Excellent embarkation, and oddly, they seem to have dispensed with the silly health declaration. The nature of the muster drill has changed. One must not leave the cabin at the first alarm, but wait for the third or be told off by Miss Trunchbull, who now works for HAL. Shades of Costa Concordia telling the English speakers to jolly well stay in their cabins as the ship went down is what this brought to mind for me, but ‘whatever’. We booked this one knowing that the lanais would mean very few non - reserved deck chairs on the walking deck. Initially we were pleased to see that there were plenty of deck chairs but then we noticed that they were almost all where the steel side went up to the railing, so no sea view. As the cruise went on, our fellow cruisers took to “reserving” the very few good loungers with towels. This is not the cruise for anyone who loves sitting on the boat deck. HAL also removed the cushions every night at 5:30! (Nobody on the cruise was quite THAT old.) We note that some passengers seem to have adopted a “Manifest Destiny” attitude on the walking deck, and will bark out “Coming through!” Or an imperative “Excuse me!” (As opposed to a polite one) and then expect you to clear the entire path for them instead of merely passing by. There were a few odd ducks on this cruise, but more on that later. Food in the MDR was disappointing compared to previous HAL cruises, as well as every other line, except MSC. The portions are beginning to be skimpy, even for a small adult. This is not really a problem, you just order more courses. The real problem was the menus. The regional menus were invariably Cuban. This cruise didn’t even have Cuba as a stop and Cuban food is famous, in Canada, at least, for not being very good. (My apologies to any genuine Cubans, who doubtless know where to get the good stuff.) The addition of paid menu items drastically reduced the variety offered without extra charge. Service in the MDR was spotty and slow until we finally met Agus and his sidekick Bonbon. The good news about food on this cruise is that the Lido had some much better food than the MDR. The salad bar was better than any salad ever seen in the MDR and by getting a slice of meat off the joint, you can get just what you want. The Asian is generally good, and the pizza and Dive In are good, too. Breakfast was always excellent, but you must specially ask, and wait three minutes, if you want a hot, crisp waffle. (You DO!!). The baked goods at breakfast were good except for the croissants. Drink service, at least for the non alcoholic choices, was spotty, but we found that staffers didn’t mind in the least if you just poured your own when they left their pitchers at their stations. Desserts were generally disappointing on Veendam, including, alas, the macaroons in the Library which we enjoyed vastly on Noordam last year. (A pitiful collection of books, as well. Definitely bring lots of your own reading material.) For all that, the Explorer’s Lounge in the library is your best chance for a decent, small, dessert. Watermelon was just slightly rotten from the start to the finish of the cruise. In a strange way, this is almost impressive. On a happier note, the milk was fresh right to the end, and milk is often not worth drinking after the first week or so. Others have complained about AC problems on Veendam; ours was fine. Plumbing, often HAL’s Achille’s heel, generally worked, though there were a few leaks in the atrium and once walking past a cabin with an open door, we heard a staffer say, “that is NOT normal!” .......So naturally we looked in ...... to see water pouring from the ceiling. As reviewers have reported for some months past, there were only five of eight elevators working, which was sometimes very inconvenient. Midway through the cruise a little miracle happened and a sixth elevator came back to life. This made for four at the rear and still just two at the front. Those who don’t like stairs might do well to choose the aft of the ship till this is fixed. There are some wonderful things about these old ships that old age doesn’t damage (and the Veendam is definitely due for either a massive refit or a transfer to a lesser line). The laundry rooms are a boon to those who travel light, even when all the machines don’t work. They even provide free detergent. The old fashioned walk around deck is a glorious way to get exercise. The cabins have massive amounts of storage. On HAL everyone gets a bath tub in outside, balcony and suites cabins, which is also wonderful. There is a vague sort of dignity to Veendam that is rather loveable. There are fundamentally no hard sells. The photographer was never once a pest, nor was the cruise director annoying. They didn’t seem desperate to close down dining venues on port days. They even offered a pretty decent tea (scones and jam were both blueberry for some reason, and cream was skimpy and not clotted). Nevertheless service was good in the MDR at tea time and they didn’t try to herd you into a tiny corner of the room as some ships do, even letting you choose your own table, which we appreciated. One lovely thing about this cruise was the utter and complete absence of terrible bands playing on the pool deck. Music of any sort was rare in public areas, though they did have a pianist in the bars sometimes, and some noisy music on the back deck of the Lido. They also don’t subject you to the choice of boiling under a duvet or freezing without one, opting for the old fashioned luxury of triple sheets. Very civilized. Possibly the walls are paper thin in the cabins, but I think it much more likely that the old dude travelling solo in the next cabin was either terribly inconsiderate blasting his tv for hours, or (let’s be more charitable) he may have been deaf. Another unusual cruiser was the fellow who turned down a table at a breakfast where tables were rare, pointing at the ceiling. Sure enough, there really was a camera up there, but I can’t imagine it mattering (what does one DO at breakfast in public that couldn’t be caught on camera? Perhaps I lack imagination.) More to the point, who the heck checks out their environment that carefully on vacation? Spies? Criminals on the run? The fellow who wore the Betty Boop bandana tied around his head for formal night (and a different bandana under a giant top hat with a very wide red sash on the second formal night) did rather catch the eye. Recovering from brain surgery? Winning a bet? Or just giving the rest of us a chuckle? May he recover fully, or win his bet as the case may be, and keep making formal nights fun. Some things about the Veendam itself are odd. The cabin numbering system on Veendam is chaotic, but this is more than made up for by the fact that the beds and pillows are both pretty comfortable, which is also a little odd for cruises in general. For some unknown reason, they sprinkle cinnamon on the cottage cheese in the Lido. This is merely an eccentricity, but I still wish they wouldn’t. The Crows’ Nest is strangely democratic. There are just a few recliners facing the front, and they are off to one side, but there is a padded bench all the way along the front windows. So everyone gets a window seat, though few get the view. We missed Half Moon Cay, nothing strange about that, we find that about half the time, the waves are “too high” to tender. (Makes you wonder how those lifeboat tenders would fare in a bad storm at sea, doesn’t it?) The part I liked about this time is that the captain actually added the real reason, which was that the supplies and staff hadn’t gotten there. On the second formal night, when they finally produced a first rate dinner in the MDR, one steak seemed to have been boiled, which is odd as steak is usually the last thing that Cruise dining rooms would ever go wrong on. Oh, well, the flourless chocolate cake was even better than what we make at home (many things on this cruise were not) and they had added berries, which idea we liked enough that we will copy it. There wasn’t anything seriously wrong with this cruise, but not a lot was terribly good. The ship itself and the service have both just come down far enough for us to think that we will definitely revert to Celebrity, our other favourite, for our next cruise.

