Depending upon the time you board this vessel, a smiling Indonesian or Filipino staff member in white gloves will greet you delightedly and then escort you to your stateroom. Many of the most fondly recalled elements of the classical style of cruising are unmistakably alive and well here. You'll find no feverish singles action here, and the entire ship seems to roll up the carpet at an hour that would horrify the late night crowd. This ship definitely appeals to an older age demographic, as do most Holland America ships, and for that reason the pace aboard is much more relaxed. Bars and lounges fill up for before dinner cocktails and dancing, and on cruises of longer than ten days there are generally a stable of "gentleman" hosts available to whisk the single ladies around the dance floor. Both hot and cold nibbles are served during cocktail hour, and musical entertainment is provided.
Veendam is fully subscribed to Holland America's "Signature of Excellence" program of enhancements to nearly every area of the ship. New features include tableside waiter service at dinner in the Lido, a new Culinary Arts Program with show kitchen for demonstrations and classes, expansion of spa and fitness facilities, upgraded Club HAL Kids Centers, and new shore excursions. The Explorations Cafe is a combination library, Internet center, music listening area and sidewalk cafe. Staterooms now offer the best mattresses and duvets sold in Europe, flat screen TVs, and DVD players. There's early boarding and a choice of four dinner seatings.
What you will find aboard the Veendam is a palpable reverence for culture, art, and antiques, and lots of fresh flowers. The atmosphere is subdued, rather than flashy, and the ship is populated by folks who are generally well-traveled and for whom getting there is half the fun of the voyage. The itineraries too are often unique, and Holland America is a line that doesn't seem fearful of trying out new and exotic destinations.
The Veendam has received the full range of Holland America's "Signature of Excellence" enhancements, both in the public areas and staterooms. Staterooms now feature the best mattresses and duvets sold in Europe, along with flat screen TVs and a DVD player. The former library has been converted to the Explorations Café (powered by the New York Times), a combination internet center, library and music listening area. Personal music listening stations can be individually programmed from a playlist of thousands of choices, and comfortable reclining leather chairs allow the listener to lie back and get lost in a world of music to his own liking, played on soft, comfortable headphones. The library has a fairly large selection of books, most of which can be checked out for the duration of the voyage. Some 13+ computer terminals allow passengers to access the internet at speeds approximating a dial up connection at home.
In its strategy of marketing Holland America ships to the family cruiser, the Kids Club has also received substantial attention. A new area, "The Loft," which is located at the very top of the ship, serves as a teen hangout … no adults allowed. This area features hammocks for lounging and lots of brightly colored tables. A working waterfall serves as its centerpiece. Adults have been known to covet use of this area, it is so comfortable, and it is a real joy when a cruise has no teens onboard and the area is opened for general use.
A new wine bar has been added to the Pinnacle Grill Restaurant. It is here that wine tastings are held on every cruise. The Pinnacle Grill, as well, has received a menu makeover, and the price of this premium restaurant has been raised from $20 to $30 per person. Lunch can be had here on sea days for $15 a pop.
The Veendam features early boarding, with a full buffet lunch provided in the Lido. Guests are also permitted to remain in their staterooms on disembarkation day, rather than congregating in public areas until their group is called. Dining takes place in the fixed seating format in the beautiful two-tier Rotterdam Dining Room, with a choice of four seating times. As with all Holland America ships, the Veendam subscribes to the dress code of the evening. As of May 1st, these dress codes consist of Formal and Smart Casual. There will usually be two evenings designated as formal each week.
varies a great deal from dish to dish, ranging from flavorless to divinely prepared and cooked; desserts generally score well with most people, while meat and fish may be over-cooked or arrive luke warm. Some of the most interesting meals occur at the Lido buffet, where each night an ethnic theme is featured in the late night buffet. These range from Mexican night to Italian Fiesta. Watch for the seafood buffet where you might find delicious crab claws available by the plateful. Choices in the Rotterdam Dining Room are plentiful and the menus varied. Despite being a picky eater, I was hardpressed not to find at least one entrée on any given night that I could enjoy. And, just in case there was nothing, a couple of "comfort" items can be ordered any evening. These included sirloin steak and chicken, along with baked potatoes. The Lido Buffet offers one of the best casual dining venues afloat. Serving stations are set up in such a way that you can go directly to the area containing the food items you want, without waiting in a long snaking line with other passengers desiring other items. Some items, such as pasta, can be cooked to order, and a sandwich station can prepare your favorite lunchtime snack to your precise specifications. I was even able to walk the server through the construction of an "authentic" Eyetalian hoagie.
