My wife and I took our first cruise on the Veenedam and chose HAL because of it's classic cruising reputation and its more mature crowd. We were extremely happy with our choice. The 1200+ passengers seemd to predominately range from 30s to 70s. There were a few families with children. The children on board seemed to range from about 10 to 16 years olds and were well-behaved.
We boarded in Tampa and arrived at the terminal about 2:30 and unloaded our tagged luggage at curbside with the help of a porter who took it for delivery loading onto the ship. We continued on into the terminal with our carry-on luggage. We had filled out our immigration papers online at HAL's website, so were directed into the express check-in line. We were glad we'd done so because there only 3 couples ahead of us in that line. There were perhaps 15 other long lines of passengers that hadn't filled out their immigration forms online. Within 5 minutes we were on our way to the boarding line. It was a bit longer and we stood inline for approximately 10-15 minutes before arriving at the security checkpoint. Once through security we walked onto the ship and immediately warmly greeted by staff members. One of them, Wayne, stepped forward and took our carryon luggage from us and led the way to our cabin. by conincidence, Wayne would turn out to be our dining room steward and was just as friendly and personable all week long, just as he was when greeting us for the first time at boarding.
We had booked a B cabin with balcony and were on the Veranda deck which was deck 9. It was a very nice cabin and we enjoyed having the balcony. The cabin had a king bed and a sitting area with a sofa, desk with mirror (wife's sitdown makeup area), and a refrigerator. The TV had a built-in VCR. The bathroom had a tub with whirlpool and a medicine cabinet to store our toiletries and also had a hair dryer built-in. The room was attractive and clean and was kept that way all week by our hardworking steward, Suri. Each morning he would clean and restock the bathroom, make the beds, vacuum the room, clean any used glassware, keep the ice bucket filled etc. after we left the room in the morning. He would then return while we were at supper and did the same thing again and also turned down the bed and left a chocolate on the pillow for each of us.
We were surprised at how dining was such a major of the cruise and came to understand why everyone gains weight while cruising. Our goal was to keep our weight gain from exceeding 2 pounds and I even slipped the bathroom scale into our luggage thinking it would help us achieve that goal. It was a losing battle. The food was excellent throughout the cruise and is available 24 hours a day! We generally ate breakfasts and lunches in the Lido dining room which is a cafeteria style buffet line that has self service salads, breads, and desserts with servers dishing up the cooked items and then placing a warmer cover over the plates of warm food before handing them to you to put on your tray. There were always a half dozen or so entree's from which to choose with a similar amount of side dishes.
We went to the sit-down Rotterdam dining room for dinners each night. Wayne and Eky, dining room steward and his assistant provided excellent service. We didn't have anything with which we were disappointed. Everything was excellent and many things were outstanding. There were several choices each evening and over the week we included lobster, venison, steak, fish, etc. There was also at least one vegetarian main course available on the menu. (Don't miss the Creme brulee and tiramisu and key lime pie; they were great!!)
We skipped the themed late night meals available in the Lido restaurant. We heard that the food was very good but we don't like eating late and then going to bed but did go Wednesday night when the them was Dessert Extravaganza.
Shows were good and we always attended the evening show. The cruise staff were excellent in presenting the rock and roll show of 50/60s songs. The other shows included an outstanding stand up comedian who also sang and played the violin. We would have been happy to have her perform every night as she was just fantastic. There was also a very good comedian that we enjoyed.
There were activities scheduled throughout the day that one could chose to attend or not. We were happy walking for exercise on the Promenade deck 6, lying in the sun on our balcony or by one of the pools, playing bingo a time or two, having tea (and more food!) at mid-afternoon in the Explorer's Lounge and watching for flying fish which we saw several times. The water was too rough for tender operations in Grand Cayman so we were unable to visit as was scheduled. That was the only disappointment of the trip as we had reserved a rental car and were going to tour the island on our own. It was the only stop that we were really looking foward to visiting. So after arriving there we immediately set sail for Jamaica our next port of call. We weren't interested in Jamaica and just stayed on the ship for the day. It was very pleasant on the ship and we were happy finding that the pool area and the lunch serving wasn't crowded. Our dinnermates, Jo and Regina, went on a snorkeling excursion and that stopped at Margaritaville afterwords and enjoyed themselves. They also went downtown shopping before returning to the ship and said that although were accosted a little to buy drugs or other things, it wasn't unbearable and they made a few purchases in the shops downtown before returning to the ship. Cozumel, the last stop had beautiful water. It was just so gorgeous!! We took a cab ride downtown to eat lunch at La Choza a place that was supposed to have good fajitas. My wife had the fajitas and I had chicken mole. Although both were good I was a little disappointed that our authentic Mexican food wasn't as good as the Mexican food one of my co-workers fixes from time to time. Her chicken mole is a 10 and La Choza's was only about a 7! The fajitas were maybe an 8. The chips and mustard based dip was excellend and different.
We were docked next to a Carnival ship that left about an hour before the Veenedam. We happened to be strolling on deck when the Carnival passengers returned to their ship. They were a young party hardy, spring break, teens and 20s crowd and were very loud. Apparently a couple of girls were still partying on shore when the boat was ready to leave because there were several announcements asking for them to check in at the front desk if they were on the boat. Some of our fellow passengers reported a couple of girls at the on shore lounge crying that they'd missed ship and didn't know what to do next.
Overall, all the crew and staff on the Veenedam were friendly, helpful and in all ways very outstanding. They all work very hard and we tipped them accordingly. HAL has a tipping not required policy but you should expect to tip as much or more than the tips normally expected on other lines. HAL doesn't publish a suggested schedule like other lines so we took the suggestions elsewhere (such as $7 per couple per day for the cabin steward and the same for the dining steward and $3.50 per couple per day for the assistant dining steward) and added about $20 additional to each because the service was so good. We gave them half of the amount at the beginning of the week and the remainder on the last night.
The ship is clean, attractive, well-cared for and we very much liked it's medium size. Being at sea was a wonderful experience and we enjoyed the days at sea as much or more than than the days in port. We can hardly wait for our next cruise and would definitely plan on returning to the Veenedam or taking one of the other Holland America ships for our next cruise.