217 Holland America Volendam Cruise Reviews

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
This was our tenth cruise with five cruiselines over a period of 14 years. We always choose verandah or mini-suite accommodation and have been happy with every experience so far. We had read differing views of Volendam but were prepared to ... Read More
This was our tenth cruise with five cruiselines over a period of 14 years. We always choose verandah or mini-suite accommodation and have been happy with every experience so far. We had read differing views of Volendam but were prepared to take the chance on a 16-day round-trip cruise, Sydney to New Zealand, for Christmas and New Year. What a surprise! This is the most gorgeous ship that measures up to, and often exceeds, some other high-end vessels. The decor is simply stunning in the Florentine style and lounge areas extremely comfortable and inviting. The only comparison we can make is Pacific Princess, also beautiful. We always begin the day with a light room-service breakfast, the only type usually available. Another surprise - a full breakfast menu for the first time, served on Rosenthal china with HOT tea and coffee. Also, we often eat lunch in the dining room, but we found the atmosphere and environment in the Lido buffet was quiet and spotlessly clean with genuinely friendly staff. Not the noisy mosh pit we've experienced many times! The Lido food was better than that offered by some dining rooms on other ships, especially the dreadful Rhapsody of the Seas, with a wide variety clearly separated into Asian, Italian, entrees, etc. We had pre-dinner drinks in the Ocean Bar every night and found the staff and service friendly. Music from jazz to modern was provided by the Neptune Trio, piano, bass and drums. It was a perfect background for a view of the sea or a whizz around the dance floor at the end of the day. Dinner in the Dining Room was always delicious. The food was prepared to perfection - the ship serves the best beef we've ever eaten - and variety unlimited. There's lots of duck and lobster, not offered routinely on many cruise ships, and service was impeccable. Our wine steward, Belinda from the Phillipines, was a joy to see each night and had good knowledge of the wines on offer. A string quartet played from the balcony during dinner. Christmas and New Year celebrations were just that, with staff going the extra mile to entertain us. Our final night in the dining room was remarkable, with waitstaff dancing into the room singing, twirling plates on poles, waving napkins, as well as the grand alaska (without the flambe, thanks to OHS). It was a bit sad to leave and that's our indication of enjoyment. We were particularly impressed with the fact that we had been allocated our requested table for two, something we have almost had to beg for on other ships where we have loyalty status. We booked for a special night in Pinnacle Grill to celebrate Le Cirque, an iconic New York restaurant which has authorised Holland America to provide dinners from its menu. For $59 a person, including matched wines, we had an extraordinary evening. It's the most beautiful restaurant at sea that we have found and a very, very special place. Following the principle of starting with two positive things before a negative, we must say the following: Our verandah accommodation (deluxe verandah is twice the price) was compact, but after the shock of entering a narrow space between bathroom and wardrobe where both doors can't be opened simultaneously, we settled in and found an abundance of storage (and I'm an over-packer) and must draw potential passengers' notice to the fact that there are two big concealed shoe drawers at the end of the beds. Also, it is a great pity that the open-plan casino spews cigarette smoke from the slot-machine area at one end and the bar from the other into the open walkway between show-lounge, Ocean Bar, shops and Piano Bar. The adjacent and barely divided Piano Bar is especially inviting and after trying it on day one we felt sorry for the excellent female performer there night after night with a poor early audience. Perhaps the smokers came later and took a regular three steps into the casino for a puff. Only 17% of Australians smoke and we manage to avoid it most of the time at home. Staff at the open-plan shop opposite the casino are concerned at the impact it has on their business and a glass partition might solve the problem, but might also deter the company's desirable impulse gamblers. We had one small problem when the ship was unprepared for the need for electric adaptors and were without for a couple of days. When an offer of lunch at Pinnacle Grill ($10 each) wasn't possible for us, the $20 was credited to our shipboard account by understanding Front Office staff. Take note, Princess Cruises! Embarkation from Sydney's Overseas terminal was unimpressive, as usual, for a landmark position, but disembarkation was well-managed. Again for the first time, room-service breakfast was not suspended at a time when it was most appreciated. We chose late departure of 8.45am and it was seamless. Congratulations, Holland America, for our memorable cruise experience - you will certainly be seeing us again, despite the rewards offered by our loyalty to other lines. Read Less
Sail Date December 2011
Having cruised recently on the Sea Princess, I imagined that Holland America would be a similar experience, well I was wrong! Boarding at Los Angeles (Long Beach) was a breeze, no queues, no hassle and the whole process only took 10 ... Read More
Having cruised recently on the Sea Princess, I imagined that Holland America would be a similar experience, well I was wrong! Boarding at Los Angeles (Long Beach) was a breeze, no queues, no hassle and the whole process only took 10 minutes, pre-checkin on the internet did help. This was the fastest embarkation I have ever experienced. The Volendam is a wonderful ship, very traditional with only 1400 guests it does not have that overcrowded feel of the larger ships. The layout is such that you never have to queue for anything. The two pools one of which is situated at the stern were more than adequate for the number of passengers on board. Dining was a real joy to look forward to every night. The main dining room the Rotterdam is on two levels, one being for traditional dining and the other for anytime dining. We chose the latter and always got a table without queuing- the two waiters at our first night were so good that we dined at the same table for the entire cruise. The standard of food here was very high ,the best we have experienced on a cruise ship,-Holland America have Daniel (the Head Chief) to thank for that-, so much so that we did not even try the speciality restaurant (The Pinnacle Grill). The other dining options-the Lido Cafe, Canaletto's and poolside Mexican/American grill were also of a very high standard. Entertainment was good with the resident company doing shows plus visiting artists gave us a wide variety of performers to enjoy, again the quality of the shows was very high. There is also a cinema on board which showed recently released films daily and free popcorn was provided. There were two bars where you could enjoy a pianist and a string quartet, so everyones taste was catered for.The biggest difference we noticed between Holland America and Princess were Holland America paid more attention to the "niceties", there were cloth towels in the public washrooms, staff provided free lemonade around the pool,use of glasses and china, not plastic plates around the pool, no pressure to "buy,Buy,Buy" on board and generally the service on board was much higher than Princess or Celebrity and some of this must go down to the staff. Apart from the uniformed officers every single person had a smile always acknowledged you when passing, very often knew your name, no mean feat when there are 1400 of us. They worked hard to ensure that we had a great experience and always without fail exceeded our and most other guests expectations. I believe that Holland America has got this element of cruising spot on. We had on two occasions reason to complain about the pool and attitude of a uniformed officer, both issues were dealt with immediately and we were very impressed at the way they deal with any form of poor service- well done. The ports of call were interesting, included New Caledonia, Ile des Pines, and Samoa. We were supposed to visit Eden in Australia, but due to inclement weather we had to forgo this please and instead have an overnight in Sydney, to everyone's delight!! On the whole we were very impressed with the standard on this ship, we loved it and will return again to experience the feeling of being part of the Voldendam Family. Read Less
Sail Date September 2011
Rather than a detailed account of our trip I will highlight some of my impressions and offer some tips and hints. I have also included some information that I had a difficult time researching before our trip. This was our third Holland ... Read More
Rather than a detailed account of our trip I will highlight some of my impressions and offer some tips and hints. I have also included some information that I had a difficult time researching before our trip. This was our third Holland America cruise and second aboard the Volendam. (Note, we boarded the ship in Skagway but this form does not have that port in the drop down list). In general, the land tour and cruise exceeded my expectations. The land tour was super organized and the handling of baggage and other details was extraordinary. Room keys were always provided as soon as we departed the bus and our Tour Directory, Gwen, did an outstanding job of taking care of all of our travel needs. We also had a great bus driver, Rick, from Fairbanks to Whitehorse. The bus (coach) itself was full but was configured for just 44 passengers. This meant we had extra leg room. The coach had a reasonably sized bathroom and we were not discouraged to use it (other bus drivers on tours usually tell us to only use the bathroom in emergencies). There were also frequent rest stops, usually every two hours or less. The coach had video screens, music via provided headphones, just like a plane. HAL had two buses on the same route but they tried to stagger our times so that the restrooms and other facilities would not be overloaded. We also had several buses from other tour companies that seemed to be duplicating our itinerary. The trains to Denali and Fairbanks were also comfortable and there are good views on either side of the train. I highly recommend this Cruise Tour itinerary. It provided a diverse schedule of included activities. All of the hotels were centrally located and they were clean and well maintained. I read some negative reviews of the Westmark in Beaver Creek but our room was fine. We didn't get the meal plan but were satisfied with the number of meals that were included. We used the $25 per person coupon at the Westmark Whitehorse for breakfast and dinner. We are light eaters and the restaurant gladly split our dinner, even putting it on two plates for us. Unfortunately the Salmon was dry and other diners reported similar disappointment in their entrees. The days start very early and we usually did not attempt to eat breakfast on most days. We brought snacks and instant oatmeal which were sufficient to eat in the room. There were usually stops in mid morning and mid afternoon for additional refreshments. We did not book any of the land tour excursions but opted to try to do some things on our own. We asked the bus driver on the included Denali tour if he could leave us at the Visitors Center before returning to the hotel and he happily agreed. We took the time to see the movie, view the exhibits, etc and then went on the free shuttle bus to the dog kennels. They had a good presentation and ran the sled dogs on a dirt path. On the second day in Denali we took the free shuttle from the hotel to the Visitors Center. The shuttle runs every half hour and is convenient. We then joined the 10:00 am free Ranger led hike. There were 20 of us on this hike and the Ranger said he would call another Ranger if more people showed up. This hike lasted about 2 hours and was fun and informative. Similar hikes are offered by HAL but cost almost $100 per person. At the end of the hike we saw a Beaver dam and were told that between 4pm and 6 pm is the best time to actually see the beavers at work. The Beavers are up to 100 lbs and they pull their downed trees right along the hiking path down to the dam. We were sorry to have missed that. We walked back to the Science Center and then had lunch at the Visitors center. We did not have to go back to the hotel and just walked down the path to the train which departed at 4 that afternoon. The Fairbanks visit included excursions (sternwheeler, and gold mine) were both done well. On the sternwheeler, there are free doughnuts, and later in the day free salmon dip with crackers. I thought they would charge for the coffee but this was free also. The best seats on the boat are on the left side. The gold panning was fun but they sort of lock you in the gift shop after since you have to take the train back to the busses even though it is a five minute trip. However they have free cookies and coffee in the shop so can't complain too much. The Yukon portion of our trip was far more scenic than I envisioned. There are two long bus rides but they are broken up with frequent stops and some fun activities on board. Again, our bus driver, Rick, and our tour director, Gwen, did a admirable job in entertaining us. The dog sled presentation and demonstration just outside Whitehorse was disappointing. The talk was good but we couldn't beleive they used a motorized ATV instead of letting the dogs pull a real sled as we saw in Denali and in Fairbanks. In Whitehorse we took the free day to hike the river trail. It is essentially one loop and takes you to the fish ladders and back. A pleasant way to spend the day. There is also a trolley that costs $2 one way and $4 for the whole day. The White Pass railway was a great way to end our land tour. The best seats are on the right side of the train. Embarkation in Skagway went smoothly and we were on board before 1 pm, in plenty of time for lunch on the Lido Deck. The main dining room was closed that day so it was not possible for Mariners who embarked in Skagway to have lunch there. The Volendam recently completed a refurbishment and the ship was in excellent condition. However one big exception was the mold on our shower curtain. I am sure our room steward would have changed it if I asked. We had a "guaranteed" port hole room and were upgraded to a room with a large window and it was midships on the lower promenade deck, a great location. I was a bit odd having people walking past the window but we checked and it is almost impossible to see into the room during daylight hours. We usually like to eat at the Lido but found that the buffet was a "free for all". Some of the food was on the line too long and the "display" dishes looked better than what was served. Desserts were not replenished often enough and the line for the ice cream was always long. The toppings were inexplicably placed before the ice cream which led to even longer waits on line. The dinner buffet does not offer any more service than lunch. You still have to pick up your own drinks, entrees, etc. In general, the food tasted much better in the dining room. We ate dinner in the Lido the first night while still in port and one side was open for staff only. The staff side had a nice view of the bay and the guest side had a view of the pier and the graffiti covered rocks. The Lido has almost the same menu as the main dining room but on formal night they did not have the lobster. The main dining room had Surf and Turf that night and we opted for Surf and Surf and the waiter did not hesitate in bringing us two lobster tails each. They were large and perfectly cooked. Probably the best lobster we have received on any ship. I packed light and just wore a dark shirt and tie. I saw several others dressed similarly and no one seemed to mind. It seemed like many of my previous suggestions had been incorporated. I guess they really do read those comment cards. There were few announcements, particularly in the stateroom so there were no repetitive reminders about bingo, etc. There were more activities than I remember on previous voyages. The entertainment was excellent and the shows were better than any I remember. The singers/dancers were good as was the comedian (Lee Bayless). Debarkation went smoothly and a nice improvement is that you can wait in your stateroom until your departure time. We had breakfast in the dining room on the last day and the waiters did not rush us at all. We walked the short distance to the train station. The train leaves frequently and it takes about 30 minutes to the airport. Just make sure you are on the Canadian Line. You can pay via credit card. We used our credit card frequently in the Yukon and did not need to change to Canadian currency. Leave extra time for the airport because you must go through U.S. customs and there was a long line. This turned out to be longer than I expected. I would be glad to provide any other information so feel free to ask. Read Less
Sail Date August 2011
We are a family of 4 and we chose the Ship and route by reading reviews and deciding that we wanted to leave and return to Vancouver. We didn't want bells and whistles of rock wall and ice rinks and Vegas style shows. We are busy and ... Read More
