11 Sydney (Australia) to Australia & New Zealand Holland America Volendam Cruise Reviews

We have just returned from a 34 night Circumnavigation Cruise of Australia. We had a wonderful time after being a little unsure how we would survive a 34 night cruise. Embarkation in Sydney went without a hitch and we were aboard within ... Read More
We have just returned from a 34 night Circumnavigation Cruise of Australia. We had a wonderful time after being a little unsure how we would survive a 34 night cruise. Embarkation in Sydney went without a hitch and we were aboard within 25 minutes. This was at White Bay which is out of town and lack and form of public transport. The public areas were well maintained and there was always a quite space available if you wished to sit and read or watch the world go by. A few scratches and dents but as she is on her way to dry dock I am sure these will be fixed. We are breakfast and lunch in the Lido and dinner in the Rotterdam. At peak times the Lido was a little crowded but that passed quickly. Service was good. We chose any time dining for dinner. Only once were we given a buzzer and asked to wait and that was for less than 5 minutes. The food was great and the service even better. The entertainment varied. We enjoyed the groups in the Ocean Bar and the Explorers Lounge. They were both very easy to listen to. The guys Eli on guitar and Andy on piano were both great. The Hal Cats were very busy and always good to listen to. The entertainment in the Frans Hals Lounge varied greatly. We enjoyed most of the guest entertainers but saw very little of the dancers and singers who we thought at best were average. Bruce the cruise director is a treasure. I cannot make an informed comment on the shore excursions as we only when on two. Being Komodo and Bali. Having visited most of the ports previously we went ashore and made our own arrangements. The two we did we enjoyed. Disembarkation was quick and well organized although once outside there was a shortage of Taxis. This was our 3rd cruise on the Volendam and it has maintained its usual high standard. Read Less
Sail Date October 2014
We were a bit nervous about 32 days on a ship but we could not have been wrong. The Volendam crew made us feel welcome from first boarding in Sydney. We liked the idea of a smaller ship and the bonus we found out on the way was we got to ... Read More
We were a bit nervous about 32 days on a ship but we could not have been wrong. The Volendam crew made us feel welcome from first boarding in Sydney. We liked the idea of a smaller ship and the bonus we found out on the way was we got to sail through the Barrier Reef out of Cairns and also the smaller ports could take Volendam where alot of the larger ships cant get into these lovely smaller towns that do rely on tourism. All the ports we visited were fantastic and alot of them we did out own thing. The excursions were well thought out and good informative guides on the way. My husband and I said on the last day as we sailed through the Sydney Heads back into port could we think of any negitives - not one. Read Less
Sail Date October 2014
We arrived in Sydney on Oct 17 to acclimate ourselves to the time change. We stayed at the Bayswater Sydney in the Kings Cross area. What a find. Good rates and near the metro. Get a weekly pass from the Metro that is down the road from ... Read More
We arrived in Sydney on Oct 17 to acclimate ourselves to the time change. We stayed at the Bayswater Sydney in the Kings Cross area. What a find. Good rates and near the metro. Get a weekly pass from the Metro that is down the road from the hotel. It includes all trains, ferries, and buses in the city. $45 each and the best way to get around. Our cruise left from the Overseas passenger terminal at Circle Quay, right across from the Sydney Opera House. What a sight! The Rocks area is right by the ship so when you check in at the cruise ship, you can get off and walk around. If it is Saturday you can enjoy the market right up the street. We checked in about 11 a.m and there was some delay because of a computer problem. We had to stand outside for awhile and fill out our forms for the health questions, etc. Met a lot of nice people in line. Once we were let inside, it took a long time to check in. There were not many personnel to check us in. Once on board we were directed to our room. We were on the Veranda deck forward starboard. Once we found our room we were delighted at how large it was. We had a Veranda Suite. It was very well appointed and had floor to ceiling windows leading to a large veranda. It had one chair, a chase, and small table. We asked if we could have another chair and they gave it to us right away. Our room stewards were always so kind and kept our cabin super clean. The cabin had a large leather couch that was so comfortable to sit and have breakfast and watch a movie on our own DVD. Everyday at 5 pm they would bring in fresh ice for us to fix our drinks. A few things about our cabin: We had a small frig that we kept our wine and sodas in. Large queen bed with the most comfortable mattress and 6 pillows with different levels of thickness. Large flat screen TV with two news channels and a few movie channels. Lots of storage for your clothes. A safe. The bathrooms had a whirlpool tub and a great shower with great water pressure. I am totally impressed with how the space is used in the HAL bathrooms. A place for everything. Our room steward could not have been better. They called us by name and kept our room super clean. They even placed a small napkin like carpet by our bed at night so if we got up we did not have to have our feet hit the carpet. Ship review. The Volendam is a beautiful ship. Extremely clean. It did not feel like the ship had 1300 people. It is well laid out also and easy to get around. The staff was always happy to help you. The captain always kept us up to date on our location and any issues of interest to us. We were not able to get into two ports because of weather or berth problems and we were always told why and reimbursed port fees. Food: The food was mostly very good. We always had room service in the morning and mostly they gave us too much food. It was always hot and each morning we got a call seeing if everything was ok. The main dining room was outstanding. Victor, the restaurant Asst. Manager was our favorite. Always a smile and we taught him a new American phrase everyday. He enjoyed it and we got to be good friends. The Lido had a great menu everyday. Nothing was ever repeated in the 34 days we were there. However the food, except for the soups, were never hot. Always lukewarm or cold. I talked to the manager, as I had gotten ill on an earlier cruise because of food that was just sitting there, and was concerned about things not being prepared well (not on HAL). He said he would take care of it. It never got better. HAL - DO NOT SERVE FOOD SUPPOSED TO BE HOT COLD. Entertainment: What we did see was really good. By the end of a full day of sightseeing, by 8pm we usually just had a light dinner and went to our cabin to relax. One thing we liked was the talks on the ports and the shore excursions. We did take some excursions from HAL in ports that were small like Komodo and Lombok, but mostly we would find out things to do on our own or with friends we met. Internet: HAL has to come up with a better way to get a connection. To charge what they charge and have to wait like you are using dsl is ridiculous. Also when asked to adjust charges the manager did not seem too happy to help. All in all this is a great cruise and they only do it once a year. Next year it is again in October. This is a wonderful opportunity to see a wonderful continent and meet the people of Australia. Also the prices are very good for this type of cruise. We love HAL and are working on a trip to the Baltic as we speak. You should be very proud of your staff and your ship - the Volendam.Once thing to add. We were never, ever pressured to buy things from HAL. We appreciated this as some cruise lines do this. Our room stewards names were Made and Trisna. Read Less
Sail Date October 2012
I did a lot of research on Cruise Critic before our trip and found so many of the reviews helpful in planning our trip. I thought I'd return the favor for those yet to take this wonderful cruise. Although I booked the cruise as one ... Read More
I did a lot of research on Cruise Critic before our trip and found so many of the reviews helpful in planning our trip. I thought I'd return the favor for those yet to take this wonderful cruise. Although I booked the cruise as one 28 day itinerary, it was, in fact, two 14 day cruises, back to back. We were able tot stay in the same cabin during the entire trip. The first 14 days went to Vanuatu, Fiji and New Caldonia. The next 14 days were in Australia and New Zealand. We flew from LAX to Nadi Fiji. Our intention was to visit friends there and shorten the long flight time by breaking it up. We flew Air Pacific and got a great price. We spent one night in Fiji and then flew 4 hours to Sydney. We stayed at the Raffles Gateway in which I reserved on Orbitz. I highly recommend this hotel. Nice pool and nice people. Sydney: We stayed a week in Sydney. We were in the Haymarket area for four nights at the Meriton Campbell apartments. We highly recommend this hotel. Our apartment had a kitchenette and laundry facilities. It has a nice lap pool and hot tub. It is a fairly new building and very secure. From here we did the hop on hop off bus and took the train to the Blue Mountains. It is a very easy trip to plan yourself and much cheaper than any of the excursions. The hotel is within easy walking distance to the train station. Then we moved to the Marriott at Circular Quay for our final three days. Very well located hotel with easy access to the ferries and Opera House. We saw an opera at the Opera House and it was a wonderful experience. We also took the ferry to Manly beach - again, very easy to do on your own. The Volendam: