My wife and I took our first cruise on the Veenedam and chose HAL because of it's classic cruising reputation and its more mature crowd. We were extremely happy with our choice. The 1200+ passengers seemd to predominately range from 30s to 70s. There were a few families with children. The children on board seemed to range from about 10 to 16 years olds and were well-behaved.
We boarded in Tampa and arrived at the terminal about 2:30 and unloaded our tagged luggage at curbside with the help of a porter who took it for delivery loading onto the ship. We continued on into the terminal with our carry-on luggage. We had filled out our immigration papers online at HAL's website, so were directed into the express check-in line. We were glad we'd done so because there only 3 couples ahead of us in that line. There were perhaps 15 other long lines of passengers that hadn't filled out their immigration forms online. Within 5 minutes we were on our way to the boarding line. It was a bit longer and we stood inline for approximately 10-15 minutes before arriving atthe security checkpoint. Once through security we walked onto the ship and immediately warmly greeted by staff members. One of them, Wayne, stepped forward and took our carryon luggage from us and led the way to our cabin. by conincidence, Wayne would turn out to be our dining room steward and was just as friendly and personable all week long, just as he was when greeting us for the first time at boarding.
We had booked a B cabin with balcony and were on the Veranda deck which was deck 9. It was a very nice cabin and we enjoyed having the balcony. The cabin had a king bed and a sitting area with a sofa, desk with mirror (wife's sitdown makeup area), and a refrigerator. The TV had a built-in VCR. The bathroom had a tub with whirlpool and a medicine cabinet to store our toiletries and also had a hair dryer built-in. The room was attractive and clean and was kept that way all week by our hardworking steward, Suri. Each morning he would clean and restock the bathroom, make the beds, vacuum the room, clean any used glassware, keep the ice bucket filled etc. after we left the room in the morning. He would then return while we were at supper and did the same thing again and also turned down the bed and left a chocolate on the pillow for each of us.
We were surprised at how dining was such a major of the cruise and came to understand why everyone gains weight while cruising. Our goal was to keep our weight gain from exceeding 2 pounds and I even slipped the bathroom scale into our luggage thinking it would help us achieve that goal. It was a losing battle. The food was excellent throughout the cruise and is available 24 hours a day! We generally ate breakfasts and lunches in the Lido dining room which is a cafeteria style buffet line that has self service salads, breads, and desserts with servers dishing up the cooked items and then placing a warmer cover over the plates of warm food before handing them to you to put on your tray. There were always a half dozen or so entree's from which to choose with a similar amount of side dishes.
We went to the sit-down Rotterdam dining room for dinners each night. Wayne and Eky, dining room steward and his assistant provided excellent service. We didn't have anything with which we were disappointed. Everything was excellent and many things were outstanding. There were several choices each evening and over the week we included lobster, venison, steak, fish, etc. There was also at least one vegetarian main course available on the menu. (Don't miss the Creme brulee and tiramisu and key lime pie; they were great!!)
We skipped the themed late night meals available in the Lido restaurant. We heard that the food was very good but we don't like eating late and then going to bed but did go Wednesday night when the them was Dessert Extravaganza.
Shows were good and we always attended the evening show. The cruise staff were excellent in presenting the rock and roll show of 50/60s songs. The other shows included an outstanding stand up comedian who also sang and played the violin. We would have been happy to have her perform every night as she was just fantastic. There was also a very good comedian that we enjoyed.
There were activities scheduled throughout the day that one could chose to attend or not. We were happy walking for exercise on the Promenade deck 6, lying in the sun on our balcony or by one of the pools, playing bingo a time or two, having tea (and more food!) at mid-afternoon in the Explorer's Lounge and watching for flying fish which we saw several times. The water was too rough for tender operations in Grand Cayman so we were unable to visit as was scheduled. That was the only disappointment of the trip as we had reserved a rental car and were going to tour the island on our own. It was the only stop that we were really looking foward to visiting. So after arriving there we immediately set sail for Jamaica our next port of call. We weren't interested in Jamaica and just stayed on the ship for the day. It was very pleasant on the ship and we were happy finding that the pool area and the lunch serving wasn't crowded. Our dinnermates, Jo and Regina, went on a snorkeling excursion and that stopped at Margaritaville afterwords and enjoyed themselves. They also went downtown shopping before returning to the ship and said that although were accosted a little to buy drugs or other things, it wasn't unbearable and they made a few purchases in the shops downtown before returning to the ship. Cozumel, the last stop had beautiful water. It was just so gorgeous!! We took a cab ride downtown to eat lunch at La Choza a place that was supposed to have good fajitas. My wife had the fajitas and I had chicken mole. Although both were good I was a little disappointed that our authentic Mexican food wasn't as good as the Mexican food one of my co-workers fixes from time to time. Her chicken mole is a 10 and La Choza's was only about a 7! The fajitas were maybe an 8. The chips and mustard based dip was excellend and different.
We were docked next to a Carnival ship that left about an hour before the Veenedam. We happened to be strolling on deck when the Carnival passengers returned to their ship. They were a young party hardy, spring break, teens and 20s crowd and were very loud. Apparently a couple of girls were still partying on shore when the boat was ready to leave because there were several announcements asking for them to check in at the front desk if they were on the boat. Some of our fellow passengers reported a couple of girls at the on shore lounge crying that they'd missed ship and didn't know what to do next.
Overall, all the crew and staff on the Veenedam were friendly, helpful and in all ways very outstanding. They all work very hard and we tipped them accordingly. HAL has a tipping not required policy but you should expect to tip as much or more than the tips normally expected on other lines. HAL doesn't publish a suggested schedule like other lines so we took the suggestions elsewhere (such as $7 per couple per day for the cabin steward and the same for the dining steward and $3.50 per couple per day for the assistant dining steward) and added about $20 additional to each because the service was so good. We gave them half of the amount at the beginning of the week and the remainder on the last night.
The ship is clean, attractive, well-cared for and we very much liked it's medium size. Being at sea was a wonderful experience and we enjoyed the days at sea as much or more than than the days in port. We can hardly wait for our next cruise and would definitely plan on returning to the Veenedam or taking one of the other Holland America ships for our next cruise.
My wife and I took a cruise aboard the MS Veendam on 3/15/2003 and thought it was just an ok cruise. This was our sixth cruise but the first aboard a Holland America ship. There were some positives and there were some negatives. The negatives though outweighed the positives so this will be our last cruise aboard a Holland America ship.
First let me cover the positives. The food in the Rotterdam dining room was great and it was well presented. The choices were aplenty and the only menu item they need to work on is the salads, just not enough choices throughout the week. The dining room staff and service in the dining room was awesome. My wife and I sat at a table for two in the late seating and we were treated the same way as the tables of four and six. The head waiter and the assistant waiter worked together unlike other cruise lines I have sailed on where they have distinct roles. The Maitre D' was always around and was also very helpful and attentive, this was a welcomed surprise. Another welcomed surprise was that theLido buffet was excellent. Most cruise lines that I have sailed neglect the buffet but this was not the case on the MS Veendam. The food and the service in the Lido buffet was great, though for breakfast there were long lines but these lines were not existent during lunch and dinner. The Lido buffet is definitely recommended.
Another positive about the MS Veendam was the size of our cabin. We had more room in these cabins than I have ever had on a cruise ship, with the exception of Disney which was about the same size. The room steward was also great and was very nice always saying "hi" in the hallways. The last positive that I experienced was the Art Auctions. These auctions were very well organized and they brought out all the art that passengers requested. The auctioneer was also great and kept all passengers interested in these auctions.
Now for the negatives. Our first impression of this cruise line began at the terminal. We had all the forms that Holland America sent us filled out correctly and we still had to wait in a very long line to turn these forms into the agent. The length of time that we stood in line with our carry one luggage was approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes. For a cruise line that caters to the elderly this is unacceptable. All members of the party that were over age 18 had to stand in these horrible lines to show there picture ID. After you wait in line you again wait in the terminal for about 30 minutes until the cruise line calls your number that you receive when you get into the terminal, at least you can sit down during this process. My wife and I are 26 and 25 and our legs were tired, I cannot imagine how the elderly passengers felt, especially while holding there carry on luggage. Holland America needs to improve the check in process. The other cruise lines that I have sailed I have never been in the terminal longer than 1 hour and on the last two no more than 15 minutes. Disney had us checked in and on the boat in less than 15 minutes. So Holland America needs to fix this issue right away. Due to this issue I will never recommend any of my older friends, parents, or other family members to sail this line.
Then after waiting to get on the ship, we had more waiting in store for us on board the ship. This is the first cruise line that I have ever sailed on that just looked at the credit card in the terminal to verify that we have paid for the trip. If you have never cruised, cruise ships are cashless, (except in the casino), so therefore these ships have to have credit cards on file. We had to get on board the ship so they could swipe the card and again we had to wait in line. Then one the second day of the cruise we had to refill out the immigration papers because there was a mix-up at the terminal, again more waiting, due to the fact that we were not the only ones who had to fill out these papers again. So basically that 1 hour and 30 minutes in line at the terminal was wasted!! Some more information about the waiting game aboard the MS Veendam, had to do with our second room key. When we boarded the MS Veendam my wife and I went our separate ways for about 30 minutes only to discover that our second room key did not work in the door. This was a minor issue and did not bother me at that time that it happened, mistakes like that happen on land in hotels all the time. But, it took the staff over 30 hours to correct this issue. So for two days my wife and I had to do everything together, even if we both weren't interested in the activity. I went to the front office to get it taken care of for the third time and asked to speak with a manager who proceeded to not even listen to us, because all he did was nod his head and then he said we would have key by dinner, (it was 9am), I told him this was unacceptable since we were told the day before that key would be there by dinner and then by breakfast. I finally demanded that they fix it ASAP and he called engineer who met us in the room 30 minutes later and it took him 10 seconds to fix this issue. So over 30 hours to fix our key issue and it took 10 seconds to fix. This again is unacceptable. So not only did we have to wait but the manager was rude and only said about 10 words to us.
The entertainment on board the MS Veendam in the main lounge, Rueben lounge, was non existent. We had the comedian on stage one night and she was excellent but the other 6 nights were horrible. Other than Bingo and the movies in the Wajang theatre daytime activities were also non-existent.
This cruise was very organized in my opinion. The first day we were on the cruise they double booked the Wajang theatre with bingo and the movie. Then the fourth day of the cruise we had farewell dinner, with 3 days to go. First time ever we had the farewell dinner before the last day, let alone in the middle of the cruise. Very odd!! When we were going to be in Cozumel they informed the passengers that were going on a early morning shore excursion not to order breakfast in there rooms, but when we went up to the Lido Buffet at 6am when they opened the long was horrible. We finally got through the line at 6:30 and had to rush through breakfast since the line moved like a turtle. They should have a line open for shore excursion passengers only, like two other ships I have sailed.