We are a family of 4 and we chose the Ship and route by reading reviews and deciding that we wanted to leave and return to Vancouver. We didn't want bells and whistles of rock wall and ice rinks and Vegas style shows. We are busy and we wanted family time. The Volendam seemed to fit us perfectly. We all had a great cruise and would do it again in a heartbeat. August 24: Vancouver We were dropped off by a friend on their way to work so we were at Canada Place by 8:30 in the morning. Since is was a beautiful day we decided to sit outside and enjoy it. The ship was in and passengers were disembarking. I spoke to the doorman in the Pan Pacific hotel and he gave me a tip that the customs and immigration really start at 10:30 so we waited until 10:40 and took the elevators down to "CS" level and before we knew it we were just waiting to board. The lines moved constantly and we waited maybe 20 minutes until we were on board. Easy! We went to our cabin on the Main deck (L2664) which was a large inside for 4 people. The 2 beds were made into a queen bed and the 4th Upper bunk was made but the sofa bed was still a bare mattress with the sheets still folded on top. On issue with the cabin as it was plenty large enough for the 4 of us with 2 weeks of clothes (we had one week in Seattle and Vancouver pre-cruise) including 2 seasons of clothes plus formal wear. We had 3 suitcases, 2 rolling carry-ons, 2 back packs and one large tote and all was stored away out of sight. Since our luggage was not delivered yet (it was not quite noon!) we headed up to the Lido even though we had an invitation to the main dining room as we felt the kids would enjoy it more. It was empty except for a few crew and we had our choice and the servers cheered when the kids made their choice (spaghetti) as they were the first customers. We ate a leisurely lunch enjoying the view and the fact the staff seems to enjoy having children on board which was something I was very worried about as I had read some posts from people who indicated the last thing they wanted was children and we should leave them home. Since this was not an option for us we were travelling as a group of 4. We then ventured out to explore the ship, register the kids into Club Hal, and find a spot to enjoy the sail away. I will try to be less wordy and just give an overall of everything. Cabin: great! Lots of room and we were only in there for sleeping and showering. No issues at all. It was quiet and very comfortable. Someone had given us a tip on the HAL CC board to leave the TV on the bow camera with the sound muted so that when the sun came up so would the light in the cabin. We did this and it worked great. Since we did have kids with us we also pulled the curtain that separates the main cabin from the closets and bathroom and ensured the bathroom door was open all night with the light on. Food: Again no issues. We ate breakfast in the Lido and had lunch either in the Lido or the Lido Grill. We always had what we wanted, when we wanted it. The hamburger I had at the grill was the best hamburger I have had in years! The kids were always happy with their choices. We ate every dinner in the main dining room, early seating, table 82. The stewards loved the kids and our 7 year old son has an open invitation to Bali! They made origami figures for the two of them every meal and had fun with them. There was a separate menu that they chose from which included grilled cheese, hot dogs, hamburgers, spaghetti...etc. They didn't want for anything. My husband and I were always happy with our choices even though I don't eat cream the only dinner where that became an issue was the Master Chef Diner and I had to miss to courses but I didn't miss them and I had enough to eat. I don't eat dessert so I can't comment but my husband always does and he never lacked for choice. We marvelled at how they could remember our preferences and had a an order waiting for drinks as soon as we said we wanted it...coke for our daughter and me, wine for my husband and a smoothie for our son. Club Hal: I didn't have much information beforehand on Club Hal as it wasn't rated on most reviews. The kids just loved it. On our sailing there were 41 children under 13: 30 in the 8-12 age group and then 10 6 and 7 year olds. The kids begged us to take them to Club Hal as soon as it opened (9:00) and not pick them up until 11:30 when it closed for lunch. The kids would then go swimming and by 1:00 were asking to go back and we would pick them up at the close for the afternoon. Again by 7:00 they were asking to go back and not to come get them until 10:00, which is past their normal bed time. They did crafts, made breakfast in the culinary arts center one morning, they went on tours of the ship and scavenger hunts, they watched movies and played computer games and karaoke and then when in Glacier Bay they had a Park Ranger come and talk to them and given them a goodie bag including a badge. They just loved Club Hal and are still talking about it. Activities: Since we were childless for the first time in a decade we at first thought 'what do we do now' but we found the quiet of the ship to be just what we were looking for. We never went the the lounges where their was live music or singers or the shows. We went to the Explorer's lounge/library if we were not taking a Techspert course or cooking course or walking around the promenade deck. We read, worked on jigsaw puzzles, played games and just unwound from our busy lives back home. It was all just perfect for us. We did go to a movie that I missed in the theatres back home one night and they even had popcorn for us. Loved it. SPA: I was lucky enough to win two spa treatments on embarkation day. One was a facial and the other a foot and leg treatment. This is the only point I have to say I felt stressed as the up-sell is very powerful. I ended up signing up for a body composition analysis with the head of the gym and was told it would take 30 minutes...well it took over 4 hours and since we were in Tracy Arm for the first of it I was very stressed that I was missing what we took the tour for as I was in the circular "lobby" between the gym and the spa and there were no windows and people kept walking through. I didn't like that and I wanted to be out seeing, no such in the dark talking about fat composition. I finally said enough so then I had to book a second session which was in Glacier Bay day...another 2 hour loss for me and I felt pressured as they were trying to sell me their Elemis red algae treatment for $1,500 which would take off 65 lbs..... I had to bring my husband up to say no, finally, on the day we were docking in Ketchikan. I wanted to research it myself. When I booked the foot and leg treatment I was billed for the $79 and was told I had not won the treatment, but free use of the Thermal Spa directly after the treatment. I said that is not what the message said that was left on our cabin phone. I said I had nothing with me to use the Thermal Spa and when I booked the front desk of the spa said nothing about the Thermal Spa as I said I was booking the treatments I had won. They did revert the fee but she never did believe me. I won't sign up for free spa stuff again on embarkation day. Shopping: We didn't take the cruise to shop, but we found everything on sale since it was near the end of the season. Our 10 year old daughter though it was Halloween as every jewelry store gave her something, if not more than 1 thing. She came home with pearl earrings, charm bracelet, charms, necklaces, etc and my son got a watch given to him. Two happy kids! Disembarkation: Back in Vancouver on the morning of August 31 and we were up in time to see the ship dock. We had our final breakfast in the Lido and then headed down to the cabin, collected our carry-on bags and headed up to the Explorers Cafe to wait for our 8:30 time to leave the ship. We started a new puzzle and when the time came we walked off the ship in a short line and waited in immigration for about 20 minutes. The only question we were asked was for my son to look at the official so he could see his picture matched his photo. That was it. Our luggage was waiting for us and off we went to the airport. Read Less
Sail Date August 2011
We did not really want to go on a cruise and didn't think it would suit us but did want to 'do' the Inside Passage so decided to go for it. It was brilliant. We could not fault the service or food and enjoyed the evening ... Read More
We did not really want to go on a cruise and didn't think it would suit us but did want to 'do' the Inside Passage so decided to go for it. It was brilliant. We could not fault the service or food and enjoyed the evening entertainments. What made it particularly good for us was the knowlege and interest of the captain who kept us fully informed at all times about bears, whales and seals etc. His enthusiasm for the area was definitely infectious. We can't compare it to other cruises because it was our first but the size of ship certain;y suited us. The Indonesian crew were so friendly and although they worked extremely hard seemed to enjoy themselves. The Filipino kitchen staff were not seen but the food they produced was outstanding. The only negative thing I could say would be concerning the cost of the shore excursions. we managed to get the same excursions for up to half the price by booking ahead with local agencies. Read Less
Sail Date August 2011
I hope it is not too long, We drove to Vancouver the night before and stay at the Pan Pacific at Canada Place. It was the best hotel I'd had ever stayed in. I want to cruise out of Vancouver everytime just to stay there. They rooms ... Read More
I hope it is not too long, We drove to Vancouver the night before and stay at the Pan Pacific at Canada Place. It was the best hotel I'd had ever stayed in. I want to cruise out of Vancouver everytime just to stay there. They rooms were amazing and spacious, The service was impeccable. Being able to take the elevators down to the cruise-ship terminal and board the ship with little or no wait, The bellman took all our checked luggage for us and it was in our cabins when we boarded. We also got a deal on parking which is also at cruise terminal level with elevator to hotel bookde directly the Vinci which is $23 vs the hotel $40 a night. Embarkation went smoothly, we were a party of 13 with 5 cabins and 2 people on scooters. We all got on and since we were all mariners or had at least one marnier in each room we got on the ship about 11:30-11:45 went to the main dining room for a wonderful lunch and avoided the rat race at the lido. I am partial to HAL but also have high expectations because of the service I have received in past. I can honestly say this crew was the best. The food in the Lido was fine for breakfast and lunch, but my son(13) and nephew (15) soon found it was worth dressing up and eating in the dining room with us. Our dining roon staff had my double esspresso brought to me before the dessert menu after the first night. So you get the picture food and service exceeded my expectations. I took more classes this time than ever before and really enjoyed the Techspert. I also participated in a few cooking demos. All were great. Did the wine tasting with Ingo very entertaining but Ingo needs to branch out and try some of our Eastern Washington wineries. We had 3 kids with us and the 3 year old loved HAL's club, it was a struggle getting him out each evening. A few of our group broke even after 6 days of Casino play. The entertainment was very good, one of the dancers broke her foot or sprained her ankle and they had to revamp a couple of their shows at the last minute but did very well. The best entertainment was the comedian Derrick Cameron, he was sooooo funny and truthful about things on the ship, it made me think was he talking about me???? Cabins were fine. We opt for the inside ecause I love to take pictures and love to go where the action is. Some had outside no verandah, I have other things I would rather spend that extra $3000 on. I am amazed when I read some of the reviews that there wasn't enough to do on HAL or it closes up early. We were up in the Crow's nest late and we had fun.I felt the people around us were having fun,too. The one complaint I have is too much smoking, I wish they would designate a room away from everyone and let em smoke. I think it should be enclosed with a filtration system to get it circulating in that one area. (just a dream) Ports were Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan. We were in port with fewer ships which was great. In Juneau we were the only ship. Boys did Robert's Tram and a hike to the cross, a few others whale watching. Skagway I love just walking around there and did the Red Onion of course. Ketchikan did the lumberjack show which was good, then the trolley to Totem Park and it wasn't great. In a nutshell we had a great time, we traveled with great people. Oh yes and the weather could not have been better no rain and sunshine even at Glacier Bay. Disembarktion was smooth and they put a color chart up so if you didn't have that color you waited your turn..they sent a few people back which I think is great, you don't pick 9:00 to get off then think you can go at 8:00 because you were ready earlier and act like you don't speak English when you know you can read and it's all color coded...If you lasted this long and want more specifics email me. Read Less
Sail Date July 2011
Review & Comments on Holland America Lines CruiseTour #5A - Vancouver to Anchorage via Juneau, Tracy Arm, Skagway, Whitehorse, Dawson City, Tok, Fairbanks and Anchorage - July 6-19, 2011 Our pre-cruise activity included flying ... Read More
Review & Comments on Holland America Lines CruiseTour #5A - Vancouver to Anchorage via Juneau, Tracy Arm, Skagway, Whitehorse, Dawson City, Tok, Fairbanks and Anchorage - July 6-19, 2011 Our pre-cruise activity included flying into Vancouver 10 days in advance of our cruise departure date, where we rented a vehicle from Hertz to take a self guided tour east and west of Seattle. Our eastern tour took us on the 'Cascades Loop' from Ferndale, WA to Lake Pateros, WA with stops at the North Cascades Visitor Center, Rainy and Washington Passes, a drive down Cut Throat Creek Road and a Stop at Winthrop for ice cream! The next day's drive took us from Lake Pateros to mid-town Seattle with stops in Chelan (State Route 97A is a real treat), Cashmere and Leavenworth (the entire town center is modeled on a Bavarian village). This is a great drive through the Cascade mountains and it turned out to be a primer for Alaska's mountain ranges! Next we were off to explore the western side of Washington. We toured Olympic national park including Hurricane Ridge and the Hon Rain Forest. For the latter we stayed in Forks, WA where we highly recommend The Forks Motel for their friendly staff and clean rooms. We explored Ruby Beach near LaPush and then south along US 101. Watch out for the big logs on the beach and rapidly rising tides! From Forks we were back to Seattle to pick up our boating travel companions from Knoxville, TN. We would be together for the remainder of the HAL CruiseTour. Then it was off to Victoria, BC and the Butchart Gardens. I've not seen so many flowers in one place! We then went on to Vancouver (last of many ferries!) where we spent 1.5 days sightseeing. We highly recommend the Vancouver Trolley (looks like a trolley car) as a great means of seeing and learning Vancouver City in a short time frame. Also, we purchased our hotel rooms (Sheridan Wall Centre) via Priceline. Vancouver can be pretty pricey! On July 6th we boarded HAL's MS Volendam and I was impressed with the boarding process. Although we had been instructed to board at 2PM for a 5PM sailing, we chose to get there at around 11:00AM. The baggage folks were great, and the check-in was painless. We were on board after a brief but pleasant wait. Shortly after that we had a pleasant lunch in the Rotterdam Restaurant and departed the dock right on schedule. We are first time cruisers but long time international travelers and have even lived abroad with the family for a couple years. I mention this to lay the foundation for our review. Some may see things different but then I can only relate our experience. We thought the Volendam was in very good shape for a mature vessel. The staff was always pleasant and attentive. We were on the Verandah deck (level 6) and found those accommodations very good. The food was very good, although we only experienced the Rotterdam and the Lido Restaurants. We skipped the formality of the formal evening, opting instead to leave our suits at home (didn't need the added hastle for the 11 day land portion of the cruisetour!). The Lido served much of the same food in an informal setting. My only suggestion to HAL is to more effectively organize the lines for the food stations. This isn't a big deal but I observed some folks waiting in lines they thought went one place only to find out they went another! Juneau: Our stop in Juneau was brief (8 hours - 2:30 to 10:30pm). There are many excursions available. We took the Photo Safari by Land & Sea with David as our guide. This excursion is for any photographer wanting to improve making (not taking) pictures outdoors. David was outstanding in his ability to impart his knowledge and abilities while we shot (with cameras!) whales bubble feeding, deer, sea lions and seals and bald eagles. We had a full afternoon on the boat followed by learning about bears while walking the trails near Mendenhall glacier Tracy Arm: We had great weather and made it pretty far into Tracy Arm. The floating ice was spectacular and added excitement to the crisp clean air topside. Everything you have read about dressing in layers is true. For this day, along with others where we were in higher elevations, I found blue jeans, a golf shirt, sleeveless fleece and a light waterproof windbreaker sufficient to stay warm. Otherwise, I was in shorts, golf shirt, sleeveless fleece on cool mornings and seldom needed the raincoat/windbreaker. By the way, we only had significant rain once on our cruisetour -- the last day when leaving Denali and going to Anchorage! This is probably a good time to talk about laundry since we're talking about clothing. We balanced the airlines weight and baggage limits on one hand with our desire to have clean clothes for a reasonable length of time before loosing a couple hours to doing laundry. We did laundry only one time during the CruiseTour which was in Whitehorse and we chose to go to a coin Laundromat (hint - Canadian and US quarters seemed to be interchangeable in the dryers but the washers only took Canadian dollar coins). A word of advice -- laundry facilities onboard and at the various motels/hotels were few and in high demand. That is not to say it can't be done. We never found that our free-time and the machines free-time coexisted! Skagway: We met Layna our tour director for the land portion of the cruisetour the morning of our arrival in Skagway. We disembarked MS Volendam shortly after for a brief guided tour of the town and secured our carry bags at the Westmark hotel prior to exploring Skagway. You can't check in until 3:00pm but HAL reserves two rooms to where you can