596 Holland America Volendam Cruise Reviews

I booked the VOLENDAM mainly due to her Wednesday departure dates, which insured fewer other cruise ships in port. Only in Ketchikan did we encounter other passenger ships. The voyage itself was just what we wanted, 7 days, inside passage, ... Read More
I booked the VOLENDAM mainly due to her Wednesday departure dates, which insured fewer other cruise ships in port. Only in Ketchikan did we encounter other passenger ships. The voyage itself was just what we wanted, 7 days, inside passage, and visiting Glacier Bay. We lucked out by having very good weather. Only completely rainy on one day, sunny most other days. The VOLENDAM was a pleasant surprise. Food and dining room service better than I expected. This certainly was not best food I have had on a cruise ship but it was top notch. Dining room service in main dining room was very good and quick which is important with kids, who do not want to waiting between courses. We had not trouble with our open seating policy, if you reserved the size table you wanted a day ahead of time you could get what you wanted without any hassle. Since we booked a Suite (really a large room and not technically a suite) we had access to the Neptune Lounge and all of its perks. The staff in the lounge provided us with a lot of special requests, no ? asked. We also greatly enjoyed the daily breakfast service in Pinnacle Grill. So upsides to VOLENDAM were good food, fine service, nicely decorated ship, walk around promenade, no crowding , and large rooms.The worst part of the ship experience was the night time entertainment. It was so BAD it was funny. No live music with production shows and the singers and dancers could not sing or dance. One magician they had one night was OKAY. Highlight of the entertainment program was a showing of Jack London's WHITE FANG movie about Alaska. Of course we did not embark on an Alaska cruise for the shows, so this did not bother me. But you can tell costs have been cut in this area. We enjoyed all the Alaska ports, especially sailing in Glacier Bay where we had sunny weather. If you like wildlife and mountain scenery you will love Alaska. Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
We will not cruise HAL Volendam again and won't recommend it though we had a Veranda Room Our room was in such poor condition with a huge smashed window that looked like it had been like that for some time; peeling paint; rust marks ... Read More
We will not cruise HAL Volendam again and won't recommend it though we had a Veranda Room Our room was in such poor condition with a huge smashed window that looked like it had been like that for some time; peeling paint; rust marks and the edge of the desk area so badly broken that I scratched and cut my arm any time I sat there. Ended up with a towel over the edge to make it safe but the sharp edges still poked through. However, the bed was comfortable and bathroom a reasonable size. Room was very warm but we were lucky to be able to keep our veranda door open to cool off, even though we had the aircon set to the lowest possible setting. Too hot for sleeping. The food on board was fairly unappetising; one night we even paid the extravagant $25 ea to eat at a specialty restaurant which proved a total waste of time. The steak was no better than in the Main Dining Room which at least had changing menus daily. Because we insisted on our pre-requested anytime dining, we seemed to be treated as pests with tables often not available though we saw empty ones. They really seemed to dislike this option and tried hard to push us to late permanent seating. One of the door staff was fine but the "main man" was surly and unhelpful each time we encountered him. The buffet offered little variety and closed quickly; some days lunch was only for one hour then all was shut down allowing only the Terrace Grill as a place for a snack. Many times during the day there was nowhere to get a snack unless you paid extra. That said, cocktails were great with some interesting daily specials. The Main Dining Room also liked to rush you out, we found. Staff we encountered had poor English skills frequently misunderstanding our request and then being nigh on unintelligible in their reply. It took effort each night to make sure we got what we ordered. The onboard entertainment was very poor - we only saw the first show which was an embarrassment of cliches badly presented on the tiny stage; it was cringeworthy so we missed the others. The magician was hohum. Not much in the way of onboard events anyone in our group wanted to attend and no interesting speakers. The microsoft free computer classes were helpful and I did find some of them a good thing to attend once. In Glacier Bay the weather was spectacularly good but all talks were inside with no views and nothing was broadcast outside. We missed these because we didn't want to miss what we really came to Alaska to see and do. I wish they had broadcast when they saw wildlife because if you were on the side where, eg whales appeared, you were lucky if someone pointed it out but you had no chance otherwise. For $90 I had a hot stone massage which was worthless to me - it was delivered by their beautician! If I could I'd ask for my money back instantly since others in my party had great experiences. Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
We chose the Volendam as we wanted a smaller ship with 5* accommodation and food to explore the Inner Passage of Alaska. This was to be our first cruise and we had carefully chosen what we thought would meet our requirements. We booked a ... Read More
We chose the Volendam as we wanted a smaller ship with 5* accommodation and food to explore the Inner Passage of Alaska. This was to be our first cruise and we had carefully chosen what we thought would meet our requirements. We booked a stateroom with a balcony, unfortunately a neighbour chose to smoke his cigars on his balcony without any thought or respect for the environment or his neighbours. The bed was very comfortable and the stewards kept the room very clean. Despite the ship being an older model, the facilities, for example the library, were very comfortable. The ship was kept in good order througout the voyage. Sadly the dining facilities on board were not of 5* standard - they appeared to be more akin to a cheap all inclusive deal, without the wine. Eating in the Lido was not something to be recommended unless one enjoys a rugby scrum. Obtaining a table requires the skills of a fast forward player and then one's partner has to negotiate the hordes who are piling their plates with assorted foods. The Rotterdam offers a more civilised, relaxed style of eating but is only open for short periods of time thus one has to be quick off the mark to get a table for breakfast or lunch. Dinner is easier to achieve as seating can be booked and the service is very good. However the food in both restaurants is of lamentably poor quality and invariably cold, including the soups. The breads resemble cotton wool thus toast is not recommended. The food is generally tasteless and the desserts are very sweet. Neither of these cooking styles appear to suit the European palate as members of our tour group (all European) had similar views and complaints about the quality of the food. The trip and ports of call were splendid, however the poor dining standards would preclude us from booking another cruise   Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
We sailed the Volendam on the 7 day round trip out of Vancouver to Alaska the first week of June 2013. I'm a new cruiser and had heard/red mixed things about cruises. This is what we experienced: Boarding and logistics at Vancouver ... Read More
We sailed the Volendam on the 7 day round trip out of Vancouver to Alaska the first week of June 2013. I'm a new cruiser and had heard/red mixed things about cruises. This is what we experienced: Boarding and logistics at Vancouver were extremely well organized. The only advice I have is save the HAL transfer and take a cab, it's much less expensive. The ship itself is mid-sized, not huge, it still looks like a ship, not a floating hotel. Interior is very tasteful and appropriate for a ship. Nice paintings of older ships etc. Food was really outstanding. I'm pretty harsh on food quality, for work I eat at many top end restaurants, most disappoint me. The Food on the Volendam did NOT disappoint. In the main dining room they serve a great variety with a different menu each day (with some constants). The portion size is appropriate (not too big). In this case deserts did taste as good as they looked. Service is good, but can be a tad slow on room service. Always easy to find a quiet corner, didn't feel like we were fighting other people cabin is very quiet and comfortable.This is not a party ship. The guests were mostly 50-70, lots of Europeans and Australians. Everyone was polite. Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
We did quite a bit of research before choosing the HAL Volendam cruise which departed Vancouver on June 5th, and we picked this cruise because it included Glacier Bay which I felt was a 'must see' part of the cruise. Our ... Read More
We did quite a bit of research before choosing the HAL Volendam cruise which departed Vancouver on June 5th, and we picked this cruise because it included Glacier Bay which I felt was a 'must see' part of the cruise. Our itinerary was: Wed Jun 5 5pm depart Vancouver Thu Jun 6 cruising Inside Passage Fri Jun 7 10am-10.30am Tracy Arm service call 1pm -10.30pm Juneau Sat Jun 8 7am -9pm Skagway Sun Jun 9 7am -4pm cruising Glacier Bay Mon Jun 10 10am-6pm Ketchikan Tue Jun 11 cruising Inside Passage Wed Jun 12 7am arrive Vancouver We booked through 'Vacations To Go' and thoroughly recommend them. We selected BB6222 which was a balcony cabin near the rear of the ship on the port (left) side on the Verandah Deck, deck 6. At the end of the deck hallway towards the rear of the ship was a door which led out onto a stern viewing area with lounges, not many people seemed to discover this spot and it was a pleasant retreat with stairs up to the Lido and Bar on deck 8. The cabin was reasonably spacious (similar dimensions to our balcony cabin on the Equinox) and not generally affected by noise problems. However the main dining room was immediately below and if you happened to be in the cabin when they were making P.A. announcements they could be disturbing and quite clearly heard. THE GOOD - HAL/VOLENDAM - Embarkation and disembarkation was smooth and effortless, very well handled by all concerned and our bags arrived at the cabin in very good time. - The crew were probably the best part of the HAL experience - cabin attendants were always friendly and helpful, staff in the Lido buffet always had a smile. THE GOOD - ITINERARY/EXCURSIONS We were so lucky with the weather during the cruise, we had some cloud and drizzle on the first and last days cruising the Inside Passage but the rest was absolutely fantastic which made the awesome scenery even better. Glacier Bay is breathtakingly awesome! The scenery was simply spectacular, from the reflections in the calm waters to the majestic snow-covered mountains and the grandeur of sitting close to massive glaciers, listening to them 'speak' to you in the stillness of the pristine wilderness. THE BAD - HAL/VOLENDAM - In our opinion the cabin was quite 'old and tired' with chips and marks on the desks, very basic television and not much else. One of the full-length windows leading out onto our balcony had several huge cracks which ran from about waist height down to the floor. When I pointed it out to the cabin steward he said that they were aware of it but hadn't been able to get a replacement window yet. - We had opted for 'Open Seating' (anytime dining) but when we were given our I.D. cards they showed early fixed seating. When we tried to change this back to our booked dining option we were first challenged with a fairly aggressive "So you want to change your dining preference?" When I pointed out that our confirmation stated Open Seating and that I was not changing it but correcting their mistake I was then told rather brusquely that Open Seating had been over-subscribed and if we didn't take the fixed seating then we may experience extensive delays. We still went with our preferred Open Seating and never had a problem with getting a table for the entire cruise. - Throughout the cruise we found the food to be average at best. On the first night of the cruise we went to the Pinnacle Grill which was a waste of $25 per person, the food was not particularly good and the service was off-hand. - We only tried room service once for breakfast and it arrived so late that we almost missed our excursion. THE BAD - ITINERARY/EXCURSIONS GLACIER BAY The park ranger informative talks were held in the theatre at the same time as the ship was cruising by spectacular glaciers. You had to choose whether to listen but not see, or see but not listen. It would make much more sense to broadcast the ranger talks on outside speakers so that you could combine viewing and listening. SUMMARY Cruising Alaska was an awesome experience, one of my lifetime highlights. Would I do another Alsaka cruise? - probably not. Would I recommend HAL? Only if the itinerary/timing is one that you can't do with anyone else. My photos and review in the HAL forum can be viewed here http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1887232 Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
We had so much fun! Although not the 100,000+ ton size and not the newest, this ship packed in excellence all the way. Now we know why it was rated the highest of the several HAL ships going to Alaska. What a difference an excellent Hotel ... Read More
We had so much fun! Although not the 100,000+ ton size and not the newest, this ship packed in excellence all the way. Now we know why it was rated the highest of the several HAL ships going to Alaska. What a difference an excellent Hotel Manager and Cruise Director makes. The staff went out of their way to do extra special things for us, such as bringing an extra chair for our veranda. The music and shows were top notch. Every night we cycled between dancing to the HAL Cats (top tunes from all the recent decades) in the Crows Nest lounge, and to the Neptunes (30/40s songbooks) in the Ocean Lounge. The "Northern Lights" and "Roadhouse" stage productions were the best choreography, singing, and cleverness ever--and well executed by very gifted professionals. Both the magician and the comedian had extensive resumes and well-worth attending--definitely not 'B class.' The food menus were extensive, and well-prepared/presented. Instead of shifting special foods to the extra cost restaurants like some ships, they've retained some in the main dining room, such as the traditional escargot. Little extras made this ship stand out. (1) In the suite, each person had 3 pillows, with 3 different levels of hardness/softness--literally nice touch! (2) We each had personalized stationary in the stateroom. (3) The chef came to each table in the dining room to check the quality of the food. (4) The 'customer service' desk called us every day to find out if we needed anything. (5) You could wait for disembarkation in your room [most cruise lines require you to wait in a public area]. The professional photographers were excellent (we bought all the photos), but alas, still VERY pricey. Since this was our 4th Alaska cruise, we didn't do any excursions this time (we did the spa package instead), but recommend the dog sled and the Skagway train excursions. The national parks gold rush museum in Skagway is interesting, and the Totem museum in Ketchikan (both within easy walking distance of the ship). Some tips: (a) if you have several electrical devices, bring a power strip; the room only has one, one-hole electrical outlet; (b) both Skagway and Ketchikan now carry very extensive amber jewelry [haven't seen this good since the Europe Baltic cruise]; (c) there are good 'midnight rations' (food) on the Lido, but only from 10:30 to 11:30pm (after that the ship completely wraps up for the night). The 'easy off' independent disembarkation was great! We don't like repeating ships, but this ship we will go on again. Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
This was my very first cruise and thanks to Holland America & the Volendam, I can't wait to for my next cruise to some destination. Here are my observations.Embarkation:We arrived at the Canada Place cruise ship terminal early ... Read More