A mildly unusual three and half star cruise on a tired ship

Veendam Cruise Review by When and How

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Trip Details
  • Sail Date: January 2019
  • Destination: Cuba
  • Cabin Type: Large Ocean-View Stateroom
Excellent embarkation, and oddly, they seem to have dispensed with the silly health declaration. The nature of the muster drill has changed. One must not leave the cabin at the first alarm, but wait for the third or be told off by Miss Trunchbull, who now works for HAL. Shades of Costa Concordia telling the English speakers to jolly well stay in their cabins as the ship went down is what this brought to mind for me, but ‘whatever’.

We booked this one knowing that the lanais would mean very few non - reserved deck chairs on the walking deck. Initially we were pleased to see that there were plenty of deck chairs but then we noticed that they were almost all where the steel side went up to the railing, so no sea view. As the cruise went on, our fellow cruisers took to “reserving” the very few good loungers with towels. This is not the cruise for anyone who loves sitting on the boat deck. HAL also removed the cushions every night at 5:30! (Nobody on the cruise was quite THAT old.) We note that some passengers seem to have adopted a “Manifest Destiny” attitude on the walking deck, and will bark out “Coming through!” Or an imperative “Excuse me!” (As opposed to a polite one) and then expect you to clear the entire path for them instead of merely passing by. There were a few odd ducks on this cruise, but more on that later.

Food in the MDR was disappointing compared to previous HAL cruises, as well as every other line, except MSC. The portions are beginning to be skimpy, even for a small adult.

This is not really a problem, you just order more courses. The real problem was the menus. The regional menus were invariably Cuban. This cruise didn’t even have Cuba as a stop and Cuban food is famous, in Canada, at least, for not being very good. (My apologies to any genuine Cubans, who doubtless know where to get the good stuff.) The addition of paid menu items drastically reduced the variety offered without extra charge. Service in the MDR was spotty and slow until we finally met Agus and his sidekick Bonbon.

The good news about food on this cruise is that the Lido had some much better food than the MDR. The salad bar was better than any salad ever seen in the MDR and by getting a slice of meat off the joint, you can get just what you want. The Asian is generally good, and the pizza and Dive In are good, too. Breakfast was always excellent, but you must specially ask, and wait three minutes, if you want a hot, crisp waffle. (You DO!!). The baked goods at breakfast were good except for the croissants. Drink service, at least for the non alcoholic choices, was spotty, but we found that staffers didn’t mind in the least if you just poured your own when they left their pitchers at their stations. Desserts were generally disappointing on Veendam, including, alas, the macaroons in the Library which we enjoyed vastly on Noordam last year. (A pitiful collection of books, as well. Definitely bring lots of your own reading material.) For all that, the Explorer’s Lounge in the library is your best chance for a decent, small, dessert. Watermelon was just slightly rotten from the start to the finish of the cruise. In a strange way, this is almost impressive. On a happier note, the milk was fresh right to the end, and milk is often not worth drinking after the first week or so.

