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Holland America Line: Veendam

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Feb 1, 2017

Veendam Review

Stephanie Age: 27 Occupation:Doctoral Student Number of Cruises: 10 Cruise Line: Holland America Ship: Veendam Sailing Date: 2016-06-27 Itinerary: Bermuda I have been on 10 cruises now and have enjoyed each and every one. My significant other had yet to go on a cruise and we took this cruise to celebrate many accomplishments in our lives this past year, as well as my birthday, which was during the cruise. Our room was awful, which you will see below.

Overall, this cruise was a terrible experience. Our main server in the dining room at table 83 was wonderful. He went above and beyond to ensure our dining experience was exceptional. I have yet to have a server who strives so hard at his job and who is extremely personable. I hope he is compensated well for his work- he is a standout employee of yours and deserves the best treatment. The food in the dining room was great. The lido restaurant had the shortest operating hours of any cruise I have been on and the food was okay. The pizza place was awful, it seemed the crust was frozen and thawed out, not freshly made as advertised. Room service was outright awful. My boyfriend ordered room service (or attempted to) and was told it would take 45 minutes for an uncooked salad one evening. He also called at 11p.m. two nights with nobody picking up, when there was a 24-hour menu. Room service has also been great on other cruise lines, so this was yet another disappointment on Holland America. The first night of the cruise all we could hear in our cabin (324) was a noise as if someone were dropping a bowling ball over and over above us. The entire cabin would shake and even if we were able to fall asleep, we would be jolted awake by the noise all night, or afternoon if we were trying to take a nap. We thought maybe it was the rougher seas we were experiencing the first and second days on our way to Bermuda. But, we could not take it anymore when we were STILL experiencing the noise Monday afternoon when we reached Bermuda and were docked until Thursday. Monday, June 20th, My boyfriend went to complain at guest services and they said they would look into it. Another woman in a cabin near us was also complaining about the same noise. Guest services attributed it to a "loose door" that was slamming. They called us the following day (June 21st) and said they fixed it and sent us a bottle of wine as some form of severance pay. My boyfriend does not drink and this was not an acceptable apology for the magnitude of the issue. The noise persisted over and over the rest of the week. We got absolutely NO rest on this vacation. This put a huge damper on us enjoying any bit of Bermuda or our celebrations during the week. My boyfriend and I complained 4 more times throughout the week. We returned the wine and the guest services employee said it was not an attempt to appease us, even when there was a note written "our sincerest apologies" on it. We then received a note that our ship account would be credited $100, which was a nice gesture, but no accommodation for us not sleeping and being able to relax for an entire week. I finally asked Friday evening if we could possibly be moved to an alternate cabin to at least get 2 nights of sleep that were left. The employee gave us a room that she said another guest had moved out of because of a loud creaking noise and that this was all they had available. That night, my boyfriend and I had enough of the bowling ball shaking sound in our cabin (324) so we went down to the other, 342 I believe. This room's creaking noise was awful, there were stains on the sheets, and the air control did not work and we were sweating. Again, we got zero sleep. All guest services told us was "sorry." And they also mentioned they would have moved us earlier in the week, which we were upset about that they never even gave us that option before. I had to plead to get another room 2 days before the cruise was over. The way guest services dealt with this issue is entirely unacceptable. The couple we dined with reported they took a tour Friday (June 24th) of the ship and realized that deck 6 is right underneath the major and very large kitchen of Veendam. What really irks me is that guest services continuously said they had no idea what could be causing the noise when they very well knew the layout of the ship and that the main and busy kitchen was right over us. Putting passenger cabins, especially more pricey oceanview cabins, right below a busy and noisy kitchen makes no sense to me. Then, to act like they had no idea where the noise was coming from is inadmissible. Also, I was quite upset realizing our oceanview cabin was on the walkaround deck with people constantly walking by, which was not specified during the time I booked the cruise. Guests should be made entirely aware of the fact that these rooms are located there because I would have never booked that particular room if I knew of its location on the walkaround deck. This was extremely misleading when booking and I tried to overlook it, but the noise and shaking only exacerbated my disappointment in the room I booked. Also, I understand the cabin stewards work extremely hard and were very pleasant to guests, but they would vacuum at 6am. I presume most guests are sleeping then (although we certainly weren't, but not by choice) and do not want to be woken up by vacuum and cleaning noises right outside their cabins. The fitness room was mediocre, the showroom's programming and performers were very mediocre, with some being pretty terrible (off-step and off-key), the limited onboard activities mainly included the casino and art auctions, which not everyone enjoys, there were no USA primetime channels (i.e. NBC, ABC), and no way of knowing which movies were playing throughout the day in the cabin. Boring ship. Even the checkers game we tried to play was missing pieces. Go out on your own if you are docking in Bermuda a few days. We did 2 on our own using public transportation, which were great (The caves and beaches). We did a snorkeling shipwreck tour and glass bottom boat tour through the cruise ship, which were nothing exceptional. Save your money and go out on your own, people are very nice in Bermuda and it did seem overall really safe as long as you have a male traveling in your group. I am certain after this experience I will never cruise with Holland America again. My boyfriend says he would have rather stayed home and worked because it would have been less stressful than our experience on the cruise. That, in my book, is very sad and deeply angers me. For how hard he works, he deserved the vacation of a lifetime, not coming home even more stressed than when we left. One of the guest service employees asked how they could make it up to us and my response was, "I really don't think anything can make up for our overall very poor and negative first experience on Holland America".

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Jun 26, 2016

Bermuda

I have been on 10 cruises now and have enjoyed each and every one. My significant other had yet to go on a cruise and we took this cruise to celebrate many accomplishments in our lives this past year, as well as my birthday, which was during the cruise. Our room was awful, which you will see below. Overall, this cruise was a terrible experience. Our main server in the dining room at table 83 was wonderful. He went above and beyond

to ensure our dining experience was exceptional. I have yet to have a server who strives so hard at his job and who is extremely personable. I hope he is compensated well for his work- he is a standout employee of yours and deserves the best treatment. The food in the dining room was great. The lido restaurant had the shortest operating hours of any cruise I have been on and the food was okay. The pizza place was awful, it seemed the crust was frozen and thawed out, not freshly made as advertised. Room service was outright awful. My boyfriend ordered room service (or attempted to) and was told it would take 45 minutes for an uncooked salad one evening. He also called at 11p.m. two nights with nobody picking up, when there was a 24-hour menu. Room service has also been great on other cruise lines, so this was yet another disappointment on Holland America. The first night of the cruise all we could hear in our cabin (324) was a noise as if someone were dropping a bowling ball over and over above us. The entire cabin would shake and even if we were able to fall asleep, we would be jolted awake by the noise all night, or afternoon if we were trying to take a nap. We thought maybe it was the rougher seas we were experiencing the first and second days on our way to Bermuda. But, we could not take it anymore when we were STILL experiencing the noise Monday afternoon when we reached Bermuda and were docked until Thursday. Monday, June 20th, My boyfriend went to complain at guest services and they said they would look into it. Another woman in a cabin near us was also complaining about the same noise. Guest services attributed it to a "loose door" that was slamming. They called us the following day (June 21st) and said they fixed it and sent us a bottle of wine as some form of severance pay. My boyfriend does not drink and this was not an acceptable apology for the magnitude of the issue. The noise persisted over and over the rest of the week. We got absolutely NO rest on this vacation. This put a huge damper on us enjoying any bit of Bermuda or our celebrations during the week. My boyfriend and I complained 4 more times throughout the week. We returned the wine and the guest services employee said it was not an attempt to appease us, even when there was a note written "our sincerest apologies" on it. We then received a note that our ship account would be credited $100, which was a nice gesture, but no accommodation for us not sleeping and being able to relax for an entire week. I finally asked Friday evening if we could possibly be moved to an alternate cabin to at least get 2 nights of sleep that were left. The employee gave us a room that she said another guest had moved out of because of a loud creaking noise and that this was all they had available. That night, my boyfriend and I had enough of the bowling ball shaking sound in our cabin (324) so we went down to the other, 342 I believe. This room's creaking noise was awful, there were stains on the sheets, and the air control did not work and we were sweating. Again, we got zero sleep. All guest services told us was "sorry." And they also mentioned they would have moved us earlier in the week, which we were upset about that they never even gave us that option before. I had to plead to get another room 2 days before the cruise was over. The way guest services dealt with this issue is entirely unacceptable. The couple we dined with reported they took a tour Friday (June 24th) of the ship and realized that deck 6 is right underneath the major and very large kitchen of Veendam. What really irks me is that guest services continuously said they had no idea what could be causing the noise when they very well knew the layout of the ship and that the main and busy kitchen was right over us. Putting passenger cabins, especially more pricey oceanview cabins, right below a busy and noisy kitchen makes no sense to me. Then, to act like they had no idea where the noise was coming from is inadmissible. Also, I was quite upset realizing our oceanview cabin was on the walkaround deck with people constantly walking by, which was not specified during the time I booked the cruise. Guests should be made entirely aware of the fact that these rooms are located there because I would have never booked that particular room if I knew of its location on the walkaround deck. This was extremely misleading when booking and I tried to overlook it, but the noise and shaking only exacerbated my disappointment in the room I booked. Also, I understand the cabin stewards work extremely hard and were very pleasant to guests, but they would vacuum at 6am. I presume most guests are sleeping then (although we certainly weren't, but not by choice) and do not want to be woken up by vacuum and cleaning noises right outside their cabins. The fitness room was mediocre, the showroom's programming and performers were very mediocre, with some being pretty terrible (off-step and off-key), the limited onboard activities mainly included the casino and art auctions, which not everyone enjoys, there were no USA primetime channels (i.e. NBC, ABC), and no way of knowing which movies were playing throughout the day in the cabin. Boring ship. Even the checkers game we tried to play was missing pieces. Go out on your own if you are docking in Bermuda a few days. We did 2 on our own using public transportation, which were great (The caves and beaches). We did a snorkeling shipwreck tour and glass bottom boat tour through the cruise ship, which were nothing exceptional. Save your money and go out on your own, people are very nice in Bermuda and it did seem overall really safe as long as you have a male traveling in your group. I am certain after this experience I will never cruise with Holland America again. My boyfriend says he would have rather stayed home and worked because it would have been less stressful than our experience on the cruise. That, in my book, is very sad and deeply angers me. For how hard he works, he deserved the vacation of a lifetime, not coming home even more stressed than when we left. One of the guest service employees asked how they could make it up to us and my response was, "I really don't think anything can make up for our overall very poor and negative first experience on Holland America".

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Sep 14, 2014

Caribbean

I wish I had seen Sherrill Alexander's review prior to our Holland America cruise to the Caribbean this year. We had the exact same experience with Holland America's Veendam. Ship was delayed in dry dock....extremely disorganized boarding because it was late into the night and the computers were not fully operational.....workers continued to work during our cruise disrupting normal enjoyments.....skipped stops and excursions. Was a huge disappointment.

The staff said somewhat casually that this is common when a ship has been in dry dock. Really? How would the average cruiser know that information? Holland America has made some effort toward compensation, but it is measly compared to the disappointment, missed excursions, etc. The bottom line, we will think long and hard before we travel with Holland America again. This had been our fourth cruise with them. OK food but not outstanding. Our cabin had a broken lamp when we arrived, marks on the carpeting, son's cabin had a non-working toilet and non-working a/c. Were not moved for four days.

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Sep 11, 2014

Boston to Quebec City

Never again will my husband and I cruise with Holland America. My husband had 6 kidney stone attacks while on this ship. I had a horrible experience trying to get help to get him off the ship to fly to DFW. The front desk was no help getting a taxi to the airport and getting our luggage to the taxi. Unless you have had a similar experience, you have no idea how totally frustrating this whole experience was with Holland America. I finally asked

a passenger whom we had met at dinner a few nights earlier to help me. I consider the lack of help from Holland America a gross negligence. I am determined to urge other cruise travelers to select some other cruise line as a result of my experience. This ordeal so colored my cruise that I can not give anything about the ship anything but a poor rating. Too much greasy chicken At least it was on the same deck as the medical center. Worthless if you are experiencing kidney stone attacks. The doctor tried to do what he could, but he has about as much leeway as a registered nurse. He finally gave my husband a shot for pain. I watched him experience some of the worse pain imaginable. Excursions are overpriced. Could not have been worse. I have cruised with Holland America four other times. The excursions are grossly overpriced. Get off the ship and you can get the same excursion for much less money right outside the terminal doors.

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Mar 23, 2013

South America

My experience on this ship was very good. My reason for writing my comments is on the shore excursions offered by Holland America on this ship. All of the excursion were grossly over priced and not worth 1/3 of the price for the excursion. After talking with several people, most of them booked with other tour companies or got off the ship and at the port were various opportunities to do sight seeing privately.

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By Kurt_CR

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Nov 14, 2011

Bermuda

The Good: The service on the ship was excellent with professional and friendly staff. When one of my daughters left dinner to go back to the room as she was a bit queasy, the waiter sent broth and an apple to the room. The Bad: The advertised teen and children programs were a disappointment with few activities on sea days and counselors not even showing up for scheduled events. The Ugly: We booked directly with Holland America and

were promised a shipboard credit. We didn't receive it and Holland America refused to grant it, offering us a credit on a future cruise instead. They should realize that reneging on a promise is not a way to earn repeat business. The quality and selection at the formal dinners pleasantly surprised us. I would have liked more desert selections but hardly a complaint. The large window and well-planned room helped to offset the small size. We were seldom in the room so it was fine. Excellent service from the room steward. Kid/teen programs a major disappointment with few activities on sea days, counselors not showing up and no flexibility to organize events when we tried. For example, there was one volleyball game scheduled the entire week and the staff didn't even show. Formal shows mixed with some very entertaining and some targeted to different age groups. Music also a mixed bag but targeted to different audiences. Great accoustic guitarist.

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Jul 8, 2011

Bermuda

We chose this cruise because of the destination, Bermuda. We were not disappointed. Bermuda is an incredibly beautiful island with the best beaches. Beware, however, the ship, the Veendam. We expected as is typical with Holland America ships for the rear deck to have a pool, as is listed in their brochure. We love to go for a COOL dip, every hour or so, after laying out in the hot sun. Cool pool...NO. how about 3 HOT tubs. That's right in

their new Reatreat area they have removed the pool and put in 3 hot tubs!. The retreat area also has a bar area which we typically enjoy in the late afternoon for the social atmosphere. Not so here. The bar stools were so uncomfortable and uninviting, few people used them. And whose idea was it to put in the pizza bar in an area typically designed for adults? Who loves pizza more than kids? That's who used it. We paid $40 extra to enjoy their fine dining experience, Le Cirque. I ordered my favorite fish, sea bass. It arrived dry. I sent it back. Another arrived dry. I expected more from this supposed first class dining experience. The food in the dining room was the best we've enjoyed in many cruisies with HAL. The service was great. We paid extra to eat in the Pinnacle Grill one night. It was worth it.br /> Stateroom as always was kept clean and well stocked. Requests for more dry towels or amenities were promptly handled.

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Jun 30, 2011

NYC to Bermuda

This was my very first cruise (a 60th birthday present!) and I absolutely loved it. I can't understand the negative reviews, as my experience with the food, staff, the ship activities, everything was wonderful. I was worried that it would be so full of people everywhere, but although the ship had about 1,400 people on it, I never once felt crowded. There is always a quiet nook you can find on ship to relax and enjoy the cruise. Excellent.

I tend to eat vegetarian and fish dishes, and was very happy with all the fresh fruit, salads, and vegetables available at each meal. The desserts were outstanding and pastries at breakfast were hard to resist. It's true that on a cruise you decide how much you'll eat, and I chose to eat less so that I could enjoy all the desserts. I shared with a friend and it was perfect size, I didn't feel cramped, lots of storage space for cosmetics and clothes, so our room was always neat and was fine. It was an inside cabin and I was worried I might get claustrophobic, but didn't, and like you hear, you don't spend much time in your room anyway. A huge slew of events to do daily, though I tended to pick about 2 a day. I went to some of the mid day events ( a cooking demo) and at night I enjoyed either the show or the nightly movie. I love to read, so I was in heaven at the library. Wonderful leather recliners with foot stools facing the window looking out at the sea, plus lots of books to choose from and a daily very condensed version of the NY Times. I was reading several hours a day in the library and have to say it was my favorite spot. I loved it! I'm wondering if some of the negative reviews are from really fussy old people (no offense as I'm 60), who are used to driving their fancy cars, snapping their fingers at waiters, and being rude unnecessarily to people in their daily life. Some people had to eat nightly at the fancy resturant on ship just so they could be waited on hand and foot. Being from San Diego, I basically live year round in shorts and sandles, so that is my life style. I like to be relaxed and comfortable, don't like to dress up ( which I didn't have to if I didn't want to). I loved eating daily in the Lido which was buffet style. I love to cook and found the food great on board. Being out on the open sea was so incredible. I took meds for sea sickness with me, but never used them. Bermuda is beautiful, clean, rich, and worth seeing. If this is your first cruise, I would highly recommend the Veendam, as I never felt crowded, and the people are lovely (Indonesian and Philipino). I even did a Susan G. Kolmen 5 K on board with about 50 other people - 12 times around the ship!

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Jun 21, 2011

Bermuda

The cruise itself was delayed one full day because the ship was still in dry dock, and Holland America offered each passenger $150 in onboard credit to offset the inconvenience. HA apparently did not reach everyone, as some passengers arrived on the original scheduled departure date. The computers were down prior to boarding, so the departure itself was hours late. Wrong luggage was delivered to our cabin. Four out of five of our shore excursions

were cancelled, rebooked by me, and also cancelled. One of the cancellation notifications was never sent to our room. The ship needed more time in dry dock, as maintenance crews were laying new flooring on one of the decks throughout the trip, making the deck unavailable; plumbing (showers and toilets) in some of the staterooms was not working; dresser drawers were broken, and I had the arm of a chair in which I was sitting come off in my hand. I mention this, as the Veendam is supposed to be a "luxury" cruise ship. I was very impressed with the crew who were professionals in every sense, and who added some delight to a negative experience. The food was excellent in every venue. The dining room service was so slow and inaccurate that we chose not to eat there again. Our table waited 40 minutes for food in the dining room that was not even half full, and those of us with the same orders noticed that there was inconsistency on the plates. We were scheduled to have an anniversary cake on our second night, but one never came, and no one seemed to know anything about it, even though I had confirmed with guest relations twice prior to leaving. Our room was fine, and our cabin stewards were excellent: very thorough, friendly, helpful and with enjoyable senses of humor. The Veendam is a small ship, and I was disappointed in the amount and kinds of activities that were offered. The entertainment was less than professional and bland at best. Not much humor in the comedy either. The Famous Homes and Hideways cruise was the one excursion (out of five that I booked and four were cancelled) that we enjoyed. It was a lot of fun, very relaxing and informative. We ended up taking a cab to Horseshoe Beach, setting us back $65 plus tip, but our driver was full of information and took us to some nooks and crannies off the beaten path, so it was worth it. If this had been my first cruise, I would have been dumbfounded by the lack of information aboard. There were no signs directing passengers for disembarkation at the elevators, only in the disembarkation area itself. For the first two days, the TV navigation channel was set for a course to Africa, not Bermuda, and the "ship time" was set to the wrong day and time. The very good (but unnecessary) idea of having mats in the elevators that stated the day (e.g., "Today is Wednesday") were often not changed, so the purpose was obfuscated. There were two banks of four elevators each, and three out of four elevators in one bank were not working throughout the trip. After a very long delay before dinner, the cruise director came to speak to the lines of folks backed up onto the staircases, presumably to inform us what was going on -- I would not know, as I could not hear him. When I mentioned to him that those of us twenty rows back had not heard what he said, he dismissed me with a wave. And I was surprised how infrequently (three times in six days?) we passengers heard from the captain. This was my first and last experience with Holland America.

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Apr 2, 2011

Buenos Aires - Rio de Janeiro

Together with a group of our friends we took a Holland America cruise on the Veendam from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro. This was our first cruise with Holland America. We have taken cruises in the past on Royal Caribean, NCL and Costa. Prior to taking the cruise we were under an impression that Holland America is an upscale cruise company and we expected an upscale experience. Unfortunately our expectations were not met. I need to stress that the

stewards and the dining room staff tried their best and under the circumstances they did the best they could. Where the cruise line fell short was in their management style. Holland America is a nickle and dime operation. They charge passengers for bottled water, for soft drinks, and for coffee outside of the dining room. Their charge for the use of the Internet is $0.75 per minute. That's $45 per hour. Even if you have your own laptop, they still charge you the same $0.75 per minute. In the dining room they charge you an $18 corking fee to open a bottle of wine. Their fees for land excursions are outrageous. This brings us to the subject of ports of call. The ports of call chosen by the cruise line on our voyage were small and shallow ports. Veendam was not able to come into the port and had to ferry the passengers between the ship and the ports by smaller boats. The management failed to arrange for the ferry service and had to resort to using the ship's lifeboats. This created long lines and long transit times as in one of the ports it took 45 minutes to ride the lifeboat to town. We were not impressed by the fact that some of the lifeboats were leaking water and required crew members to bail water while we were riding it. The ship had to skip Punta del Este in Urugway, the most interesting port of call of the entire voyage, because the conditions for operating the boats between the ship and the town were considered to be unsafe. The management also fell short in their food service planning. The buffet restaurant on the Lido deck had the tendency to close just as people were coming back from their trips to the shore. It took several days for the ship management to adjust the operation of the buffet restaurant to accommodate the passengers returning from the shore. Overall impression was of a poor management and downscale experience. Food in the main dining room was good. I would not mind having a wider choice of fruits and vegetables, but overall quality was good. Food in the Lido deck buffet restaurant was average. The ship also provided a hamburger station and a pizza station. These stations were used when all other restaurants were closed. Even though hamburger and pizza are not exactly what I have in mind when I buy a cruise ticket, it was good to have this option upon return from the shore when all the other food choices were closed. Hamburgers were of decent quality, while pizza could have used a major improvement. The steward was excellent. The nickle and dime policy of Holland America showed itself in their linens policy. During the week we were on board the linens were never changed. The only activities were ping pong and a very loud band that took away from the pleasure of sitting at the pool. Extremely expensive.

