Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: n/a
I delayed in posting this awaiting a response from Holland America re: a situation you will read about later in this review but didn’t want to delay the post much longer since there are no other reviews of this cruise for 2005. So bear with me if this is not as detailed as it should be.
This was our first “cruise” other than the one we took on the Yangtze about 10 years ago. That was a river cruise and only had 150 passengers. We are not into going to the Caribbean as we don’t do sun so Alaska interested us. And we wanted to see scenery.
We received a brochure from Grand Circle Cruises, which included a 10 night trip with 7 nights on the Volendam. We figured that seven nights would be best to try “cruising”. Though we booked in January, the highest level available was the Main Deck or the Promenade Deck (one above the Main” and all the Verandas are above that. So we settled for Main and – based on advice from friends – requested not to be assigned the higher Promenade deck because the walking track goes by your window and it’s recessed. The main deck windows (we definitely wanted an outside cabin) were large and flush with the outside. We were VERY happy with it.
I guess I can say right now that were very happy with 99% of the Volendam experience (more on the 1% later).
We knew – from other reviews posted for prior years – the Volendam was not new (In fact it’s the third HA ship with that name. And, in December, it will be modernized (over only two weeks!) with a major emphasis on gourmet food.). But we liked the fact that it was not a MEGA-ship! It only has 1400 passengers and it was small enough that I could go from level 3 to level 7 and to the other end of the ship in under 10 minutes to catch different views. Also, we knew that the Volendam was not a “Party boat”. And service was a bit more formal. That is something disappearing from the cruise industry and we wanted to experience it before it is gone. We made the right choice.
Remember as you read this that I’m reviewing the ALASKA itinerary. The sun goes down at 11pm in early June and rises at 3:30 am! So there is plenty of time to see the great scenery. Hence, they don’t have a lot of on Board activities. Every evening there is a “show” but it’s mostly “show tunes” or a magician. The “older folks” enjoy that. I say “older folks” when I’m 60 because I mean those in the 75plus range. HA draws an older crowd. My guess is 50% of passengers are over 50 years old and 75% over 40. School wasn’t out yet but I only saw 4 children – plus a baby – on board. But I liked this pace and everyone I met was great! Oh, back to onboard activities. There is a casino but usually pretty empty and everyone hit bed by 1pm or so because they wanted to see the scenery the next morning.
Food, plenty of it and quite good for the number of folks they serve. Served Dinner is by seatings and the first day there was lots of frustration as couples who booked together for their vacations found that they had different seating times!). You meet with the Maitre ‘D the first afternoon (take a number and wait 30-40 minutes) but they will usually accommodate you. We were just a party of two and so were able to get a private table. At breakfast and lunch in the Dining Room they seat you wherever there is space so you get new dining partners which I enjoyed. Also, the buffet on the Lido deck is always open for dinner and you can sit where you want. While I thought food was good it was still from a steam table so I ate less meals there.
They also have the Pinnacle Room which an “optional” choice for dinner. It has own kitchen and staff. This is a $20.pp extra for dinner (but only $10.00 on the first night... and I suggest you try it!). We had formal service and the largest and best Porterhouse steak I’ve had in years. Some folks on ship complained that they didn’t want to pay extra but we felt by avoiding the overpriced and highly hawked cocktails, we spent our funds more wisely!
The two formal nights were also fun. You don’t need a tux; just a nice jacket or suit. (The rest of the time, you can wear as casual as you want.)
The room was much larger than I expected and there is more closet space than you can use! The ONLY defect in the room is that there is – unbelievably – no CLOCK. So bring one with you! And refill your water bottle in the Lido, or expect to pay for new ones each day.
So we didn’t have a Veranda. Guess what? We didn’t miss it. It was too cold to sit outside many days and there was plenty of room on top deck where you had a 300 degree viewing angle. And if your Room was on the wrong side of ship you missed the wildlife and some of the Glaciers. So if you don’t get a Veranda, IMHO, don’t worry.
We also chose the Vollendam because it’s small enough to get into areas where larger ships can’t and ALWAYS docked right in the center of the port towns. So you could get off and on and off and on. Some larger ships need you to tender to shore.
The Filipino cabin staff was fantastic. You’ll make a friend for life! I was amazed that the Maitre ‘D remembered my name (and everyone else I saw) at every meal or on the deck without a cue card. And he did that with many of the 1400 others!
Okay, now the only bad experience. We wanted to book some of the optional tours before we left home as a few sell out. We didn’t want many as we wanted to explore on our own. But we knew the narrow gauge train ride in Skagway was a must. And HA’s price was EXACTLY the same as booking it with the railway direct. But HA offered a combo tiur called “The Ultimate Yukon”. For $85. pp more than just the train ride, we would go on a bus into Canadian Yukon and see scenery and then have a BBQ Chicken Lunch at Coyote Crossing. Sounded fair to us. It was a disaster. It was raining – which it usually does – but the defroster on the bus didn’t work. So the young female bus driver (A college Student) passed n old rag around to buss to have us continually defog the windows. Then she did the same, while driving with one hand, wiping with the other and narrating the “tour”. We felt very unsafe for the 2-hour drive. So we get to the luncheon and are fed Chicken legs (because they said they “sold out of white meat and the salmon they had”, cold coffee and two day old rolls which cracked on the ground when I dropped one! When we got to the train ride part we were so glad to be off the bus. Needless to say I don’t recommend this optional tour.
But what bothered me most was the fact that immediately upon returning to the ship I went to the Shore Excursion office to tell them about the safety problem and inedible food. They took down my info and my cabin number. I figured that I would have my report acknowledged – and maybe even a partial refund as it was a HA arranged tour. I got neither. I even wrote to the Shore Excursions email address on the web site to see why I received no response and got – you guessed it – NO RESPONSE! This was the only black mark and failing grade I gave HA on tour cruise experience with them.
So, in summary, We loved the trip, and loved the ship and – of course – LOVED Alaska! We will return and would definitely sale on the Volendam again. (The value for money paid wa excellent!). However we would NEVER purchase an optional tour from their Shore excursion again. When you are “blown off” the way we were, you don’t want to get burnt again.
Steve in Philly.