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Cruise Ship Review
Veendam
By
Olen & Nancy Pearson

My name is Nancy. My husband Olen and I sailed on the April 6th cruise of Holland America's Veendam to the Eastern Caribbean. We would like to share with you some of our experiences and impressions of the ship, ports, and planning a cruise in general.

Planning

We spent a number of months gathering and analyzing various cruise lines and ships. Considering our primary criteria which included a veranda suite, quiet relaxation, maximum days at sea (ports generally unimportant), and minimal exposure to children, we selected Holland America and the Veendam. The planning was a lot of fun in itself and very educational. When we go again (and we will), we (at least I) will look forward to this part of the adventure almost as much as the actual time at sea. (Olen calls me "cruise- obsessed" during this period!)

One very wise decision we made was to elect to fly to Ft. Lauderdale the day before sailing. Otherwise, we would have had to arise at 3 am to catch a 7 am flight which would have made for an unacceptably long and tiring day. As it turned out, we were rested and had a wonderful first day. This is something that we believe that everyone who has an early flight should consider.

Embarkation

Embarkation was orderly and easy. A number system is used for flow control. Do not believe the literature about the time this will begin. Get to the pier early and expect the process to begin about 3 to 4 hours before sailing. But, if you are a bit late, don't worry; there will not likely be an excessive wait or delay.

Our luggage arrived very promptly, within an hour or so of boarding which was not bad, considering that we were among the very first to embark. Once on board, head for the Lido Deck for your first taste of the not-so-wonderful Veendam cuisine - more on that later. This will be your first chance, and if you don't make the best of it, you will have to wait until after the dreaded lifeboat drill.

Lifeboat Drill

Don't blame the lifeboat drill on Holland America; it's required of all ships before they leave the dock. Take your anger at having to stand around for an extra long time out on those thoughtless, selfish, (should be made to walk the plank as shark bait) passengers who refuse to be there on time as requested. You will have to wait in the heat and full life jacket attire until these dodo-heads decide to grace you with their presence. But, once the full assembly is present, it's not too long - and fairly interesting.

Unlike the Titanic, the Veendam actually has sufficient lifeboats (and life rafts) for all passengers and crew. (But, it is still the time-honored - archaic, according to Olen - system of "women and children first" on Holland America ships.)

Stateroom

We were fortunate to have had one of the large suites with a private veranda on the Navigation Deck. Upon entering, we were greeted by fresh flowers, fresh fruit, and champagne. The suite was luxurious, very spacious, and very well planned. Aside from the usual things like a king bed, sofa and chairs, there was a fully-stocked (but not free) mini-bar, remote-controlled TV with VCR, and sound system that could be controlled from a panel at the head of the bed.

Lighting was both soft and adequate with switches everywhere including at the head of the bed and supplemented by individual reading lights. Following the obligatory "you must over pack rule," I did, and we still had empty drawer and closet space.

The private veranda was our favorite place on the entire ship. It was furnished with a table, four chairs, and two loungers. We took nearly all of our breakfasts there as well as enjoying many other relaxing times. It was wonderful to leave the doors leading to the veranda open at night to have the sound of the sea and the gentle roll of the ship lull us to sleep.

The room was generally very quiet with direct noise from adjacent suites or from the corridor being very rare. But, any noise from neighbors on their veranda appeared almost magnified and intrusive when the doors to the veranda were open. And, surprisingly, the noise of chairs being scraped along the floor on the Lido Deck above were often quite noisy. But, these were only minor annoyances for the benefits of the accommodations.

Cabin service was generally very good. Like the rest of the ship, our cabin was very clean - the only exception to this being the rather heavy layer of sticky salt covering the veranda furniture when we first boarded. This seems a rather obvious oversight in stateroom cleaning and preparation. Our steward was, for the most part, prompt and attentive, servicing the room twice daily, including the omnipresent chocolates on our pillows at night. He did, however, seem to miss things on the veranda, leaving dishes there all day or overnight on several occasions.

The Ship

The Veendam is clean and spacious. It is decorated in a variety of cheerful colors and styles that do not insult your senses. The assortment of art work is nice but maybe somewhat overdone. For example, the two-deck crystal ornamentation, "Jacob's Ladder," that decorates the main atrium cost Holland America over half a million bucks. I'd quickly forgo such ostentation for a fare reduction.

