Age: 46 to 55
Number of Cruises: 3 to 5
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: January 5, 2000
Itinerary: Southern Caribbean Wayfarer
We sailed January 5, 2000 on the Southern Caribbean Wayfarer. Overall, it was a wonderful trip.
Embarkation: Very smooth. We were met at the Ft. Lauderdale airport by HAL representatives, transported to the cruise ship docks, were checked in quickly, and waited about an hour to board the ship. A new feature is the electronic ID card and door key, all in one-very handy. The Lido buffet opened at 2 p.m. for a late lunch, which was a pleasant introduction to life on board.
Ship: The Volendam is new (we were on its eleventh sailing) and the ship glowed.HAL takes great care of its ships, but you could tell that everything was new and for us, that was a special addition to our trip. As usual, there were fresh flowers everywhere, fine art lined the public areas, everything was kept spotless-in sum, the elegance that one expects to find on board a Holland America ship.
Cabin: Spacious, comfortable, and almost identical to other cabins we have had on HAL. My husband, our 11 year-old son, and I shared an outside cabin on the Dolphin Deck. The cabin has two single beds that can be converted into a large, comfortable queen-ours was already made up as a queen. The sofa ingeniously converts into a single bed, which the steward made up each evening and returned to a sofa in the morning. There is lots of closet and storage space-the hinges on one closet squeaked terribly, but after a word with the steward, they were quickly fixed.
The bathroom was well designed, quite spacious, and included a tub. We enjoyed being on the port side of the ship, as we always could see the town where we were docked. If you want the water view in port, choose a cabin on the starboard side. Our cabin steward was wonderful, but nearly invisible, unless we needed something. He always seemed to know when we had gone and magically made or turned down our beds, changed towels, brought ice and fruit, and freshened our cabin.
Dining: Both the dining room and the Lido are open for open for breakfast and lunch. We sometimes ate breakfast in the dining room and found the food to be fresher, but the service at times wasn't as attentive as at dinner. We enjoyed the Lido at other times and found lots of selections presented attractively. For those who didn't care for the entrees, there was always a salad bar and a sandwich bar.
The desserts were far too good for waistlines and there was always a wide selection available. The dinners in the dining room were excellent with at least 4-5 choices in each category. The Volendam has an alternate dining room-the Marco Polo-available by reservation only, but we enjoyed the food and the service in the main dining room so much that we were never tempted. Our dining stewards were attentive and friendly.
The first evening, our son ordered a glass of milk-after that, every evening a glass of milk was awaiting him when we arrived. The stewards remembered all sorts of small details like that throughout the cruise. And of course, they always had a joke or a magic trick for our son at the end of the meal. The quality of the food was good-appetizers ranged from ordinary to quite interesting and among the entrees, there was always at least one selection of seafood and beef. The salads tended toward the ordinary-we saw a lot of iceberg lettuce. Desserts were wonderful and usually there was a flambéed dessert such as Cherries Jubilee or Bananas Foster.
Entertainment: Perhaps this was the weak point of the cruise. Some of the entertainment was great, such as the magician Leo Ward, and the Volendam singers/dancers with high energy and great costumes. Some performers were so-so and we saw the worst comedian we have ever seen one of the nights. The evening shows were not well attended-good seats were usually easy to find. However, a large number of the cruisers were part of a group called Jazzsea 2000 and they had their own jazz bands performing at night. We were able to attend these performances as well.
Club HAL: Our son participated in a number of the children's activities. The Club HAL Director did a great job and tailored the activities to the participants' specific interests (not hard to do-there were only 13 children on the cruise). Every sea day there were six to eight hours of activities; on port days, activities were scheduled only in the evenings. There were lots of giveaways-T-shirts, pens, stuffed animals, disposable cameras-our son had a great time.
Ports of Call: We stopped at six ports of call on the Wayfarer cruise, none of which we had visited before. The shore excursion office had numerous tours for all stops, but we took only one (in Dominica-in part because we had only a five hour stop and we wanted to make sure that we made it back before the ship sailed). It is quite easy to arrange your own tours on most islands at a much better price. The highlights:
Half Moon Cay: HAL's private island-and we weren't expecting much. However, we were pleasantly surprised at how relaxing it was. The beach is beautiful, there are lots of chaise lounges and umbrellas, and there are no vendors to bother you. The water wasn't all that warm, but some people were swimming in the crystal clear water. We had a barbecue lunch ashore to the sounds of a steel band. There were lots of "toys" for rent, but we didn't see too many takers.
St. Thomas: We took a taxi into town, did some shopping, and arranged our own tour there (actually, the guide found us). A two-three hour tour of the island in a 20-passenger surrey was $15 per person and we were taken back to the Volendam at the end. We heard and saw all we wanted to see-some history, several stops to admire the views, and a 15 minute stop at Coki Beach to walk. We could have stayed there two hours and been picked up by later tour and a few in our group chose to do that.
Dominica: This island was the least developed of the islands that we visited. We took the tour to Trafalgar Falls and Emerald Pool and learned a lot about the history and the flora and fauna of the island from the guide. We probably could have done better than the $45 per person charged by the ship, but we felt more comfortable knowing that the ship wouldn't sail without us. Dominica offers natural beauty and was a wonderful contrast to the other more developed islands. We were late in returning to the ship and never got to see the city where we docked nor did we get to do any shopping (although there didn't seem to be much of interest to buy).
Trinidad: We docked right in town, so we decided to walk around the city. The taxi drivers were relentless as we left the terminal, and we thought the posted prices high for trips to different parts of the city and the beaches. Port of Spain is not a very pretty city, but we got a sense of daily life from walking around. However, we never did see any of the "notable" sites and in retrospect, we should have taken a taxi tour of the city, at the very least. A steel drum band came aboard and gave a concert in the mid-afternoon.
Martinique: The taxi drivers were waiting-and the prices in Martinique are very high. We decided to take the ferry to the beaches across the bay and we found a driver who would take us to the ferry dock. The beach at the Sofitel Hotel was small but nice and we enjoyed our time there. Fort-de-France seemed pleasant and we did some shopping, but went back to the ship in the mid-afternoon to see a folkloric dance show by a Martinique troupe.
St. Kitts: We had to tender in and there found a taxi that took us to Brimstone Hill Fortress for $15 per person. The driver decided that we needed a city tour as well, so he showed us the highlights and told us all about the history of St. Kitts, before taking us to the fortress, which was very impressive and well worth the visit. On the way back, he decided that we needed to see Frigate Bay as well, so drove us past Basseterre to a point where we could see the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean on either side of a narrow spit of land, and then took us back to Basseterre. There was some great shopping there and particularly lovely were the batiks.
Disembarkation: Smooth and quick. Delta and US Airways came aboard to provide check-in service, our bags were checked at dockside, and we were taken quickly to the airport, ready to head home.
Overall, we had a great time. We often hear comments about the higher average age of passengers on Holland America. People do tend to be older, but it makes for a more relaxing and tranquil cruise (this is not the cruise line for those who want to party all night long). Still, there is plenty of activity of every level and one can choose to take part or not. For us, a quiet afternoon stretched out on a chaise on the Lower Promenade Deck can't be beat. That tranquility and the level of service we have come to expect from Holland America are why we wouldn't hesitate to cruise again on Holland America.