This was my very first cruise and thanks to Holland America & the Volendam, I can't wait to for my next cruise to some destination. Here are my observations.Embarkation:We arrived at the Canada Place cruise ship terminal early enough to be the first group to be brought on board. We found out that we had to leave our suitcases with the cruise ship terminal porters, who helped us attach Volendam luggage tags so that they would end up on the correct ship.Next was the security check as US Customs and Immigration, which went smoothly. Right before boarding, we had the Embarkation photos taken as well as being given a coupon book to shops on our ports of call.Stateroom:It's truly amazing just how much can be fit into such a small space. I was most impressed that all cabins appeared to have a bathtub standard. The bathroom also features a cabinet behind the mirror to keep all the healthy and beauty items. There is one hair dryer mounted on the mirror but I also found another one in a work desk drawer.The stateroom had three closets with adjustable shelves. One for the suitcases, and one each for the two people sharing the room. The room also features a work desk with chair, sofa, table and small bedside drawers on each side of the combined twin bed as we were a couple.Robes are included, as well as a safe that works with any card with a magnetic stripe (as long as it is not your stateroom key). The rooms are cleaned twice each day, with two chocolates delivered at night.If you have electronics that need recharging, bring an extension cord and/or power bar. I found only one outlet.Public Area Decor & Musical Entertainment:Very nice paintings and other works of art can be found all around the ship. Our voyage had a classical duo (the most well received by fellow passengers I spoke with), a piano man Don, a solo guitarist, and a quartet (Jenny and the HALcats) playing the latest tunes. Shops:There seems to be more sales toward the end of the cruise, so abstain for purchasing any gifts at the beginning. The shops include jewelry, alcohol, and a gift shop on Deck 5.Deck 5 Cafe, Library, and Computer LabThe Inspirations cafe provides sweets and coffee for a modest additional cost. This is also where computer terminals for internet access can be found. Be warned, the rates are very pricey and the speed will be slower than what is available on land. The library not only features many books but family games, chess board, and a scrabble table. When selecting a book, be aware that the the shelves are automatically closed in the late evening. The Computer lab offers computer courses around the Windows 8 operating system. It was remarkably informative.Casino:Also on deck 5 is the casino with slots, pachinko, and table games. There are slots, poker, and blackjack tournaments on various days.Deck 8 Food: the LidoLido is the place to get self-service food. Be aware that the first 48 hours will have the crew serving you for hygenic reasons. They are open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even a late night snack. Check each day's itinerary for the exact times. Deck 4/5 Food: Rotterdam Dining RoomPassengers have the choice between reserved seating and coming in without a reservation but this usually means sharing a table with others (a great way to meet new people). Food selections vary by the day on the menu but there are some items that are offered everyday.Dessert Night: Check you itinerary for dessert night, held on just one of the 7 nights. Very tempting offerings can be found on deck 8 by the central swimming pool (not the one at the rear of the ship).Deck 9: Crow's Nest NightclubThis was the place to go at night for a drink, dancing, karaoke, and Name That Tune games.Observation decks:Plenty of space for people to get a good view of the wonderful Alaska landscape.Spa & Gym:We went to a seminar held to a gym where I learned quite a bit about detoxification of the body but also found out what state the body can be in to never contract cancer!Daily Movies:There is a movie of the day shown twice or 3 times a day in the Wajang theater on Deck 4. Movies presented on our voyage included, "Silver Linings Playbook", "Skyfall", "Life of Pi", "White Fang", "Oz", and "Promised Land". Popcorn in bags are provided.Cooking classes:Two of the 7 days has a cooking class for an additional charge (also in the Wajang theatre). It was a lot of fun to help cook one of three dishes (appetizer, main course, or dessert). Participants are split into groups of two. If you are interested, be sure to sign up early as space is limited. You then get to eat your creations in the Pinnacle Grill nearby afterwards.Pinnacle Grill becomes Le Cirque New York:Again, for an extra cost, one can dine at Pinnacle Grill. On some nights, it becomes Le Cirque with a menu inspired from its New York City namesake.Activities:Bingo is offered 4 times during the 7 days. One of the games saw the grand prize as a cruise for 2. The remaining games offered large cash grand prizes but the catch was that you had to fill every square of your bingo card by a maximum number of numbers called out. Even the host Chase said that this would be difficult but not impossible. 6 cards for 4 games cost $35 but a 3-card option is also available for less.Bean bag toss and ring toss are also available for a quick 30 minute distraction. This are usually held in the atrium on Deck 3.Shows:Shows are featured on most nights in the lounge. Shows were either by the regular cast of performers, a comedian Kevin Jordan, or a magician.Ports of call & excursions:Excursion tickets can be purchased on board while sailing toward the port of call for convenience but a huge premium is paid. Getting of at Juneau, we were amazed at how many booths offered comparable excursions at cheaper prices. This is true for all ports of call on this cruise (Ketchikan & Skagway).Staff:Our housecleaning staff worked very hard to keep our room clean twice a day. Two of the days saw us get fruit. Cruise director Brett Rudolph was a treat to interact with - don't be afraid to approach him. Let him get to know you - you won't regret it. Culinary Arts host Beth was also quite warm to passengers, doing what she could to be welcoming and assisting in any way she could during the demonstrations that she hosted. Chase is the show host, who hosts Bingo, Ring Toss, Bean Bag Toss, Name That Tune. Be prepared for some very dry humour and a deadpan delivery from him.Disembarkation:Everything went according to the posted schedule. There was a little bit of a line up but not a long delay. We were staying in Vancouver, so were we able to get our luggage in the main waiting area before submitting our Canadian customs declaration and leaving. The taxi line was long but it was either that or walk to 6 blocks our hotel with our heavy suitcases.Overall:I loved my first time cruise experience, thanks to the crew of the Volendam. If you are preparing for your first cruise, I hope this information helps. Read Less
Sail Date May 2013
My cruise started on May 1, 2013 and would go on until May 8, 2013. We would board the ship in Vancouver and sail up to Alaska. I sailed with my parents, my older brother and my younger sister. This will have been my seventh cruise. A week ... Read More
My cruise started on May 1, 2013 and would go on until May 8, 2013. We would board the ship in Vancouver and sail up to Alaska. I sailed with my parents, my older brother and my younger sister. This will have been my seventh cruise. A week beforehand, we got an email saying that the ship was coming Asia and there had been a gastrointestinal outbreak on the last trip. 0_0 Yikes. They delayed boarding and going into your rooms for 2 hours. Normally in HAL, I heard that your rooms are always reading as soon as you board. Due to the gastrointestinal disease, they also had a 48hr period which banned people from serving themselves. This made lining up take FOREVER. Ship: Elegantly decorated ship, it was nice and spacious. Had very nice live music at night which were cleverly located so the music in your ears never overlap. Food: Hit and miss. Some food was really good, and others weren't. Mint chip ice cream there tasted like toothpaste (and I like mint chip). I disliked the prime rib, it didn't taste like anything. I didn't even want to finish it ïOE Cherry Burghandy ice cream was awesome though, served in a waffle cone. Best thing about the trip was the hard ice cream available all day. They were SO good. Afternoon tea was lovely, attended nearly all of them. There are special ones too ex. Royal Dutch, Indonesian and Cupcake. I liked them all (since I have a sweet tooth), as they all had delicious snacks. Activities: Nearly nothing that interests me on board. Only things would be meals & afternoon tea & chess. Not many activities at all. Port: My third time to Alaska, Ketchikan still my favourite, others are boring and small. Glacier Bay was beautiful though, very cold. They served Dutch Pea Soup at the Bow & Outside decks. Room: Beds were SO comfy. Every time I lied down, I fell asleep, even during the daytime. Room was spacious and a lot of storage space. Irritating handle-less drawers. Not enough hangers. Amazing smelling body soap in shower. Embarkation/Disembarkation: Outstandingly fast. Fastest disembarkation I have ever had. They just scanned your card and you left. Boarding was really fast too. To read my extensive review (Live from Trip Report) with MANY HD pictures (1080p+) depicting every single thing I did on board, please visit my thread on Cruise Critic Message Boards at: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1841439 Read Less
Sail Date May 2013
Boarding seemed to take a long time - over an hour standing in line. We must have missed some information for third-time cruisers on HA.Basically, it was an enjoyable cruise, but there were a few glitches. We had dinners in the dining ... Read More
Boarding seemed to take a long time - over an hour standing in line. We must have missed some information for third-time cruisers on HA.Basically, it was an enjoyable cruise, but there were a few glitches. We had dinners in the dining room, and they were generally good quality, and the servings were modest, which met our needs. We enjoyed the afternoon tea, but observed some training lapses. Once, when we were at a table for two, I was served tea before my wife was served. Several times, sweets arrived before the sandwiches. Most disconcerting was when the server tried shaking the jam on to the scones, instead of using a second spoon to dislodge the jam on to the scone. I had this image of the jam ending up in my lap. I fault management, not the servers, for these lapses. Those of us who were prepared for the two formal nights were disappointed that the dining room staff admitted those who were not appropriately dressed, unless jeans and sweaters are now acceptable formal wear.The safe was a pain. To start with, it was locked, so a call for help was necessary. The use of a card with a magnetic stripe struck us as being downright stupid. My wife and I do not always follow the same agenda, so as a consequence, only one of us would have access to the safe. The use of a code that we could both use would seem to be sensible.We are not big fans of the shows, but we did enjoy the dancing in one of the lounges. The Neptunes were very accommodating in playing the tunes we, and others, requested. We also appreciate the classical groups that HA still has on their ships.It was disappointing to this news junkie that only Fox and CNN appeared to be available - the two most unsavoury news sources in North America. Since the passenger list is so international, perhaps HA should consider using something like BBC.For people who hate those high charges for slow internet, two of the communities had quite accessible internet cafes at $5/hr, and the public library in Juneau, on the dock, has FREE internet service for 15 or 30 minutes. Can't beat that price. Read Less
Sail Date May 2013
Our April 15 to May 1 time on the Volendam as we crossed the Pacific Ocean was mixed between positive and negative. Perhaps this is the case with others on the subject cruise, as well as many on other cruises with Holland America, as well ... Read More
Our April 15 to May 1 time on the Volendam as we crossed the Pacific Ocean was mixed between positive and negative. Perhaps this is the case with others on the subject cruise, as well as many on other cruises with Holland America, as well as on other lines. First, the positive. The ship was in excellent condition. Never did I see any worn carpet, or worn upholstery on furniture. Contrary to other reports, all the the ship's water supply was properly filtered and treated. We had no problem with foul looking or tasting water as reported on other reviews and information about the Volendam. Our shower could have had more water pressure and hotter water, but it was adequate. While our initial boarding was delayed, the ship's captain made the correct decision by ordering a thorough cleaning and disinfecting of all areas of the ship. The previous voyage had experienced much illness of the GI type. A free shuttle bus was provided from and back to the boarding terminal. The bus went to and returned from a very nice and large Kobe department store. I was able to purchase four bottles of good wine for later consumption on the ship. The captain correctly continued having the ship areas disinfected and insisting that all passengers and crew wash hands and use the hand cleaning dispensers available throughout the ship. As a result, the extraordinary procedures for sanitation were relaxed about half-way through the cruise, although reinstated for a short time a few days later. The entertainment was generally good, although sometimes not well attended. The Piano Lounge pianist, Steve, was very skilled, clever, and entertaining. My wife, more of a knowledgeable musician than I, said he was an excellent pianist and accompanist. Steve also organized, was Master of Ceremonies, and accompanied singers for the guest talent show. I believe all the participants performed well, and that the two to three hundred in the audience enjoyed the show. I think, and hope, my 'Ol Man River was appreciated. As is proper, there was no determination of a winner, etc., for the talent show. These shows used to occur on most cruises, but now seem to have been replaced with Karaoke contests, with winners determined by ship staff personnel. While I enjoy Karaoke as much as anyone, I believe making it a contest is inappropriate. The adagio performers in the Explorer Lounge were a violin and pianist from the Ukraine. They were good musicians and played well, but attendance was too often sparse. They did give a fine performance at their own show one afternoon. Our favorite waitress was Marivic, who served us in the Explorer Lounge. She is from the Philippines, always pleasant, and with a great sense of humor. Our Neptune Lounge concierge ladies were also exceptionally pleasant and helpful. Now for he disappointing factors. For the first time ever, we splurged for a Superior Suite, named a Deluxe Verandah Suite, or Neptune Suite, on this ship. The pricing, changes in pricing, and our final attaining of the best price by contacting high level management are too detailed to get into here. The suite in general was what we expected, although perhaps a bit smaller than those on larger ships. Our main problem with the suite itself was the bathtub-shower. We only showered, never using a filled tub or the water jet function. We found the width of the tub base to be extremely narrow and uncomfortable for showering. Two feet would barely fit, and we are not large people. The verandah was very wide, as much as 11 or 12 feet. While this would be nice for warm weather cruising, the great width would hardly compensate for the very narrow bathroom and its narrow tub. Why the ship was designed this way in the first place escapes me. However, except for the very small bathroom and tub and waisted verandah area, the suite was nice. The complimentary laundry and dry cleaning service for suite guests was a plus. Cabin cleaning and service was fine, given that we seldom saw the cabin steward or assistant. In room breakfast service was good and on time. A minor problem occurred with the one live plant in the suite. One day my wife noticed it was drooping and lacked water. She watered the plant and it recovered. The cabin steward should have done this. Our major problem occurred during our first night on board, and continued for several nights. It happened that our cabin was immediately under the dishwashing room on the Lido deck above. Early every morning at about 6:30 am the dishwashing machines would be started. As they were drained the night before, the start-up was accompanied by a loud water hammer, or other such noise. Then, for a few more minutes, other noises occurred. We occupied 7028. I soon learned the suite guests on both sides, 7030 and 7026, were also awakened each morning by this noise. One of these guests inquired and was told nothing could be done about this noise. I then visited with our nice concierge lady in the Neptune Lounge and discussed the problem. She went to the Lido deck, asked about what correction could be made, and was told nothing could be done. I then asked to see the Hotel Manager. An intermediary then had the problem fixed by the dishwashing people using a different procedure. However, I still later met with the Hotel Manager who maintained that no one had previously complained about the early morning noise. What! Are you kidding me? I also spoke with this gentleman about the fact that shuttle buses in the Japanese ports we visited were never announced in the Explorer, the daily "poop” sheet. He responded that each city provided these buses, and it was not known if the buses would really be there. Well, then write a probable/possible entry for the Explorer to inform people that he buses could be available. While the Cruise Director spoke to our Cruise Critic "Meet and Greet” group the first cruise day and said Karaoke would be several times, it was provided only once. Our dining room experience was sometimes fine, but often lacking. Escargot was offered only once. As an example of our disappointment, I offer this. Once the menu included pheasant. The serving consisted of only the leg. The same occurred with duck. Neither menu stated leg. It is expected that if nothing is otherwise specified about the pheasant or duck part, the serving will be the breast. But I repeat, neither menu stated leg. I will not further elaborate about dining, but the experience was mixed. We did not participate in Pinnacle dining except for the complimentary lunch for Neptune Suite people, That was very good. So I could write much more, but the above may provide a flavor of our cruise experience on the Volendam across the Pacific. Bob (bobblsc) Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