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Aug 1, 2010

pleasure

If you have never been on a cruise before go. Rather it is romance, fun alone or you want to take the kids. I wouldnt under ten. Everything was at my fingertips. They have everthing planned onboard all day, even when they are at port. For every culture. You can talk to other guest or be alone all the times its up to you. They have books, dvds music, relaxation everything but a gas station. It is the best trip I have ever had. We felt safe, happy

and pampered all the time. If you do things right its not that high of price to go. If you drink, you can buy bottles of liguior on board and put in coke instead of buying mixed drinks and take anywhere you want. my bathroom even had a tub in it. I had a window view of the ocean the whole time. It was heaven. If I can I want a job on board. It was truely a trip of a lifetime. The entertainment was fabulous. Singer from American Ideal performed almost everyday wright in front of me. Dont go a cruise if you are on a diet. If you are fine. They have a great workout room and you can jog. Food was I can not explain, you could have or eat anything almost any time you wanted. it was always and cooked wright in front of you. you did not have to do anything, you even had cloth napkins all the time, they had a desert party one night and there was every desert known to man all around the poll to just get as much as you wanted. They also had all sorts of dietery foods as well. They came into my stateroom at least twice a day. left chocalates and the iteniary for the next day. The room was very spaces for two people. It even had a tv which flipped me out also. They had a movie theater with a different movie everyday. The showroom at sea performance were outstanding every night. with singers, camedians and outstanding outfits. There was bingo, games, ping ball, chess. There was piano playing, orchastra. This stuff went on all day. I went to burmuda. next time i will rent a scutter, you can see more. I went to beaches and snorkling that was really great but we took the bus transportation that was good. It was the greatest trip I have ever had. From the cruise member, crew, to the country Burmuda that we visited.

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Nov 26, 2009

Alaska Cruise Northbound

It was the first cruise for my husband, Henry and I. We always wanted to see Alaska. In spite of the bad weather we encountered on the voyage, it was a dream of a lifetime. Living on a ship for seven days was quite an experience. We learned to rock and roll with the ship and got our sea legs. Neither one of us got seasick. We took advantage of the shore excursions at every port. We learned a lot about the local areas we docked at and we received

a small glimpse of what Alaska is all about. It is truly the last frontier. We could not have gotten better service from the crew had we asked for it personally. A little kindness from the passengers and crew goes a long way. I believe that showing the crew a little appreciation for what they do for you, will make them try harder to please you and other passengers in the future. As for the food, Henry and I still tell our friends how wonderful it was. We could not have asked for better. I enjoyed the soups, and I wish I could duplicate the flavors in the soups here at home. The rolls were fresh everyday and I had them at all my meals on board the ship. It took a lot of will power to not over indulge ourselves. The one thing I didn't try was the Baked Alaska. I hope to have that chance on my next cruise. Our stateroom was pleasant and the beds were comfortable. When we booked our cruise, we asked for separate beds, but when we saw our stateroom the beds were together. When our steward brought our luggage, we mentioned it to him and he reassured us that it would be taken care of as soon as possible. When we came back to our stateroom after the lifeboat drill, our beds was just the way we wanted them. We made sure we thanked the steward when we saw him later. Our stateroom was always clean and presentable. We loved those animal figures made out of towels, especially the lobster with little round chocolates for the eyes. I think you had many good activities on-board the ship. I only regret that I did not participate in more of them. I did go to two of the shows and the Dessert Extravaganza. My husband Henry played ping-pong for the first three days aboard the ship. He played so much that he caught a cold and could not go out to see the glaciers in Glacier Bay. He also missed the entertainment on that Friday evening called "Encore!". I know he would have enjoyed it very much especially the ending of the show with Beethoven. I also plan to enjoy more of these activities on my next cruise. I don't know if I followed the advice for excursions, but my travel agent gave me a booklet on all the tours and I picked one for each port. In Ketchikan, we took a tour of the Highlights of the City, which including the Tongass Historical Museum and the collection of the Totem Poles. Because it was raining that day, we went immediately to the ship after the tour. In Juneau, we took the Highlights of Juneau, an salmon hatchery and Mendenhall Glacier. I enjoyed this tour very much and have wonderful pictures to remind me of my experiences in Juneau. In Skagway, we took the train ride up to about 3,000 miles up to White Pass Summit. The view spectacular. You can choose to soak up the atmosphere on your own and take some of the excursions. You can also do both. All in all, we enjoyed our cruise to Alaska. Before I took the cruise, my travel agent gave me a notebook and suggested that we write a journal of our experiences on our Alaska Cruise. He told us that we would remember our trip much easier, especially when we tell all our friends about it. With the journal and the pictures we took, the memories will stay with us for a lifetime. Even now, I can get a vivid picture of the cruise which I call it "An Incredible Journey". I will be taking another cruise. This time it will be a Western Caribbean Cruise from Tampa, Florida. Before the cruise, I will be visiting my brother and his wife for three days. I will continue to make a journal of this cruise so my memories that I will make will not fade away.

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Nov 5, 2009

Alaskan Cruisetour

My wife and I took our third cruise in late August, 2009. I was told by everyone since my wife and I started doing the cruise scene three years ago, that Holland America was the cream of the crop, the best for your money. They told us that the issues we experienced on Princess and Royal Caribbean, would not be found on HAL. So, when we booked our second trip to Alaska, we chose HAL partly because we knew that they went into Glacier Bay, which was

something we wanted to see again. We decided to book a cruise-tour and go southbound this time, instead of traveling northbound like before. I must say that the land portion of the tour was more than we could have ever expected. Everything about it, from our Host, to our lodging, was top shelf all the way. We discussed on numerous occasions, if this was any indication of what the cruise part was going to be like, then we were in for a great time aboard the ship. But then there was the ship. We were to meet three family members on board in Seward, we arrived around 3:00 pm, ready to start the second half of our long anticipated vacation. Shortly after boarding we were contacted by our family and informed that HAL had offered them a train ride from Anchorage instead of the customary motor-coach ride. As we toured the ship waiting for our travel companions to arrive, we learned that a pool side BBQ was to be held that evening. The pool side BBQ looked as though it was indeed going to be a great send off on our trip. However the train was late arriving in Seward which forced us to delay dinner at the BBQ, which was to be around 6:00. At the moment that the train finished unloading, the ship called for its mandatory Muster, that took some time to complete, which is understandable. Once we were released by the crew, we scurried to our cabins to stow our life vests and headed to the BBQ. Only to find that it was over and we had missed it at no fault of our own. Keep it mind that it was only 8:00 pm and due to no fault of ours we couldn't possibly got there any sooner. We decided to make lemonade out of lemons and headed to the Lido deck for the buffet. Wrong the Lido deck was also shut down. Not to be discouraged, off to the fine dining we traipsed, only to be informed by the maitre'd that our dining time was during the 6:00 hour, and 8:00 dining was beginning. After some wrangling they chose to seat us. Three evenings out of the seven, we were on board that ship. The Lido deck buffet had one side shut off to paying customers . The signs read ships crew only, leaving a very long line for the travelers to endure so they could have a meal, all the while the other side was wide open with no line what so ever. Another issue we found inconvenient was the soft drink card system. On the other cruise lines we had used we could purchase a sticker that allowed us to have as many drinks as we wanted, no questions asked. On HAL however, we bought a card that permitted us to have 20 glasses for $18.00, which was fine by us. The problem was getting those drinks in hand, it became a real ordeal to have a soda pop with our meal if we so chose. The wait staff almost never came by and asked if we needed a refill of our coffee cups little lone ask if they could get us a pop, even if we ventured out of the dining area to get a drink to begin with. Like everyone else on ship we took to getting two cups of coffee at a time, so that we could get a good start on breakfast. This left the coffee station short on cups most mornings. Two members of our group never drink anything except sodas, making it very inconvenient having to chase down a drink for dining. Same could be said about the fine dining venue, only the wine steward could get us a pop and he was less than interested in accommodating us. While moving about the ship, it was some what more readily available to get a soda, but not in any of the venues. I felt the food was less than it could or should have been. If I had to give it a grade, I would say maybe C- over all. Breakfast was a better experience than dinner at the buffet. The fine dining was good enough for my standards, pampered dining is not my kind of thing. I found that the buffet was a poor substitute, for just about any buffet I had eaten at, in any city in America. My traveling group found ourselves getting a hamburger and fries at the grill, and having to stand in line. So it wasn't just us that found the menu unappealing at the Lido buffet. One lady stated that she felt as though she was eating at a public school cafeteria. We could of done without the incessant hammering coming from the kitchen above us at 3:00pm (nap time) and again at 8:00am the next morning. Other than that, we have no other issues with the room or cabin steward, Sat. His performance was very professional. I'm still not sure why we were given such a small amount of time to enjoy Juneau, especially since we had so much time in Haines - all day! I felt that stopping in Haines was just a waste of time and we should have gone on in to Skagway since most everybody is going there to begin with. I'm sure that Haines is proud of it little community but I saw nothing there that warranted a stop over. With all the gripes I have, I must say that the staff was excellent to my mother-n-law who had to be off loaded due to a medical emergency. They treated her and us with the utmost respect and care. I do not think they could have performed any more admirably. Job well done. I feel that the entire staff conducted themselves with complete professionalism, and at its best . Having said that I feel that HAL at the Corp level needs to rethink their systems it was not up to the high standard that I was hoping for and had been led to believe existed. Our HAL experience was less than we had hoped it would be, and at the price we paid. We honored our 3 parents with this vacation and thought that we were really treating them to a great experience in the twilight of their lives only to be saddened by the turn of events. We have made the decision that our cruising in the future will be done on either Princess or Royal and that HAL will have to make great stride forward for us to ever consider them in the future.

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Mar 13, 2009

Southern Caribbean

Bad experience. Cruiseline allows smoking onboard in the Bars and Casino. Ports of call were Key West (good) Belize City (OK 15 min Tender into land), Santo Tomas de Castille (commercial port - waste of time), Costa Maya (hurricane ravaged village, BAD STOP ). Older ship, ok condition, weird floorplan - no flow (corridors would just end into a wall. Had to backtrack and go either up or down a floor to continue). Food was OK, but fairly bland. Needed

more variety. Found out about wine, beer, soda clip cards, but too late into the cruise to make it worthwhile to use.

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May 28, 2007

Europe

DISEMBARKATION: Venice is the hardest port to arrive in, and leave from. Getting to St Mark's Square or the maritime terminal from the airport involves knowing the Vaporetti system, and having Euros to spend, each of which is difficult for Americans, especially on a Sunday (ATM in the airport doesn't work). So, study before you go. THE VEENDAM: It's showing its age, but the updates they've done really make the old gal sparkle. I especially

liked the culinary addition in the movie theatre (which oddly wasn't used on our cruise, as we had our own culinary programs elsewhere) and the library/internet center. The library is just an extraordinary place to spend an at-sea day. It has books for check-out, magazines, audio tapes, puzzles on display, about 10 computers available (and, yes, it's still outrageously expensive), all in a very pleasant environment. By the way, if you bring your own laptop, the amount you spend for internet is still the same; however, you will at least have a computer when all the others are taken. FOOD: Much better than I remember, and the food in the formal dining room had been my main gripe about Holland America, born of three other trips. Something has changed, and the menu is much more accessible (meaning: more American, or at least the offerings are recognizable now), and very nicely prepared. The Lido restaurant is still the Lido, and quite satisfactory. The Pinnacle Grill suffers a little in service, even though that's the point, and the price has gone up to $30/person now; I think it's worth trying, at least once. My only real complaint in the main dining room is that the sommelier is not a wine steward at all, but just another steward taking orders. When we would ask him, what wine would go with this meal, he would always reply, what kind of wine do you like? QUARTERS: We normally go for the veranda (balcony) type, but the only cabin left was one outside with a window. Perfectly satisfactory, except that, because of one large suitcase that just would not stow anywhere, we had too much furniture. But a nice cabin, kept clean. I finally learned how to work the shower on the day we left. CUSTOMER SERVICE: Just a word about customer service, something I normally don't mention. Bad thing: The steward who wheeled my traveling companion's wheelchair didn't really know where he was going, and dropped her off where the baggage was. She was forced to walk the next 50 yards to get outside. Good thing: We left a bag in the marine terminal by mistake, made a series of emails, and Holland America shipped it to us. We got it yesterday, two weeks after the voyage. Complete with the cell phone we stupidly placed in it. Hurrah! MEDICAL: We actually had to use the medical clinic. They were very, very nice, and did a wonderful job of tending to the really sick and the hobbling. No scolding, just common sense care. Some were surprised, though, to see that they were billed for the service. Be aware that there is a charge for this service. EXCURSIONS: This cruise went to four Greek ports, Dubrovnik (Croatia), and Kusadasi (Turkey). We were absolutely bored in Dubrovnik -- our bus ride took us deep in the country to a little mill so that we could eat sandwiches and drink brandy, and I have no idea why. Others who went to the ruins (too much climbing for us) said that it was overcrowded. All the Greek ports were terrific, especially Santorini and Mycenae (which we reached through Piraeus, the port). And we enjoyed the shopping in Turkey, although it may not be for everyone due to the piranha-like behavior of the shopkeepers. Itinerary was Venice - Dubrovnik - Santorini - Rhodes - Mykonos - Kusadasi - Piraeus (Athens) - Venice. SUMMARY: A fantastic ship, eager crew, satisfactory accommodations. The excursions sometimes were disappointing, especially the ones that put you on a bus for hours with little to see at the end.   

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Apr 21, 2006

Tampa Bay/San Diego

Stein Kruse, CEO, Holland America Line Dear Mr. Kruse We have returned from a 17 day Holland America Cruise April to May 2006 on the Veendam from Tampa Florida to San Diego California. We have been on 35 Cruises, ten of them on HAL. This one was one of the worse cruises we have ever taken. We made our reservation July 5, 2005 after we returned on a 14 Day Mediterranean cruise on Princendam which we enjoyed. When we made our reservation

for the 17day Panama Cruise, we requested early seating (I am a diabetic), window table for 6. Our Ticket said  "our dinner reservation was guaranteed” When we checked in on the Veendam, we were informed that all dinner reservations were lost and we had to make new arrangements. We tried to do that, but there were at least 50 people in line. First you had to stay in line for a number and than wait again till your number is called. This was not acceptable for us. You lost all the information on seating and we were asked to stand in line for hours to have this corrected? As an old customer we felt we should have some privileges. This was completely ignored! We tried to talk to the customer relations which took quite a while, and we were told by Mr. Axess, the computer, made a mistake and they have had trouble correcting this. He also told us that our senior status with HAL (147) days would not be considered any more. He promised to call us back, and he never did that. We went to the dining room at 6 PM to see what could be done, but found the same confusion and long lines and no help at all. We have never had such a mess before. No consideration whatsoever from anybody. The second evening we had the same problem, as we were the only people at this table (# 166). No one called us to tell us what to do. Finally two couples joined us. They were nice, but they were only at our table 5 times in 17 days, as they did not like to dress up for dinner. We asked for another table as we were tired to be alone on a table for 8. This is the first time we ever done that!! We were told there was no other tables open even though we could see empty seats all over.We had other problems besides that. We found the air conditioning was uneven. Hot one day, cool the next day. The gym which had lovely equipment, was too hot to use for 10 days, very few people were using it. The pool water in the main pool was over 90 degrees. When we questioned the high temperature, we were told it could not be adjusted. Most people tried the ocean pool (salt water) so we had 25 people in a small pool, which was dangerous and not healthy. A few days after this we made an appointment to see Mr. Axess again. We wanted to tell him that we were very unhappy with our cruise. His answered us was that this happens sometimes and we just have to accept it!! He blamed everything on the computer, (some excuse). He explained there was a lot of new help on board and they are just learning. This did not make us feel any better. After talking to him nothing improved. It only got worse. We had problems with excursions. Shows were not comparable to last year's cruise. Except for our cabin steward and our dining room steward, it did not remind us of an HAL cruise at all. Then things got really bad when we were told by the Captain that some of the passengers and crew were sick. He never told us how many passengers or crew members were really sick. The lines at the Lido Restaurant were just as long as before. Except now the service got much worse. When we wanted rolls or anything special we could not get it, all we heard that they are short handed all over the Veendam We were not allowed to help our selves any place, not even use the salt and pepper shakers on our own. We tried the dining room for lunch or breakfast, but that was even worse. It was always just half full, but we were always told they do not have enough help to use all the tables, service was not good. The library set up was even worse, the soft cover books and magazines were locked up, but the hard cover books you could take out. What is the difference between using the books and the magazines? All pages have to be handled regardless of the type of paper, by hand. The concern about spreading germs did not make any sense. The cabin and hall stewards were not allowed to use vacuum cleaners, they had to use brooms to pick up the dirt and dust, dust flew all over. We had to live with this set up. On the morning of disembarkation we tried to have breakfast at the Lido Restaurant at 8.30 am, we had a 11 am flight that morning and nothing but confusion. No coffee cups were available, only paper cups, and we had to wait for those, what happened to all the coffee cups from the the previous days? Did they get thrown overboard? We feel that we are entitled to a substantial refund for this cruise, it was not like any  other HAL cruise we have taken. Hope to hear from you soon. Sincerely,H. Ludwig & Katherine Reis   

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Apr 14, 2006

Western Caribbean

My husband, 62, daughter, 26, and I, 58, spent 7 wonderful days on the Veendam. Our deluxe verandah suite was a joy! It was so roomy and the verandah was big enough for us to lounge out there together or have room service at the table & chairs. The room steward opened the sofa bed for our daughter each night and made it up for her, including little towel animals which she delighted in. The little extra touches were very much appreciated.

I will probably always go for the large suites from now on.The meals were delicious and I love that they allow you to have seconds or even thirds of something you really love. Our tiny size 4 daughter ate her weight in king crab legs I think! She loved the way we were waited on in the Rotterdam Dining Room. We truly felt pampered and came away feeling spoiled at the end of the week. One thing we noticed on this Easter weekend cruise.....LOTS of kids! I mean, I never saw so many kids on one cruise and one older woman was heard to grumble, "I think I made a mistake and got on a Disney Cruise!" They did tend to take over the pool and there was literally no room for anyone else. The line at the ice cream counter was always long! If there was a place for kids to go, they didn't use it. The pool was their official hangout. The use of the Neptune Lounge came in handy several times. I wanted a last-minute beach day and the concierge was perfectly willing to help arrange it. Being very computer-addicted, my daughter used the computers in the Exploration lounge daily. It was a little pricey, but I think she would have been disappointed if she hadn't been able to stay in touch with her friends and particularly, her boyfriend. Since my daughter was with us, we used the Spa a lot more than I usually do. We had a couples massage while she had a massage, facial and back cleansing. We all came away from the experience feeling terrific. Later, I got my hair done for formal night. On the last day of the cruise, we took advantage of the specials offered and we had a combination of manicure, neck & shoulders massage and ankle & foot massage. While I was in the chair having my shoulders & neck massaged, the girl said, "Dolphins!" so I got to see them going by the ship. When our lovely week was over, we had no problems at all disembarking. It was very efficient and quick. I looked back at the suite before I closed the door and was a little sad to see the perfect week come to an end. About 2 months later, while vacationing, not cruising, in Alaska, we saw the Veendam at the docks in Seward. Haha.....I was looking up at her, wondering "WHO was in my suite"?   

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Mar 18, 2006

Western Caribbean

The service was not like it used to be. Cabin attendant did not do the turn down every night and got our invitations to the cocktail party delivered incorrectly. ( wrong mail). We had the late seating and always had to rush to get to the shows. (The entertainment was super). Food was fantastic all the way around but the service was sooo slow. Itinerary was great-Key West, Belize, Guatemala, Costa Maya. I think that the line might be trying

to cut costs by having the staff do too much. They already work way to hard. Seems like they were doing 1 1/2 jobs. Overall a 7/10 for the experience. Not like the Christmas Cruise I took the year before. That was a 10/10.     

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Mar 11, 2006

Western Caribbean

We took our very first cruise aboard the Veendam when it was just 9 months new. She is showing her years, but was clean. My Mother-in-law gave 11 of us our 2nd cruise on Holland. All suites w/balconies! The first time she treated us was 2 years ago on the Zuiderdam. The trip on the Zuiderdam was horrible. My daughter and I both got food poisioning on that trip. So going on another cruise we had hoped would not be a repeat. Well we did

get sick. This time 8 out of the 11 either got food poisioning or some kind of nasty virus. I've been trying to put it together on why we all got so sick. The one thing we all had in common was the soda card for the family reunion. We all would get our drinks from the pool bar. Don't know if that is the connection but we are all wondering. No more HAL cruises for us. We will take our cruises on another line.     

