Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: April 10th, 2004
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
We sailed aboard the ms Veendam, on a Western Caribbean cruise, embarking April 10, 2004 through April 17, 2004. For my wife and I, this was our honeymoon as well as our first cruise. Although we are from Cincinnati, OH we choose to have a Florida wedding. Because of this we were forced to drive to Florida (with dresses and flowers and a ton of luggage) rather than fly. When were looking at cruise lines for our honeymoon we choose Holland America because of the ability to leave out of Tampa rather than Ft. Lauderdale or Miami. The thought of a one day drive home from Tampa was much more appealing than a two day drive from Miami.
We arrived at the Pier around 11:30am. We parked our car ($70 fee but they do take credit cards) and headed towards the terminal. As we approached my first impression was that the ship was smaller than I’d imagined. I don’t mean that in a bad way, I just expected it to tower to the heavens after seeing photos. We checked our large bags with the porters outside and despite Holland America’s “tipping optional” policy our porter did in fact ask us for a tip. I have to say I was a bit surprised by this but I let it slide. Because this was our honeymoon, we had booked a Deluxe Verandah suite and one of the perks was the ability to use the express check in line. We had our ID cards and we on the boat within 10 minutes. (After posing for the first of many HAL photos)
We were shown to the Piano Bar on Deck 8 while our cabin was being made up. At around 1:15, an “All Clear” alarm was sounded and we were allowed to proceed to our cabin on Deck 10, the Navigation Deck. The suite was very nice and was much larger than I expected, as was the balcony. Upon arrival, we found fresh fruit as well as a bottle of champagne and fresh flowers waiting for us.
Our favorite part of the room was the private veranda. In addition to the table and chairs, it featured two lounge chairs that were very comfortable. I loved taking an afternoon catnap outside with the ocean breeze and the smell of saltwater. We took most of our breakfasts outside, which is an experience all in itself. (Nothing like ham and eggs with a view of Jamaica.)
Overall the room was very well soundproofed. We didn’t really hear anything from the other cabins or from the hallways although we sometimes heard the sound of deck chairs being drug across the above deck.
Our cabin steward was excellent. He went to great lengths to keep our cabin clean and to make sure we had everything we needed. We didn’t drink our champagne while on the boat but he made sure the bucket it sat in was constantly full of ice.
The Veendam is a beautiful vessel and for an eight-year-old ship, she shows very little wear and tear. The ship is spotlessly clean and very well decorated. Beautiful works of art decorated the walls and there was a touch of elegance everywhere. The ship is equipped with stabilizers that really do calm the rolling motion. We had a rough day Wednesday when the sea was really pitching but other that it wasn’t all that noticeable. The main areas of the ship can be found in the middle, on Decks 7 & 8. Here you will find the Front Desk, the Wajang Movie Theater, the main dining room, shopping, the Ocean and Piano bars as well as the ship’s casino. On Deck 11, the Lido Deck, you will find the main swimming pool (saltwater) as well as the Lido Dinning room (buffet) Deck 12, Sports Deck, features a tennis court, basketball court and the Crows Nest Bar.
Although the ship is large, it is quite easy to navigate once you get your bearings. The elevators tend to respond a bit slow to the call requests and we often found it quicker to take the stairs than wait for a car. There are maps everywhere and the staff is very helpful should you get turned around. A couple of places to see- 1.) The bow of the boat. The bow is accessible by going to the front of Deck 6 and taking a staircase to Deck 7. The view is incredible and worth the hunt for the staircase. 2.) The quiet pool on Deck 10. At the back of the boat is a smaller, lesser known pool that we often spent our afternoons relaxing by. The mood is much more subdued that the loud, busy main pool on Deck 11, the Lido Deck.
We found the overall dinning experience aboard the ship left a lot to be desired. While some aspects were excellent, others we a little less than stellar. There are two restaurants on board, the Rotterdam Dinning Room and the Lido Restaurant. (There is also a Lido Grill, open for lunch only, serving hot dogs and hamburgers). The ship also offers 24-hour complementary room service.
The food in the Rotterdam was excellent. Although the selection was fairly limited and often times very exotic, it was all very well prepared and presented. Our waiter and steward were excellent as well. Although they didn’t speak English very well, they made up for it but being very friendly and attentive. After the first night, they always brought my wife and I a glass of tea with our meal and we never had to request a refill. Our Head Steward was great. Not only did he give us the “Honeymoon” table (a secluded table for two next to the window) but also he was very courteous and extremely friendly. We ran into him in the Caymans and he invited us to come have lunch with him, very above and beyond the call of duty.
The Lido Restaurant was your typical buffet style foods with a salad section and an ice cream bar. The only plus to the Lido Restaurant was the fact that the workers served you, rather than it being a true open buffet. The food was not that great and the selection was pretty limited. The Lido Grille wasn’t bad but it wasn’t anything to write home about either. You had your typical hamburgers and hotdogs to choose from and there was also a small buffet bar set up to make yourself tacos. The only complaint about the taco station was the constant lack of taco shells and nacho chips. It defeats the point of a taco bar is there aren’t any shells. Ice tea was always free and aplenty but soft drinks and alcoholic beverages were rather pricey as a can of soda was $1.75. We only frequented the Java Café once and my wife immediately went back to the room and poured it out. Needless to say it left a lot to be desired. A rather nice touch was the free bags of popcorn for the movie theater. While we never managed to see a show the popcorn made a nice afternoon snack.
