We were on the Veendam cruise to Hawaii from San Diego that returned on Feb. 8, 2014. This is our 14th cruise (mostly Holland America and Celebrity, plus 1 Crystal - also 2 Royal Caribbean and a few Princess from our earliest cruises). The last cruise we took was 7 years ago, also on the Veendam (26 days Mediterranean/Baltic), so this review will include the changes I’ve observed since then.
If you are considering this cruise, please note: our cruise ended up having just 4 ports of call, instead of 6 in Hawaii, plus a day in Ensenada. That meant 7 days at sea, 4 port days in Hawaii, followed by 6 days at sea and a day in Ensenada (and since we live in San Diego, we are not too impressed with Ensenada.) We would definitely not have booked this cruise if we knew this was going to happen. Here’s why we just 4 ports in Hawaii: After a day at sea, someone fell down and was injured bad enough that we had to turn around and cruise back to San Diego for 12 hours, until the ship was close enough to land for the coast guard to use a helicopter to take her to a hospital. That put us one day behind, so they had to cancel the 2nd day in Honolulu and rearrange all ports of call. Then, at our last port of call, Maui, the sea was too rough to tender in, so we had to just leave and head back to San Diego. I was glad that the captain wanted to consider the safety of all cruisers first, but was disappointed with only 4 days in Hawaii. HAL did offer all cruisers a 15% credit toward another cruise.
Here is my review of this cruise:
Embarkation and Disembarkation went quickly. The ship was clean and well maintained.
I was very impressed with the crew – they were all hard workers, smiling, and seemed very happy. I could easily find our room attendant during the hours he was cleaning rooms on our floor. During his off hours, if I phoned the front desk, I would get quick results. Service for dinner in the main dining room was also very good – I did not think they seemed “stretched”. Any time I phoned the front desk, they would answer quickly and take care of the issue or request. If I’d go to the front desk, I never had to wait in line because there were always 3 people working. They would address me by name, and be very friendly and helpful.
The food in the dining room, and Lido for breakfast and lunch was very good. The exception was the desserts – pretty bland. I felt like they had not added much sugar or butter. Many times I wished that I had brought some canned frosting, or powdered sugar with me, so I could mix it will butter and sugar from the Lido, and make some frosting, because cakes were dry with almost no icing. If the “almost flourless chocolate cake” is on the menu in the dining room, order it. It was the one really good dessert during the cruise. I liked all of the chilled fruit soups in the dining room, but not the hot soups. One thing I noticed that has changed since 7 years ago, is that many entrees were made with hot/spicy seasonings, like jalapenos and cilantro. I do not like hot/spicy food, so I didn’t try these, but hopefully they were prepared with just a little of these spices. Also, I noticed that the vegetables are now served el dente, which is the popular way to serve them in our local restaurants. However, I prefer them soft – easier to chew. This made me think they are trying to appeal to a younger clientele.
My advice regarding “open seating”: We had “open seating”, for the first time ever. Thanks to reading cruise critic reviews before we left, I knew to phone the front desk for reservations. Since the dining room opened at 5:00 p.m., I made reservations for then because we did not want to wait in line, as many cruise critic reviews said they had to. I soon found out that you could make reservations for the next 3 days. Therefore, each morning, I would phone at 8:00 a.m., and make reservations for dinner for another day. When we got to the main dining room, we discovered there was a very short line on the left, for open dining if you had made a reservation, and a long line on the right for open dining for those who did not make a reservation. Not many people knew you could make reservations. We were seated immediately at a table for 2, which we had requested. My advice for open dining: On the first day, look around the room for your favorite table location, and get the table number, which is on a card. Then, when you phone each day for reservations, ask for that table. After a few days, you’ll automatically get it. We had the same table for the entire cruise (via reservations), therefore out waiter got to know our preferences. For 5:00 p.m. reservations, the soonest you will finish dinner if you order dessert is 6:30 p.m. By the time your table is cleared and ready for the next diners, it is probably 6:45 p.m. So, I don’t see how anyone going to the dining room at 6:00 p.m. expects to get seated immediately – I think it is impossible. They stagger reservations, so some people are seated at 5:00 p.m., and some at 5:15 p.m. For open dining, you’d better go at 5:00/5:15, or 6:45/7:00 p.m.
Breakfast on the Lido had everything you could want. Service was fast. They now serve several different variations of eggs benedict – with ham, or salmon, spinach, mushrooms, etc. The fruit was always fresh. They have a juicer, so you can always get fresh-squeezed orange juice.
I agree – the French fries on the Lido were great. I usually don’t eat them, but couldn’t resist these – like nothing I’d tasted before. The hamburgers by the pool were okay, and I didn’t really like their hot dogs. The pizza was not very good. The entrees for lunch on Lido were better than 7 years ago. Also, one side had Asian entrees as well (really great), and the other side had Italian ones. The sweet potato fries were good. I noticed a big difference in their desserts on Lido: 7 years ago, there was this counter with tiers of whole pies and cakes – really good carrot cakes with lots of frosting, etc. Now the desserts are on a long counter, with ice cream served on each end. They are all on individual plates, very small servings, and really bland and tasteless. They had a good selection of ice creams and sherbets, not very high quality but quick service, considering the lines. I don’t think many people ate the other desserts. Tip: Go to the Explorations Café and request the lemon pound cake – really good and moist.