We enjoyed the trip tremendously and we would be perfectly happy to do it again. My review will sound more negative than I mean it to be. The cruise was mostly terrific with relatively minor issues that did not affect our experience ... Read More
We enjoyed the trip tremendously and we would be perfectly happy to do it again. My review will sound more negative than I mean it to be. The cruise was mostly terrific with relatively minor issues that did not affect our experience very much. Holland America moved the embarkation pier from a cruise terminal close to downtown to a container port 8 miles north. They set up a marquee in the middle of the commercial pier with giant cranes and mountains of containers all around. It was a bit disconcerting. The process seemed a little show compared to my last embarkation with Royal Caribbean but, to be fair, the passport and visa check was more complex. We found that our luggage had made it to our cabin before us so we were able to unpack before departure which is always nice. Our cabin was a grand sounding Vista Suite which is H/A's term for a balcony cabin. It should not to be confused with a real suite which they call a Neptune Suite. The cabin was a good size with a queen sized bed, a couch, an adjustable height table, a chair and a built-in dresser/wall-unit. The balcony that was a little longer than I've had before as there was room for a lounge chair as well as a regular chair and a small table. Not bad at all. While the cabin was well laid out with plenty of storage, the decor is starting to look a bit tired. The couch had a tear on the seat which had been poorly repaired, the veneer on the dresser was broken, the adjustable height table did not adjust any more and the commode and bathtub had water stains. This brings up the silliest feature of the cabin. They put a whirlpool tub in the bathroom but it's so small that it's completely useless as a whirlpool or a tub. It is very short and narrow and can't really take enough water to cover the jets. Fortunately it wasn't a complete waste of space as it made a great laundry tub. They seem to maintain the public rooms better than the cabins. There were no major signs of wear and tear and we could see the cleaning staff scrubbing away keeping it all shiny, even at ungodly hours. The food in the Rotterdam main dining room went from mediocre to pretty good. It started poorly with the first dish of the first night when I had a seafood cocktail that was tasteless and rubbery. I thought, oops here we go. But while there were things I didn't like over the next two weeks, most dishes were perfectly acceptable and some were pretty good. On the bad side, they often offered cold soups as a gourmet vegetarian entree. Their description on the menu was much more interesting than what they actually served. I gave up after the third night. On the good side, their lamb, beef, surf and turf and fish dishes were simple but good. Their desserts were also pretty good. We only ate dinner in the Lido cafeteria once. Boring. Lunches were available in the dining room, inside at the Lido and poolside. Poolside had a grill and a hot table with things like pizza and salads. They also set up an Asian buffet with different countries being represented every day. The quality was uneven. There were several tasty selections like the Indian curries but some of the others were less than great. I would suggest avoiding the Chinese dumplings. The dessert extravaganza buffet near the end of the trip was lots of fun and very popular. I had no idea how many desserts could fit on one single plate. We did not try the Pinnacle Grill, their extra-charge dining room. The one time I tried to get a reservation, they had a computer malfunction and asked me to call back. I never got around to it. I kind of feel that they should have been the ones to call me back and not the other way around. The entertainment was the weakest part of the cruise. Since there are only 1,400 passengers, it's not surprising that we didn't get Broadway at sea or an ice review show but what we did get was pretty poor. Comedians that weren't funny. Mediocre musical acts and a chorus line of 2 girls that no one had actually bothered to choreograph. There were some good points. The ship's band was sharp and they did a great job backing everything from the ship singers doing show tunes to a soloist doing opera. They were very good. The Ocean's Lounge jazz trio were also very good. They were tight and worked well together. I particularly liked the bassist. One of the ship's show singers, Ebony, was also very good with great stage presence and a good pop singer voice. But on the whole, the evening shows were mostly disappointing. The ports we visited were amazing. It was an incredible itinerary. We were in downtown Shanghai with Pudong right across from us and the Bund in walking distance. From Taijing, we made it to Beijing and the Great Wall. Dalian gave us a taste of Manchuria. Busan was absolutely fascinating. Nagasaki was walking distance to Glover Gardens and a short tram ride to the Bomb museum. With the exception of Beijing where we were around 100 miles from the city, it was easy to get around on our own and we did not try any of the ship excursions. The disembarkation process was the easiest we ever experienced. We took expedited departure and were off the ship by 7:45 and through to Kyoto by train before 9:30 am. Altogether a great success but there were a few things that really bugged us: Our number one peeve was the quality of the coffee. The standard coffee served in the dining room and the cafeteria was sour and weak and it had a chemical taste to it. The only drinkable coffee on the ship was in the Explorations Cafe and they charged extra for it. Curse you H/A. The first time we ordered a glass of Merlot at the bar we were charged around $10.00. The next day the charge was $6.00. When we asked, we were told that the $6.00 wine was the house Merlot. We could not find it in the drinks menu anywhere but from then on, we were house Merlot drinkers. There's something a little dishonest about hiding a less expensive selection to force the client to blow the extra dollars. In the Rotterdam dining room, a cavalcade of staff - waiters, team leaders, asst. head-waiters and head waiters would come by to ask how we were enjoying our meal but keeping my water glass filled seemed to be beyond them all. In Busan, the international cruise terminal is quite far from the downtown area. There was no shuttle bus, the city buses were jammed by 1,400 H/A passengers trying to travel to the same place at the same time and there was no taxi stand. There were stories that some taxis finally appeared but they were asking for $40 US for a $6.00 metered fare. Holland America really could have organized something a little better. None of these points were serious enough to spoil our trip. This was a great trip and I would be happy to cruise with H/A again. Read Less
Sail Date March 2013
We have just returned from our Volendam cruise from Hong Kong to Kobe. Firstly, the company is let down by poor administration. Questions emailed to HAL in both the US and Australia were sometimes responded to in very vague terms, or ... Read More
We have just returned from our Volendam cruise from Hong Kong to Kobe. Firstly, the company is let down by poor administration. Questions emailed to HAL in both the US and Australia were sometimes responded to in very vague terms, or were ignored altogether. A requested "Roll Call" meeting was not advertised on the relevant web page until several days before departure, consequently its existence was unknown to most of the 40+ registered users. This was very disappointing. There was a late change to embarkation dock in Hong Kong, identified on page 1 of the check-in documentation, but on page 3, the previous dock was identified. Whilst acknowledging that the change of embarkation port is beyond the control of HAL, they could have been a little more helpful to their customers on how to find the dock. Many of the passengers reported that their taxi drivers did not know where to find the right port entrance and indeed our own went through three different port gates before finding the right one. Otherwise, embarkation and disembarkation went smoothly and with little wait. Our cabin was ready by midday. On entering the cabin, it smelt very stale. It took some days to track down the cause of the odour as the pillows. They really needed washing or replacing and the smell could not be disguised by fresh linen. The WC in our cabin was not functioning properly and a plumber had to be called on the first day, and again several days later as the problem was not fixed properly the first time. The ship underwent some refurbishment recently. Curtains and cushion covers in the cabins have been replaced. Some resealing around the bath had taken place. Otherwise, the ship is showing its age somewhat. As an on-board video explained, it is important to think carefully about the location of your chosen cabin, particularly in relations to its proximity to the laundry (lots of passing traffic), proximity to lifts and stairwells (if walking long distances on board is not what you want). In our case it was a location underneath the galley of the Dining Room. The clanging and banging above our heads, late at night and very early each morning was unwelcome. Like a previous reviewer, we do not understand why HAL does not warn people about this. It is a far more important consideration than knowing whether your sea view is partly blocked - something they do tell you about, and adjust the fare appropriately. The crew, as usual, are extremely polite and helpful. Meals in the Rotterdam Dining Room and the Lido were generally good, with a wide variety. The standard appears to have dropped slightly from previous cruises. Stewards occasionally got meal orders muddled and there were occasional other issues in the Rotterdam Dining Room, but nothing major. The introduction of a fee for "special" coffees in the Rotterdam Dining Room (such as an espresso) was diappointing. The Pinnacle Grill experience was excellent. Afternoon teas in the Rotterdam Dining Room were very good. The entertainment was "so-so". Some acts were very good, some downright awful. Movies seemed often to shown at puzzling times so that it was very difficult to complete dinner in time to go, or to get any dinner after the show! Craft activities were infrequent, but Microsoft lectures were held daily. There was a daily "happy hour" in the Crow's Nest, and wine tastings for a modest fee. Shore excursions were expensive and many passengers had made their own arrangements for excursions, especially in Xingang (for Beijing) at a fraction of the cost. Information on ports of call was limited. Maps were generally not helpful, especially when asking locals for assistance, as maps made no sense to them whatsoever! There was a great encouragement, on the part of HAL, to take shore excursions rather than risk getting lost/not seeing the right sites/not getting back to the ship on time. Tourist authorities in Pusan and Nagasaki met the ship and provided helpful advice, maps etc. Free shuttle buses were provided in some ports. It would be so much more helpful if that information was made available prior to embarkation, since some passengers will always want to do their own exploring. The repeated reminders of the wonderfulness of the crew, the fabulousness of the cruise and the importance of the hotel service charge became irritating. If the crew rely on the distribution of this optional service charge, in order to draw a reasonable wage, then it would be preferable for HAL to pay them a respectable wage, and raise their fares accordingly. Read Less
Sail Date March 2013
We embarked at Hong Kong.Should have been Ocean Terminal but changed to Modern Terminal,a container port,which incurred a taxi fare of around £25. Checking in was relatively easy and fairly quick. We had booked a guaranteed o/s large ... Read More
We embarked at Hong Kong.Should have been Ocean Terminal but changed to Modern Terminal,a container port,which incurred a taxi fare of around £25. Checking in was relatively easy and fairly quick. We had booked a guaranteed o/s large cabin with allocation on arrival.(we were told the cabin no.2 days prior to departure).The cabin was a good size, queen bed,and bathroom had tub as well as shower which was good. Public areas very clean as was our cabin. Rotterdam Restaurant was good.On 2 nights a little slow,but overall, very good.Food was tasty and good selection.Not continually pestered by photographers, which made a change from other ships we have been on. Entertainment average only.When in port at Shanghai,a group of girls came onboard to perform acrobatic moves.They were absolutely brilliant!! How they got into the positions that they did,was unbelievable! The best entertainment of the cruise! Docked in centre of Shanghai,the Bund and Padong directly opposite ship.Buildings were illuminated at night which made for good photos.Spectacles very cheap in Shanghai.(prescription pair £12 )!!! The old town with its pagodas was good to see. The Great Wall in Bejing is best visited by onboard cruise tour.Long journey to get there and very difficult to negotiate if doing it on your own.The pollution in Bejing is bad.You can taste it, and there is a permanent 'fog' hanging.Summer Palace pretty but not enough time allocated to it as time spent in heavy traffic in Bejing. Dalian our next port but never took a tour.Went shopping. Pusan in South Korea was interesting.The ship was charging $69 each to see the Beomeosa temple and Jagalchi fish market.We did it ourselves by taking bus 66 from outside cruise terminal to Lotte dept.store where the subway was situated (10min ride).We took subway line 1 (orange line) from Nampo(111) to Boeomosa (133) which took about 25 mins.Outside subway we took a taxi up a very steep hill(about 2.5km) to the temple.We returned in the same manner. When we reached Lotte dept store on return, it was a 10 min. walk to the market where EVERY type of fish could be viewed.The market was HUGE and well worth a vist.We returned to he ship by taxi which was very cheap.The total cost for 2 of us for everything was£14!!!! All the stations are numbered which made it relatively easy to negotiate. Nagasaki was really nice and very easy to see on your own.We came out of the port and turned left where a tram stop was situated in the middle of the road.We got a tram into town and then changed to another to take us to the Peace Park(approx 20 mins in total). The museum,epicentre etc are all situated around the same area.From there we took another tram to see the Kofukuji temple and Spectacles bridge which are near to each other.We walked back towards the ship via a large shopping area and onto Glover Gardens,which is situated opposite the ship.Cherry blossom was out all over Japan which made everywhere look lovely. A day ticket for the trams can be obtained for 500Yen (about 4 pounds) which allows you on any tram as many times as you wish. Disembarkation in Kobe was smooth and we were transported to the Belle Vue Garden Hotel near Kansai airport for an overnight stay.The hotel was nice but nothing going on in the area so we decided to go to Osaka Castle.we took the local train from Isimisani station and then changed to the Osaka loop line which took us direct to the Castle.All stations are numbered and signs also in English which made the Castle relatively easy to find.The Castle was huge and very picturesque, especially with the blossom in full bloom.Nice walks around the castle with picnic areas everywhere.The journey took around 45 min. and cost about £15 return, for both of us. We have cruised wth HAL before and have really enjoyed this itinerary. It was different. We would recommend this to anyone thinking of doing it. Read Less