We booked an inside cabin on the Lower Promenade deck so that we could easily get outside to check the sights and the weather. Our room was light and bright with lots of storage and a wonderful steward. We attended many of the shows and enjoyed most of them. You have to get there early because the seats fill up quickly. We ate many of our meals in the Lido and found the service and food to be quite good. We chose anytime dining for the restaurant and always got requested tables within a few minutes. The service and food were both very good, but we are not that picky. We loved our cruise director. We attended computer classes, cooking shows, movies and shore talks. They were all high caliber. Yes the Volendam might be getting a bit older, but we love the ship. We joined a cruise critic group and had some very enjoyable times with them We even got invited to a party in the penthouse suite, which was a treat! Ports of Call and excursions: Noumea: Joined up with cruise critic for Aquanature snorkling tour. Very professional group and we highly recommend them. Easo, New Caldonia: Small island, no tours, beach day. Port Villa, Vanuatu: We did two ship excursions on this day. In the morning we went to Ekasup village - this is not to be missed. Lots of information on the Aboriginal people, all in a forest setting with native dress. Then in the afternoon we took a snorkeling tour which was nice because they fed the fish. Luganville, Vanuatu: We hired a cab here for the day at the cost of around $90 USD. It was worth every penny! Samuel drove us all around the island and then took us to the Blue Hole for swimming. It was one of the highlights of the trip Laukota, Fiji: Very rainy day. Took the free shuttle to Jack's store and walked around and shopped. Dravuni Island, Fiji: This is a small island and is basically a beach day. We hired someone to take us around the island in their boat. Then had a massage and snorkeled on the beach. Very relaxing day and beautiful island! Ile Des Pins, New Caldonia: Again a beach and snorkel day on an amazing South Pacific island. Our ship returned to Sydney for one day to load and unload passengers. Melbourne: We joined with a cruise critic group and went with the tour company called A Tour with a Difference. He showed us all the sights in downtown Melbourne and then drove to the Dandenong Mountains. here we got to see cockatoos and crimson rosellas in the wild and hand feed them - it was an awesome experience. Lots of van time on this day! Burnie: Small town - we did not book an excursion for this port. Walked around, went to the local museum and shopped. Cruising Milford Sound in New Zealand was so beautiful. We entered the sound at dawn and stayed there for several hours. Amazing place - be sure to get out on deck early! Dundedin- Port Chalmers: We booked with Back to Nature Tours and can highly recommend this group. He took us to see the University, Signal Point, downtown, Larnach Castle and then the see the yellow eyed penguins. The area where you see the penguins is on private property and much has been done to insure their safety. There is a lot of walking involved here as you have to do through tunnels to get to see them in the wild. Great experience and highly recommend. Then we hit the Albatross Colony. Another long, but delightful day. probably our favorite tour. Akaroa: When we got off the boat there were many people selling tours. We booked a bus to Christchurch for much less than the cost on the ship. This was just transportation and it took almost 2 hrs to get there. We walked around Christchurch and saw all the 'deconstruction' they were doing post earthquake. The container malls were very interesting. We then spent the rest of our time at the museum which gave a great account of the earthquake. Picton: We had booked with Waterways for a two man motor boat tour of the harbor. It was raining that day, but the guide came to meet us anyway to tell us that the tour was cancelled and to offer other suggestions - very professional. We chose to walk around Picton and do a little shopping. Wellington: We went to the Isite and booked a tour. They put us on The Big Red bus tour and we were the only ones on the tour. This couple runs the tour and they were outstanding. We highly recommend them. Napier: We booked with Hawkes Bay Scenic tours for a wine and brewery tour. He gave us a good overview of the city and then we went to two wineries and one brewery. Very enjoyable day. Tauranga/Rotorua: We booked a tour with Ann Norton and were lucky enough to be the only ones on her tour. The drive to Rotorua is quite long, but the scenery is beautiful. Rotorua is an amazing place with thermal pools everywhere. We then went to Te Puia which is a Maori area. Amazing Maori presentation and great views of the geysers. This is not to be missed. Auckland: We stayed at the Sky Tower Hotel ( not the Grand) and loved the location. The rooms were very nice, as were the people. All in all, this was a trip of a lifetime. Do not hesitate to go! You won't regret it. Read Less
Sail Date February 2012
We stayed at the Suissotel in Sydney (arranged by Holland America, whose representatives met us at the airport, took us to the hotel, and transferred our luggage onto the Volendam the next day). Beautiful location, making the city easy to ... Read More
We stayed at the Suissotel in Sydney (arranged by Holland America, whose representatives met us at the airport, took us to the hotel, and transferred our luggage onto the Volendam the next day). Beautiful location, making the city easy to walk around and enjoy. Check-in on Volendam was seamless. Melbourne was good for walking, Burnie for the animal preserve visit. Luckily, the Tasman Sea was calm when we crossed! During this crossing, you will need to be prepared for a long wait in a line (1.5 hours) on the ship so that New Zealand customs can check your paperwork and your shoes (make sure you wear a clean pair). Enjoy this time by chatting with those around you or reading a book. The option of leaving the ship at Milford Sound and crossing on land (overnight) to Dunedin is well worth the cost. Visiting Christchurch when we docked at Akaroa (site of 2 earthquakes in 18 months) was very moving experience. Picton (nature tour), Wellington (walked to museum), Napier (wineries) were great ports. The excursion to a Maori village in Tauranga was OK, not spectacular, but the hike up Mount Maunganui made this port very special (you can walk to this location from the ship). Auckland excursion to see sheep herding and shearing was a perfect way to end the cruise, and our luggage was waiting for us when we were driven to the airport. Read Less
Sail Date January 2012
New Zealand Discovery 17-31 January 2012 The long flight MSP-LAX 4 hrs., 3 hr. layover, LAX-SYD 15 hrs. The new Delta "economy comfort" seating was worth the extra cost. Dinner was actually v. good and movie selections ... Read More
New Zealand Discovery 17-31 January 2012 The long flight MSP-LAX 4 hrs., 3 hr. layover, LAX-SYD 15 hrs. The new Delta "economy comfort" seating was worth the extra cost. Dinner was actually v. good and movie selections were excellent. Ambien helped provide 5-6 hrs. sleep. Not a bad flight at all. LAX to SYD was actually more comfortable than MSP to LAX. Sydney Pre-Cruise Days 4 days (if we had a do-over, we would add more days in Sydney) Hotel: Simpsons Hotel in Potts Point. Small boutique hotel that is more of a B&B. Top Tripadvisor.com ratings. We thought it was excellent and did not mind the location. We are walkers and walked all over Sydney. Some of our Sydney highlights included: Royal Botanic Gardens Googee Beach to Bondi Beach walk Watsons Bay, Whale Beach, Palm Beach, Newport Beach Circular Quay and Opera House/Harbour Bridge, Darling Harbour, The Rocks, Darling Point Parramatta River and Sydney Harbour Cruise with Peter Cook Pitt Street Mall, Strand Arcade and QVB shopping districts Hyde Park Gray Lines Grand Blue Mountains all-day tour with a stop at Featherdale Wildlife Park On the first day of our arrival we learned of the Costa Concordia disaster. Tuesday, 17 Jan. Embarkation without a hitch Enjoyed leisurely breakfast and a morning walk to Darling Point before taking taxi to Circular Quay, where we arrived at 1:00 p.m. Breezed through registration and boarded the ship, dropped our carry-ons in our cabin and had lunch in the Lido. Great harbour views from the top of the ship. Beautiful evening sail away out of the harbour with gorgeous views. Assigned seating for main (8:00 p.m.) dining at a table of 6 with wonderful tablemates from U.S. and U.K. Some demographics: 1400+ passengers, largest number from Australia followed by U.S. and U.K. with New Zealand and many other countries represented. 