The debarkation was great, they gave you numbers and then let you sit in public areas until those numbers are called. This was the best debarkation ever. Until, we got down to the luggage area. Other lines I have gone on the luggage area is chaotic but the luggage is together. Not on Holland America. You have to search for every single piece of luggage, and one piece of our luggage was no where to be found. We told an agent who helped us look for the luggage for about 1 minute and then we were to fend for ourselves. We finally found the luggage under another piece of luggage that was tipped over on top of it, but not in the color section of our baggage tag, it was about 5 rows away with different color tags.
I waited a week to write this review thinking of the positives since I know all about the negatives. My point is that first impressions and last impressions our lasting impressions and neither were positive experiences. I love cruising and I was happy to be cruising but I also would like to receive the service that makes Holland America so great, I did not receive this service, so I will never sail this line again.
In early June 2002, my wife, favorite grandson Philip, and I embarked on a two-week Alaska cruise aboard Holland America's (HA) ms Veendam. We chose back-to-back cruises between Vancouver and Seward. The two itineraries differed enough to justify booking a two way, and we reserved early enough so we stayed in the same minisuite. Normally we choose a standard outside cabin, but we wanted a little extra space to accommodate nine-year-old Philip. The balcony was convenient when we didn't feel like going on the public decks. For those not familiar with HA's 'S' class ships, Veendam has marvelous forward viewing decks. They're totally unobstructed and provide enough space so we were never crowded. Veendam's deck plans, etc are available at: http://www.hollandamerica.com/fivestarfleet/veendam.htm.
For pre and post cruise we flew from Houston, TX to Seattle, WA, where we picked up a rental car and drove the remainder of the trip, @ 150 miles. We were using frequent flyer miles, and Continental asked 50,000 miles to Vancouver and 25,000 to Seattle. Rental cars are pricey, but it was still the better choice. I-5 is an easy drive, and the scenery is great. Consider driving as an alternativeif you have to change planes in Seattle. The airlines insist on a two-hour time difference between flights. Adding up the wait time and the flying time between SEA and YVR plus a taxi to your hotel, the total time lapsed flying vs. driving is near zero during weekends. There are shuttle buses available, but they make so many stops that their travel time is too long. We encountered virtually no delays at the border. The wait time to cross was roughly ten minutes each way. The document inspection was more thorough crossing into Canada then returning. The Canadian inspector closely inspected our 'permission letter', which allowed Philip to travel with us. On the return, the U.S. inspector asked if we had permission. When I offered it to him, he waved us on without looking at it. The Canadian inspector in Vancouver also gave the letter a thorough reading when we disembarked. During the cruises there was no immigration or customs clearance northbound; however, southbound a Canadian customs form was required for disembarkation.
We arrived a day early and stayed at the Pan Pacific Hotel. It's expensive, but it is conveniently connected to Canada Place pier where our cruise ship docks, and has great harbor views. The hotel restaurants are excellent. You'll find an alternative food court underground on the street side of the hotel. There is an entrance to the underground from the Pan Pacific's front lobby. Boarding Veendam began at about 1:30PM. The waiting lounge has no concession stands. It is a large warehouse like area with check-in desks and straight back chairs for passengers. Sail-away was Sunday. Monday was spent cruising up the incredibly beautiful inside passage. This is your best day for viewing whales from the ship. We saw a number of humpbacks that evening, both before and during dinner (late sitting). Mind the Captain's announcements regarding the best sighting times. He was invariably on target.
While on-board Philip enjoyed the activities and games conducted by the kid's club, aka Club HAL. Club HAL schedule for both port and sea days included an evening session from 8:00 - 9:45. During sea days two-hour sessions were added morning and afternoon. The children were organized into three age groups: Kids 5 -8, Tweens 8 -12 and Teens 13 - 17. Besides the on-board activities, the shore excursion desk scheduled tours in each port just for children. The tours were age grouped for 6 -12 and 13 - 19. How well your child enjoys Club HAL depends entirely on the directors because HA provides little or no support. There is no specific playroom dedicated. Most sessions are in unoccupied and unfurnished meeting rooms, usually the Half Moon or Hudson. On one occasion they were ejected early from their scheduled and reserved room and had to complete their session in an adjoining corridor. They were still intent on having fun, but the hurt was evident in their eyes. Unfortunately, adults often treat children as non-persons with little regard for their feelings. The more active sessions were conducted in the pool area and the Sports Deck. HA has converted a dedicated playroom on Maasdam, but fleet wide conversion is progressing at a glacier pace. Philip was very fortunate to have Sara and Solange as directors. Both clearly love children and know how to interact with them. Philip is a very social child and each time looked forward to his Club HAL meetings. Each cruise culminates in the kids performing a musical routine during the RockinRolldies show on Saturday afternoon. Philip celebrated his ninth birthday during the cruise. He wanted to be in Club HAL that night so our dining room supervisor, Andre, arranged for a birthday cake to be delivered to the meeting room. It was a luscious black and white sheet cake inscribed in his honor. Sara organized the kids into a birthday party and gave Philip a small gift. Club HAL, principally due to Sara, was a major reason Philip didn't want the journey to end. He asked to cruise back-to-back-to-back ad infinitum.
A "Naturalist" was assigned to Veendam. Kurt offered daily talks on numerous subjects significant to our trip. Subjects such as "Fire and Ice" and "Glaciers, Rivers of Ice" were explored. Kurt also scheduled "desk" sessions for one-on-one discussions and questions. While cruising glaciers, he provided a running narrative over the PA system. Kurt possesses a perfect voice for this, a smooth baritone which you can mentally tune in or out at will. During these times, he was usually on the forward promenade viewing deck. Entering Glacier Bay, Veendam boarded Park Rangers who also provided narration and talks. Later in the afternoon, the rangers set up a table in The Crow's Nest Lounge selling mementoes and souvenirs of Glacier Bay. Bring your passport to have a Glacier Bay visa stamp imprinted. Our northbound itinerary included a day cruising Hubbard Glacier. The second day southbound we cruised College Fjord, and the third day was dedicated to Glacier Bay. Margery Glacier was best for calving. Margery shed frequently, throwing off building sized chunks of ice. Viewing glaciers is a magical experience. There is dead silence, interrupted only by the shotgun sounds of the glacier cracking and the crashes and moaning of the ice falling into the bay. For those not familiar with Holland America, a mention of age demographics is appropriate. HA is famous for catering to an older clientele. This is evident in the large number of repeat cruisers; some have accrued hundreds of days cruising with HA. Since school was out, there were youngsters on board, but not in the numbers you'll find on Royal Caribbean or Carnival. The majority of people choosing 'Cruise-Tours' scheduled their Alaska land segment pre-cruise, boarding Veendam in Seward. These passengers skewed to younger and more active families with children. There were twenty-three children in Philip's Club HAL group during our second week, as opposed to thirteen the first week. In Holland America's favor are the mid-sized ships with fewer passengers, exceptional dining room and cabin service, few in-your-face promotions, low key attractive interior décor with an abundance of genuine art works throughout the public areas, a couple of semi-secluded lounges, a "Magrodome" with a cover for the Lido pool area which can be closed in inclement weather, and a number of small amenities such as a free coffee bar serving espresso, cappuccino, cookies and occasional hors d'ouevres, afternoon tea service in The Explorers Lounge, and a proper movie theater showing current films. Did I mention the heated pools? Swimming is practical even in Alaska. Each day we enjoyed a late afternoon dip. A concluding word about personal choice: if you require a live-wire party atmosphere with ice-skating rinks and rock climbing walls, Holland America is probably not for you. However, young or old, if you prefer a more stress-free and stately environment with excellent service and lots of small amenities, then HA is absolutely perfect.
We sailed Veendam November 2001 E. Caribbean. At that time there was a notable staff shortage in the Rotterdam Dining Room, resulting in protracted two hour plus meals. This time the Rotterdam was fully staffed so we zipped through dinner in record time. Philip usually ate earlier in The Lido, but some nights, notably formal and semi-formal (What can I say. The kid likes to dress up.), he joined us in the dining room. The service was prompt enough that he never became antsy. There is a kid's menu, but it's the same each night. Besides, ordering from the main menu allowed Philip to discover new culinary delights. Some he liked; some he didn't. That's a good thing.
Besides the glorious scenery, the main reason for an Alaskan cruise is, of course, the ports. We scheduled shore excursions both through the ship and with independent operators. All of the ship's tours were first rate with exceptional guides. Independent tours offer flexibility of schedule as well as a more intimate and personalized experience. They are generally less expensive, as well. Alaska ports make it very easy to book independent operators. I reserved most of ours before departure, but many can be booked right on the pier. Ketchikan, for example, has a shed on the dock with about twenty different tour desks lined up waiting for you. If you're after a flight seeing or glacier landing type tour, you should advance book. Nearly all the tour operators have web sites. These are easy to find by going to each community's web page where you'll usually find links to the tours. Most of the Saxman Village, Gold Panning or Hiking type tours can wait till the last minute. Our best ship's tours were with Allen Marine in Sitka. The Sea Otter Quest, a three-hour trip, was most notable. Although Allen Marine employs large boats, the narration and amenities are excellent. Their boats can take up to 150 passengers. Ours was not that large. I didn't make a head count, but I'd estimate we had about ninety souls on board. The boat has a totally enclosed lower deck and a partially enclosed upper. I'd urge you to take an upper deck seat where there is a protective 'U' shaped wraparound glass windscreen that is open in the rear allowing air circulation throughout. Because the lower deck is totally enclosed, there is little airflow. The atmosphere inside becomes extremely close, inducing seasickness. The ride out to the viewing areas is quite rough and at high speed. It's a lot of fun, but when the boat slowed down and became still for wildlife viewing, every below deck youngster, including ours, became ill. I took Philip upstairs and some kind folks let us sit with them until he recovered. Those who stayed below remained semi-comatose for the rest of the tour. Along the way we saw one humpback whale, and rafts of sea otters. On the return southbound leg we took the Silver Bay Cruise. This cruise is in an enclosed bay, so it was a much smoother ride. It culminates in a visit to a salmon hatchery.
Our best independent tour was a three hour Whale Watching Cruise with Orca Enterprises, aka Capt. Larry, while in Juneau. Capt Larry's boat is custom built and seats a maximum of thirty-two passengers; however, he normally books only twenty-four, leaving extra wiggle room. The "Awesome Orca" is a forty-two foot water-jet propulsion craft with an enclosed lower deck. There is a roomy and comfortable exposed viewing deck on the aft end. The top deck is totally open for SRO viewing. Up-top limit is eight at a time, so we all periodically rotate. The trip through Auke Bay to the viewing area is at high speed, but the waters are calm throughout. The still waters in the bay combine with the smoother jet engines for a far smoother ride than our Sitka experience. We saw a number of whales, one of whom breeched directly in front of our bow. Two humpbacks were deep diving in tandem as a ballet duo, showing their flukes with each dive. Sea Lions and Dall's Porpoises were abundant. Alas, no seals or orcas appeared today. Orca Enterprises is a truly first class operation. Capt. Larry provides the narration and finds the wildlife. His web site is: http://www.alaskawhalewatching.com/. You need to book this tour about one month in advance.
