The Frans Hals Theater is located at the front of Deck 4, with balcony seating on Deck 5. Lower-level seating is in armchairs and banquettes, with cocktail tables, while balcony seating is theater-style. Decor is in warm reds, oranges and rust. It's home to nightly live shows, at 7 and 10 p.m., as well as enrichment and port lectures, bingo and, in the case of our Asian cruise, tai chi and chi gong classes during the day.
Live evening shows featured four singers and six dancers, and varied from a production that focused on classical music to an international dance show to U.K. pop to a rather odd dreamscape called "Droom." The dancers were excellent, and so were most of the singers. On other nights, a competent comedic magician, string duo, solo crooner, concert pianist, flutist and an embarrassingly bad comedy pair entertained. One night was reserved for "Frozen Planet Live," a BBC nature video production, accompanied by a group of live musicians. And we can't forget the perennial Holland America Line favorite -- the once-per-cruise crew show, with folkloric presentations from the native countries of these hardworking individuals.
We thought the port lectures, delivered by the onboard Location Guide, were excellent. He had plenty of tips and insights for independent travelers, including top sights and explanations of local transportation systems -- particularly important on our Asian itinerary. The guest enrichment lecturer, who spoke about Chinese history, drew standing-room only audiences with his excellent presentations.
Beginning in October 2017, the new Explorations Central (EXC) program will be in place on Volendam, including guide talks about local customs; encounters with local cultural representatives who come onboard to offer demonstrations and information on etiquette, language, food and other cultural aspects; and a dedicated EXC stateroom TV channel featuring destination documentaries.
Daytime activities include trivia contests, bingo and art auctions with raffles and giveaways. Once during each cruise, there is a galley tour and a backstage tour of the theater, which includes a chat with the cast. Both are fun and fascinating. Meet-ups for checker and Scrabble players, Ping-Pong aficionados and shuffleboard mavens are announced in the daily bulletin. And, of course, there are the usual "lectures" and pamper parties from spa and shop personnel.
On sea days, there is also a daily free 45-minute live cooking demonstration by the America's Test Kitchen host, who cooks two themed dishes (themes include salmon, chocolate, chilies, meatless meals and Italian flavors) and provides great tips about techniques and ingredients. High-quality color recipe cards are free with each session. The same host offers a hands-on workshop for eight participants about once a week ($39, except for 5-star Mariners). We took part in both types of America's Test Kitchen events, and thought the program was excellent.
In partnership with Microsoft, the Digital Workshop offers free, 50-minute programs on all things tech. Topics include Skype, digital cameras and how to edit photos; some sessions focus on questions and answers.
This isn't the sort of ship for glow parties -- instead you'll find an activity like a nightly movie, screened in the 125-seat Wajang Theater. On our cruise, a Location Host offered evening cultural lectures, including the history of Japanese manga, Chinese customs, dim sum and ramen. Holland America is experimenting with adding a second location expert; his presence was definitely helpful on our itinerary.
The casino offers more than 60 slots, Texas Hold'em and 3-card poker tables, roulette, lotto and five blackjack tables. Tournaments include slots and Texas Hold'em.
Volendam Bars and Lounges
The bar and lounge scene is fairly mellow on Volendam, with choices to fit your tastes, whether you like to peacefully sip a martini, listen to a combo or hit the dance floor. Don't expect techno raves from this crowd!
Crow's Nest (Deck 9, forward): Perched high atop the ship, with great views through its arc of floor-to-ceiling windows, this is the ship's largest lounge. One side has a seating area with tables and chairs for conversations or playing games. The forward-facing windows are lined with armchairs for those who want to watch the ship's progress. And the starboard side has a large dance floor with a bandstand and big-screen TV. In the center of it all is the round bar. Decor is in shades of purple, blue and orange. The house band or DJ entertains here in the evening, but there are also evening trivia contests, too.
Lido Bar (Deck 8, midship): This is the go-to spot for lido loungers, and also serves Lido Market customers who bring their food out to the deck. Self-serve beverage stations also offer complementary pitchers of water, lemonade and iced tea.
Sea View Bar (Deck 8, aft): This small bar serves the outside pool and fleet of loungers at the back of the ship. It's only open when the pool area is active.
Ocean Bar (Deck 5, forward): A lively spot for pre-dinner cocktails, this bar features a trio that entertains from early evening until after-dinner hours. Comfy club chairs and tables surround a small dance floor. Floor-to-ceiling windows make this a popular daytime hangout, too.