The extra tariff Pinnacle Grill is clearly among the top specialty restaurants at sea, serving Northwestern fare, including some of the thickest and juiciest steaks around, served in an elegant atmosphere befitting a fine restaurant on land. The menu remains the same throughout the cruise, though a specialty of the night is added, and varied by day of the week. While the Pinnacle Grill is known for beef entrees, at least one seafood dish is also offered. The Pinnacle's claim to fame, though, is their Chocolate Volcano Cake dessert, for which many passengers book this venue just to get a taste of. Be aware that it will cost you $30 a head to dine here, but many feel it is well worth the cost. A hint to the wise, however … ask your travel agent if she can get you a voucher for a free "Pinnacle Grill Experience." Many of them routinely offer these vouchers for a free dinner at the Pinnacle as a "thank you" gift for their clients.
Holland America's Indonesian and Filipino crew is warm and gracious, though not always as fluent in English as American and British passengers might prefer. Speak slowly and make sure they understand what you need, because they can often be too polite to ask you to repeat yourself.
While service around the ship proved to be excellent, the Rotterdam Dining Room was the one area lacking. tended to be slow most nights at our table for ten and rarely did we get out from the 8:00 p.m. seating before 10:15 or so. This could have been as a result of the fact that some people ordered multiple items from every course served, while others selected perhaps a soup or salad and then an entrée. Despite several attempts to ask our servers not to wait until others were finished with the intervening courses before bringing another diner's dinner, these requests feel on deaf ears and folks wound up sitting around, sometimes for up to 45 minutes, waiting for others at the table to finish their pre-dinner entrees. Surely Holland America can come up with some strategy for accommodating those who do not order from every course, and would like to have their entrée served sooner?
Holland America is known for certain "special" touches, and these mostly take the form of service enhancements you're not likely to find on the ships of other cruise lines. The "yum yum" man stationed outside of the Rotterdam Dining Room after dinner each night, offering tasty nibbles and mints as an after-dinner "refresher." Also noteworthy is the Lido host, who hands you your tray at the beginning of the serving line. Holland America is famous for some of these hosts, who can remember the names of passengers from day to day. Last, but certainly not least, are the many stewards present in the Lido who offer to carry trays for passengers who perhaps need a bit of help. I notice this service on no other lines that I've sailed, and it is just one of the services touches that make HAL stand out above the rest in the cruise industry.
Notably absent on this most recent Veendam cruise was the chimes player who summons passengers to dinner each night by roaming the Promenade decks playing soft chimes as a reminder that dinner is now being served. This particular enhancement was sorely missed by many passengers.
For years Holland America was known for its no-tipping required policy, intended to make passengers believe that the staff were offering their services for love, rather than money. (Yeah, right.). When that didn't work out, they changed their marketing direction and now gratuities of $10.00 per person (including children) are automatically added daily to the shipboard account for dining and stateroom service. This amount can be adjusted, however, by visiting the front desk. Passengers are also welcome to tip additional, in cash, to those crew members who most made their cruise memorable.
A 15 percent service charge is also automatically added to bar bills as well.
It is also customary to tip in cash room service waiters who provide in-cabin delivery of meals and other snacks. $2 to $3 dollars, depending on order size, is usually deemed appropriate.
Aboard the Veendam you'll find some of the largest cabins afloat, all beautifully appointed with handsome fabrics and attractive art. Standard inside cabins are 182 sq. feet, while outside staterooms are 197 sq. feet, with enough closet and drawer space for the serious traveler. Balcony cabins offer considerably more interior cabin space than you might expect. In fact, all of Holland America's cabins average in size about 25% larger than similar accommodations in other fleets. A special class of cabins, the luxury suites, are a whopping 563 square feet, and contain just about every modern convenience. The named penthouse suites, of which there are two on this ship, contain dance floor sized private verandahs and are a huge 1,100 square feet. These suites, along with the ones in the luxury category, offer a wide list of special amenities not available to the average passenger, including access to the famed "Neptune Lounge." While many cruise lines provide butler services in their upper end accommodations, HAL offers this lounge. A private retreat that offers a daily variety of snack items, and free premium coffee drinks throughout the day, it's best feature is contained in the services of a dedicated concierge who is available to do the bidding of the small handful of passengers using this enclave. These services include making arrangements for private in-suite parties, handling shore excursion requests, making spa and Pinnacle Grill reservations, and a host of other such tasks.