For the northbound leg, we had booked a helicopter/glacier landing tour in Juneau. The ship contracts with Temsco Helicopter who is the only operator licensed to land on Mendenhall Glacier. The weather was rainy, but open for flying, so we took off. Unfortunately, when we arrived over Mendenhall the weather shut down. Landings were cancelled and we had to return to base. One advantage of a back-to-back cruise is the potential to make up for lost opportunities. Since I had scheduled Orca Enterprises for the southbound leg, I stopped by their office on the pier and asked Becky to schedule Coastal Helicopter in conjunction with the boat tour. This permitted Orca to coordinate our boat tour and helicopter trip. The shuttle bus from the boat dropped us off at Coastal's base. Coastal took us flight seeing over a few glaciers and landed on Norris Glacier. We had a beautiful sunny day, so both the boat trip and glacier landing came off great. Coastal is a much smaller operation than Temsco, but our pilot was skilled and an excellent tour guide.
A don't miss is the Raptor Center in Sitka. You don't need to book a tour. The Center provides frequent guided tours through their site. Each tour finishes with a video and a talk by one of the Naturalists. A Metro shuttle bus stops at the dock, runs through town out to The Raptor Center and circles back every half hour. The shuttle fare is $7.00, good all day. The Raptor center's web site is at: http://www.alaskaraptor.org/. There are great photo ops here.
While on the subject of eagles, you'll be pleased to know that they are no longer on the endangered species list, and they are absolutely everywhere. Our first stop on land, in Ketchikan, we stopped in a wooded area. There were eagles in the trees just above who proceeded to fly out and return in dive-bomber fashion. It was a marvelous display. Our tour guide said that they are well paid! Eagles cover the harbor islands and rocks in Sitka. Their favorite food is McDonald's French fries.
If your schedule allows time in Seward, be sure to book a dog sled tour and ride with Tom Seavy's Ididaride. The Seavy family breeds and raises dogs for the annual Iditarod 1100-mile race. You will visit the kennels, pet the puppies and take a bumpy but fun ride on a sled behind twelve of the best quality sled dogs in the world. Seavy's kennels are about ten minutes from Seward. Give them a call and they'll pick you up at the cruise terminal gate. Don't miss this, especially if you have kids with you. There are really great photo ops here. Seavy's web site is at: http://www.alaskaone.com/ididaride/. Also in Seward set aside an hour or two for the Alaskan Sea Life Center. No tour guide is necessary for this. It's conveniently located nearby restaurants in the center of town. http://www.alaskasealife.org/
Another first rate independent operator is Ketchikan City Tours who offer a Sea Kayak tour. We were provided with excellent guides and safe, well maintained and easy to operate kayaks. This is another tour you can book dockside. They're at desk #11 and their web site is: http://citytours.alaskamade.com/.
This cruise was the experience of a lifetime. MS Veendam is a first rate ship, maintained to the highest standards and staffed with the best possible people. As for our glimpse of Alaska, only a gifted artist can depict its beauty and grandeur, words can't suffice. I certainly can't describe it. You just have to experience Alaska for yourself. And don't forget your binoculars!
My husband and I just got back from an Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard Holland America Line's Veendam and it was the cruise vacation of a lifetime!
Holland America is a wonderfully smooth-running operation from start to finish and they have every right to pride themselves on their exceptional service and cruise staff. We received such consistent, gracious service, that their "no-tipping" policy became a joke - we spent more on tips this cruise than the last four! From the room steward, who took excellent care of our room (he worked his schedule around ours beautifully so that we never even saw him in our room but he was always available somewhere nearby), to the dining room stewards, to the bartenders (who, just like the brochure says, by the second time you sit down will know your name, room # and how you like your drinks) to the Captain and Head Chef, who always seemed to be accessible, the service was fantastic!
What stands out most about the Veendam, other than the exceptional staff, is the ship itself. Surely the most beautiful cruise ship we have been on (we've travelled Norwegian Cruise Line, andtwo that are now defunct - Bahamas Cruise Line and Commodore Cruises - both better than Norwegian in our opinion), from the public rooms to the cabins, the quality of the furnishings and artwork, and the gorgeous two-tiered dining room, it is truly a luxurious ship. Our mini-suite made the cruise. We had a roomy verandah (more than enough room for a lounge chair, chair & small table with room to spare - bigger than I thought it would be from the pictures), sitting area, refrigerator, mini-bar, tv, vcr, queen-size bed, and the biggest bathroom I've seen on a cruise ship - it had a small whirlpool tub and plenty of room to get around. Also, plenty of closet space but be forewarned - you get several closets (ours had four) but none of them are roomy enough for a very large suitcase to fit into (my 26" just squeezed into the largest compartment) so pack smaller bags but you can bring lots of them.
It was the greatest thing in the world to go to bed at night with the verandah door open and get that ocean breeze and listen to the waves.
The food was very good - many of the dinners were fine restaurant quality, and portions were bigger than I'm used to in most restaurants. Lunch was the most fun meal, simply because of the variety and sheer quantity of food. You could choose from lunch in the dining room, buffet in the Lido Restaurant, hamburgers & hotdogs at the grill, a taco bar, and assorted stif fries and pastas by the pool. If you like to eat, you can't go wrong. (make sure you try the Dutch Royal High Tea in the dining room - truly classy). Make sure you take the galley tour so you can see how they do it.
I enjoyed the mix of people - many of our fellow cruisers were older, repeat customers, and they knew how to have fun, and most importantly, they knew how to dress!! After the disappointing, too casual dress code on our last (Norwegian) cruise, it was nice to see people still know how to get dressed up for dinner. Again, be forewarned - when I say dress, I mean dress. Even on casual nights women wore long dresses and men wore jackets (though it's not required). I was afraid to buy too many fancy clothes because I thought I might be overdressed and ended up feeling underdressed on the casual nights. So go to town!!
We're not too much into the after-dinner entertainment since we eat late, (except gambling) so I can't say too much about the entertainment except that it looked pretty good and varied, but geared more to the older crowd. We did make the Indonesian crew show, though, which was fun. There's plenty to do on the ship though; they have a great spa and gym with a juice bar that makes fresh, exotic fruit & vegatable concoctions, a good-size movie theatre, library, game rooms, etc. And for people like us who come to relax, two nice pools and plenty of deck chairs and area to spread out (when you could get us out of the room!).
All in all, it was a great vacation and one of the easiest travel experiences we've had - we never had to wait long for anything, including disembarkation, usually the low point of a cruise. In fact, we had such a wonderful time I'm about to book another cruise for next May, this time on the Zaandam, their new ship (only because the Veendam's Caribbean cruises end in April). It has the same lay-out as the Veendam and her sister ships but I've heard it's going to be even better. After this I would never go on another cruise line, and look forward to taking a Holland America cruise at least once a year from now on - and we're pretty picky travelers. My husband rarely talks about another vacation so soon after he's taken one, but before we even left the ship he wanted to book another cruise - that's the best recommendation I can give!!
We have recently returned from our Alaska - Inside Passage cruise on the HAL MS Veendam (May 31 - June 7, 2000). This was our second cruise with HAL and also on the Veendam and our experience with HAL was even better this time around. I was somewhat disappointed with our first HAL cruise, but this time we thoroughly enjoyed our experience and wouldn't hesitate to cruise HAL again, and hopefully again.
We booked a two-day pre-cruise option and arrived in Vancouver on Monday afternoon. HAL flew us from Tulsa to Vancouver with one stop over in Dallas. We flew in one day early on our prior cruise and I am sold on arriving at least a day early. This removes all the concern about delayed flights and missing the ship. We've heard too many stories about this and the extra day is worth the small cost. We would strongly recommend this to any cruiser.
The weather in Vancouver was overcast but pleasant temperature and we spent the afternoon walking through Gastown and China Town. We made the mistake of walking from Gastown to China Town. We would caution against this asit is a rough neighborhood even though it is only a couple of blocks. Take a taxi. Actually, we would pass on China Town as it wasn't that interesting and everything closed at 6:00 p.m. Gastown is nice with lots of shops and restaurants and it is very close to the hotels and cruise dock. HAL put us up at the Waterfront Centre which is a beautiful hotel located across the street from Canada Place where the ships dock. We were on the 23rd floor with a gorgeous view looking across the pier and water to North Vancouver. The cruise liners docked right below us. It was incredible to look down and watch the ships come and go. Perfect hotel in a great location. HAL did us right on this part of the trip.
Tuesday morning the bus arrived to take us to Victoria, BC via the ferry. This is a wonderful trip but it makes for a long day, at least 12 - 13 hours. The ferry to Victoria Island is nice and the restaurant on board was excellent. As soon as we arrived on Victoria it began to rain but they are prepared at Buchart Gardens with handy umbrellas. Rain in Victoria is not like rain in Oklahoma. It is more like a soft drizzle than the blinding storms we get here. An umbrella is worthless in Oklahoma, but was all we needed to tour the gardens in comfort. These gardens are beautiful and should not be missed. The town of Victoria is also nice and I only wish we could of spent more time there. Beautiful town with lots to see and do. My wife enjoyed the many shops.
Wednesday morning we watched the Veendam come into port and this just made us more anxious to get on board and get going. We passed on the morning Vancouver Bus Tour and spent the morning just walking around downtown on our own. We showed up at the terminal about 12:30 and there were already several others checking in. They were able to process us, but we had to wait until about 2:00 before boarding the ship. by then the terminal was full of passengers waiting to board. All in all, it wasn't a bad embarkation process and the HAL staff were very friendly.
The Ship - the Veendam is a great ship and we prefer the mid-size ship over the super cruisers. Even with 1250 passengers, we seldom noticed any crowds and the public rooms are very nice and well maintained. We stayed in a Category B Mini-Suite, which was excellent and well worth the extra money. I know you're not in the room much, but when you are, its nice to have that view and to be able to relax on the verandah with your own privacy. Our prior cruise on the Veendam was on the Main Deck in an outside deluxe room and it was very nice also, so I wouldn't hesitate to go either way. Our Room Steward was very efficient and HAL always does a great job in servicing your room. My favorite feature on this ship is the Steam Room and it is used so little, that you feel like you have your own private club. My friend and I got up early each morning and did our 2 -3 miles, and then hit the steam and shower. Very seldom was anyone else using these facilities. Don't hesitate to cruise this ship. The Veendam is the perfect size and beautifully decorated.
My only complaint dealt with our dining schedule. We had asked for the early seating and thought we had it confirmed. Upon arrival, we learned we had the late seating (8:00 p.m.), but were told we could work it out with the maitre'd. Fat chance!! We sat in a waiting room and then were summoned in as though we were peasants presenting a plea to royalty. Three staff members seated behind a table, looked at me and asked: "Why do you want to change your seating?" When my plea was presented, we didn't even get an apology. It was just: "Can't do it. No way." "Next." I guess you had to be there, but my point is, these guys need some training in how to better handle this situation. We took it in stride and let it go.
