My husband and I just got back from an Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard Holland America Line's Veendam and it was the cruise vacation of a lifetime!
Holland America is a wonderfully smooth-running operation from start to finish and they have every right to pride themselves on their exceptional service and cruise staff. We received such consistent, gracious service, that their "no-tipping" policy became a joke - we spent more on tips this cruise than the last four! From the room steward, who took excellent care of our room (he worked his schedule around ours beautifully so that we never even saw him in our room but he was always available somewhere nearby), to the dining room stewards, to the bartenders (who, just like the brochure says, by the second time you sit down will know your name, room # and how you like your drinks) to the Captain and Head Chef, who always seemed to be accessible, the service was fantastic!
What stands out most about the Veendam, other than the exceptional staff, is the ship itself. Surely the most beautiful cruise ship we have been on (we've travelled Norwegian Cruise Line, and two that are now defunct - Bahamas Cruise Line and Commodore Cruises - both better than Norwegian in our opinion), from the public rooms to the cabins, the quality of the furnishings and artwork, and the gorgeous two-tiered dining room, it is truly a luxurious ship. Our mini-suite made the cruise. We had a roomy verandah (more than enough room for a lounge chair, chair & small table with room to spare - bigger than I thought it would be from the pictures), sitting area, refrigerator, mini-bar, tv, vcr, queen-size bed, and the biggest bathroom I've seen on a cruise ship - it had a small whirlpool tub and plenty of room to get around. Also, plenty of closet space but be forewarned - you get several closets (ours had four) but none of them are roomy enough for a very large suitcase to fit into (my 26" just squeezed into the largest compartment) so pack smaller bags but you can bring lots of them.
It was the greatest thing in the world to go to bed at night with the verandah door open and get that ocean breeze and listen to the waves.
The food was very good - many of the dinners were fine restaurant quality, and portions were bigger than I'm used to in most restaurants. Lunch was the most fun meal, simply because of the variety and sheer quantity of food. You could choose from lunch in the dining room, buffet in the Lido Restaurant, hamburgers & hotdogs at the grill, a taco bar, and assorted stif fries and pastas by the pool. If you like to eat, you can't go wrong. (make sure you try the Dutch Royal High Tea in the dining room - truly classy). Make sure you take the galley tour so you can see how they do it.
I enjoyed the mix of people - many of our fellow cruisers were older, repeat customers, and they knew how to have fun, and most importantly, they knew how to dress!! After the disappointing, too casual dress code on our last (Norwegian) cruise, it was nice to see people still know how to get dressed up for dinner. Again, be forewarned - when I say dress, I mean dress. Even on casual nights women wore long dresses and men wore jackets (though it's not required). I was afraid to buy too many fancy clothes because I thought I might be overdressed and ended up feeling underdressed on the casual nights. So go to town!!
We're not too much into the after-dinner entertainment since we eat late, (except gambling) so I can't say too much about the entertainment except that it looked pretty good and varied, but geared more to the older crowd. We did make the Indonesian crew show, though, which was fun. There's plenty to do on the ship though; they have a great spa and gym with a juice bar that makes fresh, exotic fruit & vegatable concoctions, a good-size movie theatre, library, game rooms, etc. And for people like us who come to relax, two nice pools and plenty of deck chairs and area to spread out (when you could get us out of the room!).
All in all, it was a great vacation and one of the easiest travel experiences we've had - we never had to wait long for anything, including disembarkation, usually the low point of a cruise. In fact, we had such a wonderful time I'm about to book another cruise for next May, this time on the Zaandam, their new ship (only because the Veendam's Caribbean cruises end in April). It has the same lay-out as the Veendam and her sister ships but I've heard it's going to be even better. After this I would never go on another cruise line, and look forward to taking a Holland America cruise at least once a year from now on - and we're pretty picky travelers. My husband rarely talks about another vacation so soon after he's taken one, but before we even left the ship he wanted to book another cruise - that's the best recommendation I can give!!