Fresh flowers and smiling faces greeted us as we embarked on our Volendam journey. After transferring from our Hotel, the Pier 66, we were ushered into the embarkation area where the check in process is done in alphabetical groups. We were given our ID card, which also serves as a room key, and a shipboard credit card. After a wait of approximately 1/2 hour, our group was called, and we boarded the Volendam. We put on our sunglasses, and paused for the usual picture taking. Heres a hint....Wear sunglasses, if any one blinks you will never know. As we entered the ship, a steward was waiting to escort us to our cabin.
Our cabin was a Cat. A mini suite. There was more than enough storage, and we tend to overpack. The cabin itself seemed a little crowded, consisting of a king-size bed, a sofa, table, and chair. Also a mini bar which we emptied as we had brought along our own soda, and beer. Hint #2...If you bring along electrical things, bring a plug strip. The only plug ins in the cabin were for the TV and VCR. There is a 220 plug, and a European 110 plug, so I suppose an adapter would work also. In questioning the Hotel Manager on why there were no 110 plugs, he kept insisting that they were right there under the mirror. In exasperation, he finally came to the cabin to show me where they were. Hmmm, not under the mirror, not under the desk, not behind the curtain, or in the bathroom either. Next person to arrive was the head of housekeeping, who explained to the Hotel Manager that, yes this was a problem, and converters were ordered. He said the ship was built in Italy, and this must be an Italian thing.
The verandah was nice sized with a lounge, table and chair, and still room to maneuver. Room service for breakfast was brought by our cabin steward. who we found out had been with HAL 11 years.
All of the wait crew, cabin stewards, dining room waiters, bar waiters, etc., are either from the Philippines, or Indonesia. From what I was able to find out, this is a tradition with Holland America, and has to do with the Dutch heritage of the islands.
Internet Cafe. In the back corner of the library, you will find the Internet Cafe. Cost for use is 75 cents per minute with a 5 minute minimum each use. There was not a great deal of activity there, but found the staff very helpful. Most people use the cafe to check e-mail, and stocks, I was told. If you are an AOL member, you can access anything you can from home on your AOL account. If not an AOL member, and you wish to send e-mail, there is a $4.95 charge per e-mail in addition to the 75 cents per minute.
Age of cruisers. HAL tends to attract an older age group, however there is a Club HAL available for kids. We saw maybe a dozen kids on board, but due to length of cruise and time of year, this was not unexpected. Out of 1400 cruisers, 900 were repeaters with HAL. At the repeaters party, the prize went to a lady who had over 700 days in 67 cruises logged with HAL.
Dining. The dining room is on two levels, and our table was on the balcony level. We especially liked the twinkling ceiling, and the use of lots of windows. As we had early seating, we watched several sunsets while having dinner. We found the food to be exceptional on this cruise. However, I know that this is a personal opinion, and one that brings up much debate. We opted to eat at the Marco Polo. the alternative dining room, one night, and did the Lido BBQ another night. On SuperBowl Sunday, we joined in the SuperBowl party in the Sports Lounge. To watch the Rams win, we passed up formal dinner, for the tailgate party of burgers and hotdogs. I just couldnt figure out how to make my Rams T-shirt look formal. Lido lunch on one of the seadays was grilled lobster and shrimp by the pool. The inside Lido buffet breakfast and lunch were also very good. Lunches had a wide variety of choices, and we quickly learned that both buffet lines did not necessarily contain the same things. Dessert areas were only on one side. The area seemed to be well spread out, and there were stewards there to help those that needed to have a tray carried. Another nice touch was a small menu that was placed on your tray at the beginning of the line. Always available for lunch were burgers, and hotdogs, and fries. Midnight buffets were held every night with a different country cuisine. The food was generally good, but they were not well attended, possibly due to the age group on board.
Fun and Games. Edwin Rojas was the Cruise Director, and created an energetic atmosphere. There were lots of activities during the sea days to choose including horse racing, seaquest, bingo, trivia, etc. And you can even still attend the Art Auction. We found the casino to be more spacious than most. Several new fun slot machines. One that was recommended to us, and we had a lot of fun playing was called Jackpot party. There are two pool areas, one with a retractable canopy. We never had trouble finding chairs at the pool, but did notice some that had personal items that were never occupied by a real live person. 50s and 60s night, and Country-Western night were both well attended in the Crows Nest Lounge.
Entertainment. I cannot comment a lot on this from personal experience. I did sneak in for parts of several shows, and listened to the comments of others. Pamela Blake, a cabaret singer, was very good. The Barry Manilow Copacabana show also was well received. And if you have ever been to Vegas, the Vegas style show was right on the mark with great costuming, and performances. The crew show gave a great insight to some of the customs and traditions of their homelands.
Ports. St. Kitts, Martinique, Dominica, Trinidad, St. Thomas, and Half Moon Cay.
St. Kitts. We did a private tour from the dock and went to Caribbe Batik Studio, Brimstone Hill, the downtown area, and Turtle Beach.
Martinique. We spent maybe an hour in town shopping, and back to the ship.
Trinidad. Part of our group did a tour and visited the monastery, where they reported that the view was magnificent.
Dominica. Trafalgar Falls and the Emerald pool are highlights here, but be prepared for some walking.
St. Thomas. What is there to say about St. Thomas? Our ship docked right at Havensight, and we walked there for some marathon shopping. If beaches are your thing, then St. Johns is just a ferry ride away.
HalfMoon Cay. Holland Americas private island is one of my personal favorites. White beach and gorgeous water. There is a small shopping area set up with Half Moon Cay souvenirs, and a pavilion area where noon time BBQ is served. From parasailing to vegging out on the beach, there is a wide variety of activities. Lounges, beach chairs, and umbrellas are plentiful, and there is also some shaded area. We tried snorkeling here for the first time, and I think we are hooked. After swallowing half the ocean on my first two attempts, I soon learned to keep my mouth shut while trying to breathe. It is truly amazing what is just below the surface that you cannot see.
The ship itself. Our cabin was midship right beside the elevators on level 6, the Verandah Deck. We found this to be a great location with easy access to casino, dining room, or the lido. There were fresh flowers everywhere, in the lobbies, on the tables, in the cabins, in lots of nooks and crannies. They add a special touch. I never quite resolved in my mind the color schemes used. At times there seemed to be too many colors in one area, such as in the Frans Hal Lounge. There is a movie theater on board, with fresh popcorn, and fairly current movies. Also our cabin had a video. The library is good sized and had a wide variety of books, and games. There is a wide variety of lounges, from the piano bar to the sports lounge to the Crows Nest. We frequented the sports lounge and the Ocean Bar, and I'm still amazed that after one time, the waiters greet you by name the next time they see you.
About us. We are in our mid 50s, and traveled with my brother and his wife, late 40s, and my Aunt and Mother, mid 80s. Cruising is still the best way we have found for a varied age group to do their own thing, and yet spend time together, too. This was our second time on HAL, and enjoyed this cruise even more than the first one.