801 Holland America Veendam Cruise Reviews

We sailed Jan. 10, 2013 on HAL Veendam from Valparaiso, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina, via the Antarctic peninsula. Actually WE didn't sail from Valparaiso, we got on in Puerto Montt. And herein lies our tale. We had three ... Read More
We sailed Jan. 10, 2013 on HAL Veendam from Valparaiso, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina, via the Antarctic peninsula. Actually WE didn't sail from Valparaiso, we got on in Puerto Montt. And herein lies our tale. We had three pre-cruise omens that we chose to ignore: Patti's car blew a head gasket for the second time in eight months, Steve backed the pickup into the garage door and demolished it and Steve's dad, 95, had a mild heart attack that nobody told us about until afterward. We drove the now-repaired car to LAX on Jan. 9 and boarded American Airlines to Santiago, via Miami. As we got to the gate we saw that the flight was delayed about ten minutes. But it wasn't long before a gate agent announced that our flight, originating in Miami, had a mechanical and would be. delayed about 35 minutes. It turned out to be an hour and a half. We were supposed to make an 11:15 p.m. connection to Santiago in Miami, and before we ever left LAX we were busy calling HAL's passenger emergency line as well as our travel insurance company to say that we'd likely miss our connection, and probably the ship's embarkation at 5 p.m. Jan. 10. Not until we reached Miami at midnight did we learn that the 11:15 p.m. flight to Santiago never took off and had been rescheduled for 7 a.m. the next morning. But leaving at 7 a.m. almost certainly meant we wouldn't reach the ship in time to embark at 5 p.m.-- it's an eight-hour flight to Santiago, plus time at the airport for customs & immigration, plus 2-3 hours in a bus over to Valparaiso. Turns out the ship didn't depart until 7 p.m., but how could we have known that? More calls to HAL. Dozens of AA passengers who missed their connections were directed to a rebooking desk in Miami where AA put them on next available flights and provided an overnight stay in an airport hotel, transportation and meal vouchers. It took more than an hour to stand in line. We stayed in a plush Sofitel, but we insisted that AA fly us all the way to the ship's first port of call on Jan. 11, Puerto Montt, Chile, and we were successful in being put on an 8:30 p.m. flight to Santiago on Jan. 10, with a morning connection on LAN Air to Puerto Montt. We checked out of the Sofitel at noon but spent all afternoon there, using free internet in the lobby, admiring the view and spending our meal vouchers in their terrific, if expensive, restaurant. Once in Santiago we were supposed to call HAL and report when we would arrive in Puerto Montt, however we made the mistake of leaving the international terminal and going to the domestic terminal where we couldn't find an international telephone. Much praise to HAL, however. They tracked us and met us in Puerto Montt and transported us to the Holiday Inn Express hotel where about 18 other delayed passengers were overnighting in order to join the ship the next morning, Jan. 12. All of us quickly bonded and later we became "PMS" -- Puerto Montt Survivors. But our adventure wasn't over. Many in the group took advantage of the day in Puerto Montt to walk around the town (as we did) or take private tours. I, for one, bounded out of bed around 4:30 a.m. Jan. 12 to watch the Veendam approach, but I saw that the wind was whipping up whitecaps in the harbor and the water was very rough. The Veendam came in and anchored in the bay. We all climbed on a bus for a short ride to the pier where a score of shore excursion buses and vans were waiting. We didn't know at that point that the Veendam's Capt. Pieter Bos had cancelled the port call at 7 a.m. because the wind and waves prevented safe use of tender boats. A HAL local rep came aboard our bus to say that we'd likely be driven six hours to the next port of call, Castro, on Chiloe Island, Chile. The excursion buses and vans departed and we were left alone on the bus. About 40 minutes later the rep returned to say that there wasn't enough overnight housing for all of us in Castro, and the weather ha improved somewhat, so the captain was going to attempt to board us via small pilot boats. He turned the Veendam parallel to the shore to create a patch of calmer water beside the ship, and out came a narrow stairway and a metal platform. We divided into two groups (we were in the first one) and stepped into the small boat, each person donning a lifejacket. Once the boat cleared the narrow harbor we were rocking and rolling in the bay. But comedian Marty Brill, who was boarding in Puerto Montt to entertain in the showroom, kept us engaged in conversation and we hardly noticed the ride. In fact, it was fun! We bounded up the staircase and we were finally aboard! We dumped our bags in the stateroom and made a beeline for the Lido where we watched anxiously for the next run of the pilot boat. Turned out that minutes after we got onboard, officials closed the port for about 45 minutes because conditions deteriorated again. Finally, the second load of "PMS" came aboard and was quickly followed by a boatful of our luggage. Capt. Bos turned around and high-tailed it out of Purto Montt. We we among the fortunate few who got to see the town. Puerto Montt has many delightful buildings faced with shingles or siding from the native Alerce tree, a now-protected species that is the second-oldest tree in the world, next to California's own Bristlecone pine.Next stop was Castro, Isla Chiloe. We did not take a shore excursion but walked (uphill) to the town square. It was a sunny, warm Sunday and we stepped into the brightly painted Cathedral for a crowded Mass with delightful local singers and guitars. We shopped next door at the parish hall where artisans and their local knitted crafts were displayed. It's all about woolen goods here, and fishing and seafood. We visited a downtown bookstore with books in English, and Steve bought a medium-weight jacket. This long, calm "inside passage" area is lined with salmon an mussel farms. Lazy sea lions perch on the buoys attached to nets and just scoop up a meal whenever they're hungry. On the way to Puerto Chacabuco/Aisen, Chile, fog set in and we were unable to view the preserve for blue whales at the south end of Chiloe Island. There's nothing to Puerto Chacabuco except the actual port facility. A volcano explosion and tsunami some years ago ruined the port at Aisen, so a new port was established about 25 minutes away. We took a taxi into town, skipped the shore excursions, and did a long walk along the main drag, shopping a bit (lots of Chinese-made goods here) and checking out schools, churches and civic buildings. A drunk teetered out of a bar next to where we were standing and announced in a loud voice: "Thank you very much!" In English! Our giggle for the day. Aisen has some charm but it's quite far inland, hot and dusty. This was the least interesting of our ports. Next stop was Punta Arenas, Chile, a beachy city of some size perched below incredibly dry, dusty hills. We were told all of the city's water has to be brought in from 60 miles away. First we took a ride into town and walked around many blocks. There were lots and lots of stores, but we found an internet cafe and spent at least an hour online for just a few dollars. I printed out a star chart of the summer sky in the southern hemisphere -- oddly, none was provided on the ship because the Travel Guide Benjamin felt the sun set so late (around 10:30 p.m) that no one would be