Others have complained about AC problems on Veendam; ours was fine. Plumbing, often HAL’s Achille’s heel, generally worked, though there were a few leaks in the atrium and once walking past a cabin with an open door, we heard a staffer say, “that is NOT normal!” .......So naturally we looked in ...... to see water pouring from the ceiling. As reviewers have reported for some months past, there were only five of eight elevators working, which was sometimes very inconvenient. Midway through the cruise a little miracle happened and a sixth elevator came back to life. This made for four at the rear and still just two at the front. Those who don’t like stairs might do well to choose the aft of the ship till this is fixed.

There are some wonderful things about these old ships that old age doesn’t damage (and the Veendam is definitely due for either a massive refit or a transfer to a lesser line). The laundry rooms are a boon to those who travel light, even when all the machines don’t work. They even provide free detergent. The old fashioned walk around deck is a glorious way to get exercise. The cabins have massive amounts of storage. On HAL everyone gets a bath tub in outside, balcony and suites cabins, which is also wonderful.

There is a vague sort of dignity to Veendam that is rather loveable. There are fundamentally no hard sells. The photographer was never once a pest, nor was the cruise director annoying. They didn’t seem desperate to close down dining venues on port days. They even offered a pretty decent tea (scones and jam were both blueberry for some reason, and cream was skimpy and not clotted). Nevertheless service was good in the MDR at tea time and they didn’t try to herd you into a tiny corner of the room as some ships do, even letting you choose your own table, which we appreciated. One lovely thing about this cruise was the utter and complete absence of terrible bands playing on the pool deck. Music of any sort was rare in public areas, though they did have a pianist in the bars sometimes, and some noisy music on the back deck of the Lido. They also don’t subject you to the choice of boiling under a duvet or freezing without one, opting for the old fashioned luxury of triple sheets. Very civilized.

Possibly the walls are paper thin in the cabins, but I think it much more likely that the old dude travelling solo in the next cabin was either terribly inconsiderate blasting his tv for hours, or (let’s be more charitable) he may have been deaf. Another unusual cruiser was the fellow who turned down a table at a breakfast where tables were rare, pointing at the ceiling. Sure enough, there really was a camera up there, but I can’t imagine it mattering (what does one DO at breakfast in public that couldn’t be caught on camera? Perhaps I lack imagination.) More to the point, who the heck checks out their environment that carefully on vacation? Spies? Criminals on the run? The fellow who wore the Betty Boop bandana tied around his head for formal night (and a different bandana under a giant top hat with a very wide red sash on the second formal night) did rather catch the eye. Recovering from brain surgery? Winning a bet? Or just giving the rest of us a chuckle? May he recover fully, or win his bet as the case may be, and keep making formal nights fun.

Some things about the Veendam itself are odd. The cabin numbering system on Veendam is chaotic, but this is more than made up for by the fact that the beds and pillows are both pretty comfortable, which is also a little odd for cruises in general. For some unknown reason, they sprinkle cinnamon on the cottage cheese in the Lido. This is merely an eccentricity, but I still wish they wouldn’t. The Crows’ Nest is strangely democratic. There are just a few recliners facing the front, and they are off to one side, but there is a padded bench all the way along the front windows. So everyone gets a window seat, though few get the view. We missed Half Moon Cay, nothing strange about that, we find that about half the time, the waves are “too high” to tender. (Makes you wonder how those lifeboat tenders would fare in a bad storm at sea, doesn’t it?) The part I liked about this time is that the captain actually added the real reason, which was that the supplies and staff hadn’t gotten there. On the second formal night, when they finally produced a first rate dinner in the MDR, one steak seemed to have been boiled, which is odd as steak is usually the last thing that Cruise dining rooms would ever go wrong on. Oh, well, the flourless chocolate cake was even better than what we make at home (many things on this cruise were not) and they had added berries, which idea we liked enough that we will copy it.

There wasn’t anything seriously wrong with this cruise, but not a lot was terribly good. The ship itself and the service have both just come down far enough for us to think that we will definitely revert to Celebrity, our other favourite, for our next cruise.
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Cabin Review

Large Ocean-View Stateroom
Cabin D
I don’t remember the room number or exact category. It was an outside. The toilet had a black ring around it that looked like dirt or mold, but was just old age, I think. The tub had black marks that were not dirt, just chips. You operate the tub plug by turning the cover for the overflow. Tucked inside the excursion catalogue on the desk, there are USEFUL maps of all the ports, not those silly maps that just show the ship at some unknown location next to a Diamonds International. A nice touch. There are more drawers and closets than you could use, about twice what the newer ships offer. Drawers under beds, too. No fridge, but they actually fill the ice buckets, so useful for carrying really cold water ashore in hot ports. A tiny, blurry tv, but they replaced it with a tiny brand new one. You can order videos (free) to watch on the DVD. Bring a clothes pin to keep curtains closed if you like to sleep past dawn. There is no nightlight. Put a bathmat along the crack at the bottom of the door if you like to sleep in the dark. The bathroom door has the nice magnetic catch to keep it open at night and there is a clothes line in the tub. All very functional.
Lower Promenade Deck Inside Cabins, Outside Cabins