220 passengers had already sailed 2 weeks through the Fiji island area. There were 70+ children and one Australian wedding party of 50. Captain: Peter Bos (very cautious and a bit dramatic in his announcements) Cruise Director: David Griffiths (Australian, 3 yrs. experience with Disney Cruise Line) Hotel Manager: Rene' Tuinman Our cabin: 7063 - Verandah Suite, upgraded from BB to AA, under the Lido deck with some chair noise mornings and evenings but never disturbing our sleep. Wednesday 18 Jan. & Thursday 19 Jan. Our scheduled sea days crossing the Tasman Sea. Somewhat rough seas with ominous weather reports from the Captain. Friday, 20 Jan. Rain off and on while sailing Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound. Dolphin and whale sightings. Smooth sailing in the sounds but the Captain announced that we would be unable to make the Stewart Island (Oban) tender port due to projected weather conditions. All excursions were cancelled. Saturday, 21 Jan. Bypassed Stewart Island and sailed to Port Chalmers/Dunedin a day early. Free shuttles available for transport to Dunedin. We walked around town and enjoyed seeing the beautiful railway station. Sunday, 22 Jan. We had an 8.5 hr. Wildlife Cruise & Penguins excursion out of Dunedin. Nice harbour cruise with Monarch viewing albatross and seal colonies, Marine Center visit, then Nature's Wonder area for lunch and then transport by ATVs to seal colony and yellow-eyed penguin area of the coast. Monday, 23 Jan. Captain announced that due to high winds we would be missing the second tender port of Akaroa and all shore excursions were cancelled. So another sea day and we arrived in Wellington at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, 24 Jan. Beautiful sunny day in Wellington. We did the Scenic Coast by 4WD excursion up Hawkins Hill and along the beautiful coast and Red Rocks Reserve. This was the best coastal scenery of the cruise. Absolutely beautiful. Wednesday, 25 Jan. Napier, with art deco buildings and dockside jazz band and antique automobile club. Another beautiful day. We took the Wineries of Hawkes Bay excursion, visiting 3 different wineries and sampling 5 different wines at each. Very pretty drive and an excellent tour. Thursday, 26 Jan. Tauranga. We did the 9-hr. Hells Gate & Rotorua Highlights excursion, with a very scenic drive on yet another beautiful day. Having just visited Yellowstone Natl. Park in October, we were less than impressed with the Hells Gate Geothermal park. We were able to view kiwis at the Rainbow Springs Nature Park. The excursion highlight for us was the Mitai Village Maori cultural show and hangi lunch. We thought it was just excellent and it exceeded whatever expectations we had. The last stop was at the Agrodome for a sheep show, shearing and sheep dog herding demonstration. While entertaining, we could have done without this one. Rotorua is a beautiful area and well worth visiting. I highly recommend a Maori experience. Friday, 27 Jan. Auckland with some light rain. We took the ferry to Waiheke Island for the Wondeful Waiheke excursion, which included a visit and sampling at the Goldies Vineyard and a coach tour around the island. Saturday, 28 Jan. Waitangi. Our final stop in New Zealand on fortunately a clear sunny day. We took the Catamaran Cruise to Cape Brett excursion, which was excellent. It was worth the price just to watch dozens and dozens of bottlenose dolphins swimming alongside the catamaran. Very scenic sailing out to the point at Cape Brett and the Hole in the Wall formation, where we were able to sail through the Grand Cathedral Cave. There was a drop-off option in Russell but we returned to Waitangi and then took the free shuttle to Paihia, a nice little village with many shops and food venues. We enjoyed a Saturday art fair and wished we had more time to spend in Paihia. We had dinner in the Pinnacle for Le Cirque night. I was somewhat underwhelmed. The meal was nice, but no nicer than on other Pinnacle nights IMHO. Service was satisfactory - I've had better and I've had worse in my Pinnacle experiences. As in the MDR, the Pinnacle stewards seemed overextended. Sunday, 29 Jan. & Mon. 30 Jan. Time for our scheduled 2 sea days crossing back over the Tasman in what grew to be rather treacherous seas. In our dozen or so previous cruises we had not experienced seas quite as rough as these. There were dining room spills, many vacant tables at dinner, and cancelled showroom finales. The captain issued numerous warnings to exercise caution when opening and closing bathroom doors, walking on decks, etc. The wind was so strong I could not budge our verandah door. Fortunately for us, we did not become seasick and never missed a meal. Felt like we earned our sealegs on the second day of the crossing. Tuesday, 31 Jan. Sailed into a calm Sydney Harbour in time to watch the sunrise and docked at 6:00 a.m. We had no plane to catch and were in the next to last group to disembark. Silent disembarkation was flawless. We took a taxi to the Holiday Inn Sydney Airport where our room was again available at 10:00 a.m. We took a short walk up the block to the Mascot train station and headed back to Circular Quay at a round-trip cost of $4.50 each, one of the best bargains of the trip. We spent the entire day walking in Sydney, again to the Botanic Gardens, Hyde Park and the downtown shopping areas and then caught the train back to the hotel. Wednesday, 1 Feb. Enjoyed a wonderful buffet breakfast at the hotel and then caught a shuttle to the SYD airport ($6. ea.). We arrived 2 hrs. 15 min. prior to our flight time but should have allowed at least 3 hours. The Delta line was long and slow (45 min.), followed by a long line through security. Leaving was definitely more time-consuming than arriving. Our flight departed at noon, SYD to LAX 14 hrs., 6 hr. layover at LAX, LAX to MSP 4hrs. Leaving at noon did not work as well for sleeping and the return flight was less comfortable. After arriving home we experienced severe jet lag for 3-4 days. One of our friends had said "flying west is best, flying east is a beast," and that turned out to be true for us. Reflections on Dining and Entertainment I would rate our 14 evenings of dining room meals as very good to excellent overall. Our wine steward was the best I've had on HAL. On sea days we had both breakfast and lunch in the main dining room as the Lido tended to get crowded. On the port days we either took room service or ate breakfasts in the Lido, which was fine and we had a few lunches in the Lido and one late cheeseburger lunch at the pool grill. I had the Admiral Wine Package which was satisfactory. I was told upfront that a few of the advertised wines were out of stock but the wine steward was very accommodating in providing me with "upgrade" bottles of reds in place of the unavailable labels. For entertainment, on the top of the heap in terms of popularity was Piano Man Glenn-Michael. The guy packed them in the Piano Bar, always standing room only for every performance. The venue should have been moved to the Crow's Nest. Alternating in the Piano Bar was guitarist Michael Simons, who we were able to hear and he was very good. The Neptunes in the Ocean Bar sounded good for dance music. I was a little disappointed in the Adagio Strings this cruise. They were all young Russian women, none of whom seemed able to crack a smile the entire cruise. We usually enjoy pre-dinner cocktails in the Explorer's Lounge but chose to go to the Crow's Nest instead. I was pleased to see that the Crow's Nest on the Volendam as on the Zaandam still remain exclusive without the Library/Cafe intruding on the space as they do on the newer class ships. There was a DJ in the Crow's Nest after dinners who was adequate but horrendous when he attempted to sing Karaoke. The HAL Cats - suffice it to say that they are appropriately named. The casino never seemed crowded this cruise. Sorry for the rambling and drawn-out review. Overall the Australia and New Zealand cruise was a wonderful experience in two very beautiful countries. The only piece of advice that I would offer is that if you are going to travel this far for a cruise, do allow yourselves opportunities to see more of Australia pre or post-cruise. Read Less
Sail Date January 2012
This was our 6th cruise but it was our very first cruise with Holland America Line. Embarkation was satisfactory. Our luggage was delivered quickly to our cabin. The ship itself was smaller than the ships we had cruised on before, ... Read More
This was our 6th cruise but it was our very first cruise with Holland America Line. Embarkation was satisfactory. Our luggage was delivered quickly to our cabin. The ship itself was smaller than the ships we had cruised on before, but it had everything that any other big cruise ships have. There were beautiful fresh arranged flowers almost everywhere around the ship, the arrangements of the flowers were nice and elegant along and how they were decorated throughout the whole ship. Our cabin was on the verandah suite, the cabin itself was tidy and clean. Fresh flowers and a fruit bowl were present in the cabin. We did utilise the room order service as it was free, and service was very good. A small bottle of body lotion was replaced every other day, and we could not complain about it. The suite was in the forward, beneath the navigation area, but away from common area and in a quiet location. The crew were very polite and friendly. Main Dining room - We had an open dining area for the first few nights but one night we like the waiters who served us very well, then we were offered a fixed dining location with the same waiters, and we were very happy since having the same table and same waiters we were accustomed to. Food in the main dining room was delicious, there were heaps of choices and the service was wonderful. They cooked the most juicy and tasteful beef dishes. We did order wine during dinner and price was reasonable and as we could not finish our bottle in one night, they kept our unfinished bottle for the subsequent night. We preferred the buffet for our breakfast and lunch. While other cruise liners hit you with a bill for fresh orange juice, free freshly squeezed orange juices are widely available on Volendam. As for buffet lunch, there were a wide variety of fruits, cherries, blueberries, grapes, mangoes, blackberries, raspberry along with other common fruit like oranges, bananas, melons and apples. The entertainment on board was sufficient and very professional though the ship could only carry a small number of performers. The Piano bar was packed every night as Glenn the Piano Man was so good that we spent most of our time listening to all the wonderful music he played and performed. There were heaps of activities on the ship and the free computer classes was definitely unexpected. Aiden the expert was very experienced and patient to teach us, and we learnt a great deal from using Windows 7 to movie making, etc. The public rooms were always clean with a very tasteful decoration. Disembarkation was like a breeze when we docked at Sydney's Overseas Terminal. Overall, we had a wonderful experience with Holland America Line and we would surely consider this cruise line again for our next cruise. Read Less
Sail Date December 2011