securely check carry luggage) Lots of touristy shops and jewelry stores! The walking tour conducted by a ranger of the National Park Service was a big hit. That evening after dinner the tour met up and walked over to Steve Hites, North to Alaska Show. A very entertaining and informative one-man show. The next morning we caught the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway to Carcross with a stop at Lake Bennet where a railroaders stew dinner was provided. The ride on this train along with the views is spectacular. You'll want to make sure your mosquito repellent is handy this day as the mosquitoes were out-in-force at the terminal in Skagway and the walking trails at Lake Bennet. At Carcross we transferred (walked across the tracks) to our HAL Explorer Coach. This is not like your fathers motor coach! First, there were maybe 42 seats total - so lots of leg room along with big windows for watching the scenery. I was comfortable in these seats and I don't generally fit in airline or bus seats! We had two outstanding drivers -- Rex and Lori over the next several days. They, along with our tour director Lanya, are special folks. Their enthusiasm, passion, ability and knowledge about the surroundings provided us with a unique and positive traveling experience --in a word, they were great! Whitehorse (2 days): After a long day of traveling we enjoyed the Frantic Follies Vaudeville Show at the Westmark. The next day we took the Kolanee Walk and Kathleen Lake Campfire excursion. We enjoyed the bus ride, bakery stop and box lunch. Kathleen Lake is a beautiful area. Our fondest memories of Whitehorse included finding an oldies ice cream shop, the warm night in the motel (this was the warmest day during the trip -- maybe 82 degrees!) and the experience at the laundromat. Dawson City (2 days): We were about 8 hours getting from Whitehorse to Dawson City with a stop for a sandwich lunch buffet. It wasn't hard to imagine the gold rush days as the tailings from the mines are very obvious even today. We took the Exploring Along the Demptster Highway excursion with our guide Steve. The Demptser Highway is a 457 mile gravel highway that connects the remote town of Inuvik with the Klondike Highway just east of Dawson City, Yukon. Steve was a wonderful guide who imparted a lot of knowledge about the fauna, wildlife and native moors of the area during our 116 mile venture up the Dempster Highway. We spent several minutes taking close-up pictures of a moose and her calf as they dined in the water alongside the highway! Our tour was slightly modified as a result of bad road conditions. Originally we were scheduled to board the Yukon Queen II and ride down the Yukon River to Eagle. However, after taking a 2 hour ride on the Yukon Queen we returned to Dawson City and the Explorer Coach where we took the ferry across the Yukon River and drove The Top Of The Highway Road to the Taylor Highway to the Alaska Highway and eventually to Tok (pronounce Toak). We had several intermittent stops. Two of the most notable were the US border stop and the stop in Chicken, AK. What can I say about Chicken, just look it up on the Web! Tok: Tok reminded me of what an old stage coach stop must have been like. Don't get me wrong, the facilities were good; we arrived late, ate dinner, went to bed, got up the next morning, ate breakfast and left. A very brief, overnight stop it was! Fairbanks: We were another full day on the Explorer Coach traveling along the Alaska Highway. We had stops at Rika's Roadhouse & Landing, Santa Claus House - Northpole, the Alyeska Pipeline Visitor Center and lunch was provided at the Gold Stream & Dredge No. 8 tour. We had a wonderful time that evening at the Alaska Salmon Bake & The Palace Theatre excursion. The Alaska Salmon Bake folks picked us up in a blue school bus at the front doors of the Westmark Hotel and dropped us off at the same place after a great meal and entertaining show. Denali National Park (2 days): We traveled (4 hours) from Fairbanks to Denali via the McKinley Explorer train. Great sights and great food along the way. We elected to take the afternoon of our arrival off and leisurely explore the many retail shops and restaurants. We heard from others who had great fun on many of the excursions. The next day we were on the Denali Tundra and Wilderness Tour. A great, informative tour over gravel roads, along cliffs, up and down foothills some 62 miles back into the park. We saw lots of wildlife, including caribou, grizzly bears and cubs, Dahl sheep. We even had a spectacular view of Mt. McKinley (the picture is now the background view on my computer!) Some would say, "Pretty expensive shot". However, I think it was worth every bump and grind on the bus! Anchorage: We traveled (8 hours) from Denali National Park to Anchorage on the McKinley Explorer in the rain! Wow, we couldn't have timed the weather better. While the view was still good in the rain the food was better - prime rib! One night in Anchorage with time to explore the city by foot the next day and then we were off to home that evening. Accomodations: We stayed in Westmark facilities everywhere but in Anchorage, where we stayed at the Hilton and Denali National Park where we stayed at the McKinley Chalets Resorts (Aramark). They were all good, clean accommodations. Now the disclaimers and they shouldn't be interpreted as digs or complaints. One of the fun aspects of this cruisetour is the notion that you follow nearly the same route that the 'stampeders' took during the 1898 gold rush to Dawson City. Consider what those folks put up with (wait till you see some of it) and you'll be pleasantly surprised with the accommodations. We were of a mindset that each day is an adventure and we had a blast. HAL did a wonderful job coordinating baggage, rooms, etc. The tour director provided each couple/family with a packet of information including room assignment and room key, recommended restaurants, baggage out time for the next morning, etc. Food: We chose not to use the HAL plan and opted to purchase on our own. The food was all good and I'm happy to report we didn't loose any weight in Alaska or Canada. My sense is that the plan and what we paid are pretty close. We took many of our meals at the Westmark motels with the exception of the Salmon Bake & Palace Theatre in Fairbanks. This excursion was $59 per person and worth every penny. Buffet style fresh salmon, prime rib, crab and one other fish, the trimmings, beverages and desert. You can eat inside or outside and after the meal there is a fun play put on at the Palace Theatre. Travel: The Explorer Coaches were very comfortable and our drivers handled the various roadways (paved and unpaved) and ferry crossing very well. There were plenty of bathroom breaks strategically placed throughout each days journey. I guess the polite way to say this is, "We always welcomed a flush toilet whenever we had that luxury"! Remember -- each day is an adventure along the gold rush trail. The train rides were great. We had a wonderful time and as expected the only real downside was the flight home. Not because we were going home but because after all the wonderful modes of transportation we had to endure the normal lousy travel on US Airways and United with maintenance delays, missed flights and out-right rude staff! Summary thoughts: We would highly recommend HAL's CruiseTour 5A to anyone wanting to combine 3 days of pampered treatment aboard the MS Volendam and 10 days of easy, well organized, adventurous travel. We had a great time orchestrated by a spectacular tour director (Layna) along with great coach drivers (Lori and Rex). Mike & Cathy Read Less
Sail Date July 2011
This was our third Alaskan cruise.We arrived in Vancouver the day before our cruise and stayed at the Westin Grand Hotel downtown Vancouver. We travelled from the airport via the train -- quite easy and there was a stop near the hotel. ... Read More
This was our third Alaskan cruise.We arrived in Vancouver the day before our cruise and stayed at the Westin Grand Hotel downtown Vancouver. We travelled from the airport via the train -- quite easy and there was a stop near the hotel. Also used the train after disembarking the ship to return to the airport -- again very convenient and inexpensive.Embarked the ship about 11:30 am. Went directly to our cabin. We ate lunch in the Lido with our daughter and son-in-law (the kids) as it was their first cruise and they could not eat in the dining room (Mariner's lunch).The cabins were clean and tidy and the room stewards introduced themselves. The luggage arrived in a timely manner. The cabins were always in top shape and we were entertained by a parade of various towel animals.We ate dinner in the Pinnacle Grill the first night. Everything was satisfactory and we enjoyed the meal and the quiet. The kids ate in the dining room (we had early sitting) and they were pleased with the choices and the quality of the food. Our daughter is vegetarian and does not eat seafood or mushrooms so she could pick her choices for the next night from a special menu. I had made reservations for the four of us at the Pinnacle Grill for Monday evening. I was disappointed in the vegetarian selection -- no protein.The meals and service in the dining room was excellent. Occasionally we ate in the Lido and we also had pizza or a burger. We decided that our preference was the dining room.Any shore excursions we took were booked through the shipWe also enjoyed the coffee and the special treats in the Explorations Cafe.The kids had such a good time that they bought future cruise credits.The disembarkation process went very smoothly. Read Less
Sail Date June 2011
After a fairly intensive dry dock in Singapore for two weeks, the ship looked very good wih new carpets, seating, decking etc. The ship was due to travel to northern Japan but due to the recent disasters there, HAL opted for South Korea ... Read More
After a fairly intensive dry dock in Singapore for two weeks, the ship looked very good wih new carpets, seating, decking etc. The ship was due to travel to northern Japan but due to the recent disasters there, HAL opted for South Korea & Russian ports. Less than 1000 passengers. Each passenger was given $250 OBC and 10% discount on their next cruise due to the itinerary change. The crew were excellent as with entertainment, although we had seen the regular shows on past cruises (12 months ago) Meals were the standard fare and nothing to complain about...especially the extra seafood on offer as they were taking new supplies on in Alaska. Tender ports were speedy with minor lines. Overall an excellent repositioning cruise. Click the link to see the highlights: Video highlights of the Volendam Northern Explorer cruise from Kobe,Japan to Vancouver,Canada via Busan, South Korea, Vladivostok & Petropavlosk,Russia, Kodiak Island & Sitka (via Inside Passage) Alaska May 2-17, 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQgh4_pMEKI Read Less
Sail Date May 2011
This was our 2nd Alaska cruise having sailed on the Amsterdam last year from Seattle. I thought the Amsterdam couldn't be beat; I was wrong. Our journey began with a beautiful 11 hour drive from the border crossing in North Idaho, ... Read More
This was our 2nd Alaska cruise having sailed on the Amsterdam last year from Seattle. I thought the Amsterdam couldn't be beat; I was wrong. Our journey began with a beautiful 11 hour drive from the border crossing in North Idaho, across Canada Highway 3 and the Trans Canada Highway into Vancouver. We were warmly greeted at the Pan Pacific Hotel and I moved our car into the parking garage where we had prepaid for our parking. The Pan Pacific is perfectly located but terribly overpriced. We had reserved a room with a king size bed but were given a room with 2 queen beds. That would have been OK were it not for the rumpled sheets on one bed with a long brown hair on a pillow. As I'm bald and my wife has short hair, it was a pretty safe bet it wasn't ours... Dinner at the hotel was satisfactory but pricey - $5.75 for a glass of plain ice tea was absurd!In the morning a group of held a demonstration against a mining company in the lobby of Canada Place which ended up having all elevators and escalators locked down. We were finally able to get out and to the ship by entering the adjacent office tower and going out to the street and then down to the terminal. By know I had some concerns about our upcoming voyage but fortunately all went well from there on. In fact, Canada Place offers an amenity not available in Seattle...chairs to sit on while waiting to board!The Volendam was lovely! Every member of the crew was friendly and outgoing. We were warmly greeted and felt immediately at home. On the Amsterdam the previous year my only complaint was the food as it was consistently lukewarm and frequently poorly prepared, especially Canaletto, which was awful. The Volendam excelled in every way. All hot dished were served hot. They were flavorful and well presented, Canaletto was excellent!The recent refit appears to be ongoing as there was constant painting and repair going on. Frankly, I'm not sure what was included in the refit...there were a number of open seams in the carpets in the common areas. At the end of the day it really didn't matter; the ship and her crew were wonderful. Ice prevented us from getting all the way up Tracy Arm but it was all so beautiful and Captain Visser did such a nice job that it didn't matter. In Glacier Bay saw several brown bears and witnessed a spectacular calving and numerous smaller ones at the Marjorie Glacier. All in all, I'd recommend this ship and the Inside Passage to anyone and everyone! Read Less
Sail Date May 2011
Background Information - We live outside Melbourne so it was a quick flight to Sydney and then a cab to Circular Quay for embarkation. Online pre-cruise registration made it a simple and comfortable process. On board, we had a fabulous ... Read More
Background Information - We live outside Melbourne so it was a quick flight to Sydney and then a cab to Circular Quay for embarkation. Online pre-cruise registration made it a simple and comfortable process. On board, we had a fabulous view of Sydney on a warm Sunday afternoon - ferries, tall ships, jet boats, live music, people climbing the Harbour Bridge - fantastic atmosphere! We really felt special waving good-by to the 100s of people who had wandered on to Circular Quay to see the ship off.There were a few 'special' perks from our travel agency for my birthday - red roses, 3 bottles of excellent wine and a Pinnacle Grill dinner. This was our 3rd cruise, 2nd with HAL, and our 1st over 7 days. The itinerary was the essential choice for us - Sydney to Darwin by way of the Great Barrier Reef and the Timor Sea, followed by 4 ports in Indonesia - Komodo, Bali, Semarang, Jakarta - and ending in Singapore. On reflection, 19 days with 8 'at sea' days was about 4 days too long for us.Ship Info - Volendam went into a 2 wk dry dock when we left her in Singapore. According to senior staff we talked with, all public area carpet was being replaced and the teak - floors, railings, furnishings etc. - stripped and refinished. However, while some bits looked tired (including a cracked toilet seat in the deck 4 MDR ladies' restroom), Volendam was clean and polished. The art work aboard, as per HAL's reputation, was splendid. We knew that the weather was going to be hot and humid and it was, but it was tolerable and it was always good to get back to the air conditioning on Volendam! Temperatures did vary quite a lot across the different public areas though.Stateroom - Our cabin-1 of 3 OV cabins on Verandah Deck and one of the 'wheelchair-friendly' staterooms-was large enough to entertain 2 other couples one PM. Very comfortable, plenty of space for all our stuff. Mattress good, pillows past retirement age. BTW, we do not need a HC cabin, but it was available when we booked 14 months in advance and we booked it with the understanding that, if it was required by a wheelchair dependent person, HAL would move us to an equivalent or better cabin. Our CS, Badra, was outstanding, thoughtful and efficient. The towel animals - a new one every night! - were heaps of fun! It was great to see him visiting his family (1st time in 11 months)in Jakarta. Dining - We had 'any time' dining and never had to wait more than 5 minutes for a table in MDR. We sat at tables of 2, 4, 6, 8 or 10. 10 is too big for open conversation, but service and food were both good to great. We were lucky to have the GBR pilot at our table one night - fabulous conversation! We thoroughly enjoyed the Pinnacle Grill, preferring the regular menu to the Le Cirque menu. Ate at Caneletto's twice. A not-very-special Italian restaurant, but the veal and pasta were good. At the Lido, we mostly stuck to the omelet station for breakfast and either salads or burgers for lunch. Entertainment - We missed far more shows than we saw, due to conflict between dining times and show times. However, featured singers, especially the Australian soprano, were excellent and the production cast worked hard. By all accounts, the staff shows were good.Service - Staff we encountered were universally excellent. From our cabin attendant, to the wine stewards and staff in the Pinnacle Grill, everyone knew our names and even staff we passed in corridors or on stairs always had a smile and a greeting for us. I need to make special mention of Hans, the Sommelier and Beverage Manager, Martyn, front of house at the Pinnacle Grill, Rene, the Hotel Manager, Katie in Shore Excursions and Rachel, the Spa Manager. All were fabulous! HAL should treasure all their staff, for they are very special!Activities - On board ship, we made good use of the Spa. My DH, a chiropractor, found his massage therapist had a sore elbow and treated it. Next thing we knew, he was providing 'master classes' for the acupuncturist, trainers and spa therapists on 'at sea' days. These were enjoyed by all. We enjoyed the GBR pilot's talks on the Reef, its geography and regional history, used the aft pool several times and liked both Explorations Cafe and the Crows Nest for just sitting and taking it easy. We didn't visit the casino or the Wajang Theatre. The smell of cigarette smoke, while noticeable when you walked past the casino or on the starboard side of the aft pool, was not too intrusive. We never noticed any in our cabin - probably because no one smoked on the balcony next door. HAL asked whether we would prefer to cruise on a smoking or smoke-free ship in the future. It would appear that they are still unable to make up their minds as to which is the better economic decision. We came down on the smoke-free side. Hope they take notice! The Photo Shop was a bit disappointing, nothing much to choose from in ship's photos, which was in sharp contrast to our Alaska cruise in 2007. Also, there seemed to be a lack of knowledge about what is contained in various packages/indulgences that passengers may purchase online before embarking on the cruise. I had to provide proof that a photo sheet was included in my 'Romance Package' before they would supply it.Port & Shore Excursions - We are active 55+ year olds and scuba diving is one of our passions. We visited friends in Brisbane and dived off both Hamilton Island and Cairns. Both dive trips were excellent. Four days of scenic cruising between Cairns and Darwin were interesting with stunning scenery, while the Indonesian ports were eye-popping in a number of ways! Borobodur was amazing, as were the dragons on Komodo and both Uluwatu Temple and the terraced rice paddies in Bali. But what will stay with me about Indonesia is just how crowded it is and how many people there are. Singapore almost seemed spacious in comparison, which is odd, as its population density is just as great.Disembarkation - Just as smooth and easy as embarkation was. We had the Highlights of Singapore tour which then took us directly to the airport. No hassles with carrying luggage around! Our flight home was smooth and comfortable, although full, on a Qantas A380 in transit from London.Summary - Such a wonderful cruise! It certainly met all of our expectations and exceeded them in so many ways. As mentioned above, 18 days was probably a little too long for us, as we are much more active than many of our fellow cruisers. However, would I cruise with HAL again? Absolutely. In fact, we booked our next cruise - 14 days in Alaska in August 2012 - while on board! Read Less
