm water that just got colder and colder each sea day. Very motel 6 like. The hot tubs, never hot, the jets are on day and night no option to turn the jets off. The jets are just blasts of cold air the water bubbles six inches high. On the back deck at The Retreat , the wind takes the bubbling water to be shared by all on the deck, and in your face too. The rectangular hot tubs at the Retreat , when they were filled, which wasnt all the time, were oddly the hottest pools and hotter than the hot tubs. They also had motion and jets to them, but were simply hotter. they are shallow, but wonderful. They just simply dont travel well at sea, so they are netted and empty most of the time as most of the water sloshes out across the decks. poor planning. The Room: We booked a oceanview on the promenade deck next too an exit to our "veranda". Loved the fresh air that would blow in when doors on this deck would open and close with people going in and out. Stateroom 327, just steps away from the promanade, providing fresh air, a feeling like it was our own viranda at half the price of the lanai. close to elevators and the atrium, and the lovely atrium steps. The Excursions: We had these stops: Oahu, Maui, Kuai ,Kona and Hilo. On Oahu (this was our overnight stop) we got together with friends for dinner and drinks, but the next day we took the city bus to Hanauma Bay and went snrokeling. I recommend this very much. Clear warm waters and huge fish. We have been to Oahu before so, this was perfect for us. On Hilo we got a rental car and drove to Volcanoes National Park and spent a time there walking trails. On a prior cruise we took the crater hike and it was wonderful. This time we drove to key spots and then drove also to Akaka Falls. This is a very spectacular fall on a very very short walk. Do this is you are pressed for time and want to squeeze in one more side trip. It is worth it. on Kaui we took the Seafun Kauai Shore Snorkel excursion form the ship. This is the best trip! You start in a van with a very short ride to suit up in a short wet suit, which keeps you warm and bouyant enough, so that you dont need a vest as on other snorkel trips. Once at the shore, the guides help you get situated, so dont let the rocky shore worry you. If you are lucky you will get the guide named Paul. We have gotten him twice now. This guy lives in the ocean and knows it like the back of his hand. He always produces a good find. Last time it was a Nerf Shark and Turtles and too many fish to describe. He will even offer to dive with your camera and get a good pic for you. This time he found an Octopus and we took turns holding it with his guidance. He also points out everything so you want to follow him, and he is good at keeping you close if you stray. We saw eels, sea cucumbers, turtles and a million dish. The Octopus was the star this time. The Kona Sail & Snorkel was a Snorkel excursion form the ship. This was a tender port, so this wonderful sail snorkeling excurion starts with a short drive in a van to the Kaloko Honokohau Marina. Then you travel south by catamaran to a sheltered cove. This was a small and intimate catamaran. Good lunch and treats and beer if you want it. The fish were wonderful and we always see some species that we haven't seen before. This location had a beautiful view of a beach that only native hawaiians can go to, but it was also close to a nice drop off.The water is thirty feet deep where the boat ties off to an anchor point. The water is very clear visablity is 120 feet. Along the shore are blocks lava that are plentifull with marine life and unbelievable amounts of fish. This was one of the few locations that we saw schools of fish. This is not for first time snorkelers or weak swimmers. The guides are friendly and very knowledgable of this pristine spot. West Maui Snorkel Cruise snorkel excurion from the ship:This the second time we have taken this excursion and was just as great as the first time. The crew is fun and friendly, very helpful for first time snorkelers. The water is about 20 feet deep, coral heads rise off the bottom at least 15 feet. Marine life covers the coral heads that attract the fish and turtles. The water is very clear you can see for 60-80 feet, fish are very abundant swimming around the coral heads. This spot is south of the ship tender close to Olowala state reserve on shore the water is very calm.The sail back to port is mostly by motor, the crew tries to sail but the wind has other ideas, take lots of pictures going to and from this location. The good: We love cruising and love our surrounding both at home and on a ship. Not much can dampen our day. One sweet highlight was seeing a storm petral and an albatross on the water. The bad: People who think that they are royalty; one day a woman stuck her pronged cane in the elevator while it was closing. It clamped down on the end and she was stuck on the outside with the rest of her cane and i was stuck on the inside with the end of it. Naturally it shut down the elevators and i had to pry open the doors. It put the elvator out of commision for a day. This might work in a city, not so much on a cruise ship. The ugly: Buzz kill negative people who hate their surroundings should not cruise. This sucks the life out of those of us who do. If you run around and take bowls of cheese or all the almonds you are selfish. If you complain that the soup is cold when there is steam clearly rising from it, you are ignorant. Leave cruising to those of us who know how to do it. Read Less
Sail Date December 2014
Background We cruise often, and usually during the holidays. We're all 3-star HAL Mariners, even our 9 year old. We're in our 40's; husband's parents in their 60's. We've also cruised Celebrity 3 times, and ... Read More
Background We cruise often, and usually during the holidays. We're all 3-star HAL Mariners, even our 9 year old. We're in our 40's; husband's parents in their 60's. We've also cruised Celebrity 3 times, and Princess 3 times (in-laws have cruised Princess 5-6 times) and RCCL a few times as well. But most of our cruising is with Holland America. We prefer mid-size/smaller ships. We booked this cruise VERY last minute, directly with HAL, therefore we were wait-listed for everything: dining, upgrades and even getting a cabin on the ship in the first place. We ended up with a Cat. B Vista Suite and my in-laws got the smaller Cat VQ Spa Verandah, both on Deck 9, Verandah Deck. (I will be making a lot of comparisons to Princess in the review because we have cruised most recently with Princess. We were considering switching from HAL to Princess as our preferred cruise line after we had a disappointing experience with HAL, not with an actual cruise, but with how a future cruise deposit was mishandled by the corporate office. HAL eventually made us whole on the issue, and we weren't completely swept off our feet with our Princess experiences, therefore we'll cruise either line now depending on price & itinerary) Embarkation and disembarkation in San Diego was easy, quick and efficient. We live in Los Angeles, and we drove down on the morning of embarkation, parked (pre-paid parking online) at the Wyndham (formerly a Holiday Inn) across the street from terminal for $65 for the entire week. My in-laws had flown in from Canada a day or so earlier and had stayed at that same hotel. They were very pleased with their room there. I think we were on the ship by 11am, well in time for the Mariner's Welcome Lunch in the dining room. The Ship This is our 2nd time on the Veendam. We did a Bermuda cruise on this ship, summer 2010. We really enjoyed that cruise, and thought the ship was in good shape then, but they've spiffed up the soft goods (carpet, upholstery, window treatments, etc.) even since that cruise. They also improved the one thing we didn't like about the ship in 2010 -- that silly "retreat" thing. Remember when HAL had that really bad, and thankfully short-lived idea to replace all of the aft pools with that retreat concept? Which was basically some loungers standing in 3 inches of water and some other poorly executed water features? I think they were trying to compete with RCCL's H20 zone, and HAL really missed the mark on that one. Anyway, it is still called "the retreat" on the Veendam but it is now two large hot-tubs and two plunge pools. We'd still prefer another pool, but this is much, much better than their first retreat concept. At first, I thought I was confusing the Veendam with another ship, but I pulled up our Bermuda cruise pix on my Flickr account, and sure enough, the Veendam aft "retreat" in summer 2010 looked entirely different, even the tiling is a different color. The outdoor teen Oasis area above the kids club appeared to be closed for the entire cruise. We have a tween, therefore this really didn't affect us, but if she were a teen, she would have been really disappointed. She has cruised HAL many times, and is really looking forward to the day she is able to use the Oasis. Our cabins were forward, but I noticed a slight sewer smell on the stateroom decks towards the rear of the ship. They placed long auxiliary dining tables perpendicular to one side of the pool on embarkation day; we've seen that before but usually it's temporary for embarkation dining or later on in the cruise for a BBQ. But they remained there for the entire cruise, and that not only displaced loungers by the ship's only real pool, but it also compromised the ambiance of the pool area. But the ship was in amazing shape, especially for an 18 year old ship! Cabins We had B123, which is a Vista Suite forward. Our cabin was almost perfect, except that it was rather creaky while sailing. That was the ONLY thing in the entire cruise that revealed the ship's age. The first night was really noisy and kept us awake. But then we either got used to it, or it wasn't as noisy later on in the cruise. The cabin was spotless, and the carpet and other soft goods in the room looked brand new. Our steward was very pleasant and took good care of us. Plenty of room and storage for the three of us. Although my daughter, who has slept in many cruise ship sofa beds, said this sofa bed was the most uncomfortable one. We really like the verandahs on HAL much better than Princess. HAL's teak flooring looks more upscale than the blue rubber matting on Princess. But what really makes a difference is that HAL's decks are far more private than what we have experienced on Princess. My in-laws had the smaller VQ Spa Verandah, room 106. They had a recurring problem with brown water coming out of the sink, shower and tub. This happened several times throughout the cruise, and they never seemed to get it fixed. We had smokers next to us who smoked on their verandah often, as they are allowed to do on HAL. In theory, smoking in not allowed on Princess verandahs, but they do it anyway. Dining The food in general was better than we have experienced on our most recent HAL cruises. We try to take as many meals as possible in the dining room, including breakfast lunch. We like set dining, late, but since we booked the cruise last minute, we got "any time" dining, which we do not like at all. At the Mariner's Welcome lunch on embarkation day, my mother-in-law asked the maitre d' about providing us with a standing reservation at the same table around 8pm, but he said he couldn't do it. Later on, I happened to stumble upon Fauzi, who was at the pool and taking dinner reservations. I really think Fauzi made this cruise for us and restored our faith and loyalty in HAL. I explained to him that we liked traditional, set dining, with the same table and waiters every night, and this was very important to our family's overall cruise experience. And he made it happen! (With the exception of one night, which was partly our fault because we were late) He was also our waiter, along with his assistant Yo and Madonna the sommelier, and those three really made this cruise for us. We enjoyed everything we ate in the dining room. It's not Michelin star-rated cuisine, but it is really good. Also, we did have a few meals in the Lido, and the pastas were the best and the sushi isn't bad for a cruise ship. We had one lunch in the Pinnacle, and it was very good. I had the crab cakes. Children's Activities Our 9 year old daughter went to the Kids Club every night and enjoyed it very much. She is a seasoned cruiser, and gives Princess a slight edge on Kids Club, but she really enjoyed the activities on the Veendam. This was her first HAL cruise in the tweens program. Also, HAL had no children's books in the library (Princess has a nice selection of books for young readers.) We were told that the kids books were in the Kids Club, but my daughter said it was baby books and Harry Potter and nothing else. Not a big deal; we'll just remember to bring more books for her on our next cruise. We're an interfaith family, and we appreciated that HAL had both Christmas and Hanukkah services/activities onboard. We even had a Rabbi to lead services. Santa visited the Showroom on Xmas Day. As I mentioned previously, the teen outdoor Oasis was closed for the entire cruise, but they did have their indoor Loft space. Entertainment Overall, very good entertainment on this ship. There were more actual vocalists in the cast than I was expecting for a ship this small. The first night was a short show that gave us a preview of all of the entertainment around the ship. Second night was the Bob Mackie Broadway tribute which we've seen on other HAL ships, but it holds up. Third night was a magician that was just OK. One night was there was a show called (I think) Encore, which primarily features just two of the vocalists and it was AMAZING. We usually had our pre-dinner cocktails in the Ocean Bar or Explorer's Lounge around 7:45pm, and it seemed that our timing was bad as the entertainers always went on dinner break shortly after we arrived. However, what we did hear in the Ocean Bar was good and the Adagio (classical violin and piano) duo on the Explorer's Lounge was exceptional. Ports This was our 3rd Mexican Riviera cruise, and I have been reluctant to get off the ship (except in Cabo) because of all of the reports of incidents with cruise passengers in the other Mexican ports. My husband doesn't share my feelings and always gets off the ship and usually schedules his own private surfing or diving excursions. This year, I vowed to my family that I would make an effort to get off at every port. We did our usual in Cabo: Tender into the marina, then take a water taxi over to Mendano Beach, walk down the beach past the loud party spots and post up in front of the Pueblo Bonita resort. It's just a day at the beach, and that's fine with us. Mazatlan was a delightful surprise. There's a huge ex-pat (Americans, Canadians) community there who have organized as a volunteer group with the goal of making cruisers and other tourists feel welcome, informed and safe. They greet the cruise ships passengers with maps and are available to answer questions. We walked from the ship to the town center that was very charming, and then walked out to the beach area where the cliff divers are. In Puerto Vallarta, my husband went surfing and my daughter, my in-laws and I took a taxi into town. We walked around, went into a few shops and also visited the Cathedral. We ended up at a restaurant (The Blue Shrimp) on the Playa de Los Muertos for some beers, snacks and wi-fi. I feel a lot better about ports in Mexico now, and I'm also inspired to brush up on my Spanish. Service I think service, in general, was better on this ship than our most recent HAL cruises. However, if you needed anything, you have to go to the front desk where there was never a line and everything was dealt with efficiently and satisfactorily. But they never, ever answered the phone extension # that is for service or questions. Spa I purchased the thermal chair package for my husband and me ($149) during open house on embarkation day. Because there are only 5 chairs, and the ship was completely sold out, I was skeptical about being able to actually use them. The spa manager assured me that I wouldn't have any problems with availability since they sold only 20 "passes" per cruise. Technically that may be true, but you also have to account for the people who are having spa services done at any given time as they have access to the thermal chair suite and there are other types of packages that include access. And then there are those tacky passengers who buy one pass but then let their entire family in and camp out there for hours on end. The first time I tried to use the thermal chairs, the suite was packed. A family of 4, who were very open about the fact that they were sharing just one pass between them, was reserving all of the chairs, even if one of them went into the steam room for 20 minutes or so. HAL cannot prevent this behavior, of course, but they need to better about policing it. One of the steam rooms wasn't working. And the