Each evening, we liked to fill out the room service card for breakfast, requesting just coffee, juice, and baked goods. We place it on our door, and the next morning they promptly delivered it. We enjoy it while we are getting dressed, and reading the 8-page Times newspaper – you can request that they deliver it to your room as well. However, some days, they forgot to deliver it.
I did not smell diesel anywhere on the ship, as another reviewer from last year stated. The air conditioning and heating always worked just fine, but it was never really that hot outside, since Hawaii is around 75-80 degrees F this time of the year. There was some sort of “varnish” smell in a cabin down the hall, one evening.
Our room was very quiet and our window was washed down each day. My husband has a bad back, and felt that the mattress wasn’t firm enough, and should have been replaced, which could not be done. They flipped his mattress over, and then brought a foam topping, which made his side of the bed 4” higher than mine. It was just adequate.
I love their bathtubs they are short and very deep – great for a good soak. But the shower nozzle was the hand-held variety with not much water pressure. We always had enough hot water. One issue we had with the bathroom: By the 3rd day, when I filled the tub up, the water was really yellow and left a yellow crusty rim on the tub. The plumber could not fix it. He said that the bath water is from the same pipe as the faucet in the sink that we drank from. The front desk person was very nice, and said we could bathe in another cabin each morning. However, she showed us 2 cabins - one on another floor, one way down the hall from ours – and when we filled up the tub, the water was also yellow. That meant the problem was probably in the entire ship! Also, during those days, the tap water smelled bad and tasted bad, although the water was much less yellow the following days, and clear a few days. The front desk gladly gave us complimentary liters of bottled water to drink anytime we needed it, which was for many days. I am glad to report that the last morning of our cruise, the water was perfectly clear in the tub, and did not smell when we tasted it from the sink faucet.
There were walkers and scooters on our cruise. However, I never felt that they were hard to maneuver around, or made me wait longer for an elevator. They said the average age on our cruise was 70. I did not mind this, and enjoyed hearing the life stories of many fellow cruisers. As far as Dry Docks, I heard that after the Panama Canal sailing (which started on Feb. 8), they were going into dry dock, but for just 10 days. We were on the Main Deck, Cabin 611. I am glad we picked a cabin right in the middle of the ship (we always do this), as the sea was rough most of the way to Hawaii. I think anyone who had a cabin too far forward or aft might have gotten a little seasick. I liked that we were midway between both elevators. There were a lot of people coughing on the ship, and we both ended up with colds after the cruise.
The Show Lounge: We went the night they were doing a Broadway dance/singing program, but it wasn’t that great. The other evenings, the entertainment sounded mediocre so we didn’t go. I liked the Explorations Lounge in the evening. They had classical music – a pianist and violinist – very good. We enjoyed dancing in the Ocean Lounge – very romantic! The other lounges had very good musicians as well.
It was hard to get one of those wonderful lounge chairs with ottomans, facing the ocean, in the Exploration Café, because people would sit there for so long, and if there was an empty one, someone left their stuff on it to reserve it until they returned.
I like their movie theatre, but I don’t think the movie selection was that great this time. They have 1,000 DVD’s that you can reserve and take to your room, but no explanation of what the movie is about. The TV in our room wasn’t that great of quality, especially the sound. There was a good movie channel, and most days we were able to watch the “Closing Bell” on CNNBC, I believe. The two ESPN channels always were available.
I used to look forward to high tea, but since it was at 3:00, and we ate dinner at 5:00 (since we had “open seating”), there was no point to it. I tried it one day and it was good. I was really looking forward to the Royal Dutch Tea, but the day it was served, there was no special announcement in their program – it was just listed under the time slot, and I neglected to read that part of the program that day.
Compared to 7 years ago, this time, instead of books, many of the seniors were using Kindles, Nooks or IPads. Also, many brought their Macbooks and used them in Crows Nest and other “hot spots”. All the computer classes were for Windows users, and I think HAL should consider some Apple classes as well, perhaps for Ipad apps, and IPhoto or IMovie (note: I use a MacBook Pro).
We had previously booked a 7-day Mexican Riviera round-trip cruise out of San Diego, but right before our money was due, I checked, and this Hawaiian cruise was available for $100 per day ($3800 for both of us total, for 18 days), so we changed it for this one – so it was a very good value for an outside cabin.
One of the 4 elevators on the dining room side of the ship was out of order the entire cruise. The part needed was on order. We had to wait a little longer for an elevator, but it wasn’t too bad.
In conclusion, I like the Veendam for it’s smaller size and have never been on a megaship. I like the size of this ship - it's so easy to get around without a lot of walking. No public rooms were huge - so they felt kind of intimate. My favorite cruise line is Holland America because: it is the only one with a wrap-around teakwood deck; I like their library and it has ocean views; and I like the Crow’s Next Lounge and Explorations Café. I think it is a good value. Their food is as good as Celebrity’s, and is better than the food on other cruise lines in their price category. I love Crystal, but can take two cruises on Holland America for the price of one Crystal cruise. We’ve never been on the luxury lines.