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Mar 4, 2006

Western Caribbean

My wife and I had previously cruised on the Veendam on an Eastern Caribbean itinerary several years ago. We were informed that the ship had just recently come out of dry dock after some major refittings. Embarkation We were flying in from Phoenix so we arrived in Tampa the evening before the cruise left. HAL had made reservations for us at the Grand Hyatt and they provide their own shuttle so transportation vouchers were not required.

We were met by a HAL representative near the baggage claim area and after she made sure we had retrieved our luggage she contacted the Hyatt and took us to where we would catch their shuttle. The day of the cruise we assembled in the hotel lobby and our bus, travel voucher required, to the ship arrived a bit after 11 AM. We arrived at the cruise terminal and our luggage was collected by porters who pretty much demand a tip. I get the feeling they don’t work for HAL, but for the port authority, kind of like skycaps at the airport. We waited in line for a short while before actually entering the building. The 1st person you meet asks to see your Immigration Questionnaire and then refers you to the appropriate line. I highly recommend completing your questionnaire online and printing it out as we were referred to a line that was considerably shorter than the “normal” line. New U.S. regulations require a passport now and I found that this requirement definitely speeds up both embarkation and debarkation. Once at the counter you merely provide your cruise ticket, passport, immigration questionnaire and a credit card authorization form. Your picture is taken and you are given your cruise ID card which serves as your boarding pass, credit card and room key. You are also provided with a card giving your chosen dining time along with your table assignment. Unlike our previous trip on this ship, boarding was earlier and you weren’t given a “boarding number”, you just got in line and boarded the ship. After the obligatory embarkation photo, your ship ID was scanned and you were asked to go to the Lido Deck to enjoy a drink or have lunch until the cabins were ready. My wife and I snatched a table near the bar and enjoyed a pina colada while waiting for the announcement that cabins were ready. About 1 pm we were notified cabins were ready although luggage was still being loaded on the ship. Luggage showed up in our cabin around 2 pm. General Comments HAL has gone to the standard $10 per day per passenger gratuity that is automatically added to your ship account. You have the option of going to the front desk and changing it lower or higher if you wish. All of this goes to the crew, 70% to your cabin and dining room stewards and 30% to support personnel. This doesn’t seem to have changed the level of service which I found to be excellent. I increased mine. I also found it easier than having to come up with cash and then making sure you get it to the right people. The ship was clean and quite attractive. It’s smaller than many cruise ships with around 1200-1300 passengers. Even with this many people though, it never seemed to be excessively crowded anywhere. HAL seems to cater more to the 50+ crowd which is perfect for me. I wouldn’t recommend them to the younger party crowd as they’d be pretty disappointed. Accommodations Our last trip we had been upgraded to a deluxe suite so we were a bit spoiled. We opted this time for a verandah suite as we enjoy having our own balcony. The balcony was about 7-8 feet across and had a chair, chaise and a small table. While not as convenient for breakfast as the deluxe, it was perfect for just sitting and reading during at sea days and for watching the ship arrive and leave port. The room had plenty of closet space and hangers and there was a small safe. There were plenty of drawers for folding clothes. There was a flat panel tv with a dvd player and besides ship channels there was CNN, ESPN, 2 onboard movie channels, I think TNT and a couple of kid’s channels. Dvds could be checked out at the “library.” The bed has been upgraded and was actually more comfortable than my bed at home. There was a sofa, chair and a small portable table and a mini-fridge stocked with beverages. The bath was small, but functional and the shower/Jacuzzi tub was outfitted with a hand-held shower head. Besides the old-fashioned built-in hair dryer, the room was also equipped with a new hand held hair dryer. The vanity/dresser in the room was also outfitted with a telescoping makeup mirror and there’s a plug there which was convenient for me to use my electric razor while my wife hogged the bathroom. Plenty of room under the bed to store your luggage. The room steward was great, he worked his butt off. Our room was always clean and he hit it at least twice a day. Dining We like to eat early so we opted for the 6:15 seating in the lower area of the Rotterdam dining room. We sat at a table for 6 at a window at the stern which gave us a great view especially when the sunset was out the back of the ship. We had dinner in the Rotterdam each night and the food was extremely good and well prepared. Menu choices were plentiful with 6 choices of entrees which normally included a pasta dish, a fish dish and a beef dish, but it also possible to order a couple of other standard choices like chicken breast, etc for those who prefer plain fare. I like to order things I don’t eat at home so I enjoyed items like duck, paella and some really nice Indonesian rice dish. Portions are small, but you can always get seconds of anything or even order more than one entrée or dessert if you choose to. The head chef stopped by our table after dinner one night and he was a total delight. There is a wine selection area near the theater where you can order wine for your dinner. They will keep your bottle available during the trip and uncork it for you each night. There were 2 formal, 2 informal and 3 casual nights. I didn’t see as many tuxedos as I had previously and not all men even bothered with a dark suit on formal night. My wife likes the occasion to dress up so I go with a tux. I highly recommend ordering one online through cruise formalwear as it’s waiting in your cabin and you just leave it for your steward when you’re done with it. I even ordered the dress shoes and it was reasonably priced and was a good fit. Informal night means jacket with tie optional although once again this was not strictly enforced. Casual means slacks and a decent shirt. They do enforce no shorts or jeans in the dining room at dinner. It’s really kind of a pity that so many folks have decided to take the splendor out of cruising and would seem to prefer to sit around the table in their boxers if they were allowed to. The servers were friendly and industrious and food came promptly. Asst server was quick to remember what your beverage was and I always had iced tea waiting. It was my birthday one evening and our server brought out a small cake with candle to our table and members of the crew sang Happy Birthday. I thought it was a nice touch that no one had to tell them, they got the info from my passenger info. For breakfast we used the Lido on days we had excursions and dining hours were adjusted earlier to accommodate folks on early tours. Lines weren’t too bad and I never had trouble finding a table. Food was plentiful and varied and it was your basic cafeteria type food, nothing special. Fresh fruit, rolls, waffles, pancakes, french toast, eggs any style, sausage, bacon, hash browns, cold cereals and oatmeal. Nothing exceptional, but all you want. On sea days we ate breakfast in the Rotterdam. No trouble getting seated. Breakfast did seem to take quite awhile to be delivered however and there did seem to be a certain amount of confusion as to which table had ordered what when food did come. We only ate lunch twice and both times used the grill on the Lido deck. They have hamburgers, hot dogs, brats, tacos, french fries and pizza. Nothing special, but it hit the spot. There’s also the Pinnacle Grill that specializes in Northwest US cuisine for dinner. There’s a surcharge for this restaurant and I didn’t see the need since the food was so good in the main dining room. There are a multitude of bars and lounges around the ship although their hours seem to vary. Drinks are not cheap and if you’re a drinker, expect a sizeable bar tab. A 15% gratuity is added to all drink orders. If you like sodas, they come in at a hefty $1.75 each. You can purchase a “soda card” for $18 plus the gratuity for a total of $20.70 that gives you 20 sodas. They just punch it each time you get a soda. If you’re going to drink soda, I highly recommend it. Servers do float around the pool area to take drink orders, but you may have to wait quite a while. I’d recommend going to the pool bar and ordering your own drinks. There’s a new coffee bar outside the library where you can get all sorts of fancy coffees and teas, hot or cold for a price of course. The chocolate chip cookie that you can get with your coffee is to die for. I do kind of miss the little complimentary coffee bar they used to have outside the theater. Facilities and Entertainment I toured the spa/fitness center and they’ve got a nice set-up, but I never actually used it so I can’t truly comment on it. They’ve expanded the library/internet café area into the Explorer’s Lounge. There’s a pretty decent assortment of books and dvds you can check out and the chairs are pretty comfy if you just want to sit and read there. There are card tables and an assortment of board games. Internet access is available but expensive. I don’t go on vacation to waste my time reading email or surfing the web so I didn’t avail myself of that aspect. The casino is small, but never seems too overly crowded. Didn’t have as much luck at the blackjack table this time as opposed to last cruise, bummer! The Reubens lounge is nice, but tends to fill up quickly so get there early for a decent seat. Regular cast shows were mediocre. The ventriloquist was great and the comedic magician was pretty funny. The singer/impressionist was so-so. Did a decent Neil Diamond, but Elvis sounded like Neil Diamond with a twang Shipboard activities are designed for the older crowd which makes sense since HAL seems to cater to the 50s+ crowd. Of course that’s why I picked them in the first place. We’re not really a party-type couple so can’t say about the nighttime activities in the Crow’s Nest. Good selection of artwork in the art auctions and a lot of pieces went unsold. Several shops onboard with reasonable prices. T-shirts more expensive than onshore, but the quality’s a lot better too. Nice selection of jewelry and pretty good prices on watches. If you want perfume ladies, get it onshore in Georgetown. Great selection at very good prices. Lido pool gets pretty busy on sea days, but on port days it’s pretty empty until the afternoon. The pool on deck 10 might be a good alternative. If you’re just looking to sun yourself, try the chaises up on 12. No pool, but not very crowded. The deck chairs on the lower promenade deck fill up quickly except when it’s windy. There’s not a lot of them so get out there early. It’s really nice to just walk the lower promenade deck for exercise. It’s a ¼ mile around, no jogging, and a nice way to work off those extra calories although from the size of many of the passengers, they didn’t worry about it. The Wajang Theater serves as both a movie theater and a culinary center. It’s been totally redone so that during the day, the chefs put on cooking demonstrations. Kind of cool actually. As always, they take photos of you a lot. They tend to be pretty expensive so keep your wife away from the photo center. Since you’re going to need casual clothing for the day and less casual clothing for the evening, it’s easy to over pack. There’s an onboard self-service laundry, but I think it’s a waste of good vacation time to be doing laundry. Your cabin is provided with a laundry bag and it’s only $12, with 24 hr service, to have laundered everything you can stuff into it, which is actually quite a bit. For $45 you get unlimited laundry. I find that this allows you to pack alot fewer clothes as you can just get them washed during the trip. Debarkation This is one area where they have really streamlined things. You used to have to leave your cabin and wait in a common area until your debarkation number was called. You also had to get in a long line and clear customs and immigration onboard ship. That used to take forever. Now you leave your luggage outside your stateroom at midnight, as usual, but you are free to wait in your cabin if you prefer. The only people who have to see customs and immigration are non-US citizens and people who have exceeded their customs exemption. You are given a debarkation number and when it is called you just go on down to get off the ship. I recommend taking the stairs as the elevators get pretty filled up. Lines are not outrageous. They scan your ship ID as you leave and authorities collect your customs declaration. Didn’t even have to show my passport. Luggage is sorted by color tags and is pretty easy to locate. You can use their porters or just grab your own bags. As you leave the terminal you will be directed to cabs or in our case to the prearranged shuttle for transport to the airport. All in all, a very enjoyable trip. I really like this ship and would highly recommend it to all my friends.     

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Nov 19, 2005

Western Caribbean

This ship seemed understaffed and the food wasn't as expected. On other cruises I was at least asked if I wanted something to drink by a waiter in the swimming pool area but wasn't even acknowledged when I wanted a drink. This cruise had three ports but because of a storm they skipped Grand Cayman and refunded the port tax only. However, a ship we met in port went to Grand Cayman. I thought not going to Grand Cayman was not fair considering

there were only 3 ports to begin with. If you like good food, forget it. The deserts in the Lido Restaurant all taste alike (No Taste). They gave you skimpy portions when ordering. In the dining room they had Shrimp cocktail one night with 4 shrimp, where were the other 8. On other occasions in the Lido Restaurant they had small shrimp cocktails, you know (salad shrimp that are extra small). One night I got food poisoning and was sick from the Caribean Paella. If you like to do things the night before your cruise ends you want do it here. On the last night I was informed there wasn't a late show. Most of the bars had no music and I got the feeling they just wanted you off the ship. If you like to go on a ship and feel pampered this is not the ship. I liked the Celebrity Century better. This was not worth the money and with all the sea days it was boring.     

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Apr 9, 2004

Western Caribbean

We sailed aboard the ms Veendam, on a Western Caribbean cruise, embarking April 10, 2004 through April 17, 2004. For my wife and I, this was our honeymoon as well as our first cruise. Although we are from Cincinnati, OH we choose to have a Florida wedding. Because of this we were forced to drive to Florida (with dresses and flowers and a ton of luggage) rather than fly. When were looking at cruise lines for our honeymoon we choose Holland

America because of the ability to leave out of Tampa rather than Ft. Lauderdale or Miami. The thought of a one day drive home from Tampa was much more appealing than a two day drive from Miami. Embarkation We arrived at the Pier around 11:30am. We parked our car ($70 fee but they do take credit cards) and headed towards the terminal. As we approached my first impression was that the ship was smaller than I’d imagined. I don’t mean that in a bad way, I just expected it to tower to the heavens after seeing photos. We checked our large bags with the porters outside and despite Holland America’s “tipping optional” policy our porter did in fact ask us for a tip. I have to say I was a bit surprised by this but I let it slide. Because this was our honeymoon, we had booked a Deluxe Verandah suite and one of the perks was the ability to use the express check in line. We had our ID cards and we on the boat within 10 minutes. (After posing for the first of many HAL photos) Stateroom We were shown to the Piano Bar on Deck 8 while our cabin was being made up. At around 1:15, an “All Clear” alarm was sounded and we were allowed to proceed to our cabin on Deck 10, the Navigation Deck. The suite was very nice and was much larger than I expected, as was the balcony. Upon arrival, we found fresh fruit as well as a bottle of champagne and fresh flowers waiting for us. Our favorite part of the room was the private veranda. In addition to the table and chairs, it featured two lounge chairs that were very comfortable. I loved taking an afternoon catnap outside with the ocean breeze and the smell of saltwater. We took most of our breakfasts outside, which is an experience all in itself. (Nothing like ham and eggs with a view of Jamaica.) Overall the room was very well soundproofed. We didn’t really hear anything from the other cabins or from the hallways although we sometimes heard the sound of deck chairs being drug across the above deck. Our cabin steward was excellent. He went to great lengths to keep our cabin clean and to make sure we had everything we needed. We didn’t drink our champagne while on the boat but he made sure the bucket it sat in was constantly full of ice. The Ship The Veendam is a beautiful vessel and for an eight-year-old ship, she shows very little wear and tear. The ship is spotlessly clean and very well decorated. Beautiful works of art decorated the walls and there was a touch of elegance everywhere. The ship is equipped with stabilizers that really do calm the rolling motion. We had a rough day Wednesday when the sea was really pitching but other that it wasn’t all that noticeable. The main areas of the ship can be found in the middle, on Decks 7 & 8. Here you will find the Front Desk, the Wajang Movie Theater, the main dining room, shopping, the Ocean and Piano bars as well as the ship’s casino. On Deck 11, the Lido Deck, you will find the main swimming pool (saltwater) as well as the Lido Dinning room (buffet) Deck 12, Sports Deck, features a tennis court, basketball court and the Crows Nest Bar. Although the ship is large, it is quite easy to navigate once you get your bearings. The elevators tend to respond a bit slow to the call requests and we often found it quicker to take the stairs than wait for a car. There are maps everywhere and the staff is very helpful should you get turned around. A couple of places to see- 1.) The bow of the boat. The bow is accessible by going to the front of Deck 6 and taking a staircase to Deck 7. The view is incredible and worth the hunt for the staircase. 2.) The quiet pool on Deck 10. At the back of the boat is a smaller, lesser known pool that we often spent our afternoons relaxing by. The mood is much more subdued that the loud, busy main pool on Deck 11, the Lido Deck. Dinning We found the overall dinning experience aboard the ship left a lot to be desired. While some aspects were excellent, others we a little less than stellar. There are two restaurants on board, the Rotterdam Dinning Room and the Lido Restaurant. (There is also a Lido Grill, open for lunch only, serving hot dogs and hamburgers). The ship also offers 24-hour complementary room service. The food in the Rotterdam was excellent. Although the selection was fairly limited and often times very exotic, it was all very well prepared and presented. Our waiter and steward were excellent as well. Although they didn’t speak English very well, they made up for it but being very friendly and attentive. After the first night, they always brought my wife and I a glass of tea with our meal and we never had to request a refill. Our Head Steward was great. Not only did he give us the “Honeymoon” table (a secluded table for two next to the window) but also he was very courteous and extremely friendly. We ran into him in the Caymans and he invited us to come have lunch with him, very above and beyond the call of duty. The Lido Restaurant was your typical buffet style foods with a salad section and an ice cream bar. The only plus to the Lido Restaurant was the fact that the workers served you, rather than it being a true open buffet. The food was not that great and the selection was pretty limited. The Lido Grille wasn’t bad but it wasn’t anything to write home about either. You had your typical hamburgers and hotdogs to choose from and there was also a small buffet bar set up to make yourself tacos. The only complaint about the taco station was the constant lack of taco shells and nacho chips. It defeats the point of a taco bar is there aren’t any shells. Ice tea was always free and aplenty but soft drinks and alcoholic beverages were rather pricey as a can of soda was $1.75. We only frequented the Java Café once and my wife immediately went back to the room and poured it out. Needless to say it left a lot to be desired. A rather nice touch was the free bags of popcorn for the movie theater. While we never managed to see a show the popcorn made a nice afternoon snack. Room Service was great as well. Each night a menu would be placed on our door and we would select what we would have the next day for breakfast. We discovered on the fourth night that food from the main dinning room could be ordered as well so we had a great 4-course meal right in the comfort of our stateroom. The Shows Due to our late dining time we never made it to any of the shows except the last day of the cruise. On the last day the people with late dining had the early show time so we were able to watch the show before our meal. It was a culmination of some of the shows that had taken place during the week: a juggler from the first night, an Elton John wannabe, and a ventriloquist. Of all three the only one I wished we had gone to see was the juggler. Not only was the juggler good, he was very funny as well. On-ship Activities This is where the biggest disappointment of the cruise comes in to play. As a couple in their mid-20’s it was rather let down. For the most part we spent our time in our room watching TV as we are not bingo playing people and that seemed to be the only major activity that was constantly being pushed upon you. Several other activities were trivia, on deck games, and a ping-pong tournament. Once the lights went down there was pretty much nothing to do unless you’re a fan of the waltz, in which case the Ocean Bar would be perfect for you. The casino was nice was a fairly large selection of slots for such a small area. I wish I could say we won money but in fact we did not. The sports bar was a bit of a let down. The only sports channel the boat received was ESPN from Mexico City so it was either was showing soccer or figure skating. The Internet café was very pricey at $55 for 110 minutes plus a $3.95 activation fee. I have read where other cruise lines offered unlimited internet access for one flat fee so it was rather difficult to catch up on the “world” when you had limited access. The speed was very fast, about the same as DSL. The other major activity on the ship was a rather pricey art auction containing pieces from Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Dali. While it was great to see works by such famous artist so up close, this wasn’t something that we were interested in participating in. Fellow Guests After reading some online cruise reviews, we were convinced we would be the youngest couple on board the vessel. (Holland America caters to the retired set) In fact, the number of young adults and even a few children we saw on board the vessel pleasantly surprised us. While the activities were still geared to an older class of passenger, the absence of loud partying and drunken fellow passengers made up for it.. Money Matters Holland America utilizes a “Cashless Society” made famous by the Walt Disney Company and many Vegas casino resorts. You pay for absolutely nothing with cash, in fact, I’m not even sure you could. Everything is billed back to your room, you simply sign the paper. I think this has its positives and negatives. On one hand, it is very convenient, however, it is also very easy to lose track of what you have spent. (Something HAL is hoping for). Plus people are more willing to just sign than actually hand over almost 2 bucks for a CAN of Coke. Tipping Holland America has a “No Tipping Required” policy. I think this works well because it ensures the crew will give you their best in the hopes of a good tip. We tipped our room steward up front and he gave us OUTSTANDING service the whole week. We did tip our waiter and steward but only for the nights we were actually in the dinning room. We also tipped our room service delivery boy each more after he brought breakfast. Debarkation This was as orderly a process and moved quicker than I expected. Bags must be in the corridor by 1 am, and you have 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 regulate the departures from the ship. It was very easy and painless – there were no real lines and no waiting once your number is called. We were lucky enough to be in the first group so we got right off and out to our car. Tips- 1.) Book with a travel agent. If you can afford to take time off work on short notice, this is an excellent way to save money. Friends of ours took a similar cruse and paid about half of what we did because they were willing to go with only 2 months notice. 2.) If you can afford it, get a Deluxe Verandah suite. There are many perks that are offered to members of this group. i.e Priority boarding and disembarking; Priority tendering service; Exclusive use of the King and Queen’s dinning room; Captain’s lunch; and many more tiny perks. 3.) If you want to see the evening’s entertainment, schedule an early dinner. 4.) Buy prepaid phone cards before you leave the US. Satellite phones are extremely expensive as are pay phones in the ports. 5.) Back an empty suitcase. If you do any shopping in the ports or on the boat, you’ll be glad you did. Afterthoughts Holland America runs a good ship. The boat was very clean and very well cared for. I will admit, I didn’t find the staff as “world renowned” as HAL claims, however, they make up for it by truly caring about their work. They all see very happy and seem to enjoy life at sea. Our stateroom was amazing and our steward was excellent. That being said, there are area’s where the Veendam is weak. Shopping is in 4 mini stores, all with overpriced goods and long lines. Photos are taken at every stop and every dinner and everywhere in between. While the photographers are good, the photos are extremely overpriced. However, it was our honeymoon so we did buy a few of them. I have to say what really took me aback is how much HAL tries to sell you on board. Everywhere we turned people were pushing wine and drink list at us, snapping photos, and talking us about all the shops we HAD to see in port. All the while, the intercom is blasting away telling us not to miss the bingo game going on or to “remind” us to buy cruise lotto tickets. I found this to be quite a bit annoying. In my daily life, I’m assaulted with marketing and I take a vacation to get away from that. Would we cruise again? Yes, I think eventually we will. Would we cruise HAL again? Probably not