water jets in the hot tub NEVER worked for the entire cruise. When I asked, I was told it was just a hot tub, not a Jacuzzi. So why did it have the water jets? To be fair, every time my husband went, he had no problem getting a chair and I was also able to get a chair on subsequent visits, and the steam room was eventually repaired. My husband went every day and I went 3-4 times. I got a massage that was very good. Meant to go back for the hot stone massage but never got around to it. In summary, the spa is lovely and has a lot to offer but was understaffed. They needed more than one person on the front desk, checking people in, booking appts, etc. And they need to have some one checking in on the thermal suite to make sure everyone is in compliance with the rules. Odds/Ends I have been on nearly 20 cruises and never gotten seasick until this cruise. The weather wasn't bad (have sailed much rougher waters) but I got a mild case of nausea on our last (at sea) day. My mother-in-law, who is prone to seasickness, was violently ill for the last 30-36 hours SOLID of the cruise. Not sure why. Our cabins were pretty far forward, and we usually try to get aft or mid-ship. Not sure if that had anything to do with it. But it was definitely seasickness, as opposed to something viral, because we all felt better when we reached San Diego. Very limited on board duty free shopping in terms of cosmetics and fragrance but costume jewelry for days! Never a line at the Explorations Cafe for coffee, but it was more expensive than Princess' International Cafe, even with my 3-star Mariner discount. BE CAREFUL when signing up for the internet package. It's easy to accidentally sign up for a $250 plan when you didn't really mean to. They took it off of our bill and said that it happens a lot since they've switched platforms. I was impressed with the depth of the cruise director's staff for such a small ship. The Veendam has a full time librarian, a future cruise consultant, a port shopping expert, a port/location expert and others. And they always seemed to be available. And make sure you don't get the ship's little blue fabric laundry bag mixed up in your things and accidentally bring it home with you because they will charge you $15 just like it says on the bag. Believe me, a used dirty laundry bag from a cruise ship was not an intentional souvenir on our part! The captain was approachable and very visible. Summary We cruise often and none of these minor shortcomings I mentioned here had a significant impact on our overall enjoyment of the cruise. The crew on this ship really had it together both in service and operations. Ran like a top. It was a lovely cruise, and we're definitely keeping HAL in our future cruising options.   Read Less
Sail Date December 2014
I was travelling solo and took what I was given for 16 days with 11 ports. At ports I went off solo and re-discovered some favorite places from the past as well as some new places, people, and adventures. (I rarely if ever do ... Read More
I was travelling solo and took what I was given for 16 days with 11 ports. At ports I went off solo and re-discovered some favorite places from the past as well as some new places, people, and adventures. (I rarely if ever do "excursions.") On Board met so many couples with fascinating stories. Ship's staff was 5-star. (I did not attend entertainment so no review there.) All in all, never a dull moment for me. Now to the negative which generated title of my commentary. Booked this Christmas/New Year cruise almost 10 months in advance. Understood price guarantee should there be a future discount. Woops!. Huge drop 7 weeks before sailing but it was secret. deal!! Secret from those who had purchased early. HAL made no offer of upgrade and/or discount to those who had already paid full price. Only when folks embarked we all discovered that well over 12% of ocean-view cabins had been sold-- 6 weeks earlier--- at far, far less than longtime passengers paid. AND low, low price for cabin also included extras free: Round-trip air from west coast of US to east coast free plus pre and post stays at Ft. Lauderdale hotel, etc. Understand person who had paid over $1,000 per day for top tier suite was livid to discover same type sold month before sailing for about 50% less per day. In my own case: Traveled solo in what I could afford which was tiniest interior cabin I have ever seen! Slept on narrow cot-- not a bed. Paid $3,000 plus 60% single supplement. Another widow (also solo) paid just a bit less than I did, only 6 weeks before sailing. What did she have? For less than my cabin cost, she had a large ocean-view cabin, mid-ship, with 2 regular single beds,plus free air from Seattle, and free pre and post-cruise in FLL. . Read Less
Sail Date December 2014
Just finished our cruise and omg, it was an amazing ship! We embarked from Port Everglades and I have never in my life been without internet access that long, but that's the point of a cruise, right? To experience it all? We did! We ... Read More
Just finished our cruise and omg, it was an amazing ship! We embarked from Port Everglades and I have never in my life been without internet access that long, but that's the point of a cruise, right? To experience it all? We did! We started our trip staying at the Quality Inn & Suites Airport/Cruise Port South. This is key: THEY HAVE A FREE AIRPORT SHUTTLE AAAAAAAAAND A FREE CRUISE SHUTTLE! Well, at least FROM/TO the airport and TO the cruise. It's $10ea to get a shuttle back to the hotel from the cruise port, which isn't bad. The rooms were musty smelling, but overall nice-ish. The chairs had stains and the bathroom floor left much to be desired, but the curtain is curved, so at least it doesn't touch you. Wish the cruise one was curved! Also, gotta love the sign telling you to not steal the towels, they are inventoried. You get what you pay for spending $99 a night, but it's next door to the Oakwood Plaza where we got a bunch of last minute stuff. That strip mall has a LOT. Getting on the ship early is key! I was expecting to queue for hours....we got on the shuttle from the hotel at 10:30. They ask you to tell them the night before you need a ride and they ask you what ship/day and they assign you a time. They have a huge mini bus that takes passengers to cruise port, because they attach a mini UHaul looking thing to the back to store everyone's luggage. We were at the cruise terminal 15 mins later. You can have your luggage checked from the curb and put on the ship or, if like us, your luggage is small enough to go through the airport scanner looking thing, you can bring it on the ship yourself. We only had a duffle bag each, so this is what we did. HAL lets you bring ONE 750ml bottle of wine or champagne for EACH person (assuming 2 ppl per room), no hard liquor or beer on the first night. The Dollar Star in the plaza next door sells CHEAP wine, $4/10 that people were going crazy over because it's GOOD cheap wine, so we bought 2 bottles on board and had to sadly toss the half drank chardonnay at the scanner. You can also bring booze you buy on board and they hold it until the night before for free...or you pay an $18per bottle corkage fee. We got our alcohol back the last night. From there you have to go through HAL front desk to get your room key, show passport etc in a terminal meets a hotel front desk. They give you a cruise group number in line to get to this and after you check-in, you sit and wait to be called to take escalator up to get on ship. Total time between getting off of shuttle and on to the ship? Maybe 20mins. Then again, we were also SUPER early. Our number was in the teens to get on. Other passengers told me their wait to just be called was like 45 mins. Anywho, they make you scan your card and sanitize your hands to get on the ship. All of the crew were very friendly all of the time, even when you knew they wanted to smack you or the person treating them rudely. They were all genuinely nice to me, because I wasn't rude to them. Then again, like I said, even the people I wanted to harm FOR them for being so rude were treated calmly and politely on this trip. We carried our own luggage on and the stewards meet you all along the way and at the elevators to direct you to your room on the first day. This was helpful and nice. Our room was right in the middle of the ship and close to the elevators. Score! It was an HH Obstructed View room, which just meant the lifeboar was RIGHT outside your window. We came in and checked out our room. Plenty of space to put your items for a long or short trip. They give you a daily tri folded itinerary. This ship uses a LOT of paper. They need to automate it somehow and make it a channel,too, to save on paper! We dropped our stuff off and went exploring....ie....to get food. O.M.G...as a first time cruiser, we decided to forgo paying for meals, so we stuck to Lido dining on 9 and once or twice the Vista Dining Room on 3 for our meals. Vista for dinner on the majority of nights was formal or semi formal. One guy declined wearing a jacket. Seriously? They give you one if you don't have it. He had a sweater and slacks and said no, so they declined him entering. You could have taken the jacket off at the table. We did Vista Dining once for lunch and once for dinner and just did Lido all other times. Lido is come as you are all the time and is open ALL the time, so we started our journey there and spent all of our time there for the most part. They have Asian, deli, bistro, ice cream, drinks and salad bar. Each table is pretty much ocean view. One side of each station is always open, both sides are during lunch and dinner. We never made it to breakfast and never utilized the free room service. If we wanted to eat, we could go ourselves. It was useful if you were doing shore excursions and wanted to sleep in, but even then, they slipped us notices the night before port saying it would be better to just go upstairs to the dining, since so many would use room service. We ate A LOT. Soda is not included in meals, so we stuck to water, iced tea and lemonade. It was a nice change. Other than at the salad bar, they serve the food to you and the wait wasn't really that long, even when there was a line. Why they individually heat up pasta in skillet at the salad bar is mind boggling. Do you know how much time that delays? It saves on freshness, though. So they don't waste. The variety of food reminded me of my college. Pizza, pasta, ice cream, meat, salads, sandwiches. It was 4.75/5, only because of the whole pasta delay. But yes, the food was great. The BB King All Stars were great entertainment on the ship in the Queen's Lounge and once in the Vista Lounge/main stage. There were also Zuiderdam singers and dancers, but the BB King people made the trip SO much better. We were never bored on the trip. We slept a lot, ate a lot and just sat on the deck a lot watching the world go by. Deck 3 has chairs everywhere and up on 10, the observation deck. We noticed that is NOT the case with the other ships we saw. Celebrity X gives everyone their own veranda with 2 chairs and you could walk between them! The deck everyone uses had like 2 sets of chairs. How un-inviting. We thought we had a big ship, until other ships like Celebrity, Norweigan and the Disney one made ours look like a tugboat. Even with 1900+ passengers, it never felt that way. It sure wasn't loud on the ship. It was peaceful the majority of the time. Like our own huge private yacht. The staff were great. Always polite and never cross. Hamish the cruise director was a riot. I liked that he seems to like his job. Allegra was another story. The "free" jewelry she is hawking at you to get is just costume jewelry in each port. Beware. Yes, this cruise is said to have an older crowd and sometimes it was like walking behind dinosaurs because people are so slow, but when I'm that age, would I want someone to treat me this way simply for being alive? Heck, the passengers who were older were the life of the ship! Dancing and participating in the events. I had a great time. I even had lunch one day with an older gentleman when we were docked in St. Martin/Marteen who just decided to sit at my table while I was off getting lunch, because he said he lost his wife, but we were at sea, she'd show up eventually. I came back to my table that had my bag at it and I was like "hello, how are you?" Did I expect to see him at my booth? Nope. But hey, we were at sea. Live in the moment. I was able to wave at him when I saw him on the ship on other days, same as the couples who sat at our table when we ate in the Vista Lounge. Being friendly is key on this cruise. Strangers talked to us all the time, simply because we made eye contact. We went to Grand Turk, San Juan, St. Martin/Marteen and Half Moon Cay on this holiday cruise. We were in each port just long enough to not wear out the welcome. I spent a lot of $ in ports, but it was well worth it. The ship also gives you sturdy navy and beige booksized totes with their logo and name on it. It screams I'M A TOURIST while in port. I cared before the first port, at all the following ones, at least one of us carried ours. It was raining on day 2 when we got to the first port of Grand Turk, but 20 mins later it stopped and was sunny skies ALL day. Make SURE to call your bank to tell them you will be out of the country, so when you use your card in different ports, you won't get locked out at the first attempt. I called my bank and gave a heads up a month before the trip in case I forgot. I had to tell them every port and which days I'd be there. The front desk also lets you use their courtesy phone to call your bank or card company for free, as my family member had to do on day one. I shut off my cell's data, roaming and backround data while still in FL and put it on airplane mode JUST to be sure. The ship has it's own time that may not match your own, but you can always turn to the "where are we?" map channel that has the date, time, ship location and temperature. If you have a magnetic wallet, don't keep your room key in it. I demagnetized mine TWICE before having to keep it in the separate padded insert you get at check-in. At the end of the trip, you still have to go through customs. That was the longest line we were in the whole trip. Because we again, carried our own stuff, we got expedited disembarkation. It took us about half an hour to get off the ship and wait in the customs line. The ship was going SUPER fast home, because we were back in FL by like 6:15a and that was even including the 90 mins we moored off the coast of Half Moon Cay as they tried to locate two passengers the day before. We were at the airport by 9:30a, which sucked, because I booked a LATE AFTERNOON flight, thinking it would have taken longer. This included stopping at the post office at 8a and waiting an hour for it to open. The ship was not rocky at all. So if that is what they were like WITHOUT the stabilizers, well gee, wonder what it is like WITH them. Don't get me wrong, you FELT the up and down, up and down, up and down when in the front of the ship in the Crows Nest, Vista Lounge or observation deck, but only there. I definitely will cruise with HAL again. For a holiday cruise, the price was great, less than $500 and that included the upgrade to HH. I only got the room around Thanksgiving....so it was a steal. Thumbs up!   Read Less
Sail Date December 2014
We fear that the days of feeling like Royalty while traveling as a verandah-balcony-class passenger are slipping away. The Cruise Industry may be following in the steps of the Airline industry in their effort to economize. Space is tighter ... Read More