Other accommodations offered include the deluxe suites in the "A" and "B" categories. What would be referred to as a "mini suite" on other cruise lines, these accommodations are nearly as grand as the luxury ones, and are 284 square feet including the somewhat small attached veranda. These suites include a whirlpool tub in the bathroom, along with an oversized television and a DVD player, minibar, and separate sitting area.
The Veendam offers several cabins in various categories for passengers with mobility or other physical challenges. There are no cabins designed for singles on this ship, but HAL does offer a very reasonable single supplement of between 40% and 50% on its standard staterooms. Perhaps in response to the larger than normal number of single travelers the line attracts, they also offer their Single Partner Program, where the line will pair singles of the same sex together, and give the single the cabin at half the double occupancy rate if they are unable to find a same sex partner for her. Many folks have used this program with success, however, be warned that the resulting experience of sharing close quarters with a stranger has generated its share of horror stories as well.
Stateroom amenities include bathrobes, a complimentary fresh fruit basket on arrival, stainless steel ice buckets and serving trays for use with in-cabin beverages. There are also massage shower heads in every bathroom.
The Veendam hosts the Greenhouse Spa on one side of the Lido Deck. Complete with treatment rooms, a beauty salon and a well-equipped gymnasium, the area is attractive enough to make even the most determinedly sedentary passenger want to come in and poke around. The sauna/steam rooms, segregated by gender, are impossible to fault, and for an extra cost passengers can avail themselves of the thermal suite, which features a hydrotherapy and thalassotherapy pool, heated ceramic lounges and more. This quite enclave is a popular place for passengers who just want to get away from it all and relax. Folks who made use of this area during my cruise raved about it. Passes are available on both a daily and entire cruise basis, with the price averaging out to about $10 per day if you buy a pass for the duration of the cruise.
Way up at the top of the ship, on the sports deck is a jogging track, isolated from cabins and other activities to spare non-joggers the sound of thundering hooves. A basketball and practice tennis court can be found there as well.
On the main Lido deck is a comfortable pool area, covered by a retractable dome to keep out bad weather. Plenty of padded loungers encircle the pool area, as well as lots of tables on both sides for Lido dining al fresco. The Dolphin bar is located in this area and it's an unbeatable spot to meet up with friends or watch a sailaway out of one of the exotic ports this ship visits. A second pool is located on the Navigation deck. This pool too is surrounded by comfortable loungers and tables, though there is no overhead dome protecting it from the elements.
Admittedly, I know little about this feature of HAL ships since I don't have children. However, as part of their Signature of Excellence upgrades, the youth programs received an extensive makeover. Club HAL keeps the younger passengers diverted with supervised activities, including crafts, parties, and games customized by age group, with the number of counselors allotted based on the number of children expected on each individual sailing. Many children find Holland America's planned activities severely humdrum, when compared to the offerings of other cruise lines such as Disney or Royal Caribbean, but the recent addition of the Loft and Oasis, an outdoor retreat high on top of the ship for teens only has been a step taken in the direction of remedying this disparity. Teens will find a host of activities especially geared to their interests, including a teen disco, karaoke sessions, video games, teen sports tournaments, card games, trivia contests, bingo, movies and videos provided for their exclusive enjoyment.
Special children's menus are available in the Rotterdam dining room.
Babysitting services are generally available for parents wishing to spend an evening alone and it is generally provided by staff manning the purser's desk by day. The charge is usually around $7.50 per child per hour. However, there is no guarantee babysitters will be available during your cruise, so plan ahead for evening child care, bringing along someone to take care of this if necessary.
Holland America used to have three distinct dress codes – formal, informal and smart casual. As of May 1st, they eliminated the informal category, leaving only formal and smart casual as the standards. There will usually be two formal nights on a seven-day cruise, more on longer itineraries. Half the men usually opt for a dark suit rather than renting a tuxedo. Casual on these ships means comfortable, but T-shirts, swimsuits, tank tops and shorts are all forbidden in the dining rooms and public areas. Jeans have recently been eliminated from this list of prohibited items, and are now considered acceptable attire in the dining rooms on casual evenings.
