216 Holland America Volendam Cruise Reviews

We arrived in Sydney on Oct 17 to acclimate ourselves to the time change. We stayed at the Bayswater Sydney in the Kings Cross area. What a find. Good rates and near the metro. Get a weekly pass from the Metro that is down the road from ... Read More
We arrived in Sydney on Oct 17 to acclimate ourselves to the time change. We stayed at the Bayswater Sydney in the Kings Cross area. What a find. Good rates and near the metro. Get a weekly pass from the Metro that is down the road from the hotel. It includes all trains, ferries, and buses in the city. $45 each and the best way to get around. Our cruise left from the Overseas passenger terminal at Circle Quay, right across from the Sydney Opera House. What a sight! The Rocks area is right by the ship so when you check in at the cruise ship, you can get off and walk around. If it is Saturday you can enjoy the market right up the street. We checked in about 11 a.m and there was some delay because of a computer problem. We had to stand outside for awhile and fill out our forms for the health questions, etc. Met a lot of nice people in line. Once we were let inside, it took a long time to check in. There were not many personnel to check us in. Once on board we were directed to our room. We were on the Veranda deck forward starboard. Once we found our room we were delighted at how large it was. We had a Veranda Suite. It was very well appointed and had floor to ceiling windows leading to a large veranda. It had one chair, a chase, and small table. We asked if we could have another chair and they gave it to us right away. Our room stewards were always so kind and kept our cabin super clean. The cabin had a large leather couch that was so comfortable to sit and have breakfast and watch a movie on our own DVD. Everyday at 5 pm they would bring in fresh ice for us to fix our drinks. A few things about our cabin: We had a small frig that we kept our wine and sodas in. Large queen bed with the most comfortable mattress and 6 pillows with different levels of thickness. Large flat screen TV with two news channels and a few movie channels. Lots of storage for your clothes. A safe. The bathrooms had a whirlpool tub and a great shower with great water pressure. I am totally impressed with how the space is used in the HAL bathrooms. A place for everything. Our room steward could not have been better. They called us by name and kept our room super clean. They even placed a small napkin like carpet by our bed at night so if we got up we did not have to have our feet hit the carpet. Ship review. The Volendam is a beautiful ship. Extremely clean. It did not feel like the ship had 1300 people. It is well laid out also and easy to get around. The staff was always happy to help you. The captain always kept us up to date on our location and any issues of interest to us. We were not able to get into two ports because of weather or berth problems and we were always told why and reimbursed port fees. Food: The food was mostly very good. We always had room service in the morning and mostly they gave us too much food. It was always hot and each morning we got a call seeing if everything was ok. The main dining room was outstanding. Victor, the restaurant Asst. Manager was our favorite. Always a smile and we taught him a new American phrase everyday. He enjoyed it and we got to be good friends. The Lido had a great menu everyday. Nothing was ever repeated in the 34 days we were there. However the food, except for the soups, were never hot. Always lukewarm or cold. I talked to the manager, as I had gotten ill on an earlier cruise because of food that was just sitting there, and was concerned about things not being prepared well (not on HAL). He said he would take care of it. It never got better. HAL - DO NOT SERVE FOOD SUPPOSED TO BE HOT COLD. Entertainment: What we did see was really good. By the end of a full day of sightseeing, by 8pm we usually just had a light dinner and went to our cabin to relax. One thing we liked was the talks on the ports and the shore excursions. We did take some excursions from HAL in ports that were small like Komodo and Lombok, but mostly we would find out things to do on our own or with friends we met. Internet: HAL has to come up with a better way to get a connection. To charge what they charge and have to wait like you are using dsl is ridiculous. Also when asked to adjust charges the manager did not seem too happy to help. All in all this is a great cruise and they only do it once a year. Next year it is again in October. This is a wonderful opportunity to see a wonderful continent and meet the people of Australia. Also the prices are very good for this type of cruise. We love HAL and are working on a trip to the Baltic as we speak. You should be very proud of your staff and your ship - the Volendam.Once thing to add. We were never, ever pressured to buy things from HAL. We appreciated this as some cruise lines do this. Our room stewards names were Made and Trisna. Read Less
Sail Date October 2012
This type of report is unavoidably subjective. I have read on this and other forums reports about the same cruise by different authors and it is hard to believe that they were actually on the same ship at the same time. The following are ... Read More
This type of report is unavoidably subjective. I have read on this and other forums reports about the same cruise by different authors and it is hard to believe that they were actually on the same ship at the same time. The following are therefore my views only and I'm sure that other passengers from this voyage of the Volendam would disagree with me on just about every point I make. I took this cruise because I had been invited to a wedding in Las Vegas and at the time that the invitation arrived I saw a Holland America newspaper advertisement. Rather than face 14 hours flying home to Sydney from Los Angeles I decided to sail across the Pacific. Embarkation I drove from Manhattan Beach where I'd stayed the previous two nights (at the Seaview Inn on Highland Avenue, which I highly recommend) to Long Beach and this took about 30 minutes. I arrived at the Cruise Terminal at about 10.30am. I dropped off my bags (this took 30 seconds) and then headed off to find the Hertz office in Long Beach to return the car. I considered walking the 3km back to the cruise terminal but there was a vacant taxi right outside Hertz so I took it and was waiting with all the other passengers by 11.15am. We waited until about 12 noon for something to happen; I sat waiting in the shade; about 150 people waited in a tight group right at the door as though cabins were going to be allocated on a first come first served basis. As we entered the building we had our passports and documentation examined, went through security inspection and then got into another line to be photographed and given a room key. I was on the ship by 12.15pm and in my cabin by 12.20pm; welcoming my luggage by 12.30pm and then in the queue for lunch a few minutes after that. It was all a bit anticlimactic; I'd expected long lines and missing bags and to find my cabin already occupied by a family of gypsies, but it all went very smoothly. There were staff on each level to guide passengers to their cabins. The passengers were generally, to put it kindly, of an older (verging on ancient) demographic. This is probably because of the length of the cruise, 21 days from Los Angeles to Sydney and also because there were two period of sea days (4 days LA to Hilo, and 5 days Honolulu to American Samoa) that may not appeal to many younger travellers. I would have been at least 20 years younger than any except twenty of the other passengers and I think that they were all parents with small children. At least I would not have had any problem pushing my way into a lifeboat if we'd done a Titanic. Having said that their age did not prevent them from being generally interesting to talk to and as with any large group of people there were those i felt comfortable with and gravitated towards and those i avoided. At 4.15pm there was life boat drill, and these are taken very seriously since the Costa Concordia fiasco. It was not necessary to take lifejackets to this drill (this was made very clear both in writing and in announcements but this didn't stop a number of passengers turning up like they were about to go over the side). It took about 25 minutes to complete the drill. The Volendam was berthed at Long Beach next to the Queen Mary; the former Cunard transatlantic liner that is now a floating hotel and tourist attraction at Long Beach. I'd always thought that the Queen Mary was a very large ship but it looked smaller than the ship I was standing on. The 5pm departure was delayed for 40 minutes as fuel was still being pumped aboard. When we did start moving it was without fanfare or announcement. Only a blast of the ship's horn to warn a sailing boat of our approach gave people the idea that the voyage had commenced. Cabin I had originally booked a single occupancy ocean view cabin (1946) on deck 1 but was persuaded by the advice of my mother (who at 86 is enthusiastically cruising) to change to a veranda cabin on deck 6. I was in cabin 6194 on the port side of the ship; about two thirds of the way back from the front of the ship. Even with the additional cost, nearly double, I'm very glad I made the change because having a veranda means being able to get a breath of fresh air without having to make yourself presentable enough to leave your cabin to go on deck. The veranda also makes the cabin seem so much bigger with the extra space outside and also with the wall between the interior and the veranda being all glass (with curtains heavy enough to block out the sun if necessary). There was little noise from adjacent cabins or from the corridor outside. My cabin had other cabins above on deck 7 and I never heard a noise from that direction. Below me was the library and internet area and again I never heard a noise from there. There were a few squeaks if the ship was rolling but no vibration from the engines or other distractions. The cabin was spotlessly clean when I arrived and remained so for the whole voyage; any mess was mine alone. The bed was very comfortable with a good reading light and six pillows were provided; 2 firm, 2 medium and 2 soft. Plenty of storage space for everything and enough room under the bed for several suitcases. Take a power board if like me you have several things you want to charge or power at the same time. There is one power point at the desk. The bathroom is a good size and well lit; with a shower over a bath. The hot water was consistent in temperature and the water is soft enough for shampoos and soaps to lather. The cabin was serviced every morning while I was having breakfast; the room steward just seemed to know when I'd gone to eat. On the TV there are: - Usually three movies on three channels showing in a continuous cycle. - Holland America promotional material. - Promotional material for the on board shops. - Port excursion and other information. - Replays of presentations and cooking demonstrations from previous day - Fox News seemed to work no matter where we were. - ESPN, TNT and other channels worked most of the time, this depended on satellite location. - Ship location, speed, heading, weather information channel. There are 100s of DVDs available to borrow; you just have to phone and they will deliver! Food Lunch after embarkation was served at the buffet on the Lido deck (which is deck 8). For the first couple of days at sea the staff serves you at the buffet and shaking hands with all your new friends is discouraged to limit the spread of any nasty bugs that may have come aboard with the passengers. There are disinfectant dispensers all over the ship; especially at the entrance to eating areas. At this first meal the passengers were all eating like it had just been announced that no more food would be served until we got to Sydney in 21 days. The price of the tickets for this voyage means that the passengers should not have recently known hunger but they were attacking the buffet, as far as restrictions permitted, like a starving mob. Food is available almost continuously from 6.30am (continental breakfast) followed at 7am by full buffet breakfast until 10.30am; or an a la carte breakfast in the MDR from 8am to 9.30am. Buffet lunch from 11.30am to 2pm (a la carte from 12 to 2pm); burgers and pizzas available from 11.30 to 5pm; buffet dinner from 5.30pm to 9pm; a la carte 5 course dinner from 5.30pm to 9.30pm. Then a short break until late snacks from 10.30pm to 11.30pm; I haven't been to this yet but the menu looks like another full buffet dinner. For those left a bit peckish between all of the above there is room service available in your cabin at no charge. I noticed that the plates in the Lido are deceptively large and when you're served hot food by the staff or serve yourself salads then what I would consider to be a normal portion of food looks rather lonely in the middle of the plate. The first couple of times I ate at the Lido I felt a bit short-changed in terms of quantity but then realised that I was eating as much and most likely very much more than I normally do. Breakfast Always ate this in the Lido and either sat inside or by the pool. It would be impossible to leave breakfast without being well satisfied. From the fresh squeezed orange juice (I have no idea where they store all the oranges required to do this for 1400 passengers for 21 days, the crew probably sleep on bags of oranges) to the cooked to order eggs and omelettes, breads, waffles, pastries, muffins, sausages, bacon (perfectly crispy every day), cereals and fruits it is the perfect way to start the day. Special mention for the baker on the Volendam; fantastic fresh bread and bread rolls at every meal, plus croissants, muffins (the chocolate ones are the best I have ever had) and wonderful fruit buns for breakfast. Lunch Mostly I ate lunch at the Lido. Lunch in the MDR is very pleasant with large windows on three sides giving a view of the ocean. This is not open for lunch when the ship is in port. Excellent burgers, tacos and pizza were available from Terrace Grill which is next to the midships pool on the Lido deck. Dinner Ate in the MDR on formal nights and service and food was excellent. Room Service Only tried it once and the turkey club sandwich was excellent. Sea Days There were four sea days between Los Angeles and Hilo and five sea days between Honolulu and American Samoa. You're either going to love or hate these days; but if you've booked on this sort of voyage then you should have booked because you'll enjoy them. Being away from outside distractions (apart from TV and internet, which are easy to ignore on the ship) for this many days is a real break from the world you inhabit all the rest of your life. This is a bit what life was like before mobile phones, internet, Facebook, 24 hour news and constant time demands. There are few things more enjoyable, to me at least, after a satisfying late breakfast than lying on a deck chair with a good book and listening to the waves and have the warm tropical air blow over you. Entertainment Internet Connecting is expensive and slower than you will get at home; but it does work most of the time. There were occasional periods of no connection due to satellite / ship positions but over 21 days these periods amounted to less than a day in total. There are Wi-Fi hot spots about the ship but the most reliable place to use your own device is on deck 5 in the Library, where there are also computers to use. During the day there is an internet manager in the Library on deck 5 to help with any internet issues. Library If you forget to pack some books to read then don't worry; the library on the Volendam has several thousand books; all well-arranged and it would be hard for anyone not to be able to find at least a few books that they wanted to read. There are also magazines and each day a news digest of 8 pages (NY Times) or 4 pages for Australia, UK, Canada and Germany is placed here and at several other locations around the ship. Music The on board band, Elise and the HALCats, were fantastic. Elise can really belt out a tune. Having a late lunch by the pool listening to Elise sing was a great way to feel like I was really on holiday. The musicians were also the backing band in the theatre for visiting performers. There was a string quartet, Adagio Strings, playing each evening in the Explorer's Lounge and they played a variety of classical and other music. They are very accomplished and entertaining and very relaxing. In the Ocean Bar each evening a trio, The Neptunes, played for listening and dancing, and again they were very good. The pianist had his music on an iPad and he must have hundreds of songs on it because there wasn't a request that he wasn't able to play. I liked them enough to buy the CD they had for sale. They are on the ship for seven months, playing every night. Michael, a solo guitarist, played in the Piano Bar each evening and at some other locations such as the Lido Pool during the day. Will played the piano, appropriately in the Piano Bar, each evening from 9pm and he has a very wide repertoire and was happy to take requests. The barman at this bar also makes very, very good Margaritas. It is worth spending an evening listening to Michael and Will. On Stage The stage shows in the theatre aren't West End or Broadway in scale and no reasonable person would expect them to be, but they are very entertaining and very well done. The theatre itself has very comfortable seating with good sight lines and acoustics. Shows are at 8pm and 10pm each night; the 10pm is less crowded; for some 8pm shows the audience starts arriving at 7.30pm. Lorna Luft was on one night and the Original Drifters another (they weren't actually the original Drifters but still a fun group and left the audience very happy). The singers and dancers who appeared in various shows were very good and did a lot with a stage of limited size. The hit songs of the 1960s were the theme of a show called the Dinnerbelles (It would take too long to explain the name); three female singers (including Elise from the HALCats), two dancers and a male singer (who changed parts and costume about six times). Rehearsals for some shows are open to passengers and you get to see the whole show plus an insight into how it is put together. Well worth attending. Other Activities Each evening a four page information and activities brochure is delivered to your cabin. Take the time to read it and go through the list of activities. There were a vast number of lectures and activities. The Future Cruise Consultant David gave a few talks and they were worth attending just to hear his stories about the 90 cruises he has been on. He had a wealth of knowledge about upgrades, best cabin locations, best side of ships for different cruises and ports and how to compare different cruises and cabins for value for money. The computer and camera classes were very popular judging from the crowds waiting each day before the doors opened to the classroom at the rear of deck 5. There are cooking classes, some where you watch and some where you cook and then eat. At the first cooking demo I went to there was a woman (American) sitting down the front who constantly interrupted with questions that weren't relevant; I would have happily stabbed her eyes out with a pencil if I'd had one with me. If clocks need to be changed then this is where it is announced. The first time change after leaving Los Angeles about one third of passengers put their clocks back an hour as requested, about one third put them forward an hour and about one third did nothing; the confusion the next morning was a pleasure to witness. Laundry On deck 6 there are 4 washers and 4 dryers; similar arrangements on two other decks. The machines take US quarters; you need $2 for a wash (takes about 35 minutes) and $1 for dryer (takes 40 minutes). Change is available at the Front Office on deck 4 which is open 24 hours a day. Liquid soap for the washers is provided at no charge. Medium heat setting on the dryer is more than hot enough for anything less than drying a circus tent. There are irons and ironing boards also available here. Ports of Call Hilo Hawaii It rains in Hilo on 275 days a year and we arrived in one of those days. I had booked to go on a tour to the summit if Mauna Kea at 13,796 feet. My ticket was waiting for me in my cabin when I boarded. There were two groups of eight booked for this tour and we went in two minibuses operated by Arnott's Tours. My guide was Al and there is nothing he doesn't know about Hilo. After driving through the main business area of the town (which has surprisingly many buildings from the 1940s and 1950s considering that Hilo has had two big tsunamis since 1945) we had a stop to see a waterfall, which looked just like a waterfall, not particularly high or wide or fast flowing. There was a fellow making hats and bowls from palm fronds; I would have bought a hat but didn't, knowing that it was unlikely to get past quarantine inspection back in Sydney. We all clambered back onto the bus and headed to the interior of the island. After about 25 miles we stopped at an altitude of 5000 feet near a very large lava flow dating from an eruption in 1984 from Mauna Loa, the volcano adjacent to Mauna Kea. Al the guide said that this type of lava is known as Ah-Ah lava; as that is what you say if you step on it before it has cooled. We then drove in about 20 minutes up to 9000 feet to a visitor centre/shop where we waited an hour so that we could acclimatize to the altitude and watch some videos on astronomical telescopes (of which there are many on the summit of Mauna Kea). The remaining 8 miles to the summit is half dirt road and half asphalt. The dirt road is very heavily rutted and the worst road I can ever remember driving on. When we got on the bus in Hilo and started our drive I noticed that the bus had many rattles; after being on the dirt portion of the road I know why. The road is left as dirt because in the winter black ice will form on asphalt but not on dirt and because the road is so steep it would be even more dangerous than it is currently is if it were covered with black ice. The road is supposed to be graded on a regular basis; we saw the grader but no driver. We drove above the clouds and all vegetation disappeared; the landscape looked like the photos sent back from the latest mission to Mars. Al the guide told us that he had oxygen to assist people who were having breathing difficulties, hallucinations, heart palpitations and so on. The only cure for altitude sickness is to go to a lower altitude quickly and really serious altitude sickness can be fatal. When we got out at the top I felt a bit light headed but a quick self-diagnosis confirmed all vital signs within acceptable limits. The view from the top was breath taking, literally. We were above most of the clouds and could see all the way to the island of Maui, which is about 80km away. We went into the Keck Observatory; or more correctly one of the two building housing matching telescopes. Each telescope has many large hexagonal mirrors and the mirrors are kept in alignment by tiny electric motors that flex the mirror surfaces so that all the hexagons function as if they were one very large mirror. After spending about 30 minutes at the summit, where it is warm in the sun but the wind was freezing, we drove back down to the visitor centre and had sandwiches for lunch. We then drove back to Hilo and the ship. If we hadn't stopped for lunch then from nearly 14,000 feet above sea level to sea level could have been driven in about an hour. It was still raining in Hilo when we got back. I can very highly recommend this tour. I spoke to one of the passengers who had done the helicopter flight to see the active lava flows and she said that was very good and worth doing. Honolulu Hawaii I took myself by public bus to Pearl Harbor. The number 20 bus leaves from about 200 yards from where the ships dock. It is $2.50 flat fare and you must have exact change as none is given. It took about 45 minutes to get to the Pearl Harbor memorial (it does goes into the airport to the terminals, but don't worry it does come back out). The bus turns off the highway into the visitor centre to let passengers off. Tell the driver you want this stop and he will announce it loudly when you arrive. I saw the museum and also I went aboard the battleship Missouri and the submarine Bowfin. On the Missouri make sure you take one of the guided tours as the guides are very knowledgeable. If you go aboard the Bowfin then make sure you are reasonably agile as the doorways (hatchways) between compartments of the submarine are small and have a very high step. From the highway outside the visitor centre I caught bus number 20 back to the business district near where the Volendam was docked. After lunch aboard I then walked off to find a post office. On the way I saw the Iolani Palace, the only royal place in the United States and the nearby statue of King Kamehameha. I also saw many fine public buildings, none of which had been built in the last 50 years. The more recently constructed Federal Courts building looks like it has been designed to withstand an armed attack. I then tried to catch a bus to Waikiki (about 3 miles) but after waiting 20 minutes in the sun and watching packed buses go past I decided to get a taxi. Honolulu seems to have fewer taxis than any other major city I have visited. Or maybe the drivers were all having an afternoon nap. Eventually I got a taxi and went to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. This is a pink coloured hotel is on the beach at Waikiki; built long before the high rise towers that now surround it. I wandered through the spacious public areas of the hotel to the beach. Without the background of Diamond Head Waikiki would be a rather pathetic beach; some of the hotels don't even have sand in front of them and at its deepest the beach is about 40m