I am submitting this review that was written by my wife. I think she did a great review.
little background to get started. This was my husband Rocky's 9th cruise, my 5th and our son Mark's 2nd. We chose HAL's Veendam because HAL is Rocky's favorite cruiseline and also because it was out of Tampa, only a 15 minute drive from our home. Rocky last sailed on the Veendam (and HAL for that matter) in 1997. Previously I had not sailed on a HAL ship and Rocky was very excited for me to experience this line and the wonderful reputation they have.
Our ports on this 7 day cruise were: Grand Cayman, Montego Bay, Jamaica and Cozumel. This review will be on my observations and experiences.
We boarded on a rather chilly Saturday in Tampa, the high was 62 degrees and sinking fast for our 5pm departure! We were greeted as soon as we walked on and received assistance to our cabin and noticed that many were receiving their luggage right away! Our mini-suite was very nice, had a tv/vcr, refrigerator, a bathtub instead of a small shower, lots of closet space, drawers with key locks on them (nice for larger items that won't fit in the safe such as cameras, purses and the like) and bathrobes. Our cabin steward Rudy came quickly to our door and introduced himself. He asked us if we needed anything special and we informed him I like to keep my wine chilled and would need an extra bucket of ice in addition to the ice we would use for our other beverages. We explained we brought Pepsi with us as we prefer that over Coke products. He saw to it that we had 2 buckets of ice everyday, twice a day. I also asked for extra towels and those were provided everyday, without fail.
We began to explore the ship and ended up in the Lido buffet line! Go figure! The variety and quality wasn't what I expected, however, it improved quickly after that. There is a small salad bar at the end of the buffet line and also an ice cream bar (no extra charge). All food in the Lido buffet area (including the salad bar and the ice cream bar) closed at 10:30am for an hour. This is the only time in the late morning you cannot get any food without ordering it from room service. The other time is late afternoon from 5-6pm. The food by the pool (Hamburger/hotdog/taco bar) opened daily at 11:30am and closed at 5pm. There was food available for everyone at anytime of the day, no need to worry about that!
The bread and desserts on the Veendam are really wonderful, the best I've had!
The overall food experience I had on this trip was not as good as I had on the Grand Princess or Dawn Princess. I'm speaking of the overall experience, not the bread or the desserts as mentioned above. In my opinion (Rocky does not share this opinion), the quality and variety were not up to the high standards often boasted by others. Again, this is my opinion. It did not ruin the cruise for me and I certainly did not go hungry (gained 5 pounds!) - It could be that I have to try another HAL cruise to get a 2nd opinion (hee-hee, twist my arm!).
DINING ROOM and STAFF
We had a nice table for 8 and met wonderful people (hi Susan, Alex, Bob, Jill and Gentry!). Our waiter and assistant waiter did their jobs, however did not seem to go that extra step to be personable. Our waiter recognized Rocky from the Noordam in 1996 but beyond that he did not chat with us. They did not offer any suggestions or substitutions if something wasn't to our liking. The head steward came over and said hello and chatted with the kids, which was a nice touch. He also made crepes one night as a special request from Rocky. He had so looked forward to crepe suzette made tableside. It turned out the crepes were pre-made and only the sauce made at tableside and then poured on the crepes. What a shame. Another quality item loosing its place on the rating system. The wine steward also came around but did not go that extra step to offer wine suggestions. I had to ask twice about my pre-cruise wine package I ordered. Not a big deal. Water wasn't refilled until very late in the dinner, again, no big deal. These are just a few things I noticed that dropped HAL in the quality of service that I was looking for. Would this make me not cruise with them again? Certainly not, I would have to try them again to see if this was just a fluke. Maybe my expectations were too high? Possibly. One night there wasn't anything on the menu I really wanted or cared for. I thought I would ask if I could have a garden salad instead of the special salad on the menu and was told "no, those are the only salads we have". I immediately advised them there was nothing on this menu that appealed to me and I ordered from the kids menu instead. When my order arrived at the same time as the kids order, the head steward came over and asked if something was wrong. I simply stated that nothing on the main menu appealed to me that evening. He did offer to bring me something else but I declined. I had a feeling it wouldn't have been easy for them to bring me something else at the last minute. Am I too picky? Yes, but its not like I was asking for something strange or difficult. Its just lettuce folks!
I enjoyed the public rooms/lounges. They are spread out and nicely decorated. There were many cozy areas and since this is a smaller ship, easy to find and get to from any point on the ship. We spent little time in the Crow's Nest, something we'll have to rectify on the next HAL cruise. We enjoyed the Ocean Bar quite a bit, this seemed to be very cozy and always busy late in the day and evening. I also liked the area where the covered pool is. We enjoyed lunch there just about everyday.
