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Cruise Review
Holland America Line

Veendam

by
Hondu Wiltshire

Veendam

Holland America Line Veendam Eastern Caribbean Cruise, March 1998

Embarkation

We left Dallas/ft. Worth on an early non-stop Delta flight to Ft. Lauderdale. We booked the flight ourselves direct with the airline. A travel agent was only used for the cruise. We took a taxi from the airport to the pier. The taxi was $8.45 plus tip total. Transportation by the cruise line bus was $12 per person and you would have had to stand around until they filled up the bus. We walked right up to the check-in desk and in less than four minutes the paperwork was complete and we were given a boarding card with number 17. Real simple and no line.

Upstairs in the waiting area, there were about 200 people (98% were seated) who had already checked in: most were in their 60’s and 70’s. Holland America seems to attract a more upscale group of passengers. Boarding was supposed to commence at 1:30pm but at 1:17pm, about five stewards with white gloves came out and escorted passengers who needed assistance. When our number was called, we took the usual photo and as we entered the ship, there was a line of stewards waiting to escort passengers to their rooms. One smiling and friendly steward releived Sharen of her carry-on bag and took us straight to our room. This was a very nice touch. We were in the cabin just before 2:00pm and to our surprise, Sharen’s suitcase was already there. Our other three pieces of luggage came soon after.

Here are some basic observations about Day 1:

  1. We counted at least 8 different people in the waiting area with one or two 12-packs of what looked like Diet Pepsi. They were not attempting to hide them and went aboard with no problems.
  2. At 3pm, there was an organized "Ship’s Tour of the Public Rooms" for passengers to familiarize themselves with the ship. We joined it in progress after we had lunch in the Lido restaurant.
  3. When the ship’s tour got to the gym, some of us signed up for the treadmill for 6 days. There was a clipboard on each of the four treadmills along with 6 labeled sign-up sheets that have 30 minute time slots. However, we seldom saw all four machines occupied during the cruise.
  4. Lifeboat drill was at 4:15. At muster station, the officer had a checklist. He called out names and verified that everyone was there. Our lifeboat was lowered to deck level and the canvas was opened up so we could see inside. It was the most thorough drill I have been involved in.

The Ship

The Veendam is a 55,000 ton mid-size ship. Its interior designs are exquisitely beautiful. Throughout the ship, 18th and 19th Century art and antiques give the Veendam a real classy appearance. Its elegance and stateliness are also found in the upholstery fabrics, simple chair designs, wood ceilings, and liberal use of brass and soft colors. There are no atrium elevators like on those megaships of 70,000 to 100,000+ tons. The Lido pool is surrounded by a single ring of padded lounge chairs.

Maybe it was the demographics of the passengers, but I always saw some vacant chairs even on sea days. Beyond the lounge chairs are tables and chairs where you can eat breakfast or lunch and enjoy the sun, fresh air or the reggae band at certain times of the day. The Lido pool area has a retractable roof so it is still usable during inclement weather. On the promenade deck there are lots of padded lounge chairs where you can curl up with a good book and a cold drink. There was a salt water pool located aft on the navigation deck. There were padded lounge chairs here too. You don’t have to worry about your towel slipping off the chair and your skin getting stuck to vinyl upholstery. There were vases of FRESH flowers throughout the ship: in the Atrium, at the entrance of and on the tables in the dining rooms, in the lounges, and even in the restrooms. Speaking of restrooms, there was a choice of fluffy cloth hand towels or paper towels.

Dining/food

One thing that I noticed right away was the variety of food in the Lido restaurant for breakfast and lunch. On mainstream lines, they usually have the same redundant, boring choices everyday. But here, for example, at breakfast, there was a choice of plain, blueberry, or strawberry pancakes. They were made with real fruit, not topped with some type of artificial fruit paste. You could have smoked salmon with a bagel and cream cheese. There were new choices every day.

Same variety at lunch. For example, there was duck, veal, mussels, oysters on the half shell, and meat choices. The dessert choices were extensive at lunch and included different types of cheesecakes, which are my favorite.

Veendam Dining RoomWe ate in the dining room only at dinner. The food was excellent. It was seasoned just right. My favorite dinner was on Monday, the Captain’s Gala. It was a candlelight dinner. I started off with escargot for an appetizer. I skipped the soup and the salad only because I wanted to have enough room for a few entrees. I had two lobster tails and after that, the mixed plate of venison, lamb and guess what, half a lobster tail. There was no rationing of lobster. Maximillian Van Bergen is a great chef.

We tried Room Service twice. Both times were on port days when we returned from tours after 2:00pm. Since I don’t eat hot dogs or hamburgers, which were available near the Lido pool, this was our alternative. Sharen had the steak sandwich one day and the turkey club on the other. I had salmon. As you can surely tell, I prefer fish over meat any day. Except for the lunch (BBQ, burgers, hot dogs, etc.) on Half Moon Cay, I can clearly say that the selection, appearance and quality of food on the Veendam was topnotch. We attended only one late night fare, since we were usually not hungry after eating at late sitting. It was the Dutch Dessert Extravaganza for chocolate lovers. I went early and videotaped it. Now I have added it to my list of videos that I watch to combat "cruise-blues" between sailings.

