Our recent cruise on the Volendam was our 21st and it was all we expected from Holland America. We arrived at the pier around 11:30 walked right through the security check and right to the the checkin window with wait. When entering the terminal we were given number 3 which was our boarding number We proceeded upstairs to a comfortable waiting area and chatted with other passengers until the 1:30 boarding time. HAL will not allow passengers on board until the ship is all clean and all cabins ready. A smiling young man took our carry on bags and escorted us to our cabin. We received a nice upgrade by the way. We sailed at 5pm to the usual sail away party and the bells and whistles and sirens from the condos lining the short canal.
Our first two days were at sea. The second day was very rough and we had to cancel our reservations at the Marco Polo dining room. We were unable reserve again as it fills up quickly and no reservations were available for the rest of the week. THe Volendam herself is a beautiful ship. Sheis clean and bright with fresh flowers and works of art everywhere. As on most of the newer Holland ships she has a two level dining room. We had a table for two on the upper level by the aft windows. The service and the views were equally outstanding. The food was excellent in our opinion and the service outstanding. There have been recent complaints obout cutbacks and lack of service.We did not see it. Our dining experience was outstanding.
We can sum up Bonaire, Isla Margarita and Dominica by saying there is not much there so take a tour or stay on board. There is little to no shopping. A few vendor tents here and there with local crafts. We took the ships tour in Bonaire and Margarita but many passengers were getting far better deals from the local cab drivers. The tours are excellent and the islands are very nice. You will learn a lot of facinating history on these trips. We happened to be in Isla Margarita the day of Carnival which began at 4pm but they had a childrens parade earlier. We have pictures of the kids in costume that we will cherish forever. We stayed on board in Dominica as it was Sunday, raining and there is very little to be seen around the ship. We had been in St.Lucia before and toured the island so we decided to take the water from the pier to downtown. You think the vendors in Jamaica are bad? You ought to see the cab drivers in St.Lucia. We spent about 15 minutes fighting these guys off, got back on the water taxi and returned to the small shopping mall by the pier. St.Thomas was our final port of call. This was our 10th time on the island. We have been there and done that so the day was spent shopping. Carnivals Destiny was the only other ship in port that day so the crowds were not bad. A day at sea then a day on Half Moon Cay, Hollands private island. We talked to passengers who have been to Labadee and to Princess Cay and all agree that they cannot compare to this island. There are plenty of chairs for everyone. The beach is beautiful soft white sand. The lunch is brought over from the ship and set up in a large serving area. Cold things served cold and hot things hot. Hot dogs, hamburgers, ribs,chicken and many salads fill out the menu. It was a beautiful day with bright blue skies and a warm sun. It was a perfect way to end a perfect 10 days.
You will be disappointed with The Volendam. It took a day to figure out which decks went where but after that it was a breeze. The entertainmet was excellent. Three production shows by a well matched high energy cast. There was also a singer/impressionist and a piano player who both drew multiple standing ovations. There also was a good ventriloquist with a nasty little Jamacian puppet named Matilda.
We honestly could find no complaints with any part of the cruise. Food, service, cabin, lido dining, all excellent. By the way there were three formal nights which we felt was one too many. The suit-tux ratio was about 60/40 in favor of the suits.
Best tips we can give is "sit in the balcony for shows." Sightlines are far better and make reservations for the Marco Polo early as it fills up fast and as one poster has recently written "on the first morning of the cruise go to the front of the ship on the top deck, take a deep breath of the fresh salt air and exhale all your troubles and worries." Then plan to enjoy your time on board to fullest. We did. It works.
But finally back in Ft Lauderdale reality set in. We had to fly Northwest Airlines back to Detroit. This disaster could be another full review!!
This is a review of Holland America Line's 10 day Southern Caribbean Seafarer on the MS Volendam. Sail date was Nov 2, 2000. The itinerary and detailed physical descriptions of the ship are available at Holland America's web site. The following is a summary of our experience(s). We are two sixty plus senior citizens who are not yet ready for The Home.
As is HAL's custom, boarding did not begin until about 1:30PM. Those who complain about late embarkation may comfort themselves with the thought that HAL actually cares about between cruise cleanups. Once begun, boarding moved at a snail's pace. For example, our wait for number eighteen exceeded an hour.
Crew and staff attitudes and rapport with the passengers was unconditionally excellent, especially the front desk people. The infirmary is well staffed and considerate. Our cabin steward was typically capable and willing. Regrettably, the dining room was sorely understaffed for the evening meal. Our waiter was strained by the lack of an assistant (bus boy). He worked his tail off, but courses were slow coming and drinks seldom replenished. Early seating, 6:00 PM, seldom got out before 7:30. None of this wasour waiter's fault. We were a table for six, none of whom imbibed. Consequently, the wine steward only approached us on the first night, a pleasant change from prior experiences. The Maitre d' never visited our table. I guess he had heard enough complaints about the staffing. The food was typical HAL. Preparation and presentation were acceptable, but undistinguished. I prefer Celebrity's menus and preparation. Breakfast and lunch service in the main dining room was very prompt, and the servers pleasant. We dined in the alternative Marco Polo twice. Reservations were easy to come by. Technically, Marco Polo reservations are only available between 9 and 11AM. However, I stopped by the first evening and the headwaiter accepted my application. I made our reservation for a second night at a later date, with no difficulty. The menu is on HAL's web site. It is Italian and well prepared, but the Marco Polo is also understaffed. On a busy night, our waiter was too rushed, once delivering the wrong entree. However, he made a quick recovery and brought the correct order, accompanied by a profound apology.
