585 Holland America Volendam Cruise Reviews

This was my fourth cruise with HAL although only my second in recent years. The first two were in 1952 when I was 7 years old. Perhaps at least in part because I am Dutch by birth, I find I feel right "at home" in the HAL ... Read More
This was my fourth cruise with HAL although only my second in recent years. The first two were in 1952 when I was 7 years old. Perhaps at least in part because I am Dutch by birth, I find I feel right "at home" in the HAL ships. Most of the people I met were delightful. There was a small contingent that I would tag as "chronic complainers" and a few I would put in the category of "The Ugly American". It was generally fairly easy to avoid the latter group when they weren't too loud. The staff were very patient with these folks. Unfortunately there was an outbreak of a "Norwalk-like" virus aboard the ship. I felt that the captain kept us sufficiently informed without causing panic. The unofficial numbers I've seen indicate that there were approximately 50+ passengers and 10-11 crew members who became ill. Embarkation: I flew to Fort Lauderdale the day before the cruise and stayed at a hotel using HAL's Fly/Cruise plan. This worked out well and both embarkation and debarkation went very smoothly despite the crowds and the fact that our sail day was the busiest in the port's history. Dining: The Rotterdam dining room was very pleasant and the menu had a good selection each day. The staff serving our tables were professional, courteous and efficient -- and had a sense of humor. The first night one of the passengers at our table requested a cappucino with dessert and it was forgotten. Every night after that the cappucino seemed to magically appear along with the dessert menu. The Lido casual dining was very pleasant for breakfast and lunch. It became a little awkward when special procedures were implemented after the virus made it's appearance among passengers and crew since no self-service was allowed - even for salt and pepper shakers, coffee, etc. The food itself ranged from good to excellent, in my opinion. Public Rooms: There were a variety of public areas. I found that it wasn't hard to find places to interact with other people or to be alone to read quietly if I so wished. There were passengers of all ages and interests so I could generally tell by walking around where there were groups I would like to join. I especially liked the Crow's Nest in the front of the ship for a terrific view during the day and a comfortable chair for reading or chatting. Entertainment: Each day we received a newsletter with the schedule for the next day showing all activities. Each evening there was a show and a movie in addition to movies on the cabin TV. Although I tend to go to bed early, I did stay up for some shows and enjoyed them very much. Jeff McBride, the sleight-of-hand magician from Las Vegas was excellent and did a great job too with the children as well as entertaining the adults. Cabin: My outside E category cabin was pleasant. On my Alaska cruise I had a mini suite with Veranda and that is truly a lovely experience but I hadn't wanted to spend that much this time. I decided that with a regular cabin I just wouldn't be spending as much time in it. There was plenty of closet space. The tub was a little snug but workable. The hair dryer was a little underpowered and the handle got way too hot long before my hair was dry. The cabin steward was young but very pleasant and attentive. My bed was made and cabin cleaned by the time I finished breakfast. I've heard from frequent cruisers that these cabins are better than what they've had on other cruise ships. Fitness & Recreation: I had a massage and facial at the Ocean Spa. It was very pleasant but was not as good as I've had in some places. Shore Excursions: These are a nice chance to do something off the ship. The tour of Key West was interesting and enjoyable. In Cozumel I took the "Taste of Cozumel and Folkloric"; the show was very enjoyable. The tour showed us the lovely beaches of Cozumel and as I gather is fairly typical in the Caribbean, the vendors were legion. Our next stop was at Roatan, Honduras. We had been told that this was the first time a HAL ship had stopped here and that therefore they didn't know as much about it as they did about the other places we stopped. It turned out that Roatan is a very poor island as far as we saw and doesn't really seem to have much of an infrastructure to handle tourists. This didn't bother me in the sense that I think it's sometimes important to see how other cultures live even when it's disturbing. One of my dining table mates noted that in his previous travels he saw that some of the other Caribbean Islands like Cozumel had been like this some years ago. A number of passengers were angry about the shore excursion and demanded their money back. I felt they were being unreasonable. After the next 2 days at sea, we stopped at Half Moon Cay, HAL's own place. I had planned to go ashore -- it is a lovely sight -- but I was tired and decided to stay on board. Those who did go ashore said it was great. Value for Price: I feel it was a great value for the price, particularly because I booked about 5 weeks before the cruise at a good discount. If I add the costs of the flight, hotel in Fort Lauderdale and hotel at the airport near home because of a very early am flight, I don't know if I would consider the value for the price good *without* the discount. Overall Cruise: I loved it! I really need to "get away from it all" and totally succeeded. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Read Less
Sail Date December 2003
SUMMARY This cruise, the first for my wife and me on Holland America, was an enjoyable cruise, but was not our among favorites. Our previous cruises were on Royal Caribbean (4) and Celebrity (1). We agreed that the ... Read More
SUMMARY This cruise, the first for my wife and me on Holland America, was an enjoyable cruise, but was not our among favorites. Our previous cruises were on Royal Caribbean (4) and Celebrity (1). We agreed that the "personality" of HA was just not a match for us. There were things we liked and things we didn't like, just like any cruise, but our overall evaluation is that we would cruise HA again only if the value or itinerary was exceptional. This cruise illustrated that each line does, indeed, have its own personality, and what is just wonderful for some will be viewed as not wonderful by others. Many of our fellow passengers just loved everything; we enjoyed most things. EMBARKATION/DISEMBARKATION We went to Ft. Lauderdale a day early, so took a cab to the port; the hotel shuttle was overburdened - 6 ships at the port + the Boat Show that day! Though we had to wait a while for the cab, total time from hotel departure to arrival in our stateroom was a bit over 1 hour. And the stateroom was ready when we arrived at 1:15, so we stopped by, went to the Lido for the Welcome Aboard buffet, and explored the ship. This was much smoother than we had feared, based on some other reports; no lines anywhere, though later arrivals did not have things quite as painless, with some reporting having to wait an hour on the HA bus before they were permitted to begin the registration process. We pre-registered online; I'm not sure it made any difference as the agent asked for the print-out of our forms. Disembarkation was equally smooth. We had an early flight, so were the 4th or 5th group off, being called at about 9:00. We got a cab immediately (it was a Tuesday) and were checked in, luggage checked, security checked, everything, and at the gate by 10:00! SHIP/PUBLIC AREAS The ship was quite nice, and of a "comfortable" size (full @ 1400+ passengers). We thought it was smooth (except for one day), but others complained that it was not. It was very easy to get around and never felt crowded. I like a wrap-around Promenade Deck, and Volendam has a beauty - protected in front, wide, lots of chairs. We don't particularly notice decor, but it was fine. The Frans Hals performance lounge was the most customer friendly of any we have experienced; good seats, lots of room to get in and out, with excellent viewing. The Wajang Theater is a separate movie theater which was also used for religious services; much better than using a lounge. The Atrium and Front Office area were smaller than we have been accustomed to, but were certainly adequate. The Bar/Lounges, Casino and Shopping Arcade were places where we noticed the impact of the (smaller) size of the ship. Many of those areas were small. The main walkway went through, not alongside, the Seaview Lounge. The Ocean Bar was adequate, but quite small for dancing, and it was the dance band lounge. The Crow's Nest Lounge was very nice. We are not big pool area fans, but that seemed to us to be more than adequate. The aft Outside Pool area was quite nice. The Ocean Spa Gym was large and well equipped, and not well used. The Casino was quite small, but seemed adequate. One of the nicest features of the Volendam was the excellent viewing areas forward and aft on several decks. Many ships have cabins on there, but the Volendam had public balconies that were great for viewing when arriving/leaving ports, or scenic cruising along one of the islands; they were not crowded as it was not always obvious how to get to them. You could get all the way to the Bow when the Volendam was not at sea; that was also kind of neat. The Crow's Nest Lounge was a great inside viewing area. One feature we did not like, but is, we understand, not all that uncommon, was that the Main Level of the Dining Room could not be reached from the rest of its deck without going up/down a deck and then down/up again. We found that we commonly want to go between the Dining Room and the Atrium/Front Office/Shops; you could not do that without going up and down. The Galley was what blocked the path. Our biggest complaint about the ship is the frequently reported sewage odor. I would describe it as unpleasant but not obnoxious, occasional but too frequent. It was noticeable perhaps half a dozen times during the 10 days. We never noticed it in our cabin, thankfully, but did notice it in the Atrium area (of all places) and in certain portions of the Promenade. Based on similar comments I have read, it appears to me that there is a design problem that allows this to happen. CABINS Our cabin, #D2591 on Deck 2, Main Deck, was an outside cabin w/o balcony. It was spacious, with great storage (we didn't use it all), and comfortable. The bathroom was quite adequate, and had a tub, but since it was only 3/4 size, it was essentially useless. Our cabin steward was excellent: friendly but unobtrusive, prompt, knew our names after the first day. We often get a balcony, but with the price difference on the Volendam, we chose not to. We missed being able to sit out at times, but with this itinerary, it was not a big loss. One nit-picking annoyance. Our ship pass did NOT have our picture on it, and did not work in the room safe, so we were required to carry the ship pass, photo ID, and credit card (for the safe) whenever we were not in the cabin. That was a nuisance; I like to carry only the ship pass and leave my wallet in the safe. DINING  All of our dining experiences were good, but not great. Our Early Seating table was at the very stern of the ship. Except for the one rough-sea day, it was great; nice sunsets, moon, stars, nice viewing overall. The food quality and choices were fine. Most entrees were enjoyable or better; those that weren't were promptly replaced. In general, our tables' experience with the steaks was not good; either tough or rubbed with something that was not particularly good. Several pork choices were too pink for our taste. In one case, a replacement was provided that was done properly and still very juicy and delicious. In another case, a substitute of an appetizer was requested instead; a luscious full plate of wonderful, tender shrimp was provided. So overall, we would rank the food quality as typical of our previous cruise experiences. The dining room service, however, was not on a par with those previous cruises. I don't blame it as much on our Waiter and Assistant, who gave it a good try, as much as I blame it on the staffing decision makers. Our servers started out with 25 passengers to serve; an adjustment was made and they then had 21 passengers, consisting of tables of 8, 7 & 6. On other cruises, we have typically seen our servers be responsible for 16 or so. Perhaps a VERY experienced team could have handled these 3 large tables; our service suffered. Little things. Like not always serving a given course to everyone at the table at the same time. Having the salad dressing in those little cups instead of presenting and serving the choices; and not offering ground pepper (it was on the table). Not cleaning the table of crumbs before dessert. And the service was often slow, almost certainly the result of too many to serve. It was NOT unpleasant as a whole, just less than we are accustomed to. Perhaps service has deteriorated at the other