The ship is systematically arrayed with numerous chairs and other small, cozy sitting areas, both in and out of the many lounges and bars - but don't expect to find a plush, overstuffed replacement for that old friend that you left at home; the chairs and sofas tend to be a bit on the firm side. Yet, you are rarely out of sight of a large window and good view of the sea. Although there are the inevitable knots of crowds that develop at certain times (beginning of meals) and in very popular locations (casino), the ship is large enough with sufficient facilities to handle its passenger load with ease. (By the way, the upper tier of the Rubens Lounge is furnished with very uncomfortable, hard, seemingly backless benches that should be avoided if you don't want a sore back and behind.)

 

Although the ship is huge and a bit overwhelming at first, moving about the Veendam is very easy, even when you first arrive. Elevators are clearly marked as to decks and locators are provided to help you find a particular facility on any deck. You can go from one deck to another by means of any of eight elevators (in two banks of four) or wide stairs. The only complaint here is that each bank of elevators operates as two separate pairs of two so each pair is ignorant of where or what the other is doing. You must punch both buttons and hope for the best. Nevertheless, the system appears to serve adequately most of the time; rarely did we have to "wait for the next car."

We mostly traveled at about 19-20 knots with relatively calm seas so the ship was remarkably steady with only a little roll and a slightly discernable pitch, though it was a bit "bumpy." One day we passed through a small storm, and the seas became rather choppy. Then, the ship's motion became somewhat more noticeable making walking without appearing tipsy almost impossible, but more fun than a problem. (Olen said this was a humorous challenge when visiting the "little boy's room"!) The ship is equipped with stabilizers which tend to rather effectively eliminate most of the rolling motion.

The Veendam was in great shape. During the seven days, we saw only a single broken item on the entire ship. This was a broken rail in an elevator which was repaired in short order. This is rather remarkable for a ship of this size and population. (This does not count the 2 to 3 hours we were either stopped or limping along at 6 knots while a pump on the starboard drive system was replaced!)

The Staff

With one notable exception, we found the staff on the Veendam to be both courteous and helpful. But, Holland America's claim that each passenger is treated as "special" is not born out. We felt that the staff did their job adequately but nothing more, giving no better service than one might find in any good on-shore restaurant or hotel. That is, they did nothing special except when a specific request was made. And, quite honestly as described below, sometimes, even some very simple requests were not fulfilled.

Do not confuse the "no tipping required" policy of Holland America with the "no tipping accepted" or "no tipping permitted" policies of certain other premium lines. Basically, with Holland America, this only means that you will not receive the little envelopes, guidance on tipping, or have an automatic 15% gratuity added to your bar bills. On the other hand, you will be exposed (should you choose to listen) to a discourse on how you will not receive envelopes or guidance but are allowed to tip, and the staff permitted to receive such rewards should you choose to offer them for deserving service.

At times, you may find yourself wishing that Holland American provided language dictionaries as standard equipment with each stateroom. Although communicating with the staff was not a consistent problem; it was, at times, a bit of a challenge. On many occasions we observed members of the crew conversing with each other in their native tongue. While it may not be the politically correct position, Holland America (and other lines) should consider establishing an "English only" policy for its crew while on board ship. This would surely serve to enhance English language skills, something which will necessarily remain limited as long as native languages are still used whenever possible.

One final point involves the Veendam officers. Holland America, even in their on-ship videos, advertise that their ships are staffed by Dutch officers, bragging on their over 500 year maritime heritage. Not so with this ship which had British officers. While the British are certainly capable seafarers, this is not as advertised by Holland America. Olen has spent time in the Netherlands and was looking forward to conversing with the Dutch crew. As it was, we rarely saw any of the British officers.

Our Fellow Travelers

With the rare exception of a hurried individual who would rudely push ahead, the group of passengers on the Veendam was very polite, pleasant, and orderly.

The range of ages varied widely, but the average age appeared to be late 40's which is somewhat younger than we had been lead to believe from reviews we had read prior to our cruise. There was an appreciated absence of the swinging, partying crowd. We also very much enjoyed the almost child-free environment; the few kids that were seen were, with one bratty exception on the Lido Deck, well-behaved.