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Mar 13, 2004

Western Caribbean

I am Phil Haggerty and my wife is Edith Goble. I am a retired city attorney and Edith is a homemaker and retired health service provider. This would be our 11th cruise, but the first on HAL. Our initial cruise was on Carnival’s Elation to the Mexican Riviera, followed by a Caribbean trip on the now defunct Commodore Lines’ Enchanted Isle. Next we had our first two Celebrity cruises, Galaxy for the Eastern Caribbean and Mercury around

Cape Horn. We then took Sun Princess to Alaska for a cruise and land tour combination, followed by a Western Caribbean trip on Norwegian Sun. We returned to Celebrity for our next two cruises, taking Infinity through the Panama Canal and Millennium from Barcelona to Venice. We next sailed on Regal Princess as part of a Europe and Baltic cruise/land tour, and returned to Infinity for a Hawaiian cruise last December. Reviews of all cruises from Galaxy on appear on this website. Why this Cruise? After sailing on four of the major cruise lines we thought that we should experience Holland America Lines. We had already scheduled a transatlantic repositioning trip on Galaxy in May, and this particular cruise seemed well suited to us. Although we had visited Cozumel and Grand Cayman on Norwegian Sun, and Jamaica on Enchanted Isle, we felt that there were different land excursions we could take on this venture. We also liked the schedule of sea day, two port days, sea day, port day and final sea day. This rotation between sea and land days has not always been possible, of course; but we both think that cruises should be more than just visiting different ports or countries. The Itinerary We sailed from Tampa on a Saturday. After a day at sea we stopped in Grand Cayman. The next day was at Montego Bay, Jamaica, followed by another sea day. Then we landed at Cozumel Island in Mexico for a long day. This was followed by our last sea day and return to Tampa the next Saturday. Review Format - What Is Covered and What Is Not I suppose there are people who call their travel agents, tell them to book a cruise, and do nothing until the day before embarkation when they pack and take off. We like to plan a lot, and feel that this is part of the fun of cruising. So we divide the review into pre-embarkation planning, getting to the ship; the cruise proper, port visits, and debarkation, followed by an overall picture of how we liked it, and the reasons for our feelings. Since we do not gamble, we will not review the Casino, which seemed fairly nice, and had some frequent play from our dinner companions. Nor do we use the spa facilities. We can’t rate the service or comfort of the poolside deck lounge area either. We do not play trivia games or newlywed games. If I tried Karaoke with my singing voice, the Captain would signal for another lifeboat drill, or perhaps just abandon ship. Pre-planning Any Cruise If you have questions about any ship or cruise line, you can get a review of most ships and cruise lines in the “Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships 2004” Douglas Ward; Berlitz Publishing Co.; the “Unofficial Guide to Cruises; 8th Edition”; Kay Showker and Bob Sehlinger; Wiley Publishing Co. and “Stern‘s Guide to Cruise Vacations 2004“; Steven B. Stern, 13th ed. Pelican Publishing Co. You can find (or order) these at most large bookstores such as Borders or Barnes and Noble. I know the Berlitz 2004 edition is out as is the “Unofficial Guide” and the Stern should be shortly. All three of these books will also provide a wealth of detailed information on cruising. Since itineraries are subject to change, and not set much more than a year in advance, you should go to the cruise lines’ websites to get the correct itineraries and dates. You then can check with your travel agent to see the brochures which will give you a schematic of the ships’ layouts and cabin locations. In many cases you can order brochures directly from the cruise lines, but these brochures for the major lines cover separate specific destination areas, and not the entire cruise line repertory in one brochure. (Small lines with few ships are an exception.) The pricing options vary widely. Every line has an early booking discount; many offer specials in the last days before sailing if you want to take a chance; and there are a variety of “specials” and package deals through various travel agencies. No one recommends that you do your booking through the net; having your travel agent do the actual talking to the booking clerks is best; but the net can provide a lot of information. Some people make the itinerary the prime factor, some the cruise line or specific ship, and others are controlled by time constraints and the availability of cruises within their budget range. Like many people, we consider the itinerary first, and then look at the cruise line and date options. Tour Preparation We wanted to visit Chichen Itza on the Yucatan peninsula, see a little more of Jamaica beyond Dunn River Falls, and wander around Grand Cayman with some snorkeling thrown in. We also did not want to rely on the tours provided by the cruise line. Sometimes these work out well, and sometimes they are really the only thing available; but we have found researching travel books and searching the web on our own can be very rewarding. So off I went to the net about two months before departure. In checking other reviews on Jamaica we were advised that Barrett Adventures would be good. This company does not have a web site, only an e-mail address, which is: Carolyn@barrettadventures.com. If you are going to Jamaica, particularly if you are landing in Montego Bay, I strongly advise checking this out. What they do is give you a list of possible sites with a fairly detailed explanation. Then they will set up any itinerary within this range which falls within your time and budget perimeters. The company charges for driving you on the selected tour by the hour, so the more people who can get together, the cheaper. The locations visited will have their separate admission fees which you pay. We selected the rafting trip, the bird sanctuary and Greenwood great House. After we made our selection and confirmed it, we received an e-mail with detailed directions on finding the tour which included the following: “Work your way to the back where the desk is and look for me standing near it. I will be smiling foolishly and holding a sign with Barrett Adventures on it. Hopefully, it will even be legible and spelled correctly.” Anyone with that approach and sense of humor must be fine. For Grand Cayman we would skip the sting ray petting at Sting Ray City since we had participated in that marvelous activity on our prior visit. I like to snorkel and had read several books which stated that there were a number of spots where you can simply walk into the water off the beach and do some good snorkeling. Since we did not plan to spend all day in the water, we rented a car on the net. There are a number of tours to Chichen Itza, including flying tours. We did not want to fly, especially since a chartered flight on a prior cruise had crashed a few years ago. There are several outfits that provide the tour, which from Cozumel involves a ferry to the mainland and a bus to the site. We had read of two companies recommended in a travel book and selected Fantasy Tours, which can be contacted at: fantasy@prodigy.net.mx. In their e-mails they were concerned about time, and said that ship’s time was often an hour earlier than Cozumel time. After several efforts, and what I consider a very unprofessional lack of response by Holland American, I finally talked to someone who said that the ship would keep local Cozumel time. It turned our that this was not so, but we did arrive in time to make the ferry connection. The price quoted by Fantasy was $95.00 US per person, which was considerably less than the $129.00 via the ship’s tour. The actual price, since I paid by credit card and did a lot better on the exchange that the 10 to 1 offered by stores in Mexico, worked out to be about $98.00; still a lot better than HAL’s price. Shipboard Accommodation Planning Once you have decided on the cruise line and itinerary, the next decision concerns the actual accommodations to be selected. The range here is again very large, from suites of more than 3000 square feet (how big is your house?) to “standard” cabins of about 180 square feet. Obviously the difference is price. These days the newer ships feature “veranda” cabins which make up almost half the cabins available. Then there are a variety of staterooms labeled “suites”; some of which, like Celebrity’s “sky suites” are little more than larger cabins with added amenities and features such as butler service, access to spa facilities at a reduced rate, etc. Many people, like us, enjoy the outside access of a veranda, where you can sit on a small deck all your own and enjoy the sound and smell of the ocean for a better “at sea” experience. Others, including a travel agent I know, book the lowest cost inside cabin on the theory that they don’t spend much time there, and they can enjoy the rest of the ship to the same extent as the people in the largest suite. Traditionally the higher decks are more costly for identical cabins. Very often the costlier suites are on the upper decks; the Millennium class ships of Celebrity being an exception with all its expensive suites being located on deck 6. Most cabins have only showers, and only very expensive suites have double sinks. Unless you bring an excessive amount of luggage, you will find that cabins, even the smallest, hold a large amount of clothing, toiletries, etc. Ships’ architects have long mastered the art of squeezing the maximum amount of storage space out of every square foot of cabin area. Hotel architects could learn a lot by observing how ships utilize space. What about your bags? In most cases they will fit under the bed, but the ship will store them elsewhere if necessary. Clothes Planning This of course leads to the topic of what to pack. The cruise lines will offer their suggestions, as will the books cited above. However the season, destination, length of cruise and type of ship control this. Some lines such as Holland America, Celebrity and Princess tend to more formality than Carnival or Disney Lines. A new, somewhat upscale line, Oceania, has no formal nights and neither does the very expensive Seabourn Line. But no line actually requires formal wear, although they may not admit passengers to the main dining rooms for dinner in bathing wear, cut-offs or shorts. Aside from that, the weather and the destinations basically control what to bring in the way of clothes. Some ships have self-service laundries, and the Berlitz guide will tell you which these will be; although if you closely peruse the ships’ layouts in the brochures, you may discover the laundry rooms on your own. Getting to the Ship and Back Home The next consideration is planning the route to and from the ports of embarkation and debarkation, which very well may not be the same city. All cruise lines offer to purchase air fare to and from the cruises for you. If they do so, they will normally include the transportation between the airport and the pier both ways. You can purchase your own air tickets, of course, and you may be able to buy transfers to and from the pier separately. If you are going round trip from the same city for departure and return; a common event for Caribbean cruises, you can probably do better buying your own air tickets, especially if you are good at internet shopping. Your travel agent may be willing to help if you have bought the cruise from him or her, even though their commissions these days on air travel are virtually non-existent. If you are required to use “open jaw” flights; i.e. leaving from different cities for embarkation and debarkation, it is a little more complex to get any savings compared to the cruise lines, who can save money by block booking on major airlines. [For a good example of pre-cruise flight planning, read the review of our Celebrity Mercury cruise from Santiago to Buenos Aires in January 2002 on this website.] However you may end up with weird routings as we did on our Infinity Hawaii cruise because we felt we should use Celebrity in order to insure the right connections to Ensenada. You can vary the departure dates, but the cruise line might charge extra for this service. Celebrity waives any deviation charges for cruisers who are members of its Captains Club. If you can do so, always provide extra time, and for safety’s sake, an extra day in planning your air connection to the departure city. Trip Insurance Finally, there is the issue of trip insurance. We recommend it, but suggest that you buy from one of the independent insurers rather than the cruise line. The basic reason is that insurance you buy from the cruise line only covers you for services supplied by them. If you fly independently, take off on shore excursions that you book yourself, or extend the trip before or after on your own, the cruise line insurance will not cover you. However your own carrier will cover all events within the dates you specify. We have found a firm known as CSA to be responsive and reasonable. Incidentally, you do not have to insure for all the costs; but you can pick a figure you would settle for to cover the travel portion. In other words, you don’t have to add the flight cost to the cruise cost because you would probably not lose both. The main point is that with any coverage you get theft insurance, baggage loss, baggage delay and health coverage. You can even get pre-existing health condition coverage if you buy a higher priced policy as soon as you book the cruise. Talk to you travel agent about various policies that are available since they are commissionable also. It is worth it for peace of mind. Off to the Caribbean - One more time While in theory it might be possible to fly from the West to the East on the same day that the boat sails; in practice this is very difficult and risky. The only time we did this was when Celebrity arranged our air flight to San Juan for our Galaxy cruise, and we felt that they had total responsibility for getting us to the boat on time. It also involved getting up at 4:00 A.M. for a 7:30 A.M. flight; not a lot of fun. So we flew by a nice, non-stop America West daylight flight, leaving Phoenix at 9:55 A.M. and arriving in Tampa at 3:40. Unfortunately, Holiday Inn did not have its shuttle act together and, after waiting two hours and making repeated phone calls, we took them up on their cab offer, along with a family sailing on RCI the next day, and got to the hotel about 6:30. This was the Holiday City Centre Hotel, and it was all right for the price, ($110.00 including tax) but still a showing some wear and tear with bare spots showing through our carpet. The desk clerk suggested that Ybor City was only a short distance away, so we started hiking. It was about two miles away, and not through a section of town one would choose for a pleasant evening’s stroll. We were extremely happy when we arrived at a street with lights and restaurants, even though it is a very tourist oriented place. We ate at an Italian restaurant called Bernini’s, and it had a nice lively atmosphere, very decent food, and reasonable prices. We walked around the area for a while, but did not see much going on for a Friday night, so we hopped a cab back to the hotel and bed. I should note that I took the Bose Company up on its offer of a free 30 day trial of its heavily promoted noise canceling headphones, with disc player. I used it on the flight. It did work in conjunction with the airplane’s in flight sound system and movie, as well as with the disc player. The jury is still out on whether it really does cancel noise to a degree sufficient to justify the cost. I will try it one more time before the trial period expires. Embarkation Our cruise documents noted the sailing tine as 5:00 P.M. and that embarkation would start at 2:00. After breakfast at the hotel, we waited in the lobby for a while before stepping outside to catch the shuttle van to the pier, which is not much more than a mile or so away. There were a goodly number of cruise passengers waiting as well as the normal airport transfer guests, but we got to the pier about 12:45. Our bags were promptly taken away by a porter on the sidewalk who reminded us that we would not see him again. After complying with this not very subtle tip suggestion, we went inside the pier building where embarkation proceedings had already started. So much for a 2:00 P.M. boarding commencement. We had filled out our immigration questionnaires on line, and retained printed copies. When we showed this to the first HAL person, we were directed to a line which appeared much shorter than the line for those who did not have this questionnaire in hand. In fact we were at the check-in desk in a very few minutes and the process there was short. HAL gives you the usual plastic shipboard card which lets you on and off and serves as a shipboard charge card. But it does not operate as a room key. Nor do they take a credit card imprint, but rather hand you a piece of paper which would contain your credit card information and ask you to fill it out and drop it off at shipboard guest relations within a day after embarking. After this check in we were given a number card and directed to a further waiting area for actual boarding. When they called our number, in about 15 minutes, we got in a queue and while partway through it, posed for our embarkation picture. Once again it was the best photo taken on board. We actually boarded about one hour after arrival at the pier, and when we reached our cabin, our bags had been delivered. HAL provides a guide to your cabin, but no champagne a la Celebrity; not that we drink it anyway. Our cabin keys were on the desk, and they were the type with holes punched through a thick plastic strip. This is not exactly state of the art considering the ship was built in 1996. The Stateroom We had what is called a Verandah Suite on, appropriately, the Verandah Deck, Deck 9. In size it is little larger than a veranda cabin on Infinity or Millennium, and slightly smaller than the Celebrity Sky Suite. The desk is good sized and there is a 72 inch couch (which might form a bed, but we did not try this out). The teak decked veranda has room for a lounge chair, two side chairs and a small table of the usual garden variety, not padded teak furniture as provided on Celebrity‘s Sky Suites. The railing is solid steel for about 2 feet, with a bar above that and then a wood railing at the normal height. The steel portion is low enough so that you can see over it while on the lounge chair. Although this arrangement is not as nice as the Celebrity clear glass railing, it is better than the higher steel barrier on Princess. The dividers between the verandas are not floor to ceiling, there being about a six inch gap at floor level and a larger space above the seven foot level. Why cruise lines do not make these dividers solid is beyond me, since you can hear normal conversations from the verandas next door. As I noted, the desk was good sized and had nine drawers, a place for the TV, and some shelf space above. The desk also had a rack for holding brochures, etc. There was a fixed, fairly good sized table between the sofa and desk. The bed had two drawer nightstands on either, one with a Gideon Bible, a first for a cruise ship for us. The bathroom had a small tub/shower, about 2/3 the length of a standard tub. but it was a jacuzzi tub. The sink had a somewhat smaller cabinet than we were used to, and no drawers or other storage space, but still was adequate. The toilet was the normal vacuum type, but was by far the quietest we had ever experienced. The hair dryer was one speed, one temperature only, but was sufficient. Closet space was very good, and HAL provided more than enough good wooden hangers. The lighting switches took a little getting used to, but lighting was good, especially the reading lights on either side of the bed. The bed itself was on the firm side as usual, but we slept well and have no complaints. The cabin was decorated with three attractive framed ancient charts of the western hemisphere; a properly decorative touch. There was a mirror behind the bed and a full length mirror on one of the closet doors. HAL kept up the grand tradition of naval architects in providing more than enough space for our clothing and accoutrements. The wall paneling was a mixture of light wood and painted surfaces, and was neat, spotless and attractive. The table had a vase of fresh flowers, and we noted fresh flowers all over the ship. Bathrobes are provided. All in all it was a highly functional and very attractive stateroom with all the space one would ever need for a seven day cruise. Sailing Day Exploration There was an envelope on the desk with a “ticket” bearing number 61, which was our table number. So, in our usual tour of the ship we were able to enter the dining room and locate our table, which was for six persons. The dining room protocol is a little unusual. The dining room is on two levels, Deck 7 and Deck 6 connected by a staircase, and an open area between the two, making the lower level much larger in terms of actual tables. While most ships simply have 2 seatings, HAL actually has 4. The early dining group eats on the smaller level, Deck 6, at 5:45; the lower level diners start at 6:15. Similarly the “main” dining group has the upper level starting at 8:00 and the lower level at 8:30. I suppose this was designed to help the servers, although I have some difficulty in imagining how this works in practice. We did observe that there appeared to be a larger number of tables for eight or more on the lower level while the smaller upper level had more tables for two, four and six, with only a few for eight and none larger. The dining room is at the stern, so it has windows on three sides. The ship is pretty well laid out. Decks 4 and 5 are mostly cabins. 6 has a few offices and is the lower level of a three story atrium. It is called the Lower Promenade Deck and has a real teak walking promenade around the entire ship. Since there are outside cabins on this deck, their windows are mirrored on the outside, I hope successfully, so that the walkers cannot see in. At one point I walked past one of these cabins while it was open, and the view was clear to the outside. I think it would be a little disconcerting to have people visible to you outside your room while you were dressing for dinner. Deck 7 forward has the show theater, the Rubens Lounge, the photo gallery, Guest Relations, the shore excursions desk, the Wajang motion picture theater, the Java Cafe, some meeting rooms and the HAL club for children. Aft of these there is the main galley, not open for passenger traffic. Beyond that is the lower level dining room, which is reachable only by the aft elevators and stairs, and as well by the internal dining room staircase. Deck 8 forward is the upper level of the Rubens Lounge show room, shops around the atrium, the Ocean Bar also off the atrium, the casino, the piano bar, the Explorer’s Lounge, a large card room and an attractive library. The aft part of this deck is the upper dining room. Deck 9 is almost entirely Verandah Suites and deck 10 also Verandah Suites, Deluxe Verandah Suites and one large Penthouse Suite, plus the bridge forward. The aft portion of this deck also has an open, saltwater swimming pool and deck chair setup. Deck 11 is the Lido Deck with the gym and spa forward, the open Lido Pool with deck chairs amidships, and the Lido Buffet and Lido Terrace aft. The Lido Pool area has a sort of terrace at one end, with umbrellas and again vases with flowers; all very pleasant. Deck 12 has the Crow’s Nest Lounge forward, a walking area amidships with a sliding cover for the Lido pool, volley ball and deck tennis courts on each side of the funnel, and another HAL Club room aft. There are two elevator banks with stairs and lobbies. There are also many stairways forward and aft on the outside decks. This allows you, for example, to walk down to the open prow area on Deck 5, clear up to the front overlooking the sea and pretend are on the Titanic! I should note that the ship itself has that “yacht” profile with a long pointed prow making it look like the more traditional ocean liner rather than appearing like a floating hotel. The layout is rather compact, and this is not a very large ship by present day standards, only 55451 gross tons. But since it carries only 1266 passengers (at 2 to a cabin), the space ratio is therefore 43.8, a very generous size, and just about in line with Celebrity. Our cabin location on Deck 9 meant that we were in the center of all activities and could easily walk to every function or venue above and below without using the elevator. The decor on Veendam struck us as unique and very attractive. Rather that having just paintings of single sculptures, HAL added several display cases filled with examples of china, ships models, and object’s d’art of all kinds. These displays were found throughout the main decks. The corridors did not have art or photo exhibits as does Celebrity, but they were light and clean, although some carpet areas looked stained. The stairwells and elevator lobbies were open and bright, and had some paintings. The ship was immaculately clean and maintained that way throughout. The only thing we noticed that was a little off were two locations on our corridor, one forward near the front elevators and the other aft near those elevators. Both these spots had unpleasant “bathroom” odors for a stretch of about twenty feet. Our table companions, who had staterooms identical to ours on the same deck, also noticed this. We had a quick bite in the Lido Buffet. It is a very attractive site, with fresh flowers on each table, and attractive furniture. You are provided with real plates and cloth napkins. HAL has servers to help you to your table as does Celebrity. There are two main buffet lines, an auxiliary buffet station, a pizza station and an ice cream site as well as a separate dessert station at lunch. We unpacked with ease and as the ship pulled away at 5:00 promptly it was interesting to observe some nice Tampa residential areas off the starboard side below our cabin. We went to dinner at 5:45 and were joined by our table companions, Joey and Chris from Pennsylvania and Jim and Sue from Akron. We were a congenial group from the start. Our waiter was Sumi and his assistant Achmed, both from Jakarta, Sumatra. We noted that there were no women among the dining room staff. Dinner was quite good, especially for a sailing day. Since it was Joey’s birthday, we shared a cake and did not see the dessert menu. The Veendam Dining Experience I had read in the Berlitz Guide that Holland American meals do not live up to the nice Rosenthal china on which they were served. I disagree. Their menus have choices among 5 appetizers, 3 soups (one at least is cold), 5 “entree’s”, one of which is vegetarian, and 3 “grill” items. The normal dessert menu has a fairly wide range of choices. I believe that every entree I had was well prepared and served. I thought that my entrees consisting of an Indonesian dinner, venison, paella, liver and bacon, duck, snapper and osso bucco showed a nice variety and imagination. The vegetables were also varied and well prepared. The soups were always quite good, and everyone enjoyed a variety of appetizers. The desserts were perhaps the weakest point, but still very nice. I don’t eat salad, but Edith enjoyed hers as did everyone else. One roast beef was brought to Chris in a medium state, although he had clearly asked for the cow to still be mooing. It was replaced with a suitable piece immediately. Edith was not too pleased with one or two of the vegetarian dishes, and thought that more choices should be offered as is provided on Celebrity. We did feel that the staff was overworked compared to Celebrity, and were a little rushed. We missed the chance to chat with our servers after the meal that we enjoyed on every Celebrity sailing. It was not quite as bad as on both Princess ships, but still not that good. Our wine steward was very nice and helpful. The assistant maitre’d was pleasant and available, but I am not sure if