Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: March 4th, 2006
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
My wife and I had previously cruised on the Veendam on an Eastern Caribbean itinerary several years ago. We were informed that the ship had just recently come out of dry dock after some major refittings.
We were flying in from Phoenix so we arrived in Tampa the evening before the cruise left. HAL had made reservations for us at the Grand Hyatt and they provide their own shuttle so transportation vouchers were not required. We were met by a HAL representative near the baggage claim area and after she made sure we had retrieved our luggage she contacted the Hyatt and took us to where we would catch their shuttle.
The day of the cruise we assembled in the hotel lobby and our bus, travel voucher required, to the ship arrived a bit after 11 AM. We arrived at the cruise terminal and our luggage was collected by porters who pretty much demand a tip. I get the feeling they don’t work for HAL, but for the port authority, kind of like skycaps at the airport. We waited in line for a short while before actually entering the building. The 1st person you meet asks to see your Immigration Questionnaire and then refers you to the appropriate line. I highly recommend completing your questionnaire online and printing it out as we were referred to a line that was considerably shorter than the “normal” line. New U.S. regulations require a passport now and I found that this requirement definitely speeds up both embarkation and debarkation. Once at the counter you merely provide your cruise ticket, passport, immigration questionnaire and a credit card authorization form. Your picture is taken and you are given your cruise ID card which serves as your boarding pass, credit card and room key. You are also provided with a card giving your chosen dining time along with your table assignment.
Unlike our previous trip on this ship, boarding was earlier and you weren’t given a “boarding number”, you just got in line and boarded the ship. After the obligatory embarkation photo, your ship ID was scanned and you were asked to go to the Lido Deck to enjoy a drink or have lunch until the cabins were ready. My wife and I snatched a table near the bar and enjoyed a pina colada while waiting for the announcement that cabins were ready. About 1 pm we were notified cabins were ready although luggage was still being loaded on the ship. Luggage showed up in our cabin around 2 pm.
HAL has gone to the standard $10 per day per passenger gratuity that is automatically added to your ship account. You have the option of going to the front desk and changing it lower or higher if you wish. All of this goes to the crew, 70% to your cabin and dining room stewards and 30% to support personnel. This doesn’t seem to have changed the level of service which I found to be excellent. I increased mine. I also found it easier than having to come up with cash and then making sure you get it to the right people.
The ship was clean and quite attractive. It’s smaller than many cruise ships with around 1200-1300 passengers. Even with this many people though, it never seemed to be excessively crowded anywhere.
HAL seems to cater more to the 50+ crowd which is perfect for me. I wouldn’t recommend them to the younger party crowd as they’d be pretty disappointed.
Our last trip we had been upgraded to a deluxe suite so we were a bit spoiled. We opted this time for a verandah suite as we enjoy having our own balcony. The balcony was about 7-8 feet across and had a chair, chaise and a small table. While not as convenient for breakfast as the deluxe, it was perfect for just sitting and reading during at sea days and for watching the ship arrive and leave port. The room had plenty of closet space and hangers and there was a small safe. There were plenty of drawers for folding clothes. There was a flat panel tv with a dvd player and besides ship channels there was CNN, ESPN, 2 onboard movie channels, I think TNT and a couple of kid’s channels. Dvds could be checked out at the “library.” The bed has been upgraded and was actually more comfortable than my bed at home. There was a sofa, chair and a small portable table and a mini-fridge stocked with beverages. The bath was small, but functional and the shower/Jacuzzi tub was outfitted with a hand-held shower head. Besides the old-fashioned built-in hair dryer, the room was also equipped with a new hand held hair dryer. The vanity/dresser in the room was also outfitted with a telescoping makeup mirror and there’s a plug there which was convenient for me to use my electric razor while my wife hogged the bathroom. Plenty of room under the bed to store your luggage. The room steward was great, he worked his butt off. Our room was always clean and he hit it at least twice a day.
We like to eat early so we opted for the 6:15 seating in the lower area of the Rotterdam dining room. We sat at a table for 6 at a window at the stern which gave us a great view especially when the sunset was out the back of the ship. We had dinner in the Rotterdam each night and the food was extremely good and well prepared. Menu choices were plentiful with 6 choices of entrees which normally included a pasta dish, a fish dish and a beef dish, but it also possible to order a couple of other standard choices like chicken breast, etc for those who prefer plain fare. I like to order things I don’t eat at home so I enjoyed items like duck, paella and some really nice Indonesian rice dish. Portions are small, but you can always get seconds of anything or even order more than one entrée or dessert if you choose to. The head chef stopped by our table after dinner one night and he was a total delight. There is a wine selection area near the theater where you can order wine for your dinner. They will keep your bottle available during the trip and uncork it for you each night.
There were 2 formal, 2 informal and 3 casual nights. I didn’t see as many tuxedos as I had previously and not all men even bothered with a dark suit on formal night. My wife likes the occasion to dress up so I go with a tux. I highly recommend ordering one online through cruise formalwear as it’s waiting in your cabin and you just leave it for your steward when you’re done with it. I even ordered the dress shoes and it was reasonably priced and was a good fit. Informal night means jacket with tie optional although once again this was not strictly enforced. Casual means slacks and a decent shirt. They do enforce no shorts or jeans in the dining room at dinner. It’s really kind of a pity that so many folks have decided to take the splendor out of cruising and would seem to prefer to sit around the table in their boxers if they were allowed to.