interested. Later we returned to the port and took a free bus to a nearby shopping center with a large grocery store, Walmart-type superstore, electronics store and much more. Everybody from town and from the ship was there, it seemed. I bought a bathing suit on sale and some swim goggles that I used later in the ship's pool. Great fun, swimming on a cruise ship. Everyone was looking forward to the stop in Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city on earth, but our stop there was cancelled by bad weather so we steamed immediately for the Antarctic peninsula. We had an easy crossing of the Drake Passage -- it's 500 miles from Cape Horn to Antarctica -- with no bad weather and only medium swells. Antarctica was immediately otherworldly. Truly it's like being on a different planet. The quality of light and air are different, the water is glassy still, the only sound is that of the ship and there's a sense of everpresent danger -- death in the water or on the ice is just minutes away. Wildlife is everywhere -- penguins, seals, whales, orcas and birds -- and plentiful. The occasional scientific outpost or supply ship looks like a brash intruder on this landscape. Images of Antarctica are forever in my mind, but if I ever need reminding I bought the excellent DVD produced by the ship's photo staff. It was exclusive to our trip and contained no stock footage. Everything in Antarctica (and even in all of the south of South America) is dictated by wind, weather, water and ice conditions, so our route along the peninsula was a series of forays and turnarounds. Pack ice scrapped the Lemaire Channel, but it's amazing how the Veendam can rotate on a dime. We passed an iceberg that ship's staff estimated was more than 150 meters high, more than a mile long and so wide you couldn't see across it. We got down to about 64 degrees south latitude, by the way, with the Antarctic Circle at 66.3 degrees. HAL ships can't go that far because they don't have ice-strengthened hulls. We hated to leave Antarctica, but Capt. Bos held out the possibility of a stop in the Falklands. We thought this had been cancelled off the itinerary since last summer because there's less than a 40 percent chance of docking there and tendering in. Sure enough, the weather was impossible as we approached, so it was a very long steam to Puerto Madryn, Argentina. Fortunately our second traverse of the Drake Passage was as uneventful as our first one. Puerto Madryn was a charming town with a teeny shopping mall where a couple danced the tango. We strolled and shopped but the closest internet cafe was jammed and a larger one further in town was closed. Again we skipped shore excursions. The next port, Montevideo, Uruguay, was intriguing. The Rio Plata is so wide here you'd swear you were on the ocean. I did take three-hour bus tour of the city -- a proper shore excursion. There is much wealth here, with highrise condos lining the beachfront as they do in similar European and American cities. It got warmer. On to Buenos Aires, our final port of call and one of South America's largest cities, somewhere between 9 and 12 million. It could be Los Angeles, Toronto or New York. Again we took a three-hour city shore excursion by bus. It was hot and humid. While many passengers took further shore excursions, trips to Iguazu Falls or other adventures after disembarking in Buenos Aires, we headed immediately for home and had no delays this time on American Airlines. Here's my short take on this cruise. We had planned it for two years because the trip in January of 2012 already was full when we wanted to book. This HAL itinerary is the least expensive one you'll find to Antarctica -- expedition cruises that actually land zodiacs on the continent cost at least twice as much per person, starting around $10,000. HAL shore excursions and onboard slow internet continue to be frightfully expensive, yet we found the city highlights bus trips to be well priced, extremely informative and complete. We were put off other shore excursions by their great distance, such as 2.5 hours each way partially on a gravel road to the Punto Tombo penguin reserve. We saw enough penguins in Antarctica; granted they weren't close enough to touch. Also we didn't need a shore excursion to see expert sheep shearing -- we've seen that at the county fair! As an older ship the Veendam has some problems that fortunately didn't affect us -- leaking bathrooms, telephones that didn't work, questionable cleanliness. To boot, almost everyone onboard shared a headcold that put many passengers out of commission for several days. We were dismayed when told by the infirmary staff "this happens on every cruise more than ten days long." Apparently two or more passengers were hospitalized in foreign cities, and one had surgery. We found lectures by Antarctic scientists and naturalists utterly intriguing and infinitely informative, over and above the six months of research we had done on own own before the voyage. It's a touchy subject, but a lecture on the troubled political history of South America would have been welcome. The ship's Signature Shops carried no souvenirs of Antarctica and their response was that they couldn't sell enough of it to be worthwhile because HAL makes so few trips on this itinerary. This was exacerbated by not stopping in Ushuaia, apparently a shopping opportunity for Antarctica souvenirs. We've had to buy some items online after our return home, but who will know? HAL food was typical, with high marks for bread pudding with vanilla sauce and fresh orange juice, and an unusual treat of seared ahi tuna worthy of any fine California restaurant. Good beef tenderloin and filet, too. Lots of salmon. Unripe tomatoes at the top of the cruise. Indonesian specialities instead of local specialities such as barbecued beef from Argentina. Adequate service to HAL standards. Some cruisers are noticing cuts in HAL staff and service -- yes, there are noticeable cuts but they are not yet devastating. Our biggest complaint -- we met some wonderful folks but the ship was full of grumpy passengers who complained about everything. We have no idea how the front desk staff managed. They should get a medal. For us this cruise was expensive, fraught with problems and some disappointments, yet still the trip of a lifetime. Cruisers ought to be more able to roll with the bumps. A word to the wise -- take this trip originating from Buenos Aires and you won't have to pay a $160-per-person Chilean entry fee. Read Less
Sail Date January 2013
I have come to the conclusion that when your expectations are not met on a cruise ship the crew are almost always The Saving Grace as they were on the Veendam. Thank you wonderful crew. I took my 12 yr. old grandson, Dillon, on the ... Read More