he really accomplished much compared to one or two we have had. We were told that the Executive Chef was leaving after this cruise for another HAL ship. Just about everyone of the crew who talked about him was full of praise and said they would miss him, so I hope that my dining experience is not limited to ships in which Jock Barelmann is the Executive Chef. But our overall impression of the Dining Room experience on Veendam was very good. If Celebrity rates a 95, Veendam is a 93. As I noted, the Lido Buffet is very attractive. We seldom had any delays at either breakfast or lunch. Breakfast is pretty standard, but the coffee is bad and only once did we get good potatoes. The lunches had a good selection, and the food was warm and reasonably tasty. The desserts tended to fall into patterns, that is, a lot of tarts or fruit pies, or a lot of cream pies and cream cakes; but all were fresh. Every night there is a different late buffet, but the only one we attended was the dessert special. Needless to say, this was pretty crowded, and there were some very good items to be had. We have never tried room service on any cruise. We did enjoy a “formal” tea one afternoon in the main dining room and casual tea in the Explorer’s lounge on several other days. So I believe that saying Veendam’s food and food service package is a very close second to Celebrity is high praise and anyone should be quite pleased with this aspect of their cruise. There may be some question arising from the limited alternative dining. Evening meals are served in the Lido buffet, although the Dining Room always seemed very full except for the late day in Cozumel. The Lido Dining Room menu for dinner was posted each day so your choices were known. There were two auxiliary rooms, the “King’s Room” and the “Queen’s Room”, located just off the upper level dining room. We asked about these and were told that originally they had been reserved for special parties or groups, although no one used them until the Cozumel port day when we were allowed to eat a regular dinner, wearing shorts yet, in the Queen’s Room at 8:30, because of our late shore excursion. We were told that the King’s Room would be converted into a “grill room” whatever that might be. Each of these rooms hold about 35 people. We have no idea if there would be an extra cost for the “grill room” or what would be served. But we imagine that adding alternative dining sites involves distinct extra costs since there is no reduction in the number of regular dining room staff, at least where the traditional two seating, fixed table dining system is used. Open seating allows more flexibility, but alternative dining usually involves extra charges except on the super luxury ships where the basic cruise tariff is high enough to cover little extras and then some. That’s Entertainment? Well, sort of. I suppose we should start off with praise for the fact that the sound was kept under control and did not drive us out of the room as it had on Regal Princess. The physical set-up is somewhat unique. The upper level seating is fairly standard, upholstered benches seating four or six people. The floor pitch is a little shallow, so if you have a large person in front of you, there will be a sight problem. You cannot move from the right to the left side in the upper seating area since the sound equipment takes up the center area entirely. It is the lower level which is different. Instead of fixed theater type seats, or fixed benches, there are a few benches forming the first and last rows, and the rest of the seating is in the form of free standing, completely moveable dining room type chairs with curved wooden arms and upholstered seats. There are also some fixed small tables and marble stanchions around the room. The chairs do not fill up the entire room, so that gaps and paths between seats are scattered about. To some extent you can correct any sight problems by moving your chair, but this is at the risk of getting in the way of someone behind you. The stage is curved forward, with steps in place in front leading up from the audience and a limited proscenium area. I went on a stage tour and could see that the ability to lift, or “fly” sets is very limited. While they did their best under the circumstances, the production numbers were restricted, and the lighting constrained. The regular shows consisted of two productions featuring the usual singing/dancing troupe of ten performers, a show consisting of a gentleman billed as the world’s fasted banjo player, another show with a young lady playing an electronic violin, a third show with a comic magician and a final show with the three individual acts combined. There also was a HAL regular feature, a show put on by crew members, who were all Filipino. The singer/dancer shows were typical Las Vegas type affairs with the cast frantically dashing from one number to the next with multiple costume changes. I enjoy them somewhat, but felt that the stage limitations and the dancing limitations brought this group down compared to Celebrity and even Princess. I was joined by several people in wondering how you can listen to 50 minutes of banjo playing, no mater how fast or skillful. Edith really disliked the violinist, whose repertoire ranged from pop, to country to gospel. I found her mildly entertaining and unpretentious. The comic magician had an excellent and amusing routine, and was by far the best entertainment of all. We noted before his show started that several rows of seats in the upper seating area where we were stationed had been reserved for HAL Club members, so we knew that the act would not have any “blue” material, for which we were grateful. The crew show was well meaning and earnest, but pretty amateurish. The entertainment apart from this was minimal. One of the musical groups had some sort of immigration problem, and did not arrive for several days. There was a “steel band” playing on deck which sounded okay and not too loud. There was also a two piano and bass duo which played cocktail music in the Explorer’s Lounge and a pianist of course in the Piano Bar. All in all the entertainment was not great, but fortunately, not obnoxious or loud either. Sea Days We like sea days. They are very relaxing. However, Veendam provided very little activity beyond bingo, trial games and the like. There were no onboard educational speakers. By comparison, on Celebrity’s Hawaiian cruise, each sea day had at least four speakers or similar cultural activities. There was a Catholic Mass every sea day. There were also a few stretch and exercise classes without charge, and the gymnasium was quite nice. Edith thought that the instructor provided for the workouts was excellent. Of course there were the usual art auctions conducted by Park West. As I noted, the Library was a very attractive room, but its selection was rather small, about 300-350 fiction titles, and perhaps 100 non-fiction books. The room did have several jigsaw puzzles out in various stages of completion. There was an internet cafe of course, with the usual high charges which did not stop some people. The pools, especially the aft deck salt water pool had a lot of use, if not exactly activity. The Lido pool with its spas seemed to attract the children. We had 139 children on board on spring break, but this was nothing compared to the RCI ship which sailed out just before we did. It had 400 University of Miami seniors on a pre-graduation party cruise. Ouch. The HAL Club cruise staff divided the children into three age groups, and except for their domination of the Lido Pool, they were not in the way at all. Of course one reason why we took this cruise was to relax, and so the lack of activity on sea days was not disturbing. Edith went to some events while I walked around a good deal and got some fine recreational reading in. The ship had a very large map with our route laid out in a series of dots which changed color to show our actual location. There were movies twice a day, but the only one we wanted to see showed only on the first day, and we had seen two of the others. There were no cooking lessons, vegetable carving demonstrations, craft sessions, nor even that old standard, napkin folding. Edith did go to one of the shore shopping talks and found that it was very informative, and not just a touting of favored stores. We did conclude however that we would not try for the Hawaiian Island round trip on Statendam in December because that would involve four straight sea days getting there and four returning, with seven Island days in between. We think that 15 days on a ship identical to Veendam, with 8 sea days and HAL’s lack of programming for these days would be too much. To be fair to Holland American, I believe that their Alaska cruises and cruise tours, at which they have a great deal of experience, would not have the same problem. Even the sea days on an Alaska cruise are marked by great views of the inland passage, the Alaskan bays and the glaciers. Our Land Tours George Town, in Grand Cayman, is the city of misdirection. Our e-mails from Budget Rental indicated that they had a downtown location. We asked at the information desk on the tender pier where it was and were pointed across the pier to the Hard Rock Cafe. No Budget Rental. We asked several people and all were willing to give directions, none of which provided a correct answer. We had experienced the same round of misinformation asking for our tour headquarters when we landed there two years ago. We went back to the information desk and had the lady call Budget. Their office is only at the airport, and we were advised to got to a store on the pier and wait, which we did for about half an hour. Eventually a driver appeared and took us to the office. We were greeted by a large sign saying our auto insurance would not be recognized there, so we had to buy some. This ran the original, reasonable $37.00 charge up to $70.00. We were provided with a Suzuki mini-Jeep with right hand drive for left side British driving. It worked out well though. After only one wrong turn I found my way to a beach and went snorkeling. The fish were quite varied, although not in huge numbers. The water is beautiful and the temperature was perfect. After a satisfactory swim we returned to the jeep and drove to the Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Garden. The most striking feature of this very pleasant garden was the blue iguana project. It seems that while green iguanas are everywhere, the blue iguana was down to just two when the garden began its breeding project. There were two very large iguanas, perhaps the Adam and Eve pair, in a large enclosure, and cages with many more in various age groups in the breeding area. We were getting a little hungry and returned the car to Budget. Grand Cayman has a high standard of living due to its off shore banking industry, and there are many very nice apartments and condominiums available for substantial amounts of money in this unique tax shelter. The driver who took us back to the pier was from Cuba. Since Grand Cayman is a Crown Colony, ruled by a Governor appointed in London, it enjoys British recognition and unrestricted travel to Cuba. In fact there is a substantial foreign population in Grand Cayman to supply the demand for workers. Montego Bay Jamaica does not have a good reputation. We have read that the capital, Kingston, is very crime ridden. On our Enchanted Isle cruise in December 2000 we landed in Ocho Rios and did the Dunn River Waterfall trip. We had walked around Ocho Rios without any problems, except for the constant hustling by street vendors. We had asked at a tourist kiosk about Jamaican jerk, and were directed to a fast food spot, where you ordered by the number on the board. But all the patron were local and the food was good. So our prior experience was not bad. Our arrival in Montego Bay led to some further confusion. There are apparently two main piers. Carolyn Barrett had assumed we would arrive at the Terminal Pier, but we went to the other one, so her explicit directions were inapplicable. After wandering around watching the tour buses leave we finally located someone who told us to take a shuttle to the Terminal Pier where the directions made sense. We found Carolyn quickly. She was waiting for a group on Norwegian Sun which was running an hour late. Carolyn is from Lake Placid New York, and has lived in the Caribbean for many years, and I think 9 years in Jamaica. She led us out back to the loading area and waved up a van which was driven by her husband Lloyd, a native Jamaican. We proceeded through town to the rafting site. The rafts are bamboo with a seat for two people. They are guided by a “captain”, ours was a young man named Rabbi, and you proceed down the Great River at a leisurely pace. Carolyn had responded to my e-mail inquiry that it was perfectly safe to bring a camera on this trip. The cost, which we paid in cash since plastic money seems to be unknown in Jamaica, was $38.00 for the two of us. It was a pleasant ride and I got a few photos. We were met at the end, about a 30 minute ride, by Lloyd, who then drove us to the Bird Sanctuary. This was a private home on a hillside, owned by an Englishwoman, who had turned it into a private bird sanctuary, mostly for native hummingbirds. The Sanctuary was maintained by her family and managed by the same local family who had worked for the founder. They provide you with a small bottle of nectar and instruct you to sit in a covered lanai next to the house. Then the birds come, and how beautiful they are! There is a swallowtail hummingbird, with tail feathers about 6-8 inches long, as well as others. Edith held the nectar while I tried to take pictures. The light was a little too low for me to use the maximum speed on my camera, but I did get a few very good shots. There were three or four people, British by their accents, there when we arrived, but soon left the place to us and the manager. The cost was $8.00 each and well worth it. Our next stop was to be Greenwood Great Hall. Montego Bay is on the north shore of Jamaica, and we had been south and west up to this time. I was running out of cash, since I had not wanted to bring much, and Lloyd said he would have to be paid in cash, so we stopped at the Terminal Pier, I caught the shuttle to our pier, got some dollars from my cabin, and caught the shuttle back to the Terminal Pier, all because Jamaica customs would not allow direct access to our pier. We then proceeded east along the coast to Greenwood Great Hall, the major home of the Barrett family. This family, of which Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a member, although she never visited Jamaica, started its operations on the island in the late 1600’s. By the time slavery was abolished in 1831, their holdings amounted to 48,000 acres of plantation forming a 12 mile strip along the ocean. The house is up on a hill, about 100 feet above sea level, with a magnificent view. It is actually lived in by a family today, and they derive some revenue from visitors. It cost $12.00 per person. The present site is five acres in size. Our guide was a native Jamaican, and she was extremely knowledgeable and very pleasant. The whole tour took more than an hour, and the artifacts, furniture, and household items were fascinating. The views from some of the upstairs windows were spectacular. I got some excellent photos and we both enjoyed the tour immensely. On the way back Lloyd asked if we were hungry. I allowed that I could use some jerk, and while we were going through a small town named, of all things, Lilliput; he pulled off the road into an open air jerk stand. You order by size and I had a 1/4 chicken plus a coke. Lloyd had some also, but Edith declined. The chicken was cooked on an open grill and put into aluminum foil with some sauce. It was hot temperature wise, and reasonably spicy, but I am used to Mexican food, and even Thai food. It was delicious, and to say the least, authentic. Lloyd said it was one of his favorite jerk spots, and I am sure I was the only non-Jamaican customer they had all week, if not all year. We also stopped to get Blue Mountain Coffee from a hillside store and restaurant which purportedly overlooked a house once owned and used by Al Capone. We got back to the ship about four which made for a 7 hour day at $20.00 per hour, or $140.00 plus tip for both of us. The entire day thus ran, including tips, $248.00 for both of us. I think $124.00 per person for a seven hour, personally guided tour for two, with three separate aspects, was well worth while. We highly recommend Barrett Adventures, and if anyone reading this uses their services, say hello to Carolyn and Lloyd for us; they are really nice people. We were over an hour late leaving Montego Bay, partly because of some tours which had been delayed, and partly because a passenger was taken off in an ambulance. We could see the ambulance approach with lights and sirens, a gurney taken on board, and later taken out, baggage loaded into another van, and the ambulance depart without lights or sirens. Cozumel and Chichen Itza After a relaxing sea day we arrived in Cozumel. Our daily newsletter, On Board, clearly stated that we would not be changing the ship’s clocks to local time. Our tour was to start at 7:00 at the ferry pier, and we were advised by Fantasy Tours to be there 15 minutes ahead of time. All was well however, because our docking time of 6:30 ship’s time was 5:30 Cozumel time. Cozumel has two cruise ship piers and one ferry pier. Fortunately, we docked at the pier closest to the ferry pier, clearly visible as such about 300 yards down the waterfront. We were able to grab a quick bite to eat and walk to the ferry pier to meet our tour contact person with ease. There were only three other people with us, a couple from Austin and a soldier on R&R leave from Iraq by way of his home in Ohio. The ferry ride was fast, but Edith found it very rough and almost was sea sick. We docked in Playa del Carmen on the Mexican mainland shortly after 7:30 and found our tour guide, Alejandro. Playa del Carmen is a small, but bustling tourist gateway, with a pier side area featuring many of the same stores found in Cozumel. Our van was a new Ford nine passenger, fully air conditioned and quite comfortable. The trip to the Mayan ruins takes about two and one-half hours. The countryside is very flat, with one good sized town, Valladolid, and otherwise very rural. Many of the women wore Mayan style dresses, basically white smocks with colorfully decorated fringes, bodices and sleeves. We stopped briefly at a store for a rest stop and the opportunity to buy their wares. Edith liked a necklace, but once again I was short of cash by choice. We had been provided with a sort of sack breakfast consisting of a sweet roll, yogurt, crackers and a canned fruit drink. We arrived at Chichen Itza around noon, and while there were a goodly number of people, it was not overly crowded. The main site covers about twenty acres, with eight major buildings. The only one you can actually enter is the big pyramid, which has a smaller pyramid built inside it. Our guide said that it is very small inside, conducive to claustrophobia, and resembling a sauna in atmosphere, so we skipped it in in favor of climbing the outside steps to the top. This is an experience not to be missed, and even Edith was very pleased to accomplish it despite her fear of heights. It involves going up 91 steep steps to a platform top with a room allowing an inside passage to all four sides. My photos came out very well. Descending is more difficult, and we both used a rope going down the length of the north side to descend. The view from the top enables you to see several of the other buildings in the immediate vicinity and a few others over the tree tops. Since you are above the tallest tree, you can gain a very clear picture of how flat the peninsula is. There is not another object you height in sight as far as you can see. Alejandro had given us a guided tour of the ball court and some of the stone carvings, but for the last hour or so we were on our own. We regrouped at about 1:30, reboarded our van and proceeded a few miles to a restaurant. It was obviously designed for tours, but there was only one small group besides us when we arrived. The food was served buffet style, and since Edith and I both enjoy Mexican food, we were satisfied. Drinks were extra, but the lunch was included in Fantasy’s price. Entertainment was later provided in the form a four very young children dancing in native costumes. Tips of course were expected. By the time the dancing started the place had filled up with several bus loads from larger tours. We then returned to Cozumel and boarded the ferry which was 6:00 Cozumel time, but 7:00 ship time. Again the trip was a little rough for Edith, but I had no problem. On shore in Cozumel we went to a couple of Diamonds International stores to redeem charm coupons provided by the ship’s shore shopping guide, and got back on board just before 8:00. We went up to the Lido Buffet, but it was closed. We then decided to try the main dining room, which would have its last seating at 8:30. We showed up in our tour clothes, a polo shirt and shorts for me and equally casual clothes for Edith, and explained our situation to the Maitre’d. He graciously led us to one of the auxiliary dining rooms next to the main dining room where we joined other early seating diners who also had been on a ship’s Chichen Itza tour, so we had a full normal dinner service menu and service. Our conversation with the other diners reinforced the validity of our decision to buy our own tour. Not only was it cheaper, but the personalized service from our excellent guide, the comfort of the mini-van, and the lack of crowding at all stops contributed to a very relaxed exploration for a long day. We were both delighted with our adventure since this was a place we had both wanted to see, and it was well worth it. Debarkation We would land in Tampa at 8:00 A.M., and our flight back to Phoenix did not depart until 4:40; so we decided to buy a Tampa Tour from Holland American to occupy the time as well as provide transportation to the airport. HAL did not require luggage to be placed outside our cabin until 1:00 A. M.; and this is never a problem for us. Because we bought the tour we were given a debarkation card labeled A. Everyone else seemed to have numbers. We were forced to wait until after 9:00, but we were the first number called. Finding our luggage was easy and we were directed to our bus immediately outside the terminal building. The tour lasted about three hours and was highlighted by a visit to the former Tampa Bay Hotel, built by Henry Platt, a railroad tycoon who had been responsible for the development of Tampa in the late 1800’s. The hotel is now occupied by Tampa University, and is a truly wonderful relic of the Victorian era. We then went to Ybor City, which had been founded, also in the late 1800’s, by Cuban refugees from Spanish rule. They brought the cigar industry to that part of Florida, and there is still a cigar factory producing stogies. This is the same locale we had visited the night before our departure, and on this Saturday morning it featured an antique flea market. We then took our tour bus to the airport for our flight home. The debarkation tour cost $57.00, which was a little high, but we had time to kill and needed transportation to the airport in any event, so it was not that bad a deal, and the hotel/university was worth a visit. Shipboard Information All cruise ships put out daily newspapers announcing the ship’s activities, meal times etc. On Holland America it is called “On Board”. It is the smallest in terms of size that we have ever seen, and although it covers the necessary items, it seems very minimal compared to the much larger and more information daily sheets put out by Celebrity and Princess for example. Every noon there is an announcement of the ships location and other information by the Captain. Of interest was the fact that after we stopped in Grand Cayman, the announcement was by a new captain who said he would be taking over for the rest of the cruise. No reason was ever given. The room TV also contained the usual display called “Report from the Bridge” which shows location, sea condition, winds and air and sea temperature. We were also provided with the New York Times news digest, and 8 page, letter size affair which provides brief news stories, weather reports and sports; all very nice. Of course we could receive US CNN at all times. The problem with the Captain’s announcements was that they were not audible in our cabin, so we missed some of them. There were a few other “bingo” announcements, but certainly not many and not very annoying. Photo Service The grand sea tradition of horrid photos continues. The boarding picture was the only one we purchased, and was the only one that was any good. We did not do a formal night portrait. The Crew and the “No Tipping” policy Holland American has a reputation for excellent service, and we saw why. I have already mentioned the dining room staff, but all the servers at all the venues were similarly smiling, helpful and friendly. They all seem honestly cheerful and happy in their work. Our room steward was also friendly and smiling at all times, and when I requested a fresh towel from housekeeping after our steward had gone off duty, they had one delivered very promptly. The Guest Relations staff was also very nice, as were the shore excursion people in our limited contact with both departments. They did not have a bank desk per se, but Guest Relations made change when asked. The “No Tipping” policy still causes confusion, and HAL does little to help. The Cruise Director, as part of his debarkation talk, read the policy which simply states that HAL pays its people and therefore no tipping is required. Employees are not allowed to solicit tips. They did not, but neither have the crew on any other cruise line we have been on. But they are not forbidden to accept tips. The consensus at our table was to provide tips at about the same level as on other cruises, $7.00 per couple per day for our waiter and cabin steward, and $4.00 per couple per day for the assistant waiter; and we expect most people do the same. There are a few of the very expensive cruise lines which have a true no tipping policy in which crew members will politely refuse tips; but HAL’s ambivalence is merely frustrating. Overall Evaluation - Would we do it again or would we recommend it? Our final evaluation was that this cruise lived up to our expectations in virtually every respect. In one area, the food in the main dining room, it was better than anticipated, while in another, shipboard activities, it provided less that we expected. The land cruises were our own, and neither their success, very high in Jamaica and Chichen Itza; nor the shortcomings, the high car rental cost in Grand Cayman; can be laid at Holland American’s door. The appearance and decor of Veendam is most attractive, the public rooms very soothing, our stateroom almost all we could expect in its category and price range. The shipboard service in all departments was beyond reproach. The entertainment was weak, but not actively annoying as on Norwegian Sun. Our table companions were delightful and contributed to our enjoyment of the meals, but I guess HAL cannot claim credit for them either. But we have found that almost all the fellow passengers we have had at our tables, (and with the exception of Norwegian Sun, we have always had fixed seating), have been very pleasant. So the final rating on the success level for this cruise would be very high. Would we do it again? Probably not, since we have been to all three stops twice already. But for someone who has not been to the Western Caribbean, or who, like us, has had only one prior visit; this is a cruise to be recommended. Holland American is extremely professional once you are on board Its crew members’ dedication to passenger service is remarkable even in an industry which is generally marked by devotion to the too often forgotten maxim that the customer is always right. The food is well above average, and the general ship ambience is artistic and pleasing. We wanted a relaxing Caribbean trip with a tour of Chichen Itza and Jamaica, and we got what we hoped for. Bon Voyage!