We planned our holiday New Zealand Cruise, our first on Holland America Line, about 6 months ago, and used other Cruise Critics reviews and message board to plan many aspects of our trip. We booked our trip through USAA travel agency ... Read More
We planned our holiday New Zealand Cruise, our first on Holland America Line, about 6 months ago, and used other Cruise Critics reviews and message board to plan many aspects of our trip. We booked our trip through USAA travel agency available to military or former miltary members. We are experienced internet travel searchers, and still was a better deal than we could have gotten anywhere else. We found the best flight deal through www.kayak.com and then booked directly through the airline (Asiana Air) for our flights than connected through Seoul. Asiana is very much like flying used to be. Flight attendents are uniformly young, with the same uniform and hairstyles, and a heavy emphasis on service (hot towels, hot tea, diet coke in the middle of a 14 hour flight if you ask, lots of movies on your personal screen). We had to get over the sticker shock of flights costing half again as muich as the cruise for the four of us, but it is summer, Christmas, and a heck of a long flight from Chicago to Sydney and back, so we bit the bullet. That also bespeaks that the cruise was a really good deal for a 16 day over Christmas. Boarding was quick and efficient, and we were able to get to our cabin right away as oppsed to having to carry stuff around for several hours. It was clear immediately that the cruise was mostly older Australians, which we were fine with. We had a 1st level ocean view cabin in the aft of the ship (#1945) which was great and had a large window. Plus not any of the engine noise bugged us. We went straight up and add at the Lido buffet, which was varied and generally very good, with sushi, fresh ice cream, and a good ceasar salad bar and pasta made fresh daily. Then we were off the ship to get UGGs and go to he Opera House. We missed the tours that afternoon but made plan to attend one in the morning. We had fixed early seating in the main dining room, which we went to all but 3-4 nights as we like having the same table and wait staff that knew our names and preferences. Our waitstaff struggled with their English, but tried very hard. Our bar waiter was excellent and even made the kids a chair out of champagne tops and an origami bird. Food in the main dining room was standard fare, trying to be a litle too fancy. my 11 year old daughter had ceasar salad and chicken breast with veggies almost every day, so nice to have the "always available" options. In general, red meat was very small portions, but willing to get more if you would like. I always ordered a meal size salad for the salad course, and then something else for dinner, because if you can't overeat on a cruise ship, where can you? The next day (the ship stayed berthed in Sydney overnight) we went ot the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, plus walked around the Rocks. Awesome city. General notes about pluses and minuses of HAL as compared to other lines (at least Disney, Norwegian, and Carnival, which we have sailed on before): 1) Great library, almost the size of a small town library, along with a chess/scrabble/majong area. I checked out several books and read them on the trip. there are also Eron chairs that you can sit in and watch the sunset. 2) Another unexpected feature...each room has a DVD player, and a listing of about 1,000 DVDs that can be checked out from the front desk. Everything from Finding nemo to the first 2 seasons of Rome are available. 3) Camesoli's, the italian restaurant on Lido deck from dinner, requires a reservation but is free of charge, unlike Pinnacle. Very good italian food and antipasto. 4) The teens have their own small deck, The Oasis, with tables, a wading pool, and some of the best views on the ship. Awesome. 5) There is a smalldeck off of the gym which has some navigational equipment on it but is still available to stand on. 6) The Susan G. Kolman walk for the cure on the last sea day that HAL offers is a nice touch, and you get a t-shirt, a sense of comraderie, and pink lemonade for $15 donation 7) Get a tailor-made omelette or sandwich from Rene on Lido deck...hard to beat. 8) The bathrooms have a bathtub in them which is deep enough to be serviceable. Very useful if you are not feeling well or have a kid who got seasick. 9) There is a small movie theatre and free popcorn. The same space is used by raising the screen to expose a show kitchen, which has several classes/day on cooking specific items. 10) There are free computer classes on everything from Windows 7 to Movie Making, and how to take best advantage of your digital camera offered by Aiden. I am pretty savvy with the computer, but Aiden was excellent, and even if a class with peopel of vastly different experiences with computers, I learned new things every time, and was impressed that he wasn't trying to sell anything, but rather lead people to free public resources. 11) Scenic cruising through the fjords was well-commentated on the main decks by Jeremy. This was a good blend of animal-sightings, knowing what you are looking at, and history of Capt. Cook and the oginial Moari people 12) Ships (or municiplalities) arranged for free shuttles from the several working ports we docked at into the town 13) Room service, which I always order on ships because it is free and such a treat, was very good, quick, and varied enough to be a good "fourth meal." 14) The pool was small and no slide, but freshwater, with a cool dolphin thing in it, which is wonderful as we are used to some of the ships having saltwater pools which are hard to get used to and yucky for little kids who invariably get a big mouthful 15) Fresh flowers throughout the ship, including on all of the tables in main dining room. Not something I would expect to make a difference, but it was a very elegant tough and nice to see Downsides: 1) Food at Rotterdam dining room was of good quality, but too fancy with "recommendations from the master chef." A small thing, but only offered a really good steak once, and when they offered lobster it was a small 1/2 tail. The waitstaff struggled with English, and we found it easier to point to the item we wanted, and difficult to make any smalltalk 2) Beer list was not great, but they did have a few Australian beers. 3) For a quad, the room set-up is odd with a queen bed at the end and the twin pull down over part of the queen, then the sofa converted to a twin. 4) Again, a small thing, but they had a small thing of lotion provided at the beginning, but didn't replace it once used, so we had to buy lotion at a port. 5) We went to two of the shows... not great, especially compared to other lines. The movies took up that time for us. 6) Our preference at play here, but there were 5 formal days over 16 days, and most of them were heavily formal (tuxedos for men). I was glad my husband brought a tie, but we were still underdressed, and like a more casual atmosphere, which HAL is not 7) We were in port on Christmas and New Year's Day, and at sea the following days. Perhaps at least for one day we could have switched that so people didn't have to work to open tourist areas on Christmas Day. 8) The Captain's messages at first were shockingly negative, although eventually we found them amusing. As we were sailing across the Tasmin Sea, he did a whole thing about how "the Tasmin claims its victims" and a kayaker who died trying to cross recently. After another (albeit smaller) earthquake in Christchurch he spoke about how it wouldn't effect us, "only feels like you are running aground." it would have been more amusing it we were a naval vessel instead of a pleasure trip. That sai, amazing maneuvering in Milford Sound, turning the ship around fully to give everyone a good view. So, overall, an unforgetable trip, and totally worth skipping Christmas for. A 9 on 1-10. Read Less
Sail Date December 2011
This a review of the Volendam's 5 December 11 voyage around New Zealand, a Sydney to Sydney round trip. But there is a back story to this review. In July my wife Gail, who posts on these boards as Abby Ruth, was diagnosed with ALS ... Read More
This a review of the Volendam's 5 December 11 voyage around New Zealand, a Sydney to Sydney round trip. But there is a back story to this review. In July my wife Gail, who posts on these boards as Abby Ruth, was diagnosed with ALS (motor neurone disease for those in the UK). The disease is marked by a progressive weakening of the voluntary muscles. We got evidence of this on an earlier Black Sea cruise, when Gail literally fell off a tour bus trying to get up a very high set of steps. We canceled all remaining ships tours, and either got around ports on our own or made a deal with a cab driver to take us around. By early Fall, Gail was using a walker, and three months before leaving, we decided to rent a wheelchair in Sydney and take it with us on the ship. We had already made arrangements for private tours in vehicles which Gail could enter and which could carry the folded chair. Booking A little over two weeks before leaving, I discovered that Volendam has bathtubs in its cabins, unlike the Cunard and Celebrity ships we have previously taken. I knew that this would be a problem for Gail, since we have installed rails at home for her to use when showering. I called our HAL cruise consultant to ask about switching to a handicap cabin which would have a stall shower. He told us that the boat was full, and that we would be on a waitlist for any disability cabins which open up. I decided to bypass him and go directly to HAL's Access and Compliance department. They immediately e-mailed us a form on which I stated our needs, and 36 minutes after I clicked on Send, their return e-mail gave us our new cabin number, in a wheelchair accessible cabin three grades above the one which we had booked. As far as I am concerned, this defines customer service (and raises some