Sail Date March 2013
We have just returned from our Volendam cruise from Hong Kong to Kobe. Firstly, the company is let down by poor administration. Questions emailed to HAL in both the US and Australia were sometimes responded to in very vague terms, or ... Read More
We have just returned from our Volendam cruise from Hong Kong to Kobe. Firstly, the company is let down by poor administration. Questions emailed to HAL in both the US and Australia were sometimes responded to in very vague terms, or were ignored altogether. A requested "Roll Call" meeting was not advertised on the relevant web page until several days before departure, consequently its existence was unknown to most of the 40+ registered users. This was very disappointing. There was a late change to embarkation dock in Hong Kong, identified on page 1 of the check-in documentation, but on page 3, the previous dock was identified. Whilst acknowledging that the change of embarkation port is beyond the control of HAL, they could have been a little more helpful to their customers on how to find the dock. Many of the passengers reported that their taxi drivers did not know where to find the right port entrance and indeed our own went through three different port gates before finding the right one. Otherwise, embarkation and disembarkation went smoothly and with little wait. Our cabin was ready by midday. On entering the cabin, it smelt very stale. It took some days to track down the cause of the odour as the pillows. They really needed washing or replacing and the smell could not be disguised by fresh linen. The WC in our cabin was not functioning properly and a plumber had to be called on the first day, and again several days later as the problem was not fixed properly the first time. The ship underwent some refurbishment recently. Curtains and cushion covers in the cabins have been replaced. Some resealing around the bath had taken place. Otherwise, the ship is showing its age somewhat. As an on-board video explained, it is important to think carefully about the location of your chosen cabin, particularly in relations to its proximity to the laundry (lots of passing traffic), proximity to lifts and stairwells (if walking long distances on board is not what you want). In our case it was a location underneath the galley of the Dining Room. The clanging and banging above our heads, late at night and very early each morning was unwelcome. Like a previous reviewer, we do not understand why HAL does not warn people about this. It is a far more important consideration than knowing whether your sea view is partly blocked - something they do tell you about, and adjust the fare appropriately. The crew, as usual, are extremely polite and helpful. Meals in the Rotterdam Dining Room and the Lido were generally good, with a wide variety. The standard appears to have dropped slightly from previous cruises. Stewards occasionally got meal orders muddled and there were occasional other issues in the Rotterdam Dining Room, but nothing major. The introduction of a fee for "special" coffees in the Rotterdam Dining Room (such as an espresso) was diappointing. The Pinnacle Grill experience was excellent. Afternoon teas in the Rotterdam Dining Room were very good. The entertainment was "so-so". Some acts were very good, some downright awful. Movies seemed often to shown at puzzling times so that it was very difficult to complete dinner in time to go, or to get any dinner after the show! Craft activities were infrequent, but Microsoft lectures were held daily. There was a daily "happy hour" in the Crow's Nest, and wine tastings for a modest fee. Shore excursions were expensive and many passengers had made their own arrangements for excursions, especially in Xingang (for Beijing) at a fraction of the cost. Information on ports of call was limited. Maps were generally not helpful, especially when asking locals for assistance, as maps made no sense to them whatsoever! There was a great encouragement, on the part of HAL, to take shore excursions rather than risk getting lost/not seeing the right sites/not getting back to the ship on time. Tourist authorities in Pusan and Nagasaki met the ship and provided helpful advice, maps etc. Free shuttle buses were provided in some ports. It would be so much more helpful if that information was made available prior to embarkation, since some passengers will always want to do their own exploring. The repeated reminders of the wonderfulness of the crew, the fabulousness of the cruise and the importance of the hotel service charge became irritating. If the crew rely on the distribution of this optional service charge, in order to draw a reasonable wage, then it would be preferable for HAL to pay them a respectable wage, and raise their fares accordingly. Read Less
Sail Date March 2013
Ports visited, Kobe and Nagasaki Japan, Busan S Korea, Dalian China, Beijing China, Shanghai China, Hong Kong China. Our fifth "Dam" ship, first time Volendam. Cabin was an outside on Main deck. Embarkation was slower than ... Read More
Ports visited, Kobe and Nagasaki Japan, Busan S Korea, Dalian China, Beijing China, Shanghai China, Hong Kong China. Our fifth "Dam" ship, first time Volendam. Cabin was an outside on Main deck. Embarkation was slower than we would have liked, but once onboard our cabin was ready and luggage was delivered shortly afterwards. Thought Volendam was looking a little tired in places, especially outside on Lido deck where some maintenance and revarnishing would help. From day one our dirty cabin window remained dirty throughout the 14 days, and the bathroom tiling was showing its age, otherwise the cabin was kept immaculate by our steward and all was in good order. Plenty storage, the bed was supremely comfortable as usual and nice to see that the Elemis toiletries are still there. We really do enjoy the cabins on HAL. Overall the standard of cleaning was very high in all public areas and for the first 2 days everything was served to us in an effort to reduce the possibility of illness. This is good although the use of hand sanitisers could be more enforced as many passengers ignore them. We found the food quality, choice and presentation to our liking, and the additional Asian menu choices were fun to try so no complaints there apart from the usual dire tasting regular coffee. We were on Anytime Dining, ate in the diningroom almost every evening, and although did not usually have to wait long if we avoided the busiest periods, we did have lots of problems trying to get a decent table for two on the evenings we preferred to eat alone. We almost always found ourselves next to a serving station. Too many people are reserving the nicer tables for two for every evening at the same time, blocking others from using them. Defeats the purpose of "Anytime Dining", but the diningroom staff could surely occasionally put a couple on a table for four without other diners as there were often unoccupied nicer tables available throughout the time we were dining. Alcoholic drinks prices have increased to the extent that we now cut back, especially on wine with dinner. Heard quite a number of complaints about pricing, although the happy hours are welcome and at least the bars are busy instead of empty and have a nicer atmosphere. Entertainment was, as usual, a bit hit or miss but we thought the singers were an improvement on previous shows. They could not only sing well but a couple of them were outstanding. We usually avoid the solo acts, such as magicians, comedians etc. so cannot comment on them as we prefer to spend our time in Oceans with the trio. Enjoyed the screenings of first run films in both the large theatre and the smaller cinema. We did not notice any listings in the daily programmes for lecturers. There were port talks (to sell shorex) and info for independent sightseeing with the port info person, but no actual lectures relating to the history, culture, religion or anything else relating to the countries we were visiting. We have seen lecturers on other HAL ships but not this time. We thought the formal evenings were a bit of a let down. Wondered why so many passengers made the effort to dress formally. Captain made a brief (very brief) appearance at the Welcome Drinks otherwise we never really saw him. The Mariners Brunch was disappointing too. The CD introduced the Captain who spoke for approximately 2 minutes then left. As nothing else happened, it was a bit of a non-event. Weather was mostly good when we were in port, but the smog/pollution in some of the ports is bad. Bureaucracy on this trip is daunting. Even before we left, there was much confusion as to whether Chinese visas should be Single, Double or Multiple Entry. On this sailing it appeared to make no difference although the fees passengers had paid varied considerably depending on which of the options they chose. Passports in and out the office, passport receipts to keep and exchange at various times, photocopies to be carried and checked and rechecked every time we left or boarded, temperatures taken, officials from one country or another almost always onboard, it never stopped. This is not the fault of HAL and must have created an enormous amount of work for the staff. Be prepared to have this. Spent 2 nights in Osaka before boarding in Kobe, spent 3 nights in Hong Kong after disembarkation to finish sightseeing from previous trips. At every port we were giving the name of the ship, the dock number and the port address in the local language to show to local taxi drivers. We also sometimes had the names of the top sights in local language. We especially enjoyed the Japanese ports, and the local Tourist Info offices were on hand with info for independent sightseeing. In Nagasaki and Kobe this is very easy. Surprisingly, at Busan (S Korea)despite seeing signs for it at the dock there was no free shuttle into town although we had expected this from reading other thread. Tourist info had volunteers arranging taxis, cost approx US$4 each way. Dalian we had free shuttles to a city centre location. Shaghai had free shuttles for the very short trip to the Bund although it was barely 10 minutes walk. These finished very early (I think around 6-30pm) despite us overnighting. At Tianjin (for Beijing) there were free shuttles to a local shopping centre, again stopping very early despite an overnight. We greatly enjoyed our two days in Shanghai a lot, in part due to our excellent docking location close to one end of the Bund and with front row seats of the Pudong area directly opposite. Lovely during the day, but outstanding at night when the buildings and little river cruise boats are illuminated. We could have done with more time although we packed a lot into our two days. Beijing was the best and the worst. We knew when we booked the shorex that they would be a bit of an expensive endurance test with little sightseeing, but these were our only shorex as it was a little out of our comfort zone for independent or private touring, although many passengers did do their own thing here despite the logistical and bureaucratic difficulties. Again, two full days, but the port of Tianjin is 2 1/2 to 3 hours drive away depending on traffic. We were mostly 3 hours each way. Very early starts and late returns. The coaches we had were built for little Chinese people and were very uncomfortable for taller people. On one of the days there was so little leg room we had to take separate seats and sit sideways both directions as our legs would not otherwise fit. Next day, were amongst the first on our coach and managed to find seats with slightly more legroom although others were not so lucky. Both day tours were around 11 or 12 hours duration and cost around $250pp each day. Include time for lunch and driving between sights, and there was too little time left for actual sightseeing. I think on our first day we had just short of 3 hours and around 4 the second day. We thought these tours were vastly overpriced considering the majority of the time was spent on uncomfortable coaches. Perhaps HAL could look at either dropping Beijing altogether in favour of somewhere else, or tweak itineraries so that cruises either begin or end in Beijing where passengers could spend time in hotels actually in the city as sights such as the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace need more than 90 minutes or so. Overall it was a good trip but not a great trip, in part because of Beijing being so frustrating, although we did get to see the places we wanted to see. Read Less
Sail Date March 2013
After our comfortable flight with Emirates to Osaka we had a night to relax in our hotel.transfer to the port of Kobe seemed to be well organised but on arrival at the embarkation it was absolute chaos.It took nearly 90minutes to board ... Read More
After our comfortable flight with Emirates to Osaka we had a night to relax in our hotel.transfer to the port of Kobe seemed to be well organised but on arrival at the embarkation it was absolute chaos.It took nearly 90minutes to board .endless queuing despite documents being in order.Not a good start to a 5 Star Cruise! Our stateroom on the Verandah deck was as expected.our stewards were extremely helpful. No complaints. However the food in the Rotterdam and the Lido were not of the same quality we had on previous cruises.we had fixed dining in the Rotterdam every night and soon discovered that the food was not served hot . We complained to the maitre d and had a very indifferent reply .(how dare you !) The stewards were very efficient being let down by the kitchen. Entertainment was ok nothing outstanding .daily activities were adequate . Travel guide information was good but information for the independent traveller was not very forthcoming .many of our fellow passengers did not like to be herded in large groups on shore excursions .The prices were so inflated too. Nagasaki was ideal to explore on your own using public transport.the ship docked conveniently within walking distance. Shanghai was the best port of call.We docked opposite the Pearl Tower. A fantastic view from our stateroom. We choose HAL because the smaller ships can dock in places not suitable for larger vessels. However Hong Kong was The Great Anti climax.instead of the Ocean Terminal we docked at a container port without any facilities. Not only were we robbed of the spectacular entry into Hong Kong Harbour but wevended up in a backyard! The cruise information on your webside tells you that ships are docking at the Ocean Terminal,Downtown. As a result disembarkation was a debacle. No taxis were available and your choice was you and your luggage were transferred to the Ocean Terminal.What a joke! The second choice an overpriced bus transfer to your hotel ($34 per head !) costcutting by HAL and a further opportunity of taking money of its passengers Read Less
Sail Date March 2013
This cruise was good, but mainly because of the food, the service and the company we were lucky enough to meet. We're in our early to mid 50's but were much too young for this cruise.......... Entertainment was sparse! The ... Read More
