I know you really can't compare these two ships ... but just for laughs, I highlighted the special features on each sailing and how they stacked up with each other. Thought some might find it entertaining. I'll cross-post this on the Holland America board as well. See if others can add their perspectives.
Veendam - so, so.
QE2 - Delicious, whether we enjoyed it via room service, in the Caronia Dining Room or in the casual dining venue. QE2 knows how to "do" a cup of java and could probably give HAL lessons.
Veendam - Generally outstanding. Cabin steward was to die for ... he couldn't do enough for us. Bar staff was very accommodating and very friendly. We were on a first name basis with everyone in the Ocean Bar (our hangout of choice) after the first couple of days onboard.
QE2 - Fair to middling. Maybe it's the "British" style of service that permeates the whole ship, but the service staff tend to be far less "friendly" and outgoing. Don't get me wrong. They generally meet your needs, but just not with that signature HAL style. We missed that once we were onboard. After 18-days of HAL's signature service touches, we felt sorely lacking once onboard the QE2.
Veendam - Very nice, but standard. Of course, the Veendam was built with standard cabins. You buy into a category, you get basically the standard size and layout of a cabin in that category. No surprises.
QE2 - Neat! The cabin was just laid out very well. We had a bed area, a closet area, and then a nice private sitting area at the end. Because of the layout, someone can be reading in the sitting area without disturbing someone who is sleeping. This can be a real bonus when one person can sleep through the night, while the other can't. Two other neat things about the QE2 that weren't present on the Veendam. A special storage "locker" that opened up from the floor of the closet ... where lifejackets were stored. This allowed you to have easy access to them, yet keep them out of the way. Also, the nightstand between the beds had a neat pull-out "desk." Great for holding the tray with our room service coffee each morning! HAL should consider something like that. It's a handy little feature! On the minus side for the QE2, however, is the fact that the cabin lacked any sort of "homey" touches. Only one print on the wall, the carpeting old and worn ... tiny bathroom ... and I do mean tiny. But then ... it's an older ship probably in need of a good drydock. Finally, here's a unique thing: The toilets on the QE2 actually flush! Yes, that's right ... flush ... just like your toilet at home. No vacuum system on this ship.
Bars and Lounges:
Veendam - The standards you'll find on every HAL ship. No surprises there. Drink prices a bit on the high side, though there is a "Cocktail of the Day" which is priced a bit cheaper. You can also buy "Signature Cocktail Cards" which save you about 50 cents per drink. They are good for ten cocktails and run about $60 some dollars.
QE2 - Lots of lounges and bars of various sizes. They differ from the venues of other ships in the Cunard fleet. Therefore, if you sail the QE2 this year, and the QM2 next year ... you won't have all the same cookie cutter lounges on the two ships. Let's you have something new to "discover." Also, drink prices were very, very reasonable on the QE2 ... generally about $5 bucks for a decent sized cocktail. However, they don't offer things like "Cocktail Cards."
Veendam - HAL should hire me to run this program, because even with no experience in this arena, I am confident I could do a better job hiring on these people. Many of HAL's lecturers are ... how can I gently say this? BORING. I watched a couple of the lectures via the cabin TV and I was so glad I chose to watch them that way ... because I would have probably fallen asleep if I were in the theater. It's not that these people are not knowledgeable or qualified to discuss their area of expertise ... it's just that their delivery seems to leave quite a bit to be desired. It sort of reminded me of those long afternoons in a college lecture hall ... trying to get all the information in my head, while not falling off to sleep. HAL needs to screen these people better ... ensure they have presentations that will entertain and inform ... with a style of delivery that will keep the audience engaged.
QE2 - They do quite a bit better in this area. They had three lecturers onboard our TransAtlantic sailing and two of them were very engaging. The other was decent as well, with the only exception being that he spoke in a monotone, which tended to put people asleep. However, I will say that the QE2 lecturers were clearly tops in their fields ... with several books written and long and illustrous careers. Clearly QE2 came out on top in this category.
Veendam - HAL does this ocean liner tradition very well ... and always did. But ...