Mix (Deck 5, midship): This eclectic trio of bars is located next to the casino. The sports bar is the place to go if you're looking to tip a microbrew and watch some action. On our cruise, March Madness finals drew an enthusiastic audience. The plush martini bar offers nearly 20 different concoctions, as well as a flight. The Champagne bar, located somewhat incongruously next to the piano bar, serves wines by the glass or bottle. In the evenings, the piano bar might host a sing-along and in the daytime there could be a martini tasting. A row of low tables and cushy gray velvet armchairs along the window side of this bar is nearly always occupied by readers, ocean-gazers and people-watchers; they're the perfect spot to do all three.
Explorations Cafe (Deck 5, aft): One of our favorite spots on Volendam, this lounge holds the ship's large library, and offers jigsaw puzzles, board games and computer access. The leather lounge chairs with footstools are the perfect place to relax and watch the world float by. Or curl up in a leather club chair with a good book and a cappuccino from the espresso bar. Something about the place really does make you feel like you're in a private club for explorers, as you page through a coffee-table book plotting your next adventure.
Explorer's Lounge (Deck 5, aft): This lounge with orange tub chairs arrayed around low tables seems to have less personality than the others onboard -- though the larger, window-side armchairs are popular during the daytime. It serves wine, cocktails and Champagne, and has piano entertainment in the evening.
Neptune Lounge (Deck 7, midship): Available only to Neptune and Pinnacle suite denizens, this small lounge offers a living-room style seating area, with big-screen TV, library and refreshments. An array of snacks and hors d'oeuvres is served throughout the day, and an honor bar is available. One of the best perks is the onsite concierge, who can make reservations and ensure you'll never have to stand in line at the reception desk.
Volendam Outside Recreation
The rectangular main pool (open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.) and its leaping dolphin sculpture are located on the Lido Deck (Deck 8), midship. Next to it are two octagonal hot tubs (open 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.). Double rows of loungers face the pool, while tables and chairs are tucked under the Deck 9 overhang. The Lido's glass roof opens to the sky on warm days. (Beware, the noise when it starts sliding open will make you jump.)
The oval Sea View pool (open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.), located on a broad outdoor swath of the same deck, aft, is the spot for sun-worshippers. It's accompanied by a large contingent of loungers, as well as tables with wicker chairs. One section of tables, protected from the elements, is designated for smokers. The pool itself is surrounded by shallow water and a wooden bench, for those who might like to sit with their feet in the water.
Volendam's recreation options are fairly basic. On the Sports Deck (Deck 9, aft) you'll find a practice basketball court on one side and a reduced-size tennis court on the other. Forward are four shuffleboard courts. In the shaded area of the Lido Deck, two Ping-Pong tables got a lot of use on our cruise.
In addition to the numerous loungers to be found around the pools, there are also loungers on Deck 9, where the scene is quieter. When the weather warrants, additional loungers are set up on Deck 10, forward, at the front of the ship. Despite a glass windbreak, breezes can be strong up there, though.
Avid bridge players can be found in the ship's Hudson Room (Deck 5, midship), where there are 10 tables. This room also hosts daily Catholic mass, Jewish Sabbath Eve services and Sunday interdenominational religious services. Reception and the shore excursions desk are located on Deck 4, midship, as is the photo gallery and art auction gallery. The ship's shopping area, on Deck 5, midship, hosts boutiques selling Holland America Line logo items, ranging from Teddy bears to T-shirts to tote bags, a small selection of Joseph Ribkoff resort wear, makeup and perfume, high-end jewelry and watches, cigarettes and alcohol, a nice selection of drugstore sundries, and costume jewelry. An area between the Explorer's Cafe and Explorations Lounge hosts two desks where you can inquire about and book future cruises.
Wi-Fi for purchase by the minute ($.75) or in multi-minute packages ($55 for 100 minutes; $100 for 250 minutes; $175 for 500 minutes; $250 for 1,000 minutes) is available throughout the ship, and was generally reliable, though sometimes slow. However we found it expensive, compared to the pricing on some other lines. You can also connect, using your purchased minutes, via 12 computers (including one set up for wheelchair users) in the Explorations Cafe. Thanks to a partnership with The New York Times, you can access the newspaper's website for free.
We were particularly pleased with the easy-to-navigate, no-fee portion of the ship's Wi-Fi service, which included the daily schedule and the opportunity to create our own daily itinerary, choosing from the available activities. You can also check your ship's account, investigate shore excursion options and explore onboard venues.