Sail Date: November 2004
We had a marvelous time. The ship is beautiful and has easy access to all facilities. Dining was a small problem for some of the people in our party that did not get the same dinner assignment as the rest of us, but we did get it resolved. ... Read More
We had a marvelous time. The ship is beautiful and has easy access to all facilities. Dining was a small problem for some of the people in our party that did not get the same dinner assignment as the rest of us, but we did get it resolved. Having booked this cruise more than a year in advance we could not understand why there was the problem to begin with. There were many other people that we met that were not able to resolve their dining issues, however. Some were elderly and had real health issues that needed to be addressed and the crew wasn't very caring about them to the point of almost being rude. My brother who traveled with us had booked a guaranteed booking and did not get a cabin assignment until after they were on board and we had to wait several hours for that. They were not as happy about their cabin as we were but I guess we learned our lesson that it is not always wise to wait on a cabin assignment until the last minute if you want to be sure of what you have. We did find that the service was not what it has been in the past on Holland America and personally we think it is because of the new tipping policy that has gone into effect. We think that we had much better service the way it was and never had any one of the crew in the past even hinted at tips to us. We don't quite understand the verbiage in the letter that we got from Holland America about why they are doing the tipping the way that they are now, with it going on your room tab. We did tip in addition to the room tab the crew that we felt did an outstanding job for us. We are just not sure that they got to keep it. I have taken the time to write to Holland America's home office about this issue. The ports of call that we made were very nice and coming and going from the ship was very efficient on the crew's part. The shopping information before leaving the ship was also very nice, however we felt could have been more complete for things besides jewelry. We did do quite a bit of wandering on our own as usual for us and I found some excellent shops for fabric in San Juan. We are dancers and we did not enjoy the music provided by the band that was billed as the dance band. They could not hold a beat and it is very hard to dance to music that keeps changing every few bars. However in the Crow's Nest was a band that played awesome dance music every evening. The band's name was "Loa & Piero." If anyone loves to dance as much as we do (mostly ballroom, our great grand kids call it old people's music) we highly recommend them whatever ship you may find them sailing on. We had several couples tell us on the last few days at sea that they didn't even know that the band was available because the Crow's Nest is usually considered disco so they just didn't go up there. I think it is to everyone's advantage to check out the ship completely. If you don't you will never know what you might have missed. Our next cruise won't be until August 2005 to Alaska on the Oosterdam and I can hardly wait. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2004
We have found the "perfect" holiday! A cruise is relaxing for both my wife and I, and she can take many active shore excursions. I have mobility problems (mild M.S.), so I stay on board in every port. That's why we reserved ... Read More
We have found the "perfect" holiday! A cruise is relaxing for both my wife and I, and she can take many active shore excursions. I have mobility problems (mild M.S.), so I stay on board in every port. That's why we reserved a big suite (huge - good for my wheelchair, although a walker or canes are needed for the raised washroom; and so well-appointed. Even two telephones - one in each corner of the suite, lots of storage space and a great little dressing room, with its own sink - we could both be brushing our teeth at the two sinks, without tripping over each other). I toddled (using my walker) off to the private veranda - big - 12'x 20', and I could call room service if my wife had a lengthy time on shore. I was never bored, that's for certain. I barely touched on the ship's features. This was, in part, necessitated by our late (8 p.m.) dinner seating, which made doing anything else in the evening nearly impossible. Next time, I'd choose the early seating (5:30 or 6:00) for dinner, so we can go to the shows, which (other passengers say) were excellent, if you remember you're not in New York or Toronto. One thing for certain, the supper itself was excellent. The service was friendly and efficient, and the food was gourmet and so beautifully presented. We ate every night in the main dining room, and breakfast and lunch were taken at the Lido (cafeteria restaurant), the main dining room, or for a quick lunch, one of the little pizza/hamburger/tacos bars around the pool. I'd give the meals 5 out of 5, always. One couldn't ask for anything more, as the food wasn't our central concern. Friendliness IS, and always will be, and the staff (Indonesian and Filipino) genuinely was. We felt like a million dollars on this, one of the smaller ships.The staff does speak broken English, but my wife and I broadened the lines of communication by using a few foreign phrases. One doesn't need to. Smiles are international. But since we're going to take several more Holland America cruises (Caribbean this spring, and Alaska this Summer), I will spend more time with my Indonesian phrase book. Cruises can be affordable, too. A healthy person only needs a place to sleep at night. He/she is never in the room anyway. We loved the big room because of my wheelchair, but most people can use less. If you want a traditional cruise, then Holland America is a consideration. And the Veendam, as the subject of our first cruising experience, will remain in our hearts. Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2004
This was to be a very special cruise for us ...not our first on Holland America, or to Alaska ...and having for the most part enjoyed balcony cabins in the past years felt it was time to move up to the top ...literally the best available ... Read More
This was to be a very special cruise for us ...not our first on Holland America, or to Alaska ...and having for the most part enjoyed balcony cabins in the past years felt it was time to move up to the top ...literally the best available and we saved for a whole year to afford the Penthouse Suite, again for this very special cruise. We certainly didn't get what we paid for or more importantly what we expected. Apart from a very large cabin (over 1,000 sq ft) we could have been on any "budget cruise" in the smallest, least expensive cabin offered. The cabin was not ready when we boarded at 12:45 PM. We were pointed towards the Neptune lounge (for suite passengers) and told to wait there ...no escort, no offer to take our hand luggage or assist us in any way. We waited in the lounge until just before 2 pm and I discovered that the cabin ...the Penthouse, still had not been serviced from the previous guests. It took some very "assertive" words to the lounge hostess and we got into the cabin just before 3pm. The steward had changed the linen and vacuumed and remarked he would return later to complete the cabin ...he did not and we found ourselves at the front desk at 10PM getting soap, towels, room service menus, etc., and other standard cabin items. There was no "orientation" to the suite or the function of the lighting system (27 light switches) the whirlpool tub (more on that later) or any of the other suite services. More on the suite ...er cabin: the whirlpool tub in the bathroom was out of order for the entire 7 days. An attempt to repair it was made twice with up to 9 people in an out of the cabin over a 2 day period attempting to repair it. We feel as if we lost 2 days of privacy ...or use of the suite due to the constant coming and going of the repair people. The separate shower stall with multiple jets had no pressure until the filters were changed on day 3 of the cruise and there was some improvement. For the first 2 days we were told we could use the showers in the spa, one floor up. The steam room and sauna (one floor up) and directly above our suite was being remodeled. for 3 days we were woken at 8:00 am daily with the hammering needed to remove the ceramic tiles ...this went on all day for 3 days. Remember this is the Penthouse suite ...no tub or shower, no privacy, and constant noise from the remodeling. The microwave in the pantry did not work and the coffee machine had no supplies of coffee or filters until I purchased some in Juneau. The cabin steward stated that they were out of the filters and coffee to fit this "Mr Coffee" machine. We left dirty breakfast trays in the pantry for removal despite calling room service to collect them and they stacked up for 3 days before rough weather caused most of the dishes to break when they "lurched off the counter". I contacted the Guest Service Manager onboard and I might have been talking to the walls. Our complaints fell on deaf ears. He did send a bottle of very cheap wine ($26.00) to the cabin with a letter stating he was sorry we were not enjoying the cruise, but made no effort to expedite any of our requests to improve service. I returned the wine to his office and that was the last we heard of him despite our request to meet with him. Despite there being a huge dining room table in the suite we could never get room service to serve meals there. Breakfast arrived on a tray left on the buffet in the dining room and all requests for menu items from the dining room menu during meal times were declined. Waiters who delivered room service stated they did not set the table, their job was to deliver the tray ...and then wait for their tip. Only after our meeting with the Hotel manager on day 5 of the cruise did room service improve slightly. We were able to get one or two items from then dining room menu but there was no attempt or offer to set up the service at the dining table except the last morning of the cruise. Food and service in the main dining room was unremarkable except for the smaller than average portions (1/2 a lobster tail). Service was usually slow and our requested and assigned table for 2 was given to other passengers because we "didn't show up for dinner on the first night" ..we ate in the Grill Room and found the food and service to be more to our liking there. They were unable to accommodate us except for the first third and last night of the cruise. For breakfast and lunch we were at the mercy of the dining room. On day 3 while cruising Glacier Bay we went to the dining room for lunch and it would seem a large number of people did the same ...far more than was expected and service was painfully slow. Since we had no where to go (remember the crew was in our suite trying to repair the bath tub and the hammering was still going on above us in the steam room) we waited it out. We were treated to a sight that turned us off the dining room for the remainder of the cruise as the "section Captain" reset a table for 8 recently vacated by some unhappy guest who would not or could not wait, with the same napkins water glasses and silverware from the previous guests. He carefully refolded the napkins, topped up the water glasses and straightened the silverware. This was more than I could take and I confronted him. It seems a number of other passengers were watching him as well and he had no choice but to "fess up to his actions" and he called the busboy over to have him "strip" the table. I then asked our waiter for new napkins, water glasses and silverware as did several other tables who had witnessed this breach of service. Someone had called the dining room manager and he arrived on the scene to assure everyone that this was an isolated incident and that the other tables did not have to be reset. We left the dining room returning only one other time and before being seated at our assigned table requested that it be reset while we waited. I shudder to think what was being done with and to our meals inside the kitchen because of our assertiveness ...perhaps it is best not to dwell on that. The "Do Not Disturb" door sign was frequently ignored. The staff that check the mini bar arrived daily at 8:30 am and despite the sign, knocked and came in to check the mini bar usage ....The hostess in the Neptune lounge, phoned on 3 separate occasions with something to be delivered - room service menus (there were none in the suite), the wine from the Guest relations manager and one other time despite the door sign being in place. "I'm calling because you have the do not disturb sign up and I have something to be delivered." She did not see that the phone call was the same as knocking on the door - a disturbance. Especially at 7:45 am and once at 11:30 PM. As noted earlier the steam room and sauna were out of order for the whole cruise. The spa services were unremarkable but I felt over priced. We took only one shore tour offered by HAL - the train trip in Skagway. HAL's only responsibility here was to let us off the ship as the train pulls up along side. All in all it was the worst cruise I have ever had, probably because my expectations were not met in any way and staff seemed very uninterested in meeting them. We would have been better off saving our money and paying for a lower priced cabin although the level of service we received was unacceptable for any cabin category. There has been a constant decline in the service offered by HAL over the past 3 years and I note that many others have said the same thing about HAL. I do wonder how bad it will get before something is done. You can be sure I will not be onboard to find out. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2004
This was our second time on the Veendam (last time: November, 2002 to western Caribbean), and this experience was so different (and not just because of the destination:Alaska!), I felt I needed to say something. The good: there are great ... Read More
This was our second time on the Veendam (last time: November, 2002 to western Caribbean), and this experience was so different (and not just because of the destination:Alaska!), I felt I needed to say something. The good: there are great new beds: thick, comfortable mattresses, the best we've seen on any ship in 20 cruises. The same: friendly, happy crew especially in the dining room. Mediocre shows and activities; this is never HAL's strength, and this cruise was no different or maybe a little worse than usual. In several ports, local talent who just came on board for the evening was used...I don't think most of them will be sought after for engagements in the lower 48 anytime soon; enough said... Great breads and stirfry in the Lido. We didn't go to the Pinnacle (alternative dining room, $20 a person charge), but others who did go said it was quite good. The bad: This was where the real difference was; and we talked to others with similar complaints, so it wasn't just us. To begin with, this ship WASN'T shipshape! Three elevators out of eight were out of order all week, and we never saw anyone working on any of them. The laundry room on our floor was also out of order all week. A chair in the Crow's Nest not only had split upholstery, but the stuffing was hanging out! Not at all the way this ship used to be. We were given one small bottle of shampoo that ran out on Tuesday and was never replaced; since we heard others whose cabins were on other floors say the same thing, we know it wasn't just our steward...Food portions were small; on formal night, we got HALF a lobster tail (that's actually what the menu said: "HALF a lobster tail"...) One man at our table complained that portions were so small, he automatically ordered two to start with at each meal...We couldn't help but wonder: Is this cruise line in financial trouble? Why the poor maintenance and stinginess? The Veendam certainly wasn't this way two years ago when we were on it...My husband commented that it seemed like they were trying to compete with Motel 6... We are enthusiastic cruisers and have always enjoyed HAL before (this was our fourth Holland America cruise), but this one was not among our favorites. Alaska was still beautiful; we had wonderful sunny weather the whole trip; and saw good calving at the glaciers (we had chosen this particular cruise because it went to Glacier Bay and College Fjord which only a few ships do now, and that part of the trip was great) We always say there's no bad cruise; just good, better and best. Despite the itinerary and scenery which ranked in the "best" category, we can only rate the cruise overall as "good"; what happened to our old Veendam???? Read Less
Sail Date: August 2004
We just returned from our Cruise last night and I can say we had a wonderful trip! This was our first cruise and we had our two sons with us (21 and 24).The Veendam was everything I hoped and expected it to be. Service was excellent. The ... Read More
