I’ve sailed on the Veendam before and really like the cruise line and the ship. The itinerary appealed to me since it provided five countries and only one day at sea. It maximized the time we had to spend. I read that the ship had ... Read More
I’ve sailed on the Veendam before and really like the cruise line and the ship. The itinerary appealed to me since it provided five countries and only one day at sea. It maximized the time we had to spend. I read that the ship had recently been refreshed, and it showed. I really liked the size: much smaller than the mega-ships (I didn’t want 5,000 people descended upon small Greek islands) but large enough to provide many amenities.
So far, Holland America is my favorite cruise line, and this cruise cemented its lead. I like the passengers and the itineraries. The crew is top notch and the food is very good. I’m in my 50s and enjoy seeing the world from a cruise ship. The nightly port talks add a wonderful intellectual dimension to travel, which is my top priority. I’ve read that entertainment is the weak aspect of Holland America, and I have to agree. The few shows I saw (magician, comedian, and a few musical reviews) were decent, but not great. My 21 year old niece made some friends and went dancing several times, and she tells me it was great. I’m glad there was something for everyone, but the entertainment just wasn’t my thing.
One surprise which delighted me was the attention the staff paid to my gluten-free niece. Our waiters remembered to bring her gluten-free bread every night, and they allowed her to order her dinner the night before, ensuring that she had plenty of options. The Buffet on the Lido Deck for breakfast and lunch always had several, well-marks options for her, and they also assured her that they used a special toaster for bread to avoid cross-contamination. There was even Gluten-free pizza every day! No one fee made her feel like she was burden for requesting anything, and she told me that she’s never been treated so well. She has take many cruise lines previously and is now convert to Holland America.
There were about 1,300 people on board, but the ship never felt crowded. I spent much of my ship time relaxing or walking on the Promenade Deck, and my niece spent time at the pool, hot tub or running track. The track is much smaller than the Promenade Deck, but we understand why jogging is not allowed on the Promenade Deck (there are cabins and deck chairs there, and several people who enjoy a leisurely stroll.). We enjoyed the library and game room a few times. However, with this very busy itinerary, we were rarely on the ship. There were three tender ports, but mainly we were able to get off the ship right into the dock, and often we returned for lunch, only to get off again for more exploring in the port.
Check-in on the ship was quick and easy, and we were able to board at about noon, before our 6 pm departure. By the time we finished eating lunch, our luggage had been delivered.
My niece and I really appreciated the free ship App. We were able to message one another while on board, and see the schedule of activities. I even used it to purchase a last minute excursion the morning we went to Athens. It was convenient and easy to use. There was a great port guide in the cabin, but unfortunately, I didn’t see it until halfway through the cruise. (Tip: always read the materials provided by the hotel or cruise line!). I did, however, attend all of the port lectures in the evening. I was afraid it would be a big sales pitch for excursions, but it was informative and interesting and they really helped me maximize my time in port.
We didn’t use the casino or shops on board. Most of the daily movies in the theater had some tie to one of the losers, which was fun, and I was happy to learn that each movie shown in the theater was shown on the stateroom TVs continuously the next day. I saw one movie in the theater and one on the stateroom TV.
Rome: The Cruise started in Civitavecchia, which is 45 minutes from Rome. We flew from the US four days early to see Rome and adjust to European time. Cabs from the airport to downtown are a set rate of about 48 Euro. Once we arrived at our hotel, we ended up walking everywhere, except for the city bus that we took to the Vatican City. It’s a very walkable city, with plenty of water fountains to refill water bottles. I almost bought the Roma Pass, which provides discounts and skip-the-line privileges, as well as unlimited bus and subway rides, but in the end, we just decided to walk. I considered taking the train to the ship, but it would have required a long walk to the train, a local bus and a shuttle to finally get to the ship, so we opted for a private car for 130 Euros.
Salerno: While we initially had planned to go to Pompeii, we ended up simply walking around in Salerno. We took a free shuttle into town (5 minutes) and explored this charming, scenic Italian town. We bought gelato (delicious) in order to use the ice cream shop’s free WiFi. We didn’t purchase the ship’s WiFi, which was probably a good choice, since so many other passengers complained about the speed. We wanted to use FaceTime and needed fast internet, so we relied on finding cafes in port. We were moderately successful as some places advertised free internet when it either was slow or completely inaccessible.
