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.
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.
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.
The Greenhouse Spa, on Deck 8, is operated by Steiner and offers an array of pampering treatments (with seven treatment rooms) and salon services at prices comparable to other spas, both at sea and on land. Elemis products (the same line as cabin toiletries) are featured. Facials and massages start at $119, while a Thai herbal poultice massage ($195) or a longer Aroma Spa Seaweed Massage ($259) will cost you more. Manicures (from $29), pedicures (from $45) and hair care (from $29) are available in the salon. Special services for men include shaves (from $45), a facial ($119), MANicure ($29) and beard trim-up ($15). Waxing and teeth-whitening are offered for both sexes. As is the case with most shipboard spas, be on the lookout for daily specials, sampler combos and shore day deals.
Access to the spa's thermal suite costs $40 for a day pass -- or you can add it to any treatment for $20. It includes heated ceramic loungers; a heated, mineralized hydropool; and two steam rooms.
We thoroughly enjoyed our treatment, as did every other passenger we spoke with. Just remember, through your blissful daze, that a 15 percent tip is automatically added to all services.
Volendam passengers on a strict exercise regimen will be hard-put to offer excuses if they allow their routine to lapse while onboard. Located forward on Lido Deck (Deck 8) is the large and well-equipped gym, with a wide range of equipment including Cybex weight machines, free weights, exercise balls, seven treadmills, four stationary bikes, seven bikes for spin classes, five ellipticals and two rowing machines, which can be used while watching one of the flat-screen TVs or while gazing through the wall of windows at the unfolding scenery from the bow. An aerobics section is also included in the gym, featuring daily classes; Pilates, yoga and spin instruction are available for $12 per class. Free classes are also held here and in the Crow's Nest lounge. Examples include "morning stretch," "fab abs" and "total body conditioning." Athletic trainers are on hand to provide professional health consultations and screenings for a fee. The fitness center is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and is restricted to passengers 16 and over. An adult must accompany teens 16 to 18 years old.
There is a small jogging circuit on the Sports Deck (12 laps equal 1 mile) and the Lower Promenade Deck is popular for walking laps (3.5 laps equal 1 mile).
Although some of Volendam's longer and more exotic itineraries may not be for families with children, summertime Alaska cruises can be popular with families. And, while you might think that the ship's old-school style wouldn't welcome youngsters, that's not exactly the case. While Volendam is a far cry from a Disney ship, children over 6 months of age are welcome aboard. Connecting cabins are plentiful, as are triples and quads. Special kids' meals are available (even from room service) and, by advance request (before sailing) through the Ship Services Department, you can arrange for commercial baby food, diapers and refrigerators (for a fee). High chairs, booster seats and cribs are available at no charge.
Club HAL operates separate, all-day programs for kids and tweens on sea days, with breaks for meals. On port days, programs operate for kids ages 3 to 12 -- but kids must be signed up the day before. A program with the next day's events is delivered nightly to every cabin with a child.
Group babysitting services are available from 10 p.m. until midnight for registered children ages 3 to 12 who are participating in Club HAL. The cost is $5 per hour, per child.
Separate from Club HAL, limited daytime babysitting for children under age 5 can be arranged on sea days, at a rate of $10 per hour for the first child and $7 per hour for each additional child.
Note that children must be potty-trained to use the pools and all kids under age 16 must be supervised by an adult at all times when using a pool or hot tub.
The Club HAL space for kids ages 3 to 7 consists of a creative playroom, where paintbrushes serve as pillars, enormous pencils adorn the wall, a paint bucket is a play area and a huge tape dispenser serves as a slide. Age-appropriate activities take place at art tables and movies play on a big-screen TV. Activities include kids' Olympics, candy bar bingo, arts and crafts, dance parties, karaoke, Xbox tournaments, pajama parties and storytelling.
The space for tweens, ages 8 to 12, features video games, air hockey, foosball, Kinect for Xbox 360, and large LED screens for gaming and movies. They also can enjoy dance parties, deck sports, karaoke and Xbox tournaments.
Through age 12, children must be signed in and out of Club HAL by a parent or guardian.
Volendam's stylish teen hangout (for ages 13 to 17) is called The Loft. Designed to resemble a New York artist's loft, this lounge offers an adult-free zone where teens can enjoy music, games, movies and simply get away from the rest of the ship, high up on Deck 9. Activities include Just Dance (for Xbox), karaoke, video gaming, volleyball, a steel drum class and a mocktail workshop. Teens also have their own outdoor spot, called The Oasis, on Deck 10, decorated with faux volcanoes and palm trees, as well as loungers and small alcoves with tables and chairs for socializing. This area is accessed from a spiral staircase in The Loft, one deck below.