questions about the cruise consultant). The Flight I decided that the flight from Philadelphia to Sydney was worth spending my accumulated US Airways miles in order to go business class. Our routing involved a number of Star Alliance airlines, starting with Air Canada, via Toronto and Vancouver. Wheelchairs awaited us at each destination, and in Vancouver we had the pleasure of using Air Canada's business class lounge for a few hours. We liked Air Canada's pod-like business-class seats, which are placed at an angle to the plane's wall and aisle. I was thus able to help Gail get up from her seat when she needed to use the toilet. Even in business class, the 15.5 hour flight from Vancouver to Sydney was tedious, and we both slept a lot. The big surprise on landing in Sydney was having overheads opened and the plane sprayed; we were not allowed to touch our luggage for five minutes after spraying, by which time presumably all of the cooties which we had brought from North America would have fallen over clutching their throats. At Sydney too a wheelchair was waiting, and an unpleasant surprise. Thursday 1 December There's nothing that makes the heart sink like getting paged at baggage claim when not all of your bags have yet appeared. One of my bags didn't make it onto the plane in Vancouver. I soon learned that it was the bag with all of my clothes. Unless I wanted to walk around Sydney in a tuxedo, I was going to need some new clothing. Because I was flying business class, Qantas, acting for Air Canada, gave me $100 for emergency outfitting. This doesn't go far in Sydney. At the department store next to my hotel, I spent $186 on two sets of underwear, two pairs of socks and two dress shirts. Since I am a big guy, I didn't have much selection. The only underpants which fit were black and, bizarrely, had no fly. I eventually fixed that deficiency with my wife's scissors. She was totally wiped out from the flight and slept all afternoon and we wound up eating an expensive but not bad dinner at the hotel. We stayed at the Swissotel in Sydney. This was not the cheapest option at an average $250 a night (at the time of writing, the Australian and US dollars were at parity) but it included free wired internet and has a superb location between the accessible Town Hall underground station and Sydney's largest bookstore with, as it turned out, several accessible restaurants nearby. We had 1919, a handicap room overlooking Market Street but getting no street noise whatsoever. The bathroom was huge, and the roll-in shower was designed not to flood the rest of the bathroom. A full breakfast buffet was tasty, but ran $35 a person. Friday 2 December Our first activity was a four-hour tour of Greater Sydney with Geoff Kemble of Wheelchairs to Go, who has a one-chair Toyota van with a lift. Gail went in the back, and transferred to the front passenger seat. Geoff was knowledgeable, and insisted on pushing the chair at places where we dismounted, including an area near Mrs. Macquarie's Chair with a stunning view of the Opera House, skyline and Bridge. We had lunch at an outdoor cafe in Tamarama Beach, where Geoff surfs when he is not driving one of Sydney's 700 wheelchair cabs (which by the way, do not charge extra, but should be booked in advance; they are very busy). After wimping out and eating in the hotel the first night, we were determined to find a nearby accessible restaurant. The Westfield Mall is a block from our hotel, and has a sort of restaurant food court on the 6th floor, all accessible but requiring going up a long ramp. We ate at Spiedo, a sophisticated northern Italian restaurant (ie, no red sauce) with an open kitchen. Quite good, about $100 for the two of us which is moderate by Sydney standards. Saturday 3 December The agenda today was to see whether Sydney's rail transit system is really as wheelchair-friendly as it claims to be. The answer is, pretty much yes. We decided to take the ferry to Manly, a picturesque half-hour trip across Sydney's harbor. Again the sky was clear and the temperature in the mid-60s on this official third day of summer. We went to the Queen Victoria Building, catty-corner from our hotel, and walked through the 1891 building to an elevator which took us down to an underground concourse leading directly to Town Hall station. This is one of the stations on the city loop reputed to have wheelchair access to trains. I bought two $20 all-day, all-mode tickets and asked how we would get Gail to the platform. A station agent came out from the office, ushered us through an open gate without checking our tickets, and took us on the lift down to the proper platform for Circular Quay, from where the ferries depart. On the platform, he introduced us to the platform manager, and we learned that a wheelchair ride on the underground trains is a customized event; you don't just nonchalantly roll onto your train. The Sydney underground loop is not really a subway as most of the rest of the world knows it. Rather, it is the termination of suburban electric trains; it is closest in practice to the Parisian RER. The door bottoms on the heavy double-deck railcars do not line up with the platform, requiring the platform manager to bring out a portable ramp to get onto the train. Not only that, but the platform manager needs to know where you are getting off, so that she can alert the platform manager at the other end as to what car you are in, in order to be waiting with the exit ramp. A little clunky, but it works, and the station staff were unfailingly nice about it. At Circular Quay a lift took us down to ground level, where we exited through the wide gate which is next to the booth with a human at each station. This is a very labor-intensive railroad. We walked over to Wharf 3 for the Manly ferry, and got in line for one which was just discharging passengers preparatory to loading. Passengers walk up a ramp to get on the boat, but it is uneven, changes slope, and has raised metal strips for traction. I needed to take Gail up the ramp backwards, and we eventually disembarked backwards as well. I put Gail's chair on the outside deck in a space next to a bench, but she had to be sideways in order to allow space for people to pass. I sat next to her, and we had a spectacular trip across, culminating with the discovery of a handicap bathroom in the Manly terminal. After wandering around Manly for a bit and having lunch at an outdoor cafe, we caught a boat back, boarding just as the gates were closing. I guilted some people into moving over on an outside bench so I could be next to Gail, and we had another spectacular ride back. Through the wide gate and up to the platform on the lift, and there was a train already in the station. This time a conductor on the train (I told you it is labor-intensive) set up the ramp and radioed ahead to Town Hall for the ramp to be waiting. I could have taken Gail off, backwards, without the ramp, but sure enough the platform manager was waiting as we pulled in. So yes, Sydney's rail and ferries are wheelchair friendly, but with a little help. Back to Westfield Center for dinner at Xanthia, a Greek restaurant with a shredded lamb shoulder to die for. Gail got a mushroom and truffle moussaka, which satisfied her mushroom addiction. Sunday, 4 December Today Tony Estevez, one of the principals of Wheelchairs to Go, took us up to the Blue Mountains west of Sydney in his huge two-chair Toyota HiAce Commuter, also with lift. We stopped first at Ferndale Animal Reserve, about an hour outside of central Sydney, where every animal is a native Australian. We got to pet a koala bear (all of his mates were asleep, since that it really what koalas do most of the time), as well as cockatoos, wombats and wallabies. The latter are like miniature kangaroos, and we saw a wallaby baby half-out of its mother's pouch. The wallabies are about the size of German Shepherds and quite placid with being fussed over by people. Kangaroos are much bigger, and are not allowed to wander freely. We got to hold a truly ugly lizard looking like a miniature dinosaur, and were introduced to wombats, which are sort of like slow-moving furry casks. Our good weather luck ended on Saturday. The same showers that cut our visit to Ferndale short brought heavy cloud cover/fog which completely covered the iconic Three Sisters. And the accessible cable car which was to take us to a wheelchair-friendly path of rain forest on the valley floor was out of service, awaiting a part from Germany. Our plan B was to drive to the old Government House in Parramatta, a late 18th/early 19th home of several early NSW governors, including the famous Macquarie. We got there just as it was closing, but were given a lively ground floor tour by the site's director. The site is not far from Parramatta station, one of the accessible stations on the City Rail system (not all of them are), so we could have reached it from the hotel. Dinner was at the Fat Buddha, an accessible Chinese restaurant open 24/7 in the 1891 Queen Victoria Building, a sight in itself with its exuberant Victorian decor. Monday, 5 December Back to the QVB for some shopping at the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Company) store, which has an excellent children's book section, and a good selection of CDs, especially classical. We bought a book for a nephew and I bought a classical CD incorporating an aboriginal digeridoo, which I'm not likely to find back in southern NJ. We asked the desk to call a wheelchair cab for the short ride over to Darling Harbor and the ship. After waiting over a half hour, we concluded that the promised cab was not going to show up, and settled for a station wagon. The reality of the Sydney disabled cab scene is that the wheelchair cabs are generally booked up with hospital patients or people going to clinics. And non-wheelchair cabs don't want to handle chairs. After the Swissotel doorman flagged down a station wagon and I rolled Gail out, the cabbie looked at her and said "I don't want no wheelchairs" and