Staff

At the Sail-Away festivities, the cruise staff was also on the Lido deck chatting with the passengers. It was called "Get to Know and Meet your Cruise Staff." We saw Captain Jonathan Mercer several times during the cruise and stopped to talk with him on one occasion. The officers seemed very friendly and those we chatted with were easy to approach, and they were not in a big hurry. Of course, we had many activities with the cruise staff as noted below in "Passport to Fitness." All were personable, talkative and very friendly.

 

The cabin steward did his job. The only time we saw him was in the hallway. I don’t know how, but he seemed to know our schedule, because he prepared the room only when we were gone. Since I took beer on board for in-cabin consumption, the cabin steward kept the beer chilled in a second ice bucket.

The service staff were all Indonesian. Our dining steward was not the fastest, but he made up for it in personality. We talked about his home in Jakarta, about President Suharto of Indonesia, the current financial crisis that besets his country, working in the cruise industry and more. For the seven days, he never had a bad day. Always smiling and very talkative.

I was on the Lido deck many times and I never saw waiters pushing drinks. They do not sell drinks in souvenir glasses, and it was really a classier operation than those pushy waiters on the other lines.

Entertainment

We only saw part of two shows in Ruben’s Lounge. I was not all that impressed, but I was not into the evening shows after being up early every morning to participate in "Passport to Fitness." One night, there was the Indonesian Crew Show and our table steward gave us a personal invitation. Ridwan, our assistant table steward was a performer in the show. Unfortunately, we missed it.

We went to the Explorer’s Lounge a few nights. There was a 3-piece group playing soft music. The music was really nice without being intrusive. The stewards served liqueurs, coffee, hot exotic tea and exquisite chocolates. We never got to the Crow’s Nest nor watched a movie in the Wajang theater. I did get to see the theater, which is really nice with comfortable upholstered chairs. Popcorn is served before the movie, but it is not allowed inside. Three movies were shown daily at 2:15, 7:45 and 10:30. There were recent titles like The Game, The Rainmaker, Seven Years in Tibet and Red Corner. We stopped at the Java Cafe almost daily and had hot exotic tea and cookies in the mid-afternoon.

Cabin

We had an inside cabin, midship on the main deck. It was spacious with a sofa and a small cocktail table on which sat a bowl of fresh fruit. We never ate any of the fruit, because we were not hungry in-between meals. The bathroom was big enough and I could turn around in the shower with no problem. There was a hair dryer, lotion, shampoo, and soap of the size that lasted three or four days. In addition to the usual onboard TV channels, CNN was available all day. When we got to our cabin the first afternoon, the beds were made up as a queen. This impressed me because on some mainstream lines, the steward does not push the beds together until you ask him. When a couple is registered as Mr. and Mrs., this should be automatic.

Ports

One of the reasons we selected this cruise was for the balanced itinerary: 3 sea days and 3 ports of call. On the fourth day, we made our first port call at St. Kitts. Port Zante, in the city of Basseterre, is modern and it is only a short walk to the shopping district. We like the safety of the ship’s tours even though we know the prices are inflated. We selected the Nevis Rainforest Hike. Nevis is the other island in this two-island nation. The St.Kitts/Nevis ferry took us from the port across the channel in 45 minutes. A biologist, who was also our guide, led us along a trail through the forest pointing out different plants, fruits and etc. The highlight of the hike was seeing a green vervet monkey swing across the branches of a tree and disappear. Halfway through the hike, he served fruit juice and samples of different fruit. Tourwise, Sharen and I, along with another couple we had met earlier on the ship while playing volleyball, felt that it was definitely not worth $69 per person.

Later that afternoon, we took a walk around the city. We had a local beer at a bar and then went back to the ship. One thing I quickly recognized about St. Kitts is that there weren’t any locals at the pier or in the city insisting on selling something to the tourists.

Our second port was St. Thomas. I think everyone is pretty much familiar with it.

On our last day, we called at Half Moon Cay, in the Bahamas. This is Holland America’s private island that opened last fall. Half Moon Cay is less than 100 miles from Nassau, between Cat Island and Eleuthera. The name “Half Moon” comes from the shape of the island. Half Moon Cay has a warm West Indies ambiance and its three main buildings feature distinctive Dutch, English, French and Spanish designs commemorative of the countries that made their mark in the Caribbean centuries ago. It is really beautiful with a nice beach.

The water was rough, so the tender did a lot of dipsy-do, especially on the way back to the ship. Sharen and I did the banana boat ride, but due to the water condition, the speed boat could not accelerate as needed and the banana boat turned over. Even though we had on life vests, it was still a scary situation for Sharen, who cannot swim, and also for two little boys and their adult companions. We got a refund on the ride. When Sharen went to her scheduled massage on the beach, I snorkeled near a cove where the sea was calmer. I saw some colorful fish and took a few photos. After lunch, I participated in the Scavenger Hunt Contest. The contest form required participants to walk around the island and collect as many as 30 different things. As the winner, my prize consisted of a bottle of champagne, HAL’s 7-day Caribbean cruise video, a HAL frisbee, a mini-photo album and an ultra-thin solar calculator. Certainly a nice gift to top off a really great cruise.