Sail Date March 2011
We booked the 17-Day Australia and Indonesia cruise on the Volendam about 2 months out in January and was offered an upsell from a DA outside stateroom to a B verandah stateroom at an attractive price and having a large amount of sea days ... Read More
We booked the 17-Day Australia and Indonesia cruise on the Volendam about 2 months out in January and was offered an upsell from a DA outside stateroom to a B verandah stateroom at an attractive price and having a large amount of sea days during this cruise. Arriving just 1 day before the cruise began, we spent the night at the Holiday Inn Old City, which we chose due to the close proximity to the Rocks and the cruise port, it was so close to the port that we could even spot the funnel of the Volendam when she docked the next morning. Everything about the hotel was great from the service and atmosphere to its location and I highly recommend it to any one looking for a pre or post cruise hotel. Having sailed on the Volendam once in 2009, the ship was as sharp and impeccable as it was 2 years ago. We were also delighted by the "cabin direct" initiative that allowed passengers to proceed to their staterooms immediately after boarding instead of heading to the buffet to wait. Although some of the public rooms were a little tired (especially at the Explorations Cafe), most of the public areas were still very well maintained and many of the furnishings and aesthetics were maintained when the ship dry docked in Singapore. Our stateroom was a Verandah suite on the Navigation Deck (Deck 7), although I had initial worries that the extension of the Lido buffet above us would obstruct the view, it all quickly disappeared when the extension was not as large as I thought it would be (it even provided some shade at noon time when the sun was overhead). The room was large with ample drawers and closet space and the verandah was large as well with room for a small table, a chair and a lounger. The bathroom contained a "whirlpool" bath, which was a fun feature to have. We dined at the main dining room for dinner and at the Lido for lunch and breakfast. We were pleasantly surprised when there were themed lunches on certain days, which included Indonesian and Indian cuisines; there was also a Australian BBQ dinner which we really enjoyed under the stars. The food was excellent most of the time, however the soup was extremely salty one night, but what we really appreciated was that our complaint was taken very seriously and were asked every night after if the soup was to our. We ate at Canaletto one night and really enjoyed our meal (especially the Lasagna) and wished that we ate there more often. We did not participate in many activities during this cruise but there was no shortage of activities if one decides to participate. We did participate in the culinary demonstrations on the new Le Cirque dishes and Indonesian dishes and it was fun and pretty informative. The service on this cruise was of the highest standard and is one of the main reasons why we keep returning to Holland America. Our cabin stewards Adi and Ayu were great and they would always remember our preferences and those towel animals never fails to amuse us! Our dining room stewards were equally as attentive and were always eager to serve even in the most stressful of situations when the dining room was fully occupied. Overall, the service provided by the crew on this cruise far exceeded our expectations and has been one of the best we've received since we started cruising with Holland America. There were plenty of guest entertainers during the cruise from singers to guitarists to magicians and stand-up comedians. Most of them were pretty good except for one comedian where his jokes were mainly run-of-the-mill crude jokes that many passengers did not find amusing at all. The resident band, the HalCats was really good and we really enjoyed it when they were playing during the sail-away parties. One of the reasons why we decided to book this cruise was that we have never visited many of the ports, which this cruise went to. Here's just a brief review of some of the ports on this cruise: Brisbane: We loved Brisbane for its laidback vibe and although she was still recovering from the Queensland Floods from December 2010, it was still beautiful especially along the Brisbane River. We spent most of our day at the Queensland Museum South Bank, which had some great exhibits and was also free! The CityCat ferry from and to the cruise port was also an enjoyable mode of transport to enjoy the sights of Brisbane from the river. Hamilton Island: Spent most of the day at Catseye Beach where cruise passengers could make use of the facilities there including the gorgeous swimming pools (although they were pretty deep). Cairns: The Great Barrier Reef tour from Cairns was pretty disappointing as there were many extra hidden charges such as extra helicopter and snorkeling tours, however, one must participate in at least one of the tours to fully appreciate the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, but the initial cost of the shore excursion should be reduced due to the "extras" one must purchase during the tour to fully enjoy it. Darwin: Darwin was a pretty compact city, which could easily be explored by foot in a day. The precinct around the cruise port was also very pretty with an artificial beach and cafes. Komodo Island: Komodo Island was an interesting place and it felt more like a forgotten island in the middle of nowhere, however, we did enjoy the jungle trek more than the Komodo Dragons which many thought were placed at the watering hole to amuse the tourists. Bali: In Bali, we did the Bali heritage tour from the ship as we really wanted to visit the Besakih Temple and it's something that we recommend especially if you've been to touristy Nusa Dua and its surroundings. Semarang: Borobudur temple was another highlight of this cruise and we were not disappointed by its majestic size and its historical and cultural importance to Indonesia, which could be seen in its careful restoration. I would highly recommend taking the ships organized shore excursion, as we needed a police escort due to traffic jams in Semarang. Jakarta: Jakarta was a very busy and modern city with skyscrapers dotting the skyline. There was some souvenir shopping activities during the tour and we also visited the city and puppet museums and the city square. Once again, I highly recommend taking a shore excursion either to the city or Bogor due to the traffic jams in Jakarta city. Singapore: We overnighted in Singapore. As a Singaporean, it was a pretty bizarre experience, as we had to overnight on the ship for when home was just a 20-minute drive away! But we did enjoy the empty ship on the first day in Singapore and just lazed around admiring the harbor, which we rarely see from a ships perspective. Disembarkation on the second day was fuss-free and efficient, despite contractors and engineers loading equipment and supplies onto the ship in preparation for the dry dock. We got into a cab and were home in less than 20 minutes. Overall, I cannot fault anything on this cruise. Every aspect of it was exceptional from the great food to the great service and the fact that the Volendam brought us home from Australia made this cruise even more special. We now cannot wait for our next Holland America cruise! Read Less
Sail Date March 2011
My wife and I are in our 60's. We live in outside of Reno Nevada. We flew to Sydney Australia to catch the Volendam Discovery Cruise which is a 14 day cruise departing from Sydney, sailing around New Zealand then back to Sydney. The ... Read More
My wife and I are in our 60's. We live in outside of Reno Nevada. We flew to Sydney Australia to catch the Volendam Discovery Cruise which is a 14 day cruise departing from Sydney, sailing around New Zealand then back to Sydney. The stops in New Zealand were Fordland National Park, Stewart Island, Dunedin, Christ Church, Napier, Tauranga, Auckland and Bay of Islands. This cruise occurred in early February 201l. We flew from Los Angeles to Sydney on Qantas. The flight was long but Qantas has an excellent entertainment system, good meals and snacks and beverages. They also provided pillows and blankets. These were the things offered coach. I can only dream of the services which were available in First Class and Business Class. The Qantas people are truly professional and very efficient and friendly. At the airports in Los Angeles we were treated fairly and professionally by all the TSA personal. I had to opt for the pat down as I have a pacemaker and steel knee. The agent was as polite and professional as he possibly could be. Sure in a perfect world I would prefer to avoid this but considering the times in which we live I think it is best to smile and try to understand the pressures the TSA agents are under. I saw no acts of rudeness from anyone. Upon Arrival we took a cab. (Rate $60 Aust,) from the airport to the Radisson Inn and Suites on Liverpool Street The hotel was near downtown shopping and a lot of sidewalk cafe's. One thing we found very useful was a full service grocery store a block and a half from the hotel. It was also near the Chinese Garden of Friendship and Darling Harbor. The hotel was approximately $200 a night. Our room included a king size bed, a large bathroom with a wonderful glassed in shower tub, a small kitchen and an outside balcony with a couple of chairs and a table. The room had a large LED T.V. The hotel also had free internet and nice gym and inside pool. The staff was as nice and very willing to help with any of our needs. It was a wonderful place to stay. I would give it four and a half stars. Besides the Chinese Garden and Darling Harbor we went on a harbor tour with Captain Cook Cruises and toured the Royal Botanical Gardens. And saw the Sydney Oprah House. All of the above were worthwhile. We found the Australian people so very nice and friendly. They are a joy to be around. On Sunday we arrived as the ship around 11:00 and were on the ship by 11:30. We enjoyed the Mariners Luncheon served at noon in the dining room. The food was great. The life boat drill was a little different than at previous cruises, they no longer require you to put on your life vest but instruction is still given and further explained on your TV. Our cabin was an inside on main deck; the cabin was always kept clean by the room steward. We found him to be always friendly and helpful. The bed was great and the air conditioning worked well. Through out the cruise we found small things on the ship which need to be addressed on the next refurbishing but nothing major. Overall the ship was kept very clean and a joy to be on. The food on this cruise ranged from very good to great. Some of the best meals I have ever had on a cruise were served in the main dining room. We chose fixed dining at 5:30 at a table for eight. We had a wonderful time and really prefer fixed seating. A blessing on this cruise was morning devotions on sea days. The devotions were well attended and the service added to the cruise. One other thing that I did on this cruise was to take advantage of the photo classes taught through a joint venture sponsored by Holland America and Microsoft. I learned a lot about my digital camera and how to use in with a personal computer. The classes were free and well attended. After two sea days we arrived in Milford Sound. Although the weather was rain that morning the sights were amazing. It was a pure joy to be able to see this fiord. We spend about an hour cruising there then move on to doubtful sound. On the way to doubtful sound the weather cleared and the other fiords all were wonderful and made the cruise worthwhile if I saw no more. The cruising of the Fiordland National Park took the rest of the day. On day two in New Zealand we went to Stewart Island. We spent our time on a nature walk on Ulva Island. This was a natural garden paradise. The trees and birds were just wonderful and the guide so kind and she really knew of what she spoke. It was a wonderful experience. The next day was spent in Dunedin. We chose to go on a boat to see the see the wildlife south of Dunedin after the boat portion of the tour we had a nice luncheon at a cafe prior to seeing the seals. We enjoyed this outing but if I had it to do over I think I would have chosen the Taieri Gorge Railway train instead, Choosing neither I think one could spend an enjoyable day touring Dunedin. It is a beautiful city. After Dunedin we moved on to Christchurch. Judy and I took the Tranzalpine train touring first New Zealand farmland then the mountains. On the train one viewed wonderful and beautiful sites. After the tour we were had a stop at the Christchurch Botanical Gardens. They were wonderful. If I am even blessed again by returning to New Zealand I would like to spend at least a full day never leaving the Christchurch city limits, there is plenty to see there. Moving on to Wellington, We planned nothing there as it seemed there was plenty to see and do in the city. What we didn't plan on was the Te Papa Museum. We budgeted to be there several hours but spent almost our whole day there. It was free and it was huge. I judge this museum to be one of the world's finest museums. It is truly a wonderful museum do not miss it. Wellington is a wonderful city and one day I hope we can return there. The next day we spent in Napier. This City was rebuilt after an earthquake in the 30's in Art Deco. We took a tour in the countryside. The bus stopped for nice refreshment and tea at a farm than at a winery. By then it was near noon and the air conditioning on the bus stopped working and when people are hot nobody is happy. We were .glad to get back to the ship. To do over next time this stop will be a rest stop aboard ship. Our next stop was Tauranga, On this stop we spent the greater part of the day going to see the Glow Worms. I would recommend this if you have never viewed them before but once is enough for me. In addition there was a stop at the Kiwi site which additionally had a lot of other birds and vegetation to view. The tour included a very nice meal at a country house which was very good.. The next stop was Auckland, The ship docks right downtown and shopping is very near in abundance. Although I did take a bus trip the western side of the island to see the sites. There is plenty to do very near the ship. Auckland was a wonderful stop. As far as a stop in a big city I really preferred Auckland to Honolulu. Our last stop was at the Bay of Islands, here we took a cruising tour of the islands. I thought this tour would be on the order of a catamarand sailing but it was not. It was more of a tour boat. The boat held approx. 140 passengers. The boat was clean and well maintained but no free snacks or drinks. The whole experience was a disappointment. In summary we had a wonderful time and we really enjoyed sailing on the Volendam. We found her to be a wonderful ship with a wonderful crew. We felt truly blessed to do this cruise and hope one day to do a similar cruise and if so it will be with Holland America. Read Less
Sail Date February 2011
My husband, two grade school aged sons and I went on a 14 day cruise with Volendam leaving on January 2, 2011 from Sydney. This was our second cruise. Our first was 14 months ago, and was a ~12 day cruise from Barcelona on a Royal ... Read More