At Sea: This was our one and only day at sea. I was happy to attend a Meet and Greet for Cruise Critic reviewers. Although I read reviews often, I had never joined a Message Board prior to this cruise. I met a few people that I had been communicating with ahead of time, and enjoyed hearing about others’ plans. I was especially happy to hear about so many other young people for my niece to meet. My sense of Holland America is that it’s an older clientele, and while that’s true, she found a group of 20 or so in her age group, starting with this Meet and Greet. The main thing that the Message Board participants did was arrange for independent excursions with one another. We didn’t do that, but I will probably join in on the next cruise.
Santorini: From the port lecture, I learned about the fast boat from Fira to Oia. Fira is fine, but Oia is the town featured in all the gorgeous photography of Santorini. Getting off the tender, it was a short walk to the ticket booth for the fast boat. For 15 Euro each, we took a boat for 15 minutes, then were bussed to the town of Oia, up the hill. We spent a few hours soaking up the unbelievable views, and then with the same ticket, caught a bus back to Fira. From there, we explored for a while, and had to make our own way back to the tender. You can walk down, take a donkey or take a cable car (7 or 8 Euros), which we opted for. It was easy to do all of this without an excursion.
Kusadasi/Ephesus: We read recommendations that this port requires an excursion, so I booked a 60 Euro tour of Ephesus. It was one of the highlights of the trip, and my niece’s favorite activity. I decided the basic tour (bus ride and guided tour) was adequate (we skipped the Virgin Mary’s house and the Terrace Houses). The tour lasted less than four hours and was excellent. Our guide was very knowledgeable and interesting, and having headsets really helped. I had visited here before, but I learned a lot of new things. I was happy to return to the ship for lunch and some shopping in town. With long days in every port, I didn’t want to overdo it, so the half day tour was perfect for us. This was the only excursion I booked prior to the cruise, although I ended up adding an excursion in Athens at the last minute.
Crete: Again, we decided to simply walk around town on our own. There was a port shuttle bus for security reasons at the dock, but it was convenient and quick. We enjoyed looking around town, and came back to the ship for lunch.
Piraeus/Athens: I had researched Athens and felt that I could manage seeing the Parthenon and the Acropolis on our own, but attending the port lecture changed my mind. I learned about the long lines and the weather forecast of temps in excess of 100 degrees. Combine that with the convenience of an air-conditioned bus and skipping the ticket line, and I made a quick decision at 6 am the day we arrived to purchase a ship excursion for $100 each. It was the best decision of the trip, and I was grateful for the ship App that made the purchase so easy. Our guide was outstanding and I really enjoyed our day. We met at 7:15 am and had a quick drive through the city. We drove by many major sites, which were pointed out by our guide. While I would have enjoyed a few photos at some of the sites, I really came to Athens for the Acropolis, so I didn’t feel we missed out. Arriving so early allowed us to miss the midday sun, and we later learned that they stopped allowing visitors in during the afternoon due to heat. If we had taken a city bus in our own, I’m certain we would have missed our opportunity to see it. We did wait in a long line to enter, but we already had our tickets, since they were included in the price. It was extremely crowded and hot walking to the top, but it was worth it. I highly recommend this excursion.
Nafplion: This port requires a tender, but it was easy and convenient. We walked around on our own. This may have been my favorite Greek town due to its charm. It was easy to walk around and explore.
Argostoli, Cephalonia: We chose this as a beach day and shared a cab for 10 Euro with a few friends. We went to Lassi Beach, and rented two lounge chairs and a grass hut shelter for 12 Euro. It was crowded, but lovely. We learned about the beach and details on how to get there from the port lecture the night before.
Corfu: Another charming town that we walked around on our own.
Kotor, Montenegro: This area was the biggest surprise because it was so unexpectedly beautiful. It took 90 minutes for the ship to make its way into the harbor, gliding past gorgeous scenery and quaint towns. Once docked, we walked across the street to the old town and spent hours exploring and shopping. It was a short day in port (we left at 2 pm), but were treated to an excellent narration in the Crow’s Nest Bar about the area as we made our way back to the open sea.
Rijeka, Croatia: This was a busy, port town, and we had our first rain of the entire trip. We walked for a short time into town, but turned back when the rain increased. This was the only place we visited that had a currency different from Euros.
Venice: Sailing into Venice at dawn was a treat I won’t forget. Because the ship is so tall, we had a rare, bird’s eye view of Venice. It’s easy to take a vaporetto (water bus) to the major sites, or to our hotel, as we did. We bought a 48 hour vaporetto pass and rode up and down the canals. It’s easier than walking because you never know when you’ll come to a dead end or a canal with no bridge. We stayed two nights at a hotel on our own, and then took an Alilaguna boat straight to the airport. It cost 15 Euro each, and it included luggage. Read Less