We fear that the days of feeling like Royalty while traveling as a verandah-balcony-class passenger are slipping away. The Cruise Industry may be following in the steps of the Airline industry in their effort to economize. Space is tighter and services and amenities are being "redirected" to maintain profitability. As long-time balcony-cabin cruisers our first shock came when we saw the small 4 ft x 10ft balcony in cabin V5084 with just enough room for two of us and a couple of chairs, an ottoman, and tiny 18 inch high table. Balconies on older ships were significantly more spacious. Our Upper Verandah room was just above lifeboats #8 and #6 on Port side. The balcony was private and well protected from rain by a large overhang above, the only intrusion being maintenance crews greasing the lifeboat hoist mechanisms - which they did while docked on days 2 and 6 of our cruise. The cabin was small but adequate with very comfortable bed, and an additional couch and desk area. Bathroom with shower and small tub were fine (incl shampoo & conditioner & soap dispensers), though we wish there had been a night light; instead we kept the bathroom light on with door closed at night since light switches were hard to find in the dark. 2 cozy robes were provided. Closet space was ok but poorly illuminated. Three life-vests occupied the top shelves of the 3 closets --- these would be better stowed in the difficult to open cabinets above the couch. Volume on the small TV was poor while watching movies, even at max setting. Closed-captioning was definitively a help, but did not always work for some reason. Fortunately channel 44 announcements came through loud and clear. The morning sun was quite obvious since the curtains were not room-darkening enough. We faced away from land at Half Moon Cay and in Key West. The next shocker was the coffee - something that was always a treat on Holland in the past. It was downright mediocre and not becoming of the Dutch tradition of a "lekker kopje koffie" (delicious cup of coffee). The Half and Half was thin and milk-like. No doubt the motivation is to economize with cheaper beans and to drive coffee aficionado's to deck 11 Explorations Cafe, which features a Starbucks type coffee-shop that charges extra! Likewise, internet access is available but slow and expensive ($55 for 100 minutes). We had an excellent signal in our room, but just signing on and getting our backlog of messages consumed several minutes each time. Wi-fi calling was impossible on my t-mobile phone since the connection was too slow. The cabin stewards did their best, were pleasant, and were obviously being pushed to their limits: one afternoon my wife accidentally spilled some crackers in front of the couch, and while the room had been turned out nicely for bedtime, we found crumbs still all over the floor. When we asked about this the next day our cabin steward indicated they only had time to vacuum in the mornings. The ships' staff were excellent as always, and seemed to be even friendlier than we remembered in our past travels ... plenty of "good mornings", "how are you", "have a nice day", etc. The TAMARIND restaurant in particular was a truly exceptional experience! For the $20 extra cost you are treated to an extraordinary oriental meal, and my 1-1/2 inch thick wasabi-encrusted filet mignon put any other meat served in Lido or the Rembrandt restaurant to shame - especially the 3/4 inch drab filet they served on Steak & Lobster formal night (Note: we never ate at the Pinnacle Grill, so can't compare). Food quality and selection in general was very good and we never had stomach issues. We do suggest you plan on eating outside of "normal" hours since rush hour gets really busy. The elevators were TERRIFIC!!! Super fast and efficient with lovely waiting areas that were tastefully designed, and with roomy staircases. We loved the outside elevators with their awesome views. Other areas of the ship, in particular the main Lobby & Atrium on decks 1 & 2, seemed small and narrow, though most of the time they were not crowded. The Casino was ok but the older-type 25 cent slot machines we like to play were on the smoking side, and ventilation was inadequate to prevent drifting smoke from becoming unbearable at times. Neither of us felt compelled to attend evening performances in the Queen's lounge, and we missed the ol' days of magicians, comedians, and hypnotists. The shops are excellent, brightly lit with plenty of selection in a wide variety of prices. There was a sidewalk sale one day on Lido but due to maintenance on the the sliding roof mechanism the trapped heat and humidity from the pool and all the passengers present was stifling as we waited in long lines to pay the cashiers. The SPA was fantastic though expensive (as usual). We consider it a treat and don't mind the surcharge, though we did opt for shore days when rates were discounted. The facilities are lovely, and the very capable massage therapists had wonderful attitudes. The nearby Gym has plenty of room and equipment, with nice sea views. Exercisers have plenty of opportunity to walk on Promenade, the observation decks, and play tennis/soccer/basketball etc. on the very nice net-enclosed Sports deck. The Eurodam is equipped with the latest stabilizing equipment, but I doubt those were needed during our cruise since we had such perfect weather throughout our 7 day trip. Cabin V5084 is located exactly midships and therefore already extremely stable. We hardly felt the waves and it was only the soft vibrations of the engines that reminded us we were on a ship. In fact we didn't even experience the after cruise wave sensations that normally stay with us days after a cruise ends. So, while this new ship is technologically more advanced, for us the bottom line feeling was that of a cheapening of the cruising experience. New cruisers may have a completely different opinion, but we can't help make comparisons to our previous trips. The economic reasons are understandable, but nevertheless we will avoid the Eurodam, and its sister the Nieuwe Amsterdam, in our future travels. We hope that the older ships will maintain their stature and dignity long enough for us to enjoy a few more cruises before those too get redesigned to achieve financial efficiencies.   Read Less
Sail Date December 2014
Cruised Western Caribbean on HAL Eurodam over Christmas/Hanukkah week December 2014. Third HAL cruise, first time Caribbean. First Eurodam experience. Previously traveled on Zuiderdam and Oosterdam. Traveled with hubby, 15-year-old son. ... Read More
Cruised Western Caribbean on HAL Eurodam over Christmas/Hanukkah week December 2014. Third HAL cruise, first time Caribbean. First Eurodam experience. Previously traveled on Zuiderdam and Oosterdam. Traveled with hubby, 15-year-old son. Sister-in-law and her family of four (hubby, two adult children, ages 21 and 24) also took this cruise. Pre-cruise -- we flew from LAX to MIA on Saturday for a Sunday departure out of Ft. Lauderdale. Did not want to risk connecting flights flying across the country during the holiday season. Arranged for HAL transfer to Ft. Lauderdale and then ended up renting a car in Miami for the 20 minute drive to Ft. Lauderdale. HAL would not refund the transfer fee of $30 pp even with advance notice. Once you book that it is non-refundable. Learned a lesson there. Stayed at Marriott Spring Hill Suites, took their free shuttle to cruise terminal on Sunday morning. Learned that we needed to book shuttle immediately upon check in as they, too, sell out space (even though they are free)! Hotel was sold out and everyone staying there was cruising, too, not only on HAL but on many other ships that dock at Ft. Lauderdale. Cabins -- we originally booked a Superior Verandah Suite on deck 6, midship as we have had great experience with the extra room there for teen son who is 5'11". One month before embarkation we received an email from HAL asking if we'd like to upgrade to Neptune Suite for additional (discounted) cost. We did this and moved to Suite 5186 with is a Neptune Suite aft corner balcony room on deck 5. Will try to attach photos as I could not find specific reviews for this room. Will detail that below. Suffice to say we were extremely pleased with this room. The bathroom size is the same as the Superior Verandah suite however there is an additional small dressing area attached to the bathroom with three extra closets and a separate vanity/drawer area. This room is somewhat smaller than traditional Neptune suites apparently, due to the increased balcony size. We liked that. This room also only holds 3 people -- the sofa bed is for one. The balcony is the draw as is the aft view. We heard no extra noise due to being at the back of the ship. The only drawback from Neptune amenities was that it is located on deck 5, not 7, as the other suites of same category are. The view is tremendous and you get a nice feeling of being alone on the sea when you are outside. Port vs. Starboard location -- our cabin had port and aft view. Port side on this trip will bring sunrise right into your room. December weather was cloudy at night so the only sunsets we saw generally were off the aft of the ship (great for our room!). Port side had view of Half Moon Cay beach, Falmouth terminal and old town, George Town from afar (tender port) and was facing away from Key West). Starboard side had awesome view of Cuba as we cruised by it from Bahamas to Jamaica. It faced away from most ports with the exception of Key West. Wind tended to be more of an issue on port side -- we rarely sat out on that side of the balcony due to the wind. I'd personally choose starboard for this cruise at this time of year. Food, Main Dining Room -- always great. This cruise no exception. Portions seemed on the smaller side which we liked as we didn't feel overwhelmed with various courses. We chose "at will" dining and never had to wait for a table for 7. Ate there 5 nights. Food and service spectacular every time. This was the best dining of the three HAL experiences. Don't know why -- the level was just raised in our opinion. They stressed attention to any food allergies or preferences (gluten free in ours). All great. Food, Lido Buffet -- ate here three times. Consistently great on all three cruises. Noticed special attention to water delivery around the machines as they are trying to prevent people from filling water bottles / cross contaminating I suppose. Ebola was in the news just a month earlier and special attention (we were grateful for it) was paid to keeping everything sanitary. Food, Tamarind -- a new restaurant for us, located on 11th floor, midship elevator. Wow, the bar here is the best on the ship! Gorgeous with wrap around glass windows at the top of the ship. Beautiful Lido pool view at night. Empty when we were there. The Asian inspired dinner we had was exceptional. Innovative food combinations, gorgeous presentation and many courses. Super service -- women are the servers here vs. men in all other dining rooms. Husband had a great sake with his dinner. We love it so much we had lunch there the next day (lunch is free), but we left in the middle of the lunch because of the slow service (it took over an hour to get through soup and salad alone), plus a very sick, sniffly, coughing, sneezing woman was right behind us. Unpleasant but would recommend this location for dining. Food, Pinnacle Grill -- again this was our best Pinnacle dining experience ever. Dinner was perfectly prepared, service exceptional. Steaks cooked exactly as requested, fun appetizers and decadent desserts. Had a lovely Oregon Pinot Noir that evening -- truly a treat. Pinnacle Grill is always a special occasion and though we never dined there for lunch, we were treated with breakfast there daily due to our Neptune suite privilege. This was a highlight of our cruise. Husband and I had a quiet time there every morning and loved every minute of it. Entertainment -- HAL always mixes it up and we've found ourselves doing different things each cruise. This time we were treated to a super group called BB King's that played in the Queen's Lounge. The group was from Memphis and they were amazing. The singers blew everyone away -- their energy and the band's professionalism and enthusiasm brought us back night after night. They got everyone on the dance floor (holiday cruise had quite the age range) and this will be a memory forever. The other groups and shows on the ship were good -- the piano bar fellow was kind of a drag (way different from other HAL experiences). Cruise director was great and the games runner did a super job -- don't know when he slept. They had good diversity of choice for the demographic. We were never bored and our teens and young adults had a blast. Honestly, we were tired when we got off the ship because we had such a good time. Pools -- The pools were not heated I think -- at least the aft pool wasn't, or if so, it was still really cold. This pool was stated to be for adults only though, being a holiday cruise, kids were in it (only ones to stand the temp!), not little ones however, and no one made a fuss. The deck area was hot in the sun, so we used the outdoor shower/rinse off to get wet and then lay out. We were disappointed with the layout of the Lido pool on the Eurodam -- the cabanas take away from table seating areas and therefore everything is crowded on deck. Add in the merchandise tables with T-shirts for sale every day -- too much stuff going on for relaxation. They should take away the clothing for sale tables and put back pool accessories (tables and lounge chairs). The food at the Dive grill rock, however! Order there and take away to a better, quieter location. Fitness Center -- HAL ships are pretty much all the same -- though we were treated to an announcement of a new configuration coming soon. That being said, the fitness centers on the three ships we've traveled on are pretty much the same. I did use the elliptical trainer and the treadmill twice at 6:30-7:00 in the morning (coming from PST, no problem!). Room is clean, equipment fair to good shape. The audio/TVs attached to the machines have seen better days but they worked. Hubby and niece took a yoga class and they liked it but said it was too short. 45 minutes, not enough time to stretch and benefit. Would have preferred 1 hour. Other days I strolled deck 3 roundabout early in the morning (3 laps = 1 mile). They have outlawed jogging/running for fitness so power walking is as fast as you can go on HAL these days. Who is in a hurry anyway? :-) Shore excursions -- our experience with cruising is that you never really get to know a country when you cruise. The cruise experience is more ship related with a time out at various locations. Holiday cruises are even more so as we hit our favorite port (George Town) on Christmas Day when most shops, restaurants, etc., are closed. Plan your trip accordingly. Service -- HAL has exceptional service. I cannot compare it to other lines as we've not tried them, but we love the fact that they include tips in your bill and you can at will gift extra or not. We've never had a bad experience and it continues to draw us back. They do spoil you for the real world. End of cruise -- we took a cab from cruise ship to Ft. Lauderdale airport. Cost us $20 (including tip) for the three of us and we were able to fit our four bags (two of which were large checkable suitcases) in the cab with us. Line to get cab was strangely short -- had to wait 10 minutes only. Don't know if we got lucky or if that's always the case. We felt lucky for sure! For us now, 7 days is too short of a cruise. Would love a 10 day choice as we are planning for leaving only the day after we arrive for a week. We had an amazing time - this cruise ranked as one of our best vacations ever.   Read Less
Sail Date December 2014
Service in the dining room was disorganized and very slow. The waiters are having to serve more tables but that didn't excuse the chaos that characterized the first and last night's dining. The dining room staff looked quite ... Read More
Service in the dining room was disorganized and very slow. The waiters are having to serve more tables but that didn't excuse the chaos that characterized the first and last night's dining. The dining room staff looked quite stressed. The courses that were served sometimes differed from the menu description. The musical ensemble no longer plays at dinner. The chocolate buffet has gone. And room service was inconsistent. Nevertheless the ship is well maintained and elegant and the atmosphere was generally friendly and relaxed. This was our 5th HA cruise and I suspect that the short cruises out of the US offer somewhat less than the longer cruises from foreign ports. One delightful aspect of this cruise was the large number of children taking advantage of the Thanksgiving holiday. Very unusual for HA cruises but it was great to so them enjoying the experience. Read Less
Sail Date November 2014
Are you looking for a show that is different and wonderful? I highly recommend the Cantaré show on the Nieuw Amsterdam that I have seen a total of five times on two cruises. (I got to see it so many times because my 14-day cruise is a sum ... Read More
Are you looking for a show that is different and wonderful? I highly recommend the Cantaré show on the Nieuw Amsterdam that I have seen a total of five times on two cruises. (I got to see it so many times because my 14-day cruise is a sum of two seven-day cruises, Western and then Eastern Caribbean. I've been on this cruise twice.) The show is simple. It is four male singers from the ship's entertainment company, but the choices of the music, the staging, and the arrangements are perfection. I got three CD's, one for my house, one for my car, and one as a gift. It all was part of a very lovely cruise over Thanksgiving on a very nicely laid out ship. There are great entertainment venues, and the ship is new and well appointed. The food was good. The staterooms attendants about the best we've ever had. Only one problem. Being Thanksgiving, there were 200+ children on board. They were more apparent than on most other cruise lines I've been on. Most were lovely and a pleasure to be around, but then there were a few whom the parents didn't even bother to try and control. Read Less