My husband, two grade school aged sons and I went on a 14 day cruise with Volendam leaving on January 2, 2011 from Sydney. This was our second cruise. Our first was 14 months ago, and was a ~12 day cruise from Barcelona on a Royal Caribbean ship that we enjoyed greatly. We had booked our flights ourselves, and had spent one night in a local hotel that we had found. A friend who had moved to Sydney from the US picked us up at our hotel, and after he gave us a lovely tour of Sydney, dropped us off at the ship. Check in was a snap. Our sons had one interior room and my husband and I had a second interior room adjacent to theirs. It was clean and tidy, and the room steward and his assistant were both excellent. In general, though, when you book interior rooms, I think there's not a lot of variation between ships. I've read elsewhere of people saying the Volendam is old and tired looking. I thought it was clean and looked very nice with fresh flowers seemingly everywhere. The one exception would be the central atrium, which does look a bit dated, and has some sort of design that reminded my husband of a tacky Star Trek warp coil. The other thing upon which people have commented is that others have found the Volendam to be smoky. I had been very worried about this. I quit smoking some 10 years ago, and I am now one of those former smokers who is completely intolerant of any smoke, much to my husband's irritation (as he--a lifetime non smoker--somehow managed to graciously endure my smoking without grumbling, and I now swear whenever I am anywhere near smoke.) Other than the casino, I did not notice any smoke. The remainder of the ship was beautiful. Although the ship didn't have a rock climbing wall or putt putt course like our prior Royal Caribbean cruise, it did have a great library. It had a more than adequate gymnasium, with functioning equipment, and very infrequent waits for treadmills. In terms of activities, I was again pleasantly surprised. I knew HAL is an "older person's cruise line", and was not expecting many activities that would entertain my husband and me. We were wrong. They had multiple aerobic classes for which there were not extra charges, and the two staff in the gym as well as the "life stylist" had excellent routines. There was the usual fun trivia, but there were also cooking classes, martini making classes, dance classes. We were busy and entertained all day. Ingo the wine cellar master was entertaining and educational, and we enjoyed him immensely. We had a great dining experience. For the first 4 days, we just ate at the Lido buffet with our kids, but we then realized we could take the kids to the kids' club ("Club HAL") and go to the dining room called the Rotterdam by ourselves. The food was AWESOME, the service great, the wine reasonably priced, and we were seated with two awesome sisters who we enjoyed meeting and getting to know. I don't eat meat, and their vegetarian options were great. My husband, an unrepentant carnivore, was very pleased with his food as well, particularly enjoying his surf and turf dinner. I went to only a few of the shows. They were not quite as good as on our prior ship, but this was a smaller ship with a much smaller theater and stage than before. I did wonder if the costume designer was under the influence of hallucinogens when he or she picked out the outfits, but the very able dancers were still able to perform well while dressed as igloos and Viking ships. Service was great overall. I really didn't see much of the cruise director, but the employees in the gym, the cellar master, and the life stylist we saw regularly and we liked all of them very much. The captain was a serious man, and initially put us off with his generally fearful worldview. We did however have a tragedy that occurred on the ship--an employee, while working on routine maintenance, went overboard and died. The captain was honest and forthright about all of this as it was occurring, and was obviously devastated by this. His handling of this awful loss was very impressive and more than made up for his tendency to tell sad stories over the PA. The kids' club, Club HAL, was great. The kids loved it, and even begged to be left on board on port days so they could go to the kids' club. Hours were good at the kids' club, and my husband and I had more than enough couple time. As it was school vacation down under, there were about 160 kids on the ship, but overall the kids were fairly well behaved, although near the end, the kids did get a little rowdy at the pool on a few occasions. For port days, we booked our own expeditions in advance, and that was definitely a money saver. I'd like to give a special shout out to our tour guide out of Christchurch, who did an awesome job, and who we found at www.hikingguys.com.nz. The ports were great and New Zealand is just a great country. Disembarkation went smoothly. In summary, we had a great trip. We had multiple reservations about this trip and ship based on reviews we had read here prior to going, but we were thrilled with our experience. Again, this was only our second cruise ever, but we felt that the service and the food on this ship was better than on our prior ship (which was still also quite good). Read Less
Sail Date January 2011
My DH and I live in Kissimmee, FL and have cruised HAL several times before along with a couple of the other lines. We are in an "almost retirement" state of mind! We flew to LAX and boarded VAustralia for the overnight flight to ... Read More
My DH and I live in Kissimmee, FL and have cruised HAL several times before along with a couple of the other lines. We are in an "almost retirement" state of mind! We flew to LAX and boarded VAustralia for the overnight flight to Sydney. It was an excellent flight. We were able to book Business Class, and this enabled us to have lay-flat seats which were made up into a bed by the flight attendents! It was great to get some sleep on the long flight over. Comfortable pj's were provided so you didn't have to sleep in your clothes. I especially liked the "ladies only" bathroom! We arrived in Sydney at 6:00 AM, quickly made our way through customs and took a taxi to the hotel. We booked a room at the Intercontinental Sydney, right by Circular Quay. This was an excellent location, within walking distance of all the ferries, rail and "The Rocks" area. We were able to get right in our room and get settled. We spent 4 nights there, and found a great cafe on the water that had free internet. While in Sydney we used the Hop On/Off Bus. It was a great way to see the sights. Also, we took a day trip to the Blue Mountains using Sydney Tour R Us. This was excellent and a nice change from the warm weather in Sydney. We boarded the Volendam on Sunday AM. It was the easiest and quickest embarkation we have ever experienced! On the ship in less than 15 minutes and were able to go straight to our room. I had booked a balcony (A) guarantee and we were upgraded to a Deluxe Verandah. Only found out about this at check-in and what a "suite" surprise. Absolutely loved the extra room and the free laundry!Our cruise critic group met the first morning at sea so we had a chance to get aquainted. The staff on the Volendam had a reserved space along with drinks and snacks already set up for us. They really went the extra mile to make us feel welcome. We were treated to a relatively smooth sailing across the Tasman Sea for 2 days and arrived a Milford Sound in a light mist. There were hanging clouds on the mountain tops along with spectacular waterfalls. Suddenly the clouds cleared and the sun cast a whole new light on the Sound. What a sight it was! An absolute highlight of the trip. Here's a quick rundown of the ports: Oban - we went ashore - by tender - and booked a quick boat ride over to Ulva island for a great nature walk. Dunedin - Booked an all-day tour with other Cruise critic members with Back to Nature Tours. I highly recommend this tour! Christchurch - Another Cruise Critic booking with Discovery Tours this time. Went out to Arthurs Pass and then back to Christchurch for a city tour. Excellent! Wellington - Took the available shuttle bus into town. Rode the cable car and then wandered through the Botanical Gardens. It was in full bloom and well worth the time. Also, there was inexpensive internet and phone cards available in the cruise terminal. Napier - Again, took the free shuttle into town. There was an info center with tour companies set up outside to book tours. Grabbed a 3 hour tour that included a winery for tasting. Beautiful art deco themed town. Tauranga -Booked with Carlton Tours for an all day tour including Te Puia. Terrific day - highly recommend them. Auckland - Did the Hop On/Off bus here on our own. Bay of Islands - Another tender port, then a shuttle over to Paihia. Were able to book with Explore NZ for a boat tour of the islands and the Hole in the Rock. Don't miss getting out on the water here! Another highlight of the trip. The Volendam staff were some of the most friendly we have had and the service was excellent everywhere. We ate in both the Pinnacle Grill and the Canaletto. Don't miss either - well worth making a reservation. The upcoming dry dock is needed for some of the chairs and other soft goods. However, the ship was well kept, always clean and lots of gorgeous fresh flowers. All in all a fantastic ship, great ports and a Captain who kept us well-informed daily. Read Less
Sail Date January 2011
This was our second cruise and would start a trip of a lifetime. We really liked the Volendam, although I constantly got lost finding the main dining room. The ship was experimenting with early embarkation and getting luggage to the cabins ... Read More
This was our second cruise and would start a trip of a lifetime. We really liked the Volendam, although I constantly got lost finding the main dining room. The ship was experimenting with early embarkation and getting luggage to the cabins immediately. This was quite successful from our perspective and really appreciated, as we had to check out of our hotel in Sydney at 10:00 am. Our stewards were incredible, as my husband often slept late, and somehow they figured out when he was out of the room and cleaned it up in a snap. I took a photo of the towel art every day - it was so cute and creative! One of my favorite areas was the Ocean Bar - loved the music and wished there were a few more seats, as it often was completely full. Disembarkation was very smooth - our luggage was waiting and we got a cab immediately. Food and Drink - We thought the food was quite good - the Lido was fine for breakfast and lunch (except for the coffee) but the dining room was far superior for dinner. In addition, we had wonderful room service breakfasts - right on time and hot food. I found that the wine steward in the dining room was very delayed in providing service. Entertainment - Quite good, but the crew performance was poor. Loved the inside look at the performers and the backstage tour - that was one of the highlights. Also thought the line dancing classes were a lot of fun. Digital Photograhpy Classes - Outstanding. Hannah was a wonderful teacher - hope I can do a slideshow half as good as hers. Ports: Milford/Doubtful/Dusky Sound We were very lucky that the weather was OK to see this area. It is stunningly beautiful, especially the waterfalls off the cliffs. The ship sailed in and turned gradually to enable all sides to see the scenery. Stewart Island - I went on the nature walk through the rain forest on and then with my husband went on the Volendam Tour of Stewart Island. Both were excellent - Much of the Island is a national Park; however, we were particularly interested to learn that the community on Stewart Island is self governing through a town council. Dunedin - We had booked with Elm Wildlife Tours and regretted it, possibly due to the terrible weather. The very challenging and steep hike to see the rookery of the yellow- eyed penguins was through a sheep farm - dung at every step. Then, we could see the penguin chicks in their nests, but only at a great distance. The little we saw of the town made us wish that we had just chosen to visit the town area, as it appeared quite charming and very Scottish. Christchurch - A delightful city and very easy to get around on the tram. The gardens are exquisite and have the most incredible dahlia collection, and indeed, many collections of roses, etc. As reported by others, at this port a crew member died while performing maintenance work on a lifeboat. Our departure here was delayed, as it took some time to recover his body which we could see from our balcony - but it was done very privately, with a sheet blocking anyone from actually seeing the body. Continuing investigation of this incident affected our departure from several ports. There was a memorial service for the man and I thought the ship handled this appropriately. Still, there are probably many questions about the maintenance of the equipment and the fact that this crew member was not wearing a life jacket. Wellington - Again, no tour necessary here, as the Te Papa Museum was quite fabulous, as was the ride up the tram and walk down through the Botanical Gardens. Napier - Not much to see in town. Suggest taking a tour, but the docking time here is rather abbreviated and a little early for the wine tour. Tauranga - Finally, beautiful, warm weather and we did a full day tour to Rotorua with Tauranga Tasting Tours which was excellent - just 8 of us. We went to Te Puia, a Maori Cultural Center, visited the adjacent geothermal area, blue and green lakes, a lovely waterfall and a kiwi orchard - a very full day and then returned to the ship through the beach/vacation community of Mount Manganui. Auckland - I took a T.I.M.E. Unlimited Tour to the west of the city through a rain forest area to a beautiful black beach and incredible rock formations. Our guide was lovely and very knowledgeable and gave us snacks and tea at the beach. She picked up my husband at the pier and drove us to Devonport where we walked around the boutiques, had a delicious lunch, and took the ferry back. We had planned to take a bus around the city but we missed the last one around 4 pm and decided to call it a day. Late this evening, there was an incredible dessert buffet with ice sculptures and more delicious things than I had ever seen in one place. Bay of Islands - As this was a tender port, we booked the Glow Worm tour through the Volendam. It was quite a long bus ride to the glow worm caves but the tour was quite interesting and the guide, whose family had managed the cave for generations, was very knowledgeable and even knew the different biology between glow worms and fire flies in the US. On the way back, we stopped for a snack of doughnuts and Hokey Pokey ice cream - this is definitely worth a try! Read Less
Sail Date January 2011
Mostly we have been P & O/Princess passengers but decided to give HAL a go after good reports from a mte. It was a good move. Its very quickly obvious that HAl has a somewhat older demographic. After enduring numerous noisy ... Read More
Mostly we have been P & O/Princess passengers but decided to give HAL a go after good reports from a mte. It was a good move. Its very quickly obvious that HAl has a somewhat older demographic. After enduring numerous noisy sailaways where getting a drink is near impossible, I loved the fact that I could just walk up to a bar and immediately get served, and this occured right through the cruise. There were always people around but we never felt crowded. Our cabin was spacious and had tons of wardrobe/drawer space plus a well laid out bathroom. Normally our 13yo son gets a dropdown pullman berth but here he got a sofabed which was far better. Everything was kept clean and enjoyed the nightly towel animals. Food was good but not great. A lot of the dishes were very similar and only differentiated by the sauces and gravies. We eat dinner in the dining room and had early sitting. Despite being happy to have others join us this only occured twice so the rest of the cruise we had a big six seat table all to ourselves which was great. Had one dinner in the Pinnacle and was impressed. Room servie, though fairly limited, was prompt and tasty. Found the entertainment rather limited and the trivia quizzes were about all I attended. These were strongly biased towards the US passengers, much to the annoyance of the Aussies and Kiwis who made up over half the complement. I always enjoy Piano bars but instead of a quiet place to go to listen to and occasional request tunes, this one is almost a show with the pianist having theme nights and audience participation. Not my cup of tea but loved by the oldies. I'm just not into 30s and 40s show tunes. Full marks must go to their Teen Club as my boy went in there on the first day and was basically never seen again. Three months later almost the entire teen group on board are in regular Facebook contact and have tthe odd outing together. For some bizarre reason the only indoor smoking bar is an open area in the middle of the ship. I am a smoker but recommend HAl move this to the rear of the ship and into an enclosed room. Surely the casino players can take a little walk when the need a smoke a the current location only serves to annoy the nonsmokers. At the end of the day this was one of the best cruises I have been on and would happily do it again. The refit Volendam is about to have can only improve things. Read Less
Sail Date December 2010
For our first cruise we decided to travel in familiar territory (Australia and New Zealand) so that we could focus on the cruise rather than the destinations. We had looked at a large number of possible cruise lines but thought that HAL ... Read More