QE2 - Wins hands down. They make a real production of it with music accompanying the waiters all leaving the front of the Queen's Room and dispersing to their serving stations ... along with an orchestra or harpist playing. But then ... the QE2 is a "British" inspired ship. Would you expect it to be any different?
Veendam - We all know how HAL does lifeboat drill. Everyone out on deck at their lifeboat stations ... with lifejacket on. Some people feel this is the only way to do it.
QE2 - You muster at your muster station ... which in our case was the Caronia Dining Room. You carry your lifejacket and only put it on when told by the muster staff. You are comfortably seated and thus could easily see and hear the instructions being given you by the muster captains. Most people paid attention and the atmosphere at the drill was very, very cooperative. During the drill on the Veendam which was held outside, I saw people talking, photographers snapping pictures, and one woman actually reading her novel. It musta been a good one, because she was thoroughly engrossed and clearly wasn't paying any attention at all to what was going on around her. I doubt she would have even remembered where her muster station was. QE2 wins in this category hands down. After all, what's the point of mustering out of doors? Mustering just means getting everyone together in one place in the event of an emergency. Rarely will you go to the lifeboats anyway ... and if you did have to, officers would lead you there. I think you'd more readily remember your muster station as one being in the dining room you visit everyday, rather than one particular lifeboat out on a deck with several.
Veendam - As always, excellent. Could have been a bit more of a variety with the soups, though. But then, that's always a complaint of mine ... even at land based restaurants. There was always just two hot soups and one cold soup. Often none of them appealed to me. The other thing I like about HAL's dining room is the "anytime" items on the menu. If you don't find anything on one particular night that appeals to you, there are a couple of staples that you can always order ... such as steak and a chicken dish. The Lido is to die for. It's my favorite casual dining venue thus far on any ship. Nobody does it like HAL ... with the separate serving stations, negating having to wait in a long snaking line to get to the sandwich or the pasta station. Just go to the station you're interested in, and hop in the back of the line for that station. Another hands down winner for the Veendam is the stewards always at the ready in the Lido to carry a tray for someone who might need a bit of help. Never saw that on the QE2, despite both ships having a pretty fair amount of elderly and infirm passengers ... precisely the ones who need this sort of extra help. Boo ... QE2! Room service, at least for me, was always perfectly delivered ... exactly what we ordered and in record time.
QE2 - This is hard to compare because we had a cabin assigned to the Caronia dining room, rather than the fixed seating one. In Caronia, you have a "window" of time to arrive for your meal. You have an assigned table, and that table is yours for every meal. We had a table for four, though my cabinmate and I were the only ones assigned to it. Other than some service issues one morning, which my cabin mate spoke to the Matri 'd about, we had excellent service everyday. The menus for lunch and breakfast did not differ much at all day-to-day, but the dinner menus changed each day. A nice touch ... at the end of the cruise, we were presented with copies of the dinner menus for each night, with a hand-written note from our servers wishing us a safe trip home. HAL should consider doing this. It's a nice touch that's not very expensive at all to implement. Casual dining venue on the QE2 left a lot to be desired. You had to flag down a server to get a cup of coffee or iced tea. No self-service stations. Also the room was large and canoverous ... not very "homey" at all. No tableclothes on the tables at dinner either. One long line to be served. We only ate here once and then took to having all of our meals in the Caronia Dining room. One final note ... and I know this won't be popular with all ... but the Caronia Dining Room has a small smoking section. Yes! You can actually enjoy a cigarette between courses. And those tables in the smoking area were sufficiently segregated from those in the non-smoking area such that I heard no complaints from the non-smokers about smoke wafting over into their section. We thoroughly loved the Caronia Dining Room and at least I would definitely sail the QE2 again just to enjoy more meals there.