Sail Date November 2014
RATINGS (out of 10): Stateroom 'VA' veranda - 8 Ship condition - 9 Staff - 10 Food quantity/variety - 9 Food quality - 6 Itinerary - 10 Grand Turk catamaran/snorkel - 7 San Juan PR strolling - 7 St. Martin Orient Bay ... Read More
RATINGS (out of 10): Stateroom 'VA' veranda - 8 Ship condition - 9 Staff - 10 Food quantity/variety - 9 Food quality - 6 Itinerary - 10 Grand Turk catamaran/snorkel - 7 San Juan PR strolling - 7 St. Martin Orient Bay Beach - 6 Half Moon Cay - 10 Entertainment - 7 Spa Massage - 1 (one) Gym - 9 Poolside - 6 COMMENTS 1. My wife enjoyed her couples massage, but I felt that my masseuse was untrained. She did not work the muscles, but merely smoothed oil gently over my skin. She hardly touched my neck, which was the #1 area of stress/tension that I told her about. She asked if I wanted hot stones, but failed to mention the $20 extra charge. At the end, the up-marketing began in earnest, as they tried to sell many expensive oils and cremes. When it was all said and done, I felt like I had been ripped off. I've had far better massages for $50-60. 2. I would compare the food to a Golden Corral: Lots of quantity and variety, but the quality is only so-so. Best items were breakfast and the poolside french fries. Not what you could call gourmet. 3. The ship's regular entertainers were only mediocre, but the BB King band had some real talent. Each of the 6 band members held their own individually and as a group, and the 2 singers were outstanding. They will be on the ship until March 2014. I only wish they had actually played blues like BB King, rather than "Rhythm &" Blues. 4. The snorkeling would have been far better if they had done it in 10 feet of water instead of 30-40 ft. And it was about twice too expensive. 5. Fabled Orient beach is small, dirty and trashy. But at least you could get 6 Coronas for only $10. 6. By contrast the beach at Half Moon Cay was gorgeous: super clean, soft lovely sand, good swimming area, BBQ, etc. The clamshell umbrella was a good deal. 7. This was Christmas week, and they tried, but it sure didn't seem like Christmas. More like a "Happy Gingerbread House Holiday." 8. The staff were very friendly, helpful and hard-working. The service was excellent, albeit slow in the main dining room. But they were practically running non-stop, so no lack of effort... just a massive undertaking to serve so many people. BOTTOM LINE Enjoyable and relaxing, maybe an 8.5 score. But we're not sure we'll cruise again soon... will have to weigh cost & convenience vs. a land trip. Read Less
Sail Date December 2013
My wife and I decided on a last minute cruise at Christmas time, and had a great deal on the December 23rd sailing of the msNoordam out of Ft. Lauderdale. We flew to FLL and spent the night at the Crowne Plaza, only one mile from both the ... Read More
My wife and I decided on a last minute cruise at Christmas time, and had a great deal on the December 23rd sailing of the msNoordam out of Ft. Lauderdale. We flew to FLL and spent the night at the Crowne Plaza, only one mile from both the airoprt and the port. We booked a guarantted cat VH stateroom and were upgraded to a cat VD stateroom (4053) and loved it. I had read some discouraging reviews about how the HAL had slipped in terms of service, but thankfully we did not find that the case at all. We had sailed on the msVeendam in 2003 and 2004 and this trip was every bit as good as our last expereiences, which we both rated 9 out of 10. The service, the food and the people we met during the cruise all made for wonderful memories that we will cherish for years to come. We visited the Bahamas (Half Moon Cay) and it was the most beautiful beach we have ever been to. We walked the beach, took a swim and enjoyed the fabulous barbeque; all of it at no cost. The next day we were at sea (Christmas day) and theere was plenty of holiday spirit throughout the ship. The next day we were in port at Falmouth, Jamaica and the market square was nice but we felt very uncomfortable outsidet the gated village area (the locals are way too aggressive and most everyone we spoke to found that to be the case). The rest of the cruise was spent visiting the Cayman Islands (Georgetown, Grand Cayman) and Key West, FL and we enjoyed our coach tours around the various points of interest. The entertainment on board was first class except for the lead singer of one of the bands, but the highlight was the BB King tribute band whom were terrific and that we saw their show on three different nights. I love sailing on HAL and believe they offer the best in class of any mid-sized cruise liner. 1915 passengers and a crew of 800 suits me and my wife just fine, and despite what you hear, there are folks of every age on board although it is an older versius younger crowd that you will likely find on board. Read Less
Sail Date December 2013
Embarking was a breeze - good start. Cabin 4010 - very nice, balcony cabin- clean and spacious. Room attendants greeted us and provided a card with their names and contact details. I was very disappointed that the ship had no ... Read More
Embarking was a breeze - good start. Cabin 4010 - very nice, balcony cabin- clean and spacious. Room attendants greeted us and provided a card with their names and contact details. I was very disappointed that the ship had no "wow" factor, compared to 2 Royal Carribbean Ships I have sailed on - it was very boring,no fabulous staircase or art work to look at. The meals in the a la carte restaurant were excellent along with the service. No problems getting served at the bars. The croupiers in the casino were pretty dull and one of them kept making mistakes. The entertainment was dire - especially for Xmas - very much same old same old as the singers stayed with the ship, unlike RC where they fly in and out. One of the singers should really not have been there. I have to say, in the end, we stopped going to the shows but went on the last night and it was just as bad. Photographers were terrible - we had some formal shots done, only one was full length and showed off my lovely new long gown but sadly the faces were out of focus. In one really nice photo I had my eyes closed and the photographer told me that they were not closed - in the print, my eyes were closed! Didn't buy any photos as they were poor. Shore excursions were very "tourist trap based". Diving excursion got cancelled as their boat had broken down, so we found a dive centre ourselves and dived - for half the cost the ship was charging. Internet is ridiculously priced - don't understand why they charge so much. No good for teenagers trying to study. Very helpful and friendly staff all round the ship without exception. I would not recommend this cruise line for families with older teenagers - the no alcohol rule was not such an issue - although it was a shame they were not allowed to join us with some champagne on Xmas day - but there was nothing for them to do in the evening - this ship better suits the older generation. Disembarkation again was a breeze - very good and efficient. We won't use this cruise line again as it does not have the glamour appeal that you would expect on a cruise ship - no champagne on Xmas Day and poor entertainment….. RC here we come…..   Read Less
Sail Date December 2013
Two week Christmas /New Year back to back cruise of eastern/western Caribbean. Family group of grand parents, parents and two boys 11 and 8 from the UK.. Stayed at the Hyatt pier 17 before embarkation, well placed and relaxing. Embarkation ... Read More
Two week Christmas /New Year back to back cruise of eastern/western Caribbean. Family group of grand parents, parents and two boys 11 and 8 from the UK.. Stayed at the Hyatt pier 17 before embarkation, well placed and relaxing. Embarkation very easy and balcony cabin lovely and loads of storage. Tried all three speciality restaurants and loved the Tamarind. Main dining room a delight and food and service faultless. We also had breakfast in there most days .Kids club was a huge success, plenty of children on board and very well organised. Our boys loved all the activities and the staff were great. Christmas Day and New Years eve were excellent, and the activities brilliant. Father Christmas was wonderful. The New years eve party in the main showroom was great fun and our boys ended up dancing on the stage. The crew were lovely. I enjoyed all the shows. Half Moon Key as ever was delightful. Holland America should advertise it more. We did our own shore trips although on the back to back day at Fort Lauderdale, we did the airboat tour to the Everglades and that was very enjoyable. We had an early flight so were off the boat by 8am. Back in the UK with some wonderful memories Read Less
Sail Date December 2013
We were three families 6 cabins. We did our Xmas/New Year’s Eve (14 nights back to back) cruise on Holland America’s (HAL) newer ship the Nieuw Amsterdam this year 2013/14. We switched from Princess to HAL a few years back because HAL ... Read More
We were three families 6 cabins. We did our Xmas/New Year’s Eve (14 nights back to back) cruise on Holland America’s (HAL) newer ship the Nieuw Amsterdam this year 2013/14. We switched from Princess to HAL a few years back because HAL is one of the few remaining cruise lines that allows you to have a smoke on your balcony otherwise we would still be on Princess. I just heard RCCL has also “outlawed” smoking on balconies also! I find this sad they cannot accommodate smokers in some manner in allowing balcony smoking. I guess the remaining cruise lines left to harvest of vacation dollars other than HAL that allow smoking on balcomies are the mother ship cruise line, Carnival and now NCL which we are happily exploring again as options. We have many cruises under our belt, maybe 50 since 2002. Cruising has been as very good vacation value over these years for us. Usuallly the airfare is the bigger consideration in determining whether we take a cruise. Let me get back to this cruise. This year was a cheap year for a holiday cruise. It must be the ecomony. The cabins were going for more than 65% off for the last few months before sailing. I find Holland OK but an older crowd for sure. I should say that I am 59 years old. I get the feeling (talking to the people in the casino) that most of the younger families with small kids on these Holland cruise, were there as invited guests of the grandparents and that is fine. It’s too bad the HAL cruise line would never give a thought to having one on the many countdown locations, for New Years Eve, on the open-air Lido deck. I still remember on our first New Years Eve cruise years back on Carnival’s Spirit(2003) what a great party atmosphere under the stars. I imagined at the time it was as good an atmosphere as being NYC in time square. I am so excited for the new NCL big ships that are coming out, having fireworks every cruise. What a simple marvel idea! The drink packages are a great NEW idea for those wishing to sign up for it. Obviously some young business analyst pointed this out to the finance people in the cruise industry. I think a no brainer as they say. Other than the other mega cruise conglomerates, the all inclusive resort competition is providing a holiday package where the cost of drinks is off the table. It is included! Worse than that when you think about it, booze on the high seas is tax free. That average drink they charged $8 for, cost them probably less than 20 cents gross before other expenses. Also missing on HAL is any late night adult entertainment as other cruise lines are often providing. Other than that, the chef’s, dining area/room and cabin steward staff is top shelf as they normally are with all cruise lines I have found. And that is the major reason today a cruise is better than an all-inclusive vacation. The 2nd reason is the casino staff experience is still better than anything at an all-inclusive. Watch out once they figure that out. Tip to HAL: take the lido deck extra tables you have tried squeezing in and have been placed in the walking pedestrian area in the lido desk out! Nothing worse than bumping into and walking around dazed people every single day of the cruise in the lido deck when it gets very busy. Read Less
Sail Date December 2013
We have a lovely time sailing with Nieuw Amsterdam. Ship was beautiful, clean and uncluttered. We did experience a few issues. The transfer from the airport to the ship (organized by HAL) was not good. Because of weather and flight delays ... Read More
We have a lovely time sailing with Nieuw Amsterdam. Ship was beautiful, clean and uncluttered. We did experience a few issues. The transfer from the airport to the ship (organized by HAL) was not good. Because of weather and flight delays we had to scramble to get the FLL in time. We arrived just before 2pm but were left waiting at the airport until after 3:30 pm (and the ship sailed at 4pm). The same with the transfer from the ship to the airport. We waited on the bus for more than an hour before we left for the airport. We have decided not ever to use transfers arranged by HAL. The entertainment on board the ship was also not great. Probably saw the most boring / terrible show ever on any ship/cruise liner ever (juggling act with a dog running across the stage - very amateurish). We also find the service during afternoon tea in the main dining room very slow and unfriendly. Food was excellent. We will sail with HAL again. Our next cruise is with Celebrity - will interesting to compare our experience. Read Less
Sail Date December 2013
We did our second consecutive Thanksgiving cruise with HAL on the Westerdaam and we have come away from both extremely pleased with the ship, its service personnel, its itinerary and especially the food. In over 15 years of ... Read More
We did our second consecutive Thanksgiving cruise with HAL on the Westerdaam and we have come away from both extremely pleased with the ship, its service personnel, its itinerary and especially the food. In over 15 years of cruising...mostly aboard Princess, we switched to HAL two years ago after dealing with an extremely unpleasant maitr 'd aboard the Grand Princess. While Westerdaam is not nearly as glitzy as any of the Princess ships, she comes across as a regal and dignified aging dowager, wise and self-assured and gracious to all. The food, though not nearly as varied as the food on the Princess ships, was appreciably better in quality and preparation. The dining room filets were really filets rather than overcooked hockey pucks we found standard on Princess. We also found the dining room steaks to be equal quality to those we had at Le Cirque, one of Westerdaam's specialty restaurants. The dining room wine list was not as extensive nor as pricey is the wine list at Le Cirque but the reasonably priced dining room wines were descent and enjoyable. On our most recent trip we encountered extreme cautions to prevent an epidemic of Noro virus which has plagued, not only HAL, but most of the cruise lines sailing out of Fort Lauderdale. The cautions must have been effective because I was aware of no widespread outbreak of illness of any kind. Two years ago when we returned to Fort Lauderdale we also avoided a Noro outbreak but we saw numerous other ships flying quarantine flags. I did not notice any quarantine flags flying when we returned this year. Our cabin stewards on both voyages were very attentive, generally available and quick to respond to our requests. On this cruise Westrerdaam had a very good selection of reasonably-priced excursions. As an experienced Scuba diver in my earlier years, I decided to try the SNUBA excursions which is billed as a cross between snorkeling and scuba diving. It really is more like scuba diving because you breath through a regulator but you're attached to an air hose connected to a tank which floats on the surface. The hose is about 15 feet long so it limits your depth to less than that. It's a great way to try out scuba but as a former diver out found it quite limiting and much prefer regular scuba diving. As I recall, the cost was about $100 which included 45 minutes of snorkeling and 45 minutes of snuba...very reasonable for the time and quality instruction. Overall, our experience with HAL and the Westerdaam has been very positive and I would have no hesitation in recommending HAL to a friend. Read Less
Sail Date November 2013
Simply couldn't be happier with our cruise to San Juan, Grand Turks, St. Thomas and Half Moon Cay. Had no problems in Ft. Lauderdale or the Port Everglades. We dropped our rental car off at Avis and then took the shuttle to the ... Read More