For our first cruise we decided to travel in familiar territory (Australia and New Zealand) so that we could focus on the cruise rather than the destinations. We had looked at a large number of possible cruise lines but thought that HAL would be the right demographic for us (active couple, 59,62, retired) and we were proved right. Boarding the Volendam at Auckland went very smoothly and we spent the afternoon familiarising ourselves with the layout of the ship - it seemed very spacious and well laid out, easy to get around. We had been upgraded to Deck 2 and the category L cabin was large enough for us with plenty of storage space. (We did not spend very much time in the cabin at all - only slept there for about 6 hours a day!) The cabin steward was always very cheerful and helpful with very unobtrusive service. (We enjoyed the towel animals very much and were slightly disappointed to discover that it wasn't just for us, but a standard feature!) One slight glitch with the dining seating was soon rectified after boarding and we opted for open dining which suited us very well. We had dinner most nights in the Rotterdam with two nights in the Canaletto and one in the Pinnacle Grill. We took all breakfasts and lunches in the Lido. The standard of the food preparation, taste and service was excellent throughout, and on returning home we are finding it difficult to return to catering for ourselves! It required a great deal of self-control to limit our eating so as to not put on too much weight. We walked around the lower promenade deck 7 or 8 times every morning and went to the stretch sessions at 7am everyday in the Gym (this is a really good idea to get you going in the morning after a busy evening), as well as dancing every evening which helped keep the activity up. The provided entertainment in the Franz Hals Lounge was generally of a high standard and we greatly enjoyed the jazz trio (the Neptunes) and the HALcats, to whom we danced every night. The solo pianist Matt in the Piano bar was also very good and provided many hours of listening pleasure. We did not take part in many of the organised activities this trip but there were such a large number of them, catering for all sorts of interests, that you could easily spend the whole day taking part. There were a large number of areas in the ship where you could settle down with a book, sudoku, etc. or just watch other people, always a fascinating activity. The Explorations Lounge and the Cafe were very good resting places and the Library provided plenty of books even though we had our own e-readers. The Internet access fees were exorbitant and slow, even by Australian standards, and we did not bother. Nowadays it should be possible to do much better, particularly by using a caching server on board. We suggested that e-books could be easily provided (particularly the free ones from Gutenberg, etc.) but the Librarian thought that it would take a long time for HAL to do such a thing. Come on HAL, such things are cheap and easy to set up and your guests would love you for it (we saw a large number of people with computers and e-readers so the audience is ready for such services), just get a competent IT consultant (I am available at very reasonable rates :-) ) to organise such things for your whole fleet - you could be up and running next year! Despite the poor weather for most of the trip, apart from Milford Sound which put on a spectacular display, we had a ball and have signed up for some more cruises with HAL. Read Less
Sail Date December 2010
Background Information My husband and I have cruised about 10 times, different ships, different parts of the world. Took this cruise to celebrate our 40th Bdays. This cruise we had Stateroom D. Oceanview Stateroom, center ship. Too ... Read More
Background Information My husband and I have cruised about 10 times, different ships, different parts of the world. Took this cruise to celebrate our 40th Bdays. This cruise we had Stateroom D. Oceanview Stateroom, center ship. Too cold for balcony use. And center ship below teak deck you can run up one flight of stairs and be outside in a minute if you wanted to get a quick pix. Never heard walkers on teak deck. And no smells in room or in halls like I read about. But the smells were reported near end of ship. Guess lots of fresh air comes off elevators midship. We had great weather entire cruise. Hotel Info Airport shuttle to Hilton Auckland is $26 for 2 people. Heard it has lots of stops, so we took a cab $65. Use reputable Corporate, Rengency or Co-op cab companies. 30-50 mins depending on traffic. Hilton Auckland is the bomb if taking a cruise. It's not pricey, it's an awesome place with killer service and you walk right out the door onto ship. If you pay for a balcony ocean view room, be aware there will be ships parked right outside your balcony at some point! In Sydney, we took 30 min cab ride to Sir Stamford at Circular Quay. Read it's a fave on Trip Advisor. If you book through hotel you will get room early in day. If you book through a discount site, like we did, you will not be allowed to check in before the advertised check in time of 3pm. So we toured the Opera House and the giant gardens across street from hotel. With this and lunch our time was full. Hotel is luxe. Get pix with costumed bellman. Staff are really nice there. Restaurant is killer pricey. We had the unique chocolate dessert. It was the MOST unique dessert, but not the tastiest. You crack open a chocolate egg and hot chocolate goo comes out onto coffee icecream I think it was. The best thing we ate here was the cheese plate, which had quince paste. We'd never had it and have since found it at Whole Foods and eat it regularly. It's a type of fruit that is used like solid honey. On apples with cheese and some wine, good goodness! For food, go in the bar. It's a good menu and everything we ate there late night after the Opera show was delicious. And they will deliver it to your room. $45 taxi to airport from hotel. On way back to U.S. we stayed at The Langham hotel in Auckland. It seems realy nice when you walk in, but our room was super cramped, dated, tiny bathroom. Liked the water carafe/glass on nightstand. Nice touch. No chocolate croissants that stay as raved about by Trip Advisor writers. Ship Info Decide when booking if you want land view inbetween sounds. Port side faces ocean. Starboard has more land views. Ship is pretty and clean. Rooms comfy, just dated. Loved walking the covered teak deck and top open air deck. Food was great. Service great. Activities/Excursions Auckland: SkyTower is 15 minute walk from hotel. Once inside, take escalators down. Whole Sky Walk takes about 75 minutes. You are suited up leaving cameras, hair bands, sunglasses, hats, jewelry.... in a locker. It's windy up there, so expect your eyes to tear a lot if it's cold. We all felt tour/walk was too long. Worth the money, just too long. My group was bored and tired of the views at the end. If walk was shorter in duration, people would leave on a way higher vibe or whatever. There's 6 people in a group and we all bought a pix at the end. They also throw in a funny certificate. There's a video to buy, but we all looked ridiculous up there and nobody bought it. If you have the $, the Rebo Cafe & Bar on bldg's ground floor was delicious. Minus 5 ice restaurant: $25 a person. Worth it in day time as it's empty. Get the peachacolada. Yum. You can choose your own music and have pix guy get some fun/crazy shots. We bought several pix. They don't let you take Anything in. Purses, cameras... all held at desk for you. You can trust them. You are suited up and it's funny trying to hold your ice glass when drinking with those big mitts. You get to smash your glass when done. Loud and fun! On ship, walk teak deck at night. It's Empty. Never did find the vibrating chairs someone wrote about. Tauranga/Rotorua Waitmo Caves w/Crosshills Gardens Lunch and kiwi house. Ship tour is FANTASTIC. Noboday had a better day than us considering all the tours choices and dinner talk later. The caves and glow worms, you see just enough to leave on such a high. The gardens lunch was beyond charming and delicious, the property and people there, I can't tell you how at home they make you feel and you just revel in all the beauty of nature. The Kiwi House was super cool/cute big birds. Napier If you can ride a bike for a few hours, you Can't Beat this excursion we took. It's not offered by the ship, but we researched a LOT for this cruise, and this was the best offered. Bike D'Vine Winery & Sightseeing Tour. Do easy Rout 1. $40 a person. The owners pick you up at visitor center and it's a 15 min ride to first stop where they get you set up on your bike with a map,safety gear, bike locks. We started at a cool wooden place called The Filter Room. $12 got us a beer/cider sampler. You can pick from lots of choices/tastes. Along the bike route are various winers, a chocolate factory, a lavender farm. We did lav farm for souvenirs (put the oil on our pillows each night of cruise, wonderful!), and went by lots of amazing scenery of wine fields and sheep fields, and a pretty tile decorated bldg, downtown shops and on to just one winery, Mission Estate. The classiest. We sat out back and had 5* service of their cheese/fruits/nuts/breads/dipping oils/wines..... It was Heaven! For a fee we just had the van driver pick us up there as I was too tipsy to bike ride back! Wellington Ship's Lord of the Rings Tour: it was a FANTASTIC day. And I went grudgingly w/my husband as I'm not a movie buff. The tour fixes that Real quick. You watch an infomational movie at the Weta Cave museum that left everyone in awe and speechless. Next you stop at the coolest cafe you'll ever snack at. It's ON the water, super contemporary. Everything's home made. Then it's off to see killer scenery and learn about movie. The guide was IN movies so has lots of inside info and great stories. He was cool to take pix for everyone whenever. Lunch will be at the most scenic garden you can imagine. Breathtaking. Food was great and served family style. Bread was cutely served in clay flower pots. Then it's off to more scenery. I am positive that the ship's tour beats any and all LOTR tours you're going to research. Picton We stayed on ship for a spa day. Place was empty so we had place all to ourselves. HIGHLY recommend this. Heated tile chairs, hot tub surrounded by windows to a great view outside, steam and sauna rooms with lovely smells... Also got a mani/pedi. Girl is great. I just don't like that they make guests face the wall while workers get ocean view. That seems messed up!!! Husband and I got the double massage. He loved his, mine was weak. You gotta speak up a Lot throughout to get what you want! Whole spa area is great with fresh juices and fruit and super clean locker rooms. Christchurch Took a taxi to the Botanic Gardens. After two hours we hadn't seen a quarter of the place, huge! Wear correct shoes for this!!! Sneakers required. All kinds of terrain on paths. Beauty beauty and more gorgeous nature everywhere we went. LOVED it! Then we met our driver downtown to take us to Adrenaline Forest. This again is NOT a ship excursion. But my husband said this place was the highlight of the Entire Cruise! For $35pp plus $10pp each way van shuttle you are taken 15 minutes north of Christchurch to an obstacle course in the trees. Various levels take you higher and higher. It is the coolest guy thing we'd ever seen, although women were doing it too. Not me though due to neck injury. You are responsible for your own safety, in that you hook yourself onto line cables as you go along. Sooo many different obstables and you'll spend hours there. We went for the last two hours and it was perfect/not crowded. A crowd would really hold you up. Do bring your own food and water. Nothing right there, but you can walk across street to bathrooms/food place. It's not close though. Do 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th course in that order. My husband is fit and couldn't do 6th. He was soo sore next day, but would go every week if he could. Dunedin/Port Chalmers Took free shuttle to Otago Museum, also free. VERY cool museum and had the best sandwich in my life at cafe. It's the smoked chix, brie, salad in pita w/raspberry sauce. Served warm. And the caramel bar is super delicious also. Super cool gift store there too if you have kids. Dine w/the Chef night: Sign up! Great fun/great food with just a few other guests. Lots of drinking involved with this event! Cruising sounds for 3 days Be outside on ship's front deck for Milford Sound. You're enveloped in stunning beauty. Crossing Caspian Sea Outside of ship will be closed. It's rough seas. Got some awesome big wave pix! We booked a year in advance to get center ship. We barely felt motion here. Hobart We did the ship's Tahune Airwalk tour. This was ok. It's a long drive to get there. The Airwalk is relativley short. Then there's a cafe for lunch you have to pay for everything. It rained and 3/4 of the tour group sat in the cafe the whole time miserable. SO, bring warm jacket in case it's windy. Bring a sturdy umbrella. Bring a rain poncho. If you're prepared, as only my husband and I were!!! you will enjoy this place. Even in the rain. We thought it romantic. The tour guide ended up being our personal photographer! Eden Cool whaling info story about famous whale that helped whalers. Capt. told story over intercom system. We didn't get off ship. Thought it a sad stop. We tried Pinnacle Grill that night. It was fine. But main dining room food was great every night, so it wasn't necessary. If you go, the lobster mac and cheese was my fave. Sydney Reserve ahead for first tour tix at Opera House, or go straight there and get in line to get them. As performers show up for practice, the rooms are closed off to the public, or you can peek in, but no pix. The first tour all the rooms were empty and we got to take pix of Eveything. We had breakfast right there in front of theatre, sidewalk cafe. Great bridge view. After tour we went to the gardens up the street. They are Huge and pretty and lots of screaming flying squirrels which we thought were vampire bats. We had lunch at Cafe Sydney, at top of bldg facing bridge/ship. It's a mod place with great sceenery and great food. But it is costly. Expect every seat taken during lunch rush. Book ahead! Don't forget to get off elevator on floor with architect business listed on pannel. There's a lucite model of the opera house we found on accident. Cool! And lobby of bldg restauant has a glass floor with a model of Sydney in the floor!!!!! Have your video camera ready as you walk around feeling like you're flying over the city. We saw Pirates of Panzance. Great show! Brisbane Not part of cruise. We stayed at Hilton Brisbane, it's SUPER. Dinner at Rhubarb Rhubarb. It's a small bar with fancy food. Need reservations. Good time. Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary $30pp, $16 for photos, $1 for roo food. Wear stuff you don't mind getting dirty if you want to really enjoy animal interaction, and there's plenty of it. Go opening to close, there's that much fun to be had! It was the highlight of trip/cruise for me! Service It was great all over ship. Only complaint was laundry service. Several times clothing items were lost, but most were found/returned at end of cruise. This was distressing as we packed one suitcase to last three weeks. We were Very limited in what we had and needing EACH and every item packed. Also, several items were ruined. Things came back stained or marked or with holes in them that weren't there when we sent them off. At end of cruise we filed to get money for 5 shirts and pants, but didn't get our money's worth. I was devasted they ruined one of my formal wear outfits. Brand new, never even worn, but I sent it for pressing along with everything else once we boarded. It came back with an iron imprint. I cried. As there was a limit to how much money you could file for for damages, this item didn't even make the cut. It alone was over $300. I've Never had such awful laundry service on a ship. And RCL has the Chinese Laundry. We've actually taken stuff with stains our local cleaner couldn't get out, and they get it looking good as new! Summary Spent over $15k on trip. All the old people kept saying they were on their retirement dream vacation, but due to age they were having a hard time fitting it all in. They kept telling us we did it right, did it when young. Travel To Port of Embarkation We flew Qantas. Superb coach experience going over. Opted to pay extra for exit door seat on way home. Bathroom light and door slamming and people traffic kept us up all the way home. Not worth money/won't ever sit there again. Dining We did the Any Time Dining/ Open Seating and LOVED LOVED it. We requested a table of 6-8 and met amazing people each night at dinner. Just be sure to book your dinner reservation like the second you wake up to get the time you want. Otherwise you will WAIT to be seated. Reservations a Must for timely seating. There's 4 formal, 10 Smart/Casual. Few tuxes on formal. Lots of dark suits though. Children's Clubs The guests on the cruise were older. Being 40, we were told there were only 2 other couples close to our age. They had a couple kids and so they took over places like the teen club and lounge and .... Seemed silly to have soo much for 4 kids. Oh well. Heard they were having a great time. Entertainment First time we never went to a ship dance show!!! We booked lots of early excursions, so just weren't up to the Broadway shows. We also shut the main dining room down several times with ongoing chatting with dinner mates. The comedian was good. The ventrilaquist awful. The cellist ok. Disembarkation As easy as getting on. If there's a problem, do NOT hesitate to ask for help. Like, if you have a flight and the lines are holding up for too long, they have a separate line elsewhere on ship which can get you off quick. I'd read about that line, and we used it! My husband was a nervous wreck about how long the self service line was, seemed like the entire ship wanted to be the first off. The elevator to exit to customs was taking forever as soo many people had wheelchairs and walkers and huge luggage that took up soo much elevator space. I surprised my husband by lingering at breakfast and then getting us to the "speed lane". Read Less
Sail Date October 2010
We arrived in Vancouver on a beautiful, sunny, warm day at the end of August to find a red blazered HAL rep waiting for us with a cab to the Pan Pacific Hotel. Our room was ready and we explored the city with a trip (by local bus) to ... Read More