There were three formal and two informal nights. Formal dress was typically HAL, mostly tuxes and dark business suits for the men and elegant formal for the ladies. For those unaware of HAL customs, formal wear is retained throughout the evening.
The Shore Excursion office folks are eager and pleasant, but their lack of experience with this itinerary caused a number of tour problems at many islands. Itinerary changes were common. Change notices were placed under the cabin door the evening before departure, far too late to make alternative choices. At Nassau, key excursions were actually cancelled at pier side. The blame was placed on the tour operator not having us scheduled, but a more experienced ship's staff would have the tours confirmed in advance.
Although this was a Caribbean cruise, HAL maturity still prevails. If you're looking for a more representative Caribbean experience with a gay, festive, party atmosphere, this ain't your boat. Despite some disruptions and disappointments, we had a pleasant experience. I think I can best summarize my feelings about the trip with the following:
Reflections on a 10-day Southern Caribbean Cruise: A ten-day Caribbean cruise is 3 to 5 days too long. Two consecutive sea days is two days too many. I don't limit this to S. Caribbean trips. However, I must concede that a sea day is often logistically necessary, and is preferable to a day of air travel. Unfortunately, the travel mode required just to get to the ship often negates the air travel day analogy. Six S. Caribbean islands are five too many. Although each island has its own unique qualities and characteristics, they are all too similar when visited for only one day. The Caribbean experience is antithetical to the regimented and confining environment of a cruise ship.
Conclusions: Instead of a cruise, spend four or five days at a select all-inclusive resort. Sandals, St. Lucia, would be a great choice. There‘d be enough time to truly enjoy the island, become familiar with the surroundings, and experience a pampered, relaxed, laid back, Caribbean setting. This may be slightly more expensive than the cruise, but it sure takes care of 3 and 4 above. Or, if one must visit the S. Caribbean by ship, take a seven-day cruise out of San Juan, if the airfare isn't a deal breaker. This option takes care of 1 and 2 above, but still leaves 3 and 4 as dominant factors!
Admittedly, I couldn't have realized these revelations if I hadn't taken the cruise. Experience is the best teacher, but it sure is a costly tutor!
Note: If you deem the cruise ship a sought-after destination, then none of the immediately preceding comments apply. I use cruise ships as an alternative to hotels. A ship is sometimes more convenient, but it is certainly more confining, disciplined and cramped than any 3 or 4 star hotel.
Finally, I will not attempt to deflect criticism by closing with an IMHO disclaimer. It's entirely evident that most of what we say is simply opinion. If you disagree with any of my observations, feel free to fire away.
My sister and I elected to use HAL's fly and cruise package for our 10 day Wayfarer cruise on March 25,2000. We were promptly greeted at the airport, only to wait for what seemed like hours for the right bus to the complimentary hotel. (We are from the West coast and HAL provided a free night at a 3 star hotel.) I was told that there were 4 HAL ships departing the same day as we were at the height of the spring break, which accounted for the bus problems. The next day they escorted us to the ship and within a 1/2 hour we were taken to our lovely room with verandah. To our amazement, our luggage arrived before us. The room itself was very spacious, much larger than a verandah room on RCCL. The furniture is solid and the beds are beds, not lightweight like the "cots" that other lines provide. Our bathroom included a whirlpool bath.....I declined to use it as such, as I was not sure both I and enough water would fit in the mini-whirlpool without grave bodily injury. Although both my sis and Ipacked with wild abandon, we found that there was an abundance of storage space. Within an hour of embarkation, our cabin steward introduced himself.....and through out the trip he kept our room neat with extra pillows and towels as we requested. At times I marveled at how he could get in and out of the room so quickly.
Our favorite part of the room was our verandah. It was large enough to fit a chair and a lounger with small table. I spent a great deal of time lounging about on the veranda during our days at sea. The Volendam is a brand new ship, but amazingly it was being painted. I guess it must be like the Golden Gate, a continuous project. The open areas are lovely, so many lovely nooks for a quiet conversation. The Volendam's theme is flowers and the wonderful art collection enhances one's experience greatly.
I had heard that HAL's food could be bland, due to their primarily older clientele (my sis and I are in our late 30's, early 40's), but I found to the contrary. The food was wonderful and many dishes were zesty. I myself feel in love with the freshly baked breads, that we learned during the kitchen tour, were baked daily. The baguettes were so good, i occasionally would sneak up to the lido just to grab a couple of crusty baguettes to nosh on before our late seating dinner. Another real pleasure was the ice cream bar.....lines of not just children formed every afternoon for anything ranging from a small cone to an all out hot fudge sundae with cherries, whipped creams nuts and sprinkles......Also, the food at the alternative restaurant, the Marco Polo was lovely, and we were able to eat there on 2 different occasions in the evening and once at lunch. My sis and I both appreciate a good bottle of red wine and found the selection and price on the ship to be wonderful.
I also used the new computer stations to keep in touch with my kids and family and to check my stocks....I am fairly computer literate and at .75 cents per minute I learned very quickly how to check my email and send a few short notes for about $5 a day. One day I watched a woman painfully type an email.....part of me wanted to scream, hurry up, this is gonna cost you a fortune!
I can't comment on the entertainment, as I found that my go had usually gotten by the time the second seating entertainment began. The ship was always clean, the crew was very pleasant, without being intrusive, and I always found an available lounger at one of the 2 pools on the ship. I would highly recommend Holland America to my friends....with the touches other lines forget....fresh flowers in abundance and the best darned breads on the 7 seas;)