Simply couldn't be happier with our cruise to San Juan, Grand Turks, St. Thomas and Half Moon Cay. Had no problems in Ft. Lauderdale or the Port Everglades. We dropped our rental car off at Avis and then took the shuttle to the Holland America terminal. The check-in and wait time weren't bad at all. Our trip ran from November 24 through December 1, 2013. Upon checking in, we went to the front desk and asked about upgrading to another room. We originally got an inside room and for $200 upgraded to an ocean view room. We met our Seward, Endganm, and went to explore the ship. The food on board was good and the servers were very pleasant. Also those who worked in the lido and main dining were very professional. Most os the cruisers on board were middle aged however there was a sprinkling of younger kids. During our stop in San Juan, we did the "stroll through old San Juan". Our guide was awesome! While in St. Thomas we walked around in town. Half Moon Cay was ok. Oh, rented a cabanah during the trip. Ed and Julius were outstanding,,, Read Less
Sail Date November 2013
Holland America Line Veendam Canada/New England Cruise 5 July - 13 July 2013 Cast: Me (Eve aka Momma, 43) and Amina (DD, 16) Seth (hubby) and Rhys (son) were taking a Boy Scout Northern Tier canoe expedition for 2 weeks and ... Read More
Holland America Line Veendam Canada/New England Cruise 5 July - 13 July 2013 Cast: Me (Eve aka Momma, 43) and Amina (DD, 16) Seth (hubby) and Rhys (son) were taking a Boy Scout Northern Tier canoe expedition for 2 weeks and were not going to accompany us on this trip - it was our first "Girls Only" trip. This report along with pictures are located on my blog: kidoctr.blogspot.com (that's why there are a bunch of lines between paragraphs). We are major FOODIES and there are a ton of food pictures on my blog and why there's such a focus on our meals during this trip. I'm used to writing Disney trip reports so that's the format of this review. Thursday, 4 July 2013 and Friday, 5 July 2013 Dallas, Quebec City The trip to Quebec City via Dallas was straight-forward enough. We actually left Enid on the 4th of July to drive to Dallas but only after I spent about half an hour checking us in on Delta online. Even though I had requested seats when I bought the tickets, we were seated apart on the flight from Dallas to JFK. I had our boarding passes sent to our phones but then went back and looked at getting us re-seated. $25 per bag to check in and then another $39 per person to upgrade to economy plus so we could be seated together. It was all kinda fishy to me - pretty scam-like, really. Amina drove us down to Dallas, observing the speed limit EXACTLY all the way down. It took over 5 hours including a navigation mishap just a few miles from the exit to get to my sister's house. The problem in Dallas is when you miss an exit, you have to drive at least 10 more miles to try and get back to where you need to go. We finally arrived at my sister's house around 5 pm. I only had to say something about her driving maybe half a dozen times. That was the most highway driving she had ever done and there were still a good number of issues that came up simply because she didn't have the experience yet. We went out to dinner a little bit early to Chuy's which wasn't crowded at all given the holiday. The Southwest enchiladas were great but I could only finish half of it and saved the rest for tomorrow's breakfast. We returned back to Dee and Jason's house and hung out until around 9. The girls got in Amina's Prius and drove to Lake Dallas - mostly because the twins wanted to be in the car with Amina driving - and vice versa. At just after 9, we piled into the car and drove just across I-35E to watch the fireworks from one of the subdivisions. It was a pretty good fireworks show, the evening was cool enough, and we weren't eaten up by bugs while sitting in the parking lot of a closed shop. The girls spent a good chunk of the night trying to learn the "cup song" from the movie "Pitch Perfect" - what a racket they made. The next morning, we ate leftovers for breakfast and were out the door at 8 am to head for the airport. Jason dropped us off after telling me about the total solar eclipse in 2017 and how I needed to plan our trip to enjoy it. The eclipse will last for 20 minutes and will occur around 12:30 pm CST in the northern states. It sounds like the makings of a fun trip. On the way to JFK, I purchased each of us a wifi pass on the airplane - $14 each for a one day pass. It was kinda fun having internet access while on the flight. The speed was pretty darned good. The flight left Dallas a little late. We were just getting our boarding passes scanned when they sent passengers back from the boarding ramp because of a "maintenance issue". We waited about half an hour before getting to board. We arrived into JFK at around 4 pm and were disappointed to see that we had arrived into terminal 2 - not terminal E as I had looked up online. I had scoped out a place for us to eat in terminal E called the Shake Shack but the restaurants in terminal 2 were beyond pitiful. We were told by a security guard that we were on a "domestic" flight to Canada and not an "international" flight which I thought was really funny. So, we left terminal 2 to go and look for something to eat since we had about 2.5 hours - found terminal 5 where the best rated restaurants (sushi, italian, and tapas) were located but were turned away because we weren't Jet Blue passengers. What?? The only decent places to eat in JFK and we couldn't get in? That's crazy. So we made our way back to terminal 2 and settled for Wendy's. The good thing about terminal 2, though, is the abundance of seating that had outlets and complimentary ipad stations. We ate our dinner while playing hangman on the ipad. The flight out of JFK was also delayed. I'm not sure how long we sat at the gate and then on the tarmac because I fell asleep - it was at least an hour and a half - we didn't leave until around 7:30. The explanation we were given: there was some mix-up which resulted in a "missing passenger" and it took them a really long time to sort it out. It was past 9:30 pm when we finally arrived into Quebec City. Customs was a breeze - very fast and we collected our bags, caught a taxi and paid the flat $34.25 to get to the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. Our taxi driver, from Morrocco, was very pleasant and had never been in the U.S. He told us his impression of the U.S. was of people who didn't work and had fun all the time. Ha! My initial impression of Quebec City at night was a little surprising as we had been to Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto before. Quebec City is very different - the closest to being to a real foreign country while in Canada. As Toronto is like watching an English movie with French subtitles, Quebec City is like watching a French movie with English subtitles. There wasn't a single person we met who didn't speak at least some English but all of the stores, ads, signs, etc, were in French with very little English around. People were mostly friendly but there's definitely that distinct "snooty" French feel to the city. We were dropped off in front of our hotel passing a ton of pedestrians along the way - apparently there was some sort of art festival going on right now and even though it was 10 pm, it was very crowded and alive with activity. We decided that even though it was late, we had to go out and walk around some after we checked in. Compared to the airport and customs, check-in at the world famous Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac was a different story. Our suitcases were immediately taken by a bell man and we walked into the lobby and found what looked like the front desk just off to the right. There were 2 queues - one that had a small sign for the Fairmont President's Club and another that was unmarked. We naturally got into the unmarked queue. There was a check-in desk on the left and the President's Club desk on the right. The check-in desk to the left was empty. There were 2 gentlemen at the President's Club desk busy with patrons who seemed to alternate between speaking English and French. We waited patiently for someone to show up at the unmarked check-in desk while the people in the other queue were helped by the gentlemen at the President's Club desk. After about 5 minutes, another couple joined us in our queue and I asked them to make sure they were also trying to check in. I understand that it's a little late but nobody showed up to check us in. I finally asked the staff member who had come over to the check-in desk and was busily emptying the garbage bins when someone would be by to check us in. 10 minutes had passed. He directed us to the other desk to check in but there was a constant stream of people in the other "President's Club" queue. It was really weird. Finally, Amina hopped the rope and stood in the other queue while I stayed in my queue. The couple behind us did the same. We were tired of being passed by people in the other queue. Finally, it was our turn and we were checked in. The staff member, of course, never questioned whether we were club members. When I had booked the hotel, it was really by accident. I was tossing around the idea of staying at this beautiful hotel but it was very exensive and we were getting in so late and would have to check out the following morning to embark. I was looking at a package and entered my CC information to see what the total would be and - VOILA - I was booked. Oops. So we collected our "free" gift which was a cute stuffed animal wearing a jacket that said Aquarium du Quebec and branded on the back with the Fairmont logo. Our room had 2 beds and was a typical European type room. We were greeted with a plate that had pieces of delicious nougat and dried orange peels along with a small bottle of locally made honey. We snacked while waiting for our bags to arrive. The room wasn't really special but the bathroom had a lot of marble and, though small, was very nice. Internet via wifi was an additional $15 for 24 hours. We got our luggage some 15 minutes or so later and decided to go out for a quick walk maybe find something to snack on. We strolled by the large statue where a guy was doing a show in French and went over to the railing by the funicular to peek at the cruise terminal and were pleasantly surprised to see the Veendam was already docked. I had no idea that it was arriving the day before. We then walked around the block and had stopped at a restaurant serving some nice pizza but we were told that they didn't do to go so we abandoned that idea. I guess they didn't really want our business. We ended up getting some gelato at a small shop a block over from the hotel and made our way back to the hotel to turn in. I played some mafia wars for a little while and went to sleep. Amina skyped with Bryce until about 3 in the morning. Saturday, 6 July, 2013 Quebec City I was probably still on central time because, like clockwork, I woke up at 6 am and tried to go back to sleep for the next hour finally getting out of bed at 7. I showered and packed up my things, got on the internet for a little while to do my Mafia Wars chores, and then went out to walk around. My first stop was the railing by the funicular because I wanted to get a picture of the Veendam. I picked up a coffee at Starbucks (which was the one and only time I saw a business give a 1% discount for the exchange rate with USD) and then walked around the block in the other direction. The closest restaurant to the hotel was a crepe place and I was shocked to see some crepes priced as much as $24. I walked for about half an hour and then headed back to the hotel. The weather was pretty nice not hot at all. I think by later in the afternoon it probably reached the mid-80's. I went back to our hotel but stopped by the front desk to ask about our aquarium passes that we were supposed to get as a part of our package. We hadn't received them with the stuffed animal and it wasn't in our room so the hotel staff guy gave me a voucher for the 2 of us to get into the aquarium. I asked about transportation and found out our options at the concierge desk the green line shuttle that would pick up near the hotel at 10:30 am and return from the aquarium at 2:25 pm for $5 round trip per person. I went back to the room and uploaded a bunch of pictures to our photo site, kidoctr.smugmug.com. I had gotten a little behind in uploading pictures so I got caught up again. At around 11:30, I woke Amina up so we could get packed up, checked out and make our way to the cruise terminal. My original plan was to just walk to the terminal because it was so close but because the hotel was in the upper part of town with steep streets, stairs or the funicular (like a tram on tracks where we had seen them squeeze people in like sardines), I thought it was just easier to take a taxi with our luggage. We checked out via the television in the room and then made arrangements to visit the aquarium on Sunday through concierge but I was a little worried about how late the shuttle picked us up from the aquarium. The Veendam was to leave at 4 pm so I was thinking all aboard was probably going to be 3 or 3:30. Being picked up at the aquarium at 2:25, returning to the Fairmont, and then making our way back to the terminal was going to be tight. We took a taxi to the cruise terminal and spent more on the wait to get into the terminal in the taxi than we did the actual ride from the hotel total was $15. Our taxi driver was pretty grumpy too. I had attached baggage tags to our suitcases that morning it was very interesting the way HAL was doing it now. We never received our docs in the mail as we had for every other cruise we've ever been on. I pre-registered us online and printed out our embarkation information as well as the luggage tags. The tags were just folded up and wrapped around the suitcase handle and was to be either taped or stapled. Since we didn't have a stapler, I had borrowed some tape from Dee and Jason's house putting a couple strips of tape inside my file folder and then a couple of shorter pieces over those strips so I could peel them off to use. I filled out the tags with our cabin number and taped them on it was very low tech, but it worked just fine. The bell men whisked our suitcases away and we entered the terminal. Up the escalator to the 2nd floor where we made a right turn and went around a couple of corners to the table where we filled out the typical health questionnaire: are you sick; have you been vomiting or having diarrhea; etc etc. We went through security check and didn't wait long at all before we were in front of an agent who checked our passports, my credit card, and issued us our key cards. It was a very quick process. We walked past the rows of chairs where there were a bunch of people sitting and using their various electronic gadgets taking advantage of the free wifi in the terminal. After the obligatory embarkation photos, we walked the long passageways leading to the ship. Our cabin was #588, large oceanview we had been upgraded so our cabin was on the same deck as embarkation Main deck, 5. Unfortunately, we had to go all the way to the back of the ship and make a U-turn to reach our cabin because the doorway was blocked during embarkation. I was so happy that our cabin was ready but when we entered, I saw right away that they hadn't arranged our room correctly even though I had called them a few days before we left. I had noticed on our embarkation papers that we had requested a single queen bed. When I called to have this changed, the gentleman informed me that when we were upgraded, the default choice was for the single queen and that he would change it to 2 separate beds. Amina's a kicker while she sleeps so I definitely didn't want to share a bed with her. Our stateroom attendant was nowhere to be found so we went up to the dining room for some lunch. One of the luggage porters gave us directions to the Lido deck for the buffet but I knew that the Mariners had an embarkation lunch in the main dining room (MDR) so we headed there instead and were seated right away. We met Donna from Florida who was doing the back-to-back trip with her husband who was out in the city taking pictures (one-way from Boston to QC and then stay aboard for the return trip). She was a former English teacher and we had a wonderful conversation with her over lunch. I had made the decision to really try and avoid gaining the usual 5-8 pounds on this cruise so I just had water and a fruit plate (and a bit of Amina's hamburger and cole slaw). Later, I had a special K protein bar too. We had reservations at a really nice restaurant for dinner and I definitely didn't want to spoil my appetite. I was very excited to have gotten this reservation and it was going to be Amina's first time at a AAA 5 diamond restaurant. By the time that we got back to our cabin, our luggage had arrived placed inside the cabin instead of outside the door which was very nice. We spent some time unpacking and our room steward dropped by so I asked him to change our sleeping arrangements. I called 88 on our phone to make dinner reservations. We were open dining but I had heard that on HAL, this really didn't