Rita and I were married in Las Vegas January 18, 1997 at Treasure Island. Our wedding was supposed to be on the sixteenth, but guess what, we had an ice and snow storm and were delayed by two days. The next year on our first anniversary we once again headed for Vegas in just such a snow storm. I put my Jeep Wrangler in 4 wheel drive, and we drove 175 miles north to Indy in the snow and caught an ATF flight to Vegas. We just planned this one week before we left, so we had to take what ever we could get (reasonable). We ended up at the Monte Carlo because Treasure Island was booked. Whoops, this is not a Las Vegas Hotel review, it's a cruise review. However, if you go there don't miss the Lance Burton show!
The next year for our second anniversary, we decided to stay in E (Evansville, Indiana) town and not risk the weather. We spent our anniversary at our local Astar hotel and Riverboat Casino. I believe the weather was in the 50s and 60s all week! Can you believe it? We vowed for our third we will not stay in E'ville, we will find somewhere to go in January. Anywhere but here! Well, maybe not anywhere, as long as it was south, with the possible exception of Arkansas!
Now for this year, with Y2K approaching, we were in a dilemma for what to do on our anniversary. Rita works as a civilian employee for the Vanderburgh County Sheriffs Department, and was on Y2K call until January 17, 2000. Well, with that and all the bad weather we usually get in January, it looked as if we would stay home once again this year. NOT. Indiana is noted for corn and basketball, not necessarily in that order. As the corn had already been picked, and we could no longer watch it grow, and IU's basketball was getting dull, it was time to get the heck out of Dodge. Low and behold around the first of December we get a brochure from Holland America. If we booked a cruise we would be entitled to the alumni discount. Hey we are having a mild winter, let's go for it! The Veendam has a cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale on 01/23/00, and has three full days at sea! Just what we want. I looked up a review in the SeaLetter by Sharon Jackson, and based upon her great review of the ship, we booked! The weather through December and early January was great! One of the mildest winters on record! Heck, on New Year's Eve before attending a big New Year 2000 party and dance that evening, I even washed the old Wrangler. It was 70 degrees!
Well, as fate would have it, we left for our cruise a day early in a snow storm, and in a basic subcompact turboprop smaller-than-small aircraft. (This turned out to be the only snow of the season!) I don't like to fly on anything that has the same name as a certain station wagon with a luggage rack, or any plane from South America. Remember that movie? They actually had to de-ice so we could get off the ground. Once we got to Cincinnati we were delayed again while they de-iced the 757. Our cruise bash one, two, & three friends, Bill & Jimi from the North Pole are probably used to this, we are not!
Once we finally arrived in Ft. Lauderdale and checked into the Radisson Bahia Mar, we headed for the bar and got reacquainted with Michael the bartender who served us for Cruise Bash 3 last October. We were happy to be out of that weather, and getting ready to board our first cruise alone. Then it hit us. We were without our Cruise Bash friends we've met on the three previous cruises. This is our first cruise by ourselves. No Bill and Jimi, no Sir James and Rosie, no Mike and Dottie, no Don and Judy, no Bob and Sharon, no Amy and Leif, no Phat and Be, no Debbie, Marion, and the rest of the 'Bama Gang, no Blenderman and Iowa Deb, no Slim Jim, no Dutch, no Rudy and Nathalie from Belgium, and on and on and on. We were by ourselves. We don't have to answer to anyone when we over sleep to three in the afternoon. We will miss them, but....
The next day we took a taxi to Port Everglades about 1:00 p.m., walked right up to the counter with no line and completed our booking and received a boarding number. We waited about 45 minutes for our number to be called and we were escorted to our cabin, 739 outside. Because of our late booking we just got our cabin number 3 days prior to our departure.
Upon entering our cabin, we found all of our luggage already inside. The cabin was about the same size as our cabin on the Westerdam for Cruise Bash 2. I think the bathroom was a little larger on the Veendam. Our cabin steward came in and greeted us and his cabin service turned out to be the same as all of our previous cruises, outstanding.
We took a tour of the ship on our own before the dreaded life boat drill. This was the easiest of all the ships we have been on to find our way around. We found our future route from our cabin on the fourth level, to the dining room. We would take the stairs up one floor to the escalator one floor to the atrium, and two flights to the eighth deck. We avoided the elevators as much as possible for the added exercise. After the life boat drill we made our way to the welcome aboard and sailing party at pool side aft. Rita even won a free drink in one of their left over 2000 millennium glasses by answering correctly on a bingo question. What is the last number in the G column? G 60. The glasses were the prizes all week. I think we brought home about a half dozen or so. They seemed to have a never ending supply.
The Veendam has 10 passenger decks, and a cruise capacity of 1,266 passengers. We never felt crowded. A fellow passenger took a photo of us with the ship in the background, after arriving at our first port of call, St. Croix. We were docked along side of the Carnival Triumph. I believe the Triumph holds around 2,700 passengers. Looks like a subcompact next to an SUV. But only from that view! Our previous cruises have been on Carnival's Sensation, Holland America's Westerdam, and Celebrity's Mercury. All have been wonderful, but this ship is now our favorite. The "dam" ships of Holland America, and their service staff is so far, in our opinion, the best. We do intend to try other lines as well. How could you not like a cruise? We have decided to take at least two cruises a year.