This cruise was good, but mainly because of the food, the service and the company we were lucky enough to meet. We're in our early to mid 50's but were much too young for this cruise.......... Entertainment was sparse! The nightly shows were all (apart from the comedians - I use the term lightly) directed at the 70+ age group - we were told average age was 63...more like 75-80! Operatic and really constrained. Activities were also sparse, even Pictionary only ran twice. Apart from Trivia and the odd wine tasting (additional cost) there was not a great deal to do. Many people enjoyed the line dancing but were very disppointed it only went for 1/2 hour and was only on 3 times. An hour would have been much better for the people I spoke to. Shore tours were very expensive and quite rushed. On one of our tours the tour guide said almost nothing after the 1st 20mins on the bus and fell asleep on the way back. She also told us we'd have free time to shop and then when we'd finished the tour and asked for shoppng time she said "I went slowly so you could shop" Who moved the goal posts and why?!!!! At our Beijing stop (which is listed as Xing Yang (Beijing)) we found to our surprise (maybe we are ignorant but it still should have been pointed out) that the port is about 2 1/2 hrs drive from Beijing and that the VERY expensive tours are mainly driving. The only way the ship offered to minimise travel was to offer a 2 day/1 night tour (incl accom) for US$890 per person. We, at the last minute organised a similar tour which was VERY good for less than US$300/person. Only trouble is that before we organised the tour we were told that we had to re-board and hand in our passports by 6PM 2nd day. After we'd booked and were leaving the ship we were told we had to do this by 4.30PM no explanation. Tends to mess up a tour a bit. This sort of thing happened all the time - times were given in writing and then changed verbally without explanation or apology at most destinations. Information WAS forthcoming but WAS unreliable! When trying to find out about hop-on/hop-off buses and other info for arranging our own tours we were met with little help or advice unless it was a ship-organised tour. Some of the problems we had with entertainment not fitting our age group has to be attributed to our travel agent giving us poor advice but I do believe that the targeted audience was MUCH too narrow. Ship temp TOO HOT ALWAYS-VERY UNCOMFORTABLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Read Less
Sail Date March 2013
Ultimate Japan & China. March 2013 Very disappointed with Holland America, not up to 5 star standard expected. Kobe Japan, Check in experience very chaotic. Nearly every passenger was extremely jet lagged after long haul ... Read More
Ultimate Japan & China. March 2013 Very disappointed with Holland America, not up to 5 star standard expected. Kobe Japan, Check in experience very chaotic. Nearly every passenger was extremely jet lagged after long haul flights, this was not taken into consideration. Our luggage was not put on our transfer coach it was taken to a truck, this included my hand luggage which contained articles that I needed in the cabin. I had to chase around up and down stairs with an assistant to look for it. Cabin On entering the cabin strong smell of sweat, on bed especially pillows. Blood on floor and wall of bathroom not ours, reported then it was cleaned. Bath slip mat black around logos. Dirty black stains on pillow case before use, reported it,they changed pillow case. Thick streak of dark blue paint across window, rectified after about a week Dirty windows for the duration of the cruise, not cleaned in port. The painting around the window has been poorly executed, smudged and sloppy. Promenade Deck The painting on promenade desk was amateurish, there is no excuse sloppiness Lounger cushions dirty with bird droppings. Rugs were left out to get soaked and could not be used when needed. White plastic tooth pick/floss tool was in the gutter for days. Restaurant Trying to get a 2 table each night was a joke, staff stared blankly at the screen as though no one had ever asked for a table for two before, always had to wait even though there were loads of empty tables. Service patchy, waiters seemed to be novices or bored, working by rote. Muddled orders and long waits, stacked food left for 10 minutes to get cold before taking to tables. Lido, Outdoor table-tops stained and worn not clean, these should be replaced, even on 3 star ships they are not this bad. Coffee mugs often dirty and stained inside. Plates are badly crazed, we would have thrown them out at home ages ago. Some Food not hot enough, thermometers should be used surely? Last day on board the passengers and outside tables on lido deck were showered with large flakes of black soot. That's a first on a cruise! No attempt by the crew to remove the dirt from tables or the deck, they just took a couple of empty glasses away and left. The soot was getting into peoples hair and onto their light coloured clothes. Red Tape Disorganised 'face to face' with .Chinese officials Excessive queuing due to passengers arriving too early, before their allocated times, just because they were not told NOT TO. Surely their vast customer research has taught them to manipulate crowds, or at least keep them happy while waiting. Ports of Call We feel that Independent travellers were treated as second class passengers NOT 5 star ones. When booking a cruise, the most important thing for us are the ports of call, each one is analysed for the length of stay. All our previous cruises have allowed half an hour before departure - for all aboard. As one example 6.30 departure normally means 6 .00 all aboard, not 4:30 last shuttle for a ten minute coach trip, or 6:30 last shuttle when we are overnight onboard!. Shuttles were too late departing and too early coming back,this made it impossible to achieve our planned itineraries on several occasions. Their excuse to us was Chinese Red Tape, so does lengthy red tape only apply to those not on excursions? The shore excursions were leaving hours earlier and coming back 30 mins before sailing This was a once only holiday, we cannot consider repeating it to catch up on the missed sights. In all aspects a very tired ship. Crew suffer from lack of motivation and loss of any identity. Read Less
Sail Date March 2013
This was our first cruise with Holland America Line on board the MS Volendam which sailed from Kobe, Japan on 4th March 2013. The cruise was to take us to Nagasaki, Busan, Dalian, Xingang, Shanghai and to Hong Kong on the 18th March. We ... Read More
This was our first cruise with Holland America Line on board the MS Volendam which sailed from Kobe, Japan on 4th March 2013. The cruise was to take us to Nagasaki, Busan, Dalian, Xingang, Shanghai and to Hong Kong on the 18th March. We have cruised with most of the major cruise companies in the past and so this review is based on a wide experience of ships and companies. We had never previously booked with HAL because their prices were always quite a lot more expensive than some of the other major cruise lines and I suppose for this reason we had formed the opinion that they were something outstanding and this view appeared to be shared by a number of fellow passengers that we met. Recently, HAL have advertised some very attractive fares and this was the main reason that we had booked this cruise together that we had friends in Hong Kong that we wanted to meet up with. Pre Cruise Experience The booking procedure was fairly straightforward but our first problem that emerged was obtaining a Visa for China. Obviously, we were notified that we needed a visa but everyone that we spoke to appeared to have a different view as to which visa we needed one company informed us that we needed a double entry visa, another indicated that a multiple entry visa was needed and another indicated that a single entry visa was needed so we submitted an open entry and sent a copy of the itinerary with the application and a credit card number and we had a multiple entry visa granted at a cost of £90 plus recorded delivery postage. On the first night at dinner on board we sat at a table of 6 people, none that we had met before, and the question of visas was raised and it appeared that we all had different visas and that everyone had also been given conflicting advice from different sources. One lady had been informed that a single entry visa would suffice at a cost of £30 whilst the others had either got double entry at £60 or multiple as we had. It appears that HAL had also given conflicting advice to different passengers. Obviously, the difference in cost was quite significant so during the cruise I sent a note to the Front Desk asking which was the correct visa but did not receive a reply. Shortly after this I was in a queue at the Front Desk when I heard a lady in front of me also asking the same question and so I related my experiences and we were informed that they could not answer our query but would get back to us. As I had not received a reply I raised the question again and received an apology together with some chocolates and was asked to go and discuss the matter with the person that understood these matters which I did and it appears that only a single entry visa is required and so we had wasted £120. The second problem arose in the form of a notification that the ship would not now dock at the Cruise Terminal in Hong Kong but at a Container Port some 30 minutes away from the center of Hong Kong. As my friends had advised me that this would be difficult to get transport from this container terminal I emailed HAL asking if they were going to provide transport and this was their reply "The new address for the dock at which the Volendam will be at is attached in the following documents. A map is also attached for your use. Local taxi services are located close by and they will be able to take you to and from the new terminal. If you are unable to alter your arrangements from the original Cruise Terminal to the Modern Terminal a taxi will be able to take you." As my friends had informed me that getting a taxi would be difficult here and with over a 1,000 people disembarking I could foresee many problems and so I had asked my friends to make alternative arrangements which they did. During the course of the cruise we were notified that HAL were now providing a shuttle to the Hong Kong Cruise Terminal as obtaining taxis would be almost impossible and I raised this issue with the Front Desk and was informed that this docking arrangement had been in place for 12 months. If this is correct why was the cruise sold on the basis that it docked at HK Cruise Terminal two months before it sailed? I did ask the question but have not received a reply. The third problem arose due to the fact that the Internet was not available on the ship whilst the ship was in Japanese ports or within 50 miles of the coast of Japan -- this really inconvenienced many people that needed to be in touch 24/7 and should have been notified to passengers at the time of booking. The last problem relates to the seating for dinner and as I wanted an early sitting I was informed that this was not available and that we would have to have a late sitting and try to change this on the ship. When we boarded I was informed that we had been given open seating, which suited us better but there was no mention that this was available when we booked. The Cruise The ship accommodates 1432 guests and is now some 14 years old but is still in nice condition and is quite well laid out and it was never very difficult to find a seat in the restaurant or Lido. The choice of food was reasonable but not outstanding and the officers and crew were always polite and helpful. The ship was kept very clean and our cabin steward was excellent. Entertainment was ok but not outstanding as were the enrichment sessions. The fresh flowers around the ship added to the atmosphere. The shops are very limited and do not carry a good range of products and tend to major on jewelry, watches and small gifts. The library and internet rooms are quite good and spacious and it was only on sea days that it was difficult to find a seal. Excursions We did not take any excursions because we found them very expensive -- for example the overnight Beijing Trip offered by HAL would have cost us about £280 each but by arranging a private tour we did it for £180 each and visited more sights. The Nagasaki Trip that we arranged via the local Tourist Office only cost us about £50 whereas doing it via HAL would have cost us about £120 and in this instance we had a personal guide as well. In addition to this we found the private tours more personal and were able to make some good friends. This was the first time that I had arranged private tours but it definitely wont be the last. Overall Impressions We enjoyed this cruise because it went to destinations that we wanted to visit, was good value, the weather was quite good, the ship and facilities were good and we made some nice friends. On the minus sign HAL need to improve their communications pre cruise and their customer service on board. Whist I made these comments on board some of the questions have not yet been answered. Read Less
Sail Date March 2013
Where do you begin exactly....check-in. Chaos, nightmare....and it all went downhill there after. It took around 2 hours to be herded through checkin, it felt more like passing through some boot camp rather than starting a relaxing ... Read More
Where do you begin exactly....check-in. Chaos, nightmare....and it all went downhill there after. It took around 2 hours to be herded through checkin, it felt more like passing through some boot camp rather than starting a relaxing upmarket vacation, it was hot, uncomfortable and totally lacked any form of organisation or privacy for the weary traveller. Having survived this ordeal it was time to set foot on ship....and oh what a warm welcome there was NOT to be had, not a single HAL representative to meet and greet, just the security team. Overall a very good first impression. A Travel Lodge would do better. Food! Spectacular only by its awfulness, bland, always over cooked, meat without fail was tough. Plates were cold and food often little more than warm. HAL should feel thoroughly ashamed at what arrives on the plate and the fact that animals died in vain to produce it. A major part of our cruising enjoyment comes from the dining experience, however after several table changes and the fact that the food was so poor for the first time in 13 cruises we were prepared to opt out of evening dining, sadly the lido was on a par with a works canteen and there was no real alternative. Thankfully we were able to savour some exceptional local food during our shore excursions or we would have returned home having lost weight! Another bone of contention was that of feeling constantly hounded to spend money...this started as we arrived in the stateroom to find a mountain of info re treatments, sales and special offers. It was hard to sit quietly in the public area without being repeatedly asked for a bar order...why is it not possible for staff to hover rather than hound.....after all any decent hotel manages to achieve this balance the world over. Another HAL initiative is charging for after dinner cappuccino this is apparently because they are now using a better quality coffee, not just adding frothy milk.... The latest HAL earner seems to be the charges for the shuttle buses.....come on now surely we have paid to travel to a destination so why is this cost not factored into the overall holiday price? And as for scrimping on the port fees and docking in Hong Kong's freight dock that surely will take some beating, the hours travel we were forced to endure to get us where we should have arrived in the first place was just the final nail in HALs coffin as far as we are concerned. Oh and finally HAL staff were there to thank us for sailing with them etc etc...again NOT Read Less
Sail Date February 2013
This cruise was part of a lot her cruise. We got on in Hong Kong, sailing to Kobe. The ship was docked at a freight port. We had a expensive taxi ride and the taxi was not sure where to drop us off. Very nerve wreaking. We later ... Read More