mean come by anytime to eat dining as it was on our other cruises. I had read that if you showed up without a reservation, it wasn't unusual to have to wait for a bit. I was told that we could only make dinner reservations up to 3 days in advance so I only made reservations for 7 pm on Sunday night and then 6:45 pm on Monday evening (our day at sea the first formal night). On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, we had reservations at the 3 specialty restaurants. I would have to call back on Tuesday to make dinner reservations for Friday night. I was a little disappointed to find out that the 2nd formal night was on Thursday instead of Friday the night that we had reservations at the Pinnacle Grill. Oh well. I didn't try to change our reservations. What a weird and sort of messed up open dining system. We gathered our things and decided to do a quick tour of the ship so we went up to the top and made our way down. Our first stop was the Loft (teen club) which was deserted. There were activities that evening until very late in the Loft but we had 8 pm dinner reservations so Amina wasn't going to be able to make it. She wasn't really worried about trying to meet up with the other teens on board. We took a spa tour and signed up for the drawings, walked through the lido buffet, found the hamburger station as well as the pizza station, walked by the ample number of bars, and made it back to our cabin to pick up a few things before we headed out to the city. We found out that it was all aboard on Sunday at 3:30 so I thought we would have time to make it out to the aquarium and back. I had planned for us to take the walking tour described in the Tom's Port Guides that I had downloaded but it proved to be too much of a hassle with my ipad and trying to figure out directions so we just wandered for the next couple of hours, found the touristy streets, the entrance to the funicular, the wall paintings, and wandered into a few interesting looking stores. We sampled maple water which was really good low calorie with just a hint of maple taste and bought some. We had also walked into a store selling nougat and sampled the maple one and bought a bar. We picked up some chocolates from a chocolate shop that reminded me a great deal of the chocolate shop we were taken to during a tour of Paris. We also followed the sign to a small shop where we decided to try the beaver tail which was essentially like funnel cake, deep fried into the shape of a beaver's tail and you could choose from one of 9 toppings. We chose maple and it was quite good but the little shop was terribly hot even though we were able to pick up wifi in there. We also wandered into a bakery and picked up a few macaroons. A note on wifi and connectivity. Prior to leaving, I had purchased 50 international text messages on AT&T for each of our iphones as a precautionary measure ($10 per phone). International calling minutes weren't going to be worthwhile unless we planned to talk for more than 30 minutes. I also added data to my phone to use while in the Canadian ports ($120). Interestingly, in Quebec City, we were picking up free wifi right and left EXCEPT in the hotel. It was getting really hot and we had been out for a couple of hours so we headed back to the terminal at around 4:30 pm and hung out there to get our internet fix. I even went back to our cabin to get my laptop and was pleasantly surprised at how fast the wifi was (after all, I had more Mafia Wars chores to do). The terminal was freezing too and by the time we left, I was a popsicle. I was kinda kicking myself for not noticing that we had an extra day in port at QC we could have saved the $399 that I spent to stay at the Fairmont and arrived on the day of embarkation but I'm glad we didn't because we would have been arriving very late that night missing a day in the city and I noticed later that afternoon, the luggage porters were gone and people were embarking with all of their suitcases in tow. We snacked on our macaroons and drank our maple water while surfing the net. It was funny that after walking around in Quebec City, the only thing that we bought was food. I headed back to our cabin at around 7 to get ready for dinner rinsed off in the shower and changed clothes. Amina was already wearing a skirt that she planned on wearing to dinner. I went back to the terminal to get her and we walked the 1.5 blocks to Restaurant L'Initiale which we had passed a couple of times on our way to and from the terminal. After just a bit of a language issue (my reservation was written as Stewart instead of Switzer) we were taken to our table in the corner. The restaurant was nice enough nothing really fancy and it wasn't terribly crowded. We both ordered the Grand Menu ($129 pp) and I also got the wine pairing ($79). I've been to a good number of AAA five diamond restaurants it's on my bucket list to visit every single one in the world (there's around 50 of them in the US, Canada, Mexico, and a few other international destinations) we've knocked about half a dozen off the list so far in Las Vegas (3), Florida (1), and Oahu (1). Our most favorite AAA five diamond restaurant so far is at Disneyworld in Florida (Victoria and Alberts) but the one in Oahu is a very close second (La Mer) in my opinion. This one in Quebec City was good but there were a few things about the restaurant that I was a little surprised at given the five diamond rating. After an okay amuse bouche of tomatoes and cucumber with an arugula sauce that was really strong, the flounder was delicious but after I had taken a few bites, I realized that I hadn't been served the wine pairing. Come to find out that they did not do a pairing with this appetizer. Odd. The roasted Cepes mushrooms with Jerusalem artichoke, nougatine, and chicken broth was very good although the nougat pieces were just a little too sweet in my opinion and the dish would have stood well just on its own without the candy. The wine pairing was good. The red tuna with eggplant and pepper was actually a 2-in-1 with some gently seared pieces of tuna as well as a tuna tartare. It was also very good and paired well with the white wine but I was surprised that they poured the same wine with the next course, the lobster with fennel. It did not pair as well with the lobster. At this point I had to use the bathroom and went downstairs briefly and returned to find that our next course, the seared foie gras, had already been served. Also odd. The foie gras was absolutely wonderful and, of course, my favorite paired with a sweet wine that went well. Amina commented that she was getting pretty full by now and I had to agree. The next course was the main course: veal loin with sweetbreads. We joked a lot about the sweetbreads and the fact that Amina had recently dissected a sheep's brain in her University of Georgia brain, intelligence, and creativity summer studies class. The veal was ok definitely not my favorite and neither were the sweetbreads. I had to take a 2nd picture of the sweetbreads because it was easy to see the sulci and gyri at this angle. I can't remember the wine pairing it was probably also just ok. The cheese course was next and the hard cheese (I forgot what kind it was) was very good but the soft cheese sitting on top of the rhubarb wasn't as good. The rhubarb was just too tart. For dessert, we have chocolate flan with a cocoa bread, cherries topped with raw almonds and a side of caramel ice cream. I'm not a fan of chocolate nor of mousse this dessert more closely resembled a mousse than a flan. I also can't remember the wine except that I liked it because it was sweet. Our last course were strawberries with parfait cormier it was good but there was no pairing with this last course. The final odd thing of the night. We finished at just short of 11 pm and were given some Madelines to take home with us. Overall, I like this restaurant, the service was attentive, the food good not a ton of creativity points. Maybe just a smidge disappointed given the price because 2 courses were not paired with wine, 2 were paired with the same wine, and being served a course while I wasn't at the table is a bit of a faux pas. (Yes, I'm that picky). We walked back to the ship and went immediately to bed. Sunday, 7 July 2013 Quebec City I got up early again, stopped at the Lido buffet to get coffee (I had brought my own travel mug) and took my laptop back out to the terminal to do my Mafia Wars chores, upload pictures, and update my Facebook. I was going to miss the wifi in the terminal - it was more than decently fast. When I returned to the cabin, I had forgotten that Amina had ordered room service for breakfast to be delivered between 8 and 8:30. She had finished her breakfast of cereal and yogurt and had gotten back in bed again we didn't have to leave until around 9:45 to be back at the Fairmont by 10:15. I ate some fruit and put the box of granola cereal into my backpack to take with us to the aquarium. We walked back into QC and found the funicular, paid the $5 per person and boarded immediately. It must have been relatively early because the funicular wasn't nearly as crowded as we had seen it before. After the brief ride up to the top, we went into the Fairmont to the tour desk and paid the $5 per person fee for the green line shuttle to the Aquarium that we had reserved the day before we were given green wristbands for the ride. After a bathroom stop and buying a drink at Starbuck's for Amina, we sat outside of Starbuck's for a little bit until the green line shuttle arrived. When the passengers got off the shuttle, the driver told us it would be a little bit before he left (10:30 am) so we had a seat on the bench and Amina noticed that the red double decker tour bus in front of our shuttle had free wifi so we both connected and I was actually able to upload some photos to Facebook while we waited. The shuttle took an AWFULLY long time to get to the aquarium I was watching the clock because I was a little worried about making it back to the Fairmont in time to walk back and re-embark before sail away at 4. When we finally arrived at the aquarium (after stopping at one hotel twice and dropping some women off at the shopping mall), it had been almost 45 minutes! I asked the shuttle driver what time he thought the next shuttle (2:25 pm) would arrive back at the Fairmont. 3:10 pm he said. I really didn't think that was going to work for us we would have to find alternate transportation back to the ship. We waited in a pretty long line at the aquarium only 2 windows of 7 were open. It was also getting pretty warm standing in the sun. When it was finally our turn, we presented our voucher and had our hands stamped and went into the aquarium. I was looking for the information center to make transportation arrangements but the door signage was confusing. It probably would've helped if we had spoken French. The gift shop/guest services door said exit on them and I took that to mean that we needed to find the entrance so we went around to the other side of the building and walked in but it turned out to be the jelly fish and sea horse exhibit. This exhibit was VERY interesting and the highlight of our aquarium trip, in my opinion. They had so many different types of jelly fish in very cool tall displays some reminiscent of Finding Nemo and some with tentacles longer than I was tall. Jellyfish have no brains and are, well, beautiful but just plain creepy. One display was particularly interesting comparing how poisonous a type of jellyfish was compared to the cobra and other poisonous animals. The jellyfish won handily. The last part of the jellyfish exhibit was a huge wall of jellyfish with alternating colored lights it was just gorgeous and, well, creepy. The sea horse exhibit was fun with some of the most beautiful sea horses that I've ever seen. I learned that it's the male sea horses that carry the babies. We made our way to the other large building which held the fish and sharks. I stopped at the information booth to ask about alternate transportation arrangements and was told to have the guest service center just call for a taxi. The highlights of this building included a very close up look at an octopus (they just look nothing like how they are depicted in cartoons and stuffed animals), a particularly pesky sting ray that seemed to beg to be touched, a blue lobster, and an underwater fish viewing tunnel. We left that building and went outside for a little bit it was probably in the mid 80's by now not too bad in the shade but just a bit uncomfortable in the sun. We hopped (ok, walked) some lily pads in the small garden pond and then made our way over to see the seals, walruses and polar bears. At the conclusion of this portion of the aquarium, we were pretty much done and it was around 1 pm. We went back to the fish building to check out the cafe but nothing really appealed to us so we decided to call a cab and go back to the ship to have something to eat. We went back to the gift shop/guest services center and went in the door that said exit, asked the lady at the register to call a cab, looked around a bit then went outside to snack on granola cereal and wait for the taxi. It wasn't but 10 minutes when the taxi arrived and took us back to the ship the fare was about $25. The taxi driver was very friendly pointing out a large pile of salt that they use on the roads when it snows and told us that the record was in 2008 when they received 17 FEET of snow. We don't even get 17 inches in Oklahoma let alone 17 feet. We arrived back to the cruise terminal and after enjoying the free wifi for the last time briefly, we got back on the ship and decided to try the grill on the lido deck where they offered different types of burgers (beef, lamb, turkey, vegetarian) as well as hot dogs (beef and turkey). The line moved very slowly with just one cook in the grill filling orders and cooking the food. While we were waiting in line, we met Tatiana and her family she recognized us and introduced herself and her daughter Alex as well as her 2 younger children. We had met on Cruise Critic and had texted each other prior to the cruise having a lot in common. We enjoyed our food (beef hotdog for me and turkey burger for Amina) and then went our separate ways for the life boat drill. I think this was the first drill that I've been to where they didn't make us bring our life jackets from the cabin. Eons ago, they used to make everyone wear the life jackets and then more recently, they just had you bring them with you and now they just have you report in for the drill. It was a little disorganized. I think part of the problem was that deck 6 really isn't wide enough to accommodate everyone along with the fact that there were a bunch of people who arrived late. The life boat drill captain repeated missing cabin numbers several times and eventually, everyone was accounted for in our group. They gave the usual speech about using the life jackets, etc and then made a final announcement daring the missing passengers to report in for a "special drill" later. We then headed to the Crow's Nest for the Cruise Critic meet and greet. We weren't there very long but did meet up with John and Leslie who would be with us on a couple of our privately booked shore excursions. We left the party a little bit early to go to the spa and attend the drawing for free services but we didn't win anything. I had some time before dinner at 7 so I went back to the cabin and put on my workout clothes, returned to the gym, and got on the treadmill to run 3 miles. After showering and changing, we headed to the Main Dining Room (MDR) for our first dinner on the ship. There were 2 lines at the MDR on deck 7 (people with assigned seating were on deck 8): one for those with reservations and one for those without. There was a pretty good group of people loitering around waiting for their pagers to go off. The selection was really good we actually had trouble deciding on what to get and agreed to order different things and split so we could try a few things. I ordered the goat cheese with red onion jam and Amina got the salt cod and lobster cake. Both were very good. Amina then had the chilled cranberry soup which she described as melted ice cream I had to agree. I got the New England clam chowder which was good but a little too much like soup than a chowder for Amina. As we were enjoying our soup, the older couple seated next to us raved about the lemon turkey spinach barley soup so we asked the waiter to bring us an additional cup of soup. Amina ordered the bay scallops and clams over noodles while I got the Seafood Pot Pie. Both were good as was the turkey spinach barley soup. For dessert, we tried the banana chocolate tart and whoopie pie. When we returned to the cabin, there was a stingray waiting for us on my bed. Amina went to meet some of the other kids at the Loft so I went to see the comedian by myself. He was really good and did a lot of improv and audience heckling. I