from hotel boundary to water. I had a look around the area behind the beach and it looks just like Surfers Paradise in Australia; many of the shops are exactly the same. So I wasn't much impressed by Waikiki. I caught bus number 20 back to the ship. I think it odd that the bus company doesn't provide a map and some timetable information at bus stops frequented by tourists. Doubly odd as they boast on the side of the buses that they are the best bus company in the US (perhaps that is an instructive comment on the average quality of public transport in the US). At least the driver on the bus was very entertaining and announced at one stop that it was the last stop and we'd all have to get off; as angry passengers surged towards the front of the bus he shouted out "just kidding" and put the bus in motion. Pago Pago American Samoa A spectacular harbour; it is surrounded by thick jungle almost down to the water and covering every bit of ground that isn't a road or built on. Coming into this port early in the morning is unforgettable. I didn't take an organised tour. I walked along the main road and saw that there wasn't much except a few ordinary shops and the local market. The Somerset Maugham story Rain is set in Pago Pago in the 1920s. Somerset Maugham visited Pago Pago about that time and was forced to stay on the island for two weeks because of a measles epidemic (which meant that he and others couldn't travel on to other destinations because of the risk of infection during the incubation period). The place he stayed is still standing and is now named in honour of one of the main characters in the story Sadie Thompson, a prostitute. In the story the rain is incessant but this isn't the rainy season otherwise yesterday's visit would have been much less pleasant. On the wharf there were lots of stalls set up just for the day. These were selling clothes and souvenirs but the offerings were somewhat repetitive; if you'd seen a couple of the stalls then you'd seen them all. I hired a taxi to take me over to the north side of the island. As we crossed the ridge from south to north we stopped to take photos of the stunning harbour. Then we drove through a national park to a perfect beach. There and back took about an hour and the pre-agreed cost was $20. The driver was a pleasant fellow but his English and my Samoan were about the same standard so we didn't chat much. After lunch on the ship (there seemingly being nowhere else to eat on land except McDonalds) I took another taxi from the dock and told the driver to go west for an hour and then turn around and come back by a different route. This driver was chatty. He'd taken the day off from his job at Ace Hardware to try to make a bit of extra money from tourists. He even called in to Ace Hardware to drive past the front door and honk the horn at his workmates to show them that he was actually working. Everywhere we drove was lush with a profusion of tropical plants and trees. Gardening seems to be a common pass time; the majority of the gardens were very neat and almost every house was growing bananas and vegetables. The two hour "tour" cost $40; I'm sure I could have bargained this amount down as there were other drivers at the wharf offering $15 per hour; but I wasn't inclined to quibble about $10 and the driver certainly needed the money more than me. Pago Pago was a very pleasant surprise to me. The island is ruggedly mountainous and the harbour is as beautiful a place as you'll ever see. But be warned; during the rainy season from December to March the rainfall is measured in metres. Suva Fiji I didn't do an organised tour here. Beaches, swimming and coral are at least 45 minutes drive from Suva; west to the Coral Coast. The ship was in Suva on a Sunday and there isn't much to do in the city of Suva on a Sunday. At 9am when I went for a walk there were three places of business open and one of them was McDonalds. I last visited Suva in 1973 and the only changes in appearance have been for the worse. There are still some colonial era buildings in the city but most have been replaced by generic multi floor buildings that could have been built anywhere and are not sympathetic to, or suitable for, the climate or the location. I went for another walk later in the day and there were more shops open; but unless you wanted to buy clothes or souvenirs there wasn't much to interest the passengers. Probably the most diverting sight I saw was a group of workers painting road markings on the road along the harbour front. There was no machine being used; they were doing it with paint brushes and tins of paint. This meant that it was very tedious work. Passengers stopped to watch and take photos. Once the workmen realised that they were the centre of attention they became more fastidious with their brush strokes. We had been warned to be careful if we wandered away from the main streets; there have been instances of passengers from ships being robbed. A couple of weeks in a secure environment like the Volendam does slightly dull your senses as far as watching out for unexpected dangers. Port Vila Vanuatu The ship docked about 2.5km from the town centre. As the passengers exited the port gate we were surrounded by taxi drivers and tour guides. It looked like every motorized vehicle in Vila was at the gates looking for someone to take for a ride (both literally and figuratively). The recommended fare for the journey to town, one way, is USD15; which I thought a bit steep for the distance although I could have reduced that amount by sharing. Although in the mob outside the gate I heard the trip being offered for USD5 by the more enterprising or desperate drivers. Also outside the port gate, along both sides of the road to the town for about 400m, there were scores of stalls all selling essentially the same trinkets, clothes and other stuff that the locals hope that heat affected tourists will think it essential to buy. I decided to walk to the town centre as I was a bit sick of walking in a circle on deck 3. The local government obviously doesn't have enough money to properly maintain the roads so they certainly don't have any money to splash out on footpaths; it was a walk and sometimes a scramble around to the town. The shops were a mixture of "duty free" ranging from the air conditioned to the dim and dingy as well as lots of souvenir and clothing shops that are all selling the same stock. There were a few cafes and restaurants but nothing that was particularly appealing. I went into a supermarket. To remind visitors that Vanuatu was formerly jointly administered by the French and the British (an unusual arrangement known as a condominium) there was a large display of tinned meat, advertised with the slogan "tin meat blong Vanuatu" and not too far away a tempting display of French breads and pastries. The most common form of commerce was people sitting under umbrellas or in small booths selling mobile phone credit. I must have walked past ten before I turned around to go back to the ship. This is in addition to every other shop also advertising mobile phone credits. The Vanuatu market was in a large open-sided structure in the main street. Fruit and vegetables were for sale; the most popular items being bananas, coconuts, yams, taro and sweet potato. The vendors looked like they are well-used to having their photos taken tourists who don't buy anything. Surprisingly, a significant proportion of the passengers walking around at these tropical ports are not wearing hats. Unsurprisingly, there are many sunburnt people at the end of each day in port. Easo Lifou Island New Caledonia Lifou Island is part of New Caledonia and about 150km North East of Noumea. Easo is a very small village on the North West coast of Lifou. The ship anchored at 7am about 1km offshore in the bluest water i've ever seen and the passengers went ashore in four of the life boats. I decided to go ashore as soon as possible, which was about 8.15am, because it was very windy and I thought that it might get so windy that they would stop passengers from going ashore. We landed at a jetty on a beach that was about 500m long. It is the only beach on this side of the island as far as I can see; and that's probably about 10km from the top deck of the ship. I walked up to the church on the promontory that we could see clearly from the ship. The path wasn't too steep. The statue on the roof of the church was blown into the sea during a cyclone some years ago and the locals thought it was lost forever. However, scuba divers visiting the island found the statue and using large air lift bags raised the statue to the surface and somehow got it ashore, up the hill and back on to the roof. I then walked to a small bay across the promontory from where I had come ashore (the promontory being only 500m wide at that point). This bay had only a tiny beach that was difficult to get down to but the whole bay was filled with coral sitting in water that was as clear as gin. Steps down on to the beach and into the water are being constructed but are currently roped off with a 'do not enter' sign; this was ignored by all visitors. The locals were offering for sale much the same merchandise that I'd seen for sale at the last three ports, except this all had "greetings from Lifou" on it. There was also food for sale. Being part of New Caledonia and therefore part of France, the food included baguettes and quiche. On my first visit ashore I went for a swim and the water was surprisingly "refreshing"; other passengers said it was cold. The beach was sand but once in the water it was mostly broken coral underfoot. This place is very beautiful and with crystal clear water, a white beach and coral it is what most people would imagine a South Pacific paradise to be. At 5pm the ship lifted its anchor and we started towards Noumea. Thursday Noumea New Caledonia New Caledonia is a department of France, so the residents behave, justifiably, as though they are living in France. Although the local currency is not the Euro; New Caledonia has its own currency; the CFP (central pacific franc; about 100 francs to AUD1.00). The ship docked at the cruise terminal is really just a large shelter and inside there were lots of locals eager to sell tickets for tours. There were not, unlike Pago Pago, Suva and Vila any taxi drivers or other locals touting for business. I went for a walk around the city for a couple of hours and then came back to the ship. I didn't get back on board as I was persuaded to buy a ticket for a one hour tour that was leaving immediately. There were only two other tourists and me in an eight seat mini bus. Philippe the driver had obviously done this tour more times that he can remember and would say "on your right" or "on your left" while himself looking in the opposite direction. We stopped a couple of times to take photos but otherwise just drove around. A more popular option was on the yellow 'train'; a road going set of small wagons pulled by a tractor disguised as a locomotive. This has the advantage that the sides are open and it doesn't go very fast. You can also buy "hop on hop off" tickets for a bus that stops at about 20 places on a route around Noumea. Place des Cocotiers is the park which forms the central square of the city. This is a pleasant space with lots of shade trees and places to sit comfortably out of the sun. On the day I was market stalls had been set up. This is was coincidental with the visit of the Volendam and the goods for sale were intended for locals rather than tourists; eg whole fresh fish and other food. There is a morning market (closes at 11am) about 500m from the dock; turn right out of the terminal and keep walking around the waterfront. Based on less than a day here, I quite like Noumea. Perhaps because it is a place that has other things to do apart from cater to the needs of the passengers on the ship. In the previous three ports of call it seemed like if the ship hadn't been in port then it wouldn't have been worth it for the locals to get out of bed that day. In Noumea the visit of the ship is just another thing that is happening today. Although I certainly stand out as a visitor, because I'm lighter skinned than the native population and not as smartly dressed as the European population, I haven't been subject today to the constant questioning about my requirements regarding clothes that I'd never wear, shops, transport, hair braiding (seriously, the last time I could have been legitimately asked this question was 1974), massages, wooden curios of all sizes and shapes, postcards of places I haven't been to and tours to places I don't want to visit. Disembarkation Given the choice of first, middle or last disembarkation time I choose the middle time; 8-8.30; as I didn't need to go to the airport and wanted to make sure that I enjoyed my last breakfast that someone else is cooking for me. Australian Immigration officials got on the ship in Noumea and spent most of a day processing everyone's arrival documentation. The night before arrival in Sydney a personalised disembarkation envelope was delivered to my cabin with my leaving time, 8.15am, and coloured baggage tags for that time. The ship entered Sydney Harbour at 5.30am, just before sunrise, and sailed slowly down the harbour to berth at Circular Quay, opposite the Opera House and next to the Harbour Bridge, at 6.30am. There was a delay of about 15 minutes leaving the ship due to a hold up with unloading the baggage. During the delay announcements were frequently made so that those departing knew what was going on and could wait somewhere comfortable rather than crowding the gangway. Overall Impression The cruise was a delight, although it took me about a week to slow down and adjust to life on board. Activities were exceptionally well organised by pleasant, intelligent and approachable staff, led by Tamaryn Hurly the Cruise Director. The hotel staff were all fantastic and no sensible request that I heard made was ever left unsatisfied. After reading some less than enthusiastic comments in various cruise reviews about the entertainment on board I was very pleasantly surprised at how good it was and how consistently good it was. I will cruise again and I will cruise with Holland America again. What didn't I like - Being a single passenger leads to minor annoyances. For example, like having first course of a meal in the Lido and going to get second course and coming back to my table to find that the table has been cleared; or worse still, coming back and finding table occupied by someone else. In the Main Dining Room for lunch a couple of times and asked for a table for one; although many two person tables available and not many people in the MDR at that time I was given table right next to serving station; I know someone has to get that table but surely it should be the last resort rather than saved for an annoying single person like me. - There was on a couple of occasions I had difficulty in making myself understood with staff. In hindsight I realise I should have spoken a lot more slowly and certainly their English is infinitely better than my Indonesian or Tagalog. That said, the staff are endlessly obliging and constantly cheerful despite very long hours of work each day and very long periods at sea without any home leave. - The relentless promoting by the shops on board; one TV channel is constant promotional material for opals, emeralds, tanzanite etc. (I know, turn off the TV) - The art auction; a careful reading of the promotional material given out by Park West Gallery shows that most of the material being offered are not unique works of art in the generally accepted use of those words. For example, the word Giclee is used to describe the material of many works; this is a fancy word used for photos printed by an ink jet printer. The works are then hand signed by the artist or "hand embellished" as though this makes the piece an original work of art; I suppose it is original in that no two printed and signed pieces will be exactly the same but the less knowledgeable passenger may think they are getting a one-off piece of art work that has some possibility of increasing in value. Avoid! - The service charge; I paid it simply because I felt that if I didn't then those who made my cruise good for me wouldn't be sufficiently rewarded, especially those who I didn't get to see like the kitchen staff and the guy who made sure the hot water kept working. HAL should just increase the price of tickets by the same amount and stop guilt tripping passengers into paying this charge as though they have a real choice. I separately gave cash tips to those staff who I felt added something extra to my cruise; room stewards (at start and end of cruise); bar staff and the young lady who served the ice cream in the Lido. Read Less
Sail Date September 2012
This was our first cruise and we choose it because we wanted to see Alaska. After researching the different cruise lines we choose HAL because of traveller reviews and because it went to Glacier Bay. We also wanted a real looking ship and ... Read More
This was our first cruise and we choose it because we wanted to see Alaska. After researching the different cruise lines we choose HAL because of traveller reviews and because it went to Glacier Bay. We also wanted a real looking ship and not a floating hotel. We didn't know what to expect as it was our first cruise and we weren't sure that we would be 'cruise people'. However we were won over the minute we stepped aboard. The cruise company went out of its way to make people feel welcome and everybody was so friendly and helpful. Every little detail seemed to have been thought of from the supply of bottle water and fruit to the cabin to the strict hygiene procedures onboard. The service staff are mostly Indonesian and were always smiling and helpful and very efficient. The staff work extremely long hours and I would imagine that their pay is quite low but my impression is that HAL do treat them better than many cruise lines. I certainly didn't begrudge the $11.50 daily automatic gratuity that the cruise line charged each passenger. We had a outside stateroom on the Dolphin deck. We choose this particular cabin as it was midships which we were told was less likely to be affected by the ships motion or by engine noise. We certainly had no problems although we never encountered rough seas so it wasn't a big test of our choice. The cabin was fine with comfortable beds and decent size bathroom. There was plenty of storage space and the air conditioning worked well (although not sure what it would be like if the weather was really hot). The only thing missing was a kettle so we could make a cup of tea first thing in the morning. But that is because we are English! One of the nice things about this ship was the fact that it was classless and if you paid more all that you got extra was a better cabin. All passengers could go to any restaurant as long as they wore smart clothes in the main restaurant for the formal nights. We tended to go to the self-service Lido restaurant for breakfast and lunch and the main dining room for dinner. The food in both these restaurants was amazing not just in the quality but in the quantity. In the main restaurant the food and the service was definitely 5-star. There was no pressure to buy the expensive wine and in fact many people seemed to be just drinking water. The only issue we had with the main dining room was that when we booked a table each night we were only given a choice of 5.30 or 8 pm. We normally prefer to sit down around 7 as 8 is a bit late and 5.30 too early. On reflection what we could have done is not book but turn up at the time we wanted. There were lots to do on the ship and we never got bored. The formal evening entertainment was what we expected -- a bit upmarket Butlins! However generally it was of good quality and worth spending an hour before retiring to one of several bars where musical entertainment was provided. For those who like going to classes there was a good choice during the day. There was also a good sized gym with amazing views. There was a couple of heated pools but they weren't used much on this trip mainly due to the cool weather (it was the last sailing in September). The shore excursions were expensive and we only went on one which was a whale watching one. This was an excellent trip and we saw many whales and other wildlife. However I believe that many 'seasoned' travellers book trips on arrival at a port which are considerably cheaper. Apart from Skagway we weren't that impressed with the ports we stopped at.However the main reason for going on this cruise was the amazing scenery. We werent disappointed although the fog spoilt things to some extent.The icing on the cake was the cruise into Glacier Bay. The captain took us close into John Hudson glacier which was simply incredible. We have hundreds of pictures but no picture can do justice to the sights and sounds of the glacier calving. All in all a wonderful trip and we are now thinking of what other cruise to go on with Holland America! Read Less
Sail Date September 2012
NOTE: This was my second cruise to Alaska, but the first for my husband. (Ironically my first Alaska cruise was on the old Statendam after it was sold to the Paquet Line and renamed Rhapsody. She was still a lady.) Our trip started ... Read More
NOTE: This was my second cruise to Alaska, but the first for my husband. (Ironically my first Alaska cruise was on the old Statendam after it was sold to the Paquet Line and renamed Rhapsody. She was still a lady.) Our trip started shakily. We were an hour late out of Chicago heading for Dallas-Ft Worth. Needing to avoid a big storm meant we had to land in Wichita Falls, Texas to get more fuel. That was another hour out of our 3 hr dinner layover. On arrival we raced from Terminal A to D, well the Skytrain did most of the racing, and made our plane. We landed on time in Vancouver in the middle of another big storm. Then waited 2 hours for our luggage because the lightening made it too dangerous for the luggage folk to be out and about. AND we made it LOL The rest was smooth sailing, so to speak. The Metropolitan Hotel was great and just up the street from the cruise terminal, but with luggage we took a taxi. Canada Place is glorious on the outside and totally utilitarian on the inside. And it works. How well it works: on our return we exited the ship, cleared formalities, found our luggage and took a taxi to our hotel. The total elapsed time was 45 minutes. I cannot say enough good things about the Volendam. Yes it's a bit worn. No it doesn't have high-end finishes, and you can feel some of the results of the cutbacks enforced by Carnival. But it was CLEAN, the staff were warm, welcoming and helpful. The captain, Peter Bos, is a total rockstar. He got to show his mettle before we even sailed. There was a "situation" on deck 4, which turned out to be a fire in a light fixture. Once the cause was located we were told exactly what was going on. Midships was closed off and embarkation was paused for about an hour or so. He and the crew were totally professional. And the life boat drill was before we sailed and VERY serious as well as organized and there was a second drill for the stragglers. Both drills were repeated when we took on new folk at Skagway. Captain Bos also obviously loves Alaska as he would announce wildlife sightings with evident enthusiasm. Our cabin (DA2550) was perfectly located. I chose better than I knew. Close to the elevator, but not too close. Laundry down the hall on our side. But the best part? At Skagway and Ketchikan all we had to do to exit the ship was go to the stairs and turn right or left. And at Juneau it was just 2 flights of stairs down. It was also very convenient for getting places on the ship. Food started out great, and then, especially in the Lido Cafe, started to look tired and a bit messy, lthough the dining room did pull it together for the last International Night. A word of advice. The stuff they list on the DR menu as available every night has to have been frozen. It was not up to the standard of the rest. And we got tired of the food in general. Another trick is even at open dining you CAN be assigned a table, but they don't guarantee it. I think the key is to wander up to the Dining Room right after boarding. We delayed and ended up at 5:30pm. But we got a table for 2, which we wanted. It wasn't guaranteed, but we had it every night. I think the secret is to be right on time. We had fabulous waiters and were right on the wine station. Not much wine was moving so Emma spent a lot of time talking with us. BTW set dining is on Deck 5 and open seating is on Deck 4. PORTS: Sent husband on the Tracy Arm excursion, which he LOVED, despite low clouds and dreary skies. I got exhausted wandering around Juneau. Didn't get where I wanted, but ended up spending about an hour at the Juneau Arts Community Center talking to people. We had a late lunch at the Red Dog Saloon, which was both hokey and fun. In Skagway we did the RT White Rail Pass train ride, which was just perfect. It was also our best weather day, although it did turn cloudy later. I'm glad we took the advice that the morning train tour tends to have better weather. The guide on the train PA system was excellent. We ate at Skagway Brewing Co. at Broadway and 7th st, right where downtown ends and houses begin. Skagway looks like what Disneyland Main Street would if Walt had been born in Alaska. It is a bit of a hike back to the pier, BUT you could get off the train at 2nd & B'way on the train's return trip instead of going back to the pier, so that cut off some walking. What can I say? We had crappy weather for Glacier Bay. So we decided that "mysteriously brooding" was a good thing. It was pretty cold. Irish coffees were consumed. Our rangers were delightful young women, who obviously love their work. And Captain Bos was getting us pretty close for our size and pointing out the wildlife. Did I say he was a rock star? Then, of course, Ketchikan gave us "liquid sunshine." Alas the Misty Fjords floatplane excursion was canceled (with an immediate and automatic refund that paid much of the bar bill) so we just wandered around. I had taken the floatplane trip on my first Alaska cruise and recommend it highly. It's not inexpensive, but it's hard to put a price on landing on a mountain lake and hearing the silence when the engines are turned off. We ate lunch at Alaska Fish House, which was local and fun. And then we "discovered" the SE Alaska Discovery Center. $5. gets you a beautiful 20 minute movie on the Tongass, a small area of nicely done exhibits on the ecosystem and native life, and a free DVD if you ask. We did give a contribution though. The people were just plain nice. It's well done. The recent upgrades at the Center were courtesy of the Recovery Act. Personally I thought it was a better investment than the lumberjack show, but each to their own. The Culinary Arts program is obviously designed to shill for the Pinnacle Grill and heavily weighted (pun intended) towards chocolate and desserts, but the two sessions I attended were well done and we got to taste the food. It's a nice activity to have for an at-sea day. One thing I LOVED was that, rather than one big cocktail lounge there were lots of little nooks and places for drinks, coffee, reading, internet. We hung out on deck 5 a lot. I had acupuncture and a hot stone massage in the spa.The first opened up a whole new world to me. The second was a bit more vigorous than what I expected. They were pricey, especially compared to my current acupuncturist. The entertainment was ordinary and the cruise director wasn't my favorite one in my cruising history, but on the whole you can just ignore that part, which we did after the first night. I've been on more upscale cruise lines (Royal Viking Sea, NA Vistafjord and QE II as well as some more entry level ones, but the comfort of the Holland America middle-of the-road product suits our temperament and we will return, hopefully again and again:) Read Less