We arrived in Vancouver on a beautiful, sunny, warm day at the end of August to find a red blazered HAL rep waiting for us with a cab to the Pan Pacific Hotel. Our room was ready and we explored the city with a trip (by local bus) to Granville Island. That night we ate dinner in Gastown and had a leisurely walk back up the hill to Canada Place and our hotel. The next morning we boarded a 3 hr bus tour of the city (part of our package through HAL) stopping in Chinatown, Stanley Park and delivering us to the ship. We had a painless embarkation, lunch in the Lido and a gorgeous night to sail away. Our room had a balcony which we enjoyed except for when our next door neighbor was smoking on his balcony. We ate half our dinners in the Lido, half in the Rotterdam. The food was delicious and plentiful. We always asked for a table for two in the MDR with no reservation, except for the one formal night we attended. We never had to wait at all for a table and never had to share at table. Service all over the ship was excellent. Sometimes it was difficult to find a table in the Lido and then we'd have to eat in the pool area, which was sometimes cold and damp. One morning we had room service but found the coffee lukewarm so didn't repeat that. Our room was comfortable and our stewards must have refilled our ice bucket 3 times a day. Chocolate was waiting nightly and half the nights we found towel animals. We attended all the shows which featured the singers and dancers which we enjoyed. The entertainers are a very talented group of young people. We did not attend the comedian, magician or crew shows. We watched a movie one night. Each night we'd go to the Crow's Nest to listen to Monica and the HALcats. Great band!!! We also enjoyed the string quartet and the 3 piece lounge band. We gambled some in the slot machines, won more than we lost. Each morning my husband would work out in the gym and I would walk the deck for an hour. Other times on the ship, we would read in the library, watch movies in our room, or just nap. Disembarking was also a breeze. Aside from my suitcase losing a wheel (could happen anywhere) we were out of the ship area in about 5 mins. With the heat of the East Coast summer, this was a wonderful break. We came home to some more 90+ weather, but just looking at my pictures of the glaciers took off some of the heat and humidity. Glacier Bay National Park, although not a port, was in my opinion the high point of the cruise. Capt. Bos's enthusiasm for this area "my favorite place in the world" was certainly contagious. He announced each sighting of bear, whale, goat, white lightning (when part of the glacier breaks off into the water) and steered the ship here and there for just the right amount of time to enjoy the scenery from every angle. He told us numerous times to get outside to fully enjoy this day and I'm so glad we took his advise. We stood for a long time on the bow and felt up close and personal with nature. What an experience! Read Less
Sail Date August 2010
Overall: Our trip aboard the Volendam was everything we dreamed. It was relaxing yet exhilarating. We were pampered yet enjoyed privacy. Alaska was beautiful! Our weather wasn't always sunny, but the rain gear and winter coats were ... Read More
Overall: Our trip aboard the Volendam was everything we dreamed. It was relaxing yet exhilarating. We were pampered yet enjoyed privacy. Alaska was beautiful! Our weather wasn't always sunny, but the rain gear and winter coats were only needed for rare moments. About Us: We are mid 40's couple celebrating 25 years of marital bliss. We do not gamble or drink. We enjoy dressing up for dinner and a show. Our best vacations are relaxing with beautiful nature and/or wildlife. The Volendam: She is an elegant ship but not gaudy. The most elegant space is not at the atrium like many other ships. Her most elegant spaces are on Deck 5 surrounding the casino. The Exploration Cafe and Library is the highlight of these spaces. The Rotterdam Dining Room is well maintained, spacious, and comfortable. The Show Lounge is mostly comfortable. We found the balcony more comfortable than the main floor. We spent much time on the Lower Promenade walking track, the Crow's Nest, and on the bow (accessible from the Lower Promenade via a stairwell). Our outside cabin was adequately spacious and comfortable. Bedding quality is as you will find at a 4-star hotel. Food: a. MDR: We found the food in the Rotterdam Dining Room to be very good to excellent. My favorite was the short ribs. We ate most dinners, a couple lunches, and one breakfast in the dining room. The wait staff had the right balance of attention without being annoying. I only recall one occasion where the glass got empty and the throat was dry. b. Lido: The food in the Lido (buffet) was good to very good. Desserts were very good. Omelets were very good. Tables were sometimes slow being cleared off for the next person to be seated. c. Canaletto: The food in the Canaletto was very good. The service was excellent. The Italian menu is somewhat limited for those who do not just love everything Italian. d. Pinnacle: We enjoyed a lunch at Pinnacle compliments of booking with Expedia. The food was very good and the service very good although we did feel like we would have been more favorably treated if we were a fully paying customer. c. Terrace Grill: The food was adequate. Cheeseburger was good. We found the brats and pizza only adequate. It was difficult to get drinks from the pool servers and going to the Lido for a drink was a hassle. d. Room Service: We used room service once for breakfast and were well pleased. Drinks: We do not drink but quite by accident the one time we wanted a soda it was during Happy Hour in the Crow's Nest so two cans of Sprite for $2.24 wasn't too bad (yes, Coke products. No Pepsi or Mountain Dew so carry a few on). Service: Room Stewards were quite nice as we met them in the halls as they greeted us by name. They were quite attentive to everything in the room. The Front Desk was good but inadequately staffed. Every time we passed by there was a line at least four deep. Entertainment: We made 5 of 7 performances in the Show Lounge. Quality was very good. We also enjoyed three movies in the Wajang Theatre. We did not get an opportunity to enjoy the nightly entertainers. Ship Activities: We enjoyed walks on the Lower Promenade, sightseeing while reading in the Crow's Nest, the Library, Intro to the Volendam, and the Kitchen Tour. We avoided the casino and nearby sports bar because of smokers. Wildlife: We saw one grizzly on shore, a single black bear, a couple mountain goats, both orcas and humpbacks, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, and eagles. The captain was very good at pointing out these and controlling the ship for maximum enjoyment Pre-Cruise: We flew into Seattle, rented a car and drove to Vancouver. We enjoyed driving by the largest building in the world at Boeing, the ferry to Whidbey Island, Deception Pass, and Chuckanut Drive Scenic Drive before dropping off the car at Avis on Hornby in Vancouver. Avis shuttle dropped us at Canada Place. Embarkation: Embarkation was painless and efficient. Our stateroom was ready when we embarked at 12:30. Bags arrived soon after. We were soon unpacked and ready to explore the ship. Disembarkation: We chose self-disembarkation and would do it again. We were off the ship and at our Vancouver hotel before 8:30am. Post-Cruise: The Sheraton Wall Centre booked on Priceline was perfect. We assumed we would be leaving our bags for the day with the bellman but to our surprise our room was ready at 8:30am! A short walk got us to the Burrard Station of TransLink. A $9 pp Day Pass on TransLink allowed us bus transportation to Stanley Park (one block away on Pender Street), SkyTrain east to get a taste of the city, Skytrain to the former Olympic Village (Science World station), and SeaBus to Lonsdale Quay Public Market. A short walk from Waterfront Station and SeaBus was Gastown Steam Clock to the east and the Olympic Cauldron to the west at Convention Centre West. An evening of dining and Improv was found at Granville Island. Two days followed in Seattle. The itinerary included Pikes Place Market, Space Needle, Olympic Sculpture Park, and The Museum of Flight. Ports of Call: 1. Tracy Arm: We chose this itinerary over a Seattle departure to experience Tracy Arm and Sawyer Glacier. We were terribly disappointed to find out we would not be sailing Tracy Arm. Tides and currents in the Inside Passage did not allow time to experience this scenery. 2. Juneau: Has to be the smallest state capitol in the U.S. We enjoyed Mighty Great Tours Glacier Express to the Mendenhall Glacier. Nettles Fall Trail was flooded so we hiked East Glacier Trail (almost 4 miles) for closer views of the glacier. We skipped Mount Roberts Tram because of cloud cover. Spend Thrift Insight - Alaska T-Shirt Company had the best prices for souvenirs. 3. Skagway: We enjoyed very much Chilkoot Charters for a bus trip to Fraser and the White Pass Railroad back to Skagway. After lunch on the ship we walked the town in a light rain. Spend Thrift Insight - The National Park Service leads a very good walking tour (free service). 4. Cruising Glacier Bay: This day began at 5am in the Crow's Nest for whale watching and ended at a midnight view of the lighted northern sky. Not quite midnight sun but never got totally dark either. This is where we saw our bears, mountain goats, seals, sea lions and the majority of our whales. We viewed a total of four glaciers. The weather was cold, overcast, and foggy. The sky cleared momentarily for Reid and Johns Hopkins glaciers. 5. Ketchikan: We enjoyed the Alaskan Lumberjack show, Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, Ketchikan Walking Tour, and Creek Street. We did not see any salmon. This is where we saw the bald eagles. Spend Thrift Insight - Tongass Trading Company had the best prices for souvenirs. What to Pack (early July): Yes, layered clothing is the best advice. The walking shorts might be needed but probably not. Begin with long sleeves. Add a fleece and/or hooded sweatshirt. You will need a rain coat with a hood. A winter coat, gloves, and hat are definitely warranted in Glacier Bay. Take binoculars! Final Comments: This was the almost perfect vacation. The Volendam is a grand ship. Holland America offers a very good sailing experience. Alaska offers tremendous beauty and cordial people. The cool weather is a welcomed break from the summer heat in the continental U.S. Read Less
Sail Date July 2010
About Us: Middle aged couple, well traveled. Second cruise together. First time to Alaska. The itinerary: Chose to go out of Vancouver to lessen the chances of seasickness, to which I am prone. Also liked the itinerary including long ... Read More
About Us: Middle aged couple, well traveled. Second cruise together. First time to Alaska. The itinerary: Chose to go out of Vancouver to lessen the chances of seasickness, to which I am prone. Also liked the itinerary including long port days that didn't start early in the morning. This was a vacation and we wanted to sleep in! Our ports were Skagway, Ketchikan and Juneau, along with sailing through Glacier Bay. We were supposed to sail Tracey Arm, but because of either tides or ice (not sure which) we were unable to do that. Vancouver: Loved Vancouver as much as I had the last time I visited 18 years ago. We added three nights at the beginning which I highly recommend. Got Hyatt Regency on a Priceline bid for $80 per night and couldn't have been happier with the hotel or the location. (There are websites that help with Priceline bidding strategy -- takes the fear and guesswork out of using Priceline.) We spent one day biking Stanley Park, walking the seawall and wandering the city and the other day at Granville Island Market where we managed to eat both breakfast and lunch. It helped that the weather was PERFECT. Denman Street in the West End (walking distance from anywhere downtown) is a great street for finding reasonably-priced ethnic restaurants for dinner. We loved the Legendary Noodle for Chinese food that is similar to Islamic Chinese food one would find in China. Why the Volendam: It offered the itinerary we wanted and the Wednesday departure worked well for us. It was the only ship departing on Wednesday making embarkation a breeze. Also, because of its odd departure day, we were the only ship in one port and only had one or two other ships in the other ports. This allowed us to be more spontaneous about what we could do in port. If we had wanted to book last-minute excursions they would have been available to us. The size ship was appealing -- large enough to have many offerings and dining alternatives, but not one of the mega-ships. Also, we had been told that it was a good ship for Alaska because of all the outside viewing areas. This was true. There were plenty of places to be and no place was ever crowded outside. The Crow's Nest -- an indoor place on the highest deck with floor to ceiling windows -- was the only place that was ever crowded. I would have said that this was not a great ship to bring children, but a recent review indicated that school age kids had a blast with Club HAL. There were very few children on our sailing. Most passengers were middle aged or senor couples, or women traveling together, with a few young couples and multi-generational families. About half were Americans with most others from Canada, Australia or the UK. This was not a party ship. We also wanted a balcony cabin and were booking only two weeks in advance and got a decent deal. And we wanted an itinerary that included Glacier Bay. Embarkation: 20 minutes from arrival at the terminal to walking on to the ship. Arrived around 12:30 with plenty of time to eat lunch and wander the ship. The Ship: Some reviews have said the Volendam is "worn" and "dated." I did not find this to be the case. I did not see any sign of wear or carpet stains or anything of that nature. On the contrary, there was constant cleaning and painting and an emphasis on sanitation. Hand sanitizers are everywhere. The ship dEcor is very nice and there are many different public areas. Going to Alaska having a deck with a retractable roof is a must and the Lido deck is very nice. We were so lucky with weather, but the deck remained comfortable when it was cold outside and the roof was closed, and was delightful when it was partially or fully opened on sunny, warm days. The Library is amazing -- one of the nicest areas on the ship. There is a HUGE selection of books, including recent best sellers, along with games and puzzles and just a lovely environment. We chose not to sign up for internet use. Accommodations: We were in Verandah balcony "suite" 7073 on the Navigation Deck. It wasn't really a suite, but slightly larger than a regular stateroom with a tub in the bathroom. It was very comfortable, well-designed, plenty of storage, extremely comfortable bed and linens and with a lovely glass enclosed balcony. The location of our stateroom (which we had taken on a guarantee basis, didn't select the actual stateroom) meant the balcony was covered. The big question: Should one have a balcony in Alaska? I would say "maybe" and my husband would say "yes." The larger stateroom, being able to open the door for fresh air and the floor to ceiling view may have been more important to me than using the actual balcony itself. My husband did sit out on it and read, but I tended to be on deck more. We were lucky with the weather and could do our scenery-viewing from any deck. If there had been rain it would have been nice to have the covered area. My summation: If you can afford it, or get a deal on a balcony room that isn't much more than another room, go for it. If you can't, you can live without it. Some of the time it's too cold and windy to be on the balcony anyway. We would have been happy with the location of any of the balcony staterooms. In fact, we probably would have been happy with any outside cabin except the ones on the lower promenade deck with obstructed views that overlook where people are walking the deck. I visited an outside cabin on the dolphin deck (lowest) and that stateroom was just fine with a lovely view out of large windows. Smoking: I was very concerned after reading negative reviews about smoking on the ship since I am extremely sensitive to cigarette smoke. I am glad to report that smokers were mostly relegated to the casino and one small area on one side of the deck outside the Lido buffet. When I made the mistake of going outside that direction it did bother me, and walking by the casino was pretty disgusting, but I did not smell the smoke anywhere else. Even though smoking is allowed in staterooms I could not smell any from my room or balcony. However, twice when walking the lower promenade circuit (3.5 laps to a mile) there was a man outside smoking a cigar. Yuck. I don't know if that was permitted or not, but other than the momentary stench as I passed it didn't bother me further. Room Steward: Ours was quiet, unobtrusive and just fine. We received the little card to indicate what kind of fruit basket we wanted and when we wanted more fruit we filled out another card. We didn't have too many requests. The room was always cleaned very nicely. No complaints. Cell phones and Blackberry: I did not have international service, so I only used my cell phone and Blackberry when we were in US ports. My AT&T service worked just fine. It was a pleasure to have these devices off while in Canada and at sea. My husband has Verizon service and did get international service so he could use phone and Blackberry in Canada as well. Food/Dining: The food was better than I expected, considering they were serving 2000 passengers and staff for each meal. We had Anytime dining which worked great for us. Since there are so many questions about this I will go into detail. We reserved the Pinnacle Grill in advance for the last night -- the night of the Master Chefs Dinner -- because I had read on Cruise Critic about how bad this dinner is. We reserved through the HAL 800 number in advance, but could have done it on board. The food in Pinnacle Grill was slightly better than the dining room and the service was very attentive. For us, it was nice to "mix it up" for dinners and we enjoyed eating there one night and didn't mind the $20 pp surcharge. We really enjoyed the cook-out on deck the first night, enhanced because we had ideal weather. We checked the dining room menu each day to help decide what to do that evening. Three nights we ate in the dining room (including one formal night) and the food was for the most part quite good. We either called before 4 p.m. and made a reservation or showed up and were told to return in 15 to 30 minutes for a table. This was because we only wanted tables for 2. If we had been willing to share, I think we would have been accommodated at any time. The portions are not large so we tended to order several courses. The chilled soups were particularly good. On one formal night we didn't want to dress up, so we ordered from the dining room menu for room service and that worked out fine. One night we ate dinner in Canaletto, which is the Italian restaurant that is part of the Lido buffet area, but requires reservation and has waiter service and tablecloths. They were having a "soft opening" on this ship, expecting to go into full service over the next few months. It was a very nice meal with good service at no extra charge. For Anytime dining the waiter service was nothing special. I'm sure those who have the same waiter each night get better service, but it was fine. The Lido Buffet at night has some of the selections from the dining room menu. A few nights I picked up a snack at the Lido to carry me over until eating