The entertainment was excellent and the cruise entertainers seemed well rehearsed and talented. The ship comedian/magician wasn't real strong, but we enjoyed the impersonator very much. The Cruise Director - Yvette ? was very nice, but Lauren Henry the Social Director was excellent. She is one of the nicest and most professional cruise staff members we have encountered.
Food on the Veendam ranges from good to excellent and service in the dining room is great. We continue to be a little unsatisfied with the service on the Lido Deck buffet. The chefs could be more friendly and the tables could be bused a little better. This is not intended to be a major criticism, just an observation. Burgers and pasta at the Lido Pool area are great! We will pass on the Midnight Chocolate Buffet next time though. It always looks better than it tastes. We were one of three finalists in the bingo game for a free cruise, but had to settle for $100 in the tie breaker. To be so close . . . .
I should mention that we got incredibly lucky with the weather on this cruise. The first day out was cool and overcast, but Juneau was sunny and warm. Same for Skagway and Glacier Bay. It rained a little on us in Ketchikan, but they get 12.5 feet of rain a year, so we were happy it was just a light off and on again drizzle. Most days were sunny and beautiful. To be so lucky . . . .
Excursions: Juneau - we learned on the Internet about Orca Enterprises and Capt. Larry's Whale Watching Excursion. He has a web page you can find on Yahoo. We took and chance on him and by- passed the cruise ship offerings. One of the smartest things we've ever done. We strongly recommend this excursion. Cost was about $100 per person and their office is located just across the street from the pier. Easy to get to. He has a great boat and took us out to an area where we watched a pod of 6 - 7 Orca and 3 Humpback whales. After watching these, he took us to a secluded area where at least 8 - 10 bald eagles came down to fish on Herring. It was incredible. Capt. Larry is a great guide and this is a trip that should not be missed. We rate it a 10 out of 10 for value and quality. Afterwards you will still have plenty of time to shop in Juneau which has a nice pier front shopping area.
Skagway - here we booked the Scenic train ride through the cruise ship. If you are interested in this, book early or book in advance. This excursion sold out the first day of the cruise. The train loads right where the ship is docked so it is a very convenient tour. I understand you can book on your own and save a few dollars and the walk into town is only a short distance. But in my opinion, the convenience is worth the price. Our ride as an up and back ride only and lasted about 3 hours. It is beautiful scenery and well worth the trip, but they do not let you off the train at all. I understand that other passengers booked the train/bus combination which takes you up a little further on the train and you board buses for the ride back with some stops along the way (this trip is about 5 hours). This was good enough for us and we recommend it to others. They switch sides on the way back, so it doesn't really matter which side of the train you ride on. If you can stake out a spot on the outside deck, you will get some great pictures. Be sure and share the space. Back in town, we had lunch at a local restaurant and then hiked the short distance to the historic cemetery. This is a great walk, about 4 miles round trip, and well worth it. Don't miss the short trail above the cemetery to Reid Falls. What a beautiful setting. Clear cold water in a lush and cool setting. Great for pictures. You can climb up to the first falls and stand behind the water falls. You get a little wet, but it's a great way to cool off. They said you can drink the water, but its not a risk I was willing to take. Not on a cruise. Skagway is a great town for shopping. Lots of small stores, mostly located on one main street. You should be able to get wonderful pictures of the town from the deck of your ship. Beautiful setting.
Ketchikan - we booked the Misty Fjords flight through the cruise line and again were very happy with the results. Even with the low clouds and drizzle, it was a beautiful trip. Incredible scenery. We landed on a small lake high up in the mountains surrounded by snow and water falls. Passengers are invited to stand out on the pontoon and take pictures. At the lake we saw a black bear and as we moved the plane closer he watched us carefully. We must of gotten too close because he eventually took off. We were grateful for the close encounter from the relative safety of the plane. Ketchikan is also a great place to shop. The pier front shops are new and well maintained. My wife bought a beautiful tanzanite pendant and we were pleased with the price. (One of her cruise experience necessities.) There is also a Cyber by the Sea, cyber-cafe, in one of the buildings close to the pier. Address is 5 Salmon Landing #217 (www.cyberbythesea.com). They charge $6 minimum and $10 per hour for Internet access. Great opportunity to check your stocks, e-mails, etc. There may have been some in Juneau, but we didn't see it. I'd be surprised if there was one in Skagway. I can't wait until they have reasonably priced Internet access on the ship.
Disembarkation was painless. This is the worst part of cruising -- having to leave. We waited in the showroom for our number to be called and quickly proceeded to the gangplank, our bus and on to the airport. Our flight was delayed an hour, but that is to be expected. Got home at 10:00 p.m. and are still trying to adjust to the time change. Keep looking for the next buffet, but there is none.
If you read my opinion post on www.cruiseopinion.com from last year, you would see that I had not originally planned to cruise HAL again. In fact, I was looking for a bargain on Princess or Celebrity, when I found what was an unbeatable deal on the HAL Veendam Mini-Suite. I'm glad I did, because we enjoyed this cruise immensely and I am now a big fan of HAL, particularly the Veendam size ship. I apologize for complaining a little about the age category of this ship in my earlier opinion (we are in our 40's). The fact is, about 75% of the HAL cruisers are in the 65+ range. But its also true that these are the best people to cruise with. They are happy, they enjoy having fun and there is no doubt, they truly are "the greatest generation." If you're a young couple or young family that is interested in a younger crowd, you might want to pass on HAL. But even young families will have a great time if you don't need a lot of young peers around. We took our teenage daughters on HAL last year and felt very comfortable giving them the run of the ship. I'm not sure I would feel as confident on another cruise line. We still want to give Princess and Celebrity a try, but HAL will stay high on the list for future cruising. We would like to cruise to Hawaii next.
This cruise started out from Vancouver and we had great expectations as we were considered " HAL Mariners" due to a previous cruise on the Ryndam which we enjoyed immensely.
It was a complete surprise that the start was totally delayed due to chaos in the terminal which we were informed was caused by Security issues. We wondered what was happening while we waited in line to be checked in since we could see the ship already conducting it's lifeboat drill while we waited and waited. HAL had installed a special lineup for people who had submitted online but this line crawled since only two wickets were for it's use. The regular line was much faster and we finally made it onboard 5 minutes before departure time. Needless to say the departure was late. We were totally offended when the Captain came over the PA system and apologized for the delay which he blamed on " late arriving passengers" . Not true, HAL - Get more wickets going.
Upon entering the ship and logging our card in we were escorted to our cabin which we had booked as " Run ofship ". Well we sure ran , as our small inside cabin was located only 1 door from the stern of the ship on the lowest deck "A". No upgrade here for " HAL mariners". There was even a sign advising us not to worry if we heard loud noises as this was the propeller used for docking the ship.
The cabin is small and functional but has no fridge, a small safe that uses a credit card to lock and unlock plus you need to keep track of your mechanical room key as well as you shipboard account card used to charge things. HAL should upgrade all their ships to using the regular swipe cards for doors too. The bed was hard and the sheets/pillow cases were badly stained and we called to have them changed. This did not bode well with the Housekeeping department but they sent the Cabin attendant after our second call. We finally received clean sheets.
During the voyage our cabin at times smelled of some kind of cleaning fluid that HAL used to clean the carpets in the hallway. We were assured this was safe. Our A/C malfunctioned for 1 and 1 half days in our section of the ship and we were given a fan and told to open the doors until they repaired this problem. Nothing else was offered other than a curt "we're sorry ".
The worst issue with the cabin was the lack of hot water during the whole voyage. We called three times to try and have this issue dealt with but it never was. Lukewarm was it, way down in the bowels of the ship. Again nothing offered, other than " we are trying". Our cruise mates on the next floor up experienced no problems with their hot water of which they had plenty.
For a ten year old ship, the Veendam is a beautiful ship otherwise. Staff are constantly cleaning up, polishing, painting and otherwise looking after the ship. The Atrium was quite exceptional with it's artworks and glass sculpture.
We dined in the Rotterdam dining room with the early sitting and enjoyed this immensely. The menu was exceptional, food was fantastic and the service was the best ever experienced. Thank you, Gusti and Kadek, best waiters around. Lobster, baked alaska and the best desserts. Who could ask for anything more, but if you did , they provided.
The Lido Restaurant buffet was well presented, food was very good and all went well whenever we used it. Great bread pudding....
The entertainment in the Reubens lounge was top notch with the cast of the Veendam doing their "Up on the roof and Party Gras " song and dance numbers.
The Veendam provided a Naturalist for this Alaska voyage which made it more interesting with all the announcements of points of interest or sightings of any whales, dolphins or other animals.
Of the Alaska ports visited - Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan - Skagway was the best as we rented a vehicle for the day and went exploring on our own. We wandered around the Chilkoot pass area, Deyas ghost town, the White Pass summit highway all the way to the Canadian border. The Customs officers advised us that since we were Canadian and driving a U.S. rental vehicle we could not enter Canada. Some kind of import law. Sad, as we wanted to go further to WhiteHorse and see the Yukon Territories. Even so, the scenery we saw was magnificent in the warm sunshine which they said was unusual for that time of the year.
Juneau was cloudy and wet for our visit but we managed a long walking tour of the town which we enjoyed.
Ketchikan is a shoppers paradise with all the free gifts they give away along with the number of stores and the sheer variety. Old Creek street and the funicular ride to see over the port were interesting. I even found some books for sale in the library which is located in the same building as the museum.
The return voyage was uneventful and the disembarkation went smoothly.
Except for the problems noted we enjoyed our time on the Veendam and would travel HAL again. Their " No tipping " required policy ensures that you receive top notch service from all wait staff versus other lines that remove the tip automatically from your shipboard account. The difference shows.
This was our first HAL cruise and we were anxious to compare our experience to last year's Carnival Victory cruise. We chose the Veendam due to its Tampa departure (we live in St. Pete) and its Caribbean itinerary. Price for a veranda cabin through our travel agent seemed attractive and competitive.
Our arrival at the Tampa Port was not particularly traumatic although we were surprised when we were told to fill out immigration papers even though we had done so online with the promise that we would not have to do it at the port. Oh well. Our time to register and board the ship was probably about an hour with comfortable seating while waiting.
The Veendam is a mid-size ship and much smaller (and therefore quieter) than our Carnival comparison. It is clearly aimed at a more sedate, mature crowd than some of the other cruise lines. We were delighted to find that our cabin was actually larger than our last experience plus we had a full tub and Jacuzzi. Our veranda was also very nice and outfitted with a chair, table, and lounger. Don't ever sail without a veranda orbalcony!
After boarding and exploring the boat, we headed for the Lido deck to check out any welcome party. There was a nice Caribbean style band and plenty of waiters pushing fairly costly drinks but little food. The Lido buffet was not open; however, one could get a burger or hot dog. Departure from the dock went smoothly although the ship courteously waited for two groups of people who had been delayed by airline and weather difficulties. A nice touch I thought and we headed to the early seating in the two level Rotterdam restaurant. We sat at a table for 10 and introduced ourselves. Dinner featured several choices of appetizer, soup, salad, and main course. Desert options were presented by menu after the dinner dishes were cleared.