The fourth "S-class" (for Statendam) of Holland America ships, the smallest and quietest class in the fleet.
Best For People Who Want
A subdued classical style of cruising on a reasonably priced mid-size ship; large cabins and staterooms with private verandas; non-smoking dining areas; ample breakfast and luncheon buffets, and ice cream that is still free, served throughout the day along with a variety of tasty toppings.
Should Be Avoided By People Who Prefer
A high-energy ship; a "party hardy" type atmosphere, and lots of singles looking to meet the person of their dreams. The ms Veendam is also not suitable for those who abhor fixed seating dining.
Warm colors graced by antiques and reproductions with subdued lighting in cocktail lounges. Marble and luxurious fabrics are ubiquitous. Cabins are light and airy. Lots of art work and statuary grace the halls of this ship, with much of it related to the Dutch heritage of the line.
The Veendam may lack the breathtaking atria typical of other ships built in the 1990s, but it is remarkably easy to find your way around. The beauty of Holland America ships is that they generally follow the same format, especially within the class types. The Veendam is an "R" class ship, and as such you'll find her easy to navigate if you've ever been on other "R" class ships in the fleet. She has the same bars and lounges as the other ships, located in the same general areas on the deck plan. Most of the public areas can be found on the Promenade and Upper Promenade Decks, and these include the large Ocean Bar, with sea views by day and romantic lighting at night. It is probably the most popular spot for pre- and post-dinner cocktails, though it gets serious competition from another cozy lounge, the sing-along piano bar. The 89-seat Explorer's Lounge offers a string quartet or a harpist performing light classical favorites in the evening hours.
The glamorous two-story main dining room, framed with floor-to-ceiling windows, features a dramatic staircase and a classical trio holding forth demurely from a perch on the top level. Just outside the second level, ladies will find a perfectly located spacious powder room, complete with ocean views.
The main show lounge has two floors and a wide stage, with comfortable seating, though sight lines from the balcony are partially obscured. There is a large dance floor in front of the stage and an onboard orchestra/show band plays pre-dinner dance music nightly. The Crows Nest observation lounge, with its 320-degree view, is the perfect place from which to watch your departure from port; and at night it becomes the shipboard "disco" dance room, complete with a disk jockey station right off the dance floor. Card players are accommodated in various areas, including a dedicated card room that can simultaneously host four dozen players. Bridge lessons and play are offered daily, and many cruises host onboard bridge experts to help work with novice and experienced players alike. For those who enjoy a good game of Scrabble or a challenging crossword puzzle, tables are provided in areas bordering the Explorations Café. Players routinely congregate there to find new partners to share these pursuits.
A fairly large casino is also provided on the Upper Promenade Deck, located just off of the Explorations Café. This room offers a wide variety of table games, as well as numerous slot machines. The penny and nickel slots are almost always in use as these are the perennial favorites of lots of Holland America's passengers.
One sour note: Holland America has recently revamped their onboard smoking policy and the only public areas where smoking is now allowed are a small area of the Ocean Bar and one side of the Crow's Nest. All other lounges and bars are, for the most part, smoke-free. The casino alternates every other night as a smoke-free venue.
There are tables for two, four, six, eight and ten in the opulent two-level Rotterdam Dining Room, which benefits from sea views and a romantically twinkling, fiber optics-lit ceiling. Rosenthal china, sparkling crystal, and crisp linens are also featured here. There are four fixed dining seatings - 5:45 p.m., 6:15 p.m., 8:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Breakfast and lunch service takes place in the open seating format. As with all dining venues aboard the Veendam, the Rotterdam Dining Room is entirely a smoke-free environment.
Casual breakfast, lunch, dinner, and midnight buffets featuring ethnic cuisine are served in the Lido restaurant adjacent to the pool. At night this venue turns into a somewhat elegant affair, with tablecloths and candles placed on the tables. While you still go through a serving line, often your main entrée will be cooked to order and brought to you tableside. The Lido provides an excellent dinner alternative to those not wishing to dress up on a formal night. Dining here is always casual.