in the dining room about 8 p.m. The Lido buffet dinners looked fine, but dinner there was not so appetizing to us, given all the other choices. We had lunch in the Lido or outside at the Terrace Grill every day. I had fresh-baked cookies and/or (usually and) ice cream every afternoon. Ice cream is set up from about 11 to 5 every day with cones, cups and toppings. Yum. They also have out a selection of cobbler or bread pudding all of which were really good -- especially the various types of bread pudding. The lunches were satisfactory -- nothing special, other than these great desserts. The day they had a salmon bake on deck was exceptional. I can only guess they had picked up salmon in Alaska as it was some of the best salmon I had ever tasted. We never ate at the late-night buffet. I did go to the Indonesian high tea and it was very nice. If we were up early enough (only happened twice) we ate breakfast in the dining room, which was excellent. The other mornings we ate from the buffet at Lido that was open until 10:30. The omelet station was the only place I ever had to wait. Really good omelets. The pancakes were really good, but better in the dining room where they were fresher. The daily special pancake, e.g., mango or banana, was particularly good each day. Lox readily available at the buffet or dining room. Alaska is not the place for tropical fruits. By the end of the cruise they had resorted to serving frozen blueberries. Apples, pears and bananas were readily available. Wine: I don't drink, but my husband did bring two bottles on board that we purchased in Vancouver. He had a sweet wine for late evening in our room and one bottle of white wine to have with an appetizer picked up from the Lido buffet before dinner. One night he did bring wine in a glass from the cabin to the dining room and no one cared. The house wines were not as expensive as we had expected (about $5 per glass) and wine is quite expensive in Vancouver (taxes, I think) so bringing some of our own wine did not save that much money anyway. Water: the ship's drinking water was just fine and iced tea, hot tea and coffee are also free. However, I purchased a 12-pack of bottled water at the 7-11 in Vancouver for $4.99 and liked having it on the ship for my personal use since I'm not a soda or wine drinker and prefer bottled water. I also brought the bottles to port visits. The 12-pack was just right for us for 7 days. Glacier Bay: The scenery throughout the Inside Passage was lovely. Glacier Bay was the only really cold and overcast day, so the glaciers didn't shine the way they would have on a sunny day. However, we bundled up and really enjoyed seeing them in their splendor. It was a really fun day sailing through Glacier Bay. They served hot pea soup on deck mid-morning that was a nice touch. We watched from a combination of places including our balcony, the bow of the ship, the crow's nest, aft deck and all over. The captain spun the ship around at each glacier so you could see them from anywhere. Shore Excursions and Alaska Toursaver Coupon book: We didn't want to be tied down, so we didn't book anything with HAL. Many of the excursions that sounded great would have been ruined if the weather had been bad. Also, we knew there were few ships in ports we were visiting on those days so we could make last minute choices if we wanted. I did some research and called around and took contact information with me in case we wanted to do any adventure trips. I did want to book the helicopter to the Mendenhall Glacier, but didn't want to spend $279 each. From my research I knew Temsco was in the coupon book, but there are only so many seats at that price. In retrospect I should have realized that since they don't do HAL's flights and no other ships were docked in the late afternoon that it would be relatively easy to reserve. But I didn't want to order the book, wait for it to arrive, get the code and then make my reservation -- and maybe the toursaver seats were no longer available. So, I followed advice I had read on the internet and googled Alaska Toursaver and Craigslist and found three postings. I wrote to each and heard back from two. I bought through PayPal from someone who appeared reputable from our correspondence and was willing to give me the code as soon as I paid. I paid him $55 plus shipping, which was significantly less than the $99 plus shipping I would have paid to buy it new -- but the best part was that I got the code right away and was able to reserve the helicopter trip! The downside was that the flight plane to Misty Fjord, the other coupon we would have considered using, had been used -- but we knew that when we purchased it. Bottom Line: If you are really going to do one or more of the trips featured in the coupon book it is worth it -- IF you know you can get reservations. If it's early enough in the season you are probably safe. We booked our trip only two weeks before sailing, so it took a bit more research. And if you are going mid to late season with a bit of work you can probably find them for sale on the secondary market like I did. Juneau: We were in Juneau from 2:30 to 10:30 p.m. which was ideal since we didn't have to get up early and could enjoy time on the ship that day. This was the day we couldn't sail Tracey Arm. The ship offers an excursion where 150 passengers can board a catamaran at about 9:30 a.m. for 5 hours through Tracey Arm. We talked to people who did it and raved about it -- they got really close to glaciers, heard calving, etc. It's $199 which was more than we wanted to spend and I didn't want to be cooped up on a catamaran for 5 hours. But it does sound like it's worthwhile to consider. Juneau was our splurge. We decided to do the TEMSCO helicopter to land on a glacier. We booked in advance using Alaska Toursaver coupon, so it was $279 for two of us. This is the cheapest of the glacier/helicopter flights -- no trek, just a walkabout. It was fantastic. Can't say enough about TEMSCO. They were wonderful. We were the last flight of the day and HAL doesn't use them and no other ships were in port at that time of day, so there wasn't a crowd. The van driver had plenty of time so took us the long way around so we could see the glacier from the car at the visitor center. My only criticism is that our flight was 5 p.m., but we were signed up for 3:45 p.m. pick up next to the cruise ship. That's a lot of extra time that wasn't needed when they aren't crowded. The pilot was wonderful and this was a really special adventure -- highly recommended. People we spoke to who did whale watching in Juneau also really enjoyed it. Again, the fact that we had blue skies in the 70's really made it a great day. But it was colder than we expected on the glacier. They had said to expect 15 degrees colder than in Juneau, so we didn't wear as many layers as we should. It felt colder than that and it was quite windy. Hint: Bring extra layers, hat and gloves if you do this, regardless of the weather in Juneau. Skagway: We had really thought about doing the train, but I had heard that if the weather's lousy you can't see much, so didn't want to book in advance. Again, with some research determined that we were the only ship in port and it would be no problem to buy last-minute tickets on the 1245 train. We reserved a car thru Avis in advance just in case (also didn't need to because only ship in port; with many ships they could run out of cars) and had downloaded Murray's guide as recommended on Cruise Critic. The day was very foggy so we went with the car ($90) instead of the train ($120 each). We made the right decision because we had fog the entire way that the highway parallels the train. It wasn't until we got over the pass, which is further than the 3.5 hour train ride goes, that we had beautiful clear weather. It was fun driving thru the Yukon and we stopped a few places mentioned in Murray's guide. We had taken rolls, cheese and fruit from breakfast (always bring zip lock bags!) and picnicked at Carcross overlooking the beach. We drove as far as Emerald Lake and then came back via the Skagway cemetery. I do recommend a stop at the cemetery, including the short walk to the waterfalls. The whole drive took just over 5 hours, we filled with gas for about $20 and returned the car and went back to the ship. A lovely day. If we had more energy we would have done horseback riding or a hike at Yukon Horses near Emerald Lake. You can google it and book on your own. Others have recommended it highly. BTW, had to pay $2 to use the rest room at one of the restaurants along the drive since I wasn't a customer. Worth every penny. Ketchikan: Beautiful day, really lovely town. Would have been a great day for kayaking, but we just felt like wandering the town. Went to Creek Street and then back to ship area and turned left and walked to the residential area and up and down some of the steep steps. Really nice views and very interesting to see how people live. I would have liked to walk in the rainforest, but from the map it appeared you have to walk all the way around to get to it. If there's a next time, I'll ask at the visitor center just how far to get to the rainforest walk. Shopping: Bought nothing in ports or on ship. Clothing: Since so many people ask about it, I'll give my two cents. I followed advice and brought many layers which worked out perfectly. Did wear my LL Bean rain jacket/windbreaker even though we had beautiful weather. I wore a sleeveless fleece a lot, over a long sleeved shirt, then a zip up fleece over it. Liked having the hood on my zip up fleece. I did wear my long johns and wool socks on the Glacier Bay sea day since we were outside a lot and it was quite cold and windy. Added layers. Also wore gloves that day. On the warm sea days (did I mention we were REALLY lucky with weather?) wore shorts/capris and t-shirt. Even laid by the pool in a bathing suit! Used shorts and t-shirts for fitness center. For formal night(s) I brought one black skirt (that doesn't wrinkle) with a black nylon top and a lightweight shawl/sweaters to dress it up. Worked just fine for the one formal night we ate in the dining room. Dressed casually the rest of the time. Seasickness: I am extremely prone, so I took ½ Meclezine (Bonine) 3 times a day whether I needed it or not, staring the day before sailing and even on port days. I also wore acupressure bands on my wrists and took ginger pills several times a day. We only had one evening of rocking when I felt a bit nauseated and I ate lots of dried ginger during that time. The rest of the time I hardly felt the ship move. If there had been severe movement I would have been sick even with those precautions -- that's the risk of a cruise, even to the relatively calm Inside Passage. Thermal Suite: I had read about the thermal suite in the fitness center and was intrigued enough to go to the open house on embarkation day. It is a separate, controlled area off the fitness center with a whirpool, two steam rooms and heated ceramic lounges. I am always cold, so this was a treat for me. It's $99 for one person or $150 for a couple. My husband wasn't interested, so I asked everyone at the open house if someone wanted to share the cost and someone did. So, I put it on my tab and she paid me $75 cash. It worked out great. I did use it every day and probably would have used it more if it had been really cold and I wanted to warm up. I was sometimes the only person there! The heated ceramic lounge was so relaxing. I would stretch or work out, then do steam and whirlpool, then read on the heated lounge almost every day before dinner. It is expensive, though -- even splitting the cost. Onboard activities: There were some quality activities, but we didn't do much. The Culinary Center is very nice and I attended one food demonstration with the Executive chef that was really worthwhile. There is a computer center with classes, but my husband said it was too elementary for him. Others seemed to really enjoy the computer classes. The Pilates class was good but $12 for 20-30 minute class was too expensive. I did do a free aerobics class one day. My husband went to one ranger talk and was disappointed, although the ranger commentary in Glacier Bay was good. I walked the promenade every day and read some books. On the last sea day there was a Susan G. Komen On Deck for the Cure 5k walk. This was great and attended by 90 walkers who paid $15 each as a donation to breast cancer research. They asked breast cancer survivors to "break the ribbon" to start the walk. I really enjoyed this and it included a free t-shirt. Walking 5k was a breeze and I wish I would have done that sooner! There was bingo and lots of talks about shopping in which we did not participate. And I really don't understand who buys the art at all the art auctions. Entertainment: Not a strong suit. Most of the lounge music was not very good, or at least not to our liking. Others seemed to enjoy the piano bar. The string quartet sounded like good amateurs. We didn't see any of the regular shows, but really enjoyed the juggler, Benjy Hill. He was fantastic. The magician, Joseph Tran, was worth watching. We ate at 8 p.m. so there wasn't a lot of time for evening entertainment anyway. We usually took a walk on deck at night. Leaving the ship: We didn't purchase transfers as it was more expensive than taking a cab. We also wanted to leave as late as possible since our flight was at 1:15 p.m. We signed up to disembark between 9-9:30 a.m., having left our luggage outside the night before. The train to the airport was so convenient and cheap that we walked 5 minutes from the terminal and were at the airport in 30 minutes. (Note: it's cheaper to take the train from downtown to the Airport; there is a surcharge from the airport.) Breakfast the final morning was the only unappetizing meal we had the whole week. Summary: I had no complaints. The ship was great, we saw beautiful scenery, ate good, plentiful and varied food and had an extremely relaxing vacation. I would not hesitate to recommend the ship or the itinerary. Keep in mind that different cruise lines have different strengths. Those looking for a party atmosphere, for example, would probably not have been happy. I'm very glad to have seen Alaska this way. Read Less
Sail Date July 2010
I wasn't planning to write a review but just had to tell people about the best holiday my husband and I have had to date. As first time cruisers we thought a 7 day Alaska cruise on a smaller ship (1500 passengers) would be just the ... Read More
I wasn't planning to write a review but just had to tell people about the best holiday my husband and I have had to date. As first time cruisers we thought a 7 day Alaska cruise on a smaller ship (1500 passengers) would be just the way to try cruising. From the moment we set foot on board we were treated royally by the staff. Our cabin steward Deden was an absolute treasure, and made sure our needs were met promptly and always with a smile. As my husband said "Deden gets me". High praise indeed! There was never a moment when the staff did not greet us with genuine warmth and courtesy. The food was another thing that was amazing. Everything from the elegance of the Rotterdam Dining Room to the casual dining in the Lido Restaurant was first class. And again, the staff seemed genuinely happy to serve us. The quiet intimacy of the Pinnacle Dining Room is also something that should be tried if time permits. As for the cruising itself, our Captain was able to manoeuvre us into some areas in Glacier Bay that were pretty amazing. The skill of the Captain and crew is pretty amazing. The captain gave splendid narrations of points of interest as well to insure that we missed nothing of possible importance. I should also mention that we had the best possible weather. Sunshine in all 3 ports of call which added greatly to the positive experience. Five plus stars all the way from these first time cruisers. We are hooked and we'll be back!! Read Less
Sail Date July 2010
This was my 5th time cruising and first time to Alaska. Quick Summary: FOOD: EXCELLENT QUALITY, from the oil they used, to meat, fruits and vegetables etc. Note: I am very concern with my health as I am a diabetic with other health ... Read More
This was my 5th time cruising and first time to Alaska. Quick Summary: FOOD: EXCELLENT QUALITY, from the oil they used, to meat, fruits and vegetables etc. Note: I am very concern with my health as I am a diabetic with other health problems, I did not find the food I ate to be too heavy. Furthermore, it seems that they do not recycle any unused food, what I mean was that they did not turn some unused salad (vegetables etc.) into soaps or re-packaged for next day use. I also ate more than I should, (hey, with all you can eat and the quality of food, why not), with property exercises, I didn't gain any extra weight. SERVICE: No problem in general, 99% of the staff is very friendly and happy. It seems that they truly enjoy their work and they show a lot of respects. Note that the first day of cruising (June 30) which happened to be my birthday; they got a little mixed up at dinner. My son was going to surprise me with a desert to be brought out by a waiter, instead, the waiter came up to me and asked if that was someone's birthday. It blew the surprises. CHILDREN'S program: My 13 years old son and 9 year old daughter who have been on 4 cruises before found that it was also their best cruising experiences with lots of varieties and made many friends. Note that there was over 60 teenagers and 40 pre-teens on the cruise. Itineraries: Excellent itineraries, it is impossible to describe all of the excursions. However, there is one itinerary that must be mentioned as it will save you some money and that is the "Glacier Bay". I enjoy the Glacier Bay experiences, NO NEED to buy any excursions if you want to see any glacier, this is free and it is a whole day experience. We were very fortunate to capture the break up of glaciers. We also had many opportunities to see many different species of whales. We had over 13 dolphins swam with the cruise for over 45 minutes at close up. Weather from June 30 to July 7, 2010 was excellent. We will be returning to Alaska within the next five years. Meanwhile we are planning for another cruise to Europe and Asia. Read Less
Sail Date June 2010
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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