I will echo what you may already have seen elsewhere. The food quality was not consistent. Some dishes were delicious. Many were just ordinary. Salads tended to not be fresh as if prepared early in the morning for the evening dinner. My biggest disappointment was that the Lido buffet (the option to the dining room) was open only from 6:00 to 7:30. Bam! At 7:30 the curtains came down, the ice cream and deserts were quickly put away and there was no further food service until an 11:30 snack was offered (long after we were asleep). Other ships seem to manage a small buffet, maybe some pizza, soft serve ice cream, etc. at all hours for those of us who feel the need of a snack. True, room service is available 24 hours but that has a limited menu. We did take advantage of the continental breakfast menu card left on our pillow every night next to the delicious chocolate piece. Coffee and a croissant arrived promptly in the morning with no fuss. The breakfast buffet was adequate and we were pleased to see smoked salmon every morning. Coffee was available 24 hours.
Waiters and room stewards were all very attentive, pleasant, and helpful. I didn't feel the busboys were particularly interested in their guests. I was surprised when a guest asked for a coffee refill and was told that there were coffee pots at both ends of the Lido deck rather than the busboy offering to go get a cup. I was also surprised to see 3 staff people almost trip over a towel that had fallen to the floor on the deck rather than bend down and pick it up. Ditto for the cabin attendant who walked off an elevator and stepped over a crumpled wad of paper on the floor as he exited. Just little things but not what you expect on a cruise.
We enjoyed the entertainment, which featured a cast of young enthusiastic performers. Maybe not Broadway quality but a couple of very nice shows. The casino was fun and several people were very lucky. Not me, as usual, but people did win. Daily activities were offered for every taste. Sea days had plenty to offer or just watch the waves roll by on the Promenade Deck. 4 laps to the mile if you walked or 10 laps to the mile for runners on Deck 12. I never did use the gym (in spite of my promises) but there seemed to be an adequate number of exercise bikes, stair master, treadmills and similar and everything was well maintained.
However, my wife used the gym/spa/salon/fitness classes. There was the usual "spa tour" with an assortment of expensive goodies to chose from. A brochure also listed the various services. However, she was disappointed to find out that some of the listed services were not available on the Veendam.
Even though she changed her mind three times, about the type and time of her massage, the reception desk was very understanding and accommodating. The massage was fabulous, plus there was no hard sell to buy product.
On the Carnival, there was no additional charge for the fitness classes. There were a couple of free classes on the Veendam, but there was a charge ($11 each) for the unique classes (i.e. Pilates, yoga, fit ball). My wife took advantage of a special offer of unlimited classes for $40. The Veendam staff was well trained and highly enthusiastic when leading the classes. She felt that even though she had to pay for the classes, they were worth it.
We did one ship's excursion and arranged a couple of our own. The latter proved more enjoyable and affordable but the Veendam did offer a nice variety of excursions in each port and good information on each.
When we arrived back in Tampa, we found the process for disembarking was easy and convenient. We were given a number based on our preference for departure time. We chose a later departure since we had no flight to catch. Groups were called to disembark and claim their luggage. It took us less than 20 minutes once our number was called to disembark, find our luggage, and pass through customs.
In summation, we very much enjoyed our cruise on the Veendam and felt we received good value. We appreciated the many nice touches around the ship and their efforts to please their guests. An increase in the hours of the casual buffet on the Lido deck would probably make it easier for us to select HAL for a future cruise.
I am submitting this review that was written by my wife. I think she did a great review.
little background to get started. This was my husband Rocky's 9th cruise, my 5th and our son Mark's 2nd. We chose HAL's Veendam because HAL is Rocky's favorite cruiseline and also because it was out of Tampa, only a 15 minute drive from our home. Rocky last sailed on the Veendam (and HAL for that matter) in 1997. Previously I had not sailed on a HAL ship and Rocky was very excited for me to experience this line and the wonderful reputation they have.
Our ports on this 7 day cruise were: Grand Cayman, Montego Bay, Jamaica and Cozumel. This review will be on my observations and experiences.
We boarded on a rather chilly Saturday in Tampa, the high was 62 degrees and sinking fast for our 5pm departure! We were greeted as soon as we walked on and received assistance to our cabin and noticed that many were receiving their luggage right away! Our mini-suite was very nice, had a tv/vcr, refrigerator, a bathtub instead of a small shower, lots of closet space,drawers with key locks on them (nice for larger items that won't fit in the safe such as cameras, purses and the like) and bathrobes. Our cabin steward Rudy came quickly to our door and introduced himself. He asked us if we needed anything special and we informed him I like to keep my wine chilled and would need an extra bucket of ice in addition to the ice we would use for our other beverages. We explained we brought Pepsi with us as we prefer that over Coke products. He saw to it that we had 2 buckets of ice everyday, twice a day. I also asked for extra towels and those were provided everyday, without fail.
We began to explore the ship and ended up in the Lido buffet line! Go figure! The variety and quality wasn't what I expected, however, it improved quickly after that. There is a small salad bar at the end of the buffet line and also an ice cream bar (no extra charge). All food in the Lido buffet area (including the salad bar and the ice cream bar) closed at 10:30am for an hour. This is the only time in the late morning you cannot get any food without ordering it from room service. The other time is late afternoon from 5-6pm. The food by the pool (Hamburger/hotdog/taco bar) opened daily at 11:30am and closed at 5pm. There was food available for everyone at anytime of the day, no need to worry about that!
The bread and desserts on the Veendam are really wonderful, the best I've had!
The overall food experience I had on this trip was not as good as I had on the Grand Princess or Dawn Princess. I'm speaking of the overall experience, not the bread or the desserts as mentioned above. In my opinion (Rocky does not share this opinion), the quality and variety were not up to the high standards often boasted by others. Again, this is my opinion. It did not ruin the cruise for me and I certainly did not go hungry (gained 5 pounds!) - It could be that I have to try another HAL cruise to get a 2nd opinion (hee-hee, twist my arm!).
DINING ROOM and STAFF
We had a nice table for 8 and met wonderful people (hi Susan, Alex, Bob, Jill and Gentry!). Our waiter and assistant waiter did their jobs, however did not seem to go that extra step to be personable. Our waiter recognized Rocky from the Noordam in 1996 but beyond that he did not chat with us. They did not offer any suggestions or substitutions if something wasn't to our liking. The head steward came over and said hello and chatted with the kids, which was a nice touch. He also made crepes one night as a special request from Rocky. He had so looked forward to crepe suzette made tableside. It turned out the crepes were pre-made and only the sauce made at tableside and then poured on the crepes. What a shame. Another quality item loosing its place on the rating system. The wine steward also came around but did not go that extra step to offer wine suggestions. I had to ask twice about my pre-cruise wine package I ordered. Not a big deal. Water wasn't refilled until very late in the dinner, again, no big deal. These are just a few things I noticed that dropped HAL in the quality of service that I was looking for. Would this make me not cruise with them again? Certainly not, I would have to try them again to see if this was just a fluke. Maybe my expectations were too high? Possibly. One night there wasn't anything on the menu I really wanted or cared for. I thought I would ask if I could have a garden salad instead of the special salad on the menu and was told "no, those are the only salads we have". I immediately advised them there was nothing on this menu that appealed to me and I ordered from the kids menu instead. When my order arrived at the same time as the kids order, the head steward came over and asked if something was wrong. I simply stated that nothing on the main menu appealed to me that evening. He did offer to bring me something else but I declined. I had a feeling it wouldn't have been easy for them to bring me something else at the last minute. Am I too picky? Yes, but its not like I was asking for something strange or difficult. Its just lettuce folks!
I enjoyed the public rooms/lounges. They are spread out and nicely decorated. There were many cozy areas and since this is a smaller ship, easy to find and get to from any point on the ship. We spent little time in the Crow's Nest, something we'll have to rectify on the next HAL cruise. We enjoyed the Ocean Bar quite a bit, this seemed to be very cozy and always busy late in the day and evening. I also liked the area where the covered pool is. We enjoyed lunch there just about everyday.
We spent every afternoon before and after dinner in the Ocean Bar and became friends with Jose, Nestor and Amado. Those guys remembered what we drank and our names the first day and never forgot. I like a specific kind of wine and they did not normally stock it in the Ocean bar. They ordered it and promised it would be there later that evening. It was and they made a point of making sure I had that kind of wine whenever I wanted it. In fact, at Island night by the pool, Nestor made one of the waiters go to the Ocean bar and bring me my wine to the pool! Very nice. This is the service I was expecting and it was consistently there by not only the bar staff, but the hotel staff, casino staff, Club HAL staff and the front office staff! I observed officers cleaning and assisting wherever they could. I observed many times, various staff members socializing, eating, drinking etc.. on the passenger decks, while on a break from their duties and found out this is perfectly okay! They don't have to go to the crew decks for their breaks. They are required to be in uniform when on the passenger decks, but they can enjoy the food and drink just like us and socialize, just like us. They all seemed to be happy and pleasant and always greeted passengers with a smile. This was a first for me. I had not seen cruise staff actually in line with the passengers for food or at the bar having drinks before on other cruise lines. In my opinion, that makes for a better work environment.
Getting back to Jose, Nestor and Amado for just a second. Each one of these guys makes origami animals and gives them to the kids or anyone who wants one. Mark liked this so much we now have 3 frogs, 1 dog, 1 fish, 1 piranah, 2 rabbits and 2 birds that have moveable wings! Try packing those in your suitcase without crushing them! We ended up putting them in one of the large souvenir glasses and then into Mark's bookbag that remained in our possession.
Our son Mark is 11 and he enjoyed Club HAL. He did not have to participate in every activity and was able to come and go as he pleased, which we loved. The staff they have in Club HAL seemed to really like all of the kids and because this was the week of Thanksgiving, there were about 90 kids on board. A week later, only 6 were registered on the ship! The kids seemed to have a lot of fun and I did not notice too many kids getting out of hand. A few times you would see a few running down the stairs or in the hallway, but a quick reminder to them to walk, and they usually did.
A side note about soda cards. While its not advertised anywhere that we could see, someone mentioned a soda card. We asked where to purchase it and it was at the Ocean Bar. Its $27.50 for the 7 days and only 1 per child is allowed. Once they have the card, they can order (unlimited) a soda from any of the bars and restaurants. This is where Jose and Nestor got Mark to drink his first Roy Rogers (coke with cherry syrup added). Hmm, sounds like cherry coke to me! Anyhow, sounds more like you're on vacation when you say "I'd like a Roy Rogers drink please".
I had heard that HAL really isn't known for their production shows but they do try hard and there was always a crowd for the few shows I did attend. I enjoyed the show that involved the passengers, doing several lipsync skits. Very funny, not to be missed!