I have come to the conclusion that when your expectations are not met on a cruise ship the crew are almost always The Saving Grace as they were on the Veendam. Thank you wonderful crew. I took my 12 yr. old grandson, Dillon, on the Veendam June 3rd-10th out of New York City. He has been on four cruises and loves cruising. I have been on six and wanted him to experience HAL as I had an outstanding cruise on the Noordam.I had booked an inside cabin 784, low deck and mid ship as he sometimes has motion sickness. Pre-cruise - we are from Virginia and flew into LaGuardia and took a taxi to the hotel. We stayed at Hotel 31, a quaint, clean and very reasonable hotel on 31st. This was a great location, friendly staff and each night we viewed the Empire State Building out our window all lit up. Embarkation - smooth. We took a taxi to the cruise terminal at 11:00 am and were in our cabin within the hour. We had lunch in the Lido - limited selection. Our bags arrived 2 hours later. We unpacked and I mentioned to Made, our cabin steward, that the cabin felt hot. He said he had already called it in. Welcome to the Veendam! Sigh. Someone from the front desk came up and told me they would send maintenance to check the air. Night came and no one had come so I called front desk and was told a fan would arrive immediately. That never happened and we spent a sweltering first night. Tues am Made brought us a fan. Tues pm Chona from front desk came and informed me the air could not be fixed during this cruise. She was helpful and said we could move to another cabin as a couple had cancelled - cabin 520 forward. She showed us the cabin and told us we had a time limit to decide as others were experiencing problems and wanted the cabin. Apparently the ship was filled to capacity. It was obvious to me that they knew the air did not work in this cabin but they put us in it anyway. We had no choice but to take this cabin. I was told someone would bring us a cart and effortlessly move us. They never came and Made and Gede moved us carrying everything piece by piece. This whole ordeal was insensitive and handled very unprofessionally. Come on HAL you can do better. I am a past guest. The ocean crossing was rough and Dillon stayed seasick in this forward cabin. Thursday I received a letter of apology, a bouquet of flowers and beverage credit of $50 which I changed to on board credit. They later changed it to $100. At least they did something which I appreciated. Dining - We ate dinner in the Rotterdam on formal night. The service was very slow and we were there two plus hours. Food was good. The Canaletto restaurant was booked with a wait list so we settled on the Lido. Food was just o.k. Pizza good. Public Rooms - The ship was easy to navigate and relatively clean. Entertainment - The Adiago Strings quartet from Romania were excellent. Dillon takes violin lessons and we both enjoyed listening to this talented group every night. The band on the Lido were very good as well as the other music throughout the ship. We went to a show we enjoyed, watched a movie, played the big chess game, and swam when we could inch in. Spa & Fitness - N/A Family and Children - N/A Shore Excursions - We did not book any as the weather was not good. PROS - Our cabin stewards Made and Gede in cabin 784 and Sauli & Minto in cabin 520 were wonderful. We met so many special people from all over the world and enjoyed our times together. A kind couple from Canada found and returned my camera and sun glasses and I was grateful for their honesty. The dessert extravaganza was awesome. The chefs did a super job with delicious cakes, etc. etc. on 3 decks. CONS Only one swimming pool which was always overcrowded. The retreat is not worthy of any comments. When they painted the outside of the ship the chemical smells were overwhelming. They did go around and spray cabins with air fresheners if you asked. BERMUDA - The weather was very windy and rainy but we made the best of it and enjoyed all our adventures. Bermuda is a beautiful, colorful, clean island with friendly and helpful people. We took the bus to St. George and walked around but it poured so we took a ferry to the Dockyard. We got on a bus to sea glass beach and the sea glass covered the beach. The sun came out and we swam and collected unique sea glass for two or more hours. We went to Horseshoe Bay - lovely setting. Dillon snorkeled in the cove and I swam. We visited the cast iron lighthouse, took a tour of Bermuda on the ferry and shopped some in Hamilton. We also visited the exquisite cathedral and Fort Hamilton where we met up with a family from London also on the Veendam. Disembarkation - smooth. Our plane did not leave until 7:30 pm. We took a taxi to the Hotel, dropped off our bags and walked to central park and St. Patrick's Cathedral for the afternoon. Would I try HAL again???? It would have to be something exceptional and certainly not the Veendam. Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
We booked our cruise to Bermuda with HAL having high expectations based on past experience with the line. We sailed to Alaska last fall on the Oosterdam and everything was fantastic. Nice clean spacious ship. Impeccable customer service. ... Read More
We booked our cruise to Bermuda with HAL having high expectations based on past experience with the line. We sailed to Alaska last fall on the Oosterdam and everything was fantastic. Nice clean spacious ship. Impeccable customer service. Great food and entertainment. It was a wonderful cruise despite the non-stop rain and gray days. HAL was impressive. Sadly, our experience on our cruise to Bermuda could not have been more different. The first thing we noticed about the outside of the Veendam was the fact that she was filthy. Rust stained the otherwise white paint and the windows were cloudy looking. Overall the ship appeared old, dinghy and run down. On board things weren't much better. The carpet was worn in many areas, the decor in our cabin was dated, the elevators had scratches on the doors with pieces missing from the inside, the railings on deck were weathered and rough, and again it all had the appearance that the vessel was nor being maintained very well. Once in our room, we noticed the configuration was wrong. We booked a king sized bed, and we got two singles with an end table separating them. This was an easy enough fix that the attendant made by pushing the beds together just before we turned in for the night. Lack of attention to detail. The door leading to our balcony was covered in sea spray and dirt from the previous cruise and was difficult to even see out of. The table outside was rusty and the cushions on the deck chairs were wet despite it being a beautiful sunny afternoon. The Cabin: The room itself seemed dated and worn despite the alleged overhaul of the ship in 2009. Worse than that was the fact that the A/C was almost non-existent. Even at the lowest setting it was consistently tepid (never going below 76 degrees) and muggy. We contacted the front desk and they sent someone to measure the temperature and airflow. The person who came agreed that it was "hot" and said they would do something on their end to fix it since air was barely seeping out of only one small section of the vent. Whatever fix was made on their end, changed absolutely nothing on ours. Even after stripping down to our underwear, we were still sweating just sitting on the bed. We propped the door to the balcony open and attempted to get some sleep. After a restless night, we awoke in a pool of sweat. The rest of the cruise was equally uncomfortable and frustrating, even after they brought us a fan. Crew members came by frequently to check on the A/C after we called to complain, and the front desk called numerous times to check in, but it was never actually fixed. We were given a fan (which occupied the ONLY outlet in the cabin), they extended their sincerest apologies, and a brought us a bottle of wine for the inconvenience. It felt like we were visiting a cut rate hotel in a third-world hot humid climate. Definitely not the accommodations we expected after paying thousands of dollars for the cruise. To charge a laptop or cell phone we had to unplug the fan to access the only outlet in the cabin that accepted an American configuration. In addition to the A/C, the overall condition of our stateroom was NOT acceptable either. Simply put, it was dirty. The bathroom smelled like a latrine the entire time. We had to keep the door closed to keep from stinking up the cabin. There was urine on the