was so tired after the show that I went straight to bed and Amina followed not too soon afterward. Monday, 8 July 2013 Sea Day We both slept in this morning but had received an invitation the night before to the Mariners' Brunch in the dining room at 11 am. Our clocks also went forward an hour. I got Amina up and we went to the brunch where I had the most delicious warm salmon on a salad. The braised beef short ribs were very good. After brunch, Amina went off to meet some friends and I went to do a longer workout in the gym before my appointment for a deep tissue massage. I ran 5 miles on the treadmill but it took a really long time because I was trying to observe the 20 minute rule and kept taking breaks to make sure nobody was waiting to use the treadmills. I watched Zero Dark Thirty on my iPad as the tv monitor on several of the treadmills were broken, including mine. When I finally got done with my workout, it was about 1 pm and my massage appointment was at 2 so I checked in at the spa, was given a locker with a robe and slippers and went to take a shower. Unfortunately, there was no hair dryer or other bathroom products in the spa (eg lotion). I went to the relaxation area and almost finished watching my movie when my massage therapist a gentleman from Yugoslavia came to get me for my deep tissue massage. He was pleasant enough and had what sounded like a Russian accent. We talked for a bit before, during, and after my massage he had previously worked on Carnival and found HAL to be a bit boring because of the older passengers on board. He did get a day off a week and had been on board for about 3 months. He was looking forward to the next cruise because they were changing their itinerary the Veendam was also going to Hawaii soon. He did a reasonably good job with my massage but was mostly fairly light pressure for being a deep tissue massage. I passed him up on the product sales portion of the treatment and thanked him then returned to the cabin to get ready for dinner. We had a reservation at 6:45 in the MDR it was our first formal night. For dinner we had the prosciutto, genoa salami, melon and figs as an appetizer, the chicken and corn soup, and the filet of beef wellington. It was all pretty good but I did have to send my beef wellington back because the pastry was undercooked and there was still batter/dough on the inside even though the beef was well done. The 2nd plate I received was much better and I particularly enjoyed the duck foie gras that was sandwiched between the pastry and the beef. For dessert, the black forest cake was very good because I really love cherries. I was so tired that night I decided to skip the show (some broadway like musical) and the movie (Safe Haven) to turn in a little bit early. This evening , we had a squid waiting in our cabin. Tuesday, 9 July 2013 Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island We arrived into Charlottetown a bit after 8 am and were among some of the first to disembark from deck 3. We were to meet our tour guide from Duncan's Island Tours at 8:30 so we stopped off in the terminal building to take advantage of the wifi for a few minutes. I had received a few phone calls and had a couple of voicemails someone from Topor Boston tours had called to ask if I was still interested in the Chinatown market tour they had another couple that were interested, and if we still wanted to go, they would open the tour up for Saturday. I called them back and left a voicemail that we were still interested. We walked to the far end of the terminal building and easily found our tour guide, Terry, who walked us across the parking lot to his very nice mercedes benz SUV. He showed us a map of PEI about 150 miles from tip to tip of the island. We were at the southern part of the middle of the island and would be going north up to see the Anne of Green Gables house then around towards the east and back down south to Charlottetown. Now, neither Amina nor I have read the Anne of Green Gables series of books and really didn't know a thing about her or the author. I had booked this private tour but after speaking with Terry for a bit on our drive, we let him know that we were probably more interested in doing a culinary tour of PEI moreso than about Anne of Green Gables or Lucy Montgomery. Our first stop was a beautiful lookout to a typical fishing village across one of the many small lakes in the area. We did make a stop at Silver Bush where Lucy Maud Montgomery lived with her aunt and uncle and wrote her stories about Anne. We walked into the house and looked around briefly but there was a tour bus there and the house was crowded. We decided to forego the tour of the house, walked around a bit then got back in the car to get some ice cream the best ice cream in the world per Terry. Terry was full of great information and pointed out all sorts of things to us and answered my questions about PEI. He spent 4 months of the year at his house in Florida and grew up near Halifax before moving to PEI. He also managed a semi-pro football team in PEI. We stopped at Cow's Ice Cream and had a scoop of their Gooey Mooey ice cream on sprinkle cones. The ice cream really was very good but I'm no expert. According to Reader's Digest, though, it was the best ice cream in Canada and according to Tauck World Discovery Tours, it was rated the world's best ice cream. The Cavendish beach was nearby and Amina had mentioned to Terry that she really wanted to visit a beach so we headed over. We walked for a while on the beach - there were a lot of families there but nobody was in the water - it was too cold. We enjoyed a walk along the beach out to the rocky end and back then put our shoes back on and headed back to the car. At this point, Terry gave us the option of going to a seafood place or to a preserve store. I had mentioned to him that HAL recommended Lobster on the Wharf for lunch but Terry told us there were definitely better places that he recommended which is what I had suspected. We elected to go for lunch at the seafood place that he recommended. Before we got to the beach, Terry had mentioned that the largest native animal on PEI was the fox and just after we left the beach parking lot, he spotted one by the side of the road and pulled over. As if on cue, the fox crossed in front of the car and came over to our side as we rolled our windows down. It seemed to check us out briefly and since we weren't offering it any food, it moved on. Terry made one additional stop along the way to take a closer look at a lobster trap. I really knew nothing at all about lobster fishing. Terry had told us earlier that lobster used to be the "poor man's" food. If a child was sent to school with a lobster sandwich, they were considered to be poor and that lobsters were so abundant that they were oftentimes tossed into the garden to act as fertilizer. A typical native of PEI could go to a grocery store and buy a 1 pound lobster for around $7. He highly recommended the lobster dinners that were offered throughout PEI but we weren't staying overnight in Charlottetown this evening. For about $36, you got a 1 pound lobster and all-you-can-eat mussels, clams, etc. The lobster fishing season had just ended a couple of weeks ago A typical lobster trap had 2 parts. On one side, there were holes that a lobster could "walk" into which means that they backed up into the hole to get food (usually some type of fish) and dropped down a few inches into what was called the "kitchen". The lobsters couldn't back out of the trap. On the other end of the trap was a net that allowed the lobster to "walk" again and drop again into another section called the "parlor" where the lobster could hang out (leaving room for more lobsters to enter the "kitchen") until the trap was pulled up. The design was simple and clever. Our next stop was Richard's eatery - a definite local hangout. We placed our order: a lobster roll and chips (fries) for Amina, a scallop burger for me, and an order of steamed mussels for us to share. We got our pager and made our way upstairs to sit on the rooftop and watch the local kids jump off the bridge into the river. Amina decided there to add "jumping off bridge into river" to her bucket list. Our food was absolutely amazing. Amina's lobster roll was delicious with HUGE chunks of lobster. My scallop burger was actually half a dozen medium sized scallops that were coated in a panko-like crust and then deep fried and placed on a hamburger bun. Even though the scallops had been deep fried and the coating was light and crispy, the inside of the scallops were PERFECT - not overcooked and stringy. The steamed mussels were just amazing - delicious and I think Seth (the shell-fish hater) would have even liked it. The day was perfect sitting on that rooftop with a nice breeze and enjoying the sun. Terry drove us back to the ship terminal after pointing out a few more interesting historical sites and other places to eat. One thing that I wanted to try but we didn't have time to were "Malpeque oysters". Terry pointed out a couple of oyster bars not too far from the terminal where we could probably get those. I went to the ship to get my laptop and went back to the terminal to use the wifi but it was VERY slow bogged down by a ton of other passengers getting their internet fixes too. We shopped briefly in the terminal and then re-boarded the ship. I had just enough time for a couple of miles on the treadmill before dinner. Our reservation this evening was at Canaletto's. This restaurant was a bit interesting. When we boarded the ship, we were given 2 "invitations" in our stateroom - one for Pinnacle Grill and one for Evening at Le Cirque. We didn't get one for Canaletto which I thought was weird because we were paying the extra surcharge to eat there. We had walked by Canaletto a bunch of times but never realized it was there because it's tucked away in one corner of the lido deck right next to the buffet. You have to walk right by it to get to the buffet if you are coming from one side of the ship (aft or forward, can't remember which). When we got up to the lido buffet, we walked around a bit because I couldn't quite remember where I had seen it and finally asked for directions from a nice ship's officer who just happened to ask us if we needed help finding something. LOL. We were seated promptly and examined the menu and placed our order. We started with the antipasto service which was delicious - a choice of different meats, olives, roasted veggies, fresh mozzarella. Amina also noticed that the balsalmic vinegar on the table that we could use to dip our bread in was the thick, syrupy kind - it was also delicious and the kind of balsalmic that you would pour over ice cream - high grade. None of the first courses on the menu had appealed to me so I opted for the Edigiana Maccioni special which was the Italian herb sausage and Canelloni beans with creamy polenta. This was VERY good. The sausage wasn't very strong or spicy and the polenta was creamy and delicious. For the 2nd course, I wanted to try the veal osso bucco with potato gnocchi which is normally one of my favorites. The veal shank was HUGE and, unfortunately, pretty tough. Now, we'd had a very large lunch and I was getting really full anyways so I barely ate 1/2 of the osso bucco. I do have to compliment the wait staff on the Veendam - they are well trained to observe whether or not you cleaned your plate. If you left much food on your plate, they always asked to make sure that you were happy with your food. For dessert, I had the trio of tiramisu which included espresso, lemon, and amaretto flavored tiramisu in small glasses. Again, if I hadn't been so full, I would have finished all of it - this dessert was very good. I really liked the way that none of the flavors were overpowering in each of the tiramisu. That evening, we went to the 10 pm movie and saw Mud with Matthew McConaghey. I liked the movie even though it was a little slow paced. There was a towel lobster on the bed when we made it back to the cabin that night. Wednesday, 10 July 2013 Sydney, Nova Scotia We got to sleep in just a bit this morning as we weren't meeting until 10 for our tour with Tartan to Fortress Louisbourg. We went up to the Lido buffet for breakfast for the first time and then made our way off the ship to the terminal. There was also wifi in the terminal but it seemed a little slow. I had gone into the terminal earlier this morning just after 8 am when Amina was still sleeping to check it out and had run into Tatiana and Alex who were going on the tour with us. They thought we were meeting at 8 instead of 10. I walked briefly around the little shopping area and then went back to wake Amina up. When we came back down to the terminal, Amina found some earrings that she wanted to go back and buy after our tour was over. Our tour guide actually arrived a bit early. We all gathered in the terminal (Me, Amina, Tatiana, Alex, John, and Leslie) and then went out to meet our tour guide. The van that we climbed into seemed nice from the outside but as soon as I climbed into the back seat, I was not happy. The van reeked of cigarette smoke. The ladies had a nice conversation on the way to the fortress and we soon arrived at the visitors' center. Our driver told us to meet back at 2 pm. It was just before 11 am. At first, I thought it was a little chilly in Sydney but by the time we arrived at the fortress, it had warmed up a good deal and was probably in the 70's and sunny while we were there. There was a decent sized line in the visitors' center and we waited to purchase our tickets. There was also decent wifi in the visitors' center. We had just missed the bus so we went downstairs and took a few pictures before boarding the next bus. You ride the bus to the actual entrance to the fortress. While on the bus - you should sit on the left side to get a view of the fortress beyond the water. We walked through a small building with a few park interpreters and then walked the dirt road to the entrance of the fortress. We were stopped just in front of the bridge and given instructions such as park closure, not climbing on the walls, etc and then made our way across the bridge and into the fort. Tatiana had been told by her ticket agent that there was a cannon demonstration at 11:45 so we made our way in that general direction making a few stops along the way to see a blacksmith and bakery where we bought a small loaf of "soldiers' bread" for $2.50 just to get a taste of what the soldiers ate. Not surprisingly, the bread was heavy and not terribly tasty. We climbed the hill towards the building where the cannon demonstration was going to be and saw a good sized crowd headed the same way. To the immediate left there was a church and the park interpreter stopped us to ask where we were from and then proceeded to explain about the church and the various objects in the room. He obviously really enjoyed his job and did a great job telling us what he knew about the church. I asked him where the bathroom was and he was very sweet to walk us to the where the bathrooms were. When we were done it was getting close to 11:45 so we found an open space in the grass and sat down. The same park interpreter came back, found us, and told us that we were not sitting in the best spot and proceeded to take us to a much better location to see the cannon fire. He then explained to us what to expect....the soldiers and band would march out to the lower grass courtyard, do a short demonstration and then fire their muskets. Then they would march up towards the cannon and the muskets would fire in turn followed by the cannon. He was so helpful and we thanked him for the information. The demonstration was interesting - the soldiers actually loaded their muskets with gunpowder and fired them. When they marched up towards the cannon - 2 of the muskets misfired which one of the interpeters standing near us commented that this happened from time to time. She said that it wasn't unusual for the cannon to misfire as well. We explored the governor's compound for a bit and then made our way down into the "village" and stopped to see a few exhibits including a very interesting demonstration of lace weaving. Weaving lace by hand is extremely tedious but the result was beautiful. The woman interpeter told us that it took about an hour to weave one inch of lace. We eventually made it down to the 2 restaurants that were available to dine in. I had read that one was for the "upper class" (officers, etc) and the other was for the "lower class" (soldiers, workers, etc). The wait of the upper class dining was 15 minutes and they served a 3 course meal. We examined the menu of the "lower class" restaurant and decided to eat there. We were squeezed in between 2 other couples at what looked like a picnic table and were told that sharing 8 to a table was required. The guy on one end of the table grumbled about having to share the table with us. We were each given a