This is our 11th cruise and fifth Holland American Line (HAL) cruise since 1995 with each cruise on a different ship. Our previous HAL cruise was before 9/11 and several changes have occurred since then. Our cabin was a Verandah Suite (284 sq. ft with verandah) on the Verandah Deck near of the stern of the ship.
HAL Dockside Check-in - HAL no longer offers a special/faster check-in for their mariner (repeat) customers.
Boarding ID - Needed to show both the ship's ID card as well as a photo ID (driver's license/passport) each time to board the ship and all "carry-ons" are scanned.
Reserving of Public Areas - Several nights during the early cocktail hour (5:00P) half of the Crow's Nest was reserved by a special group who used the microphone to introduce fellow group members and you couldn't hear yourself talk anywhere in the large public room nor hear the room's musicians. We especially enjoy the Crow's Nest when the ship is leaving or entering a port as the room provides a 180-degree view.
Early Dinner Seating - HAL has divided the early and main (late) seating into two halves again. We were in the early seating - upstairs at 5:45P. The downstairs early seating at 6:15P with similar times for the later seatings. We prefer a larger table to exchange and enjoy the shore tour experiences with our fellow travelers each evening.
Entertainment - We found the evening entertainment to be more aimed at the younger customers (an Elton John impersonator, etc.) and not the usual Broadway show type productions that we enjoyed in the past.
Ship's Condition - The Veendam is tired and scheduled to be refurbished including the addition of a second evening dining room to be added in April 2004. As a further example, nearly half of the ship's TV channels contained heavy interference and were unuseable, including the ship's video camera showing the view from the bow of the ship.
Public Announcements - Frequent bingo announcements on the ship's overall public announcement system became very annoying. And reached the maximum when we were watching a movie in the ship's theatre, on the last day at sea, and the long bingo announcement cutout the movie's sound track totally for several minutes.
We didn't seen the usual HAL's the customer-comes-first attitude on this ship from the captain's party hostess, the sales people in the ship's stores, to the front desk personnel, to the Lido dining room personnel (breakfast was late several times, especially on those days when we had an early shore tour), conflicting instructions where to meet for the shore tours, etc. However, the room steward and evening dining personnel were very good and attentive as usual.
Shore Tours - Enjoyed the shore tours from Key West (Harry Truman's home) and the different Mayan ruins in Belize (with fast large ship-to-pier non-HAL shuttles as the ship had to stay far out due to shallow water), Guatemala (with a nice four-hour river boat ride and lunch), and Costa Maya, Mexico (with a good full Mexican lunch). The only problem in Key West and Mexico, it was spring break and the college kids were everywhere partying. In Mexico, two very, very large cruise ships docked after we did - Norwegian Sun and Princess "something" - which flooded the small port and its adjacent shops. These ships appeared to be twice as large as our ship. The previously week, no ships couldn't stop at Belize due to the poor weather and the Costa Maya port is only open on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.
Our next cruise is on the Ryndam to Alaska in May with our daughter.