I have read that Holland America is planning to move toward a more family-oriented environment. We sincerely hope they reconsider this. The probable absence of children and families was a primary consideration in our selection of a Holland America ship. Needless to say, should this change, then Holland America will drop in priority when we select a ship for future cruise adventures. While we respect the need and rights of families to enjoy their vacations, quite frankly we believe that there should be kid-free ships (and other places, for that matter) for those of us who do not share the pleasure that parents seem to find when their "darling" little progeny "express themselves" at the maximum volume output of their strong little lungs!

The Cashless Society

We very much enjoyed the "cashless society" offered by Holland America. This simply means that you virtually never need cash for anything you purchase on board the ship. We needed cash to purchase some postage stamps, but that was all. For the bars, casino, gift shop, etc., you simply give your cabin number and sign away. Nice, but dangerous if you don't keep track. You will receive a preliminary statement of your account on the last full day of your cruise, and a final bill before you dock. (If you have not provided a credit card or otherwise arranged to settle your account, upon docking, you will hear your name called repeatedly over the ship's loudspeaker until you pay up.)

The Food

We were very disappointed in the food on the Veendam. In general, we found it to be bland to tasteless. And, the methods of providing the food left much to be desired.

There are basically four ways to acquire your meals on the Veendam; I will look at each one at a time.

The Rotterdam Dining Room

This is a large, two-tier, beautifully decorated but often very noisy dining area where more formal meals are served. Two nights required formal dress, one semi-formal, and four were casual, though there was no apparent distinction in the nature of the menu other than the parade of sparkling baked Alaska at the captain's farewell dinner. The menu was available in advance so you would know what to expect.

Although the waiters are relatively efficient (They did miss Olen's salad one night.), the service is highly regimented; just try to get anything extra or out of sequence. One evening we asked for substitute rolls; we got the same ones served along with dessert. And, Olen never managed to obtain a second cup of coffee with dessert. Personalized or special service it was not!!

The chefs (need more cooks and fewer "chefs") that prepare the meals on the Veendam seemed to feel that nothing can be served unless it's combined or smothered with something totally unrelated to it. Exotic, unpronounceable, unrecognizable food is fine if that's your forte, but there should be selections for simple, more traditional tastes. (Okay, I'll give them a little credit; they did serve prime rib one night - and totally cremated it!!) Their idea of "home cooking" (their term) was beef stroganoff! - Maybe it's "home" if you are from Kiev. Is it really too much to ask that each menu contain more traditional offerings along with the fancy, exotic stuff?

But, with all this, you would at least expect to have your palette assaulted with new and wonderful flavors and combinations of tastes. NOT SO!! The fact is that the food on the Veendam, especially in the Rotterdam Dining Room, ranged from bland to annoyingly tasteless! For example, I looked forward to the night we were to have lobster; this is a relatively rare treat for me which I always anticipate and enjoy with great enthusiasm. It was totally tasteless and a huge disappointment - so much so that I didn't even bother to finish it!!

The Lido Pseudo "Restaurant"

If you like cafeterias and feeding frenzies, you'll love this one. What is technically called a "restaurant" is in reality a cafeteria with two food lines. When first opened, the lines are long with waits of at least 15-20 minutes. The lines can persist for up to an hour so get all you want the first time or prepare for another long wait in line. It is certainly not our idea to pay such prices for this kind of service - or lack thereof!!

Though much better than in the formal dining room, the food in the Lido "Restaurant" was nothing to write home about. The servers behind the line rushed you along, almost to the extent of being rude, much like in any regular cafeteria. Holland America should be honest and describe this for what it is - a cafeteria and not a restaurant. So much for that special service again.

This area also included an ice cream bar which was open at rather irregular hours that did not necessarily coincide with those of the "restaurant" - which were also irregular and changed daily. The ice cream and "fixings" were generally very good though the assorted offerings at any one time were somewhat limited.

Finally, the Sports Deck where various athletic activities were held was immediately above this area. It did seem, at times, that the participants in certain events would come through and land in our midst! Why Holland America could not have put a bit more acoustical insulation in some of the ceilings is a mystery.

The Lido Grill

This was more like a traditional grill and maybe the best place to get quick food on the ship. When it was open, there were normally hot dogs and hamburgers available, but other items like tacos would also appear. It was here that a really great bar-B-Q was offered one evening which we enjoyed in place of the dining room. With the possible exception of breakfast, this was without any doubt the best food we had while on board.

One area of service here deserves particular note. In all locations on the Lido Deck, including the "restaurant," the bussing of the tables is outstanding.