Our anniversary cruise was great. The ship was beautiful, the food was the best yet, and the service was outstanding. The ship rocked & rolled a couple days like the Westerdam had. Rita chewed the motion sickness pills and ate everything they put in front of her. She especially loved the desserts. We enjoyed not going on excursions and just getting off at the ports and doing whatever we felt like doing. Half Moon Cay was beautiful, the best looking mile of beach I have ever seen. On our Westerdam CB2 cruise we had to skip Half Moon Cay because of rough seas. Our other port of call was St. Thomas. We just took a taxi on our own and went downtown and did some shopping. Unlike two of the original members of the 'bama gang on CB2, we left plenty of time for our return to the ship!
We had early dining because we booked late. Two large groups had the late seating. A "Kosher" group from New York and the St. Louis Baseball Cardinals group cruise. We met some of the players, an ex-player/announcer, and management staff and their familles at the Crows Nest. They invited us to join their next group cruise, which should be about the same time of the year. We will have to see. We are Card fans, and go to one or two games a year in St. Louis. It was a thrill to meet them. Especially the Mad Hungarian. Rita (Briles) Smith is a long lost third cousin of an ex-player, Nelson Briles. Nellie, if you read this get in touch with Rita!
Some of the St. Louis Cardinals on board
We dined at a table for four with a honeymoon couple who were married a day before the cruise began. He was a Nuclear Engineer Submarine Officer with the Navy and she was a Chemistry student at Yale. Boy were we out of our league! We had a great time with them, and really enjoyed their company. We think they enjoyed ours as well. We also enjoyed the company of some folks at the surrounding tables. We met a lot of people on this cruise and had a private contest going on to remember everyone's name. I think we did pretty well. The food was outstanding! I don't know much about presentation, however the food was even pretty. We dined so early (4 o'clock our time) that we did hit some of the midnight buffets. I think we would still prefer late sitting on a "Bash" cruise. We only made it in time for breakfast once in the dining room, and it was great as well. The breakfast and lunch buffets in the Lido dining room, as well as hamburgers, hot-dogs, tacos, etc., at the Lido pool were also very good. No complaints from us.
We received two painted Dutch hats, to go with the ones we received on the Westerdam. One came from the servers at the Ocean Bar where we went for cocktails and appetizers before dinner. The other was from the Crows Nest staff where we danced until 2 o'clock each night. They had a 50-60s Rock & Roll night, a 70's night, and a prom night. We actually won the twist contest. I must have been under the influence of alcohol, because I don't normally twist. We aren't exactly ballroom dancers, more like bar room dancers. Fast dancing is the second best form of exercise, slow dancing leads to the first!
As well as the groups mentioned above we had an interesting mix of people aboard. One was a blind lady, her husband, and her dog Wiley. We had one couple from Northern Indiana who married on the beach at St. Croix and two or three couples who renewed their vows. We even had a passenger who had to be airlifted by a Coast Guard Helicopter in a very risky looking maneuver. The basket was spinning like a top. The rumor aboard ship had it as a body being removed, however we met some friends of the person and they said he was alive. The ship's doctor apparently suspected a potentially fatal blood clot.
We spent an extra day in Ft Lauderdale after the cruise and drank Rum Runners at Pussers and watched the Super Bowl. Our return flights the next day went well. (no snow)
This is the first review I have written, so excuse the lack of detail. When Rita and I filled out the survey for the Veendam, we gave 9's for everything except entertainment, which we gave an 8. The steel drum band was outstanding and the others average. But that is just a matter of taste. For those not familiar with Holland America, 9 is the highest rating you can give on the survey. If they had perfect 10's, this ship and cruise would have earned some from us. If you do need more detail on the ship, go to the Holland America web site (www.hollandamerica.com) and click on the virtual tour of the Veendam. That is what we did. You can view the cabins from different angles and get an actual feel for their size. The ship lived up to our greatest expectations.
Holland America Line does not add gratuities to your beverage bill automatically, nor do they leave tip envelopes in your cabin. Tipping, and the amount, is solely up to you. We did tip our cabin steward, head waiter, and bus boy just as you are almost required to do on other lines. We got extraordinary service, so we tipped accordingly. We also tipped all of the servers, bartenders, and wine steward who served us well. We did this on our last evening aboard. They all helped make our anniversary cruise special. If you are reading this review because you are considering taking a cruise on the Veendam, go for it! Heck, get in touch with us, we may want to join you.
We also want to thank Sharon Jackson of Sealetter for getting us interested in cruising. Right after we married in '97, we decided maybe we would like to try a cruise in the late summer or early fall. I typed in 'cruise' on my ISP forum search, and low and behold I met Sharon Jackson. She was putting together cruise bash 1, and the timing was perfect. I guess the rest is history. Three years later, we will be on the SeaLetter Y2K Cruise Bash on Carnival's Elation out of Los Angeles in September. This will be our fifth cruise!
Photos courtesy of Keith & Rita Smith.
While Keith & Rita haven't been cruising all that long, 4 cruises in just a bit over 2 years have converted them to true addicts already! Keith & Rita would love to hear your comments and answer any questions you might have about "cruise bashing" or any of their cruises and theey can be reached at email@example.com.
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