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Feb 21, 2004

Western Caribbean

Excellent cruise! The staff were the nicest people I have ever met in my life. They were so nice I miss them! I want to go on the same cruise and same ship again, just different ports. I want to see the staff again! the food was great, desserts awesome, rooms were clean, everything was great What upset me was that it ended! I recommend this to anyone

  • New

Jan 3, 2004

Western Caribbean

My ENTIRE family took our FIRST EVER cruise with Holland America. from January 3rd to 10th for the Western Caribbean with stops at Grand Cayman Islands, Montego Bay, and Puerto Maya, Mexico. First, the Facts: SHIP SIZE: Decent, Mid-Range. ~5 passenger decks, 3 public decks, with Top Sports deck (basketball, volleyball, tennis, Table tennis) as well as an Observation Deck. FOOD: Very Good to Gourmet. Venues included one

formal dining hall, one casual cafeteria-styled hall, several small lounges and other service stations. Lox, prosciutto, jumbo shrimps, good soups, sandwiches and pizza made to order ... just for cafeteria styled venue. Formal Dining Hall has 5-star level entrees like venison in red wine sauce, steamed lobster (carefully split for ease of attack), filet mignon (perfectly made to order), prime rib roast, succulent sea bass, Beijing/peking duck .. these were just the entrees! My favorite dish on the cruise was the escargot poached in garlic butter, YUM. EXCURSIONS: Expensive! For a family of 5 and at an average of $70pp/day excursion, we ended up adding to our final bill another $200 pp from the three ports of call. The Ship's prices were approximately $30/day more than the SAME TRIP available from the booths at the ports. Also ALL of the Bus Drivers and GUIDES and BUS Storytellers blatantly asked for TIPS at the end. Common practice but on top of $70...Yikes! ACTIVITIES: OK. Daily Shows with a mix of comedians, circus acts, etc. Packed schedule of events with mix of sports, group walks, dance lessons, games, etc. Worth Noting is the Library full of excellent books (fiction, NF, etc), board games (inc. MahJong, Backgammon, etc.) to check out during the duration of cruise if you did not come prepared or ran out of reading material. Comfy leather-like chairs, too. WEATHER: Perfect. Sunny or Partly Sunny 60F-80F. EVERYDAY. PARTICIPANTS: Mostly Seniors. Some families with older (20+ age) children such as ourselves. Not too many children, but there will be if you cruise during Xmas or New Year's. Offer frequent cruisers incentive to cruise for free if more than 4-5 others reserve together. We were not given the option as first time cruisers (though in a party of five). SERVICE: Mixed Reviews Some of the staff were ultra friendly, and some were down right rude. The Good: Two of the BEST aspects of this HAL (Holland American Line) experience has been 1) the Dining Staff & the 2) Housekeeping Staff's services . The quality of these folks rival that of many fine dining restaurants & 5-star hotels. As someone who routinely dines out (in the NYC area) and loves to travel the world, I recognize excellent serves and work ethics immediately. The Bad: It was a complete shock when I realized that THREE of us (in a party of 5) were placed in a 2-people room , and that the HAL GUEST RELATIONS MANAGER, was most RUDE and DEROGATORY in her comments regarding our problem. Any FINE and REPUTABLE hotel, faced with a similar situation, would IMMEDIATELY and UNDOUBTEDLY offer a bigger room, or another room to accommodate for the mistake. We were NOT treated with courtesy nor respect in the least from their Guest Relations Manager (irony!), and began that cruise, my first and most likely last, on a very SOUR note. Get this: The If anything is wrong with your reservation, GOOD LUCK correcting it. You're STUCK on the boat. CANNOT in GOOD Conscience recommend this cruise. For ANYONE. The looks on my family's faces (and mine as well) when we heard what that lady said to us. Whatta Shame.

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Oct 24, 2003

Western Caribbean

From the moment we boarded the ship we were underwhelmed. The decor is bland, the food was blah, the service was not up to usual HAL standards. Our waiter barely spoke to anyone at our table, he continually messed up orders and was borderline surly except for the last night when he brightened up obviously hoping for a tip. We have mixed feelings about our cabin steward. He kept the cabin spotless and replenished soaps, shampoos etc.

every other day but we never saw him. He was invisible- he never even introduced himself on the day of boarding. We were in the 2nd highest cabin category- deluxe verandah suites and were impressed with the size and amenities of the cabin- it even had a Jacuzzi tub. I liked the smaller size of the ship but there were few activities provided other than those costing money such as art auctions, bingo etc. The selections in the shops were not as good as on previous cruises and other ships of both HAL and other lines. The Cruise Director had a warped sense of humor and seemed to think it was funny to run down the aisle during the bingo jackpot yelling "bingo" or to get on the loudspeaker by the pool and tell everyone to come running to see the whales only to say" oops sorry- that was a whale of a tale". The menu selections were too repetitive and the salad bars on the Lido deck were pathetic- offering mainly lettuce, tomatoes and some eggs. It was not replenished frequently enough and was not at all appetizing. Except for the last night's comedian, the entertainment was of a poor quality and not worth going to. The best things about the cruise were the casino staff who were friendly and actually rooting for us to win and the shore excursion staff who were very knowledgeable, friendly and most importantly helpful. The excursions offered in Belize and Guatemala were excellent and anyone going on this cruise should take the all day shore excursion in Guatemala that combine a visit to the ruins and a cruise on the lake. Fascinating and fun. We had a Mayan guide who gave us great insight into the Mayan culture. In Belize we toured the city and went to the zoo and saw some fascinating animals. Both countries offered excellent insight into the local culture. I wouldn't say we had a bad cruise- it just wasn't a good cruise. It did not live up to my expectations based on previous HAL cruises. It was bad enough to make us decide to try another cruise line for the next cruise.

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Sep 27, 2003

Vancouver to Los Angeles - Repositioning Cruise

EMBARKATION The Canada Place Pier is adjacent to the Pan Pacific Hotel where it is far more relaxing to wait (while having lunch or drinks) for your boarding number to be called. There was a glitch at the port that required all passengers forms to be entered manually, causing an unusual delay. We opted to check in - then returned to the hotel where we relaxed

for an hour before walking back to the cruise terminal. Boarding was swift once our number was called and we were personally escorted to our Verandah Suite # 171. CABIN The size of the cabin itself was 8 feet wide by 20 feet long. The closet and bathroom were about 8 by 5 and the verandah was another 8 x 5. So really -the entire square footage was only 240 square feet as opposed to the 285 square feet that it is supposed to be. The cabin was nicely appointed. We thought the bed was too hard and asked for an "egg crate" mattress to soften the one that gave me a back ache the first night. After that it was smooth sailing. Our attendant, Dino was great and was happy to "top sheet" our bed - leaving the bedspread off for the entire trip. The bedspreads are not attractive and the bed looks much more inviting with sheets on it - I think it is more sanitary as well. The balcony was great for having drinks before dinner and just stargazing at night. We left the door open the entire time and enjoyed the fresh sea air. No stale air in our cabin! We also brought on our own mineral water from Vancouver - and kept it along with our beer and soda in the refrigerator. DINING TIPS At dinner I brought my own wine (filled from a good French Bordeaux I had brought with me) in an airline wine screw top bottle - enough for a glass and was not charged a corkage fee. One night we brought in a good bottle of champagne and were charged a ten dollar corkage fee. (Much better than paying $159 for a bottle of Dom Perignon on board the ship!) The wine list onboard is quite basic and overpriced - so if any of you like a good glass of wine with your meal, either bring it yourself or pay exorbitantly for a mediocre bottle on ship. The Wine Steward was absolutely USELESS. The food was MUCH BETTER than I expected it to be. No one has complimented the Veendam in a while - and I think they should! The fact that we only had about 800 people on board for this short repositioning cruise may have had something to do with the quality of the food. The service and presentation was really five star - except for the salads - which were sort of airline clones. The salad dressing was not homemade (but it was ok). The prime rib came out very rare, just as we ordered and it was tender. As good as any land based restaurant. Food was always hot. Desserts to get: chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, strawberry rhubarb cobbler, passion fruit sorbet, rum raisin ice cream. The smoked salmon at breakfast was excellent!! The breads were fresh and well textured. Butter was chilled. Fruit was of high quality and ample. The Lido was a glorified cafeteria, but you could do very well at the salad bar, taco bar, pasta bar and not feel like you were eating institutional food. The waiters were eager to please and pleasant in all venues. Cappuccinos were free at the Rotterdam Dining room and at the Java Cafe next to the movie theater!! Really, I can't fault the service or the food - except we did hear that it was difficult to get hot tea from Room Service - it came luke warm. Our coffee was hot, but not very good. Bacon was plentiful, but very thin and the texture was strange. Sausage was very tasty. ENTERTAINMENT Sean Shea did a fantastic job of imitating celebrity singers - and could give Danny Ganz a run for his money. The Rosario Strings were very good and all the lounges were lively. The mix of people onboard was good. 50% 75 + and 25% 35-50 25% 50-75 A few kids. Formal night was interesting. People came in tuxes and in sports coats - very few formal evening gowns. It was nice to see everyone all cleaned up. I highly recommend the Veendam - especially if you are tired of the mega ship situation. People truly enjoyed themselves. The ship was immaculate. No one got sick. And there was no "weird vibration" or "awful sewer smell" to battle. All in all, I would book the Veendam again - and hope they refurbish the spa - which was a bit archaic. The massage was great - but the table was rickety - and was covered in towels, not sheets. They need to add eucalyptus oil to the steam room. The onboard pools were heated and the hot tubs were hot - jets were strong. Very pleasant experience - highly recommended.

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Mar 22, 2003

Western Caribbean

Everything on this cruise was perfect. It was a diverse population of all ages. Service was fantastic, as was the food. Nice dining options if you don't care to go formal in the dining room. If you are looking for a true vacation, this is it. We will cruise HAL again.

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Jun 1, 2002

Alaska Glacier Discovery

In early June 2002, my wife, favorite grandson Philip, and I embarked on a two-week Alaska cruise aboard Holland America’s (HA) ms Veendam. We chose back-to-back cruises between Vancouver and Seward. The two itineraries differed enough to justify booking a two way, and we reserved early enough so we stayed in the same mini suite. Normally we choose a standard outside cabin, but we wanted a little extra space to accommodate nine-year-old Philip.

The balcony was convenient when we didn’t feel like going on the public decks. For those not familiar with HA’s ‘S’ class ships, Veendam has marvelous forward viewing decks. They’re totally unobstructed and provide enough space so we were never crowded. Veendam’s deck plans, etc are available at: http://www.hollandamerica.com/fivestarfleet/veendam.htm. For pre and post cruise we flew from Houston, TX to Seattle, WA, where we picked up a rental car and drove the remainder of the trip, @ 150 miles. We were using frequent flyer miles, and Continental asked 50,000 miles to Vancouver and 25,000 to Seattle. Rental cars are pricey, but it was still the better choice. I-5 is an easy drive, and the scenery is great. Consider driving as an alternative if you have to change planes in Seattle. The airlines insist on a two-hour time difference between flights. Adding up the wait time and the flying time between SEA and YVR plus a taxi to your hotel, the total time lapsed flying vs. driving is near zero during weekends. There are shuttle buses available, but they make so many stops that their travel time is too long. We encountered virtually no delays at the border. The wait time to cross was roughly ten minutes each way. The document inspection was more thorough crossing into Canada then returning. The Canadian inspector closely inspected our ‘permission letter’, which allowed Philip to travel with us. On the return, the U.S. inspector asked if we had permission. When I offered it to him, he waved us on without looking at it. The Canadian inspector in Vancouver also gave the letter a thorough reading when we disembarked. During the cruises there was no immigration or customs clearance northbound; however, southbound a Canadian customs form was required for disembarkation. We arrived a day early and stayed at the Pan Pacific Hotel. It’s expensive, but it is conveniently connected to Canada Place pier where our cruise ship docks, and has great harbor views. The hotel restaurants are excellent. You’ll find an alternative food court underground on the street side of the hotel. There is an entrance to the underground from the Pan Pacific’s front lobby. Boarding Veendam began at about 1:30PM. The waiting lounge has no concession stands. It is a large warehouse like area with check-in desks and straight back chairs for passengers. Sail-away was Sunday. Monday was spent cruising up the incredibly beautiful inside passage. This is your best day for viewing whales from the ship. We saw a number of humpbacks that evening, both before and during dinner (late sitting). Mind the Captain’s announcements regarding the best sighting times. He was invariably on target. While on-board Philip enjoyed the activities and games conducted by the kid’s club, aka Club HAL. Club HAL schedule for both port and sea days included an evening session from 8:00 – 9:45. During sea days two-hour sessions were added morning and afternoon. The children were organized into three age groups: Kids 5 –8, Tweens 8 –12 and Teens 13 – 17. Besides the on-board activities, the shore excursion desk scheduled tours in each port just for children. The tours were age grouped for 6 -12 and 13 – 19. How well your child enjoys Club HAL depends entirely on the directors because HA provides little or no support. There is no specific playroom dedicated. Most sessions are in unoccupied and unfurnished meeting rooms, usually the Half Moon or Hudson. On one occasion they were ejected early from their scheduled and reserved room and had to complete their session in an adjoining corridor. They were still intent on having fun, but the hurt was evident in their eyes. Unfortunately, adults often treat children as non-persons with little regard for their feelings. The more active sessions were conducted in the pool area and the Sports Deck. HA has converted a dedicated playroom on Maasdam, but fleet wide conversion is progressing at a glacier pace. Philip was very fortunate to have Sara and Solange as directors. Both clearly love children and know how to interact with them. Philip is a very social child and each time looked forward to his Club HAL meetings. Each cruise culminates in the kids performing a musical routine during the RockinRolldies show on Saturday afternoon. Philip celebrated his ninth birthday during the cruise. He wanted to be in Club HAL that night so our dining room supervisor, Andre, arranged for a birthday cake to be delivered to the meeting room. It was a luscious black and white sheet cake inscribed in his honor. Sara organized the kids into a birthday party and gave Philip a small gift. Club HAL, principally due to Sara, was a major reason Philip didn’t want the journey to end. He asked to cruise back-to-back-to-back ad infinitum. A “Naturalist” was assigned to Veendam. Kurt offered daily talks on numerous subjects significant to our trip. Subjects such as “Fire and Ice” and “Glaciers, Rivers of Ice” were explored. Kurt also scheduled “desk” sessions for one-on-one discussions and questions. While cruising glaciers, he provided a running narrative over the PA system. Kurt possesses a perfect voice for this, a smooth baritone which you can mentally tune in or out at will. During these times, he was usually on the forward promenade viewing deck. Entering Glacier Bay, Veendam boarded Park Rangers who also provided narration and talks. Later in the afternoon, the rangers set up a table in The Crow’s Nest Lounge selling mementoes and souvenirs of Glacier Bay. Bring your passport to have a Glacier Bay visa stamp imprinted. Our northbound itinerary included a day cruising Hubbard Glacier. The second day southbound we cruised College Fjord, and the third day was dedicated to Glacier Bay. Margery Glacier was best for calving. Margery shed frequently, throwing off building sized chunks of ice. Viewing glaciers is a magical experience. There is dead silence, interrupted only by the shotgun sounds of the glacier cracking and the crashes and moaning of the ice falling into the bay. For those not familiar with Holland America, a mention of age demographics is appropriate. HA is famous for catering to an older clientele. This is evident in the large number of repeat cruisers; some have accrued hundreds of days cruising with HA. Since school was out, there were youngsters on board, but not in the numbers you’ll find on Royal Caribbean or Carnival. The majority of people choosing ‘Cruise-Tours’ scheduled their Alaska land segment pre-cruise, boarding Veendam in Seward. These passengers skewed to younger and more active families with children. There were twenty-three children in Philip’s Club HAL group during our second week, as opposed to thirteen the first week. In Holland America’s favor are the mid-sized ships with fewer passengers, exceptional dining room and cabin service, few in-your-face promotions, low key attractive interior décor with an abundance of genuine art works throughout the public areas, a couple of semi-secluded lounges, a “Magrodome” with a cover for the Lido pool area which can be closed in inclement weather, and a number of small amenities such as a free coffee bar serving espresso, cappuccino, cookies and occasional hors d’oeuvres, afternoon tea service in The Explorers Lounge, and a proper movie theater showing current films. Did I mention the heated pools? Swimming is practical even in Alaska. Each day we enjoyed a late afternoon dip. A concluding word about personal choice: if you require a live-wire party atmosphere with ice-skating rinks and rock climbing walls, Holland America is probably not for you. However, young or old, if you prefer a more stress-free and stately environment with excellent service and lots of small amenities, then HA is absolutely perfect. We sailed Veendam November 2001 E. Caribbean. At that time there was a notable staff shortage in the Rotterdam Dining Room, resulting in protracted two hour plus meals. This time the Rotterdam was fully staffed so we zipped through dinner in record time. Philip usually ate earlier in The Lido, but some nights, notably formal and semi-formal (What can I say. The kid likes to dress up.), he joined us in the dining room. The service was prompt enough that he never became antsy. There is a kid’s menu, but it’s the same each night. Besides, ordering from the main menu allowed Philip to discover new culinary delights. Some he liked; some he didn’t. That’s a good thing. Besides the glorious scenery, the main reason for an Alaskan cruise is, of course, the ports. We scheduled shore excursions both through the ship and with independent operators. All of the ship’s tours were first rate with exceptional guides. Independent tours offer flexibility of schedule as well as a more intimate and personalized experience. They are generally less expensive, as well. Alaska ports make it very easy to book independent operators. I reserved most of ours before departure, but many can be booked right on the pier. Ketchikan, for example, has a shed on the dock with about twenty different tour desks lined up waiting for you. If you’re after a flight seeing or glacier landing type tour, you should advance book. Nearly all the tour operators have web sites. These are easy to find by going to each community’s web page where you’ll usually find links to the tours. Most of the Saxman Village, Gold Panning or Hiking type tours can wait till the last minute. Our best ship’s tours were with Allen Marine in Sitka. The Sea Otter Quest, a three-hour trip, was most notable. Although Allen Marine employs large boats, the narration and amenities are excellent. Their boats can take up to 150 passengers. Ours was not that large. I didn’t make a head count, but I’d estimate we had about ninety souls on board. The boat has a totally enclosed lower deck and a partially enclosed upper. I’d urge you to take an upper deck seat where there is a protective ‘U’ shaped wraparound glass windscreen that is open in the rear allowing air circulation throughout. Because the lower deck is totally enclosed, there is little airflow. The atmosphere inside becomes extremely close, inducing seasickness. The ride out to the viewing areas is quite rough and at high speed. It’s a lot of fun, but when the boat slowed down and became still for wildlife viewing, every below deck youngster, including ours, became ill. I took Philip upstairs and some kind folks let us sit with them until he recovered. Those who stayed below remained semi-comatose for the rest of the tour. Along the way we saw one humpback whale, and rafts of sea otters. On the return southbound leg we took the Silver Bay Cruise. This cruise is in an enclosed bay, so it was a much smoother ride. It culminates in a visit to a salmon hatchery. Our best independent tour was a three hour Whale Watching Cruise with Orca Enterprises, aka Capt. Larry, while in Juneau. Capt Larry’s boat is custom built and seats a maximum of thirty-two passengers; however, he normally books only twenty-four, leaving extra wiggle room. The “Awesome Orca” is a forty-two foot water-jet propulsion craft with an enclosed lower deck. There is a roomy and comfortable exposed viewing deck on the aft end. The top deck is totally open for SRO viewing. Up-top limit is eight at a time, so we all periodically rotate. The trip through Auke Bay to the viewing area is at high speed, but the waters are calm throughout. The still waters in the bay combine with the smoother jet engines for a far smoother ride than our Sitka experience. We saw a number of whales, one of whom breeched directly in front of our bow. Two humpbacks were deep diving in tandem as a ballet duo, showing their flukes with each dive. Sea Lions and Dall’s Porpoises were abundant. Alas, no seals or orcas appeared today. Orca Enterprises is a truly first class operation. Capt. Larry provides the narration and finds the wildlife. His web site is: http://www.alaskawhalewatching.com/. You need to book this tour about one month in advance. For the northbound leg, we had booked a helicopter/glacier landing tour in Juneau. The ship contracts with Temsco Helicopter who is the only operator licensed to land on Mendenhall Glacier. The weather was rainy, but open for flying, so we took off. Unfortunately, when we arrived over Mendenhall the weather shut down. Landings were cancelled and we had to return to base. One advantage of a back-to-back cruise is the potential to make up for lost opportunities. Since I had scheduled Orca Enterprises for the southbound leg, I stopped by their office on the pier and asked Becky to schedule Coastal Helicopter in conjunction with the boat tour. This permitted Orca to coordinate our boat tour and helicopter trip. The shuttle bus from the boat dropped us off at Coastal’s base. Coastal took us flight seeing over a few glaciers and landed on Norris Glacier. We had a beautiful sunny day, so both the boat trip and glacier landing came off great. Coastal is a much smaller operation than Temsco, but our pilot was skilled and an excellent tour guide. A don’t miss is the Raptor Center in Sitka. You don’t need to book a tour. The Center provides frequent guided tours through their site. Each tour finishes with a video and a talk by one of the Naturalists. A Metro shuttle bus stops at the dock, runs through town out to The Raptor Center and circles back every half hour. The shuttle fare is $7.00, good all day. The Raptor center’s web site is at: http://www.alaskaraptor.org/. There are great photo ops here. While on the subject of eagles, you’ll be pleased to know that they are no longer on the endangered species list, and they are absolutely everywhere. Our first stop on land, in Ketchikan, we stopped in a wooded area. There were eagles in the trees just above who proceeded to fly out and return in dive-bomber fashion. It was a marvelous display. Our tour guide said that they are well paid! Eagles cover the harbor islands and rocks in Sitka. Their favorite food is McDonald’s French fries. If your schedule allows time in Seward, be sure to book a dog sled tour and ride with Tom Seavy’s Ididaride. The Seavy family breeds and raises dogs for the annual Iditarod 1100-mile race. You will visit the kennels, pet the puppies and take a bumpy but fun ride on a sled behind twelve of the best quality sled dogs in the world. Seavy’s kennels are about ten minutes from Seward. Give them a call and they’ll pick you up at the cruise terminal gate. Don’t miss this, especially if you have kids with you. There are really great photo ops here. Seavy’s web site is at: http://www.alaskaone.com/ididaride/. Also in Seward set aside an hour or two for the Alaskan Sea Life Center. No tour guide is necessary for this. It’s conveniently located nearby restaurants in the center of town. http://www.alaskasealife.org/ Another first rate independent operator is Ketchikan City Tours who offer a Sea Kayak tour. We were provided with excellent guides and safe, well maintained and easy to operate kayaks. This is another tour you can book dockside. They’re at desk #11 and their web site is: http://citytours.alaskamade.com/. This cruise was the experience of a lifetime. MS Veendam is a first rate ship, maintained to the highest standards and staffed with the best possible people. As for our glimpse of Alaska, only a gifted artist can depict its beauty and grandeur, words can’t suffice. I certainly can’t describe it. You just have to experience Alaska for yourself. And don’t forget your binoculars!