We just returned from our Cruise last night and I can say we had a wonderful trip! This was our first cruise and we had our two sons with us (21 and 24).The Veendam was everything I hoped and expected it to be. Service was excellent. The food in the Rotterdam dining room was superb. We never felt the need to dine in the "Pinnacle " restaurant which is an additional $20 per person. I felt the Rotterdam was a 4-5 star dining experience. Our dining stewards and room steward were excellent. Shows and entertainment were very good, but not necessarily Broadway caliber. The ship was always impeccably clean and well laid out. The dining in the Lido restaurant was fair to good. It is cafeteria style dining. At dinner time, you could eat in the elegant Rotterdam dining room or the Lido cafeteria, the food was almost identical, but you don't have the elegance of the more formal and better service of the Rotterdam. The staff of mainly Filipino and Indonesian were always friendly (genuine) and were there to assist in any way. This ship seems to attract the more mature clientele, but we had parents with young and teenage children, but the predominance was 40+. I enjoyed the quiet nature of the ship. As for the adventure of cruising the "Inside Passage" it was an amazing experience that can only be fully appreciated if you do it yourself. I highly recommend this cruise line and ship and taking advantage of this beautiful experience of seeing the natural beauty of British Columbia and Alaska! When off the ship and out in the "country" on you tours/excursions make sure you put on insect repellent, as the mosquitoes will eat you alive! I failed to do this even after reading others postings on the subject. We had over a hundred bites between the four of us. We had perfect weather our entire trip. Not one day of rain, even in Kechtikan. The temperature was in the high 60's and 70's. One of the highlights of our trip was renting a car in Skagway and driving up the Chilkoot Pass up into alpine country and into the Yukon. You start in Alaska, enter British Columbia and end up in Whitehorse, Yukon. The drive takes about four hours round trip with a few stops but it was incredibly beautiful. We also drove to Dyea and saw about a dozen Bald eagles, one was only 30 feet away! We caught spawing salmon in a creek in Dyea by the dog kennels with our bare hands! There are also some interesting historical points in Dyea which is only a 20 minute drive from Skagway. On the flight home, my wife and sons were already talking about our next trip to Alaska. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2004
We had planned this trip for 2 years with friends. We had cruised with Carnival 3 times before, and really thought this would be a step up in quality. We were wrong! We booked cruise tour 13 and used HAL's air. We flew into Vancouver ... Read More
We had planned this trip for 2 years with friends. We had cruised with Carnival 3 times before, and really thought this would be a step up in quality. We were wrong! We booked cruise tour 13 and used HAL's air. We flew into Vancouver on Sunday morning, and HAL's people were there to direct us and take care of our luggage. We got to the port about 12:30 and got through the lines pretty quickly. We were in our rooms by 1:30 and our luggage arrived right away. Our steward, Warman, was the best we've ever had. He always called us by name and took good care of us. Our verandah suite was wonderful, and has spoiled me for future cruises. There was lots of room and I loved the jetted bathtub. That was pretty much it for the good things. While waiting for our rooms, we were approached several times to buy wine packages, and not just the 1st day, but for several days! We did buy one, but the wine steward showed his disdain when we used it. Our dining room stewards were good, although not terribly fast or attentive. We often got our coffee after our dessert, or the coffee long before dessert and then no refills. The food was not exciting at all. It was just ok. Carnival blew HAL away when it came to variety, taste and presentation. We ate one night in the Pinnacle Grill and it was excellent-worth the extra money we paid. The breakfast and lunch in both the Rotterdam and Lido were not very good in quality, or variety, and I was amazed at how limited the hours were! The service at those meals was incredibly slow and no one seemed to care much about what they were doing. There wasn't a big showy midnight buffet, and if you wanted to eat at midnight, you were out of luck. On Carnival, you could get something 24 hours, but on this ship, the food availability was very limited and unimpressive. One night in the dining room we had lobster and filet. The lobster tail was so small, I don't know how it could be legal, and the filet was 3 small slices. Very disappointing! To make matters worse, there were several cases of illness on board, so the last 2 or 3 days everything had to be served to us. We couldn't even put our own salt on our food. That slowed things down even more, if that was possible! The entertainment was good, and the seating for the shows was better than on the Carnival ships we've been on. We usually went up to the Crow's Nest for late night drinks. The view was great, but the band was not the best. The fitness center and spa were a bit of a disappointment. One day there were no clean towels there, but there were 4 employees standing around socializing! While I was changing behind a curtain for a massage, a man from housekeeping started to walk in. To get out to that deck, people walked through the massage and changing area-not a very secure or pampered feeling! I felt the spa staff was a bit inexperienced, and the spa facility was lacking. Just a note about the tour portion. If I had known the kind of schedule we'd have, I wouldn't have booked their tour-I'd have done it on my own. We had to be off the ship at 6:30 am for our train to Anchorage. We arrived about noon, but couldn't get into our hotel rooms until 3 pm. We were exhausted! The next morning we had to have our luggage out by 6 am, and be on a bus to the train by 7:15 am. The train to Denali and to Fairbanks, was comfortable and fun. We had all the next day in Denali, but the representative that was supposed to tell us what we could do there didn't get to us until about 5 minutes before we arrived, so we weren't well prepared with what our options were for the free day. The next morning we had to have our luggage out and be on a bus at 5:50 am for our Tundra Wilderness tour. It was good, although we didn't see a lot of wildlife or Mt. McKinley. We had about 2 hours when we got back to the lodge before we got onto a bus to the train and headed to Fairbanks. We got to our rooms at about 9 pm and had to be on the bus the next morning at 7:45 for our Riverboat and Gold Dredge tour. They were both very good! Our luggage had to be out by 10 pm, and the next morning we had to be on the bus to the airport at 6 am to fly home. One couple in our group had to be on their bus at 3:45 am! So you can see it was a harrowing schedule, and now we need a vacation from our vacation! Overall, it was fun, primarily because we were with people we loved. We saw things we'd never seen, and enjoyed most of what we did, even though we were tired most of the time! I don't think I'd cruise with HAL again, although their land employees were, for the most part very good. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2004
We sailed aboard the ms Veendam, on a Western Caribbean cruise, embarking April 10, 2004 through April 17, 2004. For my wife and I, this was our honeymoon as well as our first cruise. Although we are from Cincinnati, OH we choose to have a ... Read More
We sailed aboard the ms Veendam, on a Western Caribbean cruise, embarking April 10, 2004 through April 17, 2004. For my wife and I, this was our honeymoon as well as our first cruise. Although we are from Cincinnati, OH we choose to have a Florida wedding. Because of this we were forced to drive to Florida (with dresses and flowers and a ton of luggage) rather than fly. When we're looking at cruise lines for our honeymoon we chose Holland America because of the ability to leave out of Tampa rather than Ft. Lauderdale or Miami. The thought of a one day drive home from Tampa was much more appealing than a two day drive from Miami. Embarkation We arrived at the Pier around 11:30am. We parked our car ($70 fee but they do take credit cards) and headed towards the terminal. As we approached my first impression was that the ship was smaller than I'd imagined. I don't mean that in a bad way, I just expected it to tower to the heavens after seeing photos. We checked our large bags with the porters outside and despite Holland America's "tipping optional" policy our porter did in fact ask us for a tip. I have to say I was a bit surprised by this but I let it slide. Because this was our honeymoon, we had booked a Deluxe Verandah suite and one of the perks was the ability to use the express check in line. We had our ID cards and we on the boat within 10 minutes. (After posing for the first of many HAL photos) Stateroom We were shown to the Piano Bar on Deck 8 while our cabin was being made up. At around 1:15, an "All Clear" alarm was sounded and we were allowed to proceed to our cabin on Deck 10, the Navigation Deck. The suite was very nice and was much larger than I expected, as was the balcony. Upon arrival, we found fresh fruit as well as a bottle of champagne and fresh flowers waiting for us. Our favorite part of the room was the private veranda. In addition to the table and chairs, it featured two lounge chairs that were very comfortable. I loved taking an afternoon catnap outside with the ocean breeze and the smell of saltwater. We took most of our breakfasts outside, which is an experience all in itself. (Nothing like ham and eggs with a view of Jamaica.) Overall the room was very well soundproofed. We didn't really hear anything from the other cabins or from the hallways although we sometimes heard the sound of deck chairs being drug across the above deck. Our cabin steward was excellent. He went to great lengths to keep our cabin clean and to make sure we had everything we needed. We didn't drink our champagne while on the boat but he made sure the bucket it sat in was constantly full of ice. The Ship The Veendam is a beautiful vessel and for an eight-year-old ship, she shows very little wear and tear. The ship is spotlessly clean and very well decorated. Beautiful works of art decorated the walls and there was a touch of elegance everywhere. The ship is equipped with stabilizers that really do calm the rolling motion. We had a rough day Wednesday when the sea was really pitching but other that it wasn't all that noticeable. The main areas of the ship can be found in the middle, on Decks 7 & 8. Here you will find the Front Desk, the Wajang Movie Theater, the main dining room, shopping, the Ocean and Piano bars as well as the ship's casino. On Deck 11, the Lido Deck, you will find the main swimming pool (saltwater) as well as the Lido Dining room (buffet) Deck 12, Sports Deck, features a tennis court, basketball court and the Crows Nest Bar. Although the ship is large, it is quite easy to navigate once you get your bearings. The elevators tend to respond a bit slow to the call requests and we often found it quicker to take the stairs than wait for a car. There are maps everywhere and the staff is very helpful should you get turned around. A couple of places to see- 1.) The bow of the boat. The bow is accessible by going to the front of Deck 6 and taking a staircase to Deck 7. The view is incredible and worth the hunt for the staircase. 2.) The quiet pool on Deck 10. At the back of the boat is a smaller, lesser known pool that we often spent our afternoons relaxing by. The mood is much more subdued that the loud, busy main pool on Deck 11, the Lido Deck. Dining We found the overall dining experience aboard the ship left a lot to be desired. While some aspects were excellent, others were a little less than stellar. There are two restaurants on board, the Rotterdam Dining Room and the Lido Restaurant. (There is also a Lido Grill, open for lunch only, serving hot dogs and hamburgers). The ship also offers 24-hour complementary room service. The food in the Rotterdam was excellent. Although the selection was fairly limited and often times very exotic, it was all very well prepared and presented. Our waiter and steward were excellent as well. Although they didn't speak English very well, they made up for it by being very friendly and attentive. After the first night, they always brought my wife and I a glass of tea with our meal and we never had to request a refill. Our Head Steward was great. Not only did he give us the "Honeymoon" table (a secluded table for two next to the window) but also he was very courteous and extremely friendly. We ran into him in the Caymans and he invited us to come have lunch with him, very above and beyond the call of duty. The Lido Restaurant was your typical buffet style foods with a salad section and an ice cream bar. The only plus to the Lido Restaurant was the fact that the workers served you, rather than it being a true open buffet. The food was not that great and the selection was pretty limited. The Lido Grille wasn't bad but it wasn't anything to write home about either. You had your typical hamburgers and hot dogs to choose from and there was also a small buffet bar set up to make yourself tacos. The only complaint about the taco station was the constant lack of taco shells and nacho chips. It defeats the point of a taco bar is there aren't any shells. Ice tea was always free and aplenty but soft drinks and alcoholic beverages were rather pricey as a can of soda was $1.75. We only frequented the Java Cafe once and my wife immediately went back to the room and poured her coffee out. Needless to say it left a lot to be desired. A rather nice touch was the free bags of popcorn for the movie theater. While we never managed to see a show the popcorn made a nice afternoon snack. Room Service was great as well. Each night a menu would be placed on our door and we would select what we would have the next day for breakfast. We discovered on the fourth night that food from the main dining room could be ordered as well so we had a great 4-course meal right in the comfort of our stateroom. The Shows Due to our late dining time we never made it to any of the shows except the last day of the cruise. On the last day the people with late dining had the early show time so we were able to watch the show before our meal. It was a culmination of some of the shows that had taken place during the week: a juggler from the first night, an Elton John wannabe, and a ventriloquist. Of all three the only one I wished we had gone to see was the juggler. Not only was the juggler good, he was very funny as well. On-ship Activities This is where the biggest disappointment of the cruise comes in to play. As a couple in their mid-20's it was rather let down. For the most part we spent our time in our room watching TV as we are not bingo playing people and that seemed to be the only major activity that was constantly being pushed upon you. Several other activities were trivia, on deck games, and a ping-pong tournament. Once the lights went down there was pretty much nothing to do unless you're a fan of the waltz, in which case the Ocean Bar would be perfect for you. The casino was nice with a fairly large selection of slots for such a small area. I wish I could say we won money but in fact we did not. The sports bar was a bit of a let down. The only sports channel the boat received was ESPN from Mexico City so it was either was showing soccer or figure skating. The Internet cafe was very pricey at $55 for 110 minutes plus a $3.95 activation fee. I have read where other cruise lines offered unlimited internet access for one flat fee so it was rather difficult to catch up on the "world" when you had limited access. The speed was very fast, about the same as DSL. The other major activity on the ship was a rather pricey art auction containing pieces from Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Dali. While it was great to see works by such famous artist so up close, this wasn't something that we were interested in participating in. Fellow Guests After reading some online cruise reviews, we were convinced we would be the youngest couple on board the vessel. (Holland America caters to the retired set) In fact, the number of young adults and even a few children we saw on board the vessel pleasantly surprised us. While the activities were still geared to an older class of passenger, the absence of loud partying and drunken fellow passengers made up for it.. Money Matters Holland America utilizes a "Cashless Society" made famous by the Walt Disney Company and many Vegas casino resorts. You pay for absolutely nothing with cash, in fact, I'm not even sure you could. Everything is billed back to your room, you simply sign the paper. I think this has its positives and negatives. On one hand, it is very convenient, however, it is also very easy to lose track of what you have spent. (Something hal is hoping for). Plus people are more willing to just sign than actually hand over almost 2 bucks for a CAN of Coke. Tipping Holland America has a "No Tipping Required" policy. I think this works well because it ensures the crew will give you their best in the hopes of a good tip. We tipped our room steward up front and he gave us OUTSTANDING service the whole week. We did tip our waiter and steward but only for the nights we were actually in the dining room. We also tipped our room service delivery boy each more after he brought breakfast. Debarkation This was as orderly a process and moved quicker than I expected. Bags must be in the corridor by 1 am, and you have to be out of your stateroom by 9 am. Both the dining room and Lido "Restaurant" were open for breakfast; no room service on this day. A color and number combination was used to regulate the departures from the ship. It was very easy and painless - there were no real lines and no waiting once your number is called. We were lucky enough to be in the first group so we got right off and out to our car. Tips- 1.) Book with a travel agent. If you can afford to take time off work on short notice, this is an excellent way to save money. Friends of ours took a similar cruise and paid about half of what we did because they were willing to go with only 2 months notice. 