This cruise was part of a lot her cruise. We got on in Hong Kong, sailing to Kobe. The ship was docked at a freight port. We had a expensive taxi ride and the taxi was not sure where to drop us off. Very nerve wreaking. We later heard there was a shuttle bus. The room was ready and the luggage appeared Rey quickly. The closet space was outstanding. We had a nice sail out of Hong Kong. Apparently the front deck was opened but no announcement. We did anytime dining. Never much of a wait. I found the food to be fine but not outstanding. Every night they have a different "crisp", those were great. We did the three bottle of wine deal, seemed like a good approach for the two of us. I would suggest adding a tossed salad and a pasta to the "everyday" menu. The first formal night,the sea was very rough. They even had sickness bags outside the elevators. I must admitt, it got to me. I am not a delicate traveler, it was bad. Perhaps formal night could have been delayed. The on-board activities were fine but a bit repetitive. We happen to like trivia and name. That tune, so we were fine. I found the entertainment to be lacking. We did a number of excursions. All were done professionally. There were free buses into town often, but they stopped running quite early compared to the all abroad time. I am usually a Princess cruise person, I found the entertainment to be quite limited on HAL and the food not as good. The public rooms are about equal. My last cruise, princess had a port advisor that talked about things to do if you did not take the excursion. I found that very interesting. He gave more cultural information about the ports, like bargain, don't bargain, bow or shake hands, Etc. My nephew had not been to Asia and he had an amazing time. I enjoyed the cruise overall. Read Less
Sail Date February 2013
Stateroom requested Suite G2706 ... Paid $3850 per person march 2012 The same stateroom selling for $2200 per person in December 2012 two months before sailing. Called Holland America office and talked with supervisor who informed me that ... Read More
Stateroom requested Suite G2706 ... Paid $3850 per person march 2012 The same stateroom selling for $2200 per person in December 2012 two months before sailing. Called Holland America office and talked with supervisor who informed me that he could not refund the difference but would upgrade to window stateroom. No refund but an update from HAL offered........BIG MISTAKE..DO NOT ACCEPT UPGRADES...... LIES FROM HAL #1 FEB 4 Day 1 to Day 14 To our shock and dismay the uPdated Stateroom is below galley kitchen Suite number 3372--- avoid any even numbered unit between 3300 to approx 3400. Noise started at 5:30 am every morning lasted (2 weeks). It sounded like large industrial mixers and chains being dragged through the walls of our suite. Notice that the location of the galley kitchen is never advertised on their website, on any brochure or on any ship map.. They show it as a blank spit with no information. LIES FROM HAL # 2. Asked to be moved to verandah suite for the last 2 weeks of our 4 weeks cruise. Estimate given to us $699 per person for 14 days left on the cruise...... We said yes because we were desperate..before we moved I found an old email listing the price for a verandah upgrade to be for $599 per person for entire 28 day cruise....caught HAL again in a lie. LIES FROM HAL #3..... FOOD SERVICE ON A 28 DAY TRIP FROM HAL Breakfast : stick to toast butter and jams... Milk imported from china...it smells. Be careful if you are coming from North America No respect for vegetarian cooking...all pasta dishes cooked with same utensils whether meat sauce or vegetarian in the Lido.. Chef is too busy trying to sweet talk the single women guests rather than worrying about serving good quality food by his untrained young staff. If he starts with Hello Darling ...move to another place to eat....LIES FROM HAL #4. The quality of food in both the main dining room and the Lido is mostly mediocre served by waiters that would never eat it themselves. Reminds me of my college dorm days.. Day 2,5,8, 12,16 The Main Dinning Room (Ida the evil matire'd) Look out for the maitre 'd on the 4th floor dinning room. He basically does not want to give you a nice table for 2... Most nights we waited for 15 minutes even when there were many small tables open. We wondered if he had something personal against us although we were polite and appropriately dressed. it would seem that this man needs some multi-cultural and manners training. The smile he use shows when his supervisor is around is not sincere. More Lies from HAL #5. Day 18 The last time we ate in the main dining room was on our 18th day of a 28 day cruise. The dinner started with us finally getting a nice table by a window, for once. We ordered some wine and had our dinner. We expected to enjoy our evening , as we were leaving Shanghai. But as The ship left the magnificent lights of Shanghai our nightmare started.. We usually go to bed around 10 pm as we are not much of late night people. I went to bed as my wife watched tv in bed next to me. All of a sudden, I start to feel my fish and bok choi started to rise in my stomach. I barely made my way to the washroom where my dinner flew out of my mouth at full speed. This lasted the next 4 hours as I sat by the bathtub making sure not to make too much of a mess. After each throw up I ran the shower to make it disappear... Next morning my wife went down to the doctors office and picked up some anti-diarrheal pills ... We were told I was on voluntary quarantine, in our room. As I slowly waited out my condition in a room with no heat , while the temp in China dropped below freezing.... Calls regarding the lack of heat were ignored. LIES from HAL #6. Day 19 Next morning while freezing in our verandah suite my wife took charge as I lay in bed shivering. She got me tea one cup at a time because if you order the flask from room service, it was at most lukewarm , not hot. She cancelled my excursion bookings for Beijing and the Great Wall of China. . I could not bear the thought of a twelve hour excursion, riding buses 3 hrs each way without a rest room on the bus. My wife was determined to go see the Great Wall the next day... So she would have to go alone. Day 20 The day started with me still in bed and my wife running around the ship to get me some HOT soup. Lido serves two kinds of soup everyday. One is usually cream based the other being vegetarian. She brought me a cup of the vegetarian soup which I have to describe as smelling of rotten eggs with green leafs floating on the top. The smell of this soup started me into throwing up again. Please take a can of chicken noodle just in case you catch a bug as consomme is not available. My wife noticed that she was feeling a little tired. As she rested in the afternoon on her bed, I knew that she too would be sick. It happened around 3 pm. She ran to the bathroom and threw up so violently that I was afraid for her. I jumped out of my bed and took charge. Now I had to be in control. She had magnificently handled my sickness , now it was my turn. As she sat near the bathtub spilling out her guts, I phoned the doctor and asked for more pills. The nurse came to our stateroom and informd us that we were both quarantined. If we violated quarantine we would be expelled from the ship and have to find our own way home. This seemed an extreme threat when we were left extremely ill, in a room with no heat. We stayed in bed watched some movies and drank lot's of water $3.75/ bottle. A night from hell..no heat in our room. Temp outside approaching freezing. Both confined to our stateroom. God help us.. A day from HAL...More Lies from HAL#7. Day 21 A new day dawned with me feeling better and my wife still feeling the effects of up chucking all night... Breakfast meant calling room service ....some cereal and toast with tea...we could not look at any other food. The joy of eating was gone. Phoned the front office. Requested that they clean our room and give us some fresh towels. We were informed that they would send someone in the evening to clean up. We basically lived in the filth of our stomach up chucking for 48 hours. Our normal stewards did not want to clean up. Also, no heat in the room. We were told that someone would check the heater but it had been days since our first request. We sat in our room waiting for some help which came at 7pm with a knock on the door. An officer named Arpalata appeard with 2 stewards. The Stewart's cleaned the washroom and disinfected the room. We were grateful. Next came the guy to fix the heater. We finally had a clean room with some heat. Things were looking up. The doctor called and inquired about our condition. We told him we were feeling much better. He informed us that we were no longer in quarantine. We were free to roam the ship. Free at last...I so much wanted to see Tianmann Square and salute the heroes of 1989. It was not to be. Thanks HAL. Day 22 Beijing day 2 We stayed on the ship in Bejing . Had a quiet breakfast of hot cereal and toast with lot's of Earl Grey tea....so many lies constantly told have made us fearful of trying another long cruise with HAL. We will try cruise lines that are modern with new technology and newer ship.. Read Less
Sail Date February 2013
This was my 11th cruise with Holland America, and my second venture into Asia, but the first time for these ports of call: Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam. I hail from California, so I had long flights ahead to get to Singapore. ... Read More
This was my 11th cruise with Holland America, and my second venture into Asia, but the first time for these ports of call: Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam. I hail from California, so I had long flights ahead to get to Singapore. Singapore I have less than 24 hours in Singapore before we set sail tonight, and I felt that, to maximize my opportunity to see the city, I opted for the always-fun Hop On, Hop Off bus. I spent about 4 hours, riding around the city and seeing the highlights and stopping off at a few places. Several items of note: Singapore is really clean and pretty, with lots of green spaces and streets virtually litter-free; the skyline is full of building cranes, and they apparently are in action seven days a week; Singapore most likely has the greatest concentration of shopping malls in the world. Orchard Road is always touted as "the place for shopping whilst in Singapore", but don't let that fool you. Virtually every six blocks there is another mall, filled with boutiques, cafes, local stores, high-end name stores, department stores, you name it. The city also boasts a beautiful Botanic Garden, and I stopped off there for a little while. I meandered through various mini gardens and saw some pretty orchids, before I realized I was fast approaching "the wall". By that, I mean that suddenly, I felt very tired and worn out, but I still needed to visit Merlion Park, the place where Singapore's iconic statue of a merlion sits. A merlion is a mythical creature with a lion's head and a fish body. It represents Singapore's history as a fishing port. I also still wanted to take a ride on the Singapore Flyer, a very imposing ferris wheel, 15 meters higher than London's Eye. A complete round trip on the Flyer takes 30 minutes. Well, perhaps tomorrow morning. I left the hop on bus at the Raffles Hotel stop, which was also conveniently across the street from my hotel and gathered a bit of energy so that I could do a very touristy thing - sit at the Long Bar in Raffles, and enjoy a famous Singapore Sling cocktail. $26 later (yes, that darn drink cost that much) I walked back across the street and up to my room. By this time, all I wanted to do was take a long hot shower and go to bed, but I was hungry and needed to eat dinner. I usually like to go out to a cafe somewhere and enjoy the local cuisine at an outside patio table, but the idea of walking anywhere at that point was simply too much for me to consider. I opted instead for the hotel concierge's suggestion of the Asia Market Cafe, conveniently located upstairs in the hotel's selection of dining spots. Boy, what a great decision! The place was packed with a combination of locals and hotel guests, most of whom were of some Asian persuasion. I stuck out like an Easter parade in Tel Aviv. The cafe offered a buffet of local cuisines and the wait staff hovered over me like mama bears, giving me a tour of each station, explaining the various foods, bringing me two newspapers to read should I feel so inclined, asking me every few minutes if they could bring me anything, etc. Normally this kind of attention would annoy the crap out of me, but this time, I felt very pampered and well looked after. And the food was AMAZING! I tried all sorts of new dishes, the names of which I do not remember, but everything was delicious! There were lots of seafood, curries, noodles and vegetables. I finally returned to my room about 8 pm. I had been told that there was a laser light show at Merlion park, put on nightly by the Marina Bay Sands hotel across the little quay from the park, at 9:30. Since the view from my hotel room looked smack dab across to the venue, I decided to try to stay up long enough to see the show. I showered and puttered around and was not disappointed. The show started promptly at 9:30 and lasted for 15 minutes. My non professional camera captured a little bit of the show, but I enjoyed being able to stand on my balcony from the 20th floor and see the show in my jammies. Good night Singapore! Well, my grand plans to get up early this morning and visit the Singapore Flyer pretty much disintegrated into my sleeping in late (time caught up with me) so by the time I had my coffee, got dressed, etc it was past 9:30. The horror. I still needed to do a little shopping to find a couple of lightweight wrap style skirts or something similar for the cruise. It is very hot and muggy in this part of the world and I just don't have much in my wardrobe that fits the bill. To my surprise, I went out and found that most stores don't open until 11:00! Seriously? On a Monday in one of the biggest shopping cities? Oy. So I wandered around for a little bit and then had a bite to eat - another great brunch of Asian food, and then found what I needed, and by the time I got back to my hotel it was noon and time to check out. I would like to mention here that the Fairmont Hotel is divine. They bend over backwards to provide outstanding and personal service and I really appreciated that. My room was lovely and the view fantastic. They hailed a taxi for me and an hour later I was on board the Volendam and settling in. Check-in was really easy and fast. They are very efficient, at least here in Singapore. I've had a few times, sailing with Holland, where we've had to wait in line for quite a while, but this time I made sure to show up about an hour or so after checkin started, and I think this helped to make check-in a much shorter and painless process. My stateroom is smaller than I am used to, but when traveling as a solo cruiser it costs twice as much than if you share, so my normal balcony suite accommodations were off limits for me price-wise. At any rate, my room is very comfortable, with a large double window, a nice and comfy king size bed and plenty of storage. A small couch and coffee table rounds out the room. My bathroom has a tub and shower and is plenty big for me. There's a nice flat screen tv and DVD player above a small desk. My luggage had not yet been delivered to my room, so I headed out to explore the ship. The Volendam is one of Holland America's older ships, but she is still in good shape and hey, like my Daddy always said - if the captain wants to sail/fly/drive her, I'm in for the ride. Let's go! We had 4 or 5 sea days on this cruise ---- I love sea days. So many choices. Get up early or sleep late. Daily two mile walk or not. Read book in between napping or update blog. A host of activities on board from which to choose. I tend towards getting up early and doing my two-miler on the promenade deck, which then makes me feel good about myself, and then plopping down on the Lido deck and having an extra large breakfast buffet. Sure sir, hand me one extra of those little hash brown thingies! I will dip it in my plain yogurt to convince myself that it really is healthy. Right. After lunch, there was a meet and greet for our cruise critic group up in the Crow's Nest, a cocktail lounge on the top deck of the ship that has awesome views looking out over the bow. We were a big crowd this cruise - over 50 of us, and it was nice to put names with faces! The rest of the day just seemed to float by. I didn't accomplish anything which is exactly the point of a sea day. Koh Samui Koh Samui is Thailand's third largest island. Its palm-lined sugary white shores in this Gulf of Thailand make it a popular destination. There are quite a few coconut plantations on the island, and products such as coconut milk and oil make up a large percentage of its revenue through the export of these items. We had a scheduled tour thru my cruise critic roll call for this (and all of my upcoming tours) which included a visit to a small temple with a mummified monk; a waterfall; sculpture garden; a demonstration of how island