Veendam - I think HAL has cut back on some of their service staff ... especially in the dining rooms. The evening meal took forever at our table for ten. Servers appeared to be stretched to the limit, and as such each course was served in order. If someone only ordered soup and a main course, they had to wait until others at the table finished their soup, appetizer and salad before they would get their entrees. As a result, since all people eat at different speeds and order from different courses, this resulted in the evening meal running about 2-1/4 to 2-1/2 hours each night. In the past, I can recall servers bringing different diners their main entree when they completed their pre-entree courses, even if others at the table were still on pre-entree dishes. Today, however, I think the servers really don't have time to make these extra trips to the galley, and thus they don't do this any longer. The end result is that people get antsy waiting and usually wind up leaving the dining room as soon as they complete their entree. They are just too tired to sit there any longer. HAL needs to figure out a way around this ... especially for people at larger tables who eat at different speeds.
QE2 - Again, not a fair comparison since we were in "open seating" dining. Dinners rarely took more than an hour or so ... and that included dessert. Servers clearly were not overworked as they had time to chat with us and we were able to get to know them a bit. Our servers on HAL didn't have this luxury because they were clearly overworked and overwhelmed.
Veendam - HAL has always been elegant, especially on its non-Vista ships. The atmosphere onboard was relaxed. Everyone could find their favorite hang-out ... whether it be one of the bars or lounges, or the casino, or the Explorations Cafe for reading and listening to music. Us smokers did, however, miss our usual hang-out on the outside Lido Deck near the Lido Bar. HAL made that area under the magronome totally smoke free and that took away our primary point of socialization. Smokers always knew that we could meet up with one another out there pretty much at any time of the day or evening. Now, we were relegated to the aft deck, which has no protection against the elements ... thus rendering it unusable as a socialization point on many days of the cruise. It was just too chilly out there while sailing in North Atlantic waters.
QE2 - Lots of venues for socializing. Smokers are treated like human beings on this ship with smoking areas set aside in all the bars and lounges, and even in some of the dining rooms. Huge expansive sitting areas, such as the Queens Room and the outlying sitting areas. One could relax, enjoy their favorite libation and listen to a harpist or the QE2 orchestra play. As Cunard says, "a very civilized way to cross!"
Veendam - HAL wins hands down with the Explorations Cafe. QE2 can't touch it, though I've heard the QM2 could give it a run for its money. HAL has many wonderful areas in the Explorations Cafe where passengers can curl up comfortably with a good book. Their reading selection is quite extensive, even though not all books can be checked out. They also have these neat music listening stations that work like iPods. You program your playlist from a library of probably thousands of tunes ... in all genres ... then slap on a big pair of headphones, sit back in an overstuffed comfy leather recliner ... and enjoy your music. QE2 has nothing to compare to this. The Explorations Cafe is also equipped with internet stations and its where you come to check your email or get onto the web. It also is equipped as a WiFi hot spot, so you can bring your laptop down here as well. Any internet time package you buy can be used on either your own laptop or their internet stations. I accessed the net both ways during my cruise. They also have a pretty knowledgeable internet manager, who I constantly saw helping people who had connectivity issues. Connection speeds were pretty good on the internet. Certainly not your broadband at home ... but faster than traditional dial up. I spent a lot of time connected to the internet on this cruise ... doing a virtual cruise report, and I experienced no speed related problems whatsoever. Thumbs up to HAL in this area.
QE2 - Pretty small library, though it probably had as many books as the one on the Veendam did. However, the problem was that the room itself was small, with few places one could curl up with a book to read. You almost had to check the book out and then take it elsewhere to read. This is a pain, especially if you want to scan the book for a bit first ... to make sure it is worth your while to check out. The internet center is entirely separate from the library and since I didn't use it on this short crossing, I really can't comment on it. But I do know that I far, far preferred the internet and library set-up on HAL to what the QE2 had to offer in this area.
For now, that's it. These are the main areas where I found one ship or the other to stand out, and I thought I'd share them. I am the type of person who will always sail different cruise lines ... despite the fact that Holland America is my clear favorite. I think there are always things one cruise line, such as Cunard, will do better than others ... and it's fun to discover them.
Feel free to add your thoughts. What do you like about the way QE2 does something that other lines do differently? Where do you think the QE2 has room for improvement?