2.) If you can afford it, get a Deluxe Verandah suite. There are many perks that are offered to members of this group. i.e. Priority boarding and disembarking; Priority tendering service; Exclusive use of the King and Queen's dining room; Captain's lunch; and many more tiny perks. 3.) If you want to see the evening's entertainment, schedule an early dinner. 4.) Buy prepaid phone cards before you leave the US. Satellite phones are extremely expensive as are pay phones in the ports. 5.) Pack an empty suitcase. If you do any shopping in the ports or on the boat, you'll be glad you did. Afterthoughts Holland America runs a good ship. The boat was very clean and very well cared for. I will admit, I didn't find the staff as "world renowned" as hal claims, however, they make up for it by truly caring about their work. They all see very happy and seem to enjoy life at sea. Our stateroom was amazing and our steward was excellent. That being said, there are area's where the Veendam is weak. Shopping is in 4 mini stores, all with overpriced goods and long lines. Photos are taken at every stop and every dinner and everywhere in between. While the photographers are good, the photos are extremely overpriced. However, it was our honeymoon so we did buy a few of them. I have to say what really took me aback is how much hal tries to sell you on board. Everywhere we turned people were pushing wine and drink list at us, snapping photos, and talking us about all the shops we HAD to see in port. All the while, the intercom is blasting away telling us not to miss the bingo game going on or to "remind" us to buy cruise lotto tickets. I found this to be quite a bit annoying. In my daily life, I'm assaulted with marketing and I take a vacation to get away from that. Would we cruise again? Yes, I think eventually we will. Would we cruise hal again? Probably not. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: November 2003
I realize this review is a little late, but it is one of those things that I thought I had done but haven't. Anyway, we drove to Tampa the night before the departure day. Our past cruises have included 2 Carnival, 1 Royal Caribbean, ... Read More
I realize this review is a little late, but it is one of those things that I thought I had done but haven't. Anyway, we drove to Tampa the night before the departure day. Our past cruises have included 2 Carnival, 1 Royal Caribbean, and 1 Premier Cruise Lines. Why did we choose Holland America? Well, one big reason was the price. We bought an inside guarantee from the cruise line for $423.00 including all taxes/fees, etc. Another reason was that my research demonstrated that HAL was more in line with our travel tastes. We are not 'party-hardy' people and we thought Holland America would fit the bill and it did! We had a party of six; me, my wife and child, my sister and my in-laws. For me, one of the best things about taking a cruise vacation is the anticipation of seeing the ship. I would never take a cruise on the same ship twice because I LOVE to see what all of these ships are like. They still put me in awe of how big and nice they all are. You can look at 1,000 pictures on the internet and they just don't do the ships justice. Embarkation: A very BIG positive of the embarkation was being able to park right next to the ship. This was great. While other ships had their parking across the street, the Veendam had it's parking on the same side of the street as the ship. Make sure you complete and print the embarkation/immigration form online at the HAL website and bring it with you. This will save you some time. The whole embarkation process was smooth and without any negatives. Of course, you have to wait in line, but the\at+ is expected. The Ship: The Veendam is not huge, but it is quite adequate in size. I don't know if the ship was sold out, but it did not seem crowded at all. Walking into the atrium you immediately see the huge sculpture of murano glass. I am not a modern art fan, but it is pretty and colorful. HAL ships are not nearly as gaudy and glitzy as Carnival. There are lots of brass and wood touches throughout the public areas with elegant colors such as burgundy, teal, and some earth tones. It gives the impression of restrained elegance. This is the first ship with a 2-story dining room that we have sailed on. The decor in the dining room was pretty subdued with lots of burgundy and large murals of flowers on some walls. The glass flower chandelier wasn't very impressive. It looked like just a bunch of oversized glass morning glory blooms stuck against the ceiling. One thing that I loved was all of the FRESH flower arrangements that decorated many of the public rooms. They were so beautiful and were made of real tropical flowers that made me think we were going to Hawaii. Also nice on the Veemdam is the extensive art collection. There are many statutes, paintings and historical artifacts scattered throughout the ship. A wonderful touch was the real cloth towels located in all of the public restrooms. Cleanliness was never a problem on this ship. The halls, restrooms, every room was always spotless. HAL obviously caters to a more mature clientele. I would say 75% of the passengers were 65 and over. This was a positive for me, even though I am still in my early 40's. It was quiet, calm and serene anywhere you went on the ship. That is the kind of vacation I enjoy. RELAX, RELAX, RELAX! My 5-year old daughter also loved the fact that there was hardly ever anyone in the pool. Most of the time it was just us. I guess older people don't swim much. We used the hot tubs alot and so did the other passengers. Good for the arthritis (I have it, too!). The Cabin: It was great! Very roomy, much like Carnival's in square footage, but arranged better. There was a sofa on one wall that really came in handy if you just wanted to chill while waiting for the wifey to get ready to go somewhere. The Food: The food was as good as any I have had on a cruise ship. We ate dinner in the dining room and breakfast in the buffet. Lunch was about evenly split. The Entertainment: Most of it was really good. The magician and comedienne were both excellent. Other shows were o.k. I did not miss the disco of Carnival or the vegas-style shows with nudity. The Service: Holland America has the best service we have experienced. The waiter was superb, as was our room steward. The Ports: The Grand Caymans was my favorite. We booked a stingray city tour with Captain Marvin's. It saved us at least $30.00 over the ship excursion. This was a wonderful and memorable experience. If you have never swam with stingrays you need to try it. Even my squeamish wife decided it was great. We also snorkeled on the same tour. I highly recommend Captain Marvin's. Montego Bay, Jamaica was pretty much a waste of time. We walked around the shops for a while. I bought a beautiful tablecloth. In fact, I buy one at every port we go to. There was really nothing else to do in Montego Bay. Cozumel was great, as always. We shopped and ate at a place called "Pancho's Backyard". The food was very good. Be careful if you order any drinks. We ordered our daughter a nonalcoholic pina colada and what we got had alcohol, and it had alot! We took a taxi to a beach and had a blast. Very few people were there. I can't remember the name of the beach. I think it was $15.00 each way. The taxi waited for us at the beach. Miscellaneous: We attended several of the art auctions. My sister got hooked quickly. She bid on and won several items. I bid but I didn't win. I'm just too cheap, I guess. One thing I have to find fault with is the movie theater. Although they played good movies, they were always playing at a time we were doing something else. We never got to see any of the movies. So what is the final rating of HAL? Let me just say that I would not hesitate to go again on a HAL cruise. It is one of the most relaxing cruises of my life. I bet there wasn't more than 20 kids on the ship and all that I saw were very well behaved. That is a problem I have with Carnival, it isn't the cruise line's fault, the parents should teach their children how to behave in public. Being a child is no excuse for being noisy. Well, that's all folks. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2003
HAL Veendam review - 10/18/03 cruise Since I have used these boards for a while and enjoyed the information that others have made available, I feel I should return the favor, so here goes... Background: My wife and I have been on 8 ... Read More
HAL Veendam review - 10/18/03 cruise Since I have used these boards for a while and enjoyed the information that others have made available, I feel I should return the favor, so here goes... Background: My wife and I have been on 8 cruises prior to this one if you count an overnight on RCL. This one makes 9 cruises and 4 of them have been on HAL (2x on the old Westerdam and last year on the Rotterdam). Obviously we like HAL - so do my parents who have been on 6 times - 3 with us counting this one. The cruise went out of Tampa with 3 sea days and stops in Grand Cayman, Montego Bay and Cozumel. Rather than a daily log, I will touch on the highlights and low points. High Points: Cabin: We booked a verandah cabin (128 - great location) and absolutely loved it. We had a verandah on the Carnival Victory last April, and thought it was nice, but not worth a great deal of extra money. The major difference on the Veendam was the size - it was much deeper - room for a lounge to lay flat, plus a chair and small table. There was room for all 4 of us to sit on the balcony by bringing out the chair and stool from the cabin. The point is that not all verandah cabins are equal - some are better and worth more than others. This one would have been perfect if there had been an opening door on the verandah to my parent's balcony (like the newer ships have). HAL should consider retrofitting doors to this class of ships in the future. It will make these cabins much more desirable. The cabin has a minibar and we enjoyed sitting out on our private balcony with my parents several times (particularly overlooking the port of Cozumel and enjoying the music from Fat Tuesdays). And a couple of nights one of us even fell asleep on the verandah listening to the waves (there was a slight clicking noise in the cabin that was distracting so one of us went out on the lounge). The cabin itself was spacious and well laid-out as usual on HAL. Embarkation and Disembarkation: Tampa is much better than Ft. Lauderdale or Miami. We pulled up at 12:15 pm, dropped off luggage, parked in a fenced lot not 100 feet from the terminal and were on board by about 1:30pm. On the return, we were off the ship a little after 9am and were pulling out of the parking lot by 9:30am. The smoothest we have ever experienced - it was a nightmare last April in Miami. Ship: The ship is in good condition (for the most part) and well laid-out. Being smaller than the newer ships, it does not have some of the amenities they offer, but generally we like this size ship (my parents particularly). Service in the bars: Arnel and Roger in the Crows Nest were as good as you will ever have and except for the first night, Venus in the Ocean Bar was almost as good. This was the first cruise for the Veendam back in the Tampa port after the summer in Alaska and I think the transition from a long repositioning cruise to this itinerary had some of the staff out of sync. Grand Cayman and Cozumel: My parents particularly enjoyed the semi-submersible tour in GC and the convenient shopping at the port in Cozumel. Mid Points: Service: As mentioned above, the service did not seem to be as good generally as we have experienced before on HAL. Not bad or rude at all, just not as warm and friendly. My Dad and wife even spoke to the headwaiter in our section of the dining room on the second night - and it seemed to improve after that. I'm not sure if it was the comment or if the crew just settled in after a couple of days. But everyone seemed more reserved on this trip than on the Rotterdam last year (on that cruise we spoke with several officers at various places around the ship and were just delighted by the friendliness of the entire crew - but that was not the case on this cruise). Food: Again, everything was OK or even good, but almost nothing was excellent. We have always thought the soups were outstanding on previous cruises- not this time. In spite of the comments on the service and food, I think they may still be better than most of the other comparable lines. Low Points: Entertainment: We went to most (not all) of the shows in the main lounge and walked out on all but one (the passenger lip sync show was funny). The comedian wasn't funny and the magician acted liked he would rather be any place but on that ship. The lounge acts were OK (the vocalist for Latitudes is very good) but not really that interesting. As you can probably tell, we enjoy listening to live music. The entertainment on the Victory was much, much better last April, and was much better on an NCL cruise a few years ago. The Veendam did not have a steel drum band as HAL normally does - someone said they missed the boat. And this cruise did not seem to have as many interesting activities on sea days as we remember from previous cruises. I am convinced that HAL just doesn't put the time and money into entertainment that some of the other lines do. Montego Bay: We booked a four-hour tour through the web with A-Z Jamaica Planners for just the four of us. It was not very interesting except for stop at the Richmond Hill Inn and a drive up in the countryside. Also, it was confirmed by one of the officers that a lady who went on a shopping tour was cut on the wrist by someone trying to steal her jewelry and had to be taken to the hospital. She may have wandered off from the main group. The port talk did say not to wear expensive jewelry and to stay with your group so I certainly don't fault HAL. There was a rumor that another passenger on the NCL Sun was attacked the same day. In the paper recently was an article about rioting in MoBay just after we left so maybe HAL (and other lines) need to skip this port. We would prefer two full days in Cozumel instead of just one. Summary: Would we go on another HAL cruise - absolutely - in fact I can't wait to try the new Oosterdam (I think John Mercer is captain and he was on our Rotterdam cruise last year). Do I think things are slipping - maybe but then the prices have slipped as well. But for the first time, my parents would consider trying another line if the price and timing were right. And lastly, if you are new to cruising and thinking about taking one with friends or family, it is a great way to spend time together, but still do things on your own. And remember, it's not the ports of call that really matter - the ship is the trip. Read Less
We set sail from Tampa on 3/15/03. We arrived at the port at noon and since we had registered for immigration online at the HAL site, there was no line at all for Express check-in. We were given a #3 card for embarkation. They started ... Read More