back of the toilet at the wall from previous passengers that I ended up wiping off thinking that was the source of the smell. It wasn't. It continued to stink throughout the trip. The shower had mildew in the grout in between the tiles. The telephone had dust accumulated in the cradle and the receiver was dirty, as were the remote controls. The corners of the carpet had also accumulated a layer of dust and it appeared not to have been thoroughly vacuumed in a long time. Our ice bucket even still had water in it from the previous passengers. We bought a pizza at Flannagans in Bermuda and brought a piece back to the cabin to put in the fridge. When we took it out to eat later in the evening, a pepper fell onto the carpet next to the vinyl couch. My wife said, "If we leave it, I'll bet it stays there the whole week." She was right. It never got vacuumed up in the daily "cleaning" by the attendant. Once we finally told the attendant about it, he made sure to get it up next time around. Insult to injury is the fact that HAL automatically charges an additional surcharge of $23/night as a "housekeeping" gratuity for the cabin crew. Amazing. The food: Well, sadly things in the food department weren't much better. The Lido deck closes at 8pm, which is completely ridiculous given the fact that most people are out sightseeing into the evening. We ate in the main dining room several times (when we weren't prevented from eating there because of "formal night") and found it mediocre at best. The first night the service and food were pretty good. The second time we sat and waited for 25 minutes without so much as bread on the table. Finally the drink attendant came somewhat apologetically saying that our server was "running round like chicken." I took that to mean he was busy which was why he apparently couldn't get to our table. The odd thing was, it was now 8:45pm and the restaurant was half empty. We decided to leave and eat at the Lido instead. Yes, that's when we discovered that the Lido closes down at 8pm. Frustration. We ended up ordering room service cheeseburgers which came both cold and grossly overdone, and had to enjoy them in a warm dirty room. Shortly thereafter an attendant came to our door interrupting our meal and apologizing for the delay at the main dining room. He was there to give us another complimentary bottle of wine as a concession to being ignored for a half hour at dinner. The next time we visited the formal dining room, I ordered the NY strip steak "medium rare." The thin steak arrived blackened on the outside and well done on the inside. My wife grabbed a roll out of the basket and found a "bite" missing, either that or someone broke off a hunk before it made it to our table. We both suspected that it came directly from another table but it's impossible to know for sure. At least the Coke I ordered with the meal was good. BTW, the formal dining room was always warm (roughly 80 degrees) and the windows in the back were difficult to see out of because of the hazy film/sea spray on them which looked to have been there for quite a while. Entertainment: The one thing we were looking forward to was the comedian scheduled for the second night of the trip. As it turned out, the seas were a bit rough for the Broadway singers and dancers regularly scheduled on the first night, so HAL switched the comedian to the first night (I guess they figured he would have less trouble standing up). We never heard the announcement, so on day two we went to see the comedian only to find the Broadway singers. Excursions: We signed up for an all day trip for our first day in Bermuda to do some sightseeing. It was expensive, but we figured it was a good way to get around the island and check things out. Well, due to the bad weather we experienced en route to the island we ended up arriving in port several hours after the scheduled excursion was supposed to leave. Apparently an announcement was made (either the night before or early that morning) that it was rescheduled to a few hours later. Of course, we never heard the announcement and consequently missed the tour. After giving us some grief, HAL put us on a 3 hour tour of the Zoo, Aquarium and Caves. It wasn't what we signed up for but it wasn't too bad either. We ended up just hiring a cabbie for the day to show us the island which was the highlight of the trip. I won't complain about the prices of drinks, the forced gratuities, the cost of internet, the weather, the rough seas or things like this since we knew what we were signing up for when we booked the cruise. It was the attention to detail, the poor management, the dirty/run down ship, the lack of A/C and bad customer service that made this trip a bummer. HAL needs to do something about the Veendam and her management or else they will continue to lose loyal cruisers to the other lines. Will we sail with HAL again? Maybe, since our first experience was wonderful, but I can tell you for certain we will never set foot on the Veendam again. In all likelihood we will give another line a try. Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
First of all, my wife and I are experienced cruisers and the last to ever make any complaints. We do not have high expectations and appreciate every amenity and kindness offered to us. We had originally booked a guaranteed inside ... Read More
First of all, my wife and I are experienced cruisers and the last to ever make any complaints. We do not have high expectations and appreciate every amenity and kindness offered to us. We had originally booked a guaranteed inside cabin. With less then 48 hours before embarkation, we were assigned cabin 314. This was a cabin on the starboard side of the ship with, what they called, "a fully obstructed view". I was perfectly content to have natural light for our cabin and in fact, the view was not "totally obstructed". When we arrived at the dock, we had a different cabin number, 419, which was a downgrade as it was an inside cabin. Upon pointing this out to the woman at the counter, she spoke to her supervisor. About 15 to 20 minutes later, the counter woman & supervisor returned and apologized for the error and gave us cabin 409 which was the same as cabin 314. We had to be escorted onto the ship to get our cabin keys. My cabin key was totally wrong, with someone else's name. Of course, it did not work. I went to the Front Desk to have it corrected. Upon returning to the cabin, it still did not function. The third cabin key did work properly. My wife's cabin key, which worked the first time, failed to work after my cabin key had been corrected. Several trips back to the Front Desk and both our cabin keys were functional. I had arranged a "Meet & Mingle". The fine folks at Cruise Critic even went so far as to arrange some prizes for a raffle which they had suggested. I had informed HAL that Cruise Critic & Facebook were to have a combined "Meet & Mingle". I had received an e-mail from HAL indicating that we could have the "Crow's Nest" from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on our sea day with signage, water, tea, coffee & cookies and, if time permitted, a visit from an Officer or two. We did get the "Crow's Nest", which is available to anyone at any time, but nothing else that was promised. HAL had completely dropped the ball. I was put into a somewhat humiliating position, since I had announced on Cruise Critic & Facebook what HAL was offering us. We did have a surprisingly exceptional turn out. I did go to the Front Desk to find out why we were not given what was promised. A fine woman representative from HAL's customer relations told me that the woman who had signed