ANNOUNCEMENTS and MISC
Announcements were minimal and unobtrusive, maybe 3- 4 a day and that's it. Very nice. No one bugging us every few minutes for a drink or a photo op. We had the same great service on day 7 as we did on day 1! Our cabin refrigerator wasn't locked on the last night, the mini-bar wasn't put away or locked up, the book with the postcards and pen wasn't suddenly hidden. Wow! This is great! This is probably why you can't board until 1:30pm which is fine by me! I would rather have access to all of the amenities and be treated as nicely as I was, rather than board at 11am! Everywhere we went on disembarkation day, the staff seemed genuinely friendly. It's been my experience on the few cruises I've had before this one, that the staff completely change on that last day and sometimes the night before! Makes you feel like they can't wait to get rid of you so they can start again with the next batch! Not on this trip, everyone was nice.
I found out that the Veendam did not take our bottles we purchased in Cozumel for gifts. They let us bring them to the cabin. Rocky informed me that they don't hassle you about that like some of the other cruiselines. We did see several boxes that were stacked up in the ships store with cabin numbers on them, but those may have been delivered straight from the stores on shore. Rocky observed people coming to the ships store to pick up their boxes without any problem at all during the cruise. Another nice thing about HAL, they seem to treat you like an adult when it comes to the liquor purchases. Its nice to know you don't have to worry about smuggling bottles in your bags, carry on or otherwise!
While I had some not so positive things to say, they would not prevent me from sailing on HAL again or recommending HAL to anyone. I tend to be picky and these were only my observations. There are also many positive things about this cruiseline and I can see why there are so many avid HAL fans. We had a great cruise, due in large part to a great cabin steward, dinner table mates, the misc staff I mentioned above and of course, my wonderful husband and son!
Departed Houston, TX for Fort Lauderdale the Friday after Thanksgiving. We arrived at the airport two hours prior to departure. It took about fifteen minutes to check in and go through security. Security changes are mostly cosmetic. There's no difference in handling of checked luggage. The same security guards are on duty as before 9-11, but an occasional National Guard troop has been added to the scenery. Major difference is that security guards realize that passengers are entirely intimidated and can be easily bullied about. Guards undisguisedly enjoy barking at people, telling them where to queue. The guard on the security X-Ray takes a little more time viewing carryons, and no hand checking of anything is allowed. Photo IDs are required everywhere, but no one takes a really close look; flea market IDs would likely do. The airline personnel are still courteous and friendly.
At Port Everglades, vehicles must go through security gates to enter the port area. Guards briefly scan documents. Although we went through, I'm still not sure if they required photo ID or boarding documents. They seemed too bored to care, either way. Boarding the ship was the usual slowprocess, bogged down by the photographers. Here too, photo IDs are required. A photo ID is required at all times when leaving or entering the ship. This means you carry a minimum of four cards: Personalized ship's ID, Room key/card, photo ID, and a credit card (or similar) for the room safe. No, the ship's ID won't work for the safe because there's no data in the card's magnetic strip.
Since we had a 12N return flight, and being obsessively paranoid, I badgered the poor girl at the front desk until she gave me a 'first off' disembarkation number. Every passenger on board must clear immigration before anyone can leave the ship when disembarking from a non-sequential United States port, in this case our homeport. All had cleared by 8:30AM, and we were at the airport nearly three hours before our flight time! We were early enough that it once again took only about fifteen minutes to get through to the boarding gate. However, a little later I looked out and saw a gawdawful long line waiting to go through security. So, reading newspapers and drinking coffee until it was time to board the aircraft trumped standing in line(s). The guards seem to love forming and reforming snaked lines, periodically barking at the cattle (previously known as customers) to "line up over there. No, not there, there!" I wouldn't resent the officious attitudes so much, if these folks were properly trained and background screened for the job, and if the security were truly improved vis a vis European airport procedures. Having said all that, the security changes have resulted in limits to carryon luggage, a major enhancement for comfort and convenience.
The second of the Statendam class ships, the Veendam is in excellent condition. There is no sign of wear in any of the public areas. The cabins, too, are equally well maintained. For those not familiar with HAL's ships, the public areas are concentrated on two decks, plus the Lido. Except for The Crow's Nest, a large viewing lounge forward on deck 12, the other lounges are on the upper promenade deck, which is dominated by the casino. The largest of these lounges is The Ocean Bar, which specializes in small dance bands and the music is mostly swing, waltz and cha-cha. The Explorer's Lounge regularly offers an evening fare of classical style string quartets. The Crow's Nest has late night disco offerings. There's also a small piano bar. Occasionally, and during some sail-a-ways, there is a band on the lido deck, so there's a little something for everyone. The San Juan sail-a-way featured a steel band on the aft deck pool area, a great place to watch the nighttime departure from San Juan and Fort Morro. A saxophone led the steel band, and, so help me, they played a Glenn Miller number. Yes, even in The Caribbean, Holland America is for the older set. The Wajang Theatre, a full screen cinema, offers current films and the ever-popular fresh popped popcorn. The show lounge is large with two seating levels and has good site lines. However, the majority of the seats are uncushioned barrel chairs, real back killers. The show offerings are two major variety shows with full cast, and an assortment of magician, comic and juggler acts the other nights. There are also the ubiquitous art auctions, normally conducted out of the way in the Ocean Bar. Unfortunately, the silent auction littered the Java Cafe and atrium areas with its prints. This litter seems more appropriate for the parent company, not Holland America. The Java Cafe is a favorite offering, at no extra charge, espresso, cappuccino and properly brewed regular and decaf coffee during daylight hours. You'll always find a tray of freshly baked cookies and often a side table of pastries or hors d'oeuvres. You'll also find a fitness center, internet cafe (which offers unlimited use for $99.95), beauty/massage spa, photo gallery and an assortment of boutique shops. For children ages 5-17 Holland America offers Club HAL, which provides a full schedule of activities during sea days. Although there were few kids on board this cruise, the Club HAL director carried through with the games and crafts, even when only two or three children were in attendance. A special soft drink package can be purchased for $17.50 for 14 soft drinks. This is not an unlimited "soda card", and according to front desk personnel can only be used at the bars, which rules it out for children. The dining room is large and comfortable, the service always outstanding. There is no alternative restaurant on The Veendam; however, the Lido buffet offers an excellent option to the main dining room. The Lido buffet's ice cream bar is open throughout the day, and again during midnight snack time from 11:30PM-12:30AM. There are two formal nights during which most gentlemen wear suits. We saw maybe 25-30 percent tuxedos. The emphasis is on formal night. The great majority of passengers adhere to the dress code throughout the evening. The food was absolutely the best I've experienced on a cruise ship, or for that matter in many restaurants. From appetizer through dessert the emphasis was on quality and presentation. All of the seafood entrees were fresh and properly cooked. Amazingly, the meat entrees were always served to order. Medium rare came to the table medium rare! I don't know how they accomplish that for 600 guests at each seating, but they did.
The standard cabins are very comfortable. Outside cabins are large at 197 sq ft, the inside cabins are only slightly smaller at 186 sq ft. The verandah suites, aka mini-suites, are a roomy 284 sq ft including the balcony, which occupies 63 sq ft. The stateroom TVs offer live CNN and TNT and an array of movie channels, mostly current releases. There is a self-service laundry on each cabin deck.
The Crew and Staff:
The service staff are all either from The Philippines or Indonesia. The dining staff is entirely Indonesian. Every one of the staff personnel is required to attend a Holland America training school before serving on board. This preparation is apparent in their extraordinary proficiency. Their gregarious and friendly nature, though, is a result of culture and upbringing. They are absolutely delightful people. Be sure to attend their crew shows. They're the best afloat. And please don't stiff them. Holland America's policy is tipping not required, but you ought to compensate them as you would the staff on any cruise line. Most of the crew on The Veendam is British, including Captain Jonathan Peters, who could double as the cruise director. He's very smooth and humorous, characteristically British.
First stop, Half Moon Cay, Bahamas, 8AM - 4PM, the only tender port. Due to reported high winds, which were not in evidence, all water sport excursions were cancelled. So there was no parasailing, diving, fishing, kayak adventure, banana boat ride - not even the glass bottom boat. There was, however, a lovely powdery sand beach and crystal clear water. Water "toys' are available for rental, and a barbecue lunch is served up beachside. The far end of the beach area is designated for snorkeling. You can snorkel there, but all you'll see is a sandy bottom and the very occasional rogue fish. In a so far unsuccessful effort to attract fish, Holland America has placed what appear to be large upside down strawberry planters throughout this portion of the bay.
Day three, San Juan, P.R., 8AM - 12M. The ships dock directly in Old San Juan, which retains much of its historical Spanish heritage and architecture. There are a number of attractions here, including the popular El Morro Castle. If you follow the 'walking tour', it's recommended that you taxi up to El Morro, and walk downhill from there. On your return, take a rest stop in one of the plazas and enjoy a cup of excellent Puerto Rico coffee from the small kiosk there (NOT Wendy's or McDonalds). In addition to the many attractive historical sites, there are numerous shops. Do not miss "The Butterfly People", within easy walking distance from the ship. Their displays are unimaginably beautiful. The butterfly gallery exhibits a number of artistic arrangements sealed in Lucite boxes, and all for sale. But, beware; this place will do serious damage to your pocketbook. You can sample their work at http://butterflypeople.com/. The ship offers a number of tours. The most popular are the rainforest excursions. You can choose either a driving or walking tour. Each takes about 4-½ hours. Since we lived in Puerto Rico for a few years while serving in the USAF, we had previously traveled most of this region. We just wandered Old Town, shopped, and made a huge donation to The Butterfly People - irresistible. Finally, know that no one may go ashore until the ship has been cleared and US immigration has seen everyone on board, whether going ashore or not. Naturally, since this was the first US port, a number of passengers delayed disembarkation for more than an hour.
Day four, St. Thomas, USVI, 7AM - 5PM. Unfortunately, swells were extremely bad and roiled up the bottom, so the diving/snorkeling trips were called off. We were on The Champagne Catamaran. Since snorkeling was impossible, the boat's captain decided to take us to a beach on Greater St. James Island. He'd never visited this beach before, and for the sake of future passengers, he should never go again. The beach is extremely rocky, very small and the bottom of the bay covered with sea grass. It was a totally disagreeable location. With all the beautiful beaches on the US Virgin Islands, we went to this piece of garbage. Although, the Mimosas and snacks were ok, the trip was a dud. But wait, Nassau is about to make up for it all. You can easily take independent beach trips at St Thomas. Taxis are plentiful, and there are ferries between St Thomas and St John where you'll find the best diving/snorkeling beaches. If you want a beach experience sans snorkeling, Magens Bay is probably your best and most convenient choice. Since St Thomas, also a US port, immediately followed San Juan, it was not necessary to clear immigration.