roared away. The second cab took the chair, but cursed under his breath when he heard the destination, perhaps a mile and a half from the hotel. At the wharf 5 terminal, Holland America had a wheelchair help desk but, uniquely in my experience, no porters were available to take passenger luggage. So a HAL team member wheeled Gail into the departures hall, and the HAL wheelchair guy and I hand carried the luggage to where it needed to go. We eventually made it onto the ship and looked around our recently acquired disabled cabin, 3429. This is right at the back of the ship and opens onto the outdoor promenade deck. The windows are heavily silvered, so we were not concerned about people looking in. The cabin is large, with ample room to park the chair, and three closets. The large bathroom has a roll-in shower at one end with a clever set of floor drains to keep it from being flooded. We were able to get a table for two, more comfortable for Gail since her speech tends to deteriorate in the evening when she is more tired; we had originally asked for a table for 6. Tuesday, 6 December and Wednesday, 7 December A very rough crossing of the Tasman Sea. Gail can be unsteady on her feet on dry land; in a heaving sea, I needed to be with her every moment of the day. All that kept us going was the expectation that the water would be calmer as soon as we reached New Zealand coastal waters. This, incidentally, is nothing unusual. The Tasman Sea is known for its heavy swell, which in our case was as high as 12 feet. We liked the Volendam. HAL's crews do seem friendlier and more helpful than those on other lines, and we appreciated some of the line's trademark practices, like fresh-squeezed orange juice at breakfast, keeping entertainers in the same lounge for the whole trip rather than moving them around as Celebrity does, and allowing free internet access to nytimes.com which meant that we could keep our NY Times iPad app constantly updated. The food was imaginative and well-prepared, and I was surprised to discover that the cheese selection (always a dessert option) was more sophisticated than on the Cunarder we had sailed in a few months before. What was even more surprising was the quality of the food in the Lido, where excellent curries were regularly available. A portion of the Lido became the ship's Italian restaurant at dinner time which seemed rather strange; we were quite happy with the main dining room for dinner. The ship handles its passengers well; we typically got an empty elevator, which made maneuvering the chair easier. Getting around with the wheelchair was no problem, and often in the dining room, a steward would take the chair to our table. There are a number of handicap bathrooms at various places around the ship. Probably the only real downside were the three daily announcements over the PA system from the ship's cheery Cruise Director. These communicated nothing that wasn't in the daily program, and wound up sounding like commercials, not something I want on a cruise. Thursday, 8 December Having actually reached New Zealand, we stayed on the ship for a day of scenic cruising through three impressive fjords (misnamed sounds): Milford Sound (lent an air of mystery by early morning fog); Doubtful Sound and the largest of all, Dusky Sound. One breathtaking vista followed another, with the common theme of steep green-clad hills coming down into quiet dark waters. Milford Sound triggered memories of scenes from one of the Lord of the Rings films. We both took huge numbers of pictures as we absorbed the always-interesting commentary by Jeremy, the ship's tour guide and amateur historian. Friday, 9 December The ship's first port was Oban, on Stewart Island, a national park with only about 400 permanent residents. Since this is a tender port, we inquired about wheelchair handling, and were told that the dock at Oban could not handle wheelchairs (too narrow?) and that we therefore could not disembark. Considering that that there is a rather steep 700-foot uphill climb from the dock to the town, we were not upset. In any case, our interest always tends toward how people live in different countries and toward architecture, rather than nature. So we spent a relaxed day on the ship along with quite a few others. Saturday, 10 December Our first landfall, in Dunedin, where we had arranged for a half-day tour in a minivan with Kim of Iconic Tours. He was standing at the bottom of the steepest gangway I have ever seen, holding a sign with our name. But how was I going to get the chair down a near-45 degree ramp? Luckily, two crew members took over and got the chair down, and took it up when we returned. Kim had an auxiliary step in his van, and Gail could sit in the passenger seat next to him, while I sat in the back. We had a thorough tour of Dunedin on a sunny spring day (winter starts later in NZ than in Australia), including a lovely Rose garden and a stop at the southernmost synagogue in the world. We also toured Olveston, a turn-of-the-20th-century mansion built by a Dunedin magnate and occupied by his wife until 1966; everything in the house is original. A highlight of the evening was the Indonesian crew show. We had seen this on board Maasdam and were under the impression that this was something that the crew whipped up in their spare time, using costumes brought from home. However, several years later and on a different ship the show was virtually identical, leading me to suspect that it is a HAL "product" with less spontaneity than I had thought. Nevertheless, it was lively and fun, and we really enjoyed it. Gail was able to leave the chair and sit in a balcony seat, though I had to help her up when we left. Sunday, 11 December Akaroa was really the only tender port for which we had plans. Uncharacteristically for us, we had booked on a two-hour nature cruise leaving directly from the tender dock (the original port of Lyttleton/Christchurch was scrubbed due to earthquake damage). We had notified the ship of our need to take the chair on the tender, and were told that that our ability to disembark would depend on the weather and the height of the seas, which seemed reasonable to us, and that someone from Guest Services would call and let us know how things stood. When no one called, I did, and was chagrined to be told that the wheelchair lift on Volendam was not in working order, and that access to the tender could only be obtained by those who could walk down (and then of course back up) 13 steps, which certainly left Gail out. I e-mailed Black Cat cruises, which had been paid in advance, and they graciously refunded our money. So another relaxing day on the boat, not the worst of things given the fact that the day was damp, cold and grey. Monday, 12 December Our first North Island port today, Wellington. Getting off the ship was an adventure. The gangway was very steep, and it required two HAL crew members to take Gail down in the chair, backwards. It was never clear to us why such steep gangways were necessary, since the ship can disembark passengers on decks 1, 2 and 3 as well as from the tender doors on Deck A. The latter probably can't be used for gangways because changing tides might put it below dock level. So for anyone in a wheelchair, getting off and back on the ship at various ports is a white-knuckle experience. Laura the Explorer from Flat Earth Tours met us with a standard Kia minivan. Gail was able to get into the front seat by going in butt first and swiveling around, but we learned later that NZ law requires that second and third row passenger seats in such vans be recessed from the doors, which makes it difficult for Gail to use them. We got a great half-day tour of Wellington, which is breathtakingly hilly. We rode a cable car from downtown to a hillside suburb and learned that some hillside dwellers park on streets below their houses and install private cable cars to reach their property. Toward the end of the tour, Laura waited for us outside of the national museum (Te Papa) while we bought gifts. We tend not to be museum-goers when we travel; we are more interested in how people live. Incidentally, the small coffeehouse and pastry shop at which we stopped for a break had a serviceable handicap bathroom, even though New Zealand does not have anything equivalent to the US ADA. Tuesday, 13 December Today's port is Napier, the highlight of the trip for me. It was a NY Times article about Napier a few years ago which triggered my desire to go to NZ. The town was virtually destroyed in a 1931 earthquake and was rebuilt in the most modern style, which at the time was art deco. The residents have been wise enough to realize how unique a town they have, and the art deco downtown has been preserved. For the first time, we got some pushback at our desire to take the chair down an extremely steep gangplank. We were asked several times if Gail was able to walk down the gangway, and were told once that we couldn't depart the ship. Then a ship's officer came up from outside and personally helped another crew member take the chair down. I think that HAL's heart is in the right place, but the execution is occasionally shaky. We toured with John of Hawkes Bay Scenic Tours in a 10-seater Toyota Hi-Ace. Gail had to sit in the second row, and it was a struggle getting there; we would have been better off in a minivan rather than this larger vehicle, but regrettably for us, the tour sold well and the company had to lay on a larger vehicle. Although on-board time was 1:30 due to the tides at Napier, we got to see a lot of the surrounding countryside, including some magnificent views from high points, and one of the local vineyards. As we neared the end of the tour, John let us out for a 20-minute wander around the art deco district. Since Gail had such a struggle getting into the van, she stayed on board whenever the rest of us dismounted, and while we were downtown, John drove her to nearby residential area where many of the houses were in art deco style. Back on board, and then