my e-mail from HAL did not follow through or there was a mix up in communication, as the ship had received no notification of our planned event. We were offered some "apology" compensations. We settled on some offers. One offer was a lunch in the "Specialty" restaurant. Now that food was excellent. This was the type of food and service I was hoping for on a more "upscale" cruise line. It is a shame that if one wants good food and service, he has to pay extra. Customer relations did make every effort to correct their errors through compensations. They did have to make quite a bit of apologies. We have never had any occasions on other cruise lines for apologies. Our cabin stewards and waiters were excellent. I do feel bad for the waiters & busboys because of the cut-backs in staff and the over-worked conditions, making it almost impossible to get the service one used to get on a cruise ship. The food was served in small portions. This is fine, not having the main focus of a cruise on food & having passengers leaving dinner feeling bloated and uncomfortable. However, the food was just mediocre and not served hot. I will admit that the last two evening meals were quit good. I believe this was because on the previous night, after waiting an unacceptable length of time for service, we did walk out. On other cruise lines, one could choose to go to the Lido deck if they decided not to go to their assigned dining, but the Lido deck was closed. I later found out that there was 24 hour room service. This is what we used when we walked out on dinner. We were offered a bottle of wine the next evening as compensation for the poor service. Again, I do not blame the waiter or busboy. The exterior of the Veendam had been painted over many, many times with many signs of rust. The wooden decks, railings & deck chairs were all weathered. On deck 6 the atrium was nothing more then wasted space. We chose not to take any of the ship's excursions. Bermuda has excellent bus and ferry service, very reasonably priced for a 3 day pass. We had a wonderful time exploring the Island. We allowed ourselves to become completely exhausted, yet happy at all we had seen & done. The weather was perfect. The people of Bermuda are extremely, naturally polite and pleasant. We will not cruise with Holland America again. Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
This was my first cruise. I decided to take the Veendam out of New York. Disembark New York-- Getting to the terminal is an adventure. Driving to New York is frustrating enough, let alone trying to fight all the cruise traffic. Parking ... Read More
This was my first cruise. I decided to take the Veendam out of New York. Disembark New York-- Getting to the terminal is an adventure. Driving to New York is frustrating enough, let alone trying to fight all the cruise traffic. Parking is along the ship for around 200 dollars. I dont think its cheaper anywhere close enough to worry about. As we drove up to the bag drop off, a guy took our bags, and said "Tips are appreciated in order to make sure your bags will arrive to your cabin". Basically, what he was saying was if you want your luggage, pay a tip. OK. So I gave him a tip and prayed it was enough to get my luggage on the boat. The paper work part of the sign in was quick and in no time we were on the boat. Days at sea-- There are 2 days at sea on the Bermuda cruise. There isnt much to do on the boat. One of the days I was so bored I actually went to the ships library and found a book to read. I know, hard to believe. Food--- The food was OK. The first couple days food was only served over the glass. You get in line, stand in front of the food you want, wait for a server, point to the food you want,then hope they understand you. We didnt reserve any specialty restaurants, because I didnt want to dress up like I was going to a funeral, just to eat the same food they had at the Lido. The pizza guy seemed mad that people wanted pizza. Probably because he couldnt believe anyone would come back for seconds. Pretty much tasteless. The burger shack always served me pink burgers. You really need to find what you like and pretty much eat those things all the time. Bermuda-- The island was the best part of the trip. The best beaches ever. Wont go on too much about the island, except to say everything was way overpriced. We only ate off ship once and paid 30 dollars for some chicken at KFC.. Ouch. Docking in Bermuda-- The Veendam docks in the heart of Bermuda, right next to the bus terminal. Great if you want to go via bus. The other ships dock way out at the tip of the island. Entertainment--- The magic show was good. I didnt go to the singing shows, I was already sea sick. Carlos, the cruise director, was the typical guy trying to be overly happy about everything. The older generation loved him. Would I recommend the cruise to a friend..... YES... I dont know of any other way to see Bermuda on a budget. Would I go on the Veedam again .... NO.... There just isnt enough to do on the ship. And the 2 days at sea were just terrible. Read Less
Sail Date September 2011
Recently traveled on the NY to Bermuda cruise from 8/21/2011 to 8/28/2011 and while many aspects of the cruise were very nice I do feel for online review websites such as this one it is more helpful learn about the negative points. Not to ... Read More
Recently traveled on the NY to Bermuda cruise from 8/21/2011 to 8/28/2011 and while many aspects of the cruise were very nice I do feel for online review websites such as this one it is more helpful learn about the negative points. Not to vent, but in many ways the operations of the Veendam were completely befuddling. For starters, a major problem is the smoke. Smoking was allowed on the crows nest, outside decks and in the casino and it just took one smoker to pollute the air for everybody else. The smoke from the casino was especially bad as it leaked out into the library and other neighboring rooms, and because of how the ship is designed you frequently had to walk though the casino to get to where you wanted to go. Smoke from the rooms would also leak out into the hallways and make you nauseas. This was not the only problem odor as the ship diesel and exhaust smells really got under the doors and into the aft rooms on the ship. My bag reeked of exhaust when I got off the ship. Many of the bathrooms all over the ship had an identical unpleasant mystery biological smell to them. The Veendam has a nice tennis court, basketball court and shuffleboard area...but...could only be used during the proper hours of during the day, minus lunch/dinner time and minus time when the weather was 'rough' outside. Due to the front-desk's version of rough weather which is seriously exaggerated, I and many others had no chance to use the sports facilities which remained pretty much vacant during the week long cruise. For a swimming pool...they had this tiny thing in the middle of a noisy lido deck that looked like no fun. They frequently had it roped off due to 'bad weather'. 