monkeys are used to father coconuts from the tall palms; an off road trek thru the jungle in a 4-wheel open bed vehicle (oh my poor back!) and the highlight of the day - an elephant ride. All stops were great, and the day just seemed to fly by. Our lunch was really great, it is always nice to partake of the local foods. I don't eat meat, so I always look forward to having local seafood, and I was not disappointed. Koh Samui is a really nice island - if you want to get away from it all, and spend a week lounging beachside, this is the place to do it. Food and drinks are cheap, people are friendly, weather is warm and humid, perfect for hourly dips in the warm ocean or a cool pool. Bangkok The ship docked at Laem Chabang, the port outside Bangkok, and a 2 hour drive to the city itself. I had booked an all day tour to the city, and joined 7 others in my cruise critic group for the day. Our guide, Lift, from BKK Tours, picked us up in a beautiful, comfortable and air-conditioned van and off we went. Our day's sights were to be the Grand Palace, Wat Po, a long tail boat ride along the canals, the food/flower market, and a nice lunch at a local restaurant. We left at about 8:30 and returned shortly after 5 PM. The day included 4+ hours in the van.... Bangkok is the capital of Thailand and has a population of over 11 million. There are miles and miles of high rise buildings, temples, palaces, canals and busy street markets - something for everyone. The Grand Palace is a stunning place. It was built to serve as the official royal residence although the current king (Rama IX) does not live there these days. It has very unique Thai architecture, and on the grounds sits Wat Phra Keo, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Many of the statues, Buddhas, pagodas and shrines are gold leafed - I have put some photos on my album in facebook and will post a full album upon my return home to my photo site - and mother of pearl is used extensively on many of the royal buildings and shrines, including the reclining building at Wat Po. Simply beautiful when you look at it up close and appreciate how much work goes into building and creating these. Bangkok is also known as the Venice of the East, due to the many canals slicing through the city. We took an hour ride on a longtail boat, an easy-to-navigate long motorized canoe type of boat, through the maze of canals hidden inside the city. Since it was so incredibly hot and muggy, (about 90 degrees with similar humidity levels), the ride was welcome, as we enjoyed cool water breezes and a shady cover over our heads. There are many small homes built up along the banks of the canals, and for many of them, the only access is by boat. After visiting the Grand Palace, Wat Po, and our canal boat ride, we went to a local restaurant for a scrumptious lunch of seafood, rice dishes, vegetables and ice cold beer. We had a bit more time before having to head back for the 2 hour ride back to the ship, so we visited the flower and food markets that lined the streets. We walked through blocks and blocks of food stalls, and enjoyed the aromas of thousands of roses, orchids, and other pretty flowers along the flower section. Cambodia Cambodia is a small country tucked in the upper eastern side of the Gulf of Thailand, neighbor to Thailand, Laos, China and Vietnam. Sihanoukville is known as the "agreeable port", and is a province of Cambodia. It is also our port of call for this country. It attracts young tourists with its "relaxed" beach atmosphere and is also home to the country's national beer brewery, Angkor Beer ( also available everywhere for $1 a bottle. The brewery there is the main employer for the townspeople at the moment, followed by fishing and tourism. Sihanoukville is Cambodia's only developed port. Traditional boats still bring in the daily catch. The boats go out at night, staying out until nearly dawn. The boats are small and they use green lights to attract the fish. To keep fishing sustainable, no large troller type fishing is allowed, which helps to keep the fish population healthy and growing. As we sail throughout these waters at night, we can see hundreds of these "green light" fishing vessels dotting the watery landscape. During our time in port, a group of 25 of us gathered in two minivans with dubious air conditioning - it was screaming hot and humid - and visited the fishing village first thing out. It was good to see the fishing village early in the morning, because later in the day makes for a much more, ah, vivid experience, olfactory-wise. I was able to get some good photos of the village, what the small boats look like, the daily catch of shrimp being rinsed and shelled on the docks, young men mending their nets, and young children doing what they do best, playing and giggling at us. Our tour was arranged through the Don Bosco Hotel School, a non profit organization founded after the Italian saint. There are a number of Don Bosco schools scattered across the world, and this one is the only one in Cambodia, focusing exclusively in hotel trades. Disadvantaged and orphaned teens, once accepted, are provided with two full years of schooling in all manners of hotel operations, as well as English immersion, free of charge. The school only has space available for 300 students in any given year and each year over 1,000 apply. The current volunteer managers, a lovely couple from Germany, formally trained and experienced butlers themselves, came to Don Bosco only 11 months ago on holiday, and were so taken with the work being done at the school and the need for more hands on management and assistance, they left their old life behind and stayed on. The kids that are fortunate enough to be accepted into the program view Peter and his wife as their parents, and all are extremely devoted to them. Every one of the students works very hard and they will, upon completion of their program, have their choice of employment at any 4 or 5 star hotel in Cambodia and elsewhere in the region. With tourism growing so quickly here, there is no shortage of jobs, and all will find employment immediately. These young people's lives, as well as what families some of them have, will be immeasurably and profoundly changed for the better once completing this program. We were all moved deeply by what we saw and none of us left without offering an additional cash donation to help sustain this phenomenal place and these hard working and determined young students. We stopped off at a couple of places before we arrived at the Don Bosco Hotel School - an old pagoda atop a large hill, which afforded us the opportunity to look out over the city and out to the sea - it was a lovely view. We also ventured down a 9 kilometer long dirt road to a nice waterfall, spending some time there to stretch our legs and wander about. In town, we spent a little time at the school's own ice cream factory/store and enjoyed a scoop of our favorite flavor. Then, we headed out to the school. We were enthralled and utterly impressed with their facility and their students. They range in age from about 16 to 25 and each one was dressed in black slacks, crisp white shirts and black vests. They were in a receiving line when we arrived and each bowed and greeted us as if we were royalty. Ha! Once we were seated, Peter had each of them introduce them self, giving their name, age and where they were from. Then, some other students came in, dressed in Cambodian costume dress, and performed a short traditional ceremonial dance, after which lunch was served. A couple from our tour had spent the morning at the school, cooking with the students, having forgone our other tour activities. Now, they joined us, and I was lucky enough to sit right across from them so I had the pleasure to hear how much fun they had (and how hard they worked all morning, grinding spices, building the grass boats our curry was served in, etc.) and it was clear they had fallen madly in love with these kids. Peter is teaching them very formal methods of restaurant service, and as each course was presented and served, a student server came with our plate, stood directly behind each of us, and as each table was ready, Peter called out "serve" and in unison, the students placed our dish on the table at our setting in front of us. They were quiet as a mouse, and you hardly knew they were there. The food was authentic Cambodian fare, spicy but not overly so, and delicious. A dessert of home made mango ice cream over diced local fruit cooled our mouths and was a fitting end to a spectacular morning. We said our goodbyes to the students at the school, boarded our two vans and headed back towards town and our ship, stopping at a local beach for about half an hour. I took a short walk along the shore, dipping my feet into the water and finding it quite warm and inviting, and wound up joining others from my group under a big shady tree, and had a bottle of Angkor, enjoying the beach, each of us quiet in reflective thought about what we had experienced at Don Bosco. Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam Our port of call today was Saigon. The city is about 90 kilometers from the port where we docked so once again we were in for a 2 hour ride, one way. The itinerary included a visit to an old (circa 1909) pagoda called the Jade Emperor Pagoda, a visit to the War Museum, Independence Palace ( also referred to as the Reunification Palace), Red Cathedral, Post Office, lunch at a noodle restaurant, and a little shopping at an outdoor market. There are about 90 million people in the whole of Vietnam, and 9 million of them are in Saigon. 70% are farmers, either rice or rubber farmers, and these two products are the country's largest exports. For people who do not go to college, they either work in factories or farm. Their average monthly salary is about $200 per month. Almost none of them will ever be able to buy a house or apartment. For those that do go to college, they can expect much better jobs, and they make 2 to 3 times the monthly income of those that don't go to college, on average. The Jade Emperor Pagoda reflects the Buddhism and Taoist beliefs in four spiritual animals - the dragon, which represents power, the unicorn which represents wisdom, the Phoenix, for peace, and the turtle, for long life. inside the pagoda, the Jade Emperor presides over the main sanctuary. There is also a famous room off the sanctuary which contains the Hall of the Ten Hells, depicting what happens after you die if you have done bad things. They illustrate the ten torments awaiting evil people. Note to self - don't be bad or evil. Saigon is 70% Buddhist, 20% Catholic, and 10% the ubiquitous "other". You know, it's those famous and oft-referred to "they" that are probably the "other" group, don't you think? I think. Oopsie, I digress. Our next stop was the War Museum. Virtually the entire museum was filled with photos and commentary about the Vietnam war with the United States, from the North Vietnamese point of view. While I don't wish to tread down that slippery slope of political opinion, let me just say that I found it extraordinarily interesting to view a very graphic photograph and read the caption beneath explaining what was taking place in that photo. The way I looked at it, there could actually be several different interpretations of the same photo, yet every caption underneath every photo in that museum was 100% anti-American. I left there feeling pretty disturbed. The first Communist tanks that rolled through Saigon on April 30, 1975 arrived at the Reunification Palace, a government building built originally as the Norodom Palace for the French governor general in 1868. In 1963 the place was renamed Independence Palace and is a fantastic example of 1960's architecture. I felt like I should be catching a glimpse of Don Draper from Mad Men around every corner. The place is totally groovy, man! Winding up our tour of Saigon, we stopped in at a local noodle house across the street from the large street market and had a great lunch of seafood noodle soup, vegetable spring rolls and beer. Lip-smacking delish! A little wandering through the market being hounded by hundreds of vendors to come into their stalls to buy their wares, and I joined my group for the two hour ride back to the Dam ship. I just love sailing on Holland America because we can always say "dam". Hot Dam! Nha Trang While every port stop has been a great one, I found that Nha Trang was a most pleasant surprise. Hugging the central coast section of Vietnam, I expected it to be a beach town with little else to offer. While it is a very popular seaside retreat for Vietnamese and world tourists alike, it is also home to a lot of colonial style architecture, Champa Kingdom relics from the 8th century, and the Truong Son mountains which line the miles of stunning shoreline. There are also numerous small agricultural villages just a few minutes outside of town. We docked at about ten AM, which is a bit later than usual for a port, but we didn't leave until eleven PM. I had a tour scheduled with my group and we met on the dock at 10:15. Into the minivan we hopped, and off we went to explore this port area. My initial observations were that this city is lovely! Clean streets, pristine white sand beaches, a bustling yet orderly flow of taxis, trucks and motor scooters, all choreographing perfectly on the city's streets. Our first stop was at an embroidery factory and store in town. We saw young women hard at work doing beautiful needlepoint, and their completed works were framed and displayed throughout the shop. As is common with most tour companies and guides worldwide, this was more than just an opportunity to see local craftsman, it was an obligatory stop, hoping you would buy things. I don't mind it, because tourism, especially in its infancy here in Vietnam, is a very important and critical industry, as I noted earlier. We then continued through the center of the town, eventually making our way out to the countryside, through some small villages, passing by fields of rice patties, finally arriving at the Cai River, where we hopped on (yes, I mean that quite literally) a small little boat with one of those cute, but smelly, put-put engines. We passed underneath an old wooden bridge, and spent the next half hour meandering down the river, banana and mango trees to our right, old fishing boats tied to tree limbs dipping down to the river's edge, small homes and huts, occasional water buffalo and cows. It was totally relaxing. After a bit, we tied up alongside a tiny dock at the water's edge, and climbed out and walked about 100 feet to a beautiful old village house. Chickens were running around cock-a-doodle-dooing in the yard, a small puppy was tied up alongside a fence by a shed, barking at us, and our guide stopped us to talk about the family that lived there. Now, they are a bona fide family, but they were clearly set up for small groups of tourists, because their main source of income is weaving, and they had a nice supply of woven goods set on shelves in their weaving room. We were allowed to tour parts of their home - we saw their kitchen, which is a combo of indoor/outdoor, and quite large, actually. We also saw their worship room at the front of the house, the separate sleeping quarters for men and women, and the toileting areas (just off the kitchen, next to their parked motor scooters). Our minivan had arrived and so, after a nice snack of local fruits and some green tea served by the residents, we headed out and continued our journey through the countryside. We stopped off at a few more places - a grass mat weaving place, where some of us got to operate the loom, a rice paper plant where we watched the full process of turning rice into first a powder, then heat and water steps into rice sheets, drying, and then finally shredding the dried sheets into rice noodles. I will never eat these again without thinking of what I saw and how much goes into making them! We sat for a few minutes and watched some women making those famous conical hats, and then we sat by the river and had a leisurely lunch. Afterwards, we stopped off at a very special pagoda - attached to it is an orphanage, housing 120 children. The orphanage is self-sufficient with donations and subsidies provided by the government. There are several teachers that provide schooling, teach English, and several nuns who look after the children. Da Nang and Hoi An The city of Da Nang has been around since at least the 1600's, but most people today recognize its name from the Vietnam War, as it is where the U.S. troops first landed in 1965. Nearby, China Beach became the place where troops enjoyed sand and