We set sail from Tampa on 3/15/03. We arrived at the port at noon and since we had registered for immigration online at the HAL site, there was no line at all for Express check-in. We were given a #3 card for embarkation. They started boarding at exactly 1:00 PM by deck number. Upon entering the ship there was a steel drum band which really put us in a cruising mood right away. We were escorted immediately to our cabin by the cabin steward. The cabin was of a nice size and was on lower promenade deck #338. this location was close to the atrium, elevator, and exit to the outside deck. There were up and down escalators on this deck going down to deck 2, but unfortunately they were out of commission all week. An officer told me that kids on the previous week cruise were using them for slides and they did not have the part to fix it. The decoration of the ship was beautiful and the objects de art were fabulous. I kept finding more tucked away in different parts of the ship. There were many small lounges throughout the ship which made it pleasant to sit and relax. The entertainment and food were good, although my husband would have preferred more simple foods and more of a variety for desserts. The ice cream on Lido deck was delicious. We ate breakfast and lunch in the Lido restaurant everyday and one evening as well as we did not feel like dressing for dinner. We were able to wear shorts in this restaurant, even at night. . The Rotterdam dining room was very elegant and we had wonderful dinner partners at a table for six. The waiter and bus boy were wonderful and very attentive. They only had 2 tables which I found strange, as most ships I have been on each waiter had more tables than that. The internet lounge was 75 cents per minute, or you could buy blocks of minutes for a lesser price if you wanted to spend a lot of time on the web. I was able to check email everyday and still did not reach the amount that a block of minutes would have cost. We missed the port of Grand Cayman due to rough seas as the port was closed to tenders and the water is to shallow to dock. Each passenger was credited the port tax which was around $14.95 each. This appeared on the statement. I met ibCindyb &DivaOracle on the ship from the Cruise Critic boards and it was nice to visit with them in person. We docked in Jamaica and we got off the ship and shopped in the handicraft shops right at the pier, then sat and listened to the island band playing for the ship passengers. Then we went swimming in the empty pool and Jacuzzi for the rest of the day. Since we had been there before we did not go on any tours. In Cozumel we docked at Puerta Maya which had been built since we were there last year. They have the same shops there as they did downtown, however the only thing I priced was Retin A, this was $23 at that Farmacia, whereas downtown it was only $20 for the same thing. (.1 strength) (.05 strength was $14 a tube downtown). We had the taxi drop us off at Los Cinco Soles $6.00 for the cab which they say will hold up to 4 people), but it was all I could do to get in and out of the cab. If you are tall or wide look for one of the van cabs rather than the small taxis. They have a good variety of merchandise and good prices at Los Cinco Soles. We stopped at Las Palmas restaurant for a club sandwich which we split, then had one of their delicious ice cream sundaes. We have been doing this for years. It is right at the town square and across from where the ferries come in. Then we returned to the ship where they had a barbeque dinner on deck by the pool. The food and music were excellent. The last night at sea we bought 3 lottery tickets for $20.00 for a 7 day Caribbean Cruise. Imagine my surprise when they picked my entry. What a wonderful shock and I can hardly wait to book my next free "dam" cruise...I have 18 months to decide which ship to pick, so I will just have to start searching for the best itinerary. I would recommend this beautiful ship which has Indonesian waiters in the dining room, and Filipino deck crews. They are all so very friendly and make you feel like part of their family. Although I did not see the crew show I was told it was great. The Filipinos put on the show at 11:15 at night and I couldn't stay away long enough to see it. This was our 23rd cruise, but our first with Holland America. We look forward to our next HAL cruise later this year. We tipped the usual amount although they never recommended an amount. They don't even add the usual 15% to your bill in the bars, I wonder how the waitresses &waiters made out on the last day, I hope they didn't get "stiffed." Getting off the ship was a breeze. They had given us colored baggage tags the night before depending on what your preference was for getting off the ship. We had orange tags and were off the ship by 9:00 am. This cruise is a very good value for your money. July 2003 Read Less
Preparation: The Cruise Critic Boards work very well. Thanks to accurate descriptions by others we were able to select a great pre-cruise hotel, pre-select excursions online via the Holland America website, and employ packing, shopping ... Read More
Preparation: The Cruise Critic Boards work very well. Thanks to accurate descriptions by others we were able to select a great pre-cruise hotel, pre-select excursions online via the Holland America website, and employ packing, shopping and transportation tips. Supplement that information with maps, travel books, and websites, and you will be prepared. Pre-Cruise: Tampa We stayed one night at the Hilton Garden Inn Ybor City Historic District. No taxis needed. Call the hotel from the free courtesy phone in the airport and they will send their free shuttle for you. We tipped the drive $5. Same thing for the short ride to the pier. The Historic District is a one-block walk to restaurants, nightclub, shopping, etc. A very 'New Orleans' feel to the place. The only thing missing is a walking-distance convenience store such as Eckerd, Walgreen's or similar. I left a couple of 'personal care' items at home on the bathroom counter, that's how I know they need such a store in town. You'd have to take a taxi for that, but not for much else. Embarkation: Tampa In my opinion: don't get there early if you can help it. We checked out of the hotel and went to the pier at 1 pm. Lots of waiting! With all the early boarding going to (full) suite passengers, those who need help, and early arrivals (some of whom had been there since 11 am), the boarding number you will get will leave you sitting in a crowded terminal until 3 pm anyway. So, kill some time in more pleasant surrounding, then go to the pier. We were escorted directly to our mini-suite on Verandah Deck (9), and our bags arrived shortly thereafter. Mini-Suite: It's true what they say: we are now spoiled for future cruises thanks to these great accommodations. To us, it seemed like tons of space: lots of closet space, drawer space, large bed, couch across from a vanity style sitting area with full mirror and counter top. There was a small coffee table, perfect for room service meals. Our personal Verandah was about 6' x 11' with outdoor furniture consisting of chair, lounge and table. Teak railing is high enough to feel safe, and I have a fear of heights. The partitions on either side are not floor to ceiling, though close, and while they provide complete visual privacy, conversations can be overheard. Neighbors were considerate, keeping their voices to a whisper, as did we. I had been warned that the hair dryer was inadequate, so we brought our own. You must use it at the vanity, however, due to lack of outlet in the bathroom. The shower/bathtub with whirlpool was easy to operate, and the bathroom space itself was adequate. The TV/VCR carried a couple of movie channels, CNN and a couple of 'ship's channels'. Bring a small travel alarm - very useful if kept on the night table next to the bed. The in-room safe is very easy to use - it works with any credit card or shoppers card with a magnetic strip. Dining and Entertainment: Dining is such a subjective thing. In my opinion, if you expect gourmet fare from a system which must feed a lot of people in a short time, you will be disappointed. Focus instead on the excellent, attentive service. We selected early dining, and a table for eight. We had a relaxed, thoroughly enjoyable social experience with fellow passengers from Canada and the U.S.. We used the Lido for breakfast and lunch - this allowed our daytime schedule to be more flexible. Nice variety in a buffet style, and again, swift, courteous service. We had room service for one breakfast and one dinner. We simply used the 'hang-on-your-door' room service card before retiring, and breakfast was brought with a knock on the door, on time, the following morning. For dinner, there is a standard dinner menu printed in your room's information book, but you may also order from that evening's main dining room menu. Just pick up the phone and dial 92. We chose a little from both menus. The meal was delivered hot, the food was good, and portions plentiful, within a reasonably short time. Trivia contests, bingo, putting contests, name-that-tune (we won the "Kojak Murder Mystery Name That Tune" in the Piano Bar one night!) and the like are presented daily by the enthusiastic cruise staff. Games around the pool, volleyball, and basketball are available for the more athletic minded. Movies are presented in the ship's theatre, and the steel drum band on board was great. Slot payout in the casino seemed pretty liberal to me, but maybe we were just lucky. Overall, we probably didn't win, but we didn't lose a lot either. The Ocean Bar band was good; Simon, in the Piano Bar is talented, and the complimentary hors d'oeurves in the Crow's Nest at cocktail hour were a nice touch. Service was always wonderful. Odds and Ends: We purchased one bottle of wine and one bottle of champagne in Tampa and brought them aboard in our carry-ons. Your room steward will provide a cork-screw, no problem. The room was made up twice daily, with fresh ice and towels and our steward was quick to comply with our requests for down pillow and extra shampoo. Bathrobes are provided, too. The steward are hard-working, pleasant people. We tipped (according to guidelines we found here) both the cabin steward and the dining room staff. We carried a supply of singles, and tipped for drinks as we went along. Contrary to what I expected, dining room dress was either formal or casual (golf shirt and slacks for men). I could have left the sport jacket at home. If you follow the port or starboard hallways on Verandah deck aft, you will come to a small almost private sun deck at the back end of the ship. Grab a lounge chair early, it's a pleasant spot. Once or twice I noticed a "fishy" smell near those aft cabins. I don't know if this is a chronic problem. Laundry service is available, with a fee per item, or one flat fee for the week to have everything pressed. A laundry room is also available, and very handy. Four coin-operated washers and dryers, and 2 ironing board with irons, came in handy, and were well used on our deck. We did not at any time feel harassed by art salespeople or photographers. We did not buy, but if they wanted to snap a picture, we did not stop them. I am 55 and my wife if 54. We are active people. At no time did we feel like we were in a "floating old-age home". From my observation the vast majority of passengers- regardless of age- who go on a cruise want to get the most out of their experience, and they participate in activities. This makes them exceptional people, generally, Do not confuse them with grumpy Uncle Joe who dozes in his chair. I found my fellow passengers to be courteous, pleasant, and they come with a broad variety of fascinating stories and experiences. All ages were represented on board. My guess would be 35% under 50, 65% over 50, and just a handful of kids. Our Story: You know what they say about the best-laid plans: shortly out of Tampa, the ship encountered a cold front, unusual for the time of year, with winds which topped out at just 15 mph under hurricane force, and 20 foot seas. The Port of Key West was closed, so we sailed on to Cozumel. Wind and waves caused cancellation of most shore excursions there, so, shop we did! Go off the main strip, up the side streets, for better buys. The weather abated a little in Belize, but was still cool. We had arranged to go cave tubing with Reggie (see ports of call forums), and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Reggie is articulate, and very knowledgeable about his country. During the drive to the cave tubing site, he pointed out the local sights and answered our questions. When there are a number of cruise ships in port, this is a popular spot for large grout tours. Reggie navigated our small group past another larger one, and kept us together as we floated downstream. This is a jungle area, and the roads are rough at the end. The facilities for changing into dry clothes afterward are spare. To us, this just added to the adventure of the thing. The caves are spectacular limestone vaults with waterfalls, high ceiling and interesting stone formations. We did see some bats. The water and air temperature in the caves was warm despite the chilly outsides temps of 68 degrees. There is physical activity involved. I personally would not recommend it for anyone under about 10 years of age, nor for any adult who could not easily handle a steep staircase. Reggie commented to us that he had tried to hire others so he could handle larger groups, but was not happy with the results, so he intends to manage only what he, his wife and son (all licensed tour guides) can do. On the way back, he stopped at a roadside eatery, where we had chicken, rice and beans, coleslaw and beer. Typical Belize style food, very tasty and satisfying after all that exercise in the river. Shopping in Belize City and around the pier area was sparse. Some local handicrafts, some of the same wooden carvings and trinkets that you'd see all over the Caribbean. The weather continued to slowly improve as we reached Guatemala. Unfortunately for us, our 10 hour Rio Dulce and Quirigua ruins tour was cancelled by the cruise line. It seems some local workers who felt they were owed back pay from the Guatemalan government decided to picket local tourist sites, and it was deemed unsafe. In this area of the world, you avoid angry people with machetes. We were offered a river tour instead. As it turned out, the tour operator changed the itinerary without telling the ship's excursion office, so we were all surprised when after barely passing into the mouth of the river, we were taken to the small town of Livingston instead, for a 30 minute walkabout, then back to our ship! To their credit, the excursion office, after learning of this, refunded half the cost of the tour. We were disappointed with the tour, but on the other hand, the small town was fascinating. The poverty is extreme. The local people, a mixture of Mayan and other ethnic groups, were friendly and curious. We looked at them, and they looked at us, as we poked our heads into their shops and around their town. I bought some toasted coconut and a Guatemalan soccer shirt. The shopping at the pier was a pleasant surprise. Local people, many in Mayan traditional dress, set up a very large area of table with their handicrafts. Many of these people came by dugout canoe. These were very traditional Guatemalan crafts, not for the most part, the same trinkets you see everywhere: woven handbags and blankets, leather goods, jewelry and dolls with Mayan motifs, etc. They love to haggle over price. The rule of thumb is to walk away after you've come to a standoff and see if they try to make one more offer. If not, you've probably hit pretty close to their best price. After Guatemala, we were originally told that the ship would head back to Key West, but that was not to be. U.S. officials, possibly fearful of unauthorized people or goods entering a U.S. port without customs/emigration scrutiny, informed our Captain they would insist on a lengthy debarkation procedure which, in the end, Holland America opted not to do. Instead, we went back to Cozumel for a second time. This was OK with us since the weather had improved, and we could now snorkel. We took a taxi to Dzulha ($7), found and empty palapa (thatched roof over a table) with chairs, and had a great time. A few notes: this is a small area of inter-connected wooden beach bars with 2 or 3 access points for snorkelers to step down concrete paths into the water. The coast here is otherwise rocky. No one seemed to care where you sat, and if a large tour group of snorkelers arrive, just move to a different spot, as we did. Burgers, nacho, beer and soft drinks are available, inexpensively. This is not a luxury place. Toilet facilities are available (free) across the road in the Dzulha "Beach Club" (don't expect much). On the other hand, the variety of fish and coral was great and it was easy snorkeling, even for beginners. Debarkation: We had a 12:55 flight from Tampa. We were given debarkation Number 10. After a nice breakfast at 7:30 AM in the main dining room, we found a comfortable spot in the Explorers Lounge and waited. It did not take long. We went through the customs area, found our bags exactly where they told us they would be, and caught a taxi outside the terminal to the airport. It was still only 10:00 AM. Very smooth and organized. Despite the weather and the changes, we had a great cruise. We would do it all again in a second. jokark@msn.com July 2003 Read Less