'Hurricane' Irene was a major factor on this cruise...however just like the politicians in NY, the captain/corporate overreacted and made a bad situation worse. Faced with the prospect of traveling a return trip through the hurricane, the captain decided to cut short the stay at Bermuda by one day. This made no sense because if Irene was as bad as CNN/Fox news kept saying, then the Veendam would be harbored in the eye of a very dangerous storm surrounded by broken infrastructure and millions without electricity/transportation/sewage/water/food. Plus the Veendam would not have been able to disembark on Sunday anyways. So staying in Bermuda an extra day (which had great weather) to travel behind the storm while the logical thing to do was not what Holland of America did (probably because of the port cost and corporate wanting to meet their next embarkation schedule). For those who had scheduled plans for the day that the Veendam was supposed to officialy depart (like a family wedding scheduled more than six months in advance) they were out-of-luck. For leaving Bermuda a day early...HAL only offered a 15% discount on a future cruise. So to get a 'refund' you had to give them more money. Yes, I'm sure that was in the small print, but the cruise forms we feels out are detailed and complicated, and I and many cruise guests had no idea we would get such a bad deal in case of 'weather' issues/cancellations. For the most part the food was very good. The vegetarian options were somewhat limited and could have been better (especially on the dinner menu where often there was only one token vegetarian en-tree to choose from). Would be nice to see more natural ingredients used by the Veendam. Lots of fake sugar is used (which is toxic) and my mouth was very dry after a number of dishes which is usually a red flag that MSG was used. Would be nice to see ingredients posted. Self-service options were somewhat limited for the buffets...thought it was kind of stupid to wait in a huge line just to get a glass of water because only an official drink waiter could give you a drink. Yes, I know disease was a concern but this seemed exaggerated IMO. Seemed also silly waiting in front of a buffet table for a server when you should just be able to scoop your own food. The service (served almost exclusively by Indonesians and Philippines to the point of reverse discrimination/reverse racism) was good in a robotic way. Most of the staff smiled and constantly greeted you like they were programmed to do. In many cases their 'service' became very formulaic and annoying. HAL needs to understand the importance of being left alone and not pestered to constantly return a greeting or to have staff members constantly trying to steal your plates during lunch/breakfast (dinner was the opposite problem as dinners ran way too long...maybe it's a European thing). Wasn't comfortable with the 'hotel staff' going into my room ~6,7 times a day just rearrange my clothes or make the bed for the umpteenth time or to constantly throw away my drinks. This is not to suggest that the staff was unfriendly...most seemed like nice friendly people...just think they have been trained incorrectly. One of the most important aspects of good service (which HAL prides itself on) is communication...and unfortunately many of the staff don't speak great English. It varies...but on the Veendam you'll find yourself repeating yourself a lot, giving up communication with some as a lost cause, and getting at least one incorrect dinner request due to language barriers. For this service, HAL gets quite sneaky and charges you an auto-tip every day on your credit card. Very sneaky...very rude of HAL and totally is contrary to the logic of how tips are supposed to work. Many passengers were very upset when they found these bonus charges on their bill and spent a lot of time complaining in the front desk about them. The shore excursions from HAL are way overpriced. For example Crystal Caves in Bermuda cost less than half of what it does to purchase through HAL. My advice it purchase shore excursions on your own and to do research on them before departing. HAL doesn't provide great information on things to do outside of their limited shore excursion program. Would have been nice to have more practical information from shore excursions such as how to use the Bermuda bus system and providing free bus route maps (difficult to get even on Bermuda). For entertainment this was kind of hit and miss. Some singers just were difficult to listen to and had an awful amateurish 'American Idol' feel to them. Some were quite good (the musicians that had a more clean/classical feel to them were much better). The last show was called encore which was quite good and had very good music selection...unfortunately most shows were not like this. The speaker music on the ship (mostly near lido) was quite awful and constituted noise pollution. It was mostly bang-bang music with an exaggerated syncopated beat...not relaxing vacation music. When returning, obviously most passengers were very concerned about logistics like transportation/flights but this info was very difficult to get. HAL charged outrageous prices for phone service and internet service. For internet service, even if you did pay, the connections were super slow and frequently timed out...the payment timer did not time out which was very dishonest of HAL. This was a huge deal as many on board were very desperate the day we were returning to figure out what was going on once we returned to NY a day early with no idea what HAL would do with us if we could get our flight or even escape Manhattan. Some information was conveyed over the PA but much practical information like the flight boards for the major three airports was not communicated. Big deal as HAL gave us a deadline of 8:00 PM while returning Friday whether we would be getting off the ship Saturday or Sunday...yet you had no idea how flights were doing. Useful information on rental cars/hotels filling up would have been good to know since we didn't know how long we could stay on the ship...should have been very easy to post as a scrolling marque on one of the ships channels. The dates/times that the Veendam gave us frequently changed. From the departure time off of Hamilton to when we could get off the ship. Once HAL realized the hurricane wasn't a big deal, they started kicking people off of the ship Sunday (the 'big' hurricane day) to make room for the next wave of passengers contrary to what they stated earlier. Passengers who had canceled flights could stay until Monday...but they had to have their baggage packed by around 1:00 for room re-assignment. We (100's of us) were then evicted from our rooms and herded into a very small half-moon room for new-rooms. In a very confusing process passengers were assigned new rooms (which frequently already had people in them or arriving shortly thereafter) which took probably an average of six hours to complete. I'm not sure if many people even got new rooms by bed time. Because many of us didn't have convinent access to clean clothes/showers/changing facilities we were told we could go to dinner without abiding by the dress code. But despite this declaration, some were still rejected from dinner for not wearing business clothes and had to eat popcorn in the half-moon room. Earlier in the trip I knew others who had been kicked out as well from the dining room for minor 'dress code violations' and just feel the dining room staff doesn't get it. We were then told we could leave the ship by 7-9:30am on Monday. Good thing I ate breakfast really early as they changed their mind and completely booted us the ship by 7 before I could take a shower and many others probably either didn't get a chance to eat breakfast or had to leave in the middle of their breakfast. Being trapped in NYC Sat/Sun would have been a great time to site-see...but the Veendam didn't let us off the ship to sight-see except for a mandatory customs exercise a brief time window early Saturday. In fact the Veendam frequently didn't even let us go out on the outside decks (best part of the ship) and frequently had the doors tied up and even the crows nest locked up due to 'bad weather'. Not that the crows nest was a usable lounge with its awful cigarette