lines as well since we last cruised (RCI) two years ago. I will say that our servers did learn our drink preferences and other routine food choices after a few days. They never learned our names. The Lido Buffet was a pleasant place to eat, with good food, good choices, reasonable lines, and usually good availability of seating (for 2, anyway). It took a little learning to know where things were, but it was fine. The passengers, for the most part, followed the dress code for the day at dinner, but some would dress down after dinner for the show and lounges. The atmosphere was very pleasant, and not "stuffy". ENTERTAINMENT/ACTIVITIES The entertainment was only adequate. We did not attend any of the cast shows after the first night. The performers were not inspiring to us (we are demanding) and were lip-synching to a pre-recorded sound track. So we choose to do other things those nights. The other performers were OK. No names, and of varying ability, but adequate and entertaining. That is all we expect, and we are pleasantly surprised if they exceed that. The activities were another area we were disappointed in. There were very few organized fitness activities. This may seem trite, but we really missed the (equivalent of the) ShipShape $$$ program that RCI has. There were organized fitness activities several times each day, and the $$$ were an inducement to attend. On this cruise, I think there may have been one unhosted walk and one stretching activity each day. After observing the stretching one day, and seeing 3 people attended, perhaps the demand is not there. But we missed that. We also felt that, while the typical games and activities (and bingo!) were there, there was not the breadth and number of choices that we have been accustomed to. PORTS/SHORE EXCURSIONS The ports and shore excursions were fairly typical, and I won't go into detail on them. Bonaire was quaint; our Glass Bottom Boat tour was cancelled because the boat broke down, so we walked around the small town, which was pleasant. Isla de Margarita, however, was not a pleasant experience. It is desert-like, very poor, dirty, and the dock area is out in the middle of nowhere; the "Island Tour" excursion had very little to show off. Local craft vendors set up next to the ship. We left feeling very sorry for the inhabitants, and thankful for what we have. Other passengers reported that the snorkeling was great, and the part of the island they saw was quite attractive. St. Lucia was beautiful, but the cab drivers near the dock were obnoxious in their persistence; not threatening, but still annoying. Dominica, like St Lucia, is a quite nice "rain forest" island. St. Thomas - nothing I can say that hasn't been said a hundred time by others; we went to St. John, which was quite nice except for a rough ferry - read "small boat" - ride of 30+ minutes. Half Moon Cay, HA's private island, has typical activities, but lots of them, and is VERY well done. It was so hot, though, that we came back to the ship for lunch, and enjoyed the day onboard. We both enjoy sea days, of which we had 3. The cruise started out with 2 of those seas days, which was kind of nice to allow getting settled into the cruise. CONCLUSION If you made it all the way through this lengthy report, Thanks! And congratulations! But please re-read the first paragraph. This cruise was fine, it really was! It just wasn't us. Read Less
Sail Date November 2003
Fresh flowers and smiling faces greeted us as we embarked on our Volendam journey. After transferring from our Hotel, the Pier 66, we were ushered into the embarkation area where the check in process is done in alphabetical groups. We ... Read More
Fresh flowers and smiling faces greeted us as we embarked on our Volendam journey. After transferring from our Hotel, the Pier 66, we were ushered into the embarkation area where the check in process is done in alphabetical groups. We were given our ID card, which also serves as a room key, and a shipboard credit card. After a wait of approximately 1/2 hour, our group was called, and we boarded the Volendam. We put on our sunglasses, and paused for the usual picture taking. Heres a hint....Wear sunglasses, if any one blinks you will never know. As we entered the ship, a steward was waiting to escort us to our cabin. Our cabin was a Cat. A mini suite. There was more than enough storage, and we tend to overpack. The cabin itself seemed a little crowded, consisting of a king-size bed, a sofa, table, and chair. Also a mini bar which we emptied as we had brought along our own soda, and beer. Hint #2...If you bring along electrical things, bring a plug strip. The only plug ins in the cabin were for the TV and VCR. There is a 220 plug, and a European 110 plug, so I suppose an adapter would work also. In questioning the Hotel Manager on why there were no 110 plugs, he kept insisting that they were right there under the mirror. In exasperation, he finally came to the cabin to show me where they were. Hmmm, not under the mirror, not under the desk, not behind the curtain, or in the bathroom either. Next person to arrive was the head of housekeeping, who explained to the Hotel Manager that, yes this was a problem, and converters were ordered. He said the ship was built in Italy, and this must be an Italian thing. The verandah was nice sized with a lounge, table and chair, and still room to maneuver. Room service for breakfast was brought by our cabin steward. who we found out had been with HAL 11 years. All of the wait crew, cabin stewards, dining room waiters, bar waiters, etc., are either from the Philippines, or Indonesia. From what I was able to find out, this is a tradition with Holland America, and has to do with the Dutch heritage of the islands. Internet Cafe. In the back corner of the library, you will find the Internet Cafe. Cost for use is 75 cents per minute with a 5 minute minimum each use. There was not a great deal of activity there, but found the staff very helpful. Most people use the cafe to check e-mail, and stocks, I was told. If you are an AOL member, you can access anything you can from home on your AOL account. If not an AOL member, and you wish to send e-mail, there is a $4.95 charge per e-mail in addition to the 75 cents per minute. Age of cruisers. HAL tends to attract an older age group, however there is a Club HAL available for kids. We saw maybe a dozen kids on board, but due to length of cruise and time of year, this was not unexpected. Out of 1400 cruisers, 900 were repeaters with HAL. At the repeaters party, the prize went to a lady who had over 700 days in 67 cruises logged with HAL. Dining. The dining room is on two levels, and our table was on the balcony level. We especially liked the twinkling ceiling, and the use of lots of windows. As we had early seating, we watched several sunsets while having dinner. We found the food to be exceptional on this cruise. However, I know that this is a personal opinion, and one that brings up much debate. We opted to eat at the Marco Polo. the alternative dining room, one night, and did the Lido BBQ another night. On SuperBowl Sunday, we joined in the SuperBowl party in the Sports Lounge. To watch the Rams win, we passed up formal dinner, for the tailgate party of burgers and hotdogs. I just couldnt figure out how to make my Rams T-shirt look formal. Lido lunch on one of the seadays was grilled lobster and shrimp by the pool. The inside Lido buffet breakfast and lunch were also very good. Lunches had a wide variety of choices, and we quickly learned that both buffet lines did not necessarily contain the same things. Dessert areas were only on one side. The area seemed to be well spread out, and there were stewards there to help those that needed to have a tray carried. Another nice touch was a small menu that was placed on your tray at the beginning of the line. Always available for lunch were burgers, and hotdogs, and fries. Midnight buffets were held every night with a different country cuisine. The food was generally good, but they were not well attended, possibly due to the age group on board. Fun and Games. Edwin Rojas was the Cruise Director, and created an energetic atmosphere. There were lots of activities during the sea days to choose including horse racing, seaquest, bingo, trivia, etc. And you can even still attend the Art Auction. We found the casino to be more spacious than most. Several new fun slot machines. One that was recommended to us, and we had a lot of fun playing was called Jackpot party. There are two pool areas, one with a retractable canopy. We never had trouble finding chairs at the pool, but did notice some that had personal items that were never occupied by a real live person. 50s and 60s night, and Country-Western night were both well attended in the Crows Nest Lounge. Entertainment. I cannot comment a lot on this from personal experience. I did sneak in for parts of several shows, and listened to the comments of others. Pamela Blake, a cabaret singer, was very good. The Barry Manilow Copacabana show also was well received. And if you have ever been to Vegas, the Vegas style show was right on the mark with great costuming, and performances. The crew show gave a great insight to some of the customs and traditions of their homelands. Ports. St. Kitts, Martinique, Dominica, Trinidad, St. Thomas, and Half Moon Cay. St. Kitts. We did a private tour from the dock and went to Caribbe Batik Studio, Brimstone Hill, the downtown area, and Turtle Beach. Martinique. We spent maybe an hour in town shopping, and back to the ship. Trinidad. Part of our group did a tour and visited the monastery, where they reported that the view was magnificent. Dominica. Trafalgar Falls and the Emerald pool are highlights here, but be prepared for some walking. St. Thomas. What is there to say about St. Thomas? Our ship docked right at Havensight, and we walked there for some marathon shopping. If beaches are your thing, then St. Johns is just a ferry ride away. HalfMoon Cay. Holland Americas private island is one of my personal favorites. White beach and gorgeous water. There is a small shopping area set up with Half Moon Cay souvenirs, and a pavilion area where noon time BBQ is served. From parasailing to vegging out on the beach, there is a wide variety of activities. Lounges, beach chairs, and umbrellas are plentiful, and there is also some shaded area. We tried snorkeling here for the first time, and I think we are hooked. After swallowing half the ocean on my first two attempts, I soon learned to keep my mouth shut while trying to breathe. It is truly amazing what is just below the surface that you cannot see. The ship itself. Our cabin was midship right beside the elevators on level 6, the Verandah Deck. We found this to be a great location with easy access to casino, dining room, or the lido. There were fresh flowers everywhere, in the lobbies, on the tables, in the cabins, in lots of nooks and crannies. They add a special touch. I never quite resolved in my mind the color schemes used. At times there seemed to be too many colors in one area, such as in the Frans Hal Lounge. There is a movie theater on board, with fresh popcorn, and fairly current movies. Also our cabin had a video. The library is good sized and had a wide variety of books, and games. There is a wide variety of lounges, from the piano bar to the sports lounge to the Crows Nest. We frequented the sports lounge and the Ocean Bar, and I'm still amazed that after one time, the waiters greet you by name the next time they see you. About us. We are in our mid 50s, and traveled with my brother and his wife, late 40s, and my Aunt and Mother, mid 80s. Cruising is still the best way we have found for a varied age group to do their own thing, and yet spend time together, too. This was our second time on HAL, and enjoyed this cruise even more than the first one. Read Less
CARIBBEAN "WAYFARER" CRUISE Bright sunny skies and warm temperatures greeted us in Fort Lauderdale as our US Airways flight arrived right on time for our 10 day cruise aboard Holland America's MS Volendam. Barbara, my ... Read More