Embarkation/Disembarkation Departed Houston, TX for Fort Lauderdale the Friday after Thanksgiving. We arrived at the airport two hours prior to departure. It took about fifteen minutes to check in and go through security. Security ... Read More
Embarkation/Disembarkation Departed Houston, TX for Fort Lauderdale the Friday after Thanksgiving. We arrived at the airport two hours prior to departure. It took about fifteen minutes to check in and go through security. Security changes are mostly cosmetic. There's no difference in handling of checked luggage. The same security guards are on duty as before 9-11, but an occasional National Guard troop has been added to the scenery. Major difference is that security guards realize that passengers are entirely intimidated and can be easily bullied about. Guards enjoyed barking at people, telling them where to queue. The guard on the security X-Ray takes a little more time viewing carry-ons, and no hand checking of anything is allowed. Photo IDs are required everywhere, but no one takes a really close look; flea market IDs would likely do. The airline personnel are still courteous and friendly. At Port Everglades, vehicles must go through security gates to enter the port area. Guards briefly scan documents. Although we went through, I'm still not sure if they required photo ID or boarding documents. They seemed too bored to care, either way. Boarding the ship was the usual slow process, bogged down by the photographers. Here too, photo IDs are required. A photo ID is required at all times when leaving or entering the ship. This means you carry a minimum of four cards: Personalized ship's ID, Room key/card, photo ID, and a credit card (or similar) for the room safe. No, the ship's ID won't work for the safe because there's no data in the card's magnetic strip. Since we had a 12N return flight, and being obsessively paranoid, I badgered the poor girl at the front desk until she gave me a 'first off' disembarkation number. Every passenger on board must clear immigration before anyone can leave the ship when disembarking from a non-sequential United States port, in this case our homeport. All had cleared by 8:30AM, and we were at the airport nearly three hours before our flight time! We were early enough that it once again took only about fifteen minutes to get through to the boarding gate. However, a little later I looked out and saw a gawdawful long line waiting to go through security. So, reading newspapers and drinking coffee until it was time to board the aircraft trumped standing in line(s). The guards seem to love forming and reforming snaked lines, periodically barking at the cattle (previously known as customers) to "line up over there. No, not there, there!" I wouldn't resent the officious attitudes so much, if these folks were properly trained and background screened for the job, and if the security were truly improved vis a vis European airport procedures. Having said all that, the security changes have resulted in limits to carryon luggage, a major enhancement for comfort and convenience. The Veendam The second of the Statendam class ships, the Veendam is in excellent condition. There is no sign of wear in any of the public areas. The cabins, too, are equally well maintained. For those not familiar with HAL's ships, the public areas are concentrated on two decks, plus the Lido. Except for The Crow's Nest, a large viewing lounge forward on deck 12, the other lounges are on the upper promenade deck, which is dominated by the casino. The largest of these lounges is The Ocean Bar, which specializes in small dance bands and the music is mostly swing, waltz and cha-cha. The Explorer's Lounge regularly offers an evening fare of classical style string quartets. The Crow's Nest has late night disco offerings. There's also a small piano bar. Occasionally, and during some sail-a-ways, there is a band on the lido deck, so there's a little something for everyone. The San Juan sail-a-way featured a steel band on the aft deck pool area, a great place to watch the nighttime departure from San Juan and Fort Morro. A saxophone led the steel band, and, so help me, they played a Glenn Miller number. Yes, even in The Caribbean, Holland America is for the older set. The Wajang Theatre, a full screen cinema, offers current films and the ever-popular fresh popped popcorn. The show lounge is large with two seating levels and has good site lines. However, the majority of the seats are uncushioned barrel chairs, real back killers. The show offerings are two major variety shows with full cast, and an assortment of magician, comic and juggler acts the other nights. There are also the ubiquitous art auctions, normally conducted out of the way in the Ocean Bar. Unfortunately, the silent auction littered the Java Cafe and atrium areas with its prints. This litter seems more appropriate for the parent company, not Holland America. The Java Cafe is a favorite offering, at no extra charge, espresso, cappuccino and properly brewed regular and decaf coffee during daylight hours. You'll always find a tray of freshly baked cookies and often a side table of pastries or hors d'oeuvres. You'll also find a fitness center, internet cafe (which offers unlimited use for $99.95), beauty/massage spa, photo gallery and an assortment of boutique shops. For children ages 5-17 Holland America offers Club HAL, which provides a full schedule of activities during sea days. Although there were few kids on board this cruise, the Club HAL director carried through with the games and crafts, even when only two or three children were in attendance. A special soft drink package can be purchased for $17.50 for 14 soft drinks. This is not an unlimited "soda card", and according to front desk personnel can only be used at the bars, which rules it out for children. The dining room is large and comfortable, the service always outstanding. There is no alternative restaurant on The Veendam; however, the Lido buffet offers an excellent option to the main dining room. The Lido buffet's ice cream bar is open throughout the day, and again during midnight snack time from 11:30PM-12:30AM. There are two formal nights during which most gentlemen wear suits. We saw maybe 25-30 percent tuxedos. The emphasis is on formal night. The great majority of passengers adhere to the dress code throughout the evening. The food was absolutely the best I've experienced on a cruise ship, or for that matter in many restaurants. From appetizer through dessert the emphasis was on quality and presentation. All of the seafood entrees were fresh and properly cooked. Amazingly, the meat entrees were always served to order. Medium rare came to the table medium rare! I don't know how they accomplish that for 600 guests at each seating, but they did. The standard cabins are very comfortable. Outside cabins are large at 197 sq ft, the inside cabins are only slightly smaller at 186 sq ft. The verandah suites, aka mini-suites, are a roomy 284 sq ft including the balcony, which occupies 63 sq ft. The stateroom TVs offer live CNN and TNT and an array of movie channels, mostly current releases. There is a self-service laundry on each cabin deck. The Crew and Staff The service staff are all either from The Philippines or Indonesia. The dining staff is entirely Indonesian. Every one of the staff personnel is required to attend a Holland America training school before serving on board. This preparation is apparent in their extraordinary proficiency. Their gregarious and friendly nature, though, is a result of culture and upbringing. They are absolutely delightful people. Be sure to attend their crew shows. They're the best afloat. And please don't stiff them. Holland America's policy is tipping not required, but you ought to compensate them as you would the staff on any cruise line. Most of the crew on The Veendam is British, including Captain Jonathan Peters, who could double as the cruise director. He's very smooth and humorous, characteristically British. The Ports First stop, Half Moon Cay, Bahamas, 8AM - 4PM, the only tender port. Due to reported high winds, which were not in evidence, all water sport excursions were cancelled. So there was no parasailing, diving, fishing, kayak adventure, banana boat ride - not even the glass bottom boat. There was, however, a lovely powdery sand beach and crystal clear water. Water "toys' are available for rental, and a barbecue lunch is served up beachside. The far end of the beach area is designated for snorkeling. You can snorkel there, but all you'll see is a sandy bottom and the very occasional rogue fish. In a so far unsuccessful effort to attract fish, Holland America has placed what appear to be large upside down strawberry planters throughout this portion of the bay. Day three, San Juan, P.R., 8AM - 12M. The ships dock directly in Old San Juan, which retains much of its historical Spanish heritage and architecture. There are a number of attractions here, including the popular El Morro Castle. If you follow the 'walking tour', it's recommended that you taxi up to El Morro, and walk downhill from there. On your return, take a rest stop in one of the plazas and enjoy a cup of excellent Puerto Rico coffee from the small kiosk there (NOT Wendy's or McDonalds). In addition to the many attractive historical sites, there are numerous shops. Do not miss "The Butterfly People", within easy walking distance from the ship. Their displays are unimaginably beautiful. The butterfly gallery exhibits a number of artistic arrangements sealed in Lucite boxes, and all for sale. But, beware; this place will do serious damage to your pocketbook. You can sample their work at http://butterflypeople.com/. The ship offers a number of tours. The most popular are the rainforest excursions. You can choose either a driving or walking tour. Each takes about 4-½ hours. Since we lived in Puerto Rico for a few years while serving in the USAF, we had previously traveled most of this region. We just wandered Old Town, shopped, and made a huge donation to The Butterfly People - irresistible. Finally, know that no one may go ashore until the ship has been cleared and US immigration has seen everyone on board, whether going ashore or not. Naturally, since this was the first US port, a number of passengers delayed disembarkation for more than an hour. Day four, St. Thomas, USVI, 7AM - 5PM. Unfortunately, swells were extremely bad and roiled up the bottom, so the diving/snorkeling trips were called off. We were on The Champagne Catamaran. Since snorkeling was impossible, the boat's captain decided to take us to a beach on Greater St. James Island. He'd never visited this beach before, and for the sake of future passengers, he should never go again. The beach is extremely rocky, very small and the bottom of the bay covered with sea grass. It was a totally disagreeable location. With all the beautiful beaches on the US Virgin Islands, we went to this piece of garbage. Although, the Mimosas and snacks were ok, the trip was a dud. But wait, Nassau is about to make up for it all. You can easily take independent beach trips at St Thomas. Taxis are plentiful, and there are ferries between St. Thomas and St. John where you'll find the best diving/snorkeling beaches. If you want a beach experience sans snorkeling, Magens Bay is probably your best and most convenient choice. Since St Thomas, also a US port, immediately followed San Juan, it was not necessary to clear immigration. Day six, Nassau, Bahamas, 12:30PM - 6:30PM. What a great diving/snorkeling location. Here too the swells had limited the dive trips, but our boat captain took us to sheltered 'Angelfish Reef' where we enjoyed a magical coral garden and hundreds of fish. Only at Roatan Bay have I enjoyed such a variety. This was absolutely marvelous. The water was so crystal clear I was able to get a number of great underwater photos. I can't imagine our scheduled dive on 'Thunderball Reef' surpassing this place. The water, however, was a bit cold, and without wet suit protection my torso chilled after about 45 minutes. This trip more than made up for the two previous disappointments. Wrap Up Despite some weather frustrations, this was a pleasant voyage with good ports. The ship is well cared for and is a comfortable size, 55,451 tons 1,266 passengers. It is easy to transit, and offers many places to relax. A major negative worth mentioning was the freezing cold water in both pools, making them virtually unusable. The Jacuzzis were also too cold. However, since the pools were suitable only for penguins and a tablemate from Pennsylvania, the Jacuzzis got a lot of use. With barely tepid temperatures, I hope they put in lots of chlorine. We had one moderately rough sea day, and the stabilizers seemed to have little effect. There was lots of rocking and rolling. The highlights were the ship's crew and staff and the cuisine in both the main dining room and The Lido buffet. As Chairman Kaga would say, "Haute Cuisine!" Unless you are looking for a party cruise, Holland America, our favorite by far, offers an excellent product. I not only recommend this ship, but we've already booked back-to-back Alaska cruises (north bound Hubbard Glacier, south bound Glacier Bay) on The Veendam for June 2002. Bon Voyage! stevesan@earthlink.netDecember 2001 Read Less
The HAL Veendam on this sailing had 1262 passengers and I would guestimate the following breakdown: Note: The week was from December 15 -22 and most schools were in session. 0 - 6 years old: Less than 2% or less than 25 6 - 18 ... Read More
The HAL Veendam on this sailing had 1262 passengers and I would guestimate the following breakdown: Note: The week was from December 15 -22 and most schools were in session. 0 - 6 years old: Less than 2% or less than 25 6 - 18 years old: Less than 3% or less than 40 18 - 30 years old: 15% or about 200 30 - 40 years old: 20% or about 275 40 - 60 years old: 30% or about 400 60 + years old: 30% or about 400 There were a handful of people in their 90's. If anyone else has a better guestimate, please let me know. Observations about the Ship Security was tight on the port upon embarkation. Armed guards, metal detectors. Bring a book or something to do to the port. There are no TV's in the waiting area before you board the ship. It is very comfortable, but there were no TV's or radios. Embarkation process was smooth and organized. Ship was very classy and elegant. Lots of brass, glass, and wood instead of neon. There was always someone polishing the brass, sweeping, or cleaning the glass. This showed a feeling of pride in the ship. All the staff we encountered were exceptionally friendly. The ship was decorated for the holiday season by having numerous Christmas trees and holiday decorations. "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year" was painted on several parts of the ship. We were upgraded to a category "C" room when we had booked an "H". Room was adequate, by no means spacious, but was certainly fine. Lots of closet space, but we could not fit our large suitcase in the closet and had to stack them up beside the bed. Bathroom had a handheld showerhead and even a bathtub. Our room steward was excellent, we always had clean towels. On this cruise line, the room steward did not make animals out of the towels, but simply turned down the beds and put the chocolate on the pillow. (Very classy.) This ship has a retractable roof that covers the Lido deck on bad weather days. The Lido Deck is home to the informal restaurant and dining room, large pool, hot tubs, and bar. If you need access to the Internet, this ship can accommodate your wish. They have about 6 computers that share an Internet connection. A representative from the cruise staff said it was running about 128K. Cost was 50 cents/minute or $100/week unlimited. Only 1 TV has ESPN in the sports lounge. We watched a Steelers game on the Sunday we were away. Lots of activities to do on the daily program, everything from the bingos and pool games, to craft and dance classes. We also toured the kitchen. The comedian, ventriloquist, and magician were all very good. The Broadway style shows put on by the ship dancers were ok, they're trying! Even when we were in port all day at San Juan, there were a full schedule of activities for the people who stayed on the ship or came back to the ship throughout the day. This ship also has a movie theater where we watched a couple movies. Food on the Lido deck (informal dining) was very good, but the food in the main dining room was exceptionally good. We had the late seating which was fine for us. We got to try foods that we may not have ever had the chance to have. Steaks were made to order, and were excellent. Our tablemates were very friendly, all the horror stories about bad table mates did not come true. Dining room was very elegant; dining room waiter was on top of things. He even remembered one person at our table drank iced tea, and had a glass waiting at the table for her! The Royal Dutch high tea was wonderful as was the dessert buffet - don't miss these! They also had wonderful hot cocoa for free. Soft drinks were an extra charge, so if you drink a lot of