an afternoon nap before getting dressed for our first formal night of the cruise. We ducked out of an earlier formal night during the rough passage across the Tasman Sea and ate in our cabin. Wednesday, 14 December We docked at Mount Manganui, a suburb of Tauranga which in turn is the port for Rotorua, a center of both Maori culture and geothermal activity. Having no interest in either of the latter, we took this as an extra sea day, although I went off for an hour to check out a local bookstore and to buy a newspaper. Gail elected to stay on board, which was a wise move since the weather was humid and overcast, with some sprinkles as I returned to the ship. The ship is much nicer, and quieter for reading, with everyone off on tours. Because of the tides, we were in port until 11pm, but quite a few people stayed on board to eat. Alarming news came in the form of a letter from the captain telling us that we would probably miss the call at Waitangi due to predicted nasty weather in the Tasman Sea. We will need Friday, he thinks, to make up for the loss of time from slowing down the ship to keep passengers comfortable in 20-foot swells. Thursday, December 15 A desultory tour of Auckland on grey rainy day. The guide was late, although some of that may be because I told him, following HAL's port information leaflet, that we would come in at Prince's Wharf and we in fact docked at Queen's Wharf, next one over. Still, the Volendam is pretty hard to miss. One feature of this tour is that it is conducted in an S-class Mercedes. Either our guide is misinformed, or there is truly not that much to see in Auckland, which in fact looks like any largish American city. Apparently the high spot of the tour was to have been an hour or two in the Auckland Museum, and our guide was miffed when we declined, explaining that we want to see how people live, not what they collected. We were dropped back at the ship, and I went out a little later to buy a gift for a friend and to change my remaining NZ dollars for Australian dollars. Curiously, I got a better rate at a hole-in-the-wall currency exchange in Auckland's Westfield Center than in the HSBC bank next door, which wanted to charge a NZ$10 fee to exchange NZ$133. At dinner, the Captain confirmed that we will miss the Bay of Islands call, and offered a glass of champagne in token recompense. We are warned that the sea will be rough from 7am Friday to 7am Saturday, but that things should get better over the weekend. Friday, 16 December through Sunday, 18 December Well, the seas were rough on Friday, and even on Saturday, but no worse than they were coming to NZ. Things smoothed out on Sunday. Sunday was the final dinner of the trip, with the chef's parade, baked Alaska and a high level of general silliness. Perhaps someone wasn't paying due attention to the food, because Gail's dinner of a spinach and mushroom strudel came back with explosive force later that evening. We initially thought "norovirus," although Gail had been punctilious about using the ship's Purell dispensers. But she ran no fever and felt better in the morning, and ate normally thereafter. Food poisoning? Can't say, since we know no one else who had that dish. Monday, 19 December Before learning that Volendam would dock at the Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay, we had booked one post-cruise night at the Holiday Inn Old Sydney, which is literally across the street from the Passenger Terminal. I immediately started worrying about how I was going to manage the chair and the five bags and talk a cab driver into taking me on a short ride. To my surprise, it all went smoothly. HAL had a special disembarkation group for the handicapped which met in the deck 5 Ocean Bar, and a crewman took Gail in the chair through Australian Customs and out the cab rank, with me following with all of the luggage piled on a free cart. As it happened, there was a wheelchair cab waiting, so the dispatcher had us jump the queue and take the wheelchair cab, and he in turn did not object to such a short fare. The final miracle was that our handicapped room at the Holiday Inn was cleaned and ready for us at 8:30am. A word on Sydney's wheelchair cabs. There are about 700 of them, and as noted above, the investment in such a vehicle is generally repaid with a steady flow of work from hospital and clinic patients. It is very rare to find a wheelchair cab on a cab rank. But if you get a wheelchair cab, you will pay the same as anyone else making the same trip. The meters on all Sydney cabs are programmed for the same fare structure and then sealed, and cabs are regularly inspected to see if the seals are still intact. In spite of off and on sprinkles, I wheeled Gail around the area (called The Rocks), which is the oldest part of Sydney. There are some streets with steep hills which I skipped out of concern for being able to push the chair up them, or control it coming down, and some streets with steps, so we didn't see everything. In the afternoon I left Gail in the room and went to Sydney's Central Station, which has a large railfan bookstore, and in the evening, we went to an Italian restaurant behind the hotel, which we learned about on these boards. With her swallowing difficulties, Gail does well with pasta dishes. Tuesday, 20 December and Wednesday, 21 December Up at 5, breakfast at 6, cab at 7 and flight at 10, the first leg of our Sydney-Bangkok-Frankfurt-Philadelphia routing. Aside from a 25-minute wait for a wheelchair at Thai's check-in desk, the trip was uneventful. We spent 7 hours in Thai's business-class lounge in Bangkok, which has some rudimentary food available, as well as free wi-fi, but we were unable to identify anyone on the internet who could handle a wheelchair for a short tour of Bangkok. The one handicapped bathroom in the lounge seemed to be about a half-mile from where we were sitting near the entrance, but was clean and serviceable. The 11-hour Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt boarded around midnight (3am Sydney time) and after a post-takeoff meal we slept most of the way into Frankfurt. There we were met by a wheelchair and taken to the business class lounge near our gate, quite a distance from the gate where we landed. Having flown in and out of Frankfurt a lot on business, I was aware that a shortage of gates means that some planes get "bus positions" requiring a walk down a flight of steps and a bus ride (usually standing) to the terminal itself, and was stressing about whether this would happen to either our inbound or outbound flight. Not an issue for this trip, and we were later told that wheelchair people could be handled on bus position planes by a special vehicle. Another long layover, then 8 hours across the Atlantic (the 747 was wi-fi equipped, but it was not working on our flight), another possibly lost bag which eventually emerged from the bowels of Philadelphia's luggage delivery system, and then the welcome sight of our friends who volunteered to pick us up waving as we emerged from the customs area. Read Less
Sail Date December 2011
This was our tenth cruise with five cruiselines over a period of 14 years. We always choose verandah or mini-suite accommodation and have been happy with every experience so far. We had read differing views of Volendam but were prepared to ... Read More
This was our tenth cruise with five cruiselines over a period of 14 years. We always choose verandah or mini-suite accommodation and have been happy with every experience so far. We had read differing views of Volendam but were prepared to take the chance on a 16-day round-trip cruise, Sydney to New Zealand, for Christmas and New Year. What a surprise! This is the most gorgeous ship that measures up to, and often exceeds, some other high-end vessels. The decor is simply stunning in the Florentine style and lounge areas extremely comfortable and inviting. The only comparison we can make is Pacific Princess, also beautiful. We always begin the day with a light room-service breakfast, the only type usually available. Another surprise - a full breakfast menu for the first time, served on Rosenthal china with HOT tea and coffee. Also, we often eat lunch in the dining room, but we found the atmosphere and environment in the Lido buffet was quiet and spotlessly clean with genuinely friendly staff. Not the noisy mosh pit we've experienced many times! The Lido food was better than that offered by some dining rooms on other ships, especially the dreadful Rhapsody of the Seas, with a wide variety clearly separated into Asian, Italian, entrees, etc. We had pre-dinner drinks in the Ocean Bar every night and found the staff and service friendly. Music from jazz to modern was provided by the Neptune Trio, piano, bass and drums. It was a perfect background for a view of the sea or a whizz around the dance floor at the end of the day. Dinner in the Dining Room was always delicious. The food was prepared to perfection - the ship serves the best beef we've ever eaten - and variety unlimited. There's lots of duck and lobster, not offered routinely on many cruise ships, and service was impeccable. Our wine steward, Belinda from the Phillipines, was a joy to see each night and had good knowledge of the wines on offer. A string quartet played from the balcony during dinner. Christmas and New Year celebrations were just that, with staff going the extra mile to entertain us. Our final night in the dining room was remarkable, with waitstaff dancing into the room singing, twirling plates on poles, waving napkins, as well as the grand alaska (without the flambe, thanks to OHS). It was a bit sad to leave and that's our indication of enjoyment. We were particularly impressed with the fact that we had been allocated our requested table for two, something we have almost had to beg for on other ships where we have loyalty status. We booked for a special night in Pinnacle Grill to celebrate Le Cirque, an iconic New York restaurant which has authorised Holland America to provide dinners from its