CARIBBEAN "WAYFARER" CRUISE Bright sunny skies and warm temperatures greeted us in Fort Lauderdale as our US Airways flight arrived right on time for our 10 day cruise aboard Holland America's MS Volendam. Barbara, my special traveling partner, and I selected this cruise because we wanted to take a longer cruise on a new ship that sailed round-trip from S. Florida and visited some islands in the Caribbean we had not been to. We also wanted to sail on a different line than our most recent cruises on Royal Caribbean, Princess and Celebrity. This "Wayfarer" cruise fit the bill in all respects. The Volendam's sister ship Zaandam was also an option, but we preferred the ports on the Volendam itinerary. THE OVERALL CRUISE EXPERIENCE This was a most enjoyable cruise. It had a nice combination of days at sea and in port, and the ports of call were for the most part, interesting. We have sailed on Holland American before (Maasdam and Ryndam) and were interested in seeing if HAL had joined the trend to add-on pricing and nickel-and-diming that has befallen most of the other "mainstream" cruise lines. I'm happy to report that they have not. The ice cream bar served its delights daily and a coffee bar dispensed expresso drinks and gourmet coffee, all at no extra charges. Not only were assorted nuts available in all lounges before dinner, but the friendly lounge staff served hot hor's d'oeuvres as well (as if we needed them!). A nice canvas tote bag awaited us as we arrived in our room, and an attractive commemorative tile coaster made a great farewell gift. The alternative dining room had no surcharge, and the casino assessed no "service fee" for chips charged to your onboard account. Kudos to HAL for bucking current trends. To be perfectly honest, Holland America cruises tend to be a little more expensive than their midline competitors (there is no free lunch, even on cruise lines), but I much prefer their approach of folding the extras into the fare rather than nickel-and-diming throughout the cruise. THE PASSENGERS Holland America has a reputation for attracting an older clientele, and this cruise did nothing to alter that reputation. As one of the comedians put it, "this ship looks more like the prune barge than the love boat!" I would guess the average age on this cruise was 65, which, for us younger (a relative term) cruisers, was a good-news-bad-news situation. The bad news was that the Lido Buffet line was pretty slow, but the good news was there was no waiting at the treadmills! Seriously, though, there are distinct advantages to cruising with an older group: no wild parties in the cabin next door, no problem getting second sitting for dinner, and for the most part, these seniors are an interesting group with many varied life experiences. THE SHIP MS Volendam is one of HAL's newest ships, having entered service in early 2000. It is an elegant ship with subdued colors, beautiful fresh flower arrangements throughout and expensive art abounding. It is less striking, perhaps, than the Vision Class ships of Royal Caribbean, with their dazzling chrome and glass, light, and soaring open air atria, but Volendam projects a quiet beauty and refined elegance that fits well with its older clientele. Rather than give a room-by-room description of the ship, I will concentrate on the features that I liked and disliked, particularly compared to the ships of our recent cruises. First, the positives. I really liked the lower promenade deck that completely circled the ship and provided a great location to walk or recline in a real wooden deckchair, softened by thick cushions that were laboriously removed every evening and reinstalled the following morning. For those of us who are solar-challenged, this is a perfect deck to read, rest and watch the waves, protected from the elements, . The staterooms were another plus. Our outside room was very commodious with more than ample storage and closet space. The bathroom was good sized, with a bathtub (standard on outside cabins, but with only a shower on the inside), and was well stocked with toiletries in real bottles rather than paper containers. The ship is well designed with an easy flow from deck to deck and fore to aft, with three sets of stairs and elevators. The public rooms were attractive and comfortable. The Crows Nest, located high and forward, was a particular favorite as it offered a wonderful panorama of the sea ahead. Add to this several recliner-type chairs with foot ests and you have a most pleasant and relaxing environment for reading, watching or dozing. As with every ship, however, there were things I didn't care for. For starters, it is hard to find a good location for an outside room without a balcony. These rooms are offered only on the three lowest passenger decks and each of these has its limitations. The A or Dolphin Deck, where we were, is close to the ship's engines, thrusters and machinery, causing unpleasant noise particularly at the fore and aft extremes. Even though our cabin was amidships, we experienced some noise from the stabilizers. The deck above, B Deck, is underneath the wraparound deck, meaning walkers and the occasional rogue jogger (such as myself) are constantly making noise on your ceiling. And finally, rooms on the lower promenade deck are not really desirable because they either overlook the walking deck or are obstructed by ship structures. Those passengers in these rooms expecting to open their curtains and sea the beautiful blue sea are more likely to see not so beautiful blue hair and fanny packs as walkers huff and puff their way around the deck. The obvious solution is to book a cabin with a verandah (very nice), but if fiscal constraints won't allow it, I'd recommend B Deck amidships as the best compromise. Another complaint I had related to the crowds at the pre-dinner lounges (where the free nuts and hors-d'oeuvres were served!) There were only 3 locations on the ship where you could order drinks and listen to live music, and these tended to fill up early. The ship was full, and I don't imagine this was problem for first sitting, but still it was bothersome. Most of the negatives on the stateroom came from the female perspective. Barbara expressed chagrin at the lack of light at the makeup table and the absence of an outlet for her curling iron in the bathroom. Also, the safe required a credit card to open and close, which was cumbersome and inconvenient. My only complaint with the ship's decor was the main dining room. Maybe we have become jaded over recent years, having dined is truly spectacular dining rooms aboard the newer ships of RCI and Princess, but this dining room seemed just a little on the plain side. Also, there were two large chandeliers which appeared to be made of wrought iron, and, to my non-artistic eye, were really ugly. FOOD & SERVICE The dining room food was outstanding, a noticeable jump from RCI, Princess and Celebrity, and better than I remembered from previous HAL cruises. The fish, in particular, was well prepared, tasty and far fresher than most offerings on cruise lines. Service, as always, was outstanding. At the end of the cruise, everyone at the table received a complimentary set of dinner menus, another nice HAL touch. The casual dining, self-service Lido restaurant was also good, with options for served meals on certain evenings. Breakfast, our most common meal in the Lido, was notable for its custom egg offerings and choice of freshly toasted bagels, muffins or toast. We ate once at the Marco Polo, a reservations-only Italian theme alternative restaurant (you're allowed one reservation per cruise, at least in "steerage"). There was no surcharge for this restaurant (we did leave a tip), but interestingly, both Barbara and I found the food in this restaurant not as good as in the main dining area. Maybe it was our selection. Anyway, it was a nice change of pace and enjoyable nevertheless. ENTERTAINMENT This was probably the poorest entertainment, overall, of any of the 12 cruises I have been on. The first night there was no entertainment, other than an introduction of the cruise staff, and the ensuing days assortment of comedians, ventriloquists, singers and ship's company dancers was only average. Entertainment was definitely the weakest aspect of this cruise. PORTS AND SHORE ACTIVITIES Here's a quick summary of the ports we visited, our activities and our opinions: Half Moon Cay: This is a beautiful private island with a large and gorgeous beach. Two ships were using the island, however, which produced crowds at the luncheon barbecue. Nevertheless, this is one of the better private islands, and it was an enjoyable day. St. Thomas: We organized our own tour here. We took a cab from the ship to Red Hook landing where we caught the ferry to St. John's Cruz Bay. Once there, we hiked the Lind Point Trail to Honeymoon Beach and Caneel Bay. Returning, we stumbled across Solamon Beach, which is in a beautiful and isolated location accessible only by foot or boat - and also a totally nude beach. My reaction? Put on a swimsuit, please! We returned to Cruz Bay and took the ferry to downtown St. Thomas where we had planned on doing some shopping. This was a Sunday, however, and all the shops had closed at noon. Either bad luck or good planning, depending on your perspective. We have been to St. Thomas many times, but between St. Thomas and St. John there is much to do in this port, and we've always enjoyed it. Martinique: This was an island we had never been to before, so we decided to rent a car and explore the island. Unfortunately, the office for the Avis rental I had booked in the US was nowhere near the piers, so we were forced to rent from a nearby Budget outlet. Budget proved to be a rather serious misnomer as we could get only get a walk-up rate quoted in Martinique Francs, and we didn't know the exchange rate, which seemed to have a huge variance. It is on the credit card, though, so I'm waiting to assess the exact damage, but it isn't going to be pretty. Once in our high-priced, manual transmission, non-air-conditioned Peugot 106, we attacked the twisty roads of north Martinique and visited a pretty botanical garden, drove through a rain forest, hiked to a deserted waterfall and returned along the coastline. Traffic was bad along the coastal highway and the views not particularly pretty, but some parts of the day's drive were scenic. In retrospect, I wouldn't recommend renting a car here, particularly after filling up the gas tank at about $6.00 a gallon. Even so, I don't think we spent more than we would have on a ship's tour. Overall reaction: a reasonably pretty island with a French flavor, but we wouldn't return there for a dedicated visit. Trinidad: We took our only ship's tour here. From Port O' Spain, we took an air-conditioned bus to the Asa Wright Nature preserve, which was a scenic and interesting botanical and bird watching sanctuary in the mountains of Trinidad. Overall, it was a good look at Trinidad, even though the drive was rather long. One of my pet peeves on tours is the guides who apparently believe that their tips are dependent on how much they talk. After three hours of non-stop jabber, I would have given our guide a tip right then and there just to SHUT UP. Our reaction to this island? See Martinique above. La Guaira, Venezuela: Been there, done that. We did the city tour/glass factory excursion on our Princess cruise, so with no other desirable tour options, we stayed aboard the ship. Did laundry in the morning (the self service laundries are GREAT on these longer cruises) and just relaxed. I wanted to talk to someone who had taken the Angel Falls tour (at $450 per person) to see what it was like, but couldn't find anyone who did. Overall opinion of LaGuaira: a great place to stay aboard and do your laundry. Curacao: This was the best port of the cruise. There were 3 other ships in port, and according to some priority system that no one seemed to understand, we got the dock farthest away from the city. It wasn't a problem for those of us who like to walk, but for some of the less mobile folks it was a real inconvenience. We rented a car again (at a reasonable rate) and drove to the northern part of the island on good roads in light traffic. We toured the Christofel National Park and watched the waves crashing along the beautiful and rugged northern coast. We returned via the southern coastline, where the lovely beach and dive areas are, and returned to the ship for a late room-service lunch. We then set out for Fort Nassau, which overlooks the harbor, and has been converted into an interesting looking restaurant with a great view. That evening, the ship sailed out of the harbor shortly behind HAL's Amsterdam to the accompaniment of fireworks courtesy of the city of Willamsted. Most enjoyable. RANDOM THOUGHTS In this age of age of "free style" cruising, fewer formal nights, more casual dress and increasing on-board charges, it was refreshing to be on a cruise "the way it used to be." I have always enjoyed many of the cruise traditions that are now being challenged. I like to put on a tux occasionally and attend formal dinners with the women all turned out. I enjoy sitting at the same table with new friends and regular waiters every evening. Over the years, we have met many enjoyable, interesting people at our assigned tables, including this cruise, and these friendships have enhanced the cruise experience considerably. I have nothing against meeting new people, but if you sat with different people every night, would you really get beyond the "where are you from - what do you do - how many cruises have you been on" stage? Also, I'm just a little skeptical that service would be as good if you had a different waiter every night and tips were somehow pooled or included in the fare. Witness the service you typically get at an open-seating lunch compared to your evening dinner at your regular table. Speaking of tipping, this is not getting any easier. Holland American has a "no tipping required" policy which, as best as I can tell, really means "tipping expected, but we're just a little more subtle about it." Some people believe the "no tipping policy" and others don't. I usually tip on HAL the same as I do on other cruise lines, but things are getting more confusing. Do you leave separate tips at the alternative restaurants which are a one time occasion (I did)? If so, do you deduct this much from the daily total you give your regular waiters (I didn't). How about room service waiters and wine stewards? It is clear that as new ships are built and more dining alternatives are available, the way tips have been handled in the past needs to be revisited. The ideal situation would be to have all tips unambiguously included in the fare, such as a few of the premium cruise lines do, but I fear if this practice became standard industry wide, service would suffer. CONCLUSION This was a most enjoyable cruise on a quality, traditional cruise line. Holland America has a slogan "oceans apart" (from other mainstream cruise lines, I assume) which may be a stretch, but I say "large lakes" apart is fairly accurate. Richard Shipman can be contacted at ship@vnet.net. May 2001 Read Less