very large piece of cloth to use as a napkin and a spoon. Amina ordered fish soup and we shared the mussels as well as some canadian white cheddar cheese. We chatted with the couple at the other end of the table who were from British Columbia and were visiting all of the maritime islands. The man sitting next to me ordered the French Toast and when he asked the waitress for something to eat it with, she directed him to use his spoon. It was really funny and he took it all in good spirit. The food was really pretty good and not too heavy. When we finished, it was almost 1:30 so we decided to take the bus back to the visitors' center. As we were leaving the fortress, the same park interpreter who had talked to us before, found us again and pointed out that the draw bridge entrance to the fort was a weighted lever so that just one soldier could draw the bridge up himself. Back at the visitors' center, we peeked into the gift shop where I bought a little something for Rhys (a candy stick that you could tear open with your teeth like a packet of musket gun powder and pour the "powder" and gum ball into your mouth to enjoy). We met up with our driver and got back into the smoke-laden van and he took us to a vantage point with a lighthouse where we got out and took some pictures and the girls found some jellyfish. We seemed to take a different route back to the cruise terminal and our driver really never said a thing to us. I had already made a decision back at the fortress that this "tour" was definitely not worthy of any sort of tip. We paid the exact tour fare and went back into the terminal. We stopped first for Amina to get the earrings that she had looked at but wanted to make the 3 pm Indonesian tea service and we were a bit late so we headed straight for the dining room where they did accommodate us at a table for 8. Amina got a spiced tea and I got a jasmine - hers smelled better than mine. We were offered several savory and sweet items including some smoked salmon on toast, steamed cake, and rice balls. They were all good and we enjoyed talking with our table mates. One couple was from Grove, OK - just northeast of where we lived. I went to the gym and did a really quick couple of miles then returned to the cabin to shower and get ready for our dinner at the Pinnacle Grill for their "Evening at Le Cirque" dinner. Seth and I love to eat at the Le Cirque in Las Vegas at the Bellagio hotel. It's probably in our top 10 favorite restaurants of all time - we've eaten there at least half a dozen times. The amuse bouche was a creamy foie gras pate on top of a mildly fruity jam. I liked it but Amina didn't care much for it. Amina ordered the caesar salad which was very interesting in the way it was prepared/presented. I had the trio of salmon, caviar, and foie gras pate which was pretty good but I did notice how sloppy the presentation was - something you would NEVER see at the real Le Cirque. Our next course was the butternut squash soup with huckleberries which was very good - I liked the contrast of the smooth sweet soup and the tart huckleberries. For the main course, I had the seared alaskan black cod which was absolutely delicious and my favorite part of the meal. The cod was very nicely cooked but I was a little surprised that there were bones in it. It was a very generously sized piece of cod. I had the famous Le Cirque creme brulee for dessert and was happy to find the recipe for the dessert printed at the bottom of the ramekin so I simply had to finish all of the dessert so I could take a picture of the recipe. I wasn't interested in the show or the movie this evening so I went back to the cabin to catch up on my blog post for a bit then went to bed. There was a towel crab on my bed this evening. Read Less
Sail Date July 2013
A little about us first, my husband is in his sixties and I am 55, we have cruised over 20 times on numerous lines from the 320 passenger Paul Gaugian to the Queen Mary. We cruise two to three times a year departing from different ports ... Read More
A little about us first, my husband is in his sixties and I am 55, we have cruised over 20 times on numerous lines from the 320 passenger Paul Gaugian to the Queen Mary. We cruise two to three times a year departing from different ports around the world, our cruises range from 12-22 days. This was our second cruise with HAL, our first being on the Volendam. We had booked an SY guarantee and were lucky enough to get an up-sell to a SA suite. EMBARKATION/SUITE Our embarkation point was originally to be the overseas passenger terminal in Sydney but because of issues related to the Australia Day Celebrations the ship docked in the Darling Harbour area. Passengers were informed that due to the later arrival of the Oosterdam boarding would not commence until 1.00pm. We arrived at the wharf just after 11.00am and handed in our suitcases. We were one of the first to check in as we had priority boarding however the process was delayed due to a breakdown with the computer system, once checked in it was suggested that we go for a walk and have a look at the local area and return after 1.00pm. We decided to wait it out and were allowed to board at 12.30pm, we were met with smiles as we boarded and given directions to out suite. In the past we have normally had verandah cabins and this was our third experience in a suite. Dennis and I were very impressed with our room, en suite with double basins, separate shower and jacuzzi, we fell in love with our large balcony and spent a lot of time out there. Opposite our cabin was the Neptune Lounge which became our second home over the next 11 days, the Neptune lounge is exclusively for the use of Penthouse and Deluxe veranda suite guests,we would drop in for cold drinks, coffee, tea and nibbles throughout the day and were looked after by the fabulous Diane and Essay who were always so welcoming and remembered our names from the first day! We availed ourselves of the light lunch most days and canapes in the afternoon to get us through to dinner. On our previous cruises we have not really taken advantage of room service however with the larger balcony most nights we ordered dinner from the Main Dining room menu and ate on our balcony as the sun set! It was truly magical. Room service normally quoted a wait of 45 minutes but in reality it was never more than a 30 minute wait, the food always arrived hot and very well presented. Suite guests also have the benefit of enjoying breakfast in the Pinnacle grill, a very refined and soothing experience, staff were great and always remembered our names and beverage preferences, some mornings we just enjoyed room service and ate on the balcony. We ate at the Pinnacle Grill one night and the food, ambiance and service were surreal, it was our 20th wedding anniversary and one we will always remember. ENTERTAINMENT We attended a couple of shows and really enjoyed them, we found the venue to be well laid out and never had any problems seeing the stage from the circle, drink service was very efficient. STAFF From our arrival until that sad final walk down the gangway we found the staff to be excellent, always willing to chat and ask how our day in port had been, our room stewards Ary and Bagus were excellent and took very good care of us. THE SHIP we loved the Oosterdam, loved the bright colours, art work, lamps and everything else about her, we liked that there were many little bars and no large atrium where crowds tend to gather. Thinking back the only thing I think I would change would be the lounge/cafe/library/computer room/bar at the top front of the ship, just make it a lounge with bar and move the cafe, library and computes elsewhere. We found the Oosterdam to be sparkling clean and there always seemed to be staff cleaning, yes she could do with some minor updates but we love her as she is. THE FOOD We really enjoyed the food as previously mentioned, our couple of visits to the MDR were not disappointing, we were on select dining but never had to wait for more than 10 minutes. I cannot comment on the buffet lunches as we would normally eat in the Neptune Lounge. PORTS We had six ports, we missed one due to weather, two of the ports were tender and three docked. Tender process was not a problem for us as we had priority tendering. Our favourite port was the Ile de Pins in New Caledonia, a superb beach and the softest sand. We did not do any of the ships excursions, this cruise was about lying on beautiful beaches and relaxing. THE END With heavy hearts we left the Oosterdam with promises to return, this has been one of our favourite cruises and one we will not forget. There is something about the Oosterdam that endears her to us, can't put a finger on it but we will return again for her to work her magic on us. Marina and Dennis Read Less
Sail Date January 2013
We sailed Jan 7 on the Nieuw Amsterdam with friends. The boarding process in Fort Lauderdale was seamless and quick (although it was a far walk from our hotel shuttle bus stop to the cruise reception desk) and as usual the greeters were ... Read More
We sailed Jan 7 on the Nieuw Amsterdam with friends. The boarding process in Fort Lauderdale was seamless and quick (although it was a far walk from our hotel shuttle bus stop to the cruise reception desk) and as usual the greeters were keen and warm. WE used expedited disembarkation for the first time and LOVED it. Smooth, easy and quick! Our cabin was ready immediately (11:30). While inconvenient, I appreciate Holland America's commitment to infection control as evidenced by not allowing serve yourself for the first two days of the cruise. Once again, serving the guests by minimizing the illness spread (especially this year with such high influenza rates) I love this ship for the size (very walkable) and the quiet areas that you can find in public spaces for privacy. We chose open dining and had a wonderful experience. We only had to wait once (formal night) and that was only about 15 minutes and we were provided a pager so we could wander about until our table was available. The food in the dining room was sensational - even better than our past cruises with HAL. I am gluten intolerant and they handled it extremely well - simple, no fuss, and lots of options. We participated in the beer tasting and pub crawl, which were both brilliantly arranged and alot of fun! We would highly recommend both of these planned activities. The front desk staff were helpful and clear. We chose not to attend the captain's lunch and a quick conversation had our HAL coasters sent to our room. The piano man and comedian were the best we have experienced cruising....bonus points for both. This cruise visited Grand Turk (great beach at the cruise pier dock), St. Martten (Orient Beach a hit as usual), San Juan (docked right in the wonderful old city to explore at will) and Half Moon Cay (such a great spot to walk, swim and rest). Although the Nieuw Amsterdam does need a refresh (carpets in public spaces for example) we truly enjoyed this ship. Read Less
Sail Date January 2013
I was worried about choosing the Maasdam, because it is the 2nd oldest and 2nd smallest of HAL's fleet. Let me tell you, for cruises, SMALLER is BETTER! The personal attention we received was amazing, and only once did we have to ... Read More
I was worried about choosing the Maasdam, because it is the 2nd oldest and 2nd smallest of HAL's fleet. Let me tell you, for cruises, SMALLER is BETTER! The personal attention we received was amazing, and only once did we have to wait in line for anything! Typically, on ships with 2,000-3,000 passengers, it can be a chore trying to get to the showroom early to find a good seat, or even find a lounge chair on the deck on sea days. Not on the Maasdam! I never had to look far for an open chair, the showroom was over half empty every night (and not because the entertainment wasn't good), and only once did we have to wait for dinner. It was Christmas Eve, and a formal night, on a port day. Typically, ships do not do a formal night on a port day, but they did in this case because of Christmas Eve. They also pushed the entertainment up one hour (to 7:00 & 9:00 shows, instead of 8:00 & 10:00) in order to fit in a Christmas show at 11. Well, no one showed up to anytime dining at 6:00, but everyone showed up at 7:30 or 8:00, which means half of us had to wait over an hour to be seated after 9:00. Aside from that, everything was walk-right up, and there were no lines anywhere. I will now always look for the smaller ships whenever possible. The only ammenity I missed from a slightly larger ship was a larger thermal suite area. Oh, well. I was worried a little bit about rough sees tossing such a small ship, and we did have 2 rough days out of 14, but I survived. I will definitely do a smaller ship in the Caribbean. Don't know yet if I'm willing to try a smaller ship on the Pafific! Read Less
Sail Date December 2012
Good points: -Zaandam much better than the Oosterdam in decor, service and company response to problems. Had a bad leak in my suite ceiling that took days to correct, but received a very generous shipboard credit and a cookbook plus ... Read More
Good points: -Zaandam much better than the Oosterdam in decor, service and company response to problems. Had a bad leak in my suite ceiling that took days to correct, but received a very generous shipboard credit and a cookbook plus apology note as compensation. Compared to the Oosterdam, where I had worse problems with cabin and an injury caused by HAL and I got no compensation or apology. -Shore excursions were excellent -Food was pretty good, Pinnacle Grill filet was outstanding, La Cirque fantastic -Entertainment at times was excellent -Embarkation and disembarkation very smooth -Hotel the night before, booked through my travel agent, Sheraton Marina in San Diego very good (not necessarily affiliated with HAL.) -Although I had a very bad spa experience with a too-young and experienced staff person, the spa manager quickly refunded the hefty sum I had paid in advance. -LOVE the Thermal Suite on HAL, though this one was WAY small. Pool was the size of a hot tub. BUT there was rarely anyone in the room, and what a way to relax! -Explorations Cafe really spacious, comfortable, and service was good there. -HAL continues to have the best guest to tonnage ratio, with lots of space and non-crowded atmosphere. However, at times this could be a negative for a solo traveler! Not so good points: -Service was not up to par for the price and supposed reputation of HAL Dining room staff seemed worn out or overworked, repeated requests needed for simple items like iced tea, etc. Chaotic, unacceptable situation with dining room seating. Some sort of "reservations needed" policy we were never notified about- "on your own" dining turned out to receive annoyance from restaurant manager, no table or a very long wait, and never could figure out what kind of system or lack of they were using. Many people annoyed, very long lines. 75% of the time, service overall could not in any way be described as "luxury," "gracious," or "outstanding." -Even though the restaurant food was good, the room service food was HORRIBLE. Unacceptable, poorly presented, served with resentment, and hardly edible. -Cabin steward(s) just okay. Just doing their job, and since you pay $11.50 per day for tips overall, felt underwhelmed so didn't tip them more. Was slightly put off by Cruise Director's heavy pitch on the last day for tips to the staff, when indeed, no staff member stood out for doing anything other than their job. -Unavoidable but still annoying culture/ language gap makes trying to complain or explain needs met with blank looks, non-responsiveness, or incorrect/ poor resolution, if any. Tendency to insinuate blame on the guest and a constant theme of NOT showing the kind of gracious, over the top service HAL advertises. A big gap here! -Very unclear when formal nights were- advance notice was the typical 2, but turns out there were 3, with hardly any advance and not clear notice. How are you supposed to pack or plan for that? Lack of enforcement of dress code for formal nights. -For the price I paid for my verandah suite, it was a rip-off. Very small, the bathroom was tiny, and the "jetted" tub was a disgrace. Not big enough for an adult, and all the jets didn't work. -The Zaandam is looking a little shabby, and for the price of my cruise, would expect stain-free carpet and not to see taped-together wood in a couple places. -This is the nature of HAL, so is more a mis-match for me as a youthful solo traveler, but a total lack of fun atmosphere. No club to dance, people my age acting much older, grumpy (how can you be unhappy when you get to go on a cruise???) and not everyone was unfriendly, but almost everyone seemed confused why someone would cruise alone. -NO gathering for solo travelers as I had seen on the Oosterdam schedule!! Read Less
Sail Date December 2012
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