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Phil Comeau

Age: 40's

Occupation:n/a

Number of Cruises: First

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Veendam

Sailing Date: December 22nd, 2001

Itinerary: December 22, 2001

"It's good to be on a well run ship." So says the little card placed on our pillows each night by the cabin steward aboard the MS Veendam. The Veendam is without question a well-run ship, and our Eastern Caribbean cruise (Dec. 22 2001 - Dec. 29 2001) on it was very good indeed. Everything was completely ship-shape: The ship itself is beautiful, the staff and crew are friendly, attentive, and helpful, the on-ship activities are fun, varied, and planned to a "T," and the food is nothing short of excellent. The entire cruise experience from the moment we boarded was civilized, elegant, pampering, and exquisite. For seven days we felt very special and very welcome.

The ship:

The Veendam is large. Though it's by no means the largest cruise ship in the world, or even the largest in Holland America's fleet, it is nevertheless an imposing object. If you've never been on a cruise ship before, you'll have to imagine a large, floating resort. It's at least 12 stories high. One turn around the Promenade Deck is a quarter of a mile. It's easy to get lost, though there are plenty of maps, deck plans, direction signs, and staff to steer you toward your goal. Lots of alcoves, rooms, and passageways are available for those who like to explore. Even if the weather is bad, there is enough space inside that you won't feel crowded or claustrophobic.

Outside, the ship is, well, ship-like, with inch-thick steel plate, huge nautical bolts, and teak decks. If you want fresh air there's the Promenade Deck mentioned previously, which runs along the perimeter of the ship. This deck is covered so you can go for a walk or lounge in one of the many deck chairs without getting wet even during rain. Other open decks on the upper part of the ship provide spectacular 360-degree views.

Inside, the Veendam is essentially a luxurious hotel, with shops, lounges, offices, bars, TV rooms, restaurants, auditoriums, etc. Nothing feels cramped or abbreviated. The interior is beautifully decorated. Every lounge, bar, and room has its own character, though all share the same superb quality of decoration. The lighting, subdued for warmth and intimacy, is particularly striking. Quiet spots to sit and chat, have a drink, read, or just watch the ocean go by through one of the many large windows are readily available.

The staff and crew:

The staff and crew of the Veendam are substantially responsible for the warm sense of welcome you feel each minute of the cruise. Every staff member -- every single one -- is enthusiastically helpful and gracious. When you pass someone in a hallway, expect a cheerful greeting and maybe a question about whether anything can be done to make your stay even more enjoyable. The smiles and concern for your comfort are completely sincere. You feel like a welcome and honored guest in someone's (enormous, floating) home. This isn't simply good service: The staff and crew give every impression of deriving their personal happiness from that of their guests. After seven days of this kind of attention, it's hard not to feel sad when you say goodbye on the last night.

Food and drink:

Holland America has a well-deserved reputation for fine dining aboard its ships, and the Veendam is no exception. Food served in the Rotterdam Dining Room ranges in quality from excellent to oh-my-god. The Rotterdam is a world-class five-star restaurant. Dinner is served in two seatings, one at 6:00 pm and the second at about 8:00 pm. On some nights "formal" attire is necessary (business suits or tuxedos for men, gowns for ladies).

The Lido Restaurant serves food buffet style, but don't expect your high-school cafeteria nightmare of institutional chipped beef on toast served by surly kitchen staff in hair nets. Food here ranges in quality from good to very good, with an extensive variety. Burgers and dogs are available next to the Lido Pool, and a coffee shop serves cookies and pastries, as well as coffee, cappuccino, etc. You can also order room service at any time. All food is included in the cruise price.

Drinks, both alcoholic and soft, must be purchased. No money changes hands during the cruise. Instead, any purchases are charged to your shipboard account, which is settled at the end of the cruise. Drinks are somewhat pricey, though iced tea and lemonade are always available on a complimentary basis.

Activities and entertainment:

There's always plenty to do on the Veendam. You can play basketball or tennis on the Sports Deck in net-covered courts, jog, walk, work out in a well-equipped exercise room, or swim in one of the two pools. Holland America has a "Passport to Fitness" program where you can earn points, redeemable for souvenirs, for participating in athletic activities. If you prefer more sedate pastimes, there's a wide variety of shows, talks, art auctions, trivia games, bingo, wine tasting, etc. Each day a newsletter is delivered to your stateroom with a schedule of the day's activities. All activities are well planned and well executed.

For entertainment, there are great variety shows held each night after dinner in Rubens Lounge, movies shown in a surprisingly large theater, TV, various special shows and audience participation shows held during the day, and dancing (to live music or at a disco) at night.

One of our favorite shipboard experiences was the Rosario Strings, a musical ensemble consisting of two violins, a bass, and a piano. They played "Palm Court"-style light classics in the Explorer's Lounge at various times during the day and in the dining room during dinner. Very civilized indeed.

The bottom line:

The MS Veendam is a wonderful place to spend a vacation: A floating luxury resort with excellent dining, a caring and attentive staff and crew, and a plethora of entertainment and activities. I would recommend the Veendam for those seeking a quiet, refined, and elegant vacation experience.

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