We recently returned from a 10-day Southern Carib cruise on HAL's Volendam. This was our 8th cruise (the second one with HAL), and the experience re-confirmed that no other cruise line comes close when the word "service" is ... Read More
We recently returned from a 10-day Southern Carib cruise on HAL's Volendam. This was our 8th cruise (the second one with HAL), and the experience re-confirmed that no other cruise line comes close when the word "service" is used. From the moment we arrived at the terminal in Fort Lauderdale, we were treated as honored guests by a most professional, competent and delightful crew. Embarkation was well organized and went smoothly. Throughout the voyage, our room steward, dining room & lounge servers were very generous with their smiles and anxious to please; the officers & admin. staff courteous, friendly and always pleasant. Each of our ports of call (St. Lucia, Bonaire, St. Thomas, Isle de Margarita in Venezuela & Dominica) offered a different flavor and culture, with no language difficulties. We found the people to be delightful at each port and appreciated their helpful suggestions. HAL's private island, Half Moon Cay, was absolutely gorgeous and the B-B-Q with a steel band was enjoyed by all. Immaculate, well maintained, showers conveniently located by the beach walkways. Fortunately, ours was the only ship visiting the island on that day, so we did not experience long lines at the tables set up with a vast selection of food. Mother Nature cooperated with perfect weather and the sea was like a sheet of glass in both directions. We found the food on board to be most satisfactory, with a selection wide & varied enough to meet anyone's expectations, in both the Rotterdam dining room and the Lido. However, we had been very much looking forward to experiencing the Italian cuisine in the Marco Polo, only to learn that it had recently been changed to the Pinnacle Grill with a "northwest" menu (steak, salmon, etc.), which was a major disappointment, and so we passed on this. Also, since there is now a charge of $20 p/p for the alternative dining restaurant, we thought it foolish to pay extra for food we cook at home. The entertainment on board was excellent and the time and hard work put into it showed; the review put on by members of the Filipino crew was delightful and a real hoot! The tour of the kitchen is a "must". Our only gripe is with the outrageous prices being charged for drinks which the majority of passengers feel is totally unjustified. A reduction of even 20% would go a long way to encourage more patronage in the lounges. And charging $1.75 for a can of soda? Ridiculous and way out of line! Although HAL has a "no tipping required" policy, we appreciated having the option (unlike other cruise lines that automatically tack it on to the tab at the end) and elected to monetarily express our thanks to our room steward, our two dining room servers, and the wait staff in the Ocean Bar for the outstanding and gracious attention extended to us. Overall, we highly recommend Holland America and compliment the company for continuing its well-earned reputation for excellence in service, spotless accommodations throughout and high standards of professionalism in their crew and staff -- and we are presently planning our next HAL experience. Southbound39@aol.com August 2003 Read Less
HAD A GREAT TIME...Didn't want it to end My sister and I just got back from the April 18th thru 28th - 10 Day on Holland America's Volendam (Wayfarer itinerary). What a great time and what a beautiful ship. I didn't meet ... Read More
HAD A GREAT TIME...Didn't want it to end My sister and I just got back from the April 18th thru 28th - 10 Day on Holland America's Volendam (Wayfarer itinerary). What a great time and what a beautiful ship. I didn't meet any staff member that wasn't friendly and ready, willing and able to help in any way. I still can't understand how the entire staff could remember our names so quickly. Sara, one of the officers and a new addition to the Volendam staff always had this big smile on her face and you could really tell she enjoyed what she was doing. Also met Captain van der Zee. What a great sense of humor as well as very professional. Enjoyed speaking with him and absorbing all of his knowledge. Met a lot of very interesting people on the ship and had a great time with them. Hopefully we will stay in touch and meet again on the next cruise or one down the road. Thanks for a great time Jim and Ruth (the slipper people), Maryann and John, Richard and Charlene, and Beryl and Mike. Marco, the video photographer, was always showing up to catch you on his video camera. He did catch me doing the "pole dance", which later in this article will be discussed. I think he was having as much fun as everyone else on the ship. On each of the formal nights we had an officer who sat with us. His name was Andy and he was the Environmental Officer. It was very interesting listening about his duties on board. What a very nice man and a wonderful dancer. There were many different age groups on the ship. A lot were families with children, but that was probably due to it being Spring break and Easter weekend. The majority of the people are of mature age and for my sister and I, in our 50's, it was an enjoyment. There are a lot of activities on board for those who want to join in. For those who don't, they can do whatever. The 3rd deck is really nice, as it is lined with lounge chairs to sit quietly and read or just enjoy the ocean view, but is also where people go to walk or just take a stroll after dinner. They have an internet room set up with computers so you can retrieve your emails or send them out to family and friends, or if you have to do a little work from the ship. The cost was about $50.00 for 100 minutes or $75.00 for 250 minutes. It's a lot cheaper than calling from the ship, or using a cell phone. Most of the time my cell phone wouldn't work anyway. Embarkation and Disembarkation was nothing less than a pleasure and run like a well oiled machine. When we arrived on the ship at 1:30, they took us to our room. We had a Deluxe Verandah Suite. It was HUGE! Very spacious and loaded with amenities. The verandah was so large it had a round table with 4 chairs and 2 lounge chairs and still there was plenty of room. My sister and I spent a lot of time on the verandah. What a great place to relax. This will definitely be a must on each and every cruise. Well worth the extra money. As usual, we brought way too many articles of clothing. So we got busy unpacking. We met our cabin steward, Sri. He was a wonderful person and took great care of us. Always checking and making sure we didn't need anything and just basically attending to our every need. After the lifeboat drill we returned our life vests to the cabin and made our way up to the Crows Nest. This is the best place to be when leaving port. What a view. The staff in the Crows Nest was wonderful. Eva served our drinks and went out of her way to make sure everything was just right. There was also Jay, who too served drinks, but he could make the most fabulous flowers and animals out of paper. I believe its called origami. What a talent he has. The food was good and seemed to be consistent. They have an alternative dining room called the Pinnacle Grill which charges $20.00 per person. It used to be called the Marco Polo and there wasn't a charge, but that has since changed. The food is excellent. We ate there 1 night. What a treat. We usually ordered room service each morning, and the food was brought on time and still hot. What a great way to start off the day. We usually ate out on the verandah. We also had dinner brought to our rooms a couple nights when we just couldn't bear to get dressed again. Usually this was when we hit a port and had a very long day. The dinners were also brought on time and hot. This was the same menu as the dining room. The Lido pool was very refreshing. To my surprise, it is a freshwater pool. They have 2 pools on the ship and both are fresh water. Very nice. Edrick served us drinks at the Lido bar. Always a smile on his face and can't do enough for you. He even made my sister and I these little Dutch hats the day before we left. I will treasure them always. The Lido restaurant is very nice with a lovely view. Our itinerary took us to Curacao, Isle de Margarita, Trinidad, Martinique, St. Thomas, Half Moon Cay, and then back home to Ft. Lauderdale. After 2 days at sea our first port was Curacao and we arrived on "their" Easter Monday. The city is so colorful, but not much was opened that day because of the Holiday. We did however walk through the streets and wandered through whatever shops were open. Next was Isle de Margarita, Venezuela. My sister opted to go on the horseback ride and I opted to go on the Rhumba tour. My sister said the horseback riding tour was breath taking. She could, at one time on the trail, look down from the mountain and see the Volendam. She said it looked a million miles away. The Rhumba tour Maryann and I went on was nothing less than fantastic. Our guide, Marbella was absolutely the best. This girl could really dance and get everyone on the bus involved. She didn't stop the whole 5 hours. The drivers name was Julio and boy could he dance while driving or standing. He never stopped. The bus that picks you up at the ship is painted all kinds of wild, bright colors. It reminded me of the "Partridge Family Bus". The music is playing and everyone in the bus is doing the "Rhumba". On the trip to the beach for the famous "rum punches", Marbella gave us a history lesson and points of interest about Isle de Margarita. Anyone planning on taking this trip better listen to the history lesson, or they might end up like me and a guy named Ed. We both got the answers wrong and had to dance in front of everyone on the bus. Ed did the Rhumba and I did a "pole dance". The dance takes place while the bus is moving up and down the hills while standing in the front of the bus on the way back from the beach and all the rum punches. What a hoot. I even got a dollar tip. I wasn't sure if that was because they enjoyed the pole dance or wanted me to sit down. Then on to Trinidad. I'm not quite sure why we stop there. I definitely wasn't impressed. The next day on to Martinique. What a gorgeous country side. My sister and I opted to go into town and walked around the streets. We passed this wonderful old church and peeked in. The stained glass windows were magnificent. They seem to also be into shoes because there was a shoe store at every corner. They had a craft fair going on in the park and we walked down to it. Some of the hand made items were exquisite. Then on to everyone's favorite, St Thomas. A woman's shopping paradise. There were about 5 ships in port the day we arrived. The streets and shops were very crowded. Did a lot of walking and way too much shopping. We were going to take the island tour, but the diamonds, liquor, gold and perfume were calling our name. Maybe next time we will take an excursion in St. Thomas, but I somehow doubt it. Thanks John for the great idea on what to get my husband. He loved the camera. He can't wait to use it. And maybe if I'm good he'll let me take it on my next cruise. After a day in St. Thomas we were out at sea all day and a well deserved rest. We weren't able to anchor at Half Moon Cay because of the sea conditions, so we cruised slowly, and slowly being the key word here, towards home. It was kind of disappointing not to be able to see Half Moon Cay, but there will definitely be a next time. My sister and another couple we met were going to go parasailing if we were able to anchor in Half Moon Cay. Next time. We arrived back at Ft. Lauderdale at 8:00 am. Our fantasy had come to an end and it was back to reality. All we can do now is wait until our next cruise. Definitely on Holland America, maybe again on the Volendam (Seafarer itinerary) next April. Criscomia@aol.com September 2003 Read Less