cola, you may want to bring a case on board - we saw several people do this! Tip: We brought ID card holders to hold our ship ID and drivers license. This way when we were in port, we just had to remember to bring the ID holders. Half Moon Cay - 8:00 AM - 4:00 PM As one person on the cruise said "There is nothing to do on this island, but you will love it!" They were right! There was nothing to do except swim, lay on the beach, and relax. It was wonderful! The water was crystal clear, you could see down to the bottom! There were beach chairs and umbrellas already set up. We felt we did not need a shore excursion, and only rented an air mattress for a few dollars and spent our time on the beach. A BBQ buffet set up for lunch. Highlights: Nothing but Rest and Relaxation Great beach and water San Juan, PR - 8:00 AM - Midnight San Juan was one of our favorite stops because of all the history and character of Old San Juan. We would not recommend paying for a shore excursion as you can easily see the island on your own. We took a ferry boat and a taxi to the Bacardi factory. The factory tour was free, and the boat and taxi total only cost about $15 for both of us, both ways! After returning to the dock after the tour, we had a taxi driver take us up to the forts of San Juan and walked back. This cost about $10 for both of us, and we enjoyed the walk through the streets of Old San Juan. This same tour cost $39 a person, and we had a very similar tour on our own for $25 for both of us! We had actually passed some of the people from our ship on the city tour! Won a few dollars at the Wyndam casino. Highlights of San Juan: Bicardi Rum Factory The 2 old forts (Fort El Morro and Fort San Cristobal). Excellent photo spots The narrow blue cobble stone streets Las Palomas Park Nice variety of shops and restaurants Wyndam Casino St. Thomas - 8:00 AM - 4:00 PM There were 7 ships docked in port this day, so the streets were crowded. I wish we would have known that the shops only opened at 9:30. We got off the ship as soon as we docked, and it was only about 8:30. Had we known the shops weren't open yet, we could have slept in. The main strip of St. Thomas is wall to wall shops. There were some deals to be had. Liquor was discounted there, as was jewelry. Tip: Go off the main strip to get more deals. We went one block off the strip and got a great deal on some jewelry. Highlights: How to fit 25 people in a taxi!!! Shoppers paradise Beautiful mountain backdrop behind Charlotte Amalie Nassau - 1:00 PM - 6:00 PM We were very disappointed with Nassau after how nice St. Thomas was. Our ship was only there for a few hours, so we did not have time to do much. The main street in Nassau had many gift shops, reminded us of Florida with all the tacky gift shops. People would come up to you in the Straw Market and touch your shoulder and try to get you to buy something. Most items did not have a price, but rather they asked "How much do you want to spend?" We did take a ferry over to the Atlantis casino. It was a casino, enough said. Since we had been to Las Vegas before, we were not very impressed with the hotel/casino. We had heard other people on the ship say that they were not even going ashore in Nassau, and now we know why. Highlights: Atlantis Other cruise ships (It was neat seeing other cruise ships in port and talking to people on other cruises.) Ft Lauderdale Disembarkation was very organized. Everyone had to fill out a survey earlier in the week about what time you needed to leave the ship, so it was well planned out. We left the ship around 9:00am and did not have to catch a flight back till Sunday evening, so we had some time to spend in Ft. Lauderdale. Highlights: Roller coaster at Dania Beach Center (10 minutes from FLL airport) Swap Shop flea market. Sawgrass Mills - Great outlet mall that has 300+ stores and restaurants including the Cheescake Factory, Hard Rock Cafe, and Rain Forest Cafe. Fort Lauderdale beach Primatis Brother's Restaurant - Primantis is a Pittsburgh tradition, and it was really neat to eat a Pittsburgh sandwhich and watch the Steelers in Ft. Lauderdale. (FYI, a Primanti's sandwich has a choice of meat, cheese, fries, and sweet/sour coleslaw.) Try it when you are in Fort Lauderdale or Pittsburgh. mlytle@ndcrealestate.com January 2002 Read Less
In early June 2002, my wife, favorite grandson Philip, and I embarked on a two-week Alaska cruise aboard Holland America's (HA) ms Veendam. We chose back-to-back cruises between Vancouver and Seward. The two itineraries differed ... Read More
In early June 2002, my wife, favorite grandson Philip, and I embarked on a two-week Alaska cruise aboard Holland America's (HA) ms Veendam. We chose back-to-back cruises between Vancouver and Seward. The two itineraries differed enough to justify booking a two way, and we reserved early enough so we stayed in the same minisuite. Normally we choose a standard outside cabin, but we wanted a little extra space to accommodate nine-year-old Philip. The balcony was convenient when we didn't feel like going on the public decks. For those not familiar with HA's 'S' class ships, Veendam has marvelous forward viewing decks. They're totally unobstructed and provide enough space so we were never crowded. Veendam's deck plans, etc are available at: http://www.hollandamerica.com/fivestarfleet/veendam.htm. For pre and post cruise we flew from Houston, TX to Seattle, WA, where we picked up a rental car and drove the remainder of the trip, @ 150 miles. We were using frequent flyer miles, and Continental asked 50,000 miles to Vancouver and 25,000 to Seattle. Rental cars are pricey, but it was still the better choice. I-5 is an easy drive, and the scenery is great. Consider driving as an alternative if you have to change planes in Seattle. The airlines insist on a two-hour time difference between flights. Adding up the wait time and the flying time between SEA and YVR plus a taxi to your hotel, the total time lapsed flying vs. driving is near zero during weekends. There are shuttle buses available, but they make so many stops that their travel time is too long. We encountered virtually no delays at the border. The wait time to cross was roughly ten minutes each way. The document inspection was more thorough crossing into Canada then returning. The Canadian inspector closely inspected our 'permission letter', which allowed Philip to travel with us. On the return, the U.S. inspector asked if we had permission. When I offered it to him, he waved us on without looking at it. The Canadian inspector in Vancouver also gave the letter a thorough reading when we disembarked. During the cruises there was no immigration or customs clearance northbound; however, southbound a Canadian customs form was required for disembarkation. We arrived a day early and stayed at the Pan Pacific Hotel. It's expensive, but it is conveniently connected to Canada Place pier where our cruise ship docks, and has great harbor views. The hotel restaurants are excellent. You'll find an alternative food court underground on the street side of the hotel. There is an entrance to the underground from the Pan Pacific's front lobby. Boarding Veendam began at about 1:30PM. The waiting lounge has no concession stands. It is a large warehouse like area with check-in desks and straight back chairs for passengers. Sail-away was Sunday. Monday was spent cruising up the incredibly beautiful inside passage. This is your best day for viewing whales from the ship. We saw a number of humpbacks that evening, both before and during dinner (late sitting). Mind the Captain's announcements regarding the best sighting times. He was invariably on target. While on-board Philip enjoyed the activities and games conducted by the kid's club, aka Club HAL. Club HAL schedule for both port and sea days included an evening session from 8:00 - 9:45. During sea days two-hour sessions were added morning and afternoon. The children were organized into three age groups: Kids 5 -8, Tweens 8 -12 and Teens 13 - 17. Besides the on-board activities, the shore excursion desk scheduled tours in each port just for children. The tours were age grouped for 6 -12 and 13 - 19. How well your child enjoys Club HAL depends entirely on the directors because HA provides little or no support. There is no specific playroom dedicated. Most sessions are in unoccupied and unfurnished meeting rooms, usually the Half Moon or Hudson. On one occasion they were ejected early from their scheduled and reserved room and had to complete their session in an adjoining corridor. They were still intent on having fun, but the hurt was evident in their eyes. Unfortunately, adults often treat children as non-persons with little regard for their feelings. The more active sessions were conducted in the pool area and the Sports Deck. HA has converted a dedicated playroom on Maasdam, but fleet wide conversion is progressing at a glacier pace. Philip was very fortunate to have Sara and Solange as directors. Both clearly love children and know how to interact with them. Philip is a very social child and each time looked forward to his Club HAL meetings. Each cruise culminates in the kids performing a musical routine during the RockinRolldies show on Saturday afternoon. Philip celebrated his ninth birthday during the cruise. He wanted to be in Club HAL that night so our dining room supervisor, Andre, arranged for a birthday cake to be delivered to the meeting room. It was a luscious black and white sheet cake inscribed in his honor. Sara organized the kids into a birthday party and gave Philip a small gift. Club HAL, principally due to Sara, was a major reason Philip didn't want the journey to end. He asked to cruise back-to-back-to-back ad infinitum. A "Naturalist" was assigned to Veendam. Kurt offered daily talks on numerous subjects significant to our trip. Subjects such as "Fire and Ice" and "Glaciers, Rivers of Ice" were explored. Kurt also scheduled "desk" sessions for one-on-one discussions and questions. While cruising glaciers, he provided a running narrative over the PA system. Kurt possesses a perfect voice for this, a smooth baritone which you can mentally tune in or out at will. During these times, he was usually on the forward promenade viewing deck. Entering Glacier Bay, Veendam boarded Park Rangers who also provided narration and talks. Later in the afternoon, the rangers set up a table in The Crow's Nest Lounge selling mementoes and souvenirs of Glacier Bay. Bring your passport to have a Glacier Bay visa stamp imprinted. Our northbound itinerary included a day cruising Hubbard Glacier. The second day southbound we cruised College Fjord, and the third day was dedicated to Glacier Bay. Margery Glacier was best for calving. Margery shed frequently, throwing off building sized chunks of ice. Viewing glaciers is a magical experience. There is dead silence, interrupted only by the shotgun sounds of the glacier cracking and the crashes and moaning of the ice falling into the bay. For those not familiar with Holland America, a mention of age demographics is appropriate. HA is famous for catering to an older clientele. This is evident in the large number of repeat cruisers; some have accrued hundreds of days cruising with HA. Since school was out, there were youngsters on board, but not in the numbers you'll find on Royal Caribbean or Carnival. The majority of people choosing 'Cruise-Tours' scheduled their Alaska land segment pre-cruise, boarding Veendam in Seward. These passengers skewed to younger and more active families with children. There were twenty-three children in Philip's Club HAL group during our second week, as opposed to thirteen the first week. In Holland America's favor are the mid-sized ships with fewer passengers, exceptional dining room and cabin service, few in-your-face promotions, low key attractive interior dEcor with an abundance of genuine art works throughout the public areas, a couple of semi-secluded lounges, a "Magrodome" with a cover for the Lido pool area which can be closed in inclement weather, and a number of small amenities such as a free coffee bar serving espresso, cappuccino, cookies and occasional hors d'ouevres, afternoon tea service in The Explorers Lounge, and a proper movie theater showing current films. Did I mention the heated pools? Swimming is practical even in Alaska. Each day we enjoyed a late afternoon dip. A concluding word about personal choice: if you require a live-wire party atmosphere with ice-skating rinks and rock climbing walls, Holland America is probably not for you. However, young or old, if you prefer a more stress-free and stately environment with excellent service and lots of small amenities, then HA is absolutely perfect. We sailed Veendam November 2001 E. Caribbean. At that time there was a notable staff shortage in the Rotterdam Dining Room, resulting in protracted two hour plus meals. This time the Rotterdam was fully staffed so we zipped through dinner in record time. Philip usually ate earlier in The Lido, but some nights, notably formal and semi-formal (What can I say. The kid likes to dress up.), he joined us in the dining room. The service was prompt enough that he never became antsy. There is a kid's menu, but it's the same each night. Besides, ordering from the main menu allowed Philip to discover new culinary delights. Some he liked; some he didn't. That's a good thing. Besides the glorious scenery, the main reason for an Alaskan cruise is, of course, the ports. We scheduled shore excursions both through the ship and with independent operators. All of the ship's tours were first rate with exceptional guides. Independent tours offer flexibility of schedule as well as a more intimate and personalized experience. They are generally less expensive, as well. Alaska ports make it very easy to book independent operators. I reserved most of ours before departure, but many can be booked right on the pier. Ketchikan, for example, has a shed on the dock with about twenty different tour desks lined up waiting for you. If you're after a flight seeing or glacier landing type tour, you should advance book. Nearly all the tour operators have web sites. These are easy to find by going to each community's web page where you'll usually find links to the tours. Most of the Saxman Village, Gold Panning or Hiking type tours can wait till the last minute. Our best ship's tours were with Allen Marine in Sitka. The Sea Otter Quest, a three-hour trip, was most notable. Although Allen Marine employs large boats, the narration and amenities are excellent. Their boats can take up to 150 passengers. Ours was not that large. I didn't make a head count, but I'd estimate we had about ninety souls on board. The boat has a totally enclosed lower deck and a partially enclosed upper. I'd urge you to take an upper deck seat where there is a protective 'U' shaped wraparound glass windscreen that is open in the rear allowing air circulation throughout. Because the lower deck is totally enclosed, there is little airflow. The atmosphere inside becomes extremely close, inducing seasickness. The ride out to the viewing areas is quite rough and at high speed. It's a lot of fun, but when the boat slowed down and became still for wildlife viewing, every below deck youngster, including ours, became ill. I took Philip upstairs and some kind folks let us sit with them until he recovered. Those who stayed below remained semi-comatose for the rest of the tour. Along the way we saw one humpback whale, and rafts of sea otters. On the return southbound leg we took the Silver Bay Cruise. This cruise is in an enclosed bay, so it was a much smoother ride. It culminates in a visit to a salmon hatchery. Our best independent tour was a three hour Whale Watching Cruise with Orca Enterprises, aka Capt. Larry, while in Juneau. Capt Larry's boat is custom built and seats a maximum of thirty-two passengers; however, he normally books only twenty-four, leaving extra wiggle room. The "Awesome Orca" is a forty-two foot water-jet propulsion craft with an enclosed lower deck. There is a roomy and comfortable exposed viewing deck on the aft end. The top deck is totally open for SRO viewing. Up-top limit is eight at a time, so we all periodically rotate. The trip through Auke Bay to the viewing area is at high speed, but the waters are calm throughout. The still waters in the bay combine with the smoother jet engines for a far smoother ride than our Sitka experience. We saw a number of whales, one of whom breeched directly in front of our bow. Two humpbacks were deep diving in tandem as a ballet duo, showing their flukes with each dive. Sea Lions and Dall's Porpoises were abundant. Alas, no seals or orcas appeared today. Orca Enterprises is a truly first class operation. Capt. Larry provides the narration and finds the wildlife. His web site is: http://www.alaskawhalewatching.com/. You need to book this tour about one month in advance. For the northbound leg, we had booked a helicopter/glacier landing tour in Juneau. The ship contracts with Temsco Helicopter who is the only operator licensed to land on Mendenhall Glacier. The weather was