The cozy, intimate Pinnacle Grill specializes in the ingredients of the Pacific Northwest. Its dedicated galley includes 1600-degree grill. Bulgari china, unique tableware and a dedicated service staff enhance the elegant atmosphere, as too does the wine list, which features several California and Washington vintages not offered in the main dining room. An adjacent wine bar provides the opportunity to sample some of these wines at various times during the cruise, and a minimal tasting charge applies. Reservations for the Pinnacle should be made as soon as boarding, or even before via Ships Services, as this very popular dining venue usually fills up very quickly.
Twenty-four-hour room service is very efficient, and between meals you can order from a large list of snacks, salads and sandwiches. At mealtimes, you can order from the same menu those in the dining room are perusing. Service in brisk and the orders were, for the most part, accurate. It is appropriate to tip a couple of dollars to the steward who delivers your tray.
The main lounge presents variety shows, guest musicians and comedians, as well as a series of lavish Broadway-style revues performed by the Veendam cast of singers and dancers. There's a jazz quartet in the Ocean Bar and a classical trio that performs nightly in the Explorer's Lounge. There's a sing-along piano bar and a sports bar featuring multiple televisions broadcasting a variety of sporting events from all over the world. Fresh hot popcorn is served during first run movie presentations that take place in what was once the Wajang Theater, now a room that doubles as the Culinary Arts Center, a room where cooking demonstrations and classes are also held. The Crow's Nest at the top of the ship is also a popular night spot for dancing and socializing. A combo plays, and a dj spins the tunes late into the night here. This lounge is also used for a variety of special events, including the Black and White Ball, Sock Hop, and the various theme parties that take place throughout the cruise.
Various game shows were held in the main show lounge. These events encouraged passenger participation. There was also a passenger talent show and a performance of HAL's famed "Great Pretenders Show," where passengers get to act out the roles of the musical stars of yesterday, lipsyncing to recorded music of their hits. We were also treated to a performance of both the Indonesian and Filipino Crew shows. Often these shows provide the entertainment highlights of a cruise, and are often better presented than some of the paid entertainment onboard.
There is also an onboard casino that features a wide variety of gaming machines and table games. This room alternates between smoke-free and smoking throughout the cruise, and the format for the day is always announced in the daily program delivered to the cabins the evening before. The casino also hosts various slot and Black Jack tournaments throughout each cruise.
If the evenings are elegant on this ship, the days are very relaxing. Daytime has no shortage of activities going on, but these tend to be of a variety that would appeal mostly to an older, more sedate passenger mix. Various spa and fitness classes are held throughout the day. Dance classes take place on just about every sea day. They are hosted by members of the Veendam cast and attended by the onboard "gentleman" hosts who provide dance partners for those who may lack them. Other daytime events included various trivia-type games, sporting type challenges which offered "Dam Dollars" to participants. These "Dam Dollars" could be redeemed at the end of the cruise for various HAL logo items. These sporting events included HAL's famed "On Deck for the Cure," in which HAL's passengers walk the promenade deck to raise money for breast cancer research.
Liquor tasting events were held, along with martini making classes. Arts and crafts classes were offered, along with various solo travelers activities, including hosted lunches.
The famed Dessert Extravaganza was held one evening on this cruise. This event, unique to HAL, offers onboard chefs the opportunity to great towering masterpieces all constructed of chocolate. These includes intricately detailed sailing ships and a variety of animals and birds. While some displays were preserved for picture taking initially, by the event's end, passengers had feasted extensively and little remained but the discarded chocolate shells.
Catholic and Interdenominational services were held onboard daily on all sea days, as well as on Sundays. A Jewish Rabbi was also onboard to conduct Friday Sabbath services, complete with a kosher meal served in the Lido.
An Explorations Speaker Series is included on cruises of ten days or more, and on our repositioning cruise we had lecturers talking about such subjects as astromony, literary history, the oceans and sea life. While most of these topics were enlightening, many of us passengers couldn't understand their place on a European cruise entitled "Passage to Venice." More appropriate lecturers would have been discussing topics relating to the varied ports we would be visiting, their cultures and their history.
Of course, the standard fare of art auctions and bingo can be found onboard, and these are detailed in the daily programs delivered to staterooms each evening. Art auctions were hosted by Park West and they generally took place in the Ocean Bar. On days the auctions were being held, the entire hallway and entryway of the lounge would be piled high with paintings, often making gaining entry to the venue difficult. Bingo games were generally hosted twice a day.