smoke. Contradictory information was relayed concerning baggage. Coming aboard different people told me I had to/did not have to part with my baggage (which wasn't that big) for the staff to carry aboard. Would have been nice to be able to stay with my luggage at all times during embarkation. Many confusing things were conveyed over the PA system and during information meetings about whether you had to put your baggage outside of your door at night. Unless you are disabled, most of prefer to stay with our luggage, so not being told this was an option until late and not telling us that people without 'checked' luggage could get off the ship first was annoying. Like many other reviewers on earlier Veendam cruises, I saw many passengers affected by ineffective AC systems and even another broken elevator incident that trapped an individual between decks and who had to be rescued. As far as information goes...the activity directory frequently told us to just go to the information desk...which everybody did and huge lines/waits resulted. The staff at these desks were not properly informed by the superiors and frequently could not pass meaningful information onto to the (very frequently quite upset) guests which wasn't their fault, but that of their hierarchy. The feedback forms you got to fill out at the end of the cruise were a complete joke and funneled your responses using preset categories that created a incorrect impression of what your opinion was of the cruise. Read Less
Sail Date August 2011
We were unable to get to NYC to cruise because of Irene so we fly to Bermuda and caught the ship there. It would have been a better vacation had we not had rain but we enjoyed Bermuda anyway. The ship arrived on Wednesday and other than ... Read More
We were unable to get to NYC to cruise because of Irene so we fly to Bermuda and caught the ship there. It would have been a better vacation had we not had rain but we enjoyed Bermuda anyway. The ship arrived on Wednesday and other than having to drag bags up the gangway against the flow of departing passengers going on shore the embarkation went smoothly. We had booked a deluxe verandah suite and it was wonderful - the balcony was 4 times the size of previous balconies! Unfortunately there were several times when we could not enjoy it because of the passenger in the cabin below smoking a cigar! The smoke would drift up and we were nauseated by the smell. Apparently the line also allows smoking in the casino. We are shocked that this is still allowed and if it is not changed we will stop cruising on HAL. We thoroughly enjoyed the Indonesian Suite Luncheon that the Indonesian staff hosted. The food incredible and we would like to see some of the dishes on the menu in the future and told the chef that. We were disappointed in the Pinnacle though. The rib eye was not choice or prime beef. It was tough and mealy. The black cod was nicely prepared but too salty. We will not opt to pay extra for meal option again. Overall we like the feel of the HAL ship, especially the smaller ones but we will pay the extra money for Oceania who has a good smoking policy, in the future. Read Less
Sail Date August 2011
This was my first ever cruise so I can't say I had a lot to compare it to but overall this was a great vacation. It was a mother/daughter trip (Daughter is in her late 20's and mother is in her 50's) Embarkation: We ... Read More
This was my first ever cruise so I can't say I had a lot to compare it to but overall this was a great vacation. It was a mother/daughter trip (Daughter is in her late 20's and mother is in her 50's) Embarkation: We decided to spend a day/night in NYC before embarkation day which I highly recommend. We had a jog around central park before we took a cab to the cruise ship terminal. We arrived around 12:30 and stood in line for an hour, I imagine this would be hard on older folks to be standing for so long but we had a cute baby in line in front of us so this kept us entertained while we were waiting. After we boarded we headed to our room even though they said not to; it was ready but our luggage hadn't arrived yet but we were able to unload the boxes of wine and water bottles we brought on board (you are able to bring unlimited) then we went to the Lido for lunch. After lunch we went back to our room and our luggage had arrived and we were able to unpack and sit on our patio while we headed out of NYC. Food: Overall we thought the food was great! The only complaint was that pretty much every soup and sauce was waaay too salty which was surprising since Holland America is typically known for having an "older" clientele most of whom are probably advised by doctors to watch their sodium in-take. So if you aren't a salt lover and/or have to watch sodium intake just stick to the salads and ask for sauces and dressings on the side. We preferred to eat breakfast and dinner in the main Dining room because the few times we were forced to eat at the lido buffet because of timing constraints it just wasn't as enjoyable because its sort of a free for all with lines and sometimes pushing just not as relaxing. If you are going to eat at the dining room be aware that its a slower more relaxed way of eating; we had heard that some people at breakfast walked out because they weren't served fast enough. It can take anywhere from 1-2 hours. Also get the early (5:45pm) seating. We booked this cruise early and were still wait-listed and had to call about 10 times before we got the "right" person to make sure we definitely got early seating. They typically moved things along faster at this hour because they had to get you in and out before the late seating. This really was the best timing because most days we could skip lunch because we knew we were getting an early dinner and this gave us more time in Bermuda and on sea days more time at the spa or pool. Spa: We paid $99 for the week to use the Thermal Suite which was the best $99 I ever spent. They only take in 25 people per cruise and its just a little oasis with heated lounge chairs that would make you fall asleep within 10 mins, a couple of aromatherapy steam rooms, lovely spa showers and a mineral hot tub. We were often the only people in the room but it was never crowded and always super relaxing. Even on the sea days when we hit moderate swells in the way back you couldn't feel the movement as much in those wonderful chairs. I had two spa services; a facial and a hot stone massage. I definitely recommend the hot stone massage; the facial wasn't the best I've ever gotten but still relaxing. I hated the "hard sell" of the products after each session. I think the technicians must get some sort of commission for every product they sell but the products are pretty crappy and filled with chemicals like sodium lauryl sulfate and plus they are expensive and these girls just don't want to take no for an answer. It was annoying to be all relaxed from a nice massage and then stressed out because you are being pressured to buy something you don't want. The spa also had a relaxation room that anyone can use that was always empty and had a nice area for water, juice, tea and fruit that you could grab anytime. Gym: The gym was adequate, the treadmills were old and kinda funky, like the tread bubbled a up a bit so I only used them once because I am a klutz and probably would have tripped and fallen off. I also did a yoga class on one sea day and that was really fun but challenging with the rocking of the boat but you get a better core workout that way. My mom and I also participated in the 5k deck walk for breast cancer which was really nice but really hard because they had a lot of participants