Sail Date August 2012
We flew to Vancouver the night before the cruise, arriving at our hotel shortly after midnight. We stayed at the Accent Inn Richmond - an airport hotel. We paid about $110 for a room with two double beds. The Accent Inn is like an old ... Read More
We flew to Vancouver the night before the cruise, arriving at our hotel shortly after midnight. We stayed at the Accent Inn Richmond - an airport hotel. We paid about $110 for a room with two double beds. The Accent Inn is like an old style two floor motor inn. In other words, there is nothing fancy. Just a decent motel with a comfortable bed. The bathroom was clean. There is an IHOP on the property for breakfast. There is a free shuttle from the airport. This same complimentary shuttle took us to the SkyTrain the following morning. For just over $7, our party of two took the SkyTrain directly to the Waterfront/Canada Place. You can't beat it. It's fast, efficient, and clean. We used the SkyTrain again on our last day to get from Canada Place to the airport. Again, $7 for two. We loved cruising out of Vancouver - a beautiful, friendly, clean, laid back city. The sun was shining on our embarkation day. Our room was ready when we boarded at eleven thirty. Our room was always clean. Our room stewards were friendly and efficient. There were towel animals every night. Our trip up the inside passage on Day Two was lovely. The weather was great. I actually got quite sunburned. Definitely pack sunscreen. Our ports were Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan. Without getting into too much detail, we did a whale watching excursion with Harv and Marv (Capt. Shawn). We saw plenty of whales and some sea lions. Great excursion. After the excursion, we had a drink at the Red Dog Saloon and headed back to the ship for a late dinner. In Skagway, we rented a car from Avis and drove ourselves to Emerald Lake. I would totally do this again. The car rental was just over $110 plus $19 to refill the tank upon returning the car. The highway is great and easy to follow. We had paid $5 to purchase "Murray's Guide" and followed it easily. The scenery was magnificent, and again, we had fabulous weather. There are many safe places to pull into if you want to take photographs. You can drive the highway at your own pace, stopping when you want to. You aren't beholden to any one's schedule. We stopped at a suspension bridge en route for snacks and a bathroom. I wish I could remember the name of the place and the lovely people who operate it. There is a beautiful dog named Jax, a golden retriever, who acts as primary greeter. We stayed there for a while. There is an historical exhibit about mining, etc. There is also a cool suspension bridge. If you have Murray's Guide, you get in for half price. It was very reasonable. There is a new restaurant there, but we bought only some great snacks. Great gift shop. The bathrooms, by the way, were spotless. On we went. We stopped at Carcross for lunch and bought great homemade soup and sandwiches at the Authentic Sour Dough Bakery. Delicious food and good prices. Desserts were to die for. Emerald Lake was as beautiful as the photos suggest. We had plenty of time and could have continued all the way to Whitehorse had we wanted to. Instead, we allowed for more time to browse through the shops in Skagway. I'd do the day again in a minute. Our final port was Ketchikan, where we browsed the shops. There is a great bookstore called Parnassus Books. We walked along Creek Street, watched people fish, walked to the Eagle Reserve and Salmon Hatchery and did the quick tour, then headed back to Creek Street for lunch. We took the "cable car" (can't remember the proper name) up to a hotel/restaurant for lunch. Terrific halibut and chips for lunch. On the way back to town, we saw a bear. There are lots of shops to wander through in Ketchikan too. Our day in Glacier Bay was magnificent. It's great having the Park Rangers aboard to explain what you're seeing. Not to rub it in, but again, the weather was sunny and decently warm. Our final sea day was very relaxing. The British Columbia scenery is just beautiful. What a glorious province. This was our first Alaskan cruise, but it definitely won't be our last. Final thoughts on the ship and its crew: Peter Bos, the captain, is first class. We appreciated his enthusiasm for the environment, the landscape, and the wildlife. Of all the captains we've had, he understands how to use the public address system. Many cruise directors should take a master class with him. The sense of well-being among the crew members was obvious. It was a happy place to be. The dining room was mostly okay. Fish was generally always good. Meat not so much so. Breakfasts and lunches were always very good. We ate in the Italian restaurant on our final evening and it was wonderful. In all dining venues, the service was very good. I wish I could comment on nightlife, but we tended to eat late and then retire to bed fairly early - our internal clocks were still in the east coast time zone! There were many places to hang out. The Crow's Nest has great views. The library on the Volendam is the best I have seen on eight cruises. The books are abundant and suitable for many readers. There are board games, puzzles, etc. This is also the location for the internet cafe. There was always someone there to help. We even had some excitement on our cruise as we rescued about 80 people whose tourist ship had hit some rocks and were taking on water. The Volendam's Captain and crew handled the whole situation calmly and professionally. In talking to many of the people that afternoon as we cruised Glacier Bay, they were grateful for our help. All in all, we were so happy with our cruise. I think that if you plan ahead and do your research, the whole process is easier. Thanks for all of the great advice I read on Cruise Critic. It really helped. Read Less
Sail Date August 2012
Many thanks to the great reviews on this and other sites. All that info really helped preparing for my first ever cruise. Here is a 1-minute review for those who are in a hurry to book their next cruise: Our experience with Holland ... Read More
Many thanks to the great reviews on this and other sites. All that info really helped preparing for my first ever cruise. Here is a 1-minute review for those who are in a hurry to book their next cruise: Our experience with Holland America was all about Luxury, comfort, extremely detailed planning by HAL and perfect execution of every aspect of the cruise, from before boarding through the daily schedules to disembarkation and beyond. Excellent route choice and a perfect balance of at-sea versus port-of-call days, allocation of resources on the infrastructure side (very short waiting time for any consumable, elevators, restaurants, ample and comfortable seating at the theaters and elsewhere on the ship), as well as a personal service level by the best and friendliest staff I could imagine. If you can afford the expense, you'll get your money's worth with HAL cruising Alaska. (and no, I am not affiliated with HAL, I have my own daytime job at a very ground-based company :) ). And for the detail oriented future travelers: Shopping for the Cruise: Expedia, Priceline and other mega travel sites did not offer the best choice on Cruise prices. Other less known online travel agencies had prices at 10-15% discount on the exact same cruise lines, cabins, cabin credits, and sail dates. That's very significant considering the cost of a cruise (more on total cruise costs below). Booking your Summer Cruise 6+ months before cruise date has its advantages. Better cabin selection for example + a $300 credit per cabin if booked by end of February in our case. No gimmicks. On March 1st and later, the credit offered went down to $50 credit per cabin. When you book your trip, you are asked to pay around 10% of the full price, and the balance payable about 2 months before the Cruise date. Cancellation insurance is an additional 7% ($80 on $1150 per person per cabin). Or you could decide to shop for bargains just a few weeks ahead of time. If you are flexible on dates, cruise lines, departure ports, and OK with fewer cabin choices, you can find excellent deals at real discounts of 40-50% off the full price. but, not on all cruise lines.. As a reference, in our case, the price on the specific HAL cruise we had paid for 4 months earlier was still the exact same price 4 weeks before actual departure. (yet, other dates/cruise lines could save you half off for a similar itinerary!). Preparations: Here is a list of items we took with us based on other members recommendations and our own needs + comments on usability in the aftermath. Flashlights - Never used those on or off the ship. Might be handy in case of a very unlikely total power outage. A power strip w/surge protection - very handy because the cabins only have 2 power outlets. Waterproof laynards - Never used those. On the ship we carried the HAL Cards in a wallet and off ship a purse/bag did the trick for anything we wanted to shlep around. My Cellphone served as the camera/video recorder proved and was invaluable for such a trip. (also used it as the video editor). - An extended charged battery or a second one are very useful too. Netbook - even away from wifi it was very useful as an eReader + to write emails for later or portions of this review. DVD Burner - My parents were delighted to get a nicely edited DVD on the final cruise day to take with on their flight back home. We also took an additional camera as a backup. You just can't afford to miss photographing the amazing sights of Alaska's nature. Ginger candy - Some say Ginger helps with sea sickness. Never came close to even considering these. The waters was mirror-calm. Walkie Talkies - We did not get any. Not even one passenger carried those with them. Effectiveness is doubtful through the metal structures of the ship anyway(?) Scarf, Coat w/Hood, Gloves - a must, especially on days when you want to be on the open decks for uninterrupted views of the incredible Glaciers and other sights. Water-tight shoes - never needed those. The most we had was light rain/drizzle in Ketchikan. Wrist watch w/alarm - No alarms clocks in the cabins. But you probably have your own watch or use your cellphone. A day ahead of the cruise: We flew in from California a day ahead of the cruise to enjoy Vancouver for a day (it deserves more!), also to make sure we don't miss our ship, and to allow our suitcases to catch up with us should they be delayed for whatever reason by the airlines. As far as hotel bookings go, this is one of the best sites I could find for hotels: trivago. For US travelers who just want the cruise, the better option is to take a 7-day Inside Passage from Seattle instead of Vancouver. Not only is the itinerary identical, but it can save you on flight costs, time, and more importantly eliminate all the overhead associated with Immigration: Going through Vancouver means doing Immigration from the US to Canada,then Canada to US (for the cruise), then 2 more times on disembarkation and flying back to the US. Cruising to Alaska from San Francisco is an option too,which we readily abandoned after learning from first hand experiences of colleagues at work (a lengthy 10 day cruise with many days in the open ocean affected by waves. Limited selection of cruise lines.Not the best route in Alaska). But do your own checks of course. Boarding.. The process was a breeze. Very efficient all around from the moment you reach the beautiful 'Canada Place' Cruise terminal, hand over the suitcases at the curb, and head toward Immigration (Canada to US). The next quick step is check in at the HAL desks to get your personal plastic Card to use as your stateroom key, ID, and for payments while on the ship. --> The cruise ship left dock at 4:15PM! - Note that you can board as early as Noon, and head straight to the excellent Lido buffet which is waiting for you.. Then by the time you go to your stateroom an hour later or so, the suitcases are already in there. Nice. Disembarkation.. Again, very efficient. Prepare your suitcases the evening before you get off the ship. Put them outside your room by Midnight, and they appear at the waiting area off the ship. You get special colored/numbered tags for that part of the process that also tells you when it's your time to get off the ship. And everything in between.. : The ship: We loved everything about the ship. The decorative elements. The artwork and flower arrangements everywhere. The carpeting and trims on the walls and windows and stairwells and elevators. Everything felt very luxurious. There are many different areas you can hang in and relax in semi private settings too: The beautiful Explorer's Cafe and Internet areas (1 min internet connection goes for 75c). The comfy Library area with a surprisingly up to date and varied selection of books, Magazines and Newspapers. And many other areas like a Tea bar section, or other areas on Decks 4,5,8,9 both indoors with large windows, or outdoors on Deck 8 at the pool/spa area or at rear deck pool area, or the front of the ship, both wide open to the elements and unobstructed views 24 hour/day. We would be hard pressed to believe that there were 1500 passengers and 600 crew members on board. You never felt crowded, and always had areas where you could just kick back, relax and read or nap with your eyes open while looking at the scenic views that only the inside passage can offer. The Staterooms: My parents stayed at a full Ocean View cabin,while we stayed at an inside room (my wife's choice). Both were on Deck 2 (Main Promenade). The rooms are not spacious, but very functional. Very comfortable beds and pillows with good air-conditioning, 32" flat-screen TV and a DVD player. The power outlets have both 115v and 220v, but only 2 in a cabin. (bring a power strip or just an in-the-wall splitter to charge all of your electronics at once). The Ocean View cabin has a bathtub. The inside cabin only a shower. The hot water comes out instantaneously and with good pressure. Can't complain about that! - Shampoo, Conditioner and soap dispenser unit is affixed to the wall. Very good quality of all 3. There is a wall mounted hair dryer in the bathroom and another portable electric one at the drawer in the room. Great sound insulation too. The rooms were VERY quite. We never heard a sound from other rooms and all were occupied. The ship's 57,909 HP engines were doing their job but we did not notice much vibrations or noise in that respect. The closets provide ample space, enough to stash your suitcases away too. They are also modular and can be set to different configurations for your wardrobe. The safe in the closet is pretty large, good enough to hold our two 12" Netbooks and much more room. They are easy to open/close by just sliding any credit card (no fee) in the slot. The Crew: -- I can't say enough praise for the Service crew!!! - We met the most wonderful, warm, thoughtful and caring service providers anywhere we went on the ship. They are not only service minded for a moment, but connect instantly and offer options or ask about preferences that did not even occur to us. Considering the fact that they only have you for 7 days before a new round of passengers comes aboard, you would expect them to be more distant or formal. But that's not the case. We got to know some of them by name from day one and they remember yours too. Amazing. Remember that there are 1500 passengers on board!! . The servers at the oh-so-beautiful Rotterdam restaurant (free to dine, just make a reservation), remembered our names and our preferences of drinks after just one visit there. The service teams are mostly from the Philippines or Indonesia. Many of them work the cruise lines for years. It's no easy job. During the cruising season they work 7 days a week non stop for 3+ months, before having a break and joining the ship for cruises on other parts of the world. Obviously they only see their families a couple of times a year. It was very interesting talking to them. I noticed other passengers engaging in conversations with them too. Some gave them personal tips at the last day, but you don't need to and can still feel good about that (read below). -- The managing teams: Those are mostly Dutch, British or Australian. The captain did a fabulous job, and the totally calmed waters probably helped towards that end. The captain messages were informative and interesting but kept to a minimum and only came on after 9:30AM in the speaker systems. It all felt very professional as far as getting to port of calls, timely departures, slowing down along beautiful scenery, and coming to full stop in front of Glaciers for as long as needed to allow everyone to absorb the magnificent sights. The passengers: Coming form the nicely diversified Bay area of San Francisco, the mix was a bit of a surprise to us. 85% or so were US/Canadian and others of European/British heritage. Only about 6 people of African origin and 10% of Indian-Asian descent. The age groups were predominantly retirees, about 20% 20-60 year old and ~20 kids which considering the fact school year was just starting made a lot of sense. Everyone was very polite, quite and easy to talk too. You did have a lot of personal space and we mostly talked to other passengers during special Tea hours or other small group events. The Food, oh the food: First, it's a myth that you have food 24 hours. There were no open buffets from 1AM to5 AM.. hmm, just kidding. From the moment you board to the moment you disembark, you can indulge yourself in a fantastic culinary adventure. Board as early at noon on departure day and head straight to the Lido buffet on Deck 8. Two identical lines of rich,varied and plentiful ready made or made-to-order plates are available. From appetizers to bread rolls to fruit plates to main courses to the many desserts - the Lido has it all. On the first 2 days you are served and cannot pick food or drinks by yourself to prevent the spread of illnesses. The lines were very short and there is ample seating available indoors or outside by the pool. We also tried the wonderful Rotterdam restaurant - free breakfast and dinners too - and found even more exclusive items on the menu that were irresistible. We went there several times for both Breakfast and Dinner during the 7-day cruise. Then there are the 'specials' - the food fests. Either a BBQ by the pool one evening, or the Philippine/Indonesian feasts on another and more surprises that keep you form ever getting bored. You can also take advantage of room service and have breakfast in your stateroom (no extra charge). That was a nice arrangement and they did not miss even one of the items we ordered. Everything arrived super-fresh and hot. Troubleshooting: The only 2 issues we had were with the air-conditioning in the room that was not cooling enough. We called the Front Desk and someone came and fixed it within 1 hour. We also called to have a breakfast tray picked up but no one came after an hour. Turned out that we needed to call some other number instead of the Front Desk. Once we did the tray was picked up 15 min later. Another passenger had what seemed like a water flow in the room down the corridor from us and a crew was on it before we even knew anything was going on, with blowers to dry the corridor and the passengers moved to another stateroom. Ports of Call: Juneau -- You arrive at 1PM and depart at 10PM, but the useful hours for in town activities actually end by 5-6PM when the Museum and surprisingly many stores close for the day. So, make sure to disembark at 1PM. We highly recommend the Alaska Museum and also the trip to the Mendenhall glacier. We opted for a round-trip with one of the local bus operators that have booths right where the ship docks. It's $16 round trip per person for a 20 min ride. The bus driver was very funny, helpful and knowledgeable. The last bus left at 3:30PM and the last returning bus from the glacier at 5:00PM. The trip is well worth it. There is a beautiful visitor center with fantastic views of the Glacier, as well as an elevated nature path above Salmon spawning areas and the Bears are right there too. We will always remember one mature bear with her 2 cubs hunting for Salmon and picking berries from the bushes. And they were just 100 feet away from us (but safely below the elevated wooden path). Skagway -- I could not visit the town because of a minor cold, but my parents took the Train trip up the mountains and found it interesting, although at $125/pp for the 2 hour round trip felt that it was a bit pricey. (The tickets on board the ship were only selling at a $5 premium - $130/pp). My wife chose to check out the stores for freebies and some small items to take home. If you are into Jewelry shopping, not only is there a 'motivational' 1+ hour presentation at the theater on board the ship, but you are also flooded with coupon books and free-gifts info to lure you into shops at all 3 ports. (not our thing but it is a revenue generating machine for the ships and apparently there are enough passengers that do go for that) Ketchikan -- We took a 2 hour tour with a local operator that takes you to places where Salmon come to spawn (and die) and others where Bear meet Salmon, and for a drive along the coast line for possible views of Whales and assured sights of Bald Eagles. They also stopped at the Totem pole Park which we did not find interesting. The final drop off point was Creek Street that makes for interesting photos with the houses built against the side of the very steep hillside and above the river. The trip cost $60/pp and included the fee for the Totem pole park and Dolly's house. Fees and expenses: So, you paid for a cruise. How much more will it really cost you? Aside from the cost of flights and lodging, should you decide to arrive ahead of the cruise or stay after, you are also going to be charged about $100/pp in gratuities at the end of the cruise. It goes without saying that you never really need to leave 'tips' while on the ship. It's all taken care of collectively. (assuming $100/pp for 1500 passengers,divided by 600 crew members and you can see that it averages $900 of tips per crew member per month. So feel good about the service and enjoy it all). It is all charged automatically to the Credit Card you provide at online check-in. Other expenses can be for wine bottles or wine by the glass, and for excursions you chose to take that can range from a basic ride around a town for $50/pp to Helicopter rides to remote glaciers which can run you $500/pp. Final notes: The numerous activities available daily on the ship were more than any person can do in one cruise. You are guaranteed to find whatever floats your boat, and the well laid out daily 'Newspaper' delivered every evening to your room, lists all the activities for the following day along with Weather forecast and other interesting facts. You can chose to work out everyday in the well equipped Gym or do anything at all. Whatever makes you happy. We saw Orca whales and some were breaching on our second day at sea. Bears hunting for Salmon. Large chunks of ice breaking off Glaciers and crushing with loud noise into the waters, many sea birds, and Bald Eagles, and pristine wilderness of forests and snow covered mountains. Everything was very unique - a true Alaskan experience and all from the comfort of a modern ship. There are many more details to the trip and surprises to enjoy, but better leave the discoveries for you. This was my first cruise, and now I know there will be more. Maybe even a repeat cruise of the Inside Passage in Alaska. It was that good. Happy cruising. Read Less
Sail Date August 2012
Just got off the Volendam Inside Passage Alaskan Cruise - Very impressed with the experience! If you want a NICE spacious room the deluxe verandah suite is amazing. The layout is so efficient. The dressing room area was GREAT, the bathroom ... Read More