Day six, Nassau, Bahamas, 12:30PM - 6:30PM. What a great diving/snorkeling location. Here too the swells had limited the dive trips, but our boat captain took us to sheltered 'Angelfish Reef' where we enjoyed a magical coral garden and hundreds of fish. Only at Roatan Bay have I enjoyed such a variety. This was absolutely marvelous. The water was so crystal clear I was able to get a number of great underwater photos. I can't imagine our scheduled dive on 'Thunderball Reef' surpassing this place. The water, however, was a bit cold, and without wet suit protection my torso chilled after about 45 minutes. This trip more than made up for the two previous disappointments.
Despite some weather frustrations, this was a pleasant voyage with good ports. The ship is well cared for and is a comfortable size, 55,451 tons 1,266 passengers. It is easy to transit, and offers many places to relax. A major negative worth mentioning was the freezing cold water in both pools, making them virtually unusable. The Jacuzzis were also too cold. However, since the pools were suitable only for penguins and a tablemate from Pennsylvania, the Jacuzzis got a lot of use. With barely tepid temperatures, I hope they put in lots of chlorine. We had one moderately rough sea day, and the stabilizers seemed to have little effect. There was lots of rocking and rolling. The highlights were the ship's crew and staff and the cuisine in both the main dining room and The Lido buffet. As Chairman Kaga would say, "Haute Cuisine!" Unless you are looking for a party cruise, Holland America, our favorite by far, offers an excellent product. I not only recommend this ship, but we've already booked back-to-back Alaska cruises (north bound Hubbard Glacier, south bound Glacier Bay) on The Veendam for June 2002. Bon Voyage!
I have read a lot of reviews on AOL and other Internet sites that seem to focus on the physical aspects of cruising. The size of the cabins, quality of the food, and condition of the ship, are all important in researching a trip. However, the overall "cruise experience" is greater than the sum of the physical parts. A cruise has an attitude, rhythm, and a texture. It is a mind set, and a psychological experience. It is the combination of those elements that can make people have a wonderful cruise, even if the physical elements leave something to be desired.
I have cruised many times before, but not in the last eight years. Between work, and a cruising impaired partner, the brochures I collected always ended up in the recycle bin. One word changed that. Cancer. In January 1998 I was diagnosed with a rare malignant tumor. Fortunately, if you're going to get cancer, Seattle, is a good place to live. After an operation, twenty chemotherapy treatments and six weeks of radiation, I was pronounced cancer free. For cancer survivors there is no such word as "cured," we achieve remissions, hopefullylong term, but there is no guarantee. Because of that, time seems to take on a different quality. If I survive this, I thought at the time, I'd start cruising again. I also decided that instead of having a reluctant or resentful cabin mate I would do the trip solo.
Why Holland America Lines? It is the ships themselves. They are the right size. They look like ships, not gaudy floating Hotels. They have more or less a traditional decor, with wood, polished brass, extensive art collections, and real promenade decks. They have larger than average size cabins, with extremely good sound insulation. Knowing what you want is as important as knowing what you don't want when picking a cruise line. What I didn't want was a mega ship with three thousand other passengers. I didn't need a golf course on top, or a skating rink. I don't want to see Katerina Witt try to land a double axel in a rolling sea. It would be a blood bath. I didn't want gimmicks, endless announcements over the public address system, or too much glitz. I wanted a ship, and a beautiful one. The Veendam fit the bill.
I chose a repositioning cruise, where they take the ship out of Alaska waters to the Caribbean for the number of sea days in comparison with the number of port days. Out of eight days, five were at sea. You also can't beat the value of a repositioning cruise.
The Veendam physically has been described in numerous reviews. I won't rehash that. After a short and efficient embarkation procedure in Vancouver, I was led by a porter to my stateroom. My cabin was #10, a full blown suite, with a 100 square foot verandah. When my Travel Agent first told me of the upgrade I was rather shocked. I had cruised in outside and inside cabins before, but I'd never been on the top of the ship, as they say. I was still skeptical during check in, half expecting them to discover their error and send me to the bowels of the ship where I belonged. I didn't believe it until I walked through the door, past the marble and smoked glass bar; past the long curved sectional sofa, coffee table and two arm chairs; past the king size bed; past the wall of Birdseye maple drawers; past the changing room with its mirrored closets and bathroom with Jacuzzi tub. I believed it when I noticed the toilet was leaking and running onto the tile bathroom floor and that the carpet was wet from the closet into the other room. The water had even seeped onto the marble floor tiles by the bar, making my first trip across it as close as I want to get to a skating rink at sea, after all I'm not Katerina Witt. The cabin steward introduced himself and indicated that he had already reported the problem.
Before my bags arrive in the room, I walk the perimeter of the ship from the very top deck to the lowest public deck. That way you get the feel for the layout and the location of public rooms, and burn off a few calories in a preemptive strike against the deluge of food you know will follow. The Statendam Class Ships (the Statendam, Maasdam, Ryndam, and Veendam) are identical in layout, with minor decorative differences I'm told. They really do seem vast when you're standing on the top decks. They are well laid out, with excellent traffic flow from the public rooms. During the tour you also get a feel for your fellow passengers. The passenger age was much younger than I had expected, the average seemed to be about forty-five. There were even couples with young children. Certainly there were "seasoned" citizens on board, but on the whole this was a fairly lively bunch.
by the time I returned from my ships tour, the toilet was no longer leaking and towels had been placed all over the floor. A minor inconvenience. My luggage had arrived so I unpacked using approximately one quarter of the available closet and drawer space, and I over packed! As we sailed from Vancouver in the mist and gray and I did something every solo traveler should not be afraid to do, ask someone to take your picture, with your own camera.
Returning to my stateroom I prepared to shower for dinner, and found how they had solved the toilet leaking problem. They had turned off the cold water to the cabin. A rather creative approach, but not conducive to safe bathing. I called down to the front office, grabbed my shaving kit and headed up to the men's sauna/steam room where they had two showers. See, it pays to check out the ship doesn't it? by the time I returned, a crew of workmen were tearing the toilet out, which gave me a unique perspective of the ships vacuum waste disposal system.
The first dinner, is a moment of great anticipation, especially for a solo traveler. My Travel Agent and I had discussed this at length prior to me leaving. I was leaning towards a round table for eight, because of better conversation dynamics. He liked the placement of the six person tables in the room better than the eight, so that is what I signed up for. What I got was a table of four, #35. On the second level, next to the stern windows, by anyone's estimation a power table. I anxiously awaited the exhilaration of good conversation, the sharing of life histories, and finding common ground. Good table companions is one of the key elements of the cruise experience. It is a bonding process, your safety valve for the rest of the voyage and in many cases a place to make long term friends. I arrived promptly at 8:15pm and waited for my table mates. At 8:25 I was still waiting, people were still filtering in but hope was fading. At 8:30 other tables are getting their appetizers, and I was in the midst of the solo travelers nightmare. This is when you paste on the game face. It is a bemused expression, a rye sort of a knowing half smile with a touch of whimsy in the eyes. It says, I'm enjoying just watching the world go by. But, I do have to check my reflection in the windows now and again to make sure it doesn't slip into a psychopathic mass murderers glare. The waiter finally brings the menu, "where are your friends?" "I'm traveling alone," I reply, and only then do I fully realize what that means. With the lights of Victoria BC ablaze in the stern windows everyone naturally turns to take in the view. They can't help but notice me there alone, like the kid on the sidelines that never gets picked for a game of football. I gamely mug for the ships photographer with the stooge pirate, who swoops in during the salad course. After the entree I discreetly slip out, and corner the maitre'd. While mentally I would have liked to take him by the lapel's and slammed him against the wall, I was polite and asked to be assigned to another table. Later, when I looked at the photos in the gallery I notice that in all the other picture the pirate is smiling. For me, he wore a sad expression, I had achieved the pinnacle of pity.
Part of the texture of cruising is finding where you fit in on the ship, and who you relate too. For me one of the most important aspects of cruising is meeting people, and the under appreciated art of conversation. Like the saying goes, everyone has a story to tell. Perhaps I'm an intellectual vampire, but I've never walked away from a good conversation without feeling energized. Where is the best place to do that is the question? Like Goldilocks, tasting porridge and test sleeping beds I went from bar to bar after my dinner of humiliation. The Explorers Lounge with the Rosario Strings was a too soft (classical) the Crows Nest too hot (couplish) and the Ocean Bar, the it's white slacked dance hosts, too cold (scary). Don't get me wrong, I don't view dance hosts as moral Neanderthals. They provide a valuable service to the women who are traveling alone, or whose husbands don't dance. Perhaps it's the white slacks and white shoes they are required to wear. It is a tough look to pull off, even for a poorly dressed golfer. Need I say more? A few twists and turns later and I'm in the Piano Bar. "Just right" says Goldilocks. In there I find conversation, companionship, laughter, and perhaps the most pleasant surprise of all, not just a good piano player, but an exceptional one by the name of Ron Van Dyke.
There is a rhythm to a cruise, you can fill your day with organized activities, or do nothing. You can eat in the dining room for breakfast and lunch or choose the cafeteria on the Lido, or pool side hamburger and make your own taco bar. You can go to a show, dance, work out in the gym, watch movies, gamble or do a hundred other things. The rhythm is time, and how you spend it.
I rise early, and have coffee on one of the side tables on the Lido deck, by the pool. In the rolling seas of the North Pacific crossing the Lido deck for the older passengers is a death defying act. Rumor has it the ships fin stabilizers are not functioning properly. Although fully deployed there is something wrong with the computer control that makes the micro adjustments. In any event, the ship was really rolling, and would do so the entire voyage. I meet up with (okay, barge in on, crash, however you want to put it) a Canadian couple, Jim and Joyce who I bonded with the night before in the Piano Bar (all right, who I unmercifully attached myself to). They would become my anchor, reality check and brain trust for the rest of the journey. We share a few observations then I continue on with the day. I steer clear of the organized activities, preferring to walk the lower promenade deck for an hour, continue my exploration of the ship, read, watch people, chat, and write. This was to be my routine in the days that followed.
The food is about what I expected. The marks fall generally in the good category. As I had read in other reviews the salads at dinner seem to be a weak link, generally slightly wilted and bitter.
Back in suite #10, I do the Cha-cha over the towels on the floor, thinking it will help absorb the water faster. I know if the white shoed dance hosts could see me they'd be impressed. Every time I leave the room for more than thirty minutes the room steward has placed down new towels. I begin to wonder how he knows when I'm gone. I notice an envelope on the coffee table, revised dinner assignment, table 166. I do some checking, 166 is a table of eight.
This particular "Pacific Coast Cruise" is broken into segments. Four days to Los Angeles, where six hundred Canadians will disembark, and four hundred people will join the cruise, then four days to Acapulco, with stops in Puerto Vallerta, and Zihuatanejo. At Acapulco, more people will join the cruise through the Panama Canal which ends in Ft. Lauderdale. The Canadian contingent is why the average age is so young. It coincides with their three day Thanksgiving weekend and is bargained priced. It is also the reason why Holland America Lines didn't do a formal night the second night at sea, which would have been logical and traditional. Instead of having a formal dinner and the Captains reception they do an informal night, with sort of a reception. The line I heard was that one particular tour group of four hundred didn't have "appropriate attire." I'm not sure I buy that, in any event I think they've cheated the Canadians to an appropriate Captains reception. This also means they will double up the formal nights out of LA, with the second being after a port call in Puerto Vallerta, which is very unusual.