at varying exercise levels and they didn't remove the lounge chairs from the promenade so it was sort of too many people in not enough space and the boat was rocking so people were pushing/bumping into each other. Entertainment: We didnt get to every show but we saw three of them. The first show was really good. The 2nd show we saw with just the male singers was blah and the Vegas show was also just blah. The best singer they had came out of the cast of Rent and she was amazing. We also went to the late night show to support our waiter who was playing the guitar in the crew show. Every other week the Indonesian crew do their own show with song and dances from their culture. Stateroom: We had a Verandah Suite which was awesome! We kept our door open on sea days even though they don't like you to do that but it was so nice with the ocean breeze and the sound of waves at night. We also had a great view of Front Street when we were docked in Hamilton. Also we were on deck Nine and you definitely felt the motion a lot less as compared to lower levels. The room was super clean the entire time and there is a TON of storage, I could have packed two more suitcases and still had room. This is a great room for families because there is also a pullout couch. The beds were super comfortable, I think they said they were tempurpedic mattresses. This room was definitely worth the extra money. Our deck had one lounge chair and one regular chair with a little table. A 2nd lounger would have been nice but I think you get that with the deluxe verandah suite. Pools: Overall they were nice, you have to get up early to put a towel down and save your chair. We didn't do this on the first sea day and were out of luck. The 2nd sea day we remembered but only got to sit out for a couple of hours anyway because we ran into some squalls. The main lido pool is kid zone so I didn't want to go into it. We checked out the teen area and was really jealous of their area; they had hammocks and a small pool with a waterfall, it was really nice. Excursions/Bermuda: We didn't do any; they were way overpriced and you can plan exactly the same tours on Bermuda for half the price. Bermuda is really easy to get around between the buses and Taxis. I recommend taking buses everywhere except to/from the popular beaches like Horseshoe Bay or Tobacco bay because you will find them packed to the gills with people and making a million stops. I would spring for a taxi for those locations. Actually you can walk to Tobacco Bay in St Georges up some serious hills. In general Bermuda is very hilly which might make it an unattractive destination for unfit people or people with mobility issues. We actually hiked one day from Kings Wharf to Somersett Village and found the most beautiful cove (Parsons Bay) perfect for snorkeling and there was literally not a single person there. On our last day we found a great beach for kids and actually there were a few nursery schools there that day called Shelly Bay by Hamilton. We also got to the famous Horseshoe Bay but there were a lot of Portuguese man of war in the water that day and the lifeguards were doing their best to collect them out of the water but what scared me away was the one I saw with a 20 foot tentacle. So they aren't like normal jellyfish where you could just swim away if you saw one near you, these little buggers can get yeah from 20 sometimes 40 feet away! If you are worried about little ones stick to the bay side beaches where the water is super shallow and there are no sharks or jellyfish. Overall St Georges is pretty blah, the only thing there is Tobacco Bay so don't waste your time with the town shops or anything else. The tendering is also a hassle, the ship really needed a boat every hr during peak travel times. Overall awesome cruise and we are already planning to take the same cruise next year in May. Read Less
Sail Date July 2010
We booked travel through HAL because of concerns that weather might interfere with travel plans. Flew from Seattle to Wash. DC then on to Rio. When arrived in Rio we were taken to a hotel to wait while the ship was sanitized because of a ... Read More
We booked travel through HAL because of concerns that weather might interfere with travel plans. Flew from Seattle to Wash. DC then on to Rio. When arrived in Rio we were taken to a hotel to wait while the ship was sanitized because of a g/i outbreak on the previous cruise. HAL handled things very well - food and drinks were provided, then an orderly procedure was done to transfer people to the ship. On-board - loved our cabin - what a wonderful way to see Antarctica from your own verandah! Our cabin steward Tri was attentive and efficient! Ports: our favorites -- Montevideo where we walked the old town on a beautiful day, enjoyed the architecture, outdoor market and Mercado del Puerto which now holds restaurants and shops. Puerto Madryn - booked the ship's tour to Peninsula Valdes to see the sea lion colony. Another beautiful day and great experience seeing all those babies! Pt. Stanley - ship's tour of Volunteer Point. What an adventure - 4by4's across the peat bogs to the point where hundreds of King, Gentoo and Magellenic penguins nest. Great picture taking weather for all the penguin pics! Ushuaia - Walked to the Prison Museum, but it didn't open until 10Am and English tour was not until 11:30 so went back to town to check out souvenirs and take pics of beautiful gardens because ship was leaving at 1:00. Punta Arenas - Took Magdalena Island tour. Seas were very choppy and was concerned about the 1 hour ferry ride to the island, but it was very smooth. Penguins were a great sight with their babies in different stages of molting. Touring of Antarctica, icebergs, penguin colonies, and all were spectacular!! We even were treated to snow as we cruised Antarctic waters. It was fun to see crew members throwing snowballs and building snowmen on deck! We had great views of the Chilean glaciers as we traveled Beagle Channel and the Magellan straits. Dining: table for 8 at first assigned dining. Wonderful table mates and great service. Good variety of items to choose from. Lido - we usually ate breakfast and dinner here. Sandwich bar was a favorite. Lines moved quickly and service was good. Even when self-service had to be stopped because of g/i outbreak, things moved smoothly and orderly. Thanks to all the crew members who stepped in to serve at the Lido during this time! Entertainment: We loved the cast of singers! Probably the best we have heard on any HAL cruise! Enjoyed most of the other performers as well. The ice pilot and other lecturers were very interesting. They gave wonderful information about what we would see and where we would go! Enjoyed hearing about the work done at Palmer Station. Extra note: My DH contracted the norovirus about mid-cruise. Thanks to the nurse on-board who made sure he was comfortable and had all he needed during his 2 day quarantine. Also room service and the cleaning team took good care of his needs. Disembarkation: we were late arriving to Valparaiso, and with custom check we were unable to disembark until about 11:00. Once procedure started it went well - very orderly at the gangplank! We had booked an airport transfer and wine tour because our flight was not scheduled until 10PM. The tour was enjoyable with a great lunch and folk dancing entertainment. All in all a wonderful cruise - one we would love to do again! Can't wait for our next HAL cruise! Read Less
Sail Date January 2009
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
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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