HISTORY This was my third cruise on Holland America, (Rotterdam, Statendam, now Volendam.) and I've never been disappointed. Every cruise has it's rough spots and this one was no exception, and I'll cover the ... Read More
HISTORY This was my third cruise on Holland America, (Rotterdam, Statendam, now Volendam.) and I've never been disappointed. Every cruise has it's rough spots and this one was no exception, and I'll cover the problems as they came up. But this line, in my opinion, has been and remains a quality product in the cruise industry. But tastes differ, and you may find that this is not the line for you. That's what reviews are for. I've always appreciated the many thoughtful and comprehensive reviews I have read when searching out a cruise. I'll try to be as objective as possible, but it still remains one person's perspective. So as you read along it may help to keep a few things about me in mind. I've traveled a lot, both land and sea, from no class to first class and always found ways to have fun. I am more port oriented than ship oriented and have a pretty liberal palate, I'm just not picky about food. This may not help you if your tastes are gourmet, on the other hand, if I say the food is bad, it probably is. So with all this in mind..let's go! PRE-CRUISE I booked both airline and motel on-line. Traveling from California, my friend and I had no choice but to stay overnight in Fort Lauderdale. I searched for a reasonably priced motel, close to airport and dock, just a place to lay our head. Days Inn, Hollywood seemed to fill the bill (10 minutes from each) and it also had a Denny's on the grounds for a late breakfast the next morning. Perfect. We left Sacramento at noon, changed planes in Atlanta (what a feat!) and arrived Fort Lauderdale about 9:30PM. Days Inn sent a shuttle and we were in our room just after 10. Clean, spacious room, big TV, all cable channels, helpful desk clerk. He reserved a 1PM shuttle to the port the next day. ($5) and gave us a complimentary late check-out. DAY 1 The shuttle deposited us at the Volendam's terminal a little after one. We were scheduled to sail at 5, but check-in had already begun. It was congested but organized. The actual check-in did not take long, but we were given a number and asked to wait until it was called to board the ship. They had just called #4 and our group was #23 so we settled in for a long wait. About an hour or so later, we finally boarded and were escorted to our balcony cabin #7061. HAL's balcony cabins are spacious with a comfortable design. This one was peach and rose tones, not ornate but well appointed. Lots of storage, 13 drawers and several closet shelves some of which can be pulled up for more hanging space. The bedroom area can be closed off from the sitting area by a draw curtain in case one of you is an owl and the other a lark. The sitting area has a sleeper sofa, large vanity, TV/VCR and bar refrigerator stocked with soda, beer, water and wine. The shelf above the TV is stocked with small bottles of hard liquor. Of course, all these goodies are accompanied by a card with a price list. You check off what you use, they restock, you get charged. The balcony runs the width of the room and is about 5ft deep. Plenty of room for the 2 chairs and small table. It also has an outside light, bright enough to read at night. Read Less
We are in our 50's and are experienced cruisers having travelled several different lines in different price categories. I was astounded to read [Cruise Critic's] positive review of the Volendam of the Holland America ... Read More
We are in our 50's and are experienced cruisers having travelled several different lines in different price categories. I was astounded to read [Cruise Critic's] positive review of the Volendam of the Holland America line. Last year we took our 20 year old daughter and her friend on a tour of Alaska. We had never been on the Holland America line and were looking forward to our experience on this new vessel. We can honestly say that this was the worst cruise we have ever taken. Even though the ship was only 1 or 2 years old the decor with it's green and orange color scheme seemed like something out of the "60's." Our stateroom was more than adequate in size but seemed claustrophobic because of the dark walls and "energy saving" bulbs. Luckily, we had a veranda and it got dark very late, because even though the dressing table was right next to the floor-to-ceiling windows I needed the outside light to put on my makeup at night. The food in all dining rooms and in the Lido deck was just passable and the service in the main dining room and alternative restaurant was slow and inexpert. In the middle of the cruise was found the service so lacking that we actually complained to the customer service representative. This helped slightly however the service was still far inferior to ANY line we had previously travelled. We also found the staff at the front desk to be borderline rude. The parents of our friend's daughter had sent us a gift to be delivered onboard at embarkation. My husband and I did not even hear about this gesture until the 2nd day of the cruise when we received a card in out stateroom advising us that there was a gift but that Holland America couldn't deliver it. When my daughter's friend asked about this situation, instead of an apology, she was treated as if it were HER problem! The entertainment was another disappointment. We found it to be on a scale inferior to what we had seen in our daughter's high school performances! The Philippine staff was efficient although almost impossible to understand. The excursion desk and trips however, were the one department we found to be excellent. All trips were run in a very efficient and professional manner. I would not hesitate to tell future travellers NOT to take this ship anywhere! JyllMyll99@aol.comJuly 2002 Read Less
Holland America has become our favorite Cruise Line: their quiet, refined atmosphere and tradition of exceptional service, combined with a welcome lack of crowds and long lines, appeals to us. Hence, when it came time to select our ... Read More
Holland America has become our favorite Cruise Line: their quiet, refined atmosphere and tradition of exceptional service, combined with a welcome lack of crowds and long lines, appeals to us. Hence, when it came time to select our January 2002 Caribbean cruise, the choice of line was not in question; the choice of itinerary was another matter. After much discussion, my traveling companion and I decided upon the 10-Day Southern Caribbean Wayfarer Cruise aboard the M/S Volendam. From our past experience we had every reason to expect a marvelous adventure, and we were not disappointed. This was, by far, the best cruise we have yet taken. Arrival and Sailaway We arrived at Ft. Lauderdale after a full but quiet flight from Dallas. Since we had arranged our own air transportation, and had not purchased a transfer to the port from HAL, we had to wait forever for our luggage at the Baggage claim, followed by another long delay at the Yellow Cab Taxi stand. The money we saved by arranging our own air transport was probably still worth this frustration, but for many minutes I gave a lot of thought to purchasing the HAL-arranged air and ground transfers in the future. We finally managed to secure a taxi and were swiftly taken to Port Everglades, where we got into a fast-paced line to check-in; the whole process at the pier went like clockwork, and while additional security was noted it didn't present any problems or slow down the process at all. After checking-in and receiving our shipboard ID cards, we were invited to wait with our fellow passengers in the terminal lounge. We were with group 25 to board, and while it must have taken about 45 minutes for the process to work its way up to our number this wasn't a problem - we were relaxing in the Terminal lounge, enjoying conversation with new friends and anticipating the ten days of luxury that were to come. When our number was called we went up the escalator to the second floor of the terminal and joined the line to board. We presented our ID card and our Passports to the security officer on duty, paused to have our photograph taken, and then we made our way down the enclosed gangway and into the ship to a chorus of "Welcome back onboard!" We were introduced to a white-gloved porter who took one of our carry-on bags and swiftly escorted us to our mini-suite on the Verandah Deck (#6145). Our room was in excellent condition - clean and well maintained, just as we have always come to expect. There was no sign of the traditional bowl of fruit - clearly, a victim of the budget cuts of which we had heard many rumors - but it was not missed. A goodie basket (with candy, chocolate bars, and other sweets) was present, our mini-bar was well stocked, and the small refrigerator had an ample supply of beverages. Most of our luggage showed up before we had the time to stand on the Verandah for more than 15 minutes and "enjoy" our view of the busy HAL terminal, but not all of our bags were present. We called and were informed that our additional bag should show up soon. And, sure enough, it did. After unpacking we proceeded up to the Lido Restaurant for a wonderful, late afternoon (it was about 3:30 pm) bite to eat and a brief exploration of the ship before returning to our cabin to don our life vests and attend the mandatory lifeboat drill. As such drills go, this one wasn't too bad; most of the passengers showed up quickly, although on the starboard side of the ship - the side facing the pier - it was difficult to hear the crew calling out cabin numbers due to the noise from the port. One bonus was that, while they were calling out cabin numbers we got to watch as the QE2 pulled away from a nearby pier ... what a lovely sight! After returning our life vests to our cabin and freshening up, we went to the aft Lido-deck pool for the sail-away party. We picked up a couple of the sail-away margaritas, served in a tall HAL glass with the ships of the fleet printed on its side (to add to our collection), and wandered around for a bit as we listened to the band and I shot some video. It was rather loud and crowded, so after the Veendam departed (they were parked behind us at the pier) we left the Lido and proceeded up to our favorite haunt for departures and arrivals ... the Crows Nest Lounge. There we sat where we could have a good view out the port side of the ship, drank a few cocktails, and enjoyed the sights as we backed out from the dock, turned around, and then sprinted out past the beach-side condos and on into the Atlantic. Ah, it was a joy to be aboard ship and at sea again! Eating One's Way Across The Volendam Much is said about the food on Holland America being a bit bland, and this is generally true: they appear to have geared the cuisine to please a slightly less-spicy pallet. However, apart from this the food is excellent, well prepared, well presented, and very plentiful. One can, in effect, eat one's way across the Caribbean. Of course, by the time you get to the other side you'll be larger than the Volendam, but that's your problem. There are several places to chow-down aboard the Volendam: 1. The Rotterdam Dining Room: This is the formal dining venue where the three main meals of the day are served. For breakfast (8:00 am - 9:30 am) and lunch (12:30 pm - 1:30 pm) seating is open, but for dinner all passengers have both an assigned seating time (early: 6:00 pm, and late: 8:15 pm) as well as an assigned dining table. Holland America has not succumbed to the current fad of "free-style dining," with no formal seatings for dinner. If one wishes to experience the traditional style of cruise dining from yesteryear, eat your meals in the Rotterdam Dining Room. While at sea we take all our dinners there, and a few breakfasts and lunches too. We had second seating for dinner, which we much prefer over first seating because it allows more time between port departures and having to get dressed for dinner. 