rainy, but open for flying, so we took off. Unfortunately, when we arrived over Mendenhall the weather shut down. Landings were cancelled and we had to return to base. One advantage of a back-to-back cruise is the potential to make up for lost opportunities. Since I had scheduled Orca Enterprises for the southbound leg, I stopped by their office on the pier and asked Becky to schedule Coastal Helicopter in conjunction with the boat tour. This permitted Orca to coordinate our boat tour and helicopter trip. The shuttle bus from the boat dropped us off at Coastal's base. Coastal took us flight seeing over a few glaciers and landed on Norris Glacier. We had a beautiful sunny day, so both the boat trip and glacier landing came off great. Coastal is a much smaller operation than Temsco, but our pilot was skilled and an excellent tour guide. A don't miss is the Raptor Center in Sitka. You don't need to book a tour. The Center provides frequent guided tours through their site. Each tour finishes with a video and a talk by one of the Naturalists. A Metro shuttle bus stops at the dock, runs through town out to The Raptor Center and circles back every half hour. The shuttle fare is $7.00, good all day. The Raptor center's web site is at: http://www.alaskaraptor.org/. There are great photo ops here. While on the subject of eagles, you'll be pleased to know that they are no longer on the endangered species list, and they are absolutely everywhere. Our first stop on land, in Ketchikan, we stopped in a wooded area. There were eagles in the trees just above who proceeded to fly out and return in dive-bomber fashion. It was a marvelous display. Our tour guide said that they are well paid! Eagles cover the harbor islands and rocks in Sitka. Their favorite food is McDonald's French fries. If your schedule allows time in Seward, be sure to book a dog sled tour and ride with Tom Seavy's Ididaride. The Seavy family breeds and raises dogs for the annual Iditarod 1100-mile race. You will visit the kennels, pet the puppies and take a bumpy but fun ride on a sled behind twelve of the best quality sled dogs in the world. Seavy's kennels are about ten minutes from Seward. Give them a call and they'll pick you up at the cruise terminal gate. Don't miss this, especially if you have kids with you. There are really great photo ops here. Seavy's web site is at: http://www.alaskaone.com/ididaride/. Also in Seward set aside an hour or two for the Alaskan Sea Life Center. No tour guide is necessary for this. It's conveniently located nearby restaurants in the center of town. http://www.alaskasealife.org/ Another first rate independent operator is Ketchikan City Tours who offer a Sea Kayak tour. We were provided with excellent guides and safe, well maintained and easy to operate kayaks. This is another tour you can book dockside. They're at desk #11 and their web site is: http://citytours.alaskamade.com/. This cruise was the experience of a lifetime. MS Veendam is a first rate ship, maintained to the highest standards and staffed with the best possible people. As for our glimpse of Alaska, only a gifted artist can depict its beauty and grandeur, words can't suffice. I certainly can't describe it. You just have to experience Alaska for yourself. And don't forget your binoculars! stevesan@earthlink.netJuly 2002 Read Less
Sail dates November 23,2002- November 30, 2002 from Tampa FL. A little background to get started. This was my husband Rocky's 9th cruise, my 5th and our son Mark's 2nd. We chose HAL's Veendam because HAL is Rocky's ... Read More
Sail dates November 23,2002- November 30, 2002 from Tampa FL. A little background to get started. This was my husband Rocky's 9th cruise, my 5th and our son Mark's 2nd. We chose HAL's Veendam because HAL is Rocky's favorite cruise line and also because it was out of Tampa, only a 15 minute drive from our home. Rocky last sailed on the Veendam (and HAL for that matter) in 1997. Previously I had not sailed on a HAL ship and Rocky was very excited for me to experience this line and the wonderful reputation they have. Our ports on this 7 day cruise were: Grand Cayman, Montego Bay, Jamaica, and Cozumel. This review will be on my observations and experiences. CABIN We boarded on a rather chilly Saturday in Tampa, the high was 62 degrees and sinking fast for our 5 pm departure! We were greeted as soon as we walked on and received assistance to our cabin and noticed that many were receiving their luggage right away! Our mini-suite was very nice, had a tv/vcr, refrigerator, a bathtub instead of a small shower, lots of closet space, drawers with key locks on them (nice for larger items that won't fit in the safe such as cameras, purses and the like) and bathrobes. Our cabin steward Rudy came quickly to our door and introduced himself. He asked us if we needed anything special and we informed him I like to keep my wine chilled and would need an extra bucket of ice in addition to the ice we would use for our other beverages. We explained we brought Pepsi with us as we prefer that over Coke products. He saw to it that we had 2 buckets of ice everyday, twice a day. I also asked for extra towels and those were provided everyday, without fail. FOOD We began to explore the ship and ended up in the Lido buffet line! Go figure! The variety and quality wasn't what I expected, however, it improved quickly after that. There is a small salad bar at the end of the buffet line and also an ice cream bar (no extra charge). All food in the Lido buffet area (including the salad bar and the ice cream bar) closed at 10:30 am for an hour. This is the only time in the late morning you cannot get any food without ordering it from room service. The other time is late afternoon from 5-6 pm. The food by the pool (Hamburger/hotdog/taco bar) opened daily at 11:30 am and closed at 5 pm. There was food available for everyone at anytime of the day, no need to worry about that! The bread and desserts on the Veendam are really wonderful, the best I've had! The overall food experience I had on this trip was not as good as I had on the Grand Princess or Dawn Princess. I'm speaking of the overall experience, not the bread or the desserts as mentioned above. In my opinion (Rocky does not share this opinion), the quality and variety were not up to the high standards often boasted by others. Again, this is my opinion. It did not ruin the cruise for me and I certainly did not go hungry (gained 5 pounds!) - It could be that I have to try another HAL cruise to get a 2nd opinion (hee-hee, twist my arm!). DINING ROOM and STAFF We had a nice table for 8 and met wonderful people (hi Susan, Alex, Bob, Jill and Gentry!). Our waiter and assistant waiter did their jobs, however did not seem to go that extra step to be personable. Our waiter recognized Rocky from the Noordam in 1996 but beyond that he did not chat with us. They did not offer any suggestions or substitutions if something wasn't to our liking. The head steward came over and said hello and chatted with the kids, which was a nice touch. He also made crepes one night as a special request from Rocky. He had so looked forward to crepe suzette made tableside. It turned out the crepes were pre-made and only the sauce made at tableside and then poured on the crepes. What a shame. Another quality item loosing its place on the rating system. The wine steward also came around but did not go that extra step to offer wine suggestions. I had to ask twice about my pre-cruise wine package I ordered. Not a big deal. Water wasn't refilled until very late in the dinner, again, no big deal. These are just a few things I noticed that dropped HAL in the quality of service that I was looking for. Would this make me not cruise with them again? Certainly not, I would have to try them again to see if this was just a fluke. Maybe my expectations were too high? Possibly. One night there wasn't anything on the menu I really wanted or cared for. I thought I would ask if I could have a garden salad instead of the special salad on the menu and was told "no, those are the only salads we have". I immediately advised them there was nothing on this menu that appealed to me and I ordered from the kids menu instead. When my order arrived at the same time as the kids order, the head steward came over and asked if something was wrong. I simply stated that nothing on the main menu appealed to me that evening. He did offer to bring me something else but I declined. I had a feeling it wouldn't have been easy for them to bring me something else at the last minute. Am I too picky? Yes, but its not like I was asking for something strange or difficult. Its just lettuce folks! PUBLIC ROOMS I enjoyed the public rooms/lounges. They are spread out and nicely decorated. There were many cozy areas and since this is a smaller ship, easy to find and get to from any point on the ship. We spent little time in the Crow's Nest, something we'll have to rectify on the next HAL cruise. We enjoyed the Ocean Bar quite a bit, this seemed to be very cozy and always busy late in the day and evening. I also liked the area where the covered pool is. We enjoyed lunch there just about everyday. MISC STAFF We spent every afternoon before and after dinner in the Ocean Bar and became friends with Jose, Nestor and Amado. Those guys remembered what we drank and our names the first day and never forgot. I like a specific kind of wine and they did not normally stock it in the Ocean bar. They ordered it and promised it would be there later that evening. It was and they made a point of making sure I had that kind of wine whenever I wanted it. In fact, at Island night by the pool, Nestor made one of the waiters go to the Ocean bar and bring me my wine to the pool! Very nice. This is the service I was expecting and it was consistently there by not only the bar staff, but the hotel staff, casino staff, Club HAL staff and the front office staff! I observed officers cleaning and assisting wherever they could. I observed many times, various staff members socializing, eating, drinking etc.... on the passenger decks, while on a break from their duties and found out this is perfectly okay! They don't have to go to the crew decks for their breaks. They are required to be in uniform when on the passenger decks, but they can enjoy the food and drink just like us and socialize, just like us. They all seemed to be happy and pleasant and always greeted passengers with a smile. This was a first for me. I had not seen cruise staff actually in line with the passengers for food or at the bar having drinks before on other cruise lines. In my opinion, that makes for a better work environment. Getting back to Jose, Nestor and Amado for just a second. Each one of these guys makes origami animals and gives them to the kids or anyone who wants one. Mark liked this so much we now have 3 frogs, 1 dog, 1 fish, 1 piranha, 2 rabbits and 2 birds that have moveable wings! Try packing those in your suitcase without crushing them! We ended up putting them in one of the large souvenir glasses and then into Mark's book bag that remained in our possession. CLUB HAL Our son Mark is 11 and he enjoyed Club HAL. He did not have to participate in every activity and was able to come and go as he pleased, which we loved. The staff they have in Club HAL seemed to really like all of the kids and because this was the week of Thanksgiving, there were about 90 kids on board. A week later, only 6 were registered on the ship! The kids seemed to have a lot of fun and I did not notice too many kids getting out of hand. A few times you would see a few running down the stairs or in the hallway, but a quick reminder to them to walk, and they usually did. A side note about soda cards. While its not advertised anywhere that we could see, someone mentioned a soda card. We asked where to purchase it and it was at the Ocean Bar. Its $27.50 for the 7 days and only 1 per child is allowed. Once they have the card, they can order (unlimited) a soda from any of the bars and restaurants. This is where Jose and Nestor got Mark to drink his first Roy Rogers (coke with cherry syrup added). Hmm, sounds like cherry coke to me! Anyhow, sounds more like you're on vacation when you say "I'd like a Roy Rogers drink please". SHOWS I had heard that HAL really isn't known for their production shows but they do try hard and there was always a crowd for the few shows I did attend. I enjoyed the show that involved the passengers, doing several lip sync skits. Very funny, not to be missed! ANNOUNCEMENTS and MISC Announcements were minimal and unobtrusive, maybe 3-4 a day and that's it. Very nice. No one bugging us every few minutes for a drink or a photo op. We had the same great service on day 7 as we did on day 1! Our cabin refrigerator wasn't locked on the last night, the mini-bar wasn't put away or locked up, the book with the postcards and pen wasn't suddenly hidden. Wow! This is great! This is probably why you can't board until 1:30 pm, which is fine by me! I would rather have access to all of the amenities and be treated as nicely as I was, rather than board at 11 am! Everywhere we went on disembarkation day, the staff seemed genuinely friendly. It's been my experience on the few cruises I've had before this one, that the staff completely change on that last day and sometimes the night before! Makes you feel like they can't wait to get rid of you so they can start again with the next batch! Not on this trip, everyone was nice. LIQUOR PURCHASES I found out that the Veendam did not take our bottles we purchased in Cozumel for gifts. They let us bring them to the cabin. Rocky informed me that they don't hassle you about that like some of the other cruise lines. We did see several boxes that were stacked up in the ships store with cabin numbers on them, but those may have been delivered straight from the stores on shore. Rocky observed people coming to the ships store to pick up their boxes without any problem at all during the cruise. Another nice thing about HAL, they seem to treat you like an adult when it comes to the liquor purchases. Its nice to know you don't have to worry about smuggling bottles in your bags, carry on or otherwise! SUMMARY >br> While I had some not so positive things to say, they would not prevent me from sailing on HAL again or recommending HAL to anyone. I tend to be picky and these were only my observations. There are also many positive things about this cruise line and I can see why there are so many avid HAL fans. We had a great cruise, due in large part to a great cabin steward, dinner table mates, the misc. staff I mentioned above and of course, my wonderful husband and son! rocster@cruise-addicts.com February 2003 Read Less
My wife and I had a wonderful experience traveling southward from Seward Alaska to Vancouver Canada in early August. The weather was perfect and overall the ship was delightful. I should preface my comments by saying we decided to splurge ... Read More
My wife and I had a wonderful experience traveling southward from Seward Alaska to Vancouver Canada in early August. The weather was perfect and overall the ship was delightful. I should preface my comments by saying we decided to splurge and reserved the best type of stateroom on board the Veendam, other than the Penthouse. We booked a year in advance to insure we got the correct side of the ship going south. We had Stateroom # 012 on the Navigation deck. The suite was sweet. It was large and very comfortable, but surprisingly no small place to write the many postcards. So we tended to sit out on our very large balcony/deck and wrote while enjoying the outdoors and the view. We occasionally got room service while we were sitting out there. We frequently had a continental breakfast on our balcony and invited some family to join us for a dinner there on the second night. That was a perfect event. Food, service, ambiance, and view. Hard to beat. We decided to have dinner on the balcony because we did not want to get all dressed up. We had just spent 7 relaxing days on a Holland American land tour and did not want to get formal. The room steward was very encouraging and suggested we preorder from the dining room - rather than room service. We did and it was well done. Also, with our suite we got free laundry and dry cleaning service - a very nice feature after 7 days of travel on land. They did a nice job and everything came back that day. We had one problem with our room when we were on our balcony or left the door open to the balcony - which we usually did. When people were on the Lido Deck above us, the noise from their chairs scraping on the floor was disconcerting. The composition of the customers was heavily over 55, but there were families with young children (our suite neighbors) and it seemed like a good mix. There are activities for everyone. If you want good photographic memories of your trip, the on board photographers were good, especially the formal night. The boat drill the first night was very disorganized and irritating, especially when a Veendam British officer got belligerent with a young passenger that was having trouble hearing the speaker (it was hard). The exercise facilities were OK but the treadmills were in frequent use (because of the good view?). One morning the staff showed up late and those of us on the treadmill could not look out front because the shades were drawn. We participated in a bridge tour, which was informative. Go if you get invited. My wife went on a kitchen tour, which was also very interesting. We were confused about tipping. I thought tipping was included in our fare, but then it was gently explained to us that tipping on HAL is not required, but would certainly be appreciated. We did tip, but have no idea if we tipped well or poorly. We were pleased with the service, especially in the dining room, other than an occasional language problem, but they were always solved with a smile. Embarkation at Seward was simple and smooth. Our tour bus brought us to the dock. Within an hour we were relaxing in our suite and our luggage was already there, since it had been delivered to the ship hours earlier as we took an excursion around Kenai Fjord. Disembarkation in Vancouver was simple. We sat in a lounge for about an hour - coffee and juice and rolls provided as we waited for our group # to be called. We then disembarked and took a scenic trip from the dock to Vancouver Airport. It was crowded, but it flowed pretty well. They are very organized and ready for tour ship groups. The Veendam has a nice computer room. I read and sent e-mails while watching the beauty of Alaska float by, as I sipped delicious coffee. The ship is a perfect size - big enough but not overwhelming. luitwieler@aol.comSeptember 2001 Read Less