Just got off the Volendam Inside Passage Alaskan Cruise - Very impressed with the experience! If you want a NICE spacious room the deluxe verandah suite is amazing. The layout is so efficient. The dressing room area was GREAT, the bathroom is standard really, but the overall room just makes up for the standard bath/shower. The balcony AMAZING AND HUGE! Great table and chairs, chaise lounges. We often had 3 other couples over for wine and cheese, even dinner or lunch because the views were so pretty we didn't want to miss them sitting in a dining room or lido deck with crowds. If you have the money to get the deluxe suite, DO IT. The neptune lounge is well worth the dollars because of the amazing service. You never have to go to the front desk, the neptune lounge attendants cater to your every needs! The coffee machine alone was great every morning. They offer breakfast items , snacks all day and you can order from the main dining room menu breakfast, lunch and dinner the whole cruise. Do tea service during a day at sea- really good. The only complaint about our room was the lido deck is over head and you can hear people move tables and chairs often - it was a pain, but the service and room were so good I just drank more wine and looked for whales and bears! Our friends had the penthouse and they complained about vibrations at night when crusing. But their room was superb. The captain Peter Bos is BIG into wildlife so if you want to see animals, this is YOUR cruise. He also got close to the shore often and made the cruise so much better. If you luck out and get christine in the neptune lounge, you are set. The inside passage was wonderful if you like days at sea. We saw many whales, orca, bear,eagles all from our balcony! Juneau was great to whale watch, buy that excursion! You can also get one at port that puts you in a small boat wtih only 6 people, our friends did this and had a great review. we took a taxi to mendenhall glacier and hiked to the waterfall and watched salmon, great park! don't do a tour, go on your own! Tracys Crab Shack by boat was GREAT for king crab legs outside - do it! In my opinion shop in Skagway, the broadway street is fun and some nice shops for soapstone sculptures, fun hats, knives, hoody sweatshirts - all good prices! The White Pass Rail train ride is really nice for great views, but the tour packages where you ride a bus back stopping at "gold rush" towns is cheesy! just ride up and back and save yourself the cheese show - unless you have kids. I wish they offered a more adult train tour! I'm only 40, and was not impressed with the gold dredge stop at all. If you do have kids, then it would be fun for them. Red Onion saloon was a fun stop before heading back to the boat,k and you have a great photo op coming back to the boat in skagway with th e boat in the background to take yourself! Photos on board are 40 per sheet, kinda pricey in my opinion for one pose, but I did buy a couple. Ketchikan, it rained there on us, but we did the fishing camp experience which we really enjoyed and thankfully they provided us with rubber bibs, boots, jackets so the rain was no big deal If you want a REAL fishing exhibition, this is NOT for you, you only fish for rock fish, kinda cheesy, but the camp they take you to is worth the money. It's on an island in the wilderness and just awesome to experience the location and campfire and lunch they make you. while on our skiff we had orca come toward our boat fishing for the same rock fish we were catching so that was way amazing! Also fed an eagle some smaller fish so the lack of salmon and halibut fishing really didn't matter to me. Glacier Bay was very relaxing - We really wanted to get right back on the ship and go again, I am alreayd saving to go again and do a 14 day or 7 day with land trip to denali. I would suggest Holland America find better talent for the music in the bars - the folks playing were not that great and you never really saw crowds gathering - i was told Holland were older folks, but really the people we met on board were wonderful and fun and all ages. They just needed some talent to entertaint them! The food was really really good I will say! We ate the Pinnacle and main dining room a couple times, always impressed. We usually ordered the main dining room menu to our balcony! Food delivered was always hot! The photographers did manage to piss me off as when I was looking at my photos the last night, some rude boy named Adam followed me around like I wanted to steal one! If you want to party at night, this is NOT a cruise for you, FYI. we enjoyed having our friends over to our balcony and did our own party with wine! PS! If you need some wine, go to the liquor store in Vancouver ride across from the Port , great wines and champagnes available! The wine list on board is also very good! Service overall was BEST I 've experience ever on a cruise. Bon voyage! Oh! don't do the yoga, a total rip off, the insturctor was terrible and you do the class in the main gym, no private room for classes. my main complaint really! Read Less
Sail Date August 2012
I am a 3-trip veteran of the Hurtigruten voyages along the coast of Norway & I thought there could be nothing more magnificent...but I just spent 7 days on the MS Volendam, cruising Alaska's Inside Passage and the trip was ... Read More
I am a 3-trip veteran of the Hurtigruten voyages along the coast of Norway & I thought there could be nothing more magnificent...but I just spent 7 days on the MS Volendam, cruising Alaska's Inside Passage and the trip was perfection. The charming, comfortable cabin had ample closet & drawer space for 3 adults. Our quiet verandah gave me restful alone moments with a breathtaking view. We're early risers & on the 1st morning we sampled a 6:00am light breakfast tray ordered from room service. Piping hot coffee, tea & fruited muesli, elegantly served, became our favorite way to begin each day. Food, food,food...morn, noon & night: gourmet delights in the formal dining room - gourmet & comfort food in the casual Lido buffet - afternoon teas, an Indonesian banquet, late night snacks & 24 hr. room service. (For an extra charge there are also 2 elegant, intimate restaurants requiring reservations.) The Alaskan scenery is gorgeous & continuous...no long passages with nothing to see. The cruise itinerary is well planned. 3 fascinating Alaskan ports offering shore excursions so numerous, it's hard to make a choice: ranging from whale watching to a train trip up the old prospectors trail to the Klondike. My adult children took the whale watching & Mendenhall glacier tour out of Juneau, the train trip out of Skagway and in Ketchikan, they went walking about town & up to Saxman Village to see the marvelous totem poles. Even on the day it rained, they found it all exhilarating. There is a day of cruising in the awesome environs of Glacier Bay amid humpback whales, Orcas, porpoises, & sea otters at sea and bears & wolves on shore, watched over by bald eagles perched on the small icebergs. The atmosphere aboard ship was outstanding. Staff & crew were immediately there when you needed but otherwise unobtrusive. And every one of them was friendly, very helpful and always greeted us with a gracious smile. Each day & night there were a myriad of activities for all ages & tastes: entertainment from Broadway-type shows to a string quartet. There were bars & lounges & pools and still there were quiet, unfrequented spaces where someone like me could relax & view the splendor of Alaska sail by. For all the passengers on board, the ship never felt crowded. Yes, there are days when low clouds hang in the valleys and a misty drizzle enshrouds the land, but that is why Alaska is so green and gorgeous. And when the sun comes out it shines on a world that is indescribably beautiful. I am a traveler who likes the feel of traveling. I love to feel the swelling sea. I love to hear the hum and feel the vibrations of the giant pistons and I love to watch the world cruising past. The Volendam has it all. It was a perfect trip even when the Alaskan weather was inclement. Read Less
Sail Date August 2012
Our family took a 7-day 'Inside Passage' cruise, round-trip Vancouver. We loved it! It was our first time visiting Alaska, and our second time cruising with HAL. The scenery was incredible! The Inside Passage of British ... Read More
Our family took a 7-day 'Inside Passage' cruise, round-trip Vancouver. We loved it! It was our first time visiting Alaska, and our second time cruising with HAL. The scenery was incredible! The Inside Passage of British Columbia/Alaska is absolutely stunning! We loved each port: Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan. Very charming places, lots of time in ports to wander around and take excursions if we chose to! Glacier Bay was so beautiful and peaceful! We saw a lot of wildlife on this cruise, from bears to whales. The Volendam ship was wonderful! Very nice, and it was a good size to walk around (not too big). It never felt crowded on the ship, and there were lots of indoor spaces to relax, and outdoor viewing areas for the lovely scenery! The food was great! The staff were helpful, friendly, and kind! Another positive experience with HAL, I will definitely cruise with them again! Alaska is incredible....I hope to visit again in the near future! Read Less
Sail Date August 2012
We stayed in the Pan Pacific in Vancouver, and when we woke up on the day of departure, the Volendam was moored right below our room. Embarkation was straightforward, with the ship's staff being very helpful. My overall impression ... Read More
We stayed in the Pan Pacific in Vancouver, and when we woke up on the day of departure, the Volendam was moored right below our room. Embarkation was straightforward, with the ship's staff being very helpful. My overall impression of the ship is confusing. It's some 11 or 12 years old, had a major refit a few years but has a retro-early 60s feel. The overall theme is flowers, but it's incoherent. The Pinnacle restaurant, the Theatre and the Crow's Nest are probably the smartest parts of the ship; our cabin with its beige/faded ivory bathroom needed freshening up although it was clean and fully functional. We soon found our way around, and took advantage of the open seating in the Rotterdam Restaurant for breakfast and dinner. An early morning tea or coffee with (small) croissants in the cabin was good. The food was generally very good with the breakfasts, steaks and Indian evening being the highlights; the seafood was surprisingly disappointing. Service was prompt and good. Tip: don't take up the offer of bottled water; ask for a jug of regular iced. The cost of drinks (before the 15% surcharge) gave us a fright, though the bottle of gin for $30+ with tonic in the cabin wasn't too bad a deal. The list of on-board activities included wine tasting, but we didn't take it up as it was really expensive for a the selection of bottom of the range/generic wines on offer. We did go to the Alaskan beer tasting, but $15 (+15%) for three small glasses of beer wasn't good value, even though I did win a bottle as a prize. The highlight of the cruise was the scenery and the excursions. The trip on the catamaran into Tracey Arm was superb. Th boat's captain turned of the engine when we were as near as was safe to the Sawyer Glacier, and we could hear the explosions as huge chunks of ice fell off the glacier into the fjord. There were waterfalls, sea eagles, seals and small icebergs - truly memorable experience - and given an edge by the transfer to the catamaran taking place in deep water, not in port! This is a must-do in my opinion. At Skagway, we took the train on the White Pass & Yukon Railway. The weather was superb, and our tour guide said it was first time in years she'd been able to see the peaks and glaciers as there was no rain, clouds or mist. The views are splendid and make for great photos. We went on the early departure, which was a bit of a rush, but did mean the train was not crowded, there were no worries about which side of the train to sit on (left side on the way up) and there was space on the platforms between the carriages. We saw that the next train was really crowded. We had some fun in the Skagway Brewery and met one of the girls from the Red Onion! At Ketchikan, we took the seaplane to the Misty Fjords and returned by boat. The ride in the seaplane was exciting but short (30 mins) and return to Ketchikan took over two by boat. Of the three excursions we took, this was the most expensive by far and the one that fell short of expectation, despite the excellent guide on the boat. If you want to do this excursion, fly out and fly back. Otherwise, save your money. The Volendam's visit to Glacier Bay was exciting. The weather was warm and the glacier was breaking up faster than usual. The top of the bay had far more ice floating on the water than usual. The glacier ice is fresh water at 0�° and the salty sea was a couple of degrees colder, so the ice bergs weren't melting. The captain explained that the Volendam wasn't equipped with a hull suitable for ice-breaking so had to keep off the edge of the ice flows. He did see a mother bear with two cubs off the starboard side and turned the ship completely around to get better view. After they disappeared, he turned the ship around again to continue with the planned route! Our steward and house-keeping were excellent and kept our cabin in forst class order. Would we travel again on the Volendam? Probably not. Would we travel again up the Alaskan coastline? Probably yes!   Read Less
Sail Date July 2012
Our first night out, a pipe burst in the ceiling and water dripped down on the bed, and down the walls. A telephone call to the front desk quickly brought an officer, who arranged a temporary room while the problem was fixed. We were ... Read More
Our first night out, a pipe burst in the ceiling and water dripped down on the bed, and down the walls. A telephone call to the front desk quickly brought an officer, who arranged a temporary room while the problem was fixed. We were moved, temporarily, to an inside cabin designed for the disabled. I liked the walk-in shower better than the tub/shower in our original cabin. The replacement cabin was noisy (engine noise). We only stayed in that cabin for one night, and returned to our original cabin. I appreciated the quick action to resolve the problem. HAL sent a bottle of wine to our cabin by way of apology. Later, we received a personal letter of apology and a credit for $150 which we could apply to our current bill. Returned to our original cabin. - described as obstructed view. Really, was no view, as there was a bulkhead right in front of the window. Not really much different than an inside cabin. Obstruction was described as the promenade walking track around the deck. - the heating/air conditioning control seemed to be for decoration only. We like to cool down the room for sleeping, but nothing happened - no hot water for shower at breakfast and dinner time. Perhaps load was too great on the system Dining Room - food was exceptional. HAL has the best food of various lines we have travelled on - service sometimes slow (8:00 p.m. seating-table of six). We were late for the 10:00 p.m. show - more than once individuals were served the wrong selection, or did not receive a selection at all (breakfast) - had requested soy milk. Always seemed a challenge to get it delivered promptly - in spite of the above gripes, the serving staff were friendly and accommodating. For our last evening, we requested creme brule (requested the day before), which was not on the menu, and, voila, we had it. Entertainment - shows were entertaining, especially the pianist, and comedian/magician; "production" numbers on other nights were OK, but what can you expect on a small ship? General - Day spent cruising in Glacier Bay was exceptional. Not every ship/cruise line can get into Glacier Bay. Try to book a cruise that allows you this opportunity. - Volendam, being a small ship, was easy to get around. - We had great weather, but anyone travelling to Alaska should be prepared for rain and fog, and have warm clothing. Include gloves and a warm hat. - don't expect a lot of time sunning on the deck. It's cold outside. Read Less
Sail Date July 2012
We're in our late 40's with a 11 yr old daughter. We try to do one big vacation each year and always try to ensure it's a high-end experience. For example, last year was an exclusive Tuscan Villa for five days followed by ... Read More
We're in our late 40's with a 11 yr old daughter. We try to do one big vacation each year and always try to ensure it's a high-end experience. For example, last year was an exclusive Tuscan Villa for five days followed by ten days in 5 star hotels in Florence and Rome. With that background, hopefully my feedback will be of interest to those who share my feeling that there are no luggage racks on Hearses. My goal for this cruise was to book the best cabin on the ship I could get. We didn't go on vacation to save money. Cost be damned. Fun...isn't it? ;>) Cabin 7027: Clean and spacious. Mostly quiet when the verandah doors are closed but lots of deck noise from the Lido deck above when you're on the verandah during the day. Oh well, let's pour another cocktail and look for Bears. Plenty of storage. Bring an extension cord (Thanks Forum!). Extremely generous size cabin if you have just 2 adults. Even with our daughter using the pull out bed, which she loved, we never bumped into each other. The verandah was large as well and we spent a lot of time out there with a glass of wine, light music and our daily room-service delivered hors d'oeuvres because, luckily, the weather was drop dead gorgeous 90% of the time. This cabin is also plenty large enough for 2 adults and 2 kids who could sleep on the pullout sofa. I doubt you would want 4 adults in there but, hey, it's your cruise. The binoculars in the room, which are very powerful, enabled us to really gain an appreciation for the coastline, glaciers, whales, otters, eagles, and mountain goats. One day a Hummingbird even flew right up to my face while I was looking through them! Almost dropped them overboard! Alaska is completely under-rated in my book. Cabin Service: Extremely professional, fast and efficient. Definitely service with a smile. We took full advantage of the dry cleaning and laundry service that comes with the room and were completely satisfied. Neptune Lounge: I was pretty sure it would be a good perk and now realize I won't go on another cruise without having access to it. Dining: Definitely not The Ritz or Four Seasons but what is? Volendam food is pretty darn good. We greatly enjoyed The Pinnacle on three of the nights including Le Cirque night. I'd put that food and service level up against nicer restaurants in most large cities. We enjoyed perfectly prepared breakfasts in our room each morning, delivered right on time. Tip: if you want something that's not on the room service menu, i.e. Dijon or salmon/capers, just write it in and I bet they bring it to you. We enjoyed the MDR three nights and two lunches. We had one so-so dinner at Canaletto one night, which was the only 'miss' the entire cruise(My veal was tough and our daughter's meatballs, which she didn't plan to eat anyway, were surprisingly undercooked). Not a huge matter to us but maybe to others. We like our Red wines so after reviewing the Volendam wine list in advance I decided we'd bring our own case of wine. Their list is really good in the Pinnacle (everything up to and beyond Opus One) and not terrible in the MDR and lounges but I wanted what we're accustomed to and I really didn't want to pay $120/bottle for what I normally pay $30 for in Florida. We also ordered many drinks in the lounges and restaurants so I didn't feel bad about bringing our own to our cabin. We paid the $18 corkage a couple of times and it was preferable for us. At The Pinnacle our server quickly offered to decant the bottles without our even asking. Simply great service. Kids: Two or three times during the cruise, our lovely daughter enjoyed hanging out with the 5 to 10 kids who were her age in Club HAL. They were all well behaved and polite. There's plenty for them to do there for 2-3 hours at a time. The Club HAL Staff was Excellent. We're not the Disney Cruise type. Volendam was great for us. She read 10 large books while on board and we loved the Library and Chess games. She had a great time. Entertainment: In terms of Shows, honestly as a family, we never made it past about 10pm so the only shipboard entertainment for us was Adagio Strings and the acoustic guitarist - both were excellent. Many nights after dinner we just really enjoyed the DVD library back in our cabin. I stayed up a couple of nights until 12 or 1 at the tables in the Casino and had fun meeting other blackjack players. Lot of nice passengers on this cruise. The Casino staff were also some of the most pleasant, laid back and accommodating I've run into. Just great people. If you're a regular player I'd strongly recommend setting up a line of credit in advance. It was very convenient. Excursions: None were with HAL. We enjoyed what we did on our own including walking in town, Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Salmon charter fishing in Ketchikan and Liarsville Salmon Bake/Gold Panning in Skagway, which by the way got a really bad rap on the Internet so I was very wary but it was actually a great time and the food was good! (Highly recommend bestofalaskatravel.com for Liarsville and ketchikancharterboats.com for fishing (!!). The Salmon we caught arrived today via FedEx 1-Day Air and it was well worth the money for the charter and processing. Salmon were plentiful in Ketchikan. Nice weather. Three of us fished on a 31' Silverton. Price was very competitive. The Volendam Staff: Captain Peter Bos, Restaurant Mgr (Tall guy with white hair, really nice), Neptune Lounge Staff: Kristine and Olga, Room Stewards, and every other staff member we came into contact with bent over backwards to ensure we were completely satisfied, safe and informed. Each request we made was acted on quickly, efficiently and with a smile. Captain Bos also did a fine job with our Renewal of Vows ceremony, which helped me win big time points with my lovely wife of 20 yrs and it's something I highly recommend. We were the only couple who reserved it on this sailing so the Captain and Rebekah (Volendam Party Planner) spent a relaxed 45 mins with us in the Explorer Lounge. We enjoyed getting to know them and they are both top notch individuals. I'm sure all of the HAL people are. While I'm on the subject of Captain Peter Bos let me say that his focus on Safety and the passenger's enjoyment of the sights of the Inside Passage is second to none as far as we're concerned. The PA announcements were informative but not overbearing. In closing, our cabin, its location, the service level, and amenities that come with it exceeded my expectations. The Volendam was the perfect size for a 7 day cruise. Many times as we explored the ship we felt like we had a lot of space to ourselves. Our assessment is that HAL is a well managed, high quality organization. We also stayed over in Vancouver on our own for four days after disembarkation and Love that City. I would do this exact vacation again in a heartbeat. Lastly, the CruiseCritic site and Forum members provided a wealth of info for us, which helped us know in advance what to expect. We are very grateful so please feel free to ask any questions you have if you are considering the Volendam. I'm not an expert but hopefully I can return a favor. Bon Voyage and arrivederci! Chris and Lauren Read Less
Sail Date July 2012
Last year my sister and I were idly discussing going on a cruise, and by the end of the year I had done hours of research and booked a 7 night Inside Passage Cruise on the MS Volendam. Cruise Critic was instrumental in our choice of ship ... Read More