2. The Lido Restaurant: This is the primary alternative dining venue onboard. Here one may find food and drink at nearly any hour of the day or night, presented in a casual atmosphere. If you're looking for a light Continental Breakfast (6:30 am - 10:30 am), or if you would rather begin your day with a hearty buffet filled with eggs, bacon, hash browns, etc., (7:00 am - 10:30 am), here's where you want to come. Lunch begins before the smell of bacon is gone (11:30 am - 2:00 pm), and if your speed is a nice oriental stirfry or a great big Ruben sandwich, you can find that here, too, at the portside Stirfry Bar and the starboard side Deli Bar. What HAL terms a "Casual" Dinner (6:00 pm - 7:30 pm) is also served here in semi-restaurant style, with waiter-service but without assigned tables. The Lido is also where the "Late Night Snack" can be found (11:30 pm - 12:30 am), usually presented in geographical Themes (an Alaskan night, a Mexican night, an Italian night, etc.). Ice Cream can be found in the Lido, too (11:30 am - 5:00pm and 11:30 pm - 12:30 am), and for no extra charge! This is also where the famed Desert Extravaganza takes place one night each cruise ... don't miss it, the chocolate and cheese cakes are to die for. 3. The Marco Polo Restaurant: This is the formal alternative dining room where, if you can get reservations, you can eat dinner in class and style (6:00 pm - 9:15 pm). The meals are Italian, and by all reports outstanding. We didn't get to sample their fare because we were slow about going to make our reservations and, as a result, they were booked solid for the remainder of the cruise when we finally did check. We'll try again next time. 4. The Lido Poolside Grill: Here one can chow down on Pizza, Hamburgers, Hotdogs, Tacos, Salad, and a host of other fattening and delicious foods. If one gets back from a shore excursion late, this really is the place to head (11:30 am - 5:30 pm) for a quick bite to tide one over until dinner. Staffing Cuts Hit the Rotterdam Dining Room Prior to taking this cruise on the Volendam I had been reading about the severe impact the 9/11 terrorism attacks have had on the Cruise Lines. One of the things that I had read was that there had been some major cuts in the service staff aboard the Holland America Line, and that these cuts were especially noticeable in the Rotterdam Dining Rooms across the fleet. As a result of these reports, I went with an eye especially attuned to identifying any drop in the level or quality of service. On the whole, while a few cuts were in evidence, they were not especially troubling, nor were they long-lasting. For example, dinner our first night out from Ft. Lauderdale was excellent - it tasted wonderful and the selections were sufficiently broad enough to tempt even a finicky eater - but the service left something to be desired. There must have been about 2/3 the normal number of staff present in the Dining Room, and the service was slow and disorganized as a result. Additionally, the wine steward had to be asked for 4 times before he appeared. We could tell they were doing their very best, but with too few staff members on duty that simply wasn't good enough. A couple of us had a few pleasant words with one of the supervisors and were told to expect things to improve. And, thankfully, things did improve. What to Wear, What to Wear?? During the days nearly any kind of casual wear is acceptable: shorts, t-shirts, jeans, slacks, sports shirts, polo shirts, Hawaiian shirts ... the list could go on and on. Days onboard a Holland America Ship are casual, laid back, and relaxed. Evenings, however, are another matter entirely. Some people complain about the dresscode on HAL being too regimented, too strict, too reminiscent of "the old days." There may well be some truth to these complaints, but it's part of Holland America's style and atmosphere: there is a dress code for each evening, and all guests are asked to follow it as best they can. It's not as if it's difficult ... they have made it easy to follow the code by having only 3 kinds of evenings: Formal, Informal, and Casual. They even tell you, the day before, which kind of night it will be and make suggestions as to what one might want to wear. In general, the following guidelines constitute the "dress code." Formal: Tuxedoes or business suits are suggested for men, with jacket and tie being required; cocktail or evening gowns are suggested for women. Informal: Jackets are required for men, while dresses or blouses and slacks are suggested for women. Casual: Comfortable attire is encouraged, but shorts, T-shirts, and jeans are expressly discouraged. The dress code is intended to promote a festive evening environment - "come on guys ... it's a Tux, not a straight jacket, they want us to wear!" - and all passengers are encouraged to follow the code throughout the evening. On this cruise of the Volendam it appeared as though just about everybody was taking the spirit of the code to heart with little, if any, grumbling. And that was a blessing; on some previous cruises a few passengers could be heard complaining, rather loudly, about having to get "dressed up" for dinner ... as if it were a major imposition. In my opinion, it's part of the fun of making a cruise. On a 10-Day cruise the normal number of Formal Nights is 3, of Informal 2, and of Casual 5. A Day At Sea On our first full day at sea we slept late, missing breakfast, but woke in time to attend the pre-auction art lecture and walk the deck for 25 or 30 minutes, enjoying the beautiful blue sky and strong sea breeze. We ate lunch in the Rotterdam Dinning Room and were pleased not only with the quality of the food but also with the level of service. The waiter who took our order was efficient, and the busboy that assisted was quick. Our meal was ordered and delivered quickly, efficiently, and with the care and grace that we've grown to love on Holland America ships. And the food was excellent, too: the lettuce in my Chicken Caesar Salad was cold, crisp, and refreshing, while the chicken was warm and tender and the dressing had a kick but wasn't too strong or too thick. Such balance is a rare combination, even in land-based restaurants. That afternoon I was naughty: I won about $190 at the Blackjack table, then gave back nearly all of my winnings to a poker machine. I would end the cruise losing more money than I won, so that first time at the tables must have been a fluke. In truth, I should avoid the casino; it's a bad habit. I spent a few hours exploring the ship, discovering the minor differences in layout and character between this vessel and the other ships of the HAL fleet we had been on. The Volendam is a work of art in motion. She is among the largest of the Holland America Ships, yet is still small enough for one to get to know in a few days time. She is 781 feet long, 105.8 feet wide, and weighs in at 63,000 GRT. She can make 23 knots, though she rarely goes that fast, and can carry 1440 passengers at double occupancy (2 per stateroom). A mega-ship she is not. On my self-guided tour of the ship I took my digital camera with me and snapped a host of photos of all the lounges and public rooms. It was a nice exploration, and I discovered some critical differences between the Volendam class and her slightly smaller Statendam class sisters; for example, access to the prow observation deck is through two large, unmarked, watertight doors at the center-front of the promenade, where one crosses from side to side. The Captain's reception is always on the first formal night of the cruise, and is usually a pleasant time of getting to know some more passengers while also getting to eye-ball what they're wearing. On the Volendam this was great fun, with the free champagne flowing and excellent hors d'oeuvres being served throughout the Frans Hals Lounge. The Volendam Orchestra played an assortment of Big Band music - Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James - while several couples "cut a rug" on the dance floor for so long that Jay Bernard, the Cruise Director, had to ask them to "please be seated so that the Captain can make his address." One of the biggest criticisms of HAL is that so many of its passengers are "older than average," and this means that the "night life" on a HAL ship is supposed to be "dead." Well, for my taste it's a joy to be around so many people with so much experience and wisdom. And ... my! ... how these "old geezers" can boogie ... even late into the night! They were great fun to watch! Dinner was EXCELLENT. The food was superb and the Service was, without question, precisely what HAL can and, in the past, has provided. It was clear that all of the Dining Room staff were pitching-in to help at all the tables in their area, and not just at their own assigned tables. They really hustled that night, and made dinner perfect. We were also surprised to discover Baked Alaskan on the first formal night; we've been used to this on the last formal night of a cruise, but this change was a great, festive way of beginning the cruise. After dinner we attended the "Las Vegas" production in the Frans Hals show lounge, and enjoyed it immensely. Another common criticism of HAL is that its entertainment is not the best, but this cruise of the Volendam proved to have some of the best shows I've ever seen on Holland America. After the show we went to the Explorer's Lounge for drinks and some pleasant conversation with our fellow passengers and some of the ship's officers while listening to the lovely music of the Champagne Strings. All-in-all, it was a lovely evening and the close of a wonderful day, as most days at sea are. Surfing the World Wide Web While At Sea The Volendam is equipped for internet access via satellite, with accommodations for passengers to surf the web while at sea in the Internet Cafe. This little lounge is located on the Upper Promenade deck between the Library and the Hudson Room and, at least on this cruise of the Volendam, was well used throughout the 10 days. It is unfortunate that Holland America doesn't provide data ports in the staterooms, though future ships are supposed to be so equipped. It would also be nice to be able to write one's letters on one's own computer and then transfer them to the HAL-provided terminals for upload to the Internet, but this is also not possible. Instead, to use the terminals at all - even for drafting an email while one is not signed onto the internet - one's shipboard account is charged .50 a minute. The alternative for those who know they'll be using the internet and the ship's computers extensively, is to pay a one-time fee of $169.95 and gain unlimited access for the duration of the cruise. This was an excellent deal, and I took it. It enabled me to communicate with friends and church members all over the world, make reports of my cruise to my favorite boards, and keep track of what was going on with my family at home without having to fork over $15.00 a minute for ship-to-shore telephone calls. The terminals provided access to the internet through several different service providers, including AOL and Earthlink, and I was told that if you had your account information you could sign on through whatever internet provider you use. The Lounges of the Volendam There are many places onboard the Volendam to kick back and relax, read, chat, listen to music, drink tea, coffee, a cocktail, a soft drink, and just enjoy the days at sea or in port. Among these are the wonderful lounges of the Volendam. Everyone has their favorites, but mine are the Crows Nest and the Explorers Lounge, with the Piano Bar/Sea View Lounge a close third. The Crows Nest is a wonderful place - a bar, really - perched high up above the bridge. From here one has unsurpassed views of the open seas which stretch ahead, or of any ports which the ship may be approaching or departing. It is one of my favorite places to go with a book and my sunglasses; I like to sit back in a recliner, my feet up, a soft drink at my elbow, and spend a few hours reading and/or gazing at the ocean. During calm seas, as they were during most of this trip on the Volendam, the view is incredible, with only tiny ripples visible breaking the surface of the water. Oh high-sea days the calm beauty of a lazy Caribbean day is replaced by an altogether different kind of beauty. As the prow of the ship slams the water, and as the waves surge up over the forward deck, one can come to know the true power and awesome majesty of the sea. In such times, and from such a perspective, one can gain a new, deeply felt respect and love for these wonderful ships and the men and women who sail them. But, such days were not to be found on a lazy January afternoon in the middle of the Caribbean. All of our days this cruise were pleasant, with moderate seas and refreshing breezes. And no place gave one a more lofty view of this beauty than the Crows Nest. During the evenings, and on into the wee hours of the morning, one can find live dance music and, then, a DJ and recorded music. This is the place where, if one is so inclined, a loud and active nightlife can be found onboard the Volendam. The Explorer's Lounge is my second favorite haunt onboard. It is an excellent place for afternoon high tea, conversation, reading, and after-dinner drinks. The classical string quartet which plays here during the after dinner hours - on the Volendam, the "Champagne Strings" - is very good, with a broad repertoire of classical pieces. During the day one can find art lectures, discussions on formal dining, the daily high teas, and a great place for quiet conversations, reading, or writing. The Piano Bar and the Sea View Lounge are third on my list of favorite haunts onboard. This is an excellent place to come and listen to jazz and popular favorites, engage in a game of "name that tune," sip the "drink of the day," and enjoy excellent hors d'oeuvres before going on to dinner. During the day it's a nice, secluded spot to read, engage in an informative conversation with a member of the cruise staff, or a fellow passenger, or even practice the piano! There is a dance floor in the middle of it, though except for an upbeat rendition "Dancing Cheek to Cheek" and "The Way You