Sixth cruise on HAL and 2nd on Veendam. (1st was in March 2000). Took advantage of deviation on air by flying via Delta thru Atlanta to San Juan and arriving by early afternoon. Luggage and check in much smoother than Ft. Lauderdale. ... Read More
Sixth cruise on HAL and 2nd on Veendam. (1st was in March 2000). Took advantage of deviation on air by flying via Delta thru Atlanta to San Juan and arriving by early afternoon. Luggage and check in much smoother than Ft. Lauderdale. (Florida should copy what San Juan does.) No lines and no waiting to board. Also no waiting at airport for over an hour waiting for a bus to portside. FLORIDA PLEASE NOTE!!!!!!!!! Was in a mini-suite on navigation deck. Veendam has a funny quirk with their air conditioning as it is very unbalanced. Last March we roasted in cabin 382 outside with absolutely no air for the entire week. Very stuffy, no air movement. Some cabins were fortunate to get fans but they were all out when we inquired. With the mini-suite we could at least open the door to the balcony if it got too hot. The show lounge was much cooler along with the dining room. If you wanted to really cool down just go to the crows nest bar. You could have hung a side of beef in there. Anyway serious design flaw with the air-conditioning. Food was improved from last March with a different Head Chef. Definite improvement with cruise director. John Challenger was very good. Checkout and leaving ship went very smoothly and we were at San Juan airport by 9:00 AM. OVERALL: very nice cruise. Food, entertainment, cabin appointments, and service were the usual HAL expectations. Good value for the money.kingofcruises@webtv.net 12/04/00 Read Less
Review of Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard MS Veendam 10th November 2001. We live in England. We cruised in 2000 aboard the Maasdam on a Western Caribbean cruise and were so impressed with the service and comfort aboard Maasdam that this ... Read More
Review of Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard MS Veendam 10th November 2001. We live in England. We cruised in 2000 aboard the Maasdam on a Western Caribbean cruise and were so impressed with the service and comfort aboard Maasdam that this year we booked aboard sister ship Veendam for a 7day Eastern Caribbean cruise. We have previously cruised twice aboard QE2 and once on the MS Funchal. Holland America impressed us enormously the previous year, despite a trip that had nothing but monsoon rains for the whole time at sea! We were anxious to see whether it was just Maasdam or whether other ships in the HAL fleet were as good. We need not have worried. Veendam was every bit as good and better in some ways. HAL do not advertise in the UK and it was not the easiest to book. There are always difficulties in getting hold of an up to date brochure, a shame really, because the HAL product is ideally suited to the discerning UK market. Having plenty of frequent flyer miles, we had booked a cruise only and flew in a few days earlier with British Airways. We hired a car from Miami and drove up to Ft Lauderdale. We had a superb (upgraded) room at the Sheraton Yankee Clipper which is situated right on the beach at Ft Lauderdale. We passed a very comfortable few days there enjoying hotel, beach and shopping. Security We left our hired car at the Alamo depot and took the shuttle to the terminal. There were road blocks at the entrance to Port Everglades, but as there were 5 large ships in port that day there was plenty of traffic and no one was being stopped. Arriving at the pier we went straight to a booth and presented our documents which were quickly processed. Boarding commenced about 2pm and we were aboard by 3pm. There was a number of armed National Guardsmen patrolling, which, although comforting, was somewhat disconcerting to we British whose policemen are not normally armed. We had to show photo ID at the gangway and this was necessary every time we rejoined the vessel after an excursion ashore. A coastguard vessel escorted us out of Ft Lauderdale and into and out of San Juan. The Ship Veendam was in excellent condition. The great thing about HAL is that all in this class of ships are laid out in exactly the same way so once you have found your bearings on one ship, you can find your way around all of them. There were lavish arrangements of fresh flowers everywhere and the ship was spotlessly clean. I only had two complaints - there was a stain on our bedspread and our balcony door had a really loud squeak which annoyed both us and our neighbors. This was reported before we went ashore at Half Moon Cay and was oiled by the time we returned. By the end of the week, however, it was back! I also noticed, during the course of the cruise, that whilst on Maasdam crew seemed always to be washing windows, on Veendam this practice was omitted. The Food My wife had been unwell in Ft Lauderdale and was advised by doctors to eat a very low fat diet. We had not been able to advise the ship of this requirement beforehand and we were a little concerned that this could cause problems. On explaining the situation to the Maitre d', however, our fears were dispelled. He could not have been kinder or more solicitous, bringing her menus 24 hours in advance, advising and ensuring that her dietary needs were met, even going to the length of cooing up a special order if the menu was unsuitable. This was real service. It was all handled very discreetly and with a great sense of care and thought. We had requested and got a table for 2 in the second sitting, located next to the glass balcony enabling us to see everything that went on. Our dining room team were pleasant, courteous and so very efficient. Each evening I chose from the menus and found the food to be of a high standard, beautifully presented, and always piping hot. They even managed to cook my steaks and beef exactly as I wished - no mean feat when there are 600 people at the service. Desserts were light and well made, the only exception being a rather ordinary chocolate mousse which was paraded round the dining room. The "running of the moose" (sic), was hailed as a new departure in dining room entertainment for HAL. The quality of the mousse, however, hardly warranted the effort! HAL receives some adverse criticism for its food, particularly from American passengers. Having experienced the sizable portions which are generally served in US restaurants I am sure that the Nouvelle Cuisine favoured in the dining room would not suit some American appetites. For us the portions were more than adequate and the choice was superb. We breakfasted every morning on our balcony. HAL room service breakfasts are a bit hit or miss and on the first morning they'd forgotten to include cutlery. A complaint resulted in a fast delivery and thereafter room service telephoned on 2 occasions to enquire whether we were satisfied. Generally though I felt the quality of these breakfasts could be improved, but the balcony location made up for the limited appeal of the fare. We ate breakfast in the dining room only once on the morning we arrived in San Juan and I think the entire passenger load arrived at the same time resulting in queues for the Lido and the dining room. Lunch was taken in the lido cafe where there was always a choice of hot dishes together with a salad bar. Quality here was first class although the main menu tended to be a bit monotonous, however we were always able to find a suitable dish for my wife and I also enjoyed fresh cooked burgers or tacos from the grill. As we were in the second sitting we did not attend any of the late night snacks or buffets. The Entertainment Last year, aboard Maasdam, we were very critical of the standard of the shows. My wife is a theatre director and this is an area in which she takes a keen interest. This year, we watched two shows, one of which had been hastily cobbled together in place of the planned show which could not go ahead because of "technical difficulties". It's difficult to understand the "technical difficulties" excuse because there is precious little on the technical side to go wrong with these uninspired offerings! The cast in the "Up on the Roof" show, a 50's and 60's tribute, were certainly more energised than the cast we endured last year on the Maasdam! Friends who have travelled with HAL and Princess say that Princess leave HAL standing in the entertainment department. Audiences expect more nowadays in the way of professional entertainment. It would not take much to elevate HAL's current offerings...a new Director might help?? Generally my impression is that if you are looking for lavish production shows this is not the line for you. In HAL's favour, the cruise director and staff are always discreet and passengers were never hassled to 'join in' the daytime on board entertainment. Ports of Call Half Moon Cay Our first call was Half Moon Cay which is HAL's private island in the Bahamas. This is a piece of heaven with white sand, blue water and a perfect beach. Because of engine problems during the night the ship arrived late and our time here was curtailed. A pity, because this is a real paradise. The chefs set up a hamburger buffet, which was a little disappointing, however this may have been because the late arrival prevented anything more ambitious. The bars were manned from midday onwards. There were many choices of sporting activities but most people were content to lie on the beach. The rest rooms were absolutely spotless and a great credit to the company. There were a couple of souvenir shops and stalls of moderate quality. San Juan This was disappointing for us. When we visit new places for we generally try to take a city tour in the morning and then return to areas that appeal in the afternoon. We had booked to go on such a tour of San Juan. The outskirts of the city are industrialized, the old part of the town is very quaint and colorful. The tour included a one hour stop at the local fort. Again, quaint with some stunning views from the ramparts. The souvenir shop was mediocre as indeed were the few lack-luster exhibits housed within the fort, but the hour was far too long. At the end of our tour the bus driver suggested he drop us, not back at the ship, but some 500 meters from the dock, happily, for the shopkeepers of San Juan at least, in the heart of souvenir- shop-land! The impression we had was that the driver had difficulty in filling the time allotted with suitably interesting attractions! This tour was poor value in addition to demonstrating that San Juan, apart from the old town, is not particularly attractive. If I were coming here again, (highly unlikely), I would engage a taxi for a private tour. The ship was in port from 8am until midnight and for us this was too long. We came back on board during the late morning and spent the afternoon by the pool. Quite a number of passengers seemed to be aboard during the afternoon and evening so we were not the only ones to feel this. St Thomas (Charlotte Amalie) We had visited St Thomas on a sailing holiday in the British Virgin Islands and already knew the layout of the town. The ship was not berthed on the main pier with the other cruise ships but in a small harbour near the airport about 2 miles from the town. There were a number of tours on offer which did not appeal -particularly after the previous day in San Juan. I had previously enquired at the tour desk if it was possible to hire a car and did not receive much encouragement. We wanted to see the island at a leisurely pace in our own time and therefore decided to hire. We took a taxi from the ship to Avis and rented a jeep for the day for $80 which was good value compared to the ships tour prices. We drove all around the island including beautiful Magens Bay and returned to Charlotte Amalie for lunch. The roads are pretty awful but there is not much traffic outside Charlotte Amalie and you have much more opportunity to see the real St Thomas. Like most Caribbean islands there is a startling contrast between the 'haves' and the 'have nots', but most people were friendly and hospitable. In the afternoon we returned to the main town for a bit of Christmas Shopping. We were hassled in the town and my impression in the nine years since I was last there is that standards have slipped a bit. In those days the town seemed to cater for a more eclectic customer. There were any number of expensive jewelery shops, whose inflated prices were often halved in the course of a five minute visit. A lesson - never pay the ticketed price. The tee-shirt shops were legion and some were very tacky, but the middle ground seems to have gone. One or two people had 'attitude' and this included the security guard on the pier who gave our Avis driver, returning us to the ship, (a nice touch), a very hard time. I got the impression that as St Thomas has about 3 ships a day every day, they don't really care. If you don't buy - someone else will. A shame because some of the island is very attractive with some good hotels. Nassau The ship was in for just an afternoon. There were a number of other ships in so the pier was crowded. We decided not to do a ship's excursion and walked into town to do some shopping. The town itself is a mixture of West Indies meets British colonial, but the atmosphere is poles apart from St Thomas with some very smart shops, amongst the inevitable tee shirt emporiums .The shop keepers were very professional - no hassling - and for Brits, the shops represented good value for luxury goods such as designer handbags and accessories. It was very windy but we enjoyed our time in Nassau. Most people went over to the island and visited Atlantis or the beaches. There was a very useful little shuttle bus that took you from the dock gate (right by the main street) to the ship. I would return to Nassau on a future cruise and would have welcomed more time in port. Finally.... We really enjoyed our cruise. HAL suits us down to the ground. We are in our 50's, we like good food and nice surroundings with 1st class service. We certainly had all of this on Veendam. The ship is classy and understated, and represents excellent value. However, it's not a ship for party animals or those who like dancing all night! The average passenger age must have been similar to ours and most were in bed by midnight! The crew were generally excellent, we never saw our steward, but isn't that the mark of a good steward? He always seemed to know when we out and kept the cabin spotless. The dining room staff were outstanding. The barmen could smile a little more but were nevertheless efficient and prompt. The entertainment............well, you can't have it all!!! Just a final tip.... If you can afford it pay that little extra and get a balcony cabin, the extra space in the cabin is great and you can lie in bed at night with the door open and listen to the waves! During the day there is more than enough room for sunbathing, eating and drinking and the privacy is great. It adds a whole new dimension to cruising. We like spending time in our cabin and would not now book a ship where we could not have a balcony! commedia@lineone.netApril 2002 Read Less
Veendam Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 4.1
Dining 4.0 3.9
Entertainment 3.0 3.6
Public Rooms 4.0 4.1
Fitness Recreation 3.0 3.6
Family 3.0 3.6
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.6
Enrichment 3.0 3.5
Service 3.0 4.2
Value For Money 4.0 3.8
Rates 4.0 4.1

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