Last year my sister and I were idly discussing going on a cruise, and by the end of the year I had done hours of research and booked a 7 night Inside Passage Cruise on the MS Volendam. Cruise Critic was instrumental in our choice of ship and itinerary and I read just about everything written on CC, and found it all very helpful. In fact my husband said I no longer needed to go to Alaska as I had read everything there was to know! We were a party of four, my sister sharing her cabin with another widowed friend, all in our early 60's. My sister came from Austin, her friend from Syracuse and my husband and I from Australia. We met up in Vancouver on June 5th, the day before sailing, and I am so glad we planned to arrive the day before as our flight times were changed by the airline and as it was we didn't get into Vancouver until 9.30 at night. It would have been so stressful to be travelling on the day the ship was leaving. Stayed at Days Inn Downtown, which is rather quaint but perfectly adequate for a nights sleep. I chose that hotel because they had a shuttle bus to the cruise dock. In actual fact it was so close to Canada Place that you could have walked! The driver of the shuttle said it would take about an hour and a half to get onto the ship and he was exactly right. There were two ships in dock and a lot of people milling around but the process was well controlled. We were split up though as my husband and I had Australian passports and my sister and her friend had US passports. We were sent to a holding area where we could sit until there was room in the line to pass through US customs etc. My sister and her friend had to stand in line the whole time! We got onto the ship first and our cabins were ready so we took our hand luggage to the cabin and then headed to the Lido for lunch. The Volendam is a great ship,just the right size, and gives the first impression of being an ocean liner, rather than a "fun" ship. Which is what we wanted, we were not looking for loud music, parties or crowds. There was another ship boarding at Canada Place which was huge, and had loud disco music playing, so we were very pleased to be on the Volendam. The ship was spotlessly clean and everywhere there were members of the crew cleaning and polishing. Our inside cabins were a good size and there was loads of storage space. The bathroom was surprisingly large and very well appointed. The shower was good with good water pressure. The hairdryer did not work but there was a replacement dryer in the cabin. The provided shower gel, shampoo and conditioner were really nice. The cabin was so quiet, you could not hear a thing, apart from occasional voices in the corridor. We tended to retire fairly early and there was never any late night noise. Our stewards were very efficient and obliging. Again thanks to CC we had taken a clock and a torch, but found that if you left the bathroom light on and the door closed, there was enough light at night to see your way around without turning on the cabin lights. We had first dining at 5.45 which suited us and for which we had been wait listed. The dining room staff were excellent and the food was first class. We all ate far too much. We had breakfast and lunch in The Lido and found the choice of food to be varied and of excellent quality. The afternoon teas in the Dining room were really lovely. The bars and lounges were comfortable and the music provided was excellent. We had cocktails on two occasions before the formal dinner nights and it was nice to get dressed up and sit watching the scenery from the windows. We went to two shows, the Indonesian Crew Show which was very well done and the crew seemed to be having a good time, and their band was great. We also attended the Broadway show, which was good,some of the performers had lovely singing voices and the HalCats were excellent. I think they could have chosen better songs, but that is a personal observation. On the sea days we walked around the Promenade Deck, a mile per meal was our aim,(another hint from CC) or sat wrapped up in a blanket on a deck chair reading. Hot cider was served which was lovely. Juneau was the first stop, and it was so wet. We took the shuttle bus ($16 round trip per person)to Mendenhall Glacier and although we got soaked to the skin it was worth it. We walked to Nugget Falls, and the view of the glacier and the blue of the ice was amazing. Having read the advice on CC about the weather in Alaska we were well equipped with rain coats and rain trousers, but there were people there with only thin plastic ponchos,and they must have been so cold. It was too wet and foggy to go up the Mt Robert's Tramway.Skagway was the next port of call, and what a contrast to Juneau. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and we had a wonderful trip on the White Pass Railroad. I had pre booked this months before with Chilkoot Tours. They picked us up at the port and drove us to the Railway Station where we boarded our own rail car. There were only 16 people in the car so we had lots of room, and plenty of opportunity to stand out on the end of the car and take photos. If you can only ever do one excursion then this is the one! The train to Fraser takes you through wonderful scenery and in early June there was still a lot of snow around, and it was magical. We even saw a bear running alongside the train. At Fraser we transferred to a bus for the journey back to Skagway. The guide/driver was very informative and stopped at several places of interest on the way. The best was stopping to watch a mother bear and her three cubs feeding on the side of the road just outside Fraser. Going up on the train and back on the bus is a great way to see the countryside. Glacier Bay was the absolute highlight of the trip. It was cold and misty with a bit of rain, but that just added to the atmosphere. We stopped at the Marjorie Glacier and the silence was profound, until the glacier started to"calve" and then there was a loud crack and thunderous noise rolling across the water. This is a magical place. Ketchikan was the last port of call, and again it rained, but then it always does apparently! The rain only lasted a short time so we wandered around town and went up in the little tram and walked down the steps to town. We wanted to go out to the Totem Park, but the bus never seemed to arrive, so we did some shopping and then went back to the ship. Our friend did get the local bus out to the park but then it broke down and she had to share a taxi back into town as everyone had to be back on the ship by 5.30 and she was getting a bit worried about missing the boat. Disembarking was a bit of a muddle, even though we had chosen a late disembarkation time and were carrying our own luggage. Although everything was colour coded it appeared that some passengers were determined to get off when they wanted regardless of the time they had been given! My sister had booked a bus transfer to the airport and they were told they would go into a secure area and their luggage would be passed through Customs, but this didn't seem to work as expected and they still had to pick up their own luggage at the port and then sit on a bus for an hour. I can't recommend Holland America and the Volendam highly enough. It was everything we wanted and more. The staff all seemed genuinely happy to be of service and every member of staff greeted you when they met you. The ship was quiet, very few messages over the public address system and there was never the feeling of being pressured into buying anything on board ( a frequent complaint on CC about certain ships.) Thanks to everyone on CC for their advice and informative postings. Now on to planning the next cruise! Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
We've never cruised before. Our style is to see a place and explore it, instead of hop off a ship, take a tour, snap a photo and hit the Lido deck. We've looked at Alaska for years and logistically, a cruise is the easiest AND ... Read More
We've never cruised before. Our style is to see a place and explore it, instead of hop off a ship, take a tour, snap a photo and hit the Lido deck. We've looked at Alaska for years and logistically, a cruise is the easiest AND cheapest way to see the inside passage. Even BC ferries and the Alaska Marine highway don't offer a savings, with a big sacrifice in comfort. Lastly, we didn't want to be hassled and we wanted to go off on our own. The Volendam itinerary gives you these opportunities. KIDS STUFF: HAL is valiantly trying to get younger, but we were in the whipper-snapper age bracket as 40 somethings. There were about 50 kids in the 1500 plus passenger list, although Arman, the cruise director, said there were 200. As a cruise director, he is sworn to lie repeatedly! The teens have the best place on the ship: deck 9, with a loft on deck 10. Perhaps a dozen teens were on the cruise and some hung out together the entire trip. Our daughter was mainly with us, but also enjoyed the Loft when she attended. Low key--minimal structure--very mellow. As far as he 8 year old, there were a minimum of screaming kids on board. The hyper children had plenty of video game action, while others could do arts & crafts. Only one child was under 8, so parents with 5 year olds will probably be kicked into the tweens room. Once again-- safe, mellow and more structure than teens. They do offer a kids only cooking class where they all made pretzels in the culinary arts center. We recommend this activity. Otherwise, we looked at the agenda & let the daughters pick what they wanted. THE SHIP: The inside cabins feel like a tomb with 4 people in them. We put on the bow camera channel on the TV, but we still limited our time there. The cabin itself was fine: Pullman bunk, single bed on the couch and the mashed together twin/king. The stewards were efficient and the towel animals were a hit. The showers worked great and the lighting was OK. But--if you can, choose a balcony or at least a window. Getting around the ship is easy and there is often minimal elevator wait time. A quirk in the Volendam is the inability to do from one end of the 4th level-the Promenade deck-to the other. Since the Rotterdam Restaurant is on this level, we always had to be mindful of going up to go down. There is a laundry on decks 2,3 & 6 and there's no irons in the rooms. 6 is always the least crowded and 2 is the most. $2 wash $1 dry. The ship loves its flowers and tries for this as a signature. There is also an art area, where it appears that everyone should buy a painting by Thomas Kincaide, painter of light. The casino is small and sad. TOURS of the SHIP: We took tours of the kitchen and the show lounge area. Both were educational about the logistics of running a cruise ship. The kitchen tour was more about the process and the back stage tour was more personal, with a chance to talk to performers about ship life. DINING: HAL is obsessed with hand sanitizer. The 1st 2 days, the buffets are service, not self serve. The captain, in his best Butch accent, is warning passengers to sanitize. There's even a steward at each end of the Lido restaurant with an industrial bottle of hand san. As far as the food--the Lido food gets old fast, especially at breakfast. We quickly learned to go to the main dining room for breakfast as well. The varieties at lunch/dinner are greater, The main dining room: Rotterdam is mostly excellent. the 4 course meal is strong on a variety of soups and interesting combinations of entrees. We didn't eat at he Pinnacle Grill. I don't get paying more, but others do. Assigned seating v. Open-- here's the deal. We never waited for open seating. We were always seated immediately. We had tables all over the place, including water side windows for 3 dinners. We also ate at the Italian restaurant, which is really just a part of the Lido restaurant sectioned off. They were great for 1 night, but hey had little differentiation of their menu. Overall, the food was excellent and the portions are way to large for an 8 year old. There is no childrens menu. This was not an issue, except the stewards were always asking if everything was OK with the food. STUFF to DO: My wife won bingo twice. We won trivia once. They have daily trivia & bingo 4 times on the cruise. We attended most of the shows in the showroom and thought the vocal talent was excellent. The highlight of the trip was Glacier Bay. We hit it on 6/24 and it was literally 72 degrees and sunny. The park ranger was almost in tears because of the scenery and the wildlife. Even the glaciers were calving as a show. There are 2 places to watch this spectacle: on the top decks OR at the stern of deck 6 with no other people, relaxing on a teak lounge chair. The area is even covered by a roof. We spent 8 hours there. IS IT WORTH IT? It's the way to see the Inside passage. If I were in the Caribbean, or God forbid, Hawaii-- I would cry. The port of calls are faitly lengthy and the Volendam hits the ports when most other ships are NOT there. The Volendam crew does a nice job at playing their roles. The on the ship-off the ship process is seamless. There are few glitches. Because we had great weather, it was a cruise of a lifetime. If the standard rain was our weather, we might view the cruise in a more negative way. Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
This is my first time on a cruise. I wasn't really looking forward to it since it was just a cruise and i was going to Alaska. To me it was just to get out of school and to see my cousins. I traveled with 3 of my older cousins that ... Read More
This is my first time on a cruise. I wasn't really looking forward to it since it was just a cruise and i was going to Alaska. To me it was just to get out of school and to see my cousins. I traveled with 3 of my older cousins that are about 20-30. and my aunt and uncle that were kind enough to pay for the trip. Little did i know i ended up loving it! Day 1: The first day i met up with my cousins and family and went aboard all 8 of us. We went through security and got our cards and went right to the Lido Deck (the buffet area) the eat our lunch since the rooms weren't ready yet. There was lots to choose to from but nothing really that i wanted. The first 2 days of having them serve you in the buffet kinda bothered me but it was understandable. Soon after they annouced the rooms were ready we dropped off our stuff and than made our way around the ship. we found it rather amusing they had days of the week mats in the elevator. The first show was the entertainers of the volendam. I didn't really like the show but I sat through it. we had dinner at the Rotterdam that night at 5:45 at our reserved table. It was great and the selection was great. I loved our waiters, they were funny but responsible. Most workers were either Filipino or Indonesian, and being Filipino gave i guess a 'bond' towards some of the workers. We got a few laughs from the captain that you could barely understand over the system, while you could hear David, the cruise director loud and clear. David Griffiths, 28, Australian. who i found rather charming and funny. We happened to exchange some smiles but he never really talked to anyone which was rather upseting... "Good ey" "THIS IS DAVID, YOUR CRUISE DIRECTA." "I'LL SEE YOU, AROUND THE SHIP!" Day 2: That day was a sail all day. The boat got really rocky and bumpy i couldnt quite take it anymore. I went up to the lido deck grabbed some breakfast and by 11 am i was back in my cabin sea sick. The stateroom manager was happy enough to come in give a few tips. Don't think about, eat green apples, and make sure you always food in your stomach. Due to that there are green apples almost everywhere scattered around the ship. That night was formal night there are only 2 formal nights. I went to the rotterdam on only one formal night cause i dont find a reason to HAVE to dress up all nice. Although I did go out that night at 8 to see Amore it was okay, but not the best.Day 3: Ate breakfast at the Lido and than went to go play some bingo for $25,000.Sadly we didn't have the joy of winning till the last day which was about $144 from 100,000 pot, but i highly doubt they EVER give the pot away cause you need every number on your card before they call the 47th ball.unfortunatly by the time we won we already spent over 100 dollars just buying the cards from that week. Later that we docked at Juneau. It's one long street but I didn't find it very time occupying which made us make our way back on to the ship after about 2 hours. We than watched a movie in the theater, there is a movie on everyday but we only watched 2. Day 4: By day 4 we found out we could have breakfast in the Rotterdam, so for the remaining we ate there. That day we were docking in Skagway, I didn't really enjoy Skagway it was rainy and it was a few blocks to actually get into the town from the boat. The town reminded of those old time cowboy movies where that bad cowboy would walk down the street and everyone would slip the open side to close and hide there shops, but that's my opinion. After being for around 3 hours we returned to the boat and than had sandwiches on the lido deck. Than dinner and than I believe that night was the Indonesian Crew Show. I found it entertaining and fun to watch I didn't like that it was so late but it was understandable. Day 5: Finally! a sunny day! That day we were visiting Glacier Bay where we happen to spot a baby brown bear! It wasn't cold at all I actually happen to be standing out in a t-shirt. This was also a sail all day. Day 6: Ketchican! It was sunny, bright and entertaining. Definitely my favorite stop. again after a few hours and some lunch we went back inside the boat. Day 7: We docked this day :/ I honestly didn't want it to end. The staff was amazing and crew were amazing and I came back with a whole new perspective. I'll definitely be sailing the MS Volendam again!! Entertainment: It was great, the singers were okay, but the comedian was hilarious! I loved the game shows, they were to funny. Neil Diamond tribute was great to! Being as young as I am under 20 I don't know how he was actually but he was definitely entertaining! I had a great time singing along! Everyday me and my cousins saw the guitarist Anthony Hines! Great guy, amazing voice and great at guitar. He was perfect at changing R&B and pop songs into something everyone can enjoy. Staff: A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. I miss them all. They were helpful, funny and well respected. I love the towel animals!! too cute! They remember your favorites and your name! Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
Here's my take on this very well organized Cruisetour: *From Vancouver Airport to Canada Place-There is no need for any other more expensive type of transfer...the Metro is amazingly easy. *Check-In-We walked right up to each ... Read More
Here's my take on this very well organized Cruisetour: *From Vancouver Airport to Canada Place-There is no need for any other more expensive type of transfer...the Metro is amazingly easy. *Check-In-We walked right up to each counter, with no waiting at all. We arrived at about 2pm. Maybe the "crowds" that I was dreading had all shown up at the very beginning. The luggage area was confusing. There were not clear directions regarding this drop-off area. The staff were all sitting on the luggage carts chatting, and we had to wave them down to come to the counter to help us. *The Ship-A very nice ship, decorated for the more mature adult, I would say. I saw staff everyday sprucing up the ship (painting, washing down decks, re-varnishing, etc...). I have read about HAL ships looking worn...nah. *Our room-The space and storage were outstanding! The bathroom was large, and we had a bathtub. Very impressed with the room. I did notice some signs of aging (cracked grout in places, chipped paint, nics in wood), but it was not a bother at all. No problems with toilet flushing at all. Had very hot water. *Staff-In general, a very friendly staff. No complaints. *Entertainment-There was a variety of options. The singers were very good. The shows were just fine. The piano player and the string quartet were very good! Very enjoyable all around. *The food-We only ate in the Buffet, by choice. There were, at times, very long lines to get food. I didn't like this. I think the quality of the food was average to very good. Not great, and not bad. Was I impressed with the food...no. I will say that the breakfast omelets were very good. I didn't like that it took a long time to get a piece of bread toasted. On the 4th day we exited the ship and began a wonderful land tour. The entire trip was very well organized. HAL owns a large stake of the touring in Canada and Alaska. *Hotels-We stayed at Westmark hotels (HAL owned). These were nice 3 star hotels. All clean and safe. The staff at each hotel was very friendly and helpful. In Beaver Creek we stayed at the Beaver Creek Inn. There was no TV in the room! At first I couldn't believe it, but by the end of the night, I slapped myself with the realization that life isn't about all the electronic gizmos. This stop was a wonderful part from the norm of our hustle-n-bustle life. The show at the Beaver Creek Inn was really good and fun! All in all, it was a great place to visit. The Hilton in Anchorage was very nice! *Trains and Buses-We took 2 different trains. They were very well kept, and very nice and clean. We took 2-3 different buses. They were also nice, and comfortable. *Food-The included meals were all good. Not great and not bad. When we had to purchase our own meals there were good options. Food in Alaska and Canada is a bit high-priced! *Sales-Pitches-Only thing that was a bit bothersome were the sales pitches everywhere we went. We were prompted to try the "ice cream, coffee, buy postcards, take a picture here, etc...". At every stop we heard this. I am a big gourmet coffee nut, so I did try the "great" coffee at 1 stop, and it was just an average cup-of-joe. *Highlites on the land tour-I enjoyed everything we did, but I really liked the ride on the Sternwheeler, and the panning for gold. I didn't feel too enthused about either before the trip, but I was proven wrong. Both were highlites! *Baggage Handling-This was done with amazing organization. We never had to worry about handling our checked luggage (1 per person). The bus driver took the luggage from the curb, and the bag showed up in our hotel room each nite with amazing speed! Outstanding! *Land tour Guide-Our guide was new. This was her first contract. I think we lucked out in this respect. She was amazingly willing to go out of her way to assist us with anything needed. She had a great attitude, and was always smiling and pleasant. Job well done Kacie! Overall I rate this trip as a VERY good trip. The way that HAL took care of the itinerary was exceptional. We got to be taken around and didn't have to worry about anything. Everything was taken care of. When we leave our terribly busy work-a-day life, and go on vacation, this is just what we need. Great job HAL. *Just a small addition...If I chose to have a critical eye, I guess I could come up with some negatives. But, there are certainly enough "critics" on CC. I don't need or want to be one of them. Nothing is ever perfect, but overall, this was a great vacation! I never thought that I would choose HAL, because it is known to cater to the "mature cruiser". We didn't have much choice with an Alaska cruise, since HAL has a big share of the market...so we chose HAL because the itinerary and timing worked for us. I am not sorry at all. Well Done HAL! I am happy to answer any questions... Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
I'll start this review by saying that I've never been on a cruise before. My brother and sister-in-law has cruised on Royal Caribbean before and always praised it, but given that one of those enormous ships are quite a world away ... Read More
I'll start this review by saying that I've never been on a cruise before. My brother and sister-in-law has cruised on Royal Caribbean before and always praised it, but given that one of those enormous ships are quite a world away from the MS Volendam, I was essentially taking a fresh look. Plus we weren't sure if we'd enjoy it (the wife and I). I used to work for the NAAFI aboard HMS Albion and Bulwark, and so I've been to sea for extended periods (longest was over six weeks at a time), but the wife had never been aboard before. So we got all prepped and pre-ordered two soda cards prior to boarding as neither of us drink. After asking around on the Facebook page we boarded just after midday last Wednesday and had a very pleasant experience boarding - we were even recommended the bread pudding during the boarding - I'm sure any HAL regular would agree with! We got to our cabin, 1858 down on the Dolphin Deck. Now I can't praise that cabin enough - everything worked fine, only had some minor issues with our moronic neighbours that left an alarm clock going off in the early hours of the morning while they weren't in the room (but we called the front office and they sent someone up who entered the room and turned the alarm off), and the occasion sound of thrash metal coming through the wall - but nothing I can hold to HAL! We generally had breakfast in the lido (we only ate in the Rotterdam for breakfast on the first day), and always had lunch in the lido (except for one day when we had room service), and always ate in the Rotterdam for dinner (except for a trip to the Canneletto on Ketchikan night). Ironically as I'm typing this in my hotel room in Vancouver I just heard the ship's horn signalling the Volendam leaving port to go out on the second IP trip of it's season. Anyway, back to the food. Generally it was good. I had one steak which was overcooked, but still very edible. My wife did however have one half of a steak which was massively undercooked and had she not ordered two starters that evening then we would have sent it back. Only food I found lacking was the desserts in general - while there were some standouts (the bread pudding and the lemoncello in the Canneletto), in general it all seemed to be very moussey and with no real taste to it. I think the baked alaska had potential but I think I simply chose a bad evening to try it as it changes each night. Although sometimes the dishes aren't quite what you expect from the description, they generally are very tasty, if quite rich. The self service ban for the first two days is quite annoying, but I can understand it, and if we were cruising for longer than seven days then I think that I'd barely remember it. Certainly having the taco stand open only on day three onwards was a nice taste of home halfway through the trip when it was needed. I'll get onto the stops in a moment, but just to say that HAL couldn't have gone further with the events on sea days. The best things we did were the towel folding demonstrations, although I can say that there was never a bad thing being demonstrated in the culinary centre and that was apparently with a reduction in the number of events as the Party Planner only joined in Juneau. Never saw the films there, but the ones on the TV were good enough for us, but we tried not to sit in our stateroom too much. The only downside to the trip was the problem with the soda cards. We pre-ordered them and they never arrived. So we complained to three different people on the first day and eventually by dinner we got given replacement cards. But we went to use them on day two and they'd been cancelled. So after complaining some more, by dinner once more we had been given paper slips to record our drinks on, and then finally overnight the proper cards were slipped under our door. If we hadn't pre-ordered them, then we could simply have picked them up on day one after boarding as they were selling them in the lido. One other issue was Tracy Arm cruising. The online itinary has it listed prior to arriving in Juneau, but we never did it and no one said why - one of our dinner tablemates complained to the front office and they claimed it was never on the itinary and wasn't listed on the website. I have the booking documents to say otherwise - I'm sure Glacier Bay blows Tracy Arm out of the water and overall the good experiences vastly outweighed those two issues. So onto the ports - now we did this entire trip on a reduced budget - we had actually won the cruise through the Canadian Tourist Board, and so we didn't have anything in the budget for excursions. At Juneau we got off and jumped on a local bus to Mendenhall Glacier at a far cheaper cost than the HAL excursion (which also included some extras which we weren't interested in doing), we went hiking around the area in an attempt to do some Geocaches (which was a complete failure in Juneau), and found that due to there being only being one ship in town this early in the season that it felt like we had our own private glacier. Simply amazing. Second stop was Skagway. In Juneau it rained a bit (we had expected this and were wearing waterproofs), but in Skagway it was lovely - like a bright warm winters day. Having no excursions we walked around the tourist areas and went two blocks west to the local area too, and stocked up on some snacks from the supermarket. I can't stress enough that I loved Skagway, from the wooden walkways and just frankly how pleasant everyone was, it was a delight. Also anyone going this year I recommend the new popcorn place on the main drag a couple of stores short of the theatre - it's a locally run store and the cheese popcorn was just delicious. Glacier Bay was something I will never forget. Despite the snow, dense fog and strong winds, the Marjorie Glacier was worth the cost of the entire cruise alone (had we paid for it). Breathtaking and unforgettable, and the rangers helped us understand it greatly. Ketchikan was our last stop and we were warned it was rainy. Well that's an understatement - it was as if the sky decided it wanted to punish the ground with rain. We still went out but towards the end my waterproofs were beginning to fail - we didn't get out to either the totem park nor the village... but well, I can see why people do the inside passage more than once, so I'm sure we'll get it next time. But so much water. They need to paint everything in neon colors and call it a water park. Our one sad thing was that the ship passed a pod of 30 or so whales on the way out of Vancouver, and apart from seeing one single water blow from our cabin's window, we were on the wrong side of the ship and completely missed it. But last night as we returned to Vancouver, at about 6:30pm local, we were sitting the crows nest bar and we spotted three Orcas swimming past on the surface. It could have only have been spotted by the twenty or so of us in there at the time, and it felt as if Canada/Alaska had repaid us for our patience. All in all, it was one of the most wonderful holidays I've ever been on. We've already decided that it will not be our last cruise and we're looking at a cruise from Dover to Scandinavia possibly for 2014 unless we get a seriously good deal next year. HAL has turned a cruise doubter and his doubting wife into two cruise addicts. I totally get it now. If I had the money for it and could get the time off work, I'd already be booking a cruise for later in the summer! Couldn't have asked for a better time. Thanks HAL! Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