Room Service was great as well. Each night a menu would be placed on our door and we would select what we would have the next day for breakfast. We discovered on the fourth night that food from the main dinning room could be ordered as well so we had a great 4-course meal right in the comfort of our stateroom.
Due to our late dining time we never made it to any of the shows except the last day of the cruise. On the last day the people with late dining had the early show time so we were able to watch the show before our meal. It was a culmination of some of the shows that had taken place during the week: a juggler from the first night, an Elton John wannabe, and a ventriloquist. Of all three the only one I wished we had gone to see was the juggler. Not only was the juggler good, he was very funny as well.
This is where the biggest disappointment of the cruise comes in to play. As a couple in their mid-20’s it was rather let down. For the most part we spent our time in our room watching TV as we are not bingo playing people and that seemed to be the only major activity that was constantly being pushed upon you. Several other activities were trivia, on deck games, and a ping-pong tournament. Once the lights went down there was pretty much nothing to do unless you’re a fan of the waltz, in which case the Ocean Bar would be perfect for you. The casino was nice was a fairly large selection of slots for such a small area. I wish I could say we won money but in fact we did not. The sports bar was a bit of a let down. The only sports channel the boat received was ESPN from Mexico City so it was either was showing soccer or figure skating. The Internet café was very pricey at $55 for 110 minutes plus a $3.95 activation fee. I have read where other cruise lines offered unlimited internet access for one flat fee so it was rather difficult to catch up on the “world” when you had limited access. The speed was very fast, about the same as DSL. The other major activity on the ship was a rather pricey art auction containing pieces from Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Dali. While it was great to see works by such famous artist so up close, this wasn’t something that we were interested in participating in.
After reading some online cruise reviews, we were convinced we would be the youngest couple on board the vessel. (Holland America caters to the retired set) In fact, the number of young adults and even a few children we saw on board the vessel pleasantly surprised us. While the activities were still geared to an older class of passenger, the absence of loud partying and drunken fellow passengers made up for it..
Holland America utilizes a “Cashless Society” made famous by the Walt Disney Company and many Vegas casino resorts. You pay for absolutely nothing with cash, in fact, I’m not even sure you could. Everything is billed back to your room, you simply sign the paper. I think this has its positives and negatives. On one hand, it is very convenient, however, it is also very easy to lose track of what you have spent. (Something HAL is hoping for). Plus people are more willing to just sign than actually hand over almost 2 bucks for a CAN of Coke.
Holland America has a “No Tipping Required” policy. I think this works well because it ensures the crew will give you their best in the hopes of a good tip. We tipped our room steward up front and he gave us OUTSTANDING service the whole week. We did tip our waiter and steward but only for the nights we were actually in the dinning room. We also tipped our room service delivery boy each more after he brought breakfast.
This was as orderly a process and moved quicker than I expected. Bags must be in the corridor by 1 am, and you have to be out of your stateroom by 9 am. Both the dining room and Lido “Restaurant” were open for breakfast; no room service on this day. A color and number combination was used to regulate the departures from the ship. It was very easy and painless – there were no real lines and no waiting once your number is called. We were lucky enough to be in the first group so we got right off and out to our car.
1.) Book with a travel agent. If you can afford to take time off work on short notice, this is an excellent way to save money. Friends of ours took a similar cruse and paid about half of what we did because they were willing to go with only 2 months notice.
2.) If you can afford it, get a Deluxe Verandah suite. There are many perks that are offered to members of this group. i.e Priority boarding and disembarking; Priority tendering service; Exclusive use of the King and Queen’s dinning room; Captain’s lunch; and many more tiny perks.
3.) If you want to see the evening’s entertainment, schedule an early dinner.
4.) Buy prepaid phone cards before you leave the US. Satellite phones are extremely expensive as are pay phones in the ports.
5.) Back an empty suitcase. If you do any shopping in the ports or on the boat, you’ll be glad you did.
Holland America runs a good ship. The boat was very clean and very well cared for. I will admit, I didn’t find the staff as “world renowned” as HAL claims, however, they make up for it by truly caring about their work. They all see very happy and seem to enjoy life at sea. Our stateroom was amazing and our steward was excellent. That being said, there are area’s where the Veendam is weak. Shopping is in 4 mini stores, all with overpriced goods and long lines. Photos are taken at every stop and every dinner and everywhere in between. While the photographers are good, the photos are extremely overpriced. However, it was our honeymoon so we did buy a few of them. I have to say what really took me aback is how much HAL tries to sell you on board. Everywhere we turned people were pushing wine and drink list at us, snapping photos, and talking us about all the shops we HAD to see in port. All the while, the intercom is blasting away telling us not to miss the bingo game going on or to “remind” us to buy cruise lotto tickets. I found this to be quite a bit annoying. In my daily life, I’m assaulted with marketing and I take a vacation to get away from that.
Would we cruise again? Yes, I think eventually we will.
Would we cruise HAL again? Probably not