Look Tonight" played on the piano, I didn't see very many people dancing here. This is also where the Captain likes to hold some of the special VIP receptions, including the one held for the Suite Passengers, because the Piano Bar can be curtained off from the Sea View Lounge and hallway. There are other Bars and Lounges onboard the Volendam, like the Ocean View Bar and the Sports Lounge, and we visited them all at least once while on this cruise, but the above were my favorites. Ports of Call On the 10-Day Southern Caribbean Wayfarer Cruise we visited Curacao, La Guaira/Caracas Venezuela, Trinidad, Martinique, St. Thomas, and Half Moon Cay. Each port was excellent, and while there were many different things to do in each, I can only speak to the specific excursions which we took. Curacao We arrived in Willemstad, Curacao, about an hour earlier than projected, but we didn't miss arrival since I had planned to get up early anyway. It was a lovely approach, even though the sky was overcast. After breakfast in the Lido, and a few minutes of photography from the Sports Deck and the Crows Nest, we went down, made land fall, and joined up with our excursion group: "The Island Drive." This tour was a pleasant drive out and around Willemstad, with visits to several of the more famous sties and Land Houses. The most impressive part of the excursion, however, was the tour leader. She was a wealth of information about the Island, its culture, history, and government. Between our stops she carried on an animated monologue about her home island. Also, between stops we drove through the various housing districts, so we got to see what she defined as "upper middle class" as well as the "housing projects" which were run by the government. It was, while not the BEST tour we've ever been on, certainly informative and worth the time. After returning to the ship at noon, we ate lunch in the Lido Restaurant and then headed out again, this time on our own, to cross the Queen Wilhelmina pontoon bridge and enter the older section of Willemstad. We visited the Mikve Israel Emmanuel Synagogue, which was bar far the highlight of the visit, as well as Fort Amsterdam. The buildings are lovely, and the people are kind and not at all pushy ... even when it looked like we had no intention of buying anything. The shopkeepers of Jamaica could learn a thing or two from these wonderful people here in Willemstad. I really enjoyed the stay. We returned to the ship from our self-conducted tour at about 4 pm, which provided plenty of time for a shower and a short nap -- both of which was very important because we were HOT and tired. The air temp was high, the humidity VERY high, and the sunlight VERY VERY bright. Hence, we were tired and in need of a rest.? On board the evening schedule was a little different than normal. They had "the Great Volendam Deck Party" on the Lido central pool deck, with excellent BBQ and other tasty items. Also, music. We ate a snack there at 6:15 pm, but then also attacked the Rotterdam Dining Room at 8:15 pm for an EXCELLENT dinner. After dinner, although so stuffed we felt like beached whales, we went up to the Sports deck and watched as the ship pulled out of Willemstad at 10 pm, followed almost immediately by a fireworks show. It was a nice program, but nothing super-spectacular, and we were told that this show is put on every time a HAL ship leaves port at night. After the fireworks everyone rushed downstairs to the Frans Hals Show Lounge for the evening's entertainment. La Guaira/Caracas, Venezuela We arrived in La Guaira, Venezuela, at about 6:45 am. From our veranda we had a view of 3 military patrol boats, a World War Two era Destroyer which now belongs to the Venezuelan Navy, and several large freighters. The port of La Guaira really looked awful ... it is a noisy, dirty industrial port, with nothing easily accessible from the pier without one having to take ground transportation. We were warned about crime, and counseled that we should either take one of the many planned excursions or avoid disembarking. The view of the town beyond the port also wasn't too encouraging; the streets where congested with traffic and the mountainside behind the port was covered with tiny, shack-like houses which, we would later learn, are called "rranchitos." It was not a pleasant sight.r We took the Grand Tour of Caracas, a 9 hour excursion and, by far, one of the best offerings to be had here. By bus we traveled for 35 minutes along a fairly modern highway up into and through the mountains and on into the valley where the city of Caracas is located. The drive provided for some lovely views of the Venezuelan countryside, as well as more views - in the distance - of the "rranchitos." We learned that squatters lived in these self-made shacks, receiving city services and electrical power for free. Once in Caracas we first visited Quinta Anauco, which is a well maintained 17th century Spanish manor which now houses the Museum of Colonial Art. It was an excellent tour, and our guide - who was with us for the entire excursion - did an excellent job of presenting all of the details about the house and about all subsequent stops. He was very easy to talk with, and had an excellent sense of humor. The second stop included a trip on a hanging cable-car up to the top of Mt. Avila (7000 feet above sea level) from where we had - through periodic breaks in the clouds - a breathtaking view of both the Caribbean on one side and Caracas on the other. This is a new stop on the Full Day Excursion in Caracas, and they're still working on the hotel at the top of the mountain. After a stop for lunch at a hotel we visited the Boulevard of the Heroes, where our guide gave us a detailed account of the history of Venezuela, making reference to the monuments found there in the process. This was one of the most informative parts of the tour - which is really saying something because all the stops were very informative ... one way or another. Our last stop before returning to the Volendam was at the Murano Venetian Glass Factory, where we got to spend an hour watching as glass art was hand made, talk with those who did the work, and then shop for some of their glassware. It was one of the few places on this tour of Venezuela where we could actually do some shopping. All-in-all, the visit to Caracas was a real treat. Trinidad We arrived in Trinidad at 12 noon, and our tour was one of the first to leave the ship. We took the Monastery Excursion, and I'm glad we did because we heard that some of those who went on the Culture trip either got "sunstroke" or were otherwise exhausted by their day. In comparison, we had a pleasant afternoon; the Monastery trip took us up into the mountains and gave us a cool, shaded, relaxing afternoon. We toured the Mount St. Benedict Monastery, visited their chapel, learned about the history of their presence on the island, had afternoon tea in their Guest House, and shopped in their gift store. It was a very nice afternoon, the views of the central plain of the island from the mountaintop were lovely, and the both the monastery guide and our transport guide were excellent. During the trip to and from the Monastery we learned a great deal about Trinidad, its history, people, and industries and customs from our transport guide. Unfortunately, we only had a half-day there, otherwise I would have liked to shop a bit in the city of Port of Spain before departure. Martinique We docked at Martinique at about 7:45 am and were cleared by customs at 8:00 am. Our tour - the Tropical Island Drive - left at 8:15 am and, by 9 am, we were driving into St. Pierre, where we got a look at the Mt. Pelee Volcanological Museum. It was interesting, but really not worth the stop. The next stop, however, was worth getting off the bus: the Agricol Rum distilleries. Here we learned how they make Rum on Martinique, had an opportunity to taste and buy some...which, of course, we did. We also had some excellent views of the volcano from there, though clouds kept covering it's top. Still ... it was very pretty. We then made our way along a very zig-zaggy Road (that was actually it's name) for about an hour, through the rain-forest, to the Botanical Garden of Balata. This lovely Garden was an excellent stop, and we spent an hour there - longer than we should have - walking among the lovely, lush, tropical plants and trees. I got some fantastic photographs. I also got to practice my French, which has become horrible. I'm much better in German. Anyway, because we took so long at the Gardens we were not able to visit the one site I really wanted to visit in Martinique: the Balata Church. But, we got to glance at it as we whisked by on our way back to the ship. St. Thomas, U.S.V.I. St. Thomas was, after Curacao, the loveliest stop on this cruise; it is hard to beat the beauty of the bay and Charlotte Amalie. We didn't have any tours planed - been here, done that - we just went ashore and did a little shopping. There were three vessels in port that day - a Celebrity ship, a monster RCL, and the Volendam - so the streets and Taxies were busy. We spent a few hours downtown, walking through the many shops and sampling some of the food as we went. We bought our maximum allowed bottles of booze and the obligatory T-shirts and other trinkets for friends back home, but didn't blow the bank. We'll do that on a future cruise. As shopping goes, St. Thomas really is the Mecca of the Caribbean. Havensight Mall, which is next to the pier where we docked, is a nice place to go if one doesn't want to travel far from the ship or use taxies. One can find the basic souvenirs, liqueur, and jewelry there. One can also access telephones and ATMs there, the last of which was of critical interest to us because our cash reserves were starting to run low and we knew we'd be wanting to tip at the end of the cruise. What one finds at Havensight Mall one will find, in manifold multiplied and gaudy splendor, downtown. I prefer the downtown shopping ... not because it's really any cheaper but because there is just so much more to choose from and so many more interesting things to see. The view of the Volendam from across the bay is also lovely, although she looks like a bathtub toy parked behind the RCL's monstrous Adventure of the Seas. We departed from St. Thomas with a beautiful evening ahead of us, and I suppose we all knew it would be lovely. It was casual night, and so we retreated to the crows next for pre-dinner drinks and conversations with our fellow passengers. It was Dutch night, and so we got our little Dutch hats and most of the food was Dutch in character - enough like German to be familiar, not enough like German to allow me to easily pronounce some of the dishes. I ended up eating the Roast Duck, which was outstanding. Yet again, the service was excellent ... though we played a naughty trick on the Wine Steward by swapping our usual drink orders around the table. After dinner we retreated to the Explorers Lounge and did some damage to a couple glasses of port before going to - drum roll - the movies! They were playing "The Score" in the theater, and we were burned out on singers in the show lounge, so the choice was obvious. We shouldn't have eaten the free popcorn, though, because that made us thirsty. So, after the film we went up to the Lido where the Desert extravaganza was underway, and we stuffed ourselves ... again. By about 1:00 am we found ourselves back in the Piano Bar, where we and about 10 other passengers played an impromptu game of "name that tune." All in all it was a very pleasant evening and day. Half Moon Cay, Bahamas Half Moon Cay is Holland America's private Island and, in many people's estimation, one of the principle highlights of any Caribbean cruise. I tend to agree. It has a lovely bay and a stunning beach, excellent hamburgers, hotdogs, fruit and desert; it also provides for some of the most tranquil, relaxing, soul-inspiriting views of the cruise. The ship cannot dock here, since there is no pier capable of handling a cruise liner, so they drop anchor out in the bay and provide tender service to ferry the passengers and staff in and out of the sheltered port. Because weather is not always agreeable it is not always possible to actually land on the island; the average of successful stops at HMC seems to be is about 70%, though I have been blessed with getting to go ashore each time we've stopped there. The trip ashore is half the fun. The tender service is interesting to watch and even more interesting to experience; it is quick, efficient, and provides excellent views of both the beach and the ship. Once ashore one can shop for souvenirs in the small kiosk, pig-out at the grill, have a massage, play volley ball, or visit the little chapel. However, the big attraction is, of course, the beach. Even if more than one ship is there, the beach is not crowded; it his wide, long, and shallow, with incredibly soft, white sand and water so clear your can see the bottom even as far out as the ship. On this trip the Volendam was the only ship there, and so everyone was actually quiet and