Our trip started in Sydney and Embarkation was very smooth. Settled in our Cabin quickly and found it to be clean and well set out plenty of room for everything. We had a lovely view of the famous Opera House leaving on time and soon ... Read More
Our trip started in Sydney and Embarkation was very smooth. Settled in our Cabin quickly and found it to be clean and well set out plenty of room for everything. We had a lovely view of the famous Opera House leaving on time and soon out in the open sea. Went to the Dining Room and met our table companions and waiters Indi and Bobby who were superb and enhanced our time on board tremendously. Our food for the whole time was not repetitive and only 1 meal was not to our liking which was quickly replaced. We found the Library to be much better than any previous ship we had been on and were grateful for the many hand washing facilities everywhere on the ship not just at the Dining Room which told us they were concerned for our welfare. Buffet meals for 2 days were served with no passengers touching the food a fantastic idea and during the whole trip there were no colds or stomach viruses to be seen a terrific outcome. We soon settled into a routine with the Gym being used daily and playing Bridge and were very glad to see that there were Bridge Directors on Board. Few children on this trip so it was a cohesive and happy group. We found the lectures both informative and interesting. We knew the Ports of Call were not very interesting but our goal was to get to Alaska by removing one set of plane trips and wished we had known more about Fanning Island as once there we found out we could have brought clothing and medications to leave with the Islands and feel this should have been pointed out by HAL when booking. Service in the Staterooms was good always clean. The Laundry nearby was very good especially on such a long trip. Our only complaint was that the NO SMOKING in Staterooms was not adhered to and complaints did not seem to be taken seriously and I think this needs to be reviewed by HAL. In today's world this is NO LONGER ACCEPTABLE. We were tremendously impressed by our Captain who we found out seems to be active in promoting Females to the Ranks and found that all the crew thought him to be a very Fair CEO. He was most approachable and genial in manner. We were not impressed with the shops in comparison to other ships and found little to spend our money on virtually no turnover of goods. We did not book Excursions from the ship as we have found through experience we can do even better once we land at any Port in seeing what we want and find them over priced, however we were impressed that HAL did give good information on all Ports and did not try to keep this to themselves in the hope of selling Excursions as happened on other Ships we had been on. Most of all we were happy with the lack of pressure to spend money while on board. Our Cruise Director Tamryn was very good and made age appropriate decisions on entertainment she also had a clear speaking voice which could be understood by all and did not try to promote herself as an entertainer which had happened to us on previous cruises where people over 50 were largely forgotten in the entertainment area. We were sad to lose most of our companions once we arrived in Vancouver to then be invaded by a new lot of people who were only on a 7 day cruise to Alaska and found that the atmosphere changed dramatically. We found Vancouver to be the best Port for Disembarkation we had ever been too and Sydney could learn a lot from them. Tendering was well organised and clear information was given over the speaker system. We did have occasion to visit the Medical Centre and were most impressed with the Doctor and Nurse on duty who clearly had good experience rather than someone fresh from study. Entertainment from Sydney to Vancouver was very good. There was music to dance to,listen to,Karaoke, Trivia, Bingo, and plenty of IT in fact they could have had even more computers on board as this group of people were very interested in the classes, though there was a lack of games, 3 Scrabble Boards with people taking them to their Cabins left others without and I would suggest that people must sign out a form if they wish to remove games from the Library or more purchased. The Pinnacle and Canaletto Restaurants were good and we used them for Birthdays and Anniversaries. We could have done with less Formal nights but others may not agree. However the change of Entertainers from Vancouver to Alaska was not good. Little dance music only Jazz and a complaint was made about this but had little effect the entertainer was more interested in selling his CD. The guitar player was often off key in the Piano Bar. Would like to see 1 bottle of water per cabin per day free of charge as ship's water heavily chlorinated and we could not stand the taste. Room service was good as I had breakfast in my Cabin. Only one thing was REALLY TERRIBLE - THE COFFEE - so bad that we bought Nescafe at the first Port of Call and ordered Hot Water from then on. Complained about this to Chef when he visited our table and he said all ships use the same Coffee, but in today's world this is no longer acceptable. Read Less
Sail Date April 2012
I did a lot of research on Cruise Critic before our trip and found so many of the reviews helpful in planning our trip. I thought I'd return the favor for those yet to take this wonderful cruise. Although I booked the cruise as one ... Read More
I did a lot of research on Cruise Critic before our trip and found so many of the reviews helpful in planning our trip. I thought I'd return the favor for those yet to take this wonderful cruise. Although I booked the cruise as one 28 day itinerary, it was, in fact, two 14 day cruises, back to back. We were able tot stay in the same cabin during the entire trip. The first 14 days went to Vanuatu, Fiji and New Caldonia. The next 14 days were in Australia and New Zealand. We flew from LAX to Nadi Fiji. Our intention was to visit friends there and shorten the long flight time by breaking it up. We flew Air Pacific and got a great price. We spent one night in Fiji and then flew 4 hours to Sydney. We stayed at the Raffles Gateway in which I reserved on Orbitz. I highly recommend this hotel. Nice pool and nice people. Sydney: We stayed a week in Sydney. We were in the Haymarket area for four nights at the Meriton Campbell apartments. We highly recommend this hotel. Our apartment had a kitchenette and laundry facilities. It has a nice lap pool and hot tub. It is a fairly new building and very secure. From here we did the hop on hop off bus and took the train to the Blue Mountains. It is a very easy trip to plan yourself and much cheaper than any of the excursions. The hotel is within easy walking distance to the train station. Then we moved to the Marriott at Circular Quay for our final three days. Very well located hotel with easy access to the ferries and Opera House. We saw an opera at the Opera House and it was a wonderful experience. We also took the ferry to Manly beach - again, very easy to do on your own. The Volendam: We booked an inside cabin on the Lower Promenade deck so that we could easily get outside to check the sights and the weather. Our room was light and bright with lots of storage and a wonderful steward. We attended many of the shows and enjoyed most of them. You have to get there early because the seats fill up quickly. We ate many of our meals in the Lido and found the service and food to be quite good. We chose anytime dining for the restaurant and always got requested tables within a few minutes. The service and food were both very good, but we are not that picky. We loved our cruise director. We attended computer classes, cooking shows, movies and shore talks. They were all high caliber. Yes the Volendam might be getting a bit older, but we love the ship. We joined a cruise critic group and had some very enjoyable times with them We even got invited to a party in the penthouse suite, which was a treat! Ports of Call and excursions: Noumea: Joined up with cruise critic for Aquanature snorkling tour. Very professional group and we highly recommend them. Easo, New Caldonia: Small island, no tours, beach day. Port Villa, Vanuatu: We did two ship excursions on this day. In the morning we went to Ekasup village - this is not to be missed. Lots of information on the Aboriginal people, all in a forest setting with native dress. Then in the afternoon we took a snorkeling tour which was nice because they fed the fish. Luganville, Vanuatu: We hired a cab here for the day at the cost of around $90 USD. It was worth every penny! Samuel drove us all around the island and then took us to the Blue Hole for swimming. It was one of the highlights of the trip Laukota, Fiji: Very rainy day. Took the free shuttle to Jack's store and walked around and shopped. Dravuni Island, Fiji: This is a small island and is basically a beach day. We hired someone to take us around the island in their boat. Then had a massage and snorkeled on the beach. Very relaxing day and beautiful island! Ile Des Pins, New Caldonia: Again a beach and snorkel day on an amazing South Pacific island. Our ship returned to Sydney for one day to load and unload passengers. Melbourne: We joined with a cruise critic group and went with the tour company called A Tour with a Difference. He showed us all the sights in downtown Melbourne and then drove to the Dandenong Mountains. here we got to see cockatoos and crimson rosellas in the wild and hand feed them - it was an awesome experience. Lots of van time on this day! Burnie: Small town - we did not book an excursion for this port. Walked around, went to the local museum and shopped. Cruising Milford Sound in New Zealand was so beautiful. We entered the sound at dawn and stayed there for several hours. Amazing place - be sure to get out on deck early! Dundedin- Port Chalmers: We booked with Back to Nature Tours and can highly recommend this group. He took us to see the University, Signal Point, downtown, Larnach Castle and then the see the yellow eyed penguins. The area where you see the penguins is on private property and much has been done to insure their safety. There is a lot of walking involved here as you have to do through tunnels to get to see them in the wild. Great experience and highly recommend. Then we hit the Albatross Colony. Another long, but delightful day. probably our favorite tour. Akaroa: When we got off the boat there were many people selling tours. We booked a bus to Christchurch for much less than the cost on the ship. This was just transportation and it took almost 2 hrs to get there. We walked around Christchurch and saw all the 'deconstruction' they were doing post earthquake. The container malls were very interesting. We then spent the rest of our time at the museum which gave a great account of the earthquake. Picton: We had booked with Waterways for a two man motor boat tour of the harbor. It was raining that day, but the guide came to meet us anyway to tell us that the tour was cancelled and to offer other suggestions - very professional. We chose to walk around Picton and do a little shopping. Wellington: We went to the Isite and booked a tour. They put us on The Big Red bus tour and we were the only ones on the tour. This couple runs the tour and they were outstanding. We highly recommend them. Napier: We booked with Hawkes Bay Scenic tours for a wine and brewery tour. He gave us a good overview of the city and then we went to two wineries and one brewery. Very enjoyable day. Tauranga/Rotorua: We booked a tour with Ann Norton and were lucky enough to be the only ones on her tour. The drive to Rotorua is quite long, but the scenery is beautiful. Rotorua is an amazing place with thermal pools everywhere. We then went to Te Puia which is a Maori area. Amazing Maori presentation and great views of the geysers. This is not to be missed. Auckland: We stayed at the Sky Tower Hotel ( not the Grand) and loved the location. The rooms were very nice, as were the people. All in all, this was a trip of a lifetime. Do not hesitate to go! You won't regret it. Read Less
Sail Date February 2012
We sailed with 3 adult friends (a couple and a single) and all had outside cabins with windows on the lowest deck. Found the cabins to be extremely comfortable. Lots of storage space, nice bathrooms with tubs, and all very quiet. Hooks for ... Read More
We sailed with 3 adult friends (a couple and a single) and all had outside cabins with windows on the lowest deck. Found the cabins to be extremely comfortable. Lots of storage space, nice bathrooms with tubs, and all very quiet. Hooks for hanging robes, plenty of drawers, and a safe in the closet. Friends were next door, and we never heard them. Advantage to being on the bottom is less ship movement and less people traffic. Ship isn't new, but only real sign of age was slightly stained grout in parts of the bathroom. Also, window frame showed some corrosion, but I can't imagine that it is even possible to keep up with that. Our cabin attendants were very efficient, and the only slight issue was when I turned in one of the Holland America robes (really comfy) to be washed, and it wasn't returned for about a week. Concern about cleanliness was emphasized, and there were sanitizer machines everywhere.Loved the nightly towel animals. We had a small sofa and coffee table, desk with make-up mirror, built-in hairdryer in the bathroom and plug-in hairdryer to be used anywhere else. Laundry facilities were readily available, easy to use, and reasonably priced. The public areas of the ship were lovely. This is the perfect size ship (about 1400 passengers) to easily learn the layout and get around. 3 sets of elevators (fore, aft, and middle). Found out the importance of this when we were on a larger ship with only two sets. Elevators always available and not crowded. Itinerary included 7 ports in New Caledonia, Vanuatu, and Fiji. 3 were strictly beach stops. 4 offered shore excursions. It was a very relaxed trip. We spent 2 days at sea getting to our first port, then 1 day each in 2 different ports, then 1 day at sea, 1 day each at 2 different ports, 1 day at sea, day in port, then 2 days back. We are not frequent cruisers, and I find it very frustrating to have 6 hours in a major port with lots to see and do. This itinerary, going to these islands, was a perfect cruise for us. Several hours to explore a beautiful island and its perfect beaches. The scenery was picture-postcard gorgeous. The sunsets and cloud formations were amazing. Even saw some whales and dolphins (although briefly). We had very good weather, with only occasional rain, although lots of humidity. The shore excursions were a nice diversion, and in Noumea, New Caledonia, we ran around on our own because they have their own bus/taxi systems. Tendering process went well where it was necessary. Thought it would have been more efficient for them to have some place to wash off your sand-covered shoes upon entering the ship. Instead, the poor crew spent all day vacuuming sand from all parts of the ship. Discovered that, for us, two days at sea without a port, is about the most we would like. Although Holland America had lots of things to do, they were very contest-oriented (trivia, bingo, etc.), with very few lectures. It would have been more enjoyable to have had some experts on board to discuss different aspects of island culture. There were a few prepared lectures, but nothing terribly exciting. My husband took some cooking classes, and I did a lot of reading. They actually have quite a good library on board, even if you don't bring enough books for yourself. Showed fairly current films each evening (with popcorn). Also enjoyed the tai-chi every day. Great gym with what looks like new equipment and beautiful views. Food in the main dining room was generally a 9. Very well prepared and a nice variety. Of course you could order whatever you wanted from the menu. Service was excellent. Suggest you make a standing reservation, even though it is not required. If you try to get a table in the dining room between 6:30 and 8 p.m. without a reservation, you will probably have to wait an hour or so. We ended up eating at 5:45, which was fine for us, because we had a lovely window table. Since there is no problem in any port getting back in time, making a reservation seems like a good idea. Wasn't as impressed with the food at the buffet. But we didn't eat there very often. One of the websites suggested getting room service for breakfast when we had an early shore excursion, and I did just that. Worked out perfectly. Delivery was always within 5 minutes of the promised time. I did not hang out the tag on the door, which gives a 30 minute window for delivery, but instead called in. This worked very well. Found wine list to be pricey, so didn't order very often. Surprised they were serving California wines when Australia has so many good wines. Every day, they had a mixed cocktail special for $4.95 or so. Tried the Pinnacle Grill one night, which is their upgraded restaurant ($25 per person). It was excellent, if you need a break from the main dining room. Casino on board proved my opinion about on-board casinos. That theory is that they loosen them up the first couple of days to hook you, then change the pay out after that. May be my imagination, but this has happened a few times to me. Certainly happened here. Other thing important to remember is that they allow smoking in certain areas on board the ship. This is most evident in the casino. If smoke is a problem for you, you won't be able to stay there for too long. Probably a good thing. No smoking in the cabins, but they do allow smoking on the verandas. We had some people tell us that the smoke from the cabin next door drifted their way at night, as did the noise from the veranda. (Another reason for liking our veranda-less room). Population of this cruise was about 600 Aussies, 400 Americans, and the rest international. Captain was extremely informative about updating the guests.Crew was primarily Indonesian and Filipino. Extremely friendly, even when passing you in the hall. Always working. Main disappointment was the entertainment. Thought the main showroom cast were only OK (some better than others), and the productions a little cheesy. Some of the guest performers didn't impress either. Really liked the guy at the piano bar and the strings, but the group playing for the dance floor felt like a bad wedding band. Fortunately, we hadn't seen many of the movies showing, so we did that after dinner. We had filled out all the paperwork on-line before boarding, or so I thought, but failed to fill out the disembarkation form and hand it in (since I thought I had already done that). Apparently, it needs to be done again, especially if you need an early disembarkation. Overall, the boarding and disembarkation were very simple and easy. We very much enjoyed the cruise and would recommend it to anyone who wants a relaxed itinerary in a beautiful part of the world. Since none of the ports (except Sydney) are included in the Port Reviews list, here goes: Noumea, New Caledonia: This is a real city. There are buses and taxis and lots of things to see and do. We skipped the ship's shore excursion, because there wasn't one that included the two things we wanted to do: see the Aquarium and visit the Tjibaou Cultural Center (designed by Renzo Piano). This was a short port stop (from 11-6), but we had time to go to both places. Took the city bus from city center to the aquarium (about $2 per person in local currency only); visited the aquarium, which is small, but has a nice selection of local exotic species; took the bus back to the city center (because there is not bus that goes from there to the Cultural Center); then, because of time constraints, took a cab from the city center to the Cultural Center (about $20). We had arranged to join a 2:30 English speaking tour of the Cultural Center (please see my reviews on TripAdvisor under Travelfan). Took the last bus (at 4p.m.) from the Cultural Center back to the city center and made it in plenty of time. Think the Cultural Center is a must-see.Contact G.KAOUA@adck.nc to find out about times and dates of English language tours. Port Vila, Vanuatu: Did the 7 hour around-the-island safari. Interesting local village ceremonies presented, including actual fire-walking. Don't expect air conditioning in the vans. Some were, some weren't. Luck of the draw. But village visits were very good, and the villagers offer the ceremonies as ways to help protect their heritage. Also good introduction to the role some of these islands played during WWII. Luganville, Vanuata: Did the "Canoe the RiRi River" excursion. Actual dugout. Tree trunk that had been scooped out (and not artistically, but efficiently). Planks put on top and locals paddle. Must have good balance to even sit on the planks properly. A lot of fun. The water is extraordinary. Crystal clear and blue, blue, blue. Our paddler took us to the Blue Hole, where we got to jump (or climb down stairs) to get into the water and swim. Like out of a movie gorgeous. Not terribly well organized in that we had about 30 minutes in the water, and then were told to get ready to leave. Unfortunately, after paddling back to the put-in, we had to wait another 45 minutes for the vans to return. Either they will work on this or not. Getting impatient in the islands is non-productive. Lautoka, Fiji: Took the tour that went to a kava ceremony (involving liquid that in its true form can be inebriating, but not in the form they offer to the tourists), please dancing by men and women. Then the visit to the orchid garden, which was beautiful, and only slightly marred by the fact that it was raining a lot. (Keeps everything green and gorgeous). The beach ports were also very special. Strongly recommend that if you have "water shoes", you wear them, so you can walk around without worrying about getting your feet wet. They also make it much easier to march into the surf to go exploring. Some of the beaches were more for swimming and some for snorkeling. Some you could walk in and see the fish swimming around your feet (Ile des Pins). Dravuni was also extraordinary. If you like beaches at all, you will not want to get out of the water. Just bring your sunscreen (the sun is really strong down here) and some insect repellent for the no-seeums.Don't be surprised if local children and dogs come to sit with you. No one asks for anything, they are just curious. By the way, this is the first trip we have been on in a long time where there were no beggars. Even the beach vendors don't bother you. They have booths near the beach. You want to look at their stuff, fine. If not, just keep going. No pressure. Nothing uncomfortable. Read Less
Sail Date February 2012
We stayed at the Suissotel in Sydney (arranged by Holland America, whose representatives met us at the airport, took us to the hotel, and transferred our luggage onto the Volendam the next day). Beautiful location, making the city easy to ... Read More