menu. For $59 a person, including matched wines, we had an extraordinary evening. It's the most beautiful restaurant at sea that we have found and a very, very special place. Following the principle of starting with two positive things before a negative, we must say the following: Our verandah accommodation (deluxe verandah is twice the price) was compact, but after the shock of entering a narrow space between bathroom and wardrobe where both doors can't be opened simultaneously, we settled in and found an abundance of storage (and I'm an over-packer) and must draw potential passengers' notice to the fact that there are two big concealed shoe drawers at the end of the beds. Also, it is a great pity that the open-plan casino spews cigarette smoke from the slot-machine area at one end and the bar from the other into the open walkway between show-lounge, Ocean Bar, shops and Piano Bar. The adjacent and barely divided Piano Bar is especially inviting and after trying it on day one we felt sorry for the excellent female performer there night after night with a poor early audience. Perhaps the smokers came later and took a regular three steps into the casino for a puff. Only 17% of Australians smoke and we manage to avoid it most of the time at home. Staff at the open-plan shop opposite the casino are concerned at the impact it has on their business and a glass partition might solve the problem, but might also deter the company's desirable impulse gamblers. We had one small problem when the ship was unprepared for the need for electric adaptors and were without for a couple of days. When an offer of lunch at Pinnacle Grill ($10 each) wasn't possible for us, the $20 was credited to our shipboard account by understanding Front Office staff. Take note, Princess Cruises! Embarkation from Sydney's Overseas terminal was unimpressive, as usual, for a landmark position, but disembarkation was well-managed. Again for the first time, room-service breakfast was not suspended at a time when it was most appreciated. We chose late departure of 8.45am and it was seamless. Congratulations, Holland America, for our memorable cruise experience - you will certainly be seeing us again, despite the rewards offered by our loyalty to other lines. Read Less
Sail Date December 2011
We booked the 17-Day Australia and Indonesia cruise on the Volendam about 2 months out in January and was offered an upsell from a DA outside stateroom to a B verandah stateroom at an attractive price and having a large amount of sea days ... Read More
We booked the 17-Day Australia and Indonesia cruise on the Volendam about 2 months out in January and was offered an upsell from a DA outside stateroom to a B verandah stateroom at an attractive price and having a large amount of sea days during this cruise. Arriving just 1 day before the cruise began, we spent the night at the Holiday Inn Old City, which we chose due to the close proximity to the Rocks and the cruise port, it was so close to the port that we could even spot the funnel of the Volendam when she docked the next morning. Everything about the hotel was great from the service and atmosphere to its location and I highly recommend it to any one looking for a pre or post cruise hotel. Having sailed on the Volendam once in 2009, the ship was as sharp and impeccable as it was 2 years ago. We were also delighted by the "cabin direct" initiative that allowed passengers to proceed to their staterooms immediately after boarding instead of heading to the buffet to wait. Although some of the public rooms were a little tired (especially at the Explorations Cafe), most of the public areas were still very well maintained and many of the furnishings and aesthetics were maintained when the ship dry docked in Singapore. Our stateroom was a Verandah suite on the Navigation Deck (Deck 7), although I had initial worries that the extension of the Lido buffet above us would obstruct the view, it all quickly disappeared when the extension was not as large as I thought it would be (it even provided some shade at noon time when the sun was overhead). The room was large with ample drawers and closet space and the verandah was large as well with room for a small table, a chair and a lounger. The bathroom contained a "whirlpool" bath, which was a fun feature to have. We dined at the main dining room for dinner and at the Lido for lunch and breakfast. We were pleasantly surprised when there were themed lunches on certain days, which included Indonesian and Indian cuisines; there was also a Australian BBQ dinner which we really enjoyed under the stars. The food was excellent most of the time, however the soup was extremely salty one night, but what we really appreciated was that our complaint was taken very seriously and were asked every night after if the soup was to our. We ate at Canaletto one night and really enjoyed our meal (especially the Lasagna) and wished that we ate there more often. We did not participate in many activities during this cruise but there was no shortage of activities if one decides to participate. We did participate in the culinary demonstrations on the new Le Cirque dishes and Indonesian dishes and it was fun and pretty informative. The service on this cruise was of the highest standard and is one of the main reasons why we keep returning to Holland America. Our cabin stewards Adi and Ayu were great and they would always remember our preferences and those towel animals never fails to amuse us! Our dining room stewards were equally as attentive and were always eager to serve even in the most stressful of situations when the dining room was fully occupied. Overall, the service provided by the crew on this cruise far exceeded our expectations and has been one of the best we've received since we started cruising with Holland America. There were plenty of guest entertainers during the cruise from singers to guitarists to magicians and stand-up comedians. Most of them were pretty good except for one comedian where his jokes were mainly run-of-the-mill crude jokes that many passengers did not find amusing at all. The resident band, the HalCats was really good and we really enjoyed it when they were playing during the sail-away parties. One of the reasons why we decided to book this cruise was that we have never visited many of the ports, which this cruise went to. Here's just a brief review of some of the ports on this cruise: Brisbane: We loved Brisbane for its laidback vibe and although she was still recovering from the Queensland Floods from December 2010, it was still beautiful especially along the Brisbane River. We spent most of our day at the Queensland Museum South Bank, which had some great exhibits and was also free! The CityCat ferry from and to the cruise port was also an enjoyable mode of transport to enjoy the sights of Brisbane from the river. Hamilton Island: Spent most of the day at Catseye Beach where cruise passengers could make use of the facilities there including the gorgeous swimming pools (although they were pretty deep). Cairns: The Great Barrier Reef tour from Cairns was pretty disappointing as there were many extra hidden charges such as extra helicopter and snorkeling tours, however, one must participate in at least one of the tours to fully appreciate the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, but the initial cost of the shore excursion should be reduced due to the "extras" one must purchase during the tour to fully enjoy it. Darwin: Darwin was a pretty compact city, which could easily be explored by foot in a day. The precinct around the cruise port was also very pretty with an artificial beach and cafes. Komodo Island: Komodo Island was an interesting place and it felt more like a forgotten island in the middle of nowhere, however, we did enjoy the jungle trek more than the Komodo Dragons which many thought were placed at the watering hole to amuse the tourists. Bali: In Bali, we did the Bali heritage tour from the ship as we really wanted to visit the Besakih Temple and it's something that we recommend especially if you've been to touristy Nusa Dua and its surroundings. Semarang: Borobudur temple was another highlight of this cruise and we were not disappointed by its majestic size and its historical and cultural importance to Indonesia, which could be seen in its careful restoration. I would highly recommend taking the ships organized shore excursion, as we needed a police escort due to traffic jams in Semarang. Jakarta: Jakarta was a very busy and modern city with skyscrapers dotting the skyline. There was some souvenir shopping activities during the tour and we also visited the city and puppet museums and the city square. Once again, I highly recommend taking a shore excursion either to the city or Bogor due to the traffic jams in Jakarta city. Singapore: We overnighted in Singapore. As a Singaporean, it was a pretty bizarre experience, as we had to overnight on the ship for when home was just a 20-minute drive away! But we did enjoy the empty ship on the first day in Singapore and just lazed around admiring the harbor, which we rarely see from a ships perspective. Disembarkation on the second day was fuss-free and efficient, despite contractors and engineers loading equipment and supplies onto the ship in preparation for the dry dock. We got into a cab and were home in less than 20 minutes. Overall, I cannot fault anything on this cruise. Every aspect of it was exceptional from the great food to the great service and the fact that the Volendam brought us home from Australia made this cruise even more special. We now cannot wait for our next Holland America cruise! Read Less
Sail Date March 2011
Volendam Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 3.5 4.0
Dining 4.0 4.0
Entertainment 3.5 3.5
Public Rooms 4.0 4.2
Fitness Recreation 4.5 3.8
Family 3.5 3.8
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.5
Enrichment 5.0 3.5
Service 5.0 4.2
Value For Money 4.0 3.8
Rates 4.0 3.9

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