We spent every afternoon before and after dinner in the Ocean Bar and became friends with Jose, Nestor and Amado. Those guys remembered what we drank and our names the first day and never forgot. I like a specific kind of wine and they did not normally stock it in the Ocean bar. They ordered it and promised it would be there later that evening. It was and they made a point of making sure I had that kind of wine whenever I wanted it. In fact, at Island night by the pool, Nestor made one of the waiters go to the Ocean bar and bring me my wine to the pool! Very nice. This is the service I was expecting and it was consistently there by not only the bar staff, but the hotel staff, casino staff, Club HAL staff and the front office staff! I observed officers cleaning and assisting wherever they could. I observed many times, various staff members socializing, eating, drinking etc.. on the passenger decks, while on a break from their duties and found out this is perfectly okay! They don't have to go to the crew decks for their breaks. They are required to be in uniform when on the passenger decks, but they can enjoy the food and drink just like us and socialize, just like us. They all seemed to be happy and pleasant and always greeted passengers with a smile. This was a first for me. I had not seen cruise staff actually in line with the passengers for food or at the bar having drinks before on other cruise lines. In my opinion, that makes for a better work environment.
Getting back to Jose, Nestor and Amado for just a second. Each one of these guys makes origami animals and gives them to the kids or anyone who wants one. Mark liked this so much we now have 3 frogs, 1 dog, 1 fish, 1 piranah, 2 rabbits and 2 birds that have moveable wings! Try packing those in your suitcase without crushing them! We ended up putting them in one of the large souvenir glasses and then into Mark's bookbag that remained in our possession.
Our son Mark is 11 and he enjoyed Club HAL. He did not have to participate in every activity and was able to come and go as he pleased, which we loved. The staff they have in Club HAL seemed to really like all of the kids and because this was the week of Thanksgiving, there were about 90 kids on board. A week later, only 6 were registered on the ship! The kids seemed to have a lot of fun and I did not notice too many kids getting out of hand. A few times you would see a few running down the stairs or in the hallway, but a quick reminder to them to walk, and they usually did.
A side note about soda cards. While its not advertised anywhere that we could see, someone mentioned a soda card. We asked where to purchase it and it was at the Ocean Bar. Its $27.50 for the 7 days and only 1 per child is allowed. Once they have the card, they can order (unlimited) a soda from any of the bars and restaurants. This is where Jose and Nestor got Mark to drink his first Roy Rogers (coke with cherry syrup added). Hmm, sounds like cherry coke to me! Anyhow, sounds more like you're on vacation when you say "I'd like a Roy Rogers drink please".
I had heard that HAL really isn't known for their production shows but they do try hard and there was always a crowd for the few shows I did attend. I enjoyed the show that involved the passengers, doing several lipsync skits. Very funny, not to be missed!
ANNOUNCEMENTS and MISC
Announcements were minimal and unobtrusive, maybe 3- 4 a day and that's it. Very nice. No one bugging us every few minutes for a drink or a photo op. We had the same great service on day 7 as we did on day 1! Our cabin refrigerator wasn't locked on the last night, the mini-bar wasn't put away or locked up, the book with the postcards and pen wasn't suddenly hidden. Wow! This is great! This is probably why you can't board until 1:30pm which is fine by me! I would rather have access to all of the amenities and be treated as nicely as I was, rather than board at 11am! Everywhere we went on disembarkation day, the staff seemed genuinely friendly. It's been my experience on the few cruises I've had before this one, that the staff completely change on that last day and sometimes the night before! Makes you feel like they can't wait to get rid of you so they can start again with the next batch! Not on this trip, everyone was nice.
I found out that the Veendam did not take our bottles we purchased in Cozumel for gifts. They let us bring them to the cabin. Rocky informed me that they don't hassle you about that like some of the other cruiselines. We did see several boxes that were stacked up in the ships store with cabin numbers on them, but those may have been delivered straight from the stores on shore. Rocky observed people coming to the ships store to pick up their boxes without any problem at all during the cruise. Another nice thing about HAL, they seem to treat you like an adult when it comes to the liquor purchases. Its nice to know you don't have to worry about smuggling bottles in your bags, carry on or otherwise!
While I had some not so positive things to say, they would not prevent me from sailing on HAL again or recommending HAL to anyone. I tend to be picky and these were only my observations. There are also many positive things about this cruiseline and I can see why there are so many avid HAL fans. We had a great cruise, due in large part to a great cabin steward, dinner table mates, the misc staff I mentioned above and of course, my wonderful husband and son!