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Dec 22, 2001

December 22, 2001

"It's good to be on a well run ship." So says the little card placed on our pillows each night by the cabin steward aboard the MS Veendam. The Veendam is without question a well-run ship, and our Eastern Caribbean cruise (Dec. 22 2001 - Dec. 29 2001) on it was very good indeed. Everything was completely ship-shape: The ship itself is beautiful, the staff and crew are friendly, attentive, and helpful, the on-ship activities are fun, varied,

and planned to a "T," and the food is nothing short of excellent. The entire cruise experience from the moment we boarded was civilized, elegant, pampering, and exquisite. For seven days we felt very special and very welcome. The ship: The Veendam is large. Though it's by no means the largest cruise ship in the world, or even the largest in Holland America's fleet, it is nevertheless an imposing object. If you've never been on a cruise ship before, you'll have to imagine a large, floating resort. It's at least 12 stories high. One turn around the Promenade Deck is a quarter of a mile. It's easy to get lost, though there are plenty of maps, deck plans, direction signs, and staff to steer you toward your goal. Lots of alcoves, rooms, and passageways are available for those who like to explore. Even if the weather is bad, there is enough space inside that you won't feel crowded or claustrophobic. Outside, the ship is, well, ship-like, with inch-thick steel plate, huge nautical bolts, and teak decks. If you want fresh air there's the Promenade Deck mentioned previously, which runs along the perimeter of the ship. This deck is covered so you can go for a walk or lounge in one of the many deck chairs without getting wet even during rain. Other open decks on the upper part of the ship provide spectacular 360-degree views. Inside, the Veendam is essentially a luxurious hotel, with shops, lounges, offices, bars, TV rooms, restaurants, auditoriums, etc. Nothing feels cramped or abbreviated. The interior is beautifully decorated. Every lounge, bar, and room has its own character, though all share the same superb quality of decoration. The lighting, subdued for warmth and intimacy, is particularly striking. Quiet spots to sit and chat, have a drink, read, or just watch the ocean go by through one of the many large windows are readily available. The staff and crew: The staff and crew of the Veendam are substantially responsible for the warm sense of welcome you feel each minute of the cruise. Every staff member -- every single one -- is enthusiastically helpful and gracious. When you pass someone in a hallway, expect a cheerful greeting and maybe a question about whether anything can be done to make your stay even more enjoyable. The smiles and concern for your comfort are completely sincere. You feel like a welcome and honored guest in someone's (enormous, floating) home. This isn't simply good service: The staff and crew give every impression of deriving their personal happiness from that of their guests. After seven days of this kind of attention, it's hard not to feel sad when you say goodbye on the last night. Food and drink: Holland America has a well-deserved reputation for fine dining aboard its ships, and the Veendam is no exception. Food served in the Rotterdam Dining Room ranges in quality from excellent to oh-my-god. The Rotterdam is a world-class five-star restaurant. Dinner is served in two seatings, one at 6:00 pm and the second at about 8:00 pm. On some nights "formal" attire is necessary (business suits or tuxedos for men, gowns for ladies). The Lido Restaurant serves food buffet style, but don't expect your high-school cafeteria nightmare of institutional chipped beef on toast served by surly kitchen staff in hair nets. Food here ranges in quality from good to very good, with an extensive variety. Burgers and dogs are available next to the Lido Pool, and a coffee shop serves cookies and pastries, as well as coffee, cappuccino, etc. You can also order room service at any time. All food is included in the cruise price. Drinks, both alcoholic and soft, must be purchased. No money changes hands during the cruise. Instead, any purchases are charged to your shipboard account, which is settled at the end of the cruise. Drinks are somewhat pricey, though iced tea and lemonade are always available on a complimentary basis. Activities and entertainment: There's always plenty to do on the Veendam. You can play basketball or tennis on the Sports Deck in net-covered courts, jog, walk, work out in a well-equipped exercise room, or swim in one of the two pools. Holland America has a "Passport to Fitness" program where you can earn points, redeemable for souvenirs, for participating in athletic activities. If you prefer more sedate pastimes, there's a wide variety of shows, talks, art auctions, trivia games, bingo, wine tasting, etc. Each day a newsletter is delivered to your stateroom with a schedule of the day's activities. All activities are well planned and well executed. For entertainment, there are great variety shows held each night after dinner in Rubens Lounge, movies shown in a surprisingly large theater, TV, various special shows and audience participation shows held during the day, and dancing (to live music or at a disco) at night. One of our favorite shipboard experiences was the Rosario Strings, a musical ensemble consisting of two violins, a bass, and a piano. They played "Palm Court"-style light classics in the Explorer's Lounge at various times during the day and in the dining room during dinner. Very civilized indeed. The bottom line: The MS Veendam is a wonderful place to spend a vacation: A floating luxury resort with excellent dining, a caring and attentive staff and crew, and a plethora of entertainment and activities. I would recommend the Veendam for those seeking a quiet, refined, and elegant vacation experience.

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Nov 28, 2001

Eastern Caribbean

We took our first cruise last year on the Holland America Veendam. Our overall impression? We want to do it again. From the moment we arrived at the Ft. Lauderdale airport until we took back off to Texas, we had the time of our life. The trip was not without a few bumps but overall, all was magnificent. We opted for our own flight to Ft. Lauderdale rather than take the cruise/flight combination. We saved a few hundred dollars

by doing it that way since the cruise was planned with less than thirty days notice. For those who are worried about the trip to the docks from the airport, don't worry. There is enough shuttling back and forth that it seemed every cab driver knew the route. Cost of the cab fare for the two of us was about the same as the shuttle bus. For as well run as Holland America is, the boarding process left something to be desired. After getting through check in, we had to wait several hours to board the ship. During that time we waited in a lobby similar to that in an airport. Not exactly uncomfortable, but it was a bit boring with little to do until our number was called. Part of the cause of this bottleneck is that everyone is personally escorted to their rooms by a crew member. A nice touch which provided a pleasant preview of the attention we got for the rest of the cruise. The best description of our Holland America cruise was easy going professionalism with a great deal of pampering. The crowd on the ship was generally an older set but there were some kids (we saw about a dozen kids being herded around by the club HAL crewmembers. They seemed to be having a good time). It seemed that a significant percentage of the passengers were post-retirement but there were enough younger people that we did not feel out of place. The net result was that the crowds were not unduly rowdy although they were fun. Generally the social life on the ship concluded around 11 PM although people did party in the Crows Nest lounge until well after midnight. We only made it to one of the midnight buffets and the crowds were relatively light. Shipboard activities were fairly relaxed but there was plenty of things to do. There were a few organized activities like a putting competition and exercise classes but most people just relaxed by the pools, enjoyed the music, and took it easy. The ship seemed to empty out when we made landfall so shipboard activities those days must have been quite sparse in participation. One of the best things about the cruise was the food. The Lido buffet was open for breakfast, lunch, and supper, as well as for the midnight buffets. There was a theme for most of the meals, so there was quite a bit of variety. Quality of the food was decidedly better than most buffets. In addition to the hot lines, there was a large salad bar, dessert tray, and ice cream area. My favorite dessert was by far the bread pudding. On the days when the ship was really pitching and I was not that hungry, I could always be persuaded to go after the bread pudding. The crown of dining was the Rotterdam dining room. Atmosphere and then some! I was a bit worried that the two formal nights would have the passengers significantly overdressed for the room but that was far from the case. The setting was magnificent, the service was spectacular (although our busboy was actually better than our server at meeting our needs), and the food was both beautifully presented and delicious. One night my wife could not decide between the duck and the lobster- so she had both. One major complaint. Holland America charges for soft drinks which primarily came in cans. If you asked, you could get bottled soda for a premium but the selection was quite limited. Most of the drinks were Coca Cola products and there was no Dr. Pepper. We ended up going ashore twice to find Dr. Pepper and Pepsi. Shipboard entertainment in the main lounge was quite good. The revues by the ship's cast rivaled that of the better theme parks. Not quite main room Vegas but still entertaining. The "name" entertainment was not really well known although the comic has appeared on the Tonight show and the juggler was award winning. Both were well worth seeing and were not so well known that they were too "big" to associate with the passengers. I do not want this review to grow overlong. If interested we have pictures of the ship, the shore excursions, and an assortment of recollections and reflections at our web site www.HollandAmericaVeendam.com

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Nov 24, 2001

Eastern Caribbean

M/S Veendam, Eastern Caribbean Nov 24 – Dec 1 Embarkation/Disembarkation: Departed Houston, TX for Fort Lauderdale the Friday after Thanksgiving. We arrived at the airport two hours prior to departure. It took about fifteen minutes to check in and go through security. Security changes are mostly cosmetic. There’s no difference in handling of checked luggage. The same security guards are on duty as before 9-11, but

an occasional National Guard troop has been added to the scenery. Major difference is that security guards realize that passengers are entirely intimidated and can be easily bullied about. Guards undisguisedly enjoy barking at people, telling them where to queue. The guard on the security X-Ray takes a little more time viewing carry-ons, and no hand checking of anything is allowed. Photo IDs are required everywhere, but no one takes a really close look; flea market IDs would likely do. The airline personnel are still courteous and friendly. At Port Everglades, vehicles must go through security gates to enter the port area. Guards briefly scan documents. Although we went through, I’m still not sure if they required photo ID or boarding documents. They seemed too bored to care, either way. Boarding the ship was the usual slow process, bogged down by the photographers. Here too, photo IDs are required. A photo ID is required at all times when leaving or entering the ship. This means you carry a minimum of four cards: Personalized ship’s ID, Room key/card, photo ID, and a credit card (or similar) for the room safe. No, the ship’s ID won’t work for the safe because there’s no data in the card’s magnetic strip. Since we had a 12N return flight, and being obsessively paranoid, I badgered the poor girl at the front desk until she gave me a ‘first off’ disembarkation number. Every passenger on board must clear immigration before anyone can leave the ship when disembarking from a non-sequential United States port, in this case our homeport. All had cleared by 8:30AM, and we were at the airport nearly three hours before our flight time! We were early enough that it once again took only about fifteen minutes to get through to the boarding gate. However, a little later I looked out and saw an awful long line waiting to go through security. So, reading newspapers and drinking coffee until it was time to board the aircraft trumped standing in line(s). The guards seem to love forming and reforming snaked lines, periodically barking at the cattle (previously known as customers) to “line up over there. No, not there, there!” I wouldn’t resent the officious attitudes so much, if these folks were properly trained and background screened for the job, and if the security were truly improved vis-à-vis European airport procedures. Having said all that, the security changes have resulted in limits to carryon luggage, a major enhancement for comfort and convenience. The Veendam: The fourth of the Statendam class ships, the Veendam is in excellent condition. There is no sign of wear in any of the public areas. The cabins, too, are equally well maintained. For those not familiar with HAL’s ships, the public areas are concentrated on two decks, plus the Lido. Except for The Crow’s Nest, a large viewing lounge forward on deck 12, the other lounges are on the upper promenade deck, which is dominated by the casino. The largest of these lounges is The Ocean Bar, which specializes in small dance bands and the music is mostly swing, waltz and cha-cha. The Explorer’s Lounge regularly offers an evening fare of classical style string quartets. The Crow’s Nest has late night disco offerings. There’s also a small piano bar. Occasionally, and during some sail-a-ways, there is a band on the lido deck, so there’s a little something for everyone. The San Juan sail-a-way featured a steel band on the aft deck pool area, a great place to watch the nighttime departure from San Juan and Fort Morro. A saxophone led the steel band, and, so help me, they played a Glenn Miller number. Yes, even in The Caribbean, Holland America is for the older set. The Wajang Theatre, a full screen cinema, offers current films and the ever-popular fresh popped popcorn. The show lounge is large with two seating levels and has good site lines. However, the majority of the seats are uncushioned barrel chairs, real back killers. The show offerings are two major variety shows with full cast, and an assortment of magician, comic and juggler acts the other nights. There are also the ubiquitous art auctions, normally conducted out of the way in the Ocean Bar. Unfortunately, the silent auction littered the Java Café and atrium areas with its prints. This litter seems more appropriate for the parent company, not Holland America. The Java Café is a favorite offering, at no extra charge, espresso, cappuccino and properly brewed regular and decaf coffee during daylight hours. You’ll always find a tray of freshly baked cookies and often a side table of pastries or hors d’oeuvres. You’ll also find a fitness center, internet café (which offers unlimited use for $99.95), beauty/massage spa, photo gallery and an assortment of boutique shops. For children ages 5-17 Holland America offers Club HAL, which provides a full schedule of activities during sea days. Although there were few kids on board this cruise, the Club HAL director carried through with the games and crafts, even when only two or three children were in attendance. A special soft drink package can be purchased for $17.50 for 14 soft drinks. This is not an unlimited “soda card”, and according to front desk personnel can only be used at the bars, which rules it out for children. The dining room is large and comfortable, the service always outstanding. There is no alternative restaurant on The Veendam; however, the Lido buffet offers an excellent option to the main dining room. The Lido buffet’s ice cream bar is open throughout the day, and again during midnight snack time from 11:30PM-12:30AM. There are two formal nights during which most gentlemen wear suits. We saw maybe 25-30 percent tuxedos. The emphasis is on formal night. The great majority of passengers adhere to the dress code throughout the evening. The food was absolutely the best I’ve experienced on a cruise ship, or for that matter in many restaurants. From appetizer through dessert the emphasis was on quality and presentation. All of the seafood entrees were fresh and properly cooked. Amazingly, the meat entrees were always served to order. Medium rare came to the table medium rare! I don’t know how they accomplish that for 600 guests at each seating, but they did. The standard cabins are very comfortable. Outside cabins are large at 197 sq ft, the inside cabins are only slightly smaller at 186 sq ft. The verandah suites, aka mini-suites, are a roomy 284 sq ft including the balcony, which occupies 63 sq ft. The stateroom TVs offer live CNN and TNT and an array of movie channels, mostly current releases. There is a self-service laundry on each cabin deck. The Crew and Staff: The service staff are all either from The Philippines or Indonesia. The dining staff is entirely Indonesian. Every one of the staff personnel is required to attend a Holland America training school before serving on board. This preparation is apparent in their extraordinary proficiency. Their gregarious and friendly nature, though, is a result of culture and upbringing. They are absolutely delightful people. Be sure to attend their crew shows. They’re the best afloat. And please don’t stiff them. Holland America’s policy is tipping not required, but you ought to compensate them as you would the staff on any cruise line. Most of the crew on The Veendam is British, including Captain Jonathan Peters, who could double as the cruise director. He’s very smooth and humorous, characteristically British. The Ports: First stop, Half Moon Cay, Bahamas, 8AM – 4PM, the only tender port. Due to reported high winds, which were not in evidence, all water sport excursions were cancelled. So there was no parasailing, diving, fishing, kayak adventure, banana boat ride – not even the glass bottom boat. There was, however, a lovely powdery sand beach and crystal clear water. Water “toys’ are available for rental, and a barbecue lunch is served up beachside. The far end of the beach area is designated for snorkeling. You can snorkel there, but all you’ll see is a sandy bottom and the very occasional rogue fish. In a so far unsuccessful effort to attract fish, Holland America has placed what appear to be large upside down strawberry planters throughout this portion of the bay. Day three, San Juan, P.R., 8AM – 12M. The ships dock directly in Old San Juan, which retains much of its historical Spanish heritage and architecture. There are a number of attractions here, including the popular El Morro Castle. If you follow the ‘walking tour’, it’s recommended that you taxi up to El Morro, and walk downhill from there. On your return, take a rest stop in one of the plazas and enjoy a cup of excellent Puerto Rico coffee from the small kiosk there (NOT Wendy’s or McDonalds). In addition to the many attractive historical sites, there are numerous shops. Do not miss “The Butterfly People”, within easy walking distance from the ship. Their displays are unimaginably beautiful. The butterfly gallery exhibits a number of artistic arrangements sealed in Lucite boxes, and all for sale. But, beware; this place will do serious damage to your pocketbook. You can sample their work at http://butterflypeople.com/. The ship offers a number of tours. The most popular are the rainforest excursions. You can choose either a driving or walking tour. Each takes about 4-½ hours. Since we lived in Puerto Rico for a few years while serving in the USAF, we had previously traveled most of this region. We just wandered Old Town, shopped, and made a huge donation to The Butterfly People - irresistible. Finally, know that no one may go ashore until the ship has been cleared and US immigration has seen everyone on board, whether going ashore or not. Naturally, since this was the first US port, a number of passengers delayed disembarkation for more than an hour. Day four, St. Thomas, USVI, 7AM – 5PM. Unfortunately, swells were extremely bad and roiled up the bottom, so the diving/snorkeling trips were called off. We were on The Champagne Catamaran. Since snorkeling was impossible, the boat’s captain decided to take us to a beach on Greater St. James Island. He’d never visited this beach before, and for the sake of future passengers, he should never go again. The beach is extremely rocky, very small and the bottom of the bay covered with sea grass. It was a totally disagreeable location. With all the beautiful beaches on the US Virgin Islands, we went to this piece of garbage. Although, the Mimosas and snacks were ok, the trip was a dud. But wait, Nassau is about to make up for it all. You can easily take independent beach trips at St Thomas. Taxis are plentiful, and there are ferries between St Thomas and St John where you’ll find the best diving/snorkeling beaches. If you want a beach experience sans snorkeling, Magens Bay is probably your best and most convenient choice. Since St Thomas, also a US port, immediately followed San Juan, it was not necessary to clear immigration. Day six, Nassau, Bahamas, 12:30PM – 6:30PM. What a great diving/snorkeling location. Here too the swells had limited the dive trips, but our boat captain took us to sheltered ‘Angelfish Reef’ where we enjoyed a magical coral garden and hundreds of fish. Only at Roatan Bay have I enjoyed such a variety. This was absolutely marvelous. The water was so crystal clear I was able to get a number of great underwater photos. I can’t imagine our scheduled dive on ‘Thunderball Reef’ surpassing this place. The water, however, was a bit cold, and without wet suit protection my torso chilled after about 45 minutes. This trip more than made up for the two previous disappointments. Wrap up: Despite some weather frustrations, this was a pleasant voyage with good ports. The ship is well cared for and is a comfortable size, 55,451 tons 1,266 passengers. It is easy to transit, and offers many places to relax.  A major negative worth mentioning was the freezing cold water in both pools, making them virtually unusable. The Jacuzzis were also too cold. However, since the pools were suitable only for penguins and a tablemate from Pennsylvania, the Jacuzzis got a lot of use. With barely tepid temperatures, I hope they put in lots of chlorine. We had one moderately rough sea day, and the stabilizers seemed to have little effect. There was lots of rocking and rolling. The highlights were the ship’s crew and staff and the cuisine in both the main dining room and The Lido buffet. As Chairman Kaga would say, “Haute Cuisine!” Unless you are looking for a party cruise, Holland America, our favorite by far, offers an excellent product. I not only recommend this ship, but we’ve already booked back-to-back Alaska cruises (north bound Hubbard Glacier, south bound Glacier Bay) on The Veendam for June 2002. Bon Voyage!