Passport to Fitness

Juice Bar
Veendam's Juice Bar

I took a book with me, intending to read on the Promenade Deck while enjoying a cold beverage. But things sometimes never seem to work the way I have planned. In this case, it was for the better. I was busy with the activities in "Passport to Fitness." I enjoyed myself and it was definitely a memorable experience. Each participant gets a passport: take part in selected activities and receive stamps to earn Holland America Line prizes.

We became friends with a lot of people during the activities. On the last day, Sharen had 46 stamps and I had 40 stamps. The HAL prizes are: 10 stamps for a water bottle, 15 stamps for a t-shirt, 20 stamps for a cap, and 30 stamps for a gym bag. If you don’t want to trade in all of your stamps for prizes, a coupon is issued for the balance, to be used on your next HAL cruise.

These are some of the activities I participated in:

  • Walk a mile around the promenade deck
  • Low impact aerobic exercises
  • Men’s golf chipping with the Cruise Staff
  • Men’s golf putting
  • Mixed volleyball game with the Cruise Staff
  • Foot and ankle massage seminar
  • Cha Cha dance class with the Cast
  • Dance class with the Veendam dancers
  • Line dance class with the Veendam dancers
  • Ring toss with the Cruise Staff
  • Stretch and relaxation class
  • Free throw competition
  • Bums and Tums with the Fitness Instructor
  • Men’s shuffleboard
  • Ping Pong tournament

One other thing about fitness. I was really proud of myself, if I can say so. For the entire 7 days, I never used an elevator or escalator. I walked the stairs every time. Since most of us, if not all of us, usually over-indulge at the dining table, it is a great way to burn some of the calories.

Miscellaneous Notes

  1. There are self-serve launderettes on four decks (A deck, Main deck, Lower Promenade Deck and the Veranda Deck.) In the room are 3 washers and 3 dryers. To wash a load is $1.50. The detergent and dryer are free. Being active in the gym daily and in "Passport to Fitness," we liked to wash by the third and fifth days. There were no lines and no waiting. It was convenient for those passengers, like us, who don’t want to go to the added expense of paying the ship to wash our clothes. At least, most cruise lines give their passengers that option.
  2. You’re given an identification card for making purchases on board and for reboarding the ship in port. No photo I.D. was required.
  3. Liquor could be purchased in the gourmet shop for cabin use or to take home. In the port guide for St. Kitts, HAL recommended the Smoke and Booze store and suggested that passengers “stock up for the cruise or home.” We bought 3 bottles (two St. Kitts brand rum and one Trinidad brand). At the gangway, security did not check anyone’s packages and there is no security scanner. A real classy operation. Not like the other lines that hijack passengers' liquor at the gangway so they can squeeze every last penny out of you before debarkation.
  4. I have gotten tired of the Macarena and all those parading shows in the dining room. It was certainly a pleasant surprise to be subjected to only one parade. It was for the dessert called Baked Alaska.
  5. Holland America’s “No tipping required policy.” No tips were added for bar drinks or the wine we purchased at dinner. Tip envelopes were not left in our cabin. Since we are accustomed to tipping the cabin steward, the table steward and his assistant, we wanted to and did tip them. To get envelopes, I had to go to the information desk the last evening of the cruise before going to dinner. The next morning, a friend who had attended the debarkation talk, told us that the cruise director stated that the policy is as stated. Holland America’s tradition of excellent service is for every passenger and not subject to tips. But if you wanted to tip and can afford to tip, it is your choice and that tip envelopes were available at the Purser’s desk. This is certainly classier than the situation on other lines where stewards pressure passengers for tips and good reviews on the comment cards.

One of the few negatives about HAL is their smoking policy in the dining room. There are smoking and non-smoking sections, but the smoke is not contained. Smoke always floats over to the non-smoker who would like to avoid cancer from second-hand smoke. HAL needs to get out of the “Dark Ages” and do the healthy thing by eliminating cigarette smoke in the enclosed areas.

Debarkation

We went to a leisurely breakfast at 8am in the Lido restaurant. It was a little depressing knowing that it was our last meal on board and that the cruise was ending. However, breakfast was excellent for the 7th time. A debarkation number was left in our cabin the night before. We had number 18. Passengers could wait anywhere they wanted to. Delta and US Air were setup in Ruben’s Lounge to issue baggage tags and boarding passes. Port Everglades is really nice. As soon as we got off the gangway, we passed through Customs and, one flight down, we got our bags and the taxi. We arrived at the airport at 10am and our flight left at 12:30pm. It was overbooked and they were looking for passengers to give up seats for free future tickets. We considered it, but decided it was time to see our kids who we knew would be waiting at the airport.

I can’t say enough about the Veendam and my overall experience on Holland America. Terms that come to mind are: Class, Elegance, Superb Food, Efficient and Friendly Service. The Veendam has certainly earned its honors as "Ship of the Year" (1997) by Ocean Cruise and News.

Line

Hondu and Sharen Wiltshire are regular SeaLetter readers and can be reached for questions or comment at: irieblue@airmail.net.


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