Room Service

The speed and efficiency of room service was surprising. (At times, you could get a tray from room service faster than you could get through some of the lines at the Lido Pseudo "Restaurant.") We ordered from room service at least a dozen times. It was always prompt, warm, and correctly prepared. Full meals had to be ordered the day before, but an adequate soup and sandwich menu was available 24 hours a day. We highly recommend this option to everyone.

Entertainment

There were nightly shows, usually two, one for each dinner seating, plus an occasional extra offering. Our experience with the entertainment on the Veendam was very limited. What we saw was less than impressive. If you like the "amateur hour," then you will probably like the shows.

Lounges & Bars

This is where the Veendam shines. Though we did not find all the lounges to our liking, there is something for nearly everyone - except hard rock and heavy metal - thank Holland America's good taste for this! There is the Piano Bar which we found boring but others seemed to be drunk enough to be having fun anyway. The Ocean Bar offers quiet dancing of many types to the music of an excellent band, and the Crow's Nest provides more lively sounds with a DJ. When not in the dining room, a pleasant string ensemble with piano provides quiet music at various places.

There are several other locations to imbibe such as the Casino Bar (Guess where that is?) and Dolphin Bar on the Lido Deck and assorted places to rest and relax with or without music. Whatever your mood, you can find a setting to fit it on the Veendam.

The Cost of Drinks

We found the price of liquor and mixed drinks to be surprisingly reasonable, beginning at about $3.75. Beer begins at $2.85 for American brews with imports being somewhat more; we thought this to be a little high. Cokes are also overpriced at $1.50 each. We do not drink wine so I cannot offer any data on that, but it is available.

Although Olen was somewhat reluctant at first, we carried a supply of Cokes and brews on board with us. To save having to bother with these on the airplane, we had the taxi make a brief stop between the hotel and port in Ft. Lauderdale for a supply. (We also replenished our supplies a bit in St. Thomas.) We believe this is a reasonable way to save some money without incurring any real inconvenience and encourage others to give it a try.

The Casino

What can you say about a casino? It's a place to lose your money. The casino on the Veendam offers a variety of ways to accomplish this including Caribbean poker, blackjack, roulette, and the omnipresent slot machines in denominations from a dime to a dollar. The size of the bets are reasonable so one can play a few rounds of most anything (or everything) without fearing bankruptcy. If you don't know how to play something, don't worry; they will teach you. There are special sessions, but if you miss that, the dealers are very friendly, patient and helpful. The afternoon or early evenings are less crowded and best for the novice.

Ship Activities

We are not social animals so most of our time on board was spent enjoying the experience together. But, for those who prefer more socially active endeavors, you will find a full schedule of games, contests, etc. to keep you busy. The daily schedule that appears the night before lists events so you can carefully plan your day.

Announcements are made periodically of what are deemed important activities and events. The announcement system is very good. It is preceded by a chime and can be easily heard throughout the ship (except around very loud music). There are no speakers in the individual staterooms, but the announcements can still be easily heard (or ignored) if desired.

Our one complaint here is that while those who control such things are very quick to see that all bingo and other revenue-generating activities are announced, sometimes more than once, there is never any mention of passing sights (islands, marine life, etc.) that might be of interest. There were several instances when we either learned of such things after the fact or could not recall what the captain had said about them the day before during his daily 1 pm "report from the bridge." If announcements would be too intrusive, a simple display on the ship's TV system would do the job nicely.

Observation Decks

As mentioned earlier, the Veendam abounds with huge windows that provide an excellent view of the ocean from nearly any interior deck or facility on the ship. Even if you never venture onto an exterior deck, there are few places within any ship where you can obtain a better view than in the Crow's Nest which is at the front of the Sports Deck, two decks above the bridge.

Outside, the Sky Deck perches you high above it all with a view. You can virtually see a full panoramic view. But, there are many other great places to explore. To name a few, the Lido Deck has a terrific view forward, and the Navigation and Lower Promenade Decks provide great stern vistas. If you are lucky, you will be able to access the very front of the ship via stairwells from either the Promenade or Lower Promenade Decks; here you will see absolutely nothing but the sea before you.

Pools & Spas

The pools, spas, and hot tubs are very nice and more than adequate. Large pools can be found on both the Lido Deck and the aft section of the Navigation Deck. The former is under a retractable dome so that it can continue to be used even when it is raining.