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Nov 10, 2001

Eastern Caribbean

Review of Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard MS Veendam 10th November 2001. We live in England. We cruised in 2000 aboard the Maasdam on a Western Caribbean cruise and were so impressed with the service and comfort aboard Maasdam that this year we booked aboard sister ship Veendam for a 7day Eastern Caribbean cruise. We have previously cruised twice aboard QE2 and once on the MS Funchal. Holland America impressed us enormously the

previous year, despite a trip that had nothing but monsoon rains for the whole time at sea! We were anxious to see whether it was just Maasdam or whether other ships in the HAL fleet were as good. We need not have worried. Veendam was every bit as good and better in some ways. HAL do not advertise in the UK and it was not the easiest to book. There are always difficulties in getting hold of an up to date brochure, a shame really, because the HAL product is ideally suited to the discerning UK market. Having plenty of frequent flyer miles, we had booked a cruise only and flew in a few days earlier with British Airways. We hired a car from Miami and drove up to Ft Lauderdale. We had a superb (upgraded) room at the Sheraton Yankee Clipper which is situated right on the beach at Ft Lauderdale. We passed a very comfortable few days there enjoying hotel, beach and shopping. Security We left our hired car at the Alamo depot and took the shuttle to the terminal. There were road blocks at the entrance to Port Everglades, but as there were 5 large ships in port that day there was plenty of traffic and no one was being stopped. Arriving at the pier we went straight to a booth and presented our documents which were quickly processed. Boarding commenced about 2pm and we were aboard by 3pm. There was a number of armed National Guardsmen patrolling, which, although comforting, was somewhat disconcerting to we British whose policemen are not normally armed. We had to show photo ID at the gangway and this was necessary every time we rejoined the vessel after an excursion ashore. A coastguard vessel escorted us out of Ft Lauderdale and into and out of San Juan. The Ship. Veendam was in excellent condition. The great thing about HAL is that all in this class of ships are laid out in exactly the same way so once you have found your bearings on one ship, you can find your way around all of them. There were lavish arrangements of fresh flowers everywhere and the ship was spotlessly clean. I only had two complaints - there was a stain on our bedspread and our balcony door had a really loud squeak which annoyed both us and our neighbours. This was reported before we went ashore at Half Moon Cay and was oiled by the time we returned. By the end of the week, however, it was back! I also noticed, during the course of the cruise, that whilst on Maasdam crew seemed always to be washing windows, on Veendam this practice was omitted. The Food. My wife had been unwell in Ft Lauderdale and was advised by doctors to eat a very low fat diet. We had not been able to advise the ship of this requirement beforehand and we were a little concerned that this could cause problems. On explaining the situation to the Maitre d’, however, our fears were dispelled. He could not have been kinder or more solicitous, bringing her menus 24 hours in advance, advising and ensuring that her dietary needs were met, even going to the length of cooing up a special order if the menu was unsuitable. This was real service. It was all handled very discreetly and with a great sense of care and thought. We had requested and got a table for 2 in the second sitting, located next to the glass balcony enabling us to see everything that went on. Our dining room team were pleasant, courteous and so very efficient. Each evening I chose from the menus and found the food to be of a high standard, beautifully presented, and always piping hot. They even managed to cook my steaks and beef exactly as I wished – no mean feat when there are 600 people at the service. Desserts were light and well made, the only exception being a rather ordinary chocolate mousse which was paraded round the dining room. The “running of the moose” (sic), was hailed as a new departure in dining room entertainment for HAL. The quality of the mousse, however, hardly warranted the effort! HAL receives some adverse criticism for its food, particularly from American passengers. Having experienced the sizable portions which are generally served in US restaurants I am sure that the Nouvelle Cuisine favoured in the dining room would not suit some American appetites. For us the portions were more than adequate and the choice was superb. We breakfasted every morning on our balcony. HAL room service breakfasts are a bit hit or miss and on the first morning they’d forgotten to include cutlery. A complaint resulted in a fast delivery and thereafter room service telephoned on 2 occasions to enquire whether we were satisfied. Generally though I felt the quality of these breakfasts could be improved, but the balcony location made up for the limited appeal of the fare. We ate breakfast in the dining room only once on the morning we arrived in San Juan and I think the entire passenger load arrived at the same time resulting in queues for the Lido and the dining room. Lunch was taken in the lido café where there was always a choice of hot dishes together with a salad bar. Quality here was first class although the main menu tended to be a bit monotonous, however we were always able to find a suitable dish for my wife and I also enjoyed fresh cooked burgers or tacos from the grill. As we were in the second sitting we did not attend any of the late night snacks or buffets. The Entertainment. Last year, aboard Maasdam, we were very critical of the standard of the shows. My wife is a theatre director and this is an area in which she takes a keen interest. This year, we watched two shows, one of which had been hastily cobbled together in place of the planned show which could not go ahead because of “technical difficulties”. It’s difficult to understand the “technical difficulties” excuse because there is precious little on the technical side to go wrong with these uninspired offerings! The cast in the “Up on the Roof” show, a 50’s and 60’s tribute, were certainly more energised than the cast we endured last year on the Maasdam! Friends who have travelled with HAL and Princess say that Princess leave HAL standing in the entertainment department. Audiences expect more nowadays in the way of professional entertainment. It would not take much to elevate HAL’s current offerings…a new Director might help?? Generally my impression is that if you are looking for lavish production shows this is not the line for you. In HAL’s favour, the cruise director and staff are always discreet and passengers were never hassled to ‘join in’ the daytime on board entertainment. Ports of Call Half Moon Cay Our first call was Half Moon Cay which is HAL’s private island in the Bahamas. This is a piece of heaven with white sand, blue water and a perfect beach. Because of engine problems during the night the ship arrived late and our time here was curtailed. A pity, because this is a real paradise. The chefs set up a hamburger buffet, which was a little disappointing, however this may have been because the late arrival prevented anything more ambitious. The bars were manned from midday onwards. There were many choices of sporting activities but most people were content to lie on the beach. The rest rooms were absolutely spotless and a great credit to the company. There were a couple of souvenir shops and stalls of moderate quality. San Juan. This was disappointing for us. When we visit new places for we generally try to take a city tour in the morning and then return to areas that appeal in the afternoon. We had booked to go on such a tour of San Juan. The outskirts of the city are industrialised, the old part of the town is very quaint and colourful. The tour included a one hour stop at the local fort. Again, quaint with some stunning views from the ramparts. The souvenir shop was mediocre as indeed were the few lack-lustre exhibits housed within the fort, but the hour was far too long. At the end of our tour the bus driver suggested he drop us, not back at the ship, but some 500 metres from the dock, happily, for the shopkeepers of San Juan at least, in the heart of souvenir- shop-land! The impression we had was that the driver had difficulty in filling the time allotted with suitably interesting attractions! This tour was poor value in addition to demonstrating that San Juan, apart from the old town, is not particularly attractive. If I were coming here again, (highly unlikely), I would engage a taxi for a private tour. The ship was in port from 8am until midnight and for us this was too long. We came back on board during the late morning and spent the afternoon by the pool. Quite a number of passengers seemed to be aboard during the afternoon and evening so we were not the only ones to feel this. St Thomas (Charlotte Amalie) We had visited St Thomas on a sailing holiday in the British Virgin Islands and already knew the layout of the town. The ship was not berthed on the main pier with the other cruise ships but in a small harbour near the airport about 2 miles from the town. There were a number of tours on offer which did not appeal -particularly after the previous day in San Juan. I had previously enquired at the tour desk if it was possible to hire a car and did not receive much encouragement. We wanted to see the island at a leisurely pace in our own time and therefore decided to hire. We took a taxi from the ship to Avis and rented a jeep for the day for $80 which was good value compared to the ships tour prices. We drove all around the island including beautiful Magens Bay and returned to Charlotte Amalie for lunch. The roads are pretty awful but there is not much traffic outside Charlotte Amalie and you have much more opportunity to see the real St Thomas. Like most Caribbean islands there is a startling contrast between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, but most people were friendly and hospitable. In the afternoon we returned to the main town for a bit of Christmas Shopping. We were hassled in the town and my impression in the nine years since I was last there is that standards have slipped a bit. In those days the town seemed to cater for a more eclectic customer. There were any number of expensive jewellery shops, whose inflated prices were often halved in the course of a five minute visit. A lesson – never pay the ticketed price. The tee-shirt shops were legion and some were very tacky, but the middle ground seems to have gone. One or two people had ‘attitude’ and this included the security guard on the pier who gave our Avis driver, returning us to the ship, (a nice touch), a very hard time. I got the impression that as St Thomas has about 3 ships a day every day, they don’t really care. If you don’t buy - someone else will. A shame because some of the island is very attractive with some good hotels. Nassau. The ship was in for just an afternoon. There were a number of other ships in so the pier was crowded. We decided not to do a ship’s excursion and walked into town to do some shopping. The town itself is a mixture of West Indies meets British colonial, but the atmosphere is poles apart from St Thomas with some very smart shops, amongst the inevitable tee shirt emporiums .The shop keepers were very professional – no hassling - and for Brits, the shops represented good value for luxury goods such as designer handbags and accessories. It was very windy but we enjoyed our time in Nassau. Most people went over to the island and visited Atlantis or the beaches. There was a very useful little shuttle bus that took you from the dock gate ( right by the main street) to the ship. I would return to Nassau on a future cruise and would have welcomed more time in port. Finally…. We really enjoyed our cruise. HAL suits us down to the ground. We are in our 50’s, we like good food and nice surroundings with 1st class service. We certainly had all of this on Veendam. The ship is classy and understated, and represents excellent value. However, it’s not a ship for party animals or those who like dancing all night! The average passenger age must have been similar to ours and most were in bed by midnight! The crew were generally excellent, we never saw our steward, but isn’t that the mark of a good steward? He always seemed to know when we out and kept the cabin spotless. The dining room staff were outstanding. The barmen could smile a little more but were nevertheless efficient and prompt. The entertainment…………well, you can’t have it all!!! Just a final tip…. If you can afford it pay that little extra and get a balcony cabin, the extra space in the cabin is great and you can lie in bed at night with the door open and listen to the waves! During the day there is more than enough room for sunbathing, eating and drinking and the privacy is great. It adds a whole new dimension to cruising. We like spending time in our cabin and would not now book a ship where we could not have a balcony!

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Jun 19, 1999

Eastern Caribbean

I have read several books where "The Critics" score her down for entertainment and food compared to other premium lines such as Celebrity.  Please ignore this nonsense.  The food was first rate and included fresh vegetables, a variety of fresh seafood entres prepared with a light and deft touch and even caviar with some meals.  The food was fresh, well prepared, and plentiful. The entertainment was in my opinion excellent.  From

the usual Broadway style reviews to a comic jugglar and an astoundingly good Neil Diamond impressionist, every evening had first rate entertainment. The ship is beautiful and gleems in a positively sparkling elegance.  While perhaps not as "flashy" as some of the newer megaships, it is a stately and majestic work of art with plenty of sparkle nonetheless.  If you will allow me an analogy:  If some of the newer ships are flashy neon signs with strobe lights; Veendam is finely cut crystal. Another area where the critics occasionally downgrade Veendam is communication with the staff.  As the staff are Phillipino and Indonesian, there are rare occasions when communication can be a bit of a bother, but only rarely.  HOWEVER, any small deficiencies in communication are EASILY compensated by the fact that the staff will do ANYTHING to please.  There can not be a harder working or more eager staff afloat and they define the term "Service" to me. In short, this is a beautiful ship with a wonderful energetic crew who go to any lengths to please.  The cruise was a bargain at the price and I highly recommend it for the right passengers. Who should not go:  All night partiers, drunken college kids and folks "looking for love" Who should go:  Honeymooner of any age, couples wanting to enjoy an upscale experience and families wanting a high degree of luxury at a reasonable price. I love Veendam and therefore Holland America and plan on cruising with them again.

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Nov 30, -0001

Southern Caribbean

        There are not enough good words in the dictionary to describe how wonderful our first cruise experience was. The level of service provided by the Holland America Line was higher than we could ever imagine. From the moment we arrived in San Juan and throughout the entire cruise, our every need was taken care of.         As soon as we got off the plane we were met by a representative from Holland America who

whisked us away to the bus that was to take us to the ship. We didn't even need to claim our luggage. When we arrived at the ship, check-in was effortless. I don't believe we had to stand in line for even five minutes. After check in, a porter instantly took our carry on bag and led us to our room. A short time later our luggage was delivered right to our door.         Our stateroom was very comfortable and roomy enough for two people to navigate without tripping over each other. There was ample room to unpack our suitcases and really settle in. The bathroom had a full tub an shower and a large enough medicine cabinet to store all of our toiletries. Our room steward was top notch. It seemed that every time we left our room, he would go in and tidy up. He even fixed our TV remote when I dropped it and knocked the batteries out, causing it to become inoperative.         The food was indescribably delicious and exquisitely presented. The Dining Room experience was one thing that we would not trade for anything. Our dining room waiter was equally as efficient as our room steward. He even de-boned our fish for us. Each night there was a different menu and if we wanted try several items of a particular course, our waiter was happy to oblige. For passengers that plan on taking shore excursions, we highly recommend getting the late seating. The rest of the food service was just as wonderful as in the dining room. We had our breakfasts, lunches and late night buffets in the Lido restaurant. Also in between meals something was always being served. Be it hamburgers and hot dogs or tacos or pizza and even ice cream.         Every evening before dinner we would go to the Crow's Nest Lounge for cocktails. Here we had a waiter that learned our names from the very first time we went in and always was ready to take our order and provide us with a plate of hors d'oeuvres.         Not being big fans of Las Vegas type shows, we only went to two shows on board and both of those were very enjoyable. One was presented by the ships' crew and cast and the other was a comedy magician. The evening activities we did participate in included; Name That Tune in the Piano bar, dancing in the Crow's Nest Lounge and gambling in the Casino. In participating in these activities we met some very nice people from all over. As far as other shipboard activities go, there was something for everyone going on every minute. So much so that it was sometimes difficult to make a choice of what to participate in.         There were two swimming pools on board. One with a sliding glass cover that could be closed in case of rain and one outdoors on the Navigation deck. Also there were two hot tubs. There was always an available chair near both pools and the hot tubs always had an available seat. Towels were provided at all of these locations so it wasn't necessary to carry any around.         Now on to the ports of call. We had a last minute change on our first stop. We were supposed to go to Santo Domingo, but due to an outbreak of polio, it was changed to St. Kitts.   We went into Basseterre to look at several sights mentioned in the literature provided on board, but we were turned off by the hoards of taxi drivers trying to get us to take tours of the island. So we went back to the ship and spent the rest of the day getting to know the ship better and also resting up from the previous days flight.         For the rest of the ports we booked shore excursions. All of which were well organized an very enjoyable. There were always beach towels available at the gangway for our use if we going to the beach. On Barbados we took an Eco-Hike into the Whimm Gully. Here we learned about much of the plant life native to Barbados. This excursion also included some time at a local beach. The next stop was Martinique, where we took a walking tour of Fort de France, which was very informative. Since this was only a 90 minute tour, we spent the rest of the day at local beach which was a short boat ride away from town. On St. Maarten our shore excursion wasn't until the afternoon, so we went into Phillisburg to shop for a short time and then we went to sit on the beach. At this point it stared raining so we ducked into the Everything's Cool Bar to wait out the rain. Here we had a drink and an interesting conversation with the bar's owner. The rain ended shortly and we spent the rest of the morning on the beach. That afternoon we took The Golden Eagle Catamaran to the French side. This was the best boat ride we had ever taken. Since the weather was rainy off an on, the waves were a little high. We sat on the front of the boat and we were constantly being splashed by waves coming over the bow. The whole time the boat's crew were serving champagne, rum punch and beer just as if we were sailing  on smooth water. The final stop was in St. Thomas. Here we took a very scenic bike ride along a route high above Magens Bay. This ride offered spectacular views of St. Thomas. This tour ended at Magens Bay Beach which was our vote for the nicest beach we went to the entire cruise. (Not to say the others weren't nice).         The disembarkation procedure was just as effortless as the boarding process. The night before we disembarked we put our luggage outside our door. We did not see it again until we went through customs. We waited for our number to be called in the Lido Restaurant and enjoyed our last wonderful breakfast. When our number was called we easily left the ship and found our luggage in no time flat. Here a porter took our bags and escorted us through customs and out to where our airline had set up for flight check in. We checked in for our flight home. Our luggage was tagged right there and loaded on a truck to take it to the airport. We didn't see it again until we arrived home.  We were then immediately directed to our bus. Since we had an afternoon flight, we booked a shot tour of San Juan which ended at the airport. This tour hit all the highlights of Old San Juan and even gave us some time to explore on our  own before taking us to the airport for the trip home.         All in all this was the best vacation we have ever taken. Holland America really knows how to show its passengers a wonderful time. We would not hesitate to sail with them again.

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Nov 30, -0001

Western Caribbean

I cannot say enough about this ship and the HAL experience. This is a class act. This was our 8th cruise...and without a doubt the best. The ship is unbelievable: clean, huge insides, rooms immaculate, service unreal and food exceptional. The ports...what can I say, seen one island, seen um all EXCEPT...HALF MOON CAY...folks HAL should make this a week long stop...this was our third private island (3 different cruise lines)...none, no port

can compare to Half Moon Cay. From tendering, to the movie theatre, to real popcorn and a wonderful experience...HAL is the one. We didn't think anything could top the Grandeur of the Seas...it was topped. We are sad that nothing is running out of Ft. Lauderdale this summer (HAL, Celebrity, etc). We are in the teaching profession and limited to time we can go. You cannot go wrong with the service, quality and just class of the Veendam and Holland America Line.

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Nov 30, -0001

Southern Caribbean

The ship was great! Spotless! We had a mini-suite on the Navigation Deck near the back. This was a great location as the pool (saltwater) was close by and the Lido restaurant was just up one deck. I highly recommend a cabin with a verandah. Early mornings, when the ship is leaving the dock, and at night, you can really appreciate having the ability to step outside your room onto the verandah without concern of what you are wearing (if anything).

The staff was great! Communication was not a problem with the Indonesian, Phillipino crew. Food was excellent. Lobster and Beef Wellington on the second formal night. Very good presentation. I really like HAL as the ships are smaller, less flashy, less kids (I saw one teenager the entire cruise). The lounges are not crowded and after 11:00 pm you have the ship pretty much to yourself. We found that the duty free shop "Gourmet" was cheaper to buy smokes and liquor than at dockside in San Juan. Get to San Juan early and buy soday if you have the chance. It will save you from spending a fortune on Coke/7-UP etc on board. The first port of call was Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. All I can say is don't waste your time. Very dirty city, very unfriendly people. We took a carriage ride. It was putting your life on the line. It was like a NYC cab ride at 3 mph. The other guys are what you had to watch for. A carriage on a highway with no shoulders where the speed limit is 55. See what I mean! Barbados was very beautiful. We took a submarine down over a reef. Keep in mind that you take a boat out to the Sub. If you have elderly folks with you you might want to think twice as both the sub and boat are bobbing in the seas and the sub has a steep narrow ladder to get down. St Maarten, and Martinique were really beautiful as well. Nice beaches. Shopping in St Thomas is in my opinion a waste of time. Nothing is a "deal" in St Thomas. You will get a much better deal in St Maarten. In closing, if you plan on traveling the same day as the ship leaves, I would recommend that you try to get a direct flight to San Juan. It is a looong day and we left Duluth, MN at 6:30 am for Chicago then Chicago to San Juan. Chicago flight was canceled due to mechanical problem and we only made it to the ship with 30 minutes to spare (ship left at 10:00 pm ). I now recommend going a day early on any cruise. That's it. You will enjoy this cruise!

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Nov 30, -0001

Western Caribbean

First of all, I wouldn't be able to review every aspect of this ship, but i would if you want to know any specific part of the ship or service i encourage you to e-mail me and i will happily answer any questions you have. For a 1996 made S-Class ship it was the best of that class. In the past I have been on the Westerdam and the Veendam, am the Veendam was very nice. It offered great food and entertainment like always on HAL, but the

lido and the dining room supplied great dining areas. there are 2 decks of nice lounges and bars, along with a casino and spa-gym facilities on the lido deck. If you are going to get a room, i suggest one with a verandah, I spent so much time out on mine, in and A suite cabin. The pools and nice, but didn't use them, and the sports deck was where you would find me playing a ton of volleyball. The ship has elevators and stairs that make any place in the ship accessible. I encourage people to go on this ship, it was great!

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