The reception is little more than a photo opportunity, with three separate shots being taken, one by the atrium glass sculpture, one with the captain, and one in the lobby of the show room. After that they hand you a glass of warm cheap champagne, and take you to a seat while the band plays, no introduction of the bridge crew, zip, zero, zilch. I take the three photo's, after all my mother needs something for Christmas, swill the champagne, and head out the back door, to brace myself for my second attempt at dinner.
I come in later this time, 8:20pm. If no one is there, I'll look like I forgot something, turn and flee. Dinner in my room is preferable to being alone at a table of eight. What I find is one vacant seat, and everyone engaged in happy conversation. Yes, I've hit pay dirt. #166 is a great table and the main attraction is a lovely woman from Vancouver. She is a widow, who emigrated from Denmark years ago. She speaks with a charming accent, dresses beautifully and has jewelry worthy of a Harry Winston advertisement. Her traveling companion also a widow from Denmark would occasionally lament, "butz I never getz to talk, she doez all zee talking." Some people have an undefinable power, a star quality, as if they travel with their own spot light. Later in the Piano Bar I dub her "The Queen of Denmark." The title will stick throughout the voyage. Ship board friendships grow exponentially the first days out. You make acquaintances, they introduce you to their acquaintances, and so on. The fabric of who you know and talk to grows and grows. For the intellectual vampire, this is heaven.
In Los Angeles the tone changes completely. I go ashore to make a few phone calls and look around in San Pedro. Not too much too see, the little tourist trap village on the waterfront is about fifty percent vacant and the downtown core itself is small and unremarkable. It is also blazingly hot. I really didn't hear wonderful things from the people that took the tours, and I watched as one man crucified a staff member about how bad the LA tour was. I don't know how the staff takes it, especially when the passengers keep repeating the same thing over and over, thinking they're making some other point. I thought this particular passenger could have used a little creative visualization relaxation techniques. Personally, when he repeated himself for the fourth time I visualized him in the ships vacuum waste disposal system. It worked for me, I felt much more relaxed.
Some people rent cars and go on their own, they seem to have a better time. After taking a long nap, in the company of a roaring turbo fan (yes, we're still drying the carpet), I go up on deck, and suddenly wonder if I'm on the right ship.
Most of the Canadians have disembarked and many more "seasoned" travelers get on, along with a large contingent for a floating Panama Canal Star Trek convention. George (not quite sure how to spell the last name here) Tekaki who played Lt. Sulu is the main draw. The line William Shattner uttered years ago during a convention keeps coming back to me "why don't you people get a life?" I don't understand the Star Trek phenomena, but I am determined to.
I get my chance at dinner. Since the bulk of table #166 were Canadians we had a new group after LA. As it would happen two are with the Convention. "How many conventions do you go to a year?" I ask one of them. "Well, let me preface this by saying sometimes I work at the merchandising booth with for a friend, but about 40 per year." The Queen of Denmark utters under her breath, "zhat is a lot." However, the Trekkie is bright, articulate, well dressed, and funny. When the photographer and stooge pirate comes by (for the LA people) she poses like a pro. These people have a life it seems. They have good jobs, families, and friends. It is not so much that they live and relive episodes of a show that went off the air thirty years ago, but that they have created an extended family and social network with each other. They are science fiction fans, like some people are sports fans, opera buffs, or art collectors. This is their texture, the fabric of their cruise.
As we head down the Mexican Coast, the heat intensifies, as does the humidity. My verandah is now rendered almost useless to me. If I go outside my glasses fog, as does my camera. I'm a northwest boy, born and raised, when it gets about eighty degrees I start wilting. The Lido pool even with the Mega Dome open is stifling. I escape to the salt water pool on the Navigation Deck. If I'm going to be outside I have to be in the water. I start to consider the prospect of extending my trip even if it means giving up my big fancy-smansy suite after Acapulco. The process puts me between two worlds, staying on or leaving.
I talk with the Guest Relations Manager, Michelle, about pricing and availability. She said she would e-mail the Holland America Lines main office. Being a frequent visitor of the message boards along with reading every review on Holland America Line ships, I had seen some less than glowing remarks about the front office staff. I had made it a point to observe them interacting with the passengers on this cruise. Now I was in the fray myself. I began the process of alerting my office to the possibility of staying on. by the time I reached Puerto Vallerta, I was leaning towards staying.
The Puerto Vallerta port call was a study in heat and humidity. I have been many times before, but not in the last few years. There were more large American Hotels, but little else had changed in the main town itself. I opted out of the organized tours again, and took a friend I met on board to the beaches in the old section of town. The high season for North American tourists doesn't really begin until the middle of November, and the beach vendors desperate for dollars were predatory. It is a terrible feeling, the constant assault. They try to take advantage of your the good manners, and in the end you have to be flat out rude. It makes you appreciate the ship, and its protected environment even more. When I returned to the pier I tried to use the land telephone lines to call home. They have them set up so you can't do anything but call collect at six dollars per minute. I realized I should have used the pay phones in town, where I could have reached the AT&T operator. Finally, tired and sweating bullets I went back on the ship to call from my room. At approximately eight dollars a minute from the ship verses six from shore the air conditioning in my cabin more than made up for the two dollar difference. The path was clear, if I wanted to stay on.
The figures to extend the trip finally arrived. They seemed high to me at first, considering how little I paid for the first eight days. Panama Canal transits are much more expensive I'm told. I make another call to the office, and have my Administrative Assistant call my Travel Agent, to see if this is the "bargain" price. I receive word back that it is. They showed the room I would have if I stayed on #637, and outside cabin, aft on the main deck. Certainly not my suite I had come to know and love but a very well laid out cabin with a love seat and a large window. I had actually seen a mini suite and inside cabin of friends I made on the cruise. Frankly, they are all good, well decorated and larger than you would think. But once you've been on the top of the boat does that set your expectations? If I remained on would it be a let down? Would I be constantly second guessing myself? I continued on with the process completely torn. My friends Jim and Joyce thought I might have gotten everything out of the cruise I was going to. Okay, the brain trust is con. What does random chance say? I take out a quarter, heads I stay, tails I leave, best three out of five. I flip five tails in a row. Okay, I try another five. Four out of five come up tails. I quietly calculate the odds of that happening with math skills so deficient I can barely divide. I conclude the odds to be very, very, very high that random chance says leave. The final straw, as they say, is that I cannot get a flight out of Ft. Lauderdale until Monday afternoon, the day after the ship docks. Since I have an important meeting out of town on Tuesday, staying on is out of the question.
Throughout the whole "stay or leave" exercise, I was very impressed by the Guest Relations Manager. She handled every question, request and inquiry quickly, courteously, accurately. She took the initiative, checking available rooms options, and possible flights. She couldn't have been more polite or professional.
The unintended consequence of "stay or leave" dilemma was to interfere with the rhythm of my cruise. When you know you have a certain number of days of vacation you can time yourself. There is a beginning, middle and end. For two and a half days I wasn't sure if where I was, or how to pace myself. If I stayed on there was also a good chance my liver would not have made the first lock of the Panama Canal. The end was in sight now, and mentally you start winding down. After all I was staying over in Acapulco for a few days after the cruise, so I had other stuff to look forward too.
Zihuatanejo, is a tender port, since the small fishing village, does not have a pier for cruise ships. Ten kilometers away is Ixtapa with it's huge luxury hotels. The morning is again blazingly hot, perhaps ninety degrees and rising. The humidity must have been close to one hundred percent. by the time I think about going ashore, many of the early tendered passengers are returning, soaked in perspiration. The temperature inside the tender, which is covered, was nearly a one hundred ten degrees. Walking around a quaint fishing village might be a pleasurable experience, but it's not when you are verging on heat stroke. I stay on board, write, chat with friends, and am glad I did, as the shore excursion passengers return to the ship and head straight for the pools in an attempt to lower their core body temperature.
This was my last night on the ship, and I pack before heading down to the Piano Bar for my before dinner ritual. I also did my notes and tips to those members of the staff that had made this an extremely pleasurable experience. I DO NOT LIKE HOLLAND AMERICAS LINE POLICY OF NO TIPPING REQUIRED. You either have tipping, or you don't. If the tip is built into the price of the trip, at least you know you are done with it. If not, then you can use the guidelines of Berlitz Cruise Guide Book, or what the ship recommends, (which usually is the amount listed in Berlitz's). What no tipping required does is either make people think tipping is not allowed, or gives people an excuse to feel morally justified for not rewarding good service. Either way, from what I witnessed, the staff is punished. Then there is the question is it appropriate to tip the entertainment? In my case the Piano Bar and Ron Van Dyke had been a mainstay of my voyage. Although I had bought his C.D. (which is wonderful by the way), I would have preferred that the trusty old snifter were on top of the Piano. In this case, I tried to figure how much I would have put in it, in various level of sobriety and intoxication and that's what I tipped.
The television show, The Love Boat, has never done justice to the cruise experience. Life is more than three plot lines with everything being resolved in one hour. On the Veendam there are literally hundred of plot lines, fascinating characters, and a buffet of personalities. Bill, the kilt wearing (for a formal dinner, but hey, he had the legs for it) Nova Scotian traveling with his butler Patrick, who, if not one of the ten most sociable people in the universe, is certainly in the top twenty. Robert, from LA, with a jet black mustache in contrast to his gray beard, and living on borrowed time from cancer with courage, and humor. Gill and Rita whose appearance at the formal dinner after their margarita pushing catamaran cruise in Puerto Vallerta took herculean fortitude. The list goes on, and on. Yes, everyone does have a story to tell, but at sea the stories seem better.
With my bag's packed and outside my stateroom I prepared to leave. At 8:00am the next morning I dutifully vacated my room, knowing that at least for the next inhabitants the floor would be dry. Were there things that were less than perfect? Of course. But if you have an attitude that focuses on every minor defect, what kind of cruise are you going to have? So what if they run out of towels in the men's sauna room at around 4:00pm? Will the world end because the shows are amateurish? Will you drop dead if they bring you potatoes at dinner, when you asked them not too? That is not what I'll remember. I'll remember the kindness, humor, and insight of the passengers and crew, for it was the people that made the cruise memorable.
I disembarked around 9:30am and took a taxi to my hotel, along with a friend who was staying on until Ft. Lauderdale, but with whom I would spend the day and go watch the cliff divers of Acapulco. I went up to my room to drop off my bags and was somewhat horrified. It was your basic hotel room, no Birdseye maple drawers, no marble bar. The windows were steamed over from the air conditioning, which smelled like a flawed system spewing Legionnaires Disease. Welcome to the real world.