We stayed at the Suissotel in Sydney (arranged by Holland America, whose representatives met us at the airport, took us to the hotel, and transferred our luggage onto the Volendam the next day). Beautiful location, making the city easy to walk around and enjoy. Check-in on Volendam was seamless. Melbourne was good for walking, Burnie for the animal preserve visit. Luckily, the Tasman Sea was calm when we crossed! During this crossing, you will need to be prepared for a long wait in a line (1.5 hours) on the ship so that New Zealand customs can check your paperwork and your shoes (make sure you wear a clean pair). Enjoy this time by chatting with those around you or reading a book. The option of leaving the ship at Milford Sound and crossing on land (overnight) to Dunedin is well worth the cost. Visiting Christchurch when we docked at Akaroa (site of 2 earthquakes in 18 months) was very moving experience. Picton (nature tour), Wellington (walked to museum), Napier (wineries) were great ports. The excursion to a Maori village in Tauranga was OK, not spectacular, but the hike up Mount Maunganui made this port very special (you can walk to this location from the ship). Auckland excursion to see sheep herding and shearing was a perfect way to end the cruise, and our luggage was waiting for us when we were driven to the airport. Read Less
Sail Date January 2012
New Zealand Discovery 17-31 January 2012 The long flight MSP-LAX 4 hrs., 3 hr. layover, LAX-SYD 15 hrs. The new Delta "economy comfort" seating was worth the extra cost. Dinner was actually v. good and movie selections ... Read More
New Zealand Discovery 17-31 January 2012 The long flight MSP-LAX 4 hrs., 3 hr. layover, LAX-SYD 15 hrs. The new Delta "economy comfort" seating was worth the extra cost. Dinner was actually v. good and movie selections were excellent. Ambien helped provide 5-6 hrs. sleep. Not a bad flight at all. LAX to SYD was actually more comfortable than MSP to LAX. Sydney Pre-Cruise Days 4 days (if we had a do-over, we would add more days in Sydney) Hotel: Simpsons Hotel in Potts Point. Small boutique hotel that is more of a B&B. Top Tripadvisor.com ratings. We thought it was excellent and did not mind the location. We are walkers and walked all over Sydney. Some of our Sydney highlights included: Royal Botanic Gardens Googee Beach to Bondi Beach walk Watsons Bay, Whale Beach, Palm Beach, Newport Beach Circular Quay and Opera House/Harbour Bridge, Darling Harbour, The Rocks, Darling Point Parramatta River and Sydney Harbour Cruise with Peter Cook Pitt Street Mall, Strand Arcade and QVB shopping districts Hyde Park Gray Lines Grand Blue Mountains all-day tour with a stop at Featherdale Wildlife Park On the first day of our arrival we learned of the Costa Concordia disaster. Tuesday, 17 Jan. Embarkation without a hitch Enjoyed leisurely breakfast and a morning walk to Darling Point before taking taxi to Circular Quay, where we arrived at 1:00 p.m. Breezed through registration and boarded the ship, dropped our carry-ons in our cabin and had lunch in the Lido. Great harbour views from the top of the ship. Beautiful evening sail away out of the harbour with gorgeous views. Assigned seating for main (8:00 p.m.) dining at a table of 6 with wonderful tablemates from U.S. and U.K. Some demographics: 1400+ passengers, largest number from Australia followed by U.S. and U.K. with New Zealand and many other countries represented. 220 passengers had already sailed 2 weeks through the Fiji island area. There were 70+ children and one Australian wedding party of 50. Captain: Peter Bos (very cautious and a bit dramatic in his announcements) Cruise Director: David Griffiths (Australian, 3 yrs. experience with Disney Cruise Line) Hotel Manager: Rene' Tuinman Our cabin: 7063 - Verandah Suite, upgraded from BB to AA, under the Lido deck with some chair noise mornings and evenings but never disturbing our sleep. Wednesday 18 Jan. & Thursday 19 Jan. Our scheduled sea days crossing the Tasman Sea. Somewhat rough seas with ominous weather reports from the Captain. Friday, 20 Jan. Rain off and on while sailing Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound. Dolphin and whale sightings. Smooth sailing in the sounds but the Captain announced that we would be unable to make the Stewart Island (Oban) tender port due to projected weather conditions. All excursions were cancelled. Saturday, 21 Jan. Bypassed Stewart Island and sailed to Port Chalmers/Dunedin a day early. Free shuttles available for transport to Dunedin. We walked around town and enjoyed seeing the beautiful railway station. Sunday, 22 Jan. We had an 8.5 hr. Wildlife Cruise & Penguins excursion out of Dunedin. Nice harbour cruise with Monarch viewing albatross and seal colonies, Marine Center visit, then Nature's Wonder area for lunch and then transport by ATVs to seal colony and yellow-eyed penguin area of the coast. Monday, 23 Jan. Captain announced that due to high winds we would be missing the second tender port of Akaroa and all shore excursions were cancelled. So another sea day and we arrived in Wellington at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, 24 Jan. Beautiful sunny day in Wellington. We did the Scenic Coast by 4WD excursion up Hawkins Hill and along the beautiful coast and Red Rocks Reserve. This was the best coastal scenery of the cruise. Absolutely beautiful. Wednesday, 25 Jan. Napier, with art deco buildings and dockside jazz band and antique automobile club. Another beautiful day. We took the Wineries of Hawkes Bay excursion, visiting 3 different wineries and sampling 5 different wines at each. Very pretty drive and an excellent tour. Thursday, 26 Jan. Tauranga. We did the 9-hr. Hells Gate & Rotorua Highlights excursion, with a very scenic drive on yet another beautiful day. Having just visited Yellowstone Natl. Park in October, we were less than impressed with the Hells Gate Geothermal park. We were able to view kiwis at the Rainbow Springs Nature Park. The excursion highlight for us was the Mitai Village Maori cultural show and hangi lunch. We thought it was just excellent and it exceeded whatever expectations we had. The last stop was at the Agrodome for a sheep show, shearing and sheep dog herding demonstration. While entertaining, we could have done without this one. Rotorua is a beautiful area and well worth visiting. I highly recommend a Maori experience. Friday, 27 Jan. Auckland with some light rain. We took the ferry to Waiheke Island for the Wondeful Waiheke excursion, which included a visit and sampling at the Goldies Vineyard and a coach tour around the island. Saturday, 28 Jan. Waitangi. Our final stop in New Zealand on fortunately a clear sunny day. We took the Catamaran Cruise to Cape Brett excursion, which was excellent. It was worth the price just to watch dozens and dozens of bottlenose dolphins swimming alongside the catamaran. Very scenic sailing out to the point at Cape Brett and the Hole in the Wall formation, where we were able to sail through the Grand Cathedral Cave. There was a drop-off option in Russell but we returned to Waitangi and then took the free shuttle to Paihia, a nice little village with many shops and food venues. We enjoyed a Saturday art fair and wished we had more time to spend in Paihia. We had dinner in the Pinnacle for Le Cirque night. I was somewhat underwhelmed. The meal was nice, but no nicer than on other Pinnacle nights IMHO. Service was satisfactory - I've had better and I've had worse in my Pinnacle experiences. As in the MDR, the Pinnacle stewards seemed overextended. Sunday, 29 Jan. & Mon. 30 Jan. Time for our scheduled 2 sea days crossing back over the Tasman in what grew to be rather treacherous seas. In our dozen or so previous cruises we had not experienced seas quite as rough as these. There were dining room spills, many vacant tables at dinner, and cancelled showroom finales. The captain issued numerous warnings to exercise caution when opening and closing bathroom doors, walking on decks, etc. The wind was so strong I could not budge our verandah door. Fortunately for us, we did not become seasick and never missed a meal. Felt like we earned our sealegs on the second day of the crossing. Tuesday, 31 Jan. Sailed into a calm Sydney Harbour in time to watch the sunrise and docked at 6:00 a.m. We had no plane to catch and were in the next to last group to disembark. Silent disembarkation was flawless. We took a taxi to the Holiday Inn Sydney Airport where our room was again available at 10:00 a.m. We took a short walk up the block to the Mascot train station and headed back to Circular Quay at a round-trip cost of $4.50 each, one of the best bargains of the trip. We spent the entire day walking in Sydney, again to the Botanic Gardens, Hyde Park and the downtown shopping areas and then caught the train back to the hotel. Wednesday, 1 Feb. Enjoyed a wonderful buffet breakfast at the hotel and then caught a shuttle to the SYD airport ($6. ea.). We arrived 2 hrs. 15 min. prior to our flight time but should have allowed at least 3 hours. The Delta line was long and slow (45 min.), followed by a long line through security. Leaving was definitely more time-consuming than arriving. Our flight departed at noon, SYD to LAX 14 hrs., 6 hr. layover at LAX, LAX to MSP 4hrs. Leaving at noon did not work as well for sleeping and the return flight was less comfortable. After arriving home we experienced severe jet lag for 3-4 days. One of our friends had said "flying west is best, flying east is a beast," and that turned out to be true for us. Reflections on Dining and Entertainment I would rate our 14 evenings of dining room meals as very good to excellent overall. Our wine steward was the best I've had on HAL. On sea days we had both breakfast and lunch in the main dining room as the Lido tended to get crowded. On the port days we either took room service or ate breakfasts in the Lido, which was fine and we had a few lunches in the Lido and one late cheeseburger lunch at the pool grill. I had the Admiral Wine Package which was satisfactory. I was told upfront that a few of the advertised wines were out of stock but the wine steward was very accommodating in providing me with "upgrade" bottles of reds in place of the unavailable labels. For entertainment, on the top of the heap in terms of popularity was Piano Man Glenn-Michael. The guy packed them in the Piano Bar, always standing room only for every performance. The venue should have been moved to the Crow's Nest. Alternating in the Piano Bar was guitarist Michael Simons, who we were able to hear and he was very good. The Neptunes in the Ocean Bar sounded good for dance music. I was a little disappointed in the Adagio Strings this cruise. They were all young Russian women, none of whom seemed able to crack a smile the entire cruise. We usually enjoy pre-dinner cocktails in the Explorer's Lounge but chose to go to the Crow's Nest instead. I was pleased to see that the Crow's Nest on the Volendam as on the Zaandam still remain exclusive without the Library/Cafe intruding on the space as they do on the newer class ships. There was a DJ in the Crow's Nest after dinners who was adequate but horrendous when he attempted to sing Karaoke. The HAL Cats - suffice it to say that they are appropriately named. The casino never seemed crowded this cruise. Sorry for the rambling and drawn-out review. Overall the Australia and New Zealand cruise was a wonderful experience in two very beautiful countries. The only piece of advice that I would offer is that if you are going to travel this far for a cruise, do allow yourselves opportunities to see more of Australia pre or post-cruise. Read Less
Sail Date January 2012
This was our 6th cruise but it was our very first cruise with Holland America Line. Embarkation was satisfactory. Our luggage was delivered quickly to our cabin. The ship itself was smaller than the ships we had cruised on before, ... Read More
This was our 6th cruise but it was our very first cruise with Holland America Line. Embarkation was satisfactory. Our luggage was delivered quickly to our cabin. The ship itself was smaller than the ships we had cruised on before, but it had everything that any other big cruise ships have. There were beautiful fresh arranged flowers almost everywhere around the ship, the arrangements of the flowers were nice and elegant along and how they were decorated throughout the whole ship. Our cabin was on the verandah suite, the cabin itself was tidy and clean. Fresh flowers and a fruit bowl were present in the cabin. We did utilise the room order service as it was free, and service was very good. A small bottle of body lotion was replaced every other day, and we could not complain about it. The suite was in the forward, beneath the navigation area, but away from common area and in a quiet location. The crew were very polite and friendly. Main Dining room - We had an open dining area for the first few nights but one night we like the waiters who served us very well, then we were offered a fixed dining location with the same waiters, and we were very happy since having the same table and same waiters we were accustomed to. Food in the main dining room was delicious, there were heaps of choices and the service was wonderful. They cooked the most juicy and tasteful beef dishes. We did order wine during dinner and price was reasonable and as we could not finish our bottle in one night, they kept our unfinished bottle for the subsequent night. We preferred the buffet for our breakfast and lunch. While other cruise liners hit you with a bill for fresh orange juice, free freshly squeezed orange juices are widely available on Volendam. As for buffet lunch, there were a wide variety of fruits, cherries, blueberries, grapes, mangoes, blackberries, raspberry along with other common fruit like oranges, bananas, melons and apples. The entertainment on board was sufficient and very professional though the ship could only carry a small number of performers. The Piano bar was packed every night as Glenn the Piano Man was so good that we spent most of our time listening to all the wonderful music he played and performed. There were heaps of activities on the ship and the free computer classes was definitely unexpected. Aiden the expert was very experienced and patient to teach us, and we learnt a great deal from using Windows 7 to movie making, etc. The public rooms were always clean with a very tasteful decoration. Disembarkation was like a breeze when we docked at Sydney's Overseas Terminal. Overall, we had a wonderful experience with Holland America Line and we would surely consider this cruise line again for our next cruise. Read Less
Sail Date December 2011
We planned our holiday New Zealand Cruise, our first on Holland America Line, about 6 months ago, and used other Cruise Critics reviews and message board to plan many aspects of our trip. We booked our trip through USAA travel agency ... Read More
We planned our holiday New Zealand Cruise, our first on Holland America Line, about 6 months ago, and used other Cruise Critics reviews and message board to plan many aspects of our trip. We booked our trip through USAA travel agency available to military or former miltary members. We are experienced internet travel searchers, and still was a better deal than we could have gotten anywhere else. We found the best flight deal through www.kayak.com and then booked directly through the airline (Asiana Air) for our flights than connected through Seoul. Asiana is very much like flying used to be. Flight attendents are uniformly young, with the same uniform and hairstyles, and a heavy emphasis on service (hot towels, hot tea, diet coke in the middle of a 14 hour flight if you ask, lots of movies on your personal screen). We had to get over the sticker shock of flights costing half again as muich as the cruise for the four of us, but it is summer, Christmas, and a heck of a long flight from Chicago to Sydney and back, so we bit the bullet. That also bespeaks that the cruise was a really good deal for a 16 day over Christmas. Boarding was quick and efficient, and we were able to get to our cabin right away as oppsed to having to carry stuff around for several hours. It was clear immediately that the cruise was mostly older Australians, which we were fine with. We had a 1st level ocean view cabin in the aft of the ship (#1945) which was great and had a large window. Plus not any of the engine noise bugged us. We went straight up and add at the Lido buffet, which was varied and generally very good, with sushi, fresh ice cream, and a good ceasar salad bar and pasta made fresh daily. Then we were off the ship to get UGGs and go to he Opera House. We missed the tours that afternoon but made plan to attend one in the morning. We had fixed early seating in the main dining room, which we went to all but 3-4 nights as we like having the same table and wait staff that knew our names and preferences. Our waitstaff struggled with their English, but tried very hard. Our bar waiter was excellent and even made the kids a chair out of champagne tops and an origami bird. Food in the main dining room was standard fare, trying to be a litle too fancy. my 11 year old daughter had ceasar salad and chicken breast with veggies almost every day, so nice to have the "always available" options. In general, red meat was very small portions, but willing to get more if you would like. I always ordered a meal size salad for the salad course, and then something else for dinner, because if you can't overeat on a cruise ship, where can you? The next day (the ship stayed berthed in Sydney overnight) we went ot the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, plus walked around the Rocks. Awesome city. General notes about pluses and minuses of HAL as compared to other lines (at least Disney, Norwegian, and Carnival, which we have sailed on before): 1) Great library, almost the size of a small town library, along with a chess/scrabble/majong area. I checked out several books and read them on the trip. there are also Eron chairs that you can sit in and watch the sunset. 2) Another unexpected feature...each room has a DVD player, and a listing of about 1,000 DVDs that can be checked out from the front desk. Everything from Finding nemo to the first 2 seasons of Rome are available. 3) Camesoli's, the italian restaurant on Lido deck from dinner, requires a reservation but is free of charge, unlike Pinnacle. Very good italian food and antipasto. 4) The teens have their own small deck, The Oasis, with tables, a wading pool, and some of the best views on the ship. Awesome. 5) There is a smalldeck off of the gym which has some navigational equipment on it but is still available to stand on. 6) The Susan G. Kolman walk for the cure on the last sea day that HAL offers is a nice touch, and you get a t-shirt, a sense of comraderie, and pink lemonade for $15 donation 7) Get a tailor-made omelette or sandwich from Rene on Lido deck...hard to beat. 8) The bathrooms have a bathtub in them which is deep enough to be serviceable. Very useful if you are not feeling well or have a kid who got seasick. 9) There is a small movie theatre and free popcorn. The same space is used by raising the screen to expose a show kitchen, which has several classes/day on cooking specific items. 10) There are free computer classes on everything from Windows 7 to Movie Making, and how to take best advantage of your digital camera offered by Aiden. I am pretty savvy with the computer, but Aiden was excellent, and even if a class with peopel of vastly different experiences with computers, I learned new things every time, and was impressed that he wasn't trying to sell anything, but rather lead people to free public resources. 11) Scenic cruising through the fjords was well-commentated on the main decks by Jeremy. This was a good blend of animal-sightings, knowing what you are looking at, and history of Capt. Cook and the oginial Moari people 12) Ships (or municiplalities) arranged for free shuttles from the several working ports we docked at into the town 13) Room service, which I always order on ships because it is free and such a treat, was very good, quick, and varied enough to be a good "fourth meal." 14) The pool was small and no slide, but freshwater, with a cool dolphin thing in it, which is wonderful as we are used to some of the ships having saltwater pools which are hard to get used to and yucky for little kids who invariably get a big mouthful 15) Fresh flowers throughout the ship, including on all of the tables in main dining room. Not something I would expect to make a difference, but it was a very elegant tough and nice to see Downsides: 1) Food at Rotterdam dining room was of good quality, but too fancy with "recommendations from the master chef." A small thing, but only offered a really good steak once, and when they offered lobster it was a small 1/2 tail. The waitstaff struggled with English, and we found it easier to point to the item we wanted, and difficult to make any smalltalk 2) Beer list was not great, but they did have a few Australian beers. 3) For a quad, the room set-up is odd with a queen bed at the end and the twin pull down over part of the queen, then the sofa converted to a twin. 4) Again, a small thing, but they had a small thing of lotion provided at the beginning, but didn't replace it once used, so we had to buy lotion at a port. 5) We went to two of the shows... not great, especially compared to other lines. The movies took up that time for us. 6) Our preference at play here, but there were 5 formal days over 16 days, and most of them were heavily formal (tuxedos for men). I was glad my husband brought a tie, but we were still underdressed, and like a more casual atmosphere, which HAL is not 7) We were in port on Christmas and New Year's Day, and at sea the following days. Perhaps at least for one day we could have switched that so people didn't have to work to open tourist areas on Christmas Day. 8) The Captain's messages at first were shockingly negative, although eventually we found them amusing. As we were sailing across the Tasmin Sea, he did a whole thing about how "the Tasmin claims its victims" and a kayaker who died trying to cross recently. After another (albeit smaller) earthquake in Christchurch he spoke about how it wouldn't effect us, "only feels like you are running aground." it would have been more amusing it we were a naval vessel instead of a pleasure trip. That sai, amazing maneuvering in Milford Sound, turning the ship around fully to give everyone a good view. So, overall, an unforgetable trip, and totally worth skipping Christmas for. A 9 on 1-10. Read Less
Sail Date December 2011
This a review of the Volendam's 5 December 11 voyage around New Zealand, a Sydney to Sydney round trip. But there is a back story to this review. In July my wife Gail, who posts on these boards as Abby Ruth, was diagnosed with ALS ... Read More