The servers were friendly and industrious and food came promptly. Asst server was quick to remember what your beverage was and I always had iced tea waiting. It was my birthday one evening and our server brought out a small cake with candle to our table and members of the crew sang Happy Birthday. I thought it was a nice touch that no one had to tell them, they got the info from my passenger info.
For breakfast we used the Lido on days we had excursions and dining hours were adjusted earlier to accommodate folks on early tours. Lines weren’t too bad and I never had trouble finding a table. Food was plentiful and varied and it was your basic cafeteria type food, nothing special. Fresh fruit, rolls, waffles, pancakes, french toast, eggs any style, sausage, bacon, hash browns, cold cereals and oatmeal. Nothing exceptional, but all you want. On sea days we ate breakfast in the Rotterdam. No trouble getting seated. Breakfast did seem to take quite awhile to be delivered however and there did seem to be a certain amount of confusion as to which table had ordered what when food did come.
We only ate lunch twice and both times used the grill on the Lido deck. They have hamburgers, hot dogs, brats, tacos, french fries and pizza. Nothing special, but it hit the spot.
There’s also the Pinnacle Grill that specializes in Northwest US cuisine for dinner. There’s a surcharge for this restaurant and I didn’t see the need since the food was so good in the main dining room.
There are a multitude of bars and lounges around the ship although their hours seem to vary. Drinks are not cheap and if you’re a drinker, expect a sizeable bar tab. A 15% gratuity is added to all drink orders. If you like sodas, they come in at a hefty $1.75 each. You can purchase a “soda card” for $18 plus the gratuity for a total of $20.70 that gives you 20 sodas. They just punch it each time you get a soda. If you’re going to drink soda, I highly recommend it. Servers do float around the pool area to take drink orders, but you may have to wait quite a while. I’d recommend going to the pool bar and ordering your own drinks. There’s a new coffee bar outside the library where you can get all sorts of fancy coffees and teas, hot or cold for a price of course. The chocolate chip cookie that you can get with your coffee is to die for. I do kind of miss the little complimentary coffee bar they used to have outside the theater.
Facilities and Entertainment
I toured the spa/fitness center and they’ve got a nice set-up, but I never actually used it so I can’t truly comment on it. They’ve expanded the library/internet café area into the Explorer’s Lounge. There’s a pretty decent assortment of books and dvds you can check out and the chairs are pretty comfy if you just want to sit and read there. There are card tables and an assortment of board games. Internet access is available but expensive. I don’t go on vacation to waste my time reading email or surfing the web so I didn’t avail myself of that aspect.
The casino is small, but never seems too overly crowded. Didn’t have as much luck at the blackjack table this time as opposed to last cruise, bummer! The Reubens lounge is nice, but tends to fill up quickly so get there early for a decent seat. Regular cast shows were mediocre. The ventriloquist was great and the comedic magician was pretty funny. The singer/impressionist was so-so. Did a decent Neil Diamond, but Elvis sounded like Neil Diamond with a twang
Shipboard activities are designed for the older crowd which makes sense since HAL seems to cater to the 50s+ crowd. Of course that’s why I picked them in the first place. We’re not really a party-type couple so can’t say about the nighttime activities in the Crow’s Nest. Good selection of artwork in the art auctions and a lot of pieces went unsold. Several shops onboard with reasonable prices. T-shirts more expensive than onshore, but the quality’s a lot better too. Nice selection of jewelry and pretty good prices on watches. If you want perfume ladies, get it onshore in Georgetown. Great selection at very good prices.
Lido pool gets pretty busy on sea days, but on port days it’s pretty empty until the afternoon. The pool on deck 10 might be a good alternative. If you’re just looking to sun yourself, try the chaises up on 12. No pool, but not very crowded. The deck chairs on the lower promenade deck fill up quickly except when it’s windy. There’s not a lot of them so get out there early. It’s really nice to just walk the lower promenade deck for exercise. It’s a ¼ mile around, no jogging, and a nice way to work off those extra calories although from the size of many of the passengers, they didn’t worry about it.
The Wajang Theater serves as both a movie theater and a culinary center. It’s been totally redone so that during the day, the chefs put on cooking demonstrations. Kind of cool actually. As always, they take photos of you a lot. They tend to be pretty expensive so keep your wife away from the photo center.
Since you’re going to need casual clothing for the day and less casual clothing for the evening, it’s easy to over pack. There’s an onboard self-service laundry, but I think it’s a waste of good vacation time to be doing laundry. Your cabin is provided with a laundry bag and it’s only $12, with 24 hr service, to have laundered everything you can stuff into it, which is actually quite a bit. For $45 you get unlimited laundry. I find that this allows you to pack alot fewer clothes as you can just get them washed during the trip.
This is one area where they have really streamlined things. You used to have to leave your cabin and wait in a common area until your debarkation number was called. You also had to get in a long line and clear customs and immigration onboard ship. That used to take forever. Now you leave your luggage outside your stateroom at midnight, as usual, but you are free to wait in your cabin if you prefer. The only people who have to see customs and immigration are non-US citizens and people who have exceeded their customs exemption. You are given a debarkation number and when it is called you just go on down to get off the ship. I recommend taking the stairs as the elevators get pretty filled up. Lines are not outrageous. They scan your ship ID as you leave and authorities collect your customs declaration. Didn’t even have to show my passport. Luggage is sorted by color tags and is pretty easy to locate. You can use their porters or just grab your own bags. As you leave the terminal you will be directed to cabs or in our case to the prearranged shuttle for transport to the airport.
All in all, a very enjoyable trip. I really like this ship and would highly recommend it to all my friends.