Although occasionally crowded, if you prefer a degree of serenity, be patient, and you can find a quiet time. If you decide not to go ashore for part of the time you are docked, try this time at the pool; you will find it remarkably deserted. And, if you encounter rough seas, be sure to go watch the pool come alive. It's worth it!

Other Facilities

The Veendam has a wide variety of other facilities including a beauty salon, saunas, massage, and a very well-equipped exercise room. A laundry is available for that necessity, and a doctor and nurse are in attendance when needed. Several photographers are constantly working at their trade; they are not bad for photos taken in natural light, but they tend to alter colors in flash shots. (My deep lavender blouse became royal blue.) The ship is almost a city at sea; one could nearly live there indefinitely if funds and circumstances would permit.

We found the price of the ship-related souvenirs to be about what we expected - high priced T-shirts and polo's but not unreasonable for other small items. The boutiques were nice for window shopping but too high for my meager budget. The duty-free liquor shop what you would expect - neither high-priced nor a bargain. Other facilities that won't cost you anything include a theater (with popcorn!), both book and video libraries, the Java Cafe, and a late night buffet at the Lido "Restaurant" (different each night). (We ate at second seating so we never attended the late night buffet and cannot really comment on it. Oh yes, we did think we would try one night and were discouraged by the feeding frenzy forming some 15 minutes before it was scheduled to open!)

Ports

We visited St. Kitts, St. John/St. Thomas, and Nassau with the approximate times at each port decreasing from 14 to 8 to 4 hours, respectively. (We were late arriving at Nassau which decreased our time there by 2 hours causing all but one of the ship-sponsored shore excursions to be canceled.) The ports displayed a marked contrast with St. Kitts being a rural, poor island, St. Thomas being somewhat more modern, and Nassau looking like something out of a commercial nightmare. In effect, we spent the most time at the place with the least to do and vice versa. Again, we were not too interested in the ports but mostly in spending time on the ship.

Shore Information & Excursions

There was a separate talk on each port before arrival. The talk could be attended in person, but it was repeated several times on the TV which freed that time for other activities. (The TV is a good source of both information and Holland America propaganda.) The best thing that can be said about these talks is that they were interesting. Beyond that, we found the accuracy to be somewhat in doubt. We found the information given regarding obtaining a private taxi for a tour in St. Kitts to be incorrect, but to their credit, the Holland America representative came to our aid. Also, most of the information in the talk was devoted to individual businesses that have some type of guarantee partnership with Holland America. Very commercial.

There was a wide variety of shore excursions offered by the ship spanning a complete spectrum of interests and abilities. I took one of these tours (Olen remained on the ship) at St. Thomas and was pleased. All I can say about Nassau is that you will love it if you love crowds. We were one of about 7 or 8 other LARGE ships, several larger than the Veendam. I have no idea how many smaller ships may have been out of sight.

Debarkation

This was as orderly a process as embarkation. You were asked to have your bags in the corridor by 2 am, and to be out of your stateroom by 9 am. Both the dining room and Lido "Restaurant" were open for breakfast; no room service on this day. A color and number combination was used to sequence you off the ship and assist in sorting and finding luggage by group. It was very easy and painless - no lines and no waiting once your number is called.

Afterthoughts

In summary, the Veendam is a very beautiful, clean, and well-run ship with only one significant negative - the food and how it is delivered. Holland America provides a well-organized operation with few kinks. Though the service and amenities do not always live up to promotional claims, they are certainly adequate in most regards.

Will we cruise again? Yes, without a doubt.

Would we go again on the Veendam? Very possibly. We would like to consider other ships, but certainly the Veendam and other Holland America ships will be on our short list - unless, of course, Holland America elects to change their format in some way to make them less attractive for us.

Would we recommend this ship and cruise line? Yes, we believe that the Veendam (or other similar Holland America ship) should be on the final list for anyone desiring a quiet but fun cruise. Also, we would recommend that you consider a stateroom with a private veranda. Even if you normally spend little time in your stateroom, you may find the unique pleasures a veranda offers changing this habit.


Olen and Nancy Pearson live in the mountains of western North Carolina about 30 miles south of Asheville. Nancy works as a registered nurse in the ER of a local hospital, and Olen works from home writing books on computers and the Internet. The Pearsons both enjoy traveling, do so often, and plan to cruise on a regular basis. They can be contacted at: opearson@CITCOM.NET.


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