This a review of the Volendam's 5 December 11 voyage around New Zealand, a Sydney to Sydney round trip. But there is a back story to this review. In July my wife Gail, who posts on these boards as Abby Ruth, was diagnosed with ALS (motor neurone disease for those in the UK). The disease is marked by a progressive weakening of the voluntary muscles. We got evidence of this on an earlier Black Sea cruise, when Gail literally fell off a tour bus trying to get up a very high set of steps. We canceled all remaining ships tours, and either got around ports on our own or made a deal with a cab driver to take us around. By early Fall, Gail was using a walker, and three months before leaving, we decided to rent a wheelchair in Sydney and take it with us on the ship. We had already made arrangements for private tours in vehicles which Gail could enter and which could carry the folded chair. Booking A little over two weeks before leaving, I discovered that Volendam has bathtubs in its cabins, unlike the Cunard and Celebrity ships we have previously taken. I knew that this would be a problem for Gail, since we have installed rails at home for her to use when showering. I called our HAL cruise consultant to ask about switching to a handicap cabin which would have a stall shower. He told us that the boat was full, and that we would be on a waitlist for any disability cabins which open up. I decided to bypass him and go directly to HAL's Access and Compliance department. They immediately e-mailed us a form on which I stated our needs, and 36 minutes after I clicked on Send, their return e-mail gave us our new cabin number, in a wheelchair accessible cabin three grades above the one which we had booked. As far as I am concerned, this defines customer service (and raises some questions about the cruise consultant). The Flight I decided that the flight from Philadelphia to Sydney was worth spending my accumulated US Airways miles in order to go business class. Our routing involved a number of Star Alliance airlines, starting with Air Canada, via Toronto and Vancouver. Wheelchairs awaited us at each destination, and in Vancouver we had the pleasure of using Air Canada's business class lounge for a few hours. We liked Air Canada's pod-like business-class seats, which are placed at an angle to the plane's wall and aisle. I was thus able to help Gail get up from her seat when she needed to use the toilet. Even in business class, the 15.5 hour flight from Vancouver to Sydney was tedious, and we both slept a lot. The big surprise on landing in Sydney was having overheads opened and the plane sprayed; we were not allowed to touch our luggage for five minutes after spraying, by which time presumably all of the cooties which we had brought from North America would have fallen over clutching their throats. At Sydney too a wheelchair was waiting, and an unpleasant surprise. Thursday 1 December There's nothing that makes the heart sink like getting paged at baggage claim when not all of your bags have yet appeared. One of my bags didn't make it onto the plane in Vancouver. I soon learned that it was the bag with all of my clothes. Unless I wanted to walk around Sydney in a tuxedo, I was going to need some new clothing. Because I was flying business class, Qantas, acting for Air Canada, gave me $100 for emergency outfitting. This doesn't go far in Sydney. At the department store next to my hotel, I spent $186 on two sets of underwear, two pairs of socks and two dress shirts. Since I am a big guy, I didn't have much selection. The only underpants which fit were black and, bizarrely, had no fly. I eventually fixed that deficiency with my wife's scissors. She was totally wiped out from the flight and slept all afternoon and we wound up eating an expensive but not bad dinner at the hotel. We stayed at the Swissotel in Sydney. This was not the cheapest option at an average $250 a night (at the time of writing, the Australian and US dollars were at parity) but it included free wired internet and has a superb location between the accessible Town Hall underground station and Sydney's largest bookstore with, as it turned out, several accessible restaurants nearby. We had 1919, a handicap room overlooking Market Street but getting no street noise whatsoever. The bathroom was huge, and the roll-in shower was designed not to flood the rest of the bathroom. A full breakfast buffet was tasty, but ran $35 a person. Friday 2 December Our first activity was a four-hour tour of Greater Sydney with Geoff Kemble of Wheelchairs to Go, who has a one-chair Toyota van with a lift. Gail went in the back, and transferred to the front passenger seat. Geoff was knowledgeable, and insisted on pushing the chair at places where we dismounted, including an area near Mrs. Macquarie's Chair with a stunning view of the Opera House, skyline and Bridge. We had lunch at an outdoor cafe in Tamarama Beach, where Geoff surfs when he is not driving one of Sydney's 700 wheelchair cabs (which by the way, do not charge extra, but should be booked in advance; they are very busy). After wimping out and eating in the hotel the first night, we were determined to find a nearby accessible restaurant. The Westfield Mall is a block from our hotel, and has a sort of restaurant food court on the 6th floor, all accessible but requiring going up a long ramp. We ate at Spiedo, a sophisticated northern Italian restaurant (ie, no red sauce) with an open kitchen. Quite good, about $100 for the two of us which is moderate by Sydney standards. Saturday 3 December The agenda today was to see whether Sydney's rail transit system is really as wheelchair-friendly as it claims to be. The answer is, pretty much yes. We decided to take the ferry to Manly, a picturesque half-hour trip across Sydney's harbor. Again the sky was clear and the temperature in the mid-60s on this official third day of summer. We went to the Queen Victoria Building, catty-corner from our hotel, and walked through the 1891 building to an elevator which took us down to an underground concourse leading directly to Town Hall station. This is one of the stations on the city loop reputed to have wheelchair access to trains. I bought two $20 all-day, all-mode tickets and asked how we would get Gail to the platform. A station agent came out from the office, ushered us through an open gate without checking our tickets, and took us on the lift down to the proper platform for Circular Quay, from where the ferries depart. On the platform, he introduced us to the platform manager, and we learned that a wheelchair ride on the underground trains is a customized event; you don't just nonchalantly roll onto your train. The Sydney underground loop is not really a subway as most of the rest of the world knows it. Rather, it is the termination of suburban electric trains; it is closest in practice to the Parisian RER. The door bottoms on the heavy double-deck railcars do not line up with the platform, requiring the platform manager to bring out a portable ramp to get onto the train. Not only that, but the platform manager needs to know where you are getting off, so that she can alert the platform manager at the other end as to what car you are in, in order to be waiting with the exit ramp. A little clunky, but it works, and the station staff were unfailingly nice about it. At Circular Quay a lift took us down to ground level, where we exited through the wide gate which is next to the booth with a human at each station. This is a very labor-intensive railroad. We walked over to Wharf 3 for the Manly ferry, and got in line for one which was just discharging passengers preparatory to loading. Passengers walk up a ramp to get on the boat, but it is uneven, changes slope, and has raised metal strips for traction. I needed to take Gail up the ramp backwards, and we eventually disembarked backwards as well. I put Gail's chair on the outside deck in a space next to a bench, but she had to be sideways in order to allow space for people to pass. I sat next to her, and we had a spectacular trip across, culminating with the discovery of a handicap bathroom in the Manly terminal. After wandering around Manly for a bit and having lunch at an outdoor cafe, we caught a boat back, boarding just as the gates were closing. I guilted some people into moving over on an outside bench so I could be next to Gail, and we had another spectacular ride back. Through the wide gate and up to the platform on the lift, and there was a train already in the station. This time a conductor on the train (I told you it is labor-intensive) set up the ramp and radioed ahead to Town Hall for the ramp to be waiting. I could have taken Gail off, backwards, without the ramp, but sure enough the platform manager was waiting as we pulled in. So yes, Sydney's rail and ferries are wheelchair friendly, but with a little help. Back to Westfield Center for dinner at Xanthia, a Greek restaurant with a shredded lamb shoulder to die for. Gail got a mushroom and truffle moussaka, which satisfied her mushroom addiction. Sunday, 4 December Today Tony Estevez, one of the principals of Wheelchairs to Go, took us up to the Blue Mountains west of Sydney in his huge two-chair Toyota HiAce Commuter, also with lift. We stopped first at Ferndale Animal Reserve, about an hour outside of central Sydney, where every animal is a native Australian. We got to pet a koala bear (all of his mates were asleep, since that it really what koalas do most of the time), as well as cockatoos, wombats and wallabies. The latter are like miniature kangaroos, and we saw a wallaby baby half-out of its mother's pouch. The wallabies are about the size of German Shepherds and quite placid with being fussed over by people. Kangaroos are much bigger, and are not allowed to wander freely. We got to hold a truly ugly lizard looking like a miniature dinosaur, and were introduced to wombats, which are sort of like slow-moving furry casks. Our good weather luck ended on Saturday. The same showers that cut our visit to Ferndale short brought heavy cloud cover/fog which completely covered the iconic Three Sisters. And the accessible cable car which was to take us to a wheelchair-friendly path of rain forest on the valley floor was out of service, awaiting a part from Germany. Our plan B was to drive to the old Government House in Parramatta, a late 18th/early 19th home of several early NSW governors, including the famous Macquarie. We got there just as it was closing, but were given a lively ground floor tour by the site's director. The site is not far from Parramatta station, one of the accessible stations on the City Rail system (not all of them are), so we could have reached it from the hotel. Dinner was at the Fat Buddha, an accessible Chinese restaurant open 24/7 in the 1891 Queen Victoria Building, a sight in itself with its exuberant Victorian decor. Monday, 5 December Back to the QVB for some shopping at the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Company) store, which has an excellent children's book section, and a good selection of CDs, especially classical. We bought a book for a nephew and I bought a classical CD incorporating an aboriginal digeridoo, which I'm not likely to find back in southern NJ. We asked the desk to call a wheelchair cab for the short ride over to Darling Harbor and the ship. After waiting over a half hour, we concluded that the promised cab was not going to show up, and settled for a station wagon. The reality of the Sydney disabled cab scene is that the wheelchair cabs are generally booked up with hospital patients or people going to clinics. And non-wheelchair cabs don't want to handle chairs. After the Swissotel doorman flagged down a station wagon and I rolled Gail out, the cabbie looked at her and said "I don't want no wheelchairs" and roared away. The second cab took the chair, but cursed under his breath when he heard the destination, perhaps a mile and a half from the hotel. At the wharf 5 terminal, Holland America had a wheelchair help desk but, uniquely in my experience, no porters were available to take passenger luggage. So a HAL team member wheeled Gail into the departures hall, and the HAL wheelchair guy and I hand carried the luggage to where it needed to go. We eventually made it onto the ship and looked around our recently acquired disabled cabin, 3429. This is right at the back of the ship and opens onto the outdoor promenade deck. The windows are heavily silvered, so we were not concerned about people looking in. The cabin is large, with ample room to park the chair, and three closets. The large bathroom has a roll-in shower at one end with a clever set of floor drains to keep it from being flooded. We were able to get a table for two, more comfortable for Gail since her speech tends to deteriorate in the evening when she is more tired; we had originally asked for a table for 6. Tuesday, 6 December and Wednesday, 7 December A very rough crossing of the Tasman Sea. Gail can be unsteady on her feet on dry land; in a heaving sea, I needed to be with her every moment of the day. All that kept us going was the expectation that the water would be calmer as soon as we reached New Zealand coastal waters. This, incidentally, is nothing unusual. The Tasman Sea is known for its heavy swell, which in our case was as high as 12 feet. We liked the Volendam. HAL's crews do seem friendlier and more helpful than those on other lines, and we appreciated some of the line's trademark practices, like fresh-squeezed orange juice at breakfast, keeping entertainers in the same lounge for the whole trip rather than moving them around as Celebrity does, and allowing free internet access to nytimes.com which meant that we could keep our NY Times iPad app constantly updated. The food was imaginative and well-prepared, and I was surprised to discover that the cheese selection (always a dessert option) was more sophisticated than on the Cunarder we had sailed in a few months before. What was even more surprising was the quality of the food in the Lido, where excellent curries were regularly available. A portion of the Lido became the ship's Italian restaurant at dinner time which seemed rather strange; we were quite happy with the main dining room for dinner. The ship handles its passengers well; we typically got an empty elevator, which made maneuvering the chair easier. Getting around with the wheelchair was no problem, and often in the dining room, a steward would take the chair to our table. There are a number of handicap bathrooms at various places around the ship. Probably the only real downside were the three daily announcements over the PA system from the ship's cheery Cruise Director. These communicated nothing that wasn't in the daily program, and wound up sounding like commercials, not something I want on a cruise. Thursday, 8 December Having actually reached New Zealand, we stayed on the ship for a day of scenic cruising through three impressive fjords (misnamed sounds): Milford Sound (lent an air of mystery by early morning fog); Doubtful Sound and the largest of all, Dusky Sound. One breathtaking vista followed another, with the common theme of steep green-clad hills coming down into quiet dark waters. Milford Sound triggered memories of scenes from one of the Lord of the Rings films. We both took huge numbers of pictures as we absorbed the always-interesting commentary by Jeremy, the ship's tour guide and amateur historian. Friday, 9 December The ship's first port was Oban, on Stewart Island, a national park with only about 400 permanent residents. Since this is a tender port, we inquired about wheelchair handling, and were told that the dock at Oban could not handle wheelchairs (too narrow?) and that we therefore could not disembark. Considering that that there is a rather steep 700-foot uphill climb from the dock to the town, we were not upset. In any case, our interest always tends toward how people live in different countries and toward architecture, rather than nature. So we spent a relaxed day on the ship along with quite a few others. Saturday, 10 December Our first landfall, in Dunedin, where we had arranged for a half-day tour in a minivan with Kim of Iconic Tours. He was standing at the bottom of the steepest gangway I have ever seen, holding a sign with our name. But how was I going to get the chair down a near-45 degree ramp? Luckily, two crew members took over and got the chair down, and took it up when we returned. Kim had an auxiliary step in his van, and Gail could sit in the passenger seat next to him, while I sat in the back. We had a thorough tour of Dunedin on a sunny spring day (winter starts later in NZ than in Australia), including a lovely Rose garden and a stop at the southernmost synagogue in the world. We also toured Olveston, a turn-of-the-20th-century mansion built by a Dunedin magnate and occupied by his wife until 1966; everything in the house is original. A highlight of the evening was the Indonesian crew show. We had seen this on board Maasdam and were under the impression that this was something that the crew whipped up in their spare time, using costumes brought from home. However, several years later and on a different ship the show was virtually identical, leading me to suspect that it is a HAL "product" with less spontaneity than I had thought. Nevertheless, it was lively and fun, and we really enjoyed it. Gail was able to leave the chair and sit in a balcony seat, though I had to help her up when we left. Sunday, 11 December Akaroa was really the only tender port for which we had plans. Uncharacteristically for us, we had booked on a two-hour nature cruise leaving directly from the tender dock (the original port of Lyttleton/Christchurch was scrubbed due to earthquake damage). We had notified the ship of our need to take the chair on the tender, and were told that that our ability to disembark would depend on the weather and the height of the seas, which seemed reasonable to us, and that someone from Guest Services would call and let us know how things stood. When no one called, I did, and was chagrined to be told that the wheelchair lift on Volendam was not in working order, and that access to the tender could only be obtained by those who could walk down (and then of course back up) 13 steps, which certainly left Gail out. I e-mailed Black Cat cruises, which had been paid in advance, and they graciously refunded our money. So another relaxing day on the boat, not the worst of things given the fact that the day was damp, cold and grey. Monday, 12 December Our first North Island port today, Wellington. Getting off the ship was an adventure. The gangway was very steep, and it required two HAL crew members to take Gail down in the chair, backwards. It was never clear to us why such steep gangways were necessary, since the ship can disembark passengers on decks 1, 2 and 3 as well as from the tender doors on Deck A. The latter probably can't be used for gangways because changing tides might put it below dock level. So for anyone in a wheelchair, getting off and back on the ship at various ports is a white-knuckle experience. Laura the Explorer from Flat Earth Tours met us with a standard Kia minivan. Gail was able to get into the front seat by going in butt first and swiveling around, but we learned later that NZ law requires that second and third row passenger seats in such vans be recessed from the doors, which makes it difficult for Gail to use them. We got a great half-day tour of Wellington, which is breathtakingly hilly. We rode a cable car from downtown to a hillside suburb and learned that some hillside dwellers park on streets below their houses and install private cable cars to reach their property. Toward the end of the tour, Laura waited for us outside of the national museum (Te Papa) while we bought gifts. We tend not to be museum-goers when we travel; we are more interested in how people live. Incidentally, the small coffeehouse and pastry shop at which we stopped for a break had a serviceable handicap bathroom, even though New Zealand does not have anything equivalent to the US ADA. Tuesday, 13 December Today's port is Napier, the highlight of the trip for me. It was a NY Times article about Napier a few years ago which triggered my desire to go to NZ. The town was virtually destroyed in a 1931 earthquake and was rebuilt in the most modern style, which at the time was art deco. The residents have been wise enough to realize how unique a town they have, and the art deco downtown has been preserved. For the first time, we got some pushback at our desire to take the chair down an extremely steep gangplank. We were asked several times if Gail was able to walk down the gangway, and were told once that we couldn't depart the ship. Then a ship's officer came up from outside and personally helped another crew member take the chair down. I think that HAL's heart is in the right place, but the execution is occasionally shaky. We toured with John of Hawkes Bay Scenic Tours in a 10-seater Toyota Hi-Ace. Gail had to sit in the second row, and it was a struggle getting there; we would have been better off in a minivan rather than this larger vehicle, but regrettably for us, the tour sold well and the company had to lay on a larger vehicle. Although on-board time was 1:30 due to the tides at Napier, we got to see a lot of the surrounding countryside, including some magnificent views from high points, and one of the local vineyards. As we neared the end of the tour, John let us out for a 20-minute wander around the art deco district. Since Gail had such a struggle getting into the van, she stayed on board whenever the rest of us dismounted, and while we were downtown, John drove her to nearby residential area where many of the houses were in art deco style. Back on board, and then an afternoon nap before getting dressed for our first formal night of the cruise. We ducked out of an earlier formal night during the rough passage across the Tasman Sea and ate in our cabin. Wednesday, 14 December We docked at Mount Manganui, a suburb of Tauranga which in turn is the port for Rotorua, a center of both Maori culture and geothermal activity. Having no interest in either of the latter, we took this as an extra sea day, although I went off for an hour to check out a local bookstore and to buy a newspaper. Gail elected to stay on board, which was a wise move since the weather was humid and overcast, with some sprinkles as I returned to the ship. The ship is much nicer, and quieter for reading, with everyone off on tours. Because of the tides, we were in port until 11pm, but quite a few people stayed on board to eat. Alarming news came in the form of a letter from the captain telling us that we would probably miss the call at Waitangi due to predicted nasty weather in the Tasman Sea. We will need Friday, he thinks, to make up for the loss of time from slowing down the ship to keep passengers comfortable in 20-foot swells. Thursday, December 15 A desultory tour of Auckland on grey rainy day. The guide was late, although some of that may be because I told him, following HAL's port information leaflet, that we would come in at Prince's Wharf and we in fact docked at Queen's Wharf, next one over. Still, the Volendam is pretty hard to miss. One feature of this tour is that it is conducted in an S-class Mercedes. Either our guide is misinformed, or there is truly not that much to see in Auckland, which in fact looks like any largish American city. Apparently the high spot of the tour was to have been an hour or two in the Auckland Museum, and our guide was miffed when we declined, explaining that we want to see how people live, not what they collected. We were dropped back at the ship, and I went out a little later to buy a gift for a friend and to change my remaining NZ dollars for Australian dollars. Curiously, I got a better rate at a hole-in-the-wall currency exchange in Auckland's Westfield Center than in the HSBC bank next door, which wanted to charge a NZ$10 fee to exchange NZ$133. At dinner, the Captain confirmed that we will miss the Bay of Islands call, and offered a glass of champagne in token recompense. We are warned that the sea will be rough from 7am Friday to 7am Saturday, but that things should get better over the weekend. Friday, 16 December through Sunday, 18 December Well, the seas were rough on Friday, and even on Saturday, but no worse than they were coming to NZ. Things smoothed out on Sunday. Sunday was the final dinner of the trip, with the chef's parade, baked Alaska and a high level of general silliness. Perhaps someone wasn't paying due attention to the food, because Gail's dinner of a spinach and mushroom strudel came back with explosive force later that evening. We initially thought "norovirus," although Gail had been punctilious about using the ship's Purell dispensers. But she ran no fever and felt better in the morning, and ate normally thereafter. Food poisoning? Can't say, since we know no one else who had that dish. Monday, 19 December Before learning that Volendam would dock at the Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay, we had booked one post-cruise night at the Holiday Inn Old Sydney, which is literally across the street from the Passenger Terminal. I immediately started worrying about how I was going to manage the chair and the five bags and talk a cab driver into taking me on a short ride. To my surprise, it all went smoothly. HAL had a special disembarkation group for the handicapped which met in the deck 5 Ocean Bar, and a crewman took Gail in the chair through Australian Customs and out the cab rank, with me following with all of the luggage piled on a free cart. As it happened, there was a wheelchair cab waiting, so the dispatcher had us jump the queue and take the wheelchair cab, and he in turn did not object to such a short fare. The final miracle was that our handicapped room at the Holiday Inn was cleaned and ready for us at 8:30am. A word on Sydney's wheelchair cabs. There are about 700 of them, and as noted above, the investment in such a vehicle is generally repaid with a steady flow of work from hospital and clinic patients. It is very rare to find a wheelchair cab on a cab rank. But if you get a wheelchair cab, you will pay the same as anyone else making the same trip. The meters on all Sydney cabs are programmed for the same fare structure and then sealed, and cabs are regularly inspected to see if the seals are still intact. In spite of off and on sprinkles, I wheeled Gail around the area (called The Rocks), which is the oldest part of Sydney. There are some streets with steep hills which I skipped out of concern for being able to push the chair up them, or control it coming down, and some streets with steps, so we didn't see everything. In the afternoon I left Gail in the room and went to Sydney's Central Station, which has a large railfan bookstore, and in the evening, we went to an Italian restaurant behind the hotel, which we learned about on these boards. With her swallowing difficulties, Gail does well with pasta dishes. Tuesday, 20 December and Wednesday, 21 December Up at 5, breakfast at 6, cab at 7 and flight at 10, the first leg of our Sydney-Bangkok-Frankfurt-Philadelphia routing. Aside from a 25-minute wait for a wheelchair at Thai's check-in desk, the trip was uneventful. We spent 7 hours in Thai's business-class lounge in Bangkok, which has some rudimentary food available, as well as free wi-fi, but we were unable to identify anyone on the internet who could handle a wheelchair for a short tour of Bangkok. The one handicapped bathroom in the lounge seemed to be about a half-mile from where we were sitting near the entrance, but was clean and serviceable. The 11-hour Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt boarded around midnight (3am Sydney time) and after a post-takeoff meal we slept most of the way into Frankfurt. There we were met by a wheelchair and taken to the business class lounge near our gate, quite a distance from the gate where we landed. Having flown in and out of Frankfurt a lot on business, I was aware that a shortage of gates means that some planes get "bus positions" requiring a walk down a flight of steps and a bus ride (usually standing) to the terminal itself, and was stressing about whether this would happen to either our inbound or outbound flight. Not an issue for this trip, and we were later told that wheelchair people could be handled on bus position planes by a special vehicle. Another long layover, then 8 hours across the Atlantic (the 747 was wi-fi equipped, but it was not working on our flight), another possibly lost bag which eventually emerged from the bowels of Philadelphia's luggage delivery system, and then the welcome sight of our friends who volunteered to pick us up waving as we emerged from the customs area. Read Less
Sail Date December 2011
Volendam Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 3.5 4.0
Dining 4.0 4.0
Entertainment 3.5 3.5
Public Rooms 4.0 4.2
Fitness Recreation 4.5 3.8
Family 3.5 3.8
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.5
Enrichment 5.0 3.5
Service 5.0 4.2
Value For Money 4.0 3.8
Rates 4.0 3.9

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