unhurried. We splashed in water up to our waist, but didn't feel like going out any further because the water was rather cold. The best part of the day - after my two Cheese Burgers, Ribs, and Pineapple (burp) - was just relaxing on the beach chair and watching people play. Oh, and the view of the Volendam, out in the bay, was a photographers dream. Photography Onboard A word must be written about the photographs that were taken by the cruise staff aboard the Volendam. I hate to say this, but often their pictures are uniformly dreadful. And not just of me - which would be understandable - but of nearly all the passengers. For example, the photographs of the passengers with the Captain (during the first formal night) were all horrible. Whoever took the pictures used such a weird angle that everyone ended up looking like "vertically challenged" people. Except for the ears, I looked like a Hobbit! Not all of the professional photographs were bad, and one of the formal sessions produced some excellent pictures of me. However, by-and-large, the best photos on the cruise were the ones taken then by the passengers themselves ... or by the cruise staff. The two photos that I had taken of our table group by our Head Waiter turned out far better than those taken by the so-called "professionals." I suppose the nice thing about the photographs taken on the Volendam by the cruise staff is that we were not hounded, continuously, to buy the prints. The photographs were displayed, and if we wanted to buy them we were welcome to do so. However, there was very little pressure to do so. Likewise, throughout the ship, while special sales were offered nearly every day at sea, and every evening after departure from port, the pressure to "buy buy buy" simply wasn't there. Nor is one "nickle-and-dimed" to death aboard the Volendam. If one wants to puchase something, there is plenty to buy. If not, one can go the whole cruise and rack up nothing more than drink charges and excursion fees one one's shipboard account. Tipping Not Required While some people have difficulty with the concept, Holland America's tipping policy actually means precisely what it says - tipping is not required. Nor is the HAL staff supposed to solicit tips. This does not mean, however, that tipping is not allowed, nor does it mean that tipping is not appropriate. Tips are not included in the cost of the cruise, nor are they added onto the Bar tabs, nor are they assessed in any other way. If the passengers wish to tip for the service they have received, that is entirely up to them. It is also up to them as to how much to tip. Many people tip the industry standard, with more being given for better service. Some tip less than the industry standard based upon the reported fact that the HAL staff is paid more than the industry standard. While this may be true, I have never been able to understand why it should matter to the passengers what the staff makes ... suffice it to say, with few exceptions it is guaranteed that they earn less in a year than the average passenger does. In my opinion, if I have received good service I will want to tip appropriately. What is appropriate for one person may not be appropriate for another. The industry standard - which can be found listed many places - is a good benchmark, however, if one wishes to use it. Disembarkation As on many cruise lines, luggage had to be out in the hall by 1:00 am on the morning of arrival back in Ft. Lauderdale, so packing was best done before dinner the night before. This last night being a casual night made things simple: we wore what we would be wearing for the trip home. It is amazing how one's possessions seem to expand during the trip, making it twice as hard to pack up as it was at home. Thankfully, we were able to purchase some small Holland America luggage onboard to supplement our bags. And we weren't the only ones! Each cabin received a disembarkation questionnaire, a US Customs form, and a disembarkation number. The questionnaire had to be filled out and returned to the front desk. The US Customs form would need to be turned in upon arrival at the pier. Upon arrival at Ft. Lauderdale the ship had to clear both US Immigration and US Customs. This usually takes a little time because there are always a few passengers who believe that these rules do not apply to them. The current rule is that, if you visit a US port after having visited a non-US port, the entire ship - both passengers and crew - must clear immigration. On the Volendam at St. Thomas they called everyone by stateroom blocks (6100-6199, etc.) to go down to the Frans Hals Lounge and join a line which ran along the parameter of the lounge - down the starboard side, across in front of the stage, then back up the port side. Down in front of the stage stood one or two US Immigration officials and, when you reached them, you showed them your passport. They glanced at it, looked at your face, said "Good morning, Gregory" (or whatever your name was) and that was it. At the end of the line, up at the port side entrance to the lounge, were cruise line staff with a computer printout register of the ship, by stateroom number, and there you had them check you off. Done ... simple ... quick. This was also how they did it in Fort Lauderdale. At St. Thomas they only had to call a couple of staterooms ... and then only once ... before we cleared. I suppose the eternally late ones wanted to get off and go shopping too. At Ft. Lauderdale, however, a few staterooms from every deck had to be called. Most of them were called only once. A few were called multiple times. One was called by stateroom number, then by name three times, with the last time the Cruise Director saying "would so-in-so please do us all the courtesy of interrupting your breakfast and proceeding to the Frans Hals lounge so that some of us can get off the ship." The round of applause in the Explorer's Lounge, where we were waiting for disembarkation, was heartening. Once disembarkation actually began, it went quickly. We were 26 to depart, but were off the ship and on our way to the airport by 9:45 am. And so ended our 10-Day Southern Caribbean Wayfarer Cruise on the lovely and beautiful M/S Volendam. A Few Final Remarks The Volendam is a wonderful ship, with a gracious crew which knows how to provide premium service to their passengers. Like all Holland America ships, however, it is not a party boat. It is a cruise ship with many of the characteristics and traditions of the ocean liners of yesteryear. There are no rock walls to climb, no all-night discos to dance in, and the passengers do tend to be a little older than average. This, however, should not be a problem if what one is looking for is a wonderful, quite, relaxing, luxurious trip. We are in our late 30s and early 40s, and yet we so enjoy Holland America that we simply don't consider other Cruise lines to be options for us. This is because we appreciate the refined style and gracious atmosphere which have become the hallmark of the HAL fleet. The Volendam met and, indeed, surpassed, our expectations in this department. The only negatives which we identified on this cruise, and with the Volendam, have to do with the staffing cuts. The crew worked very hard to make up the shortfall, and their efforts were both most successful and greatly appreciated.RevNeal@aol.comMarch 2002 Read Less
This is a review of Holland America Line's 10 day Southern Caribbean Seafarer on the MS Volendam. Sail date was Nov 2, 2000. The itinerary and detailed physical descriptions of the ship are available at Holland America's web ... Read More
This is a review of Holland America Line's 10 day Southern Caribbean Seafarer on the MS Volendam. Sail date was Nov 2, 2000. The itinerary and detailed physical descriptions of the ship are available at Holland America's web site. The following is a summary of our experience(s). We are two sixty plus senior citizens who are not yet ready for The Home. As is HAL's custom, boarding did not begin until about 1:30PM. Those who complain about late embarkation may comfort themselves with the thought that HAL actually cares about between cruise cleanups. Once begun, boarding moved at a snail's pace. For example, our wait for number eighteen exceeded an hour. Crew and staff attitudes and rapport with the passengers was unconditionally excellent, especially the front desk people. The infirmary is well staffed and considerate. Our cabin steward was typically capable and willing. Regrettably, the dining room was sorely understaffed for the evening meal. Our waiter was strained by the lack of an assistant (bus boy). He worked his tail off, but courses were slow coming and drinks seldom replenished. Early seating, 6:00 PM, seldom got out before 7:30. None of this was our waiter's fault. We were a table for six, none of whom imbibed. Consequently, the wine steward only approached us on the first night, a pleasant change from prior experiences. The Maitre d' never visited our table. I guess he had heard enough complaints about the staffing. The food was typical HAL. Preparation and presentation were acceptable, but undistinguished. I prefer Celebrity's menus and preparation. Breakfast and lunch service in the main dining room was very prompt, and the servers pleasant. We dined in the alternative Marco Polo twice. Reservations were easy to come by. Technically, Marco Polo reservations are only available between 9 and 11AM. However, I stopped by the first evening and the headwaiter accepted my application. I made our reservation for a second night at a later date, with no difficulty. The menu is on HAL's web site. It is Italian and well prepared, but the Marco Polo is also understaffed. On a busy night, our waiter was too rushed, once delivering the wrong entree. However, he made a quick recovery and brought the correct order, accompanied by a profound apology. There were three formal and two informal nights. Formal dress was typically HAL, mostly tuxes and dark business suits for the men and elegant formal for the ladies. For those unaware of HAL customs, formal wear is retained throughout the evening. The Shore Excursion office folks are eager and pleasant, but their lack of experience with this itinerary caused a number of tour problems at many islands. Itinerary changes were common. Change notices were placed under the cabin door the evening before departure, far too late to make alternative choices. At Nassau, key excursions were actually canceled at pier side. The blame was placed on the tour operator not having us scheduled, but a more experienced ship's staff would have the tours confirmed in advance. Although this was a Caribbean cruise, HAL maturity still prevails. If you're looking for a more representative Caribbean experience with a gay, festive, party atmosphere, this ain't your boat. Despite some disruptions and disappointments, we had a pleasant experience. I think I can best summarize my feelings about the trip with the following: Reflections on a 10-day Southern Caribbean Cruise: 1) A ten-day Caribbean cruise is 3 to 5 days too long. 2) Two consecutive sea days is two days too many. I don't limit this to S. Caribbean trips. However, I must concede that a sea day is often logistically necessary, and is preferable to a day of air travel. Unfortunately, the travel mode required just to get to the ship often negates the air travel day analogy. 3) Six S. Caribbean Islands are five too many. Although each island has its own unique qualities and characteristics, they are all too similar when visited for only one day. 4) The Caribbean experience is antithetical to the regimented and confining environment of a cruise ship. Conclusions: Instead of a cruise, spend four or five days at a select all-inclusive resort. Sandals, St. Lucia, would be a great choice. There'd be enough time to truly enjoy the island, become familiar with the surroundings, and experience a pampered, relaxed, laid back, Caribbean setting. This may be slightly more expensive than the cruise, but it sure takes care of 3 and 4 above. Or, if one must visit the S. Caribbean by ship, take a seven-day cruise out of San Juan, if the airfare isn't a deal breaker. This option takes care of 1 and 2 above, but still leaves 3 and 4 as dominant factors! Admittedly, I couldn't have realized these revelations if I hadn't taken the cruise. Experience is the best teacher, but it sure is a costly tutor! Note: if you deem the cruise ship a sought-after destination, then none of the immediately preceding comments apply. I use cruise ships as an alternative to hotels. A ship is sometimes more convenient, but it is certainly more confining, disciplined and cramped than any 3 or 4 star hotel. Finally, I will not attempt to deflect criticism by closing with an IMHO disclaimer. It's entirely evident that most of what we say is simply opinion. If you disagree with any of my observations, feel free to fire away. stevesan@earthlink.net 11/27/00 Read Less
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 4.3
Value For Money 4.0 3.8
Rates 4.0 3.9

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