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Phillip STIRTON

Age: 70

Occupation:retired

Number of Cruises: 20+

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Volendam

Sailing Date: 2014-02-17

Itinerary: singapore to singapre

The cruise commenced and ended in Singapore and was overall very enjoyable even given the illness issue. The ship itself is probably showing its age somewhat which is more apparent if you have sailed on one of their newer vessels (i.e. Oosterdam). For a first time cruiser it is good value. Personally I would opt for one of their more recent vessels.

The food in the Lido Buffet was good to very good and an improvement on other HA ships we have travelled on. The same applies to the main dining room where there was plenty of choice. We opted for fixed dining on this occasion and managed to be teamed up with a great couple from Sweden which led to some very interesting discussions over dinner. We dined at the Pinnacle Grill (their speciality restaurant) for which you pay a surcharge of around $25 per person. This is a step up from the main dining room in terms of food quality and service and is well worth the surcharge and as a change from the normal routine. The decor was not as impressive compared to the similar restaurant on the Oosterdam and is no doubt due to the age of the ship and the limited space available on Volendam.

We occupied stateroom 6102 on Navigation Deck which is an outside stateroom with two large windows overlooking the front of the ship. Immediately outside is a corridor which leads on to a deck area in front of the stateroom which is a great vantage point when entering ports. It is in our view the pick of the outside staterooms if you don't want to upgrade to a balcony version.

There are a number of bars/lounges spread throughout the ship in which various artists perform. The main showroom put on a number of shows and of particular note were two Scottish entertainers who performed twice during the cruise. They were definitely the highlight with the quality of the remaining acts of a lesser standard. Outside deck games are available as well and a reasonably stocked library.

We tend to organise our own excursions usually at a much lesser cost than the ship's excursions and better quality. However the ship's excursions are well organised and it means that you don't have to bother yourself particularly if you are not computer savvy with organising it yourself and are prepared to pay the extra.

The cruise was a good introduction for people who had not visited Asia previously although we had already been there a number of times ourselves but still found it interesting. Singapore is always fascinating with its ever changing skyline, great hotels and a myriad of restaurants lining the river. They have also developed "Gardens by the Bay" which is essentially a botanical garden with every type of plant from all different climate zones. It incorporates two huge greenhouses to maintain certain plants in a controlled atmosphere - well worth a visit. We stayed at the Grand Copthorne in a fabulous room looking down the river and couldn't their reception staff teach some other hotels about client service ! It was also possible to catch a river ferry right outside the hotel to anywhere of interest and it was very cheap. Next stop was Malacca where it is quite easy to walk from the pier to the places of interest. It has quite a few historical areas due to Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial administrations.

As we had been to Penang a number of times we limited ourselves at this port to a walk around their historical buildings and downtown - always interesting.

Next port was Phuket and we opted to go to Padang Beach which we had visited some 20 years prior. Whilst in those days it was a paradise it is now wall to wall shops and wall to way beach chairs - a bit of a disappointment and perhaps taking off to one of their other less crowded areas would have been a better choice.

The highlight of the whole trip was an overnight stay in Burma (Myanmar). We opted to fly to Bagan (a former capital ) which is situated in a valley on the edge of the Irrawaddy river. There are some 3000 odd temples in this valley of varying sizes and designs and it well worth a visit. We flew Air KBZ, a local airline who could not be faulted with excellent inflight service.

We booked our overnight stay with Oway Travel and could not recommend them more highly. They are a local company in Rangoon and organised our entire two days without a hitch. They arranged transfers from the port (some 60kms from the city) to the airport and return, two return tickets to Bagan, pick up and return transfers at Bagan to the hotel and overnight in a deluxe room at the Aureum Palace Resort Hotel - a truly incredible architectural achievement which was only matched by the gracious and courteous manner in which the staff responded. Next call was to Port Blair in the Andaman Islands which was a complete debacle from the obtaining of visas to arriving at the port itself. We were unclear from the relevant websites exactly what type of visa was needed for what was essentially a six hour visit. We emailed two different authorities (the visa issuing company and the high commission in Canberra) both of which went unanswered. Eventually we applied for a tourist visa which cost $135 EACH for a six hour stopover. That however was not the end of it - the day before reaching Port Blair we were advised that we needed to fill out further visa forms as well as provide a photocopy of our passports. Needless to say the entire ship was more than a little rattled particularly as the Front Office had to do all the photocopying !! To top it all off there was no immigration activity carried out !!! Presumably by the look in the dining room they decided that a meal was better than carrying out further immigration checks !!!!!! After all that we decided to remain on board and wonder why Holland America even entertain going there given the inconvenience to the passengers for what is essentially a six hour stopover - you don't need this short of hassle on a holiday. There are any number of more attractive options in Thailand etc., who are keen to welcome tourists.

Langkawi was a refreshing change and as always is a great spot to visit with some incredible beaches. Unfortunately my travelling partner fell ill with a gastro problem which had swept the ship and which he managed to cop twice. That put somewhat of a dampener on the remainder of the trip. To the ship's credit they responded instantly by a major and ongoing disinfection of the ship and their medical team was brilliant.

We managed an overnight stay in Kuala Lumpur which is about 60kms from the pier. Again an interesting city with substantial improvements since our last visit and plenty to see. The cruise terminated at Singapore.

The one disappointment with this cruise was the crew who seemed to lack friendliness and courtesy which is so apparent on their other ships.

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