surf as much needed recreation. The city fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975. Today, Da Nang is the fourth largest city in Vietnam, with approximately 1,000,000 people in residence. Hoi An is a small historic town about 22 miles from Da Nang, and is recognized as such by UNESCO. It's narrow and winding streets are an historian's delight, filled with beautifully preserved architecture evident in its temples, houses and meeting or assembly halls, as well as pagodas, water wells, bridges markets and a wharf. The village is a wonderful example of symbolic oriental cities in the Middle Ages. We were picked up by our tour guide and small bus and drove through Da Nang on our way to Hoi An. Along the way, we passed by the old American base that was used extensively during the war. It is now used as a naval base by the Vietnamese military, but you can still see a number of the old American barracks along the outskirts of the base. We also passed by ( and later visited the shop) the Marble Mountains. They are each named for elements - water, metal, wood, fire and earth. The earth is the highest peak. They make some fantastic pieces taken from the marble of the mountainous area. We spent a leisurely day wandering the narrow streets of Hoi An, and hopped onto a small river boat for a 20 minute trip down the river until we reached a small village devoted to ceramic making. An elderly woman and her granddaughter demonstrated the art of the wheel, with the younger one spinning the wheel around with her foot, and the elder forming the clay in the center of the wheel into a small bowl. She then started a second piece, which was a lid that fit perfectly on the bowl she had just finished. We had a nice lunch at a quiet restaurant down a small street and then spent another half hour shopping and walking through the central market before hopping on our bus and heading back to the ship. Cruise Life There are some great people that I have met as part of the cruise critic group, and we've had a number of days together on tour in which to get to know one another more than just in passing. We are a diverse group - we come from Canada, Macau, Greece, U.S., Australia, U.K., Scotland. We are single, married, aunts, nieces, sons and daughters. Retired, in school, working. First time cruisers, long time cruisers. I've had "anytime dining" option this cruise and it has had its benefits and its drawbacks. Benefits are that you get to meet more people because you generally sit with different people every meal. The downside to this is that you generally have to reintroduce yourself to people anew each night, you have to try to remember people's names, and as the days go by that list of names grows longer. You have to repeat where you're from, what you do, how long you've cruised, why are you cruising alone, do you have children, blah blah blah. Ack, it just wears you OUT! On sea days, there are always at least three things to do in any given hour. And those are just what's listed on our daily program. That doesn't count eating, reading, swimming, working out, walking, people watching, drinking, gambling, shopping, and sleeping. Haha! Yesterday was our fourth sea day and I attended three talks - one was a Q and A with the Captain. People asked him all sorts of questions and I found it fascinating. I might add that Holland America has its first ever female Staff Captain aboard our ship. The Staff Captain is second in command, although not second most important. That dubious honor goes to the ship's chef. The Captain told us the ship would sail without him, but never without the chef! Hahahahahahahahha. The second talk I attended was a slide show given by our ship's travel guide. He shared with us his favorite places in the world, and his pictures were beautiful, especially those taken in Iceland. That location just got bumped up a couple of notches on my "must go" list. The third talk I attended was a presentation, via slides, of the hotel manager reviewing what goes on in dry dock and how our ship was redecorated in just 14 days. Absolutely amazing what was accomplished in just two short weeks. Now, if only our mother ship could be so efficient.........(for those of you who don't know what I mean by that, well, never mind...) Next came happy hour. Two for one drinks in the Crow's Nest, the bar and lounge area on the top deck. Can't pass that up on a lazy sea day. I've also taken a few tech courses with our techspert on board. I can't recommend him highly enough. He is a retired engineer-type guy from Intel and teaches a series of classes on how to use your digital camera, using the new Windows 8 operating system, editing photos, setting up files and folders, etc. Some of the courses are very basic, which I skipped, but others have been quite helpful. I have learned all about Windows 8, how to use Skydrive, which is the Windows version of the Apple iCloud, and how to edit my photos using Photo Gallery, another Windows application. I learned how to take a series of photos in preparation for combining them into one panoramic picture once downloaded into Photo Gallery. Really neat! Halong Bay Our last port of call was Halong Bay, A UNESCO world heritage site. It is located in Northern Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin. Halong Bay has nearly 2,000 islands, most of which are uninhabited. The total land area is over 500 square kilometers, so you can imagine how big this area is. Halong Bay means the bay of the descending dragon. Local legends tell how a dragon was sent by the Emperor of Jade to fight the onslaught of attackers. In the process, the dragon spat jewels that landed in the sea. The dragon then landed in the sea, with just it's humps sticking up out of the water, which are the islands we now see. Our group had planned a private tour on our own little ship (called a ship, supposedly, because it had its own tender boat). We left the dock at a little past nine a.m. and did not return until well past six p.m. It was a long but lovely day on Paradise Cruises. The islands and the bay are gorgeous, but even more so on sunny days, when the green and translucent waters contrast sharply with bright blue skies. Sadly, our weather was quite cool, and very overcast. While it may have been a damp day, it did not dampen our spirits. We visited a cave while on our cruise. The Sung Sot Cave. We tendered in the cute little boat to a small dock, then had to climb about 200 steep steps up the mountain to the mouth of the cave. Once inside, we were awestruck at the sheer enormity of the cave. HUGE. To walk from the entrance to the other side to exit was one kilometer. This one was probably three or four stories high as well, filled with loads of stalactites, craters, and thousands of years worth of water eroded floors and walls. Simply gorgeous. After the cave, we sailed a little bit longer and then anchored for lunch. First class all,the way, it was a bountiful buffet of meats, seafood, noodles, rice, vegetables, salads, soups and even jelly fish! Yum. After lunch we visited another small island, called Ti Top Mountain, and climbed 400 steps up to the viewing area at the top. Beautiful vistas were the reward for that really tough trek up, then another 400 steps down. And so ends another tour, and another cruise, my friends. We sailed proudly into Hong Kong harbor early this morning, after spending a lovely evening on the ship, and a nice dinner with my cruise critic friends. I really really enjoyed this cruise! The ports of call were all wonderful, and while some of the places we wanted to visit (like Bangkok, Saigon, Hanoi) were long drives from the ports, I feel that's the price you pay when you cruise, sometimes. Most port cities are just that - small towns or cities built up around and in support of port activities - and often the tantalizing places are far more inland. So you have to factor that in when you're planning your trip. Rome, for example, is one of the most fantastic cities in the world to visit - but when you sail there, you sail into a pretty ugly and uninspiring port which is more than an hour's drive from Rome. Ya gotta just go with the flow! That's my motto. The service on the ship was 95% fantastic. My stateroom stewards were terrific, as usual. While I will probably not ever take a stateroom on the lowest passenger deck again, my room itself was more than adequate, and very comfortable. The reason I would pass up the lowest deck in the future is, although the crew decks are underneath this deck, it's not all crew cabins down there. There are engine rooms and other machinery type rooms that, based on where your stateroom might be, cause a lot of noise at times, and annoying vibrations. Next time, I'd go up a level (assuming I sail solo again and can't afford my favorite cabin, a verandah). The Volendam is a beautiful ship, and easy to navigate and move around in. If you sail with Holland America regularly, you can easily find the "standard" sections - Crow's Nest, Lido, Explorer's Lounge, shops, casino, etc. Dining room food was very good, but I've had a bit better on past cruises. While anytime dining was a nice option, I am seriously giving thought to going back to assigned dining in the future. Part of the overall cruising experience for me, on Holland America, is the superb attention the dining staff gives you when you sit in the same place at the same time every evening. They get to know you well, and seem more attentive, than with anytime dining. This is not to say that the service is lacking with anytime dining, it's just that I think it's ramped up a couple of notches with fixed dining option. Just my humble opinion. There's no shortage of things to do on the ship during sea days, as I noted before. You can be as busy or quiet as you wish. Entertainment - my favorite is Adagio Strings. They are a small combo that plays classical music in one of the lounges and it's really nice and relaxing to sit and listen to them, either before dinner, or after. The HAL entertainers were pretty good - I've seen better, I've seen worse. The guest entertainers were all quite good. Loved the dulcimer player, and the comedians. There was a couple who combined terrific ballroom-type dancing with some "magic" costume changing that was really enjoyable. Would I recommend this cruise itinerary? Absolutely. Would I recommend Holland America? Absolutely. Love the line. I'm loyal to them for a reason - they've earned it. Read Less
Sail Date January 2013
We have never been to the Far East before and so were very excited about this HAL cruise. We made excellent use to the CC forum and booked all our trips as part of our 51 strong CC group. We found the forum invaluable and made many friends ... Read More
We have never been to the Far East before and so were very excited about this HAL cruise. We made excellent use to the CC forum and booked all our trips as part of our 51 strong CC group. We found the forum invaluable and made many friends on our numerous trips. We flew out to Hong Kong and spent an extra day exploring this fascinating city. Embarkation was very chaotic and as previous reviews have stated the visa process paper the most complicated l have ever seen! You do only need group visas if you are not staying over night anywhere. This will save you loads. Ship is very comfortable and cabin spacious. I especially liked the amount of room in the bathroom. We were worried about being so far aft and wondered if we would hear engine noise. I'm pleased to report that except for 1 night when it was rough and the Captain had his foot down we heard nothing. It was also very handy for stairs to the LP deck at the back. Crew without exception were wonderful and seemed to have time to interact with passengers. The best crew on any ship we have sailed on. Food was very good, ample, hot and tasty. We did not however feel the Pinnacle Grill was worth the extra 50 USD. The steaks were massive and just too much for us. Maybe we just choose wrong on the night. Entertainment was very poor and the worst we've had on any major cruise line. This was the one thing HAL should work on otherwise everything else was excellent.Itinerary was great - full of fascinating ports: Halong Bay - easy to arrange on the day. 4 hours is enough and the caves are really worth seeing. It was a wonderful hot sunny day here which l am told is very rare. We went with 20 other CCs and booked a whole junk with transport to and from the pier for 20 USD each with a guide Saigon - arranged in advance with CCs. Wonderful day out especially enjoyed the water puppets and the sight of all the bikes I think this was 65 USD each Read Less
Sail Date January 2013
Personal Background Information Two 65 yr olds. 14th cruise. Like the smaller ships. Normally have a large transit component for the cruise, so the cost is high and so is the expectation. HAL had been given a good reputation by the agency ... Read More
Personal Background Information Two 65 yr olds. 14th cruise. Like the smaller ships. Normally have a large transit component for the cruise, so the cost is high and so is the expectation. HAL had been given a good reputation by the agency (5 star reputedly). We expected good western food and good service. Travel To Port of Embarkation The connections through our local travel agent were good and bad. We would not use them again. There was confusion about the level of cabin to be assigned and HAL, when contacted, were singularly unhelpful. Hotel Info (if any) Singapore and Hong Kong - through travel agent. Embarkation Pretty smooth. The introduction to the cabin was poor and rushed by the steward, but he did keep in touch to handle the annoying lack of information in the room. During ports of call, these went pretty smoothly. Stateroom Good standard room. Clean and tidy but absolutely NO instructions, pamphlets etc left in room. (No TV guide, power point instructions, meals etc etc.) The room attendant brought them pretty quickly when summoned. Ship Info Facilities were ok. Bars were in unusual places and we found them not very conducive to mingling and trivia shows. The ship tour was not advertised! The daily bulletin was all we got re positioning. The TV map was tiny and useless - especially as we were cruising through the Vietnam war zones and heritage listed marine areas. We were flabbergasted to have a petty charge on the "self laundry" and then to be threatened with a surcharge if the Service Desk gave us $3 of quarters on credit! Dining We had about 35 meals in the Rotterdam Dining room and we expected this to be one of the highlights - share good food, wine and company. Sadly they could not make a cup of hot tea. The food was 60% COLD and POORLY COOKED, even on second attempts. Wine package was good quality but $310 for 10 "average" bottles is a bit steep. It's service in the dining room was poor until mid cruise. There was no Beer package. Activities These were pretty good but sometimes run by poorly trained people (we gave up on the aquaerobics as it was too crowded, too deep and the trainer did not have a clue about exercise. Trivia shows and the bar entertainment was good. Children's Clubs There appeared to be plenty of amenities for young folk, but there were not too many on board. There were the few kids that were completely out of control in the public areas and very poorly curtailed by their guardians or ship personnel. Staff & Service Our complaints and queries were handled quickly and civilly. (They missed our written complain on day 3 but caught up a day later with our second written complaint).Only once were we given the bum's rush. They assured us they would handle the poor service and food, but it continued throughout the trip. They gave us a complimentary Pinnacles Grill evening but it too was cold and too rich for us. The Excursion desk was fair. Entertainment 3 from 10 were ok. Rest were boring low class Vegas style efforts. Shore Excursions OK and ran smoothly ... but the alternatives were never exposed, where the ship was going to dock, what would be available there (taxis, buses etc), local maps were not available on ship or at the dock. This is the second ship we had been on that charged for shuttles from dock to civilisation??? Disembarkation Smooth Summary Very disappointed with food, service and petty approach by HAL. Read Less
Sail Date January 2013
Volendam Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 3.5 4.0
Dining 4.0 4.0
Entertainment 3.5 3.5
Public Rooms 4.0 4.2
Fitness Recreation 4.5 3.8
Family 3.5 3.8
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.5
Enrichment 5.0 3.5
Service 5.0 4.2
Value For Money 4.0 3.8
Rates 4.0 3.9

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