SUMMARY This cruise, the first for my wife and me on Holland America, was an enjoyable cruise, but was not our among favorites. Our previous cruises were on Royal Caribbean (4) and Celebrity (1). We agreed that the "personality" of HA was just not a match for us. There were things we liked and things we didn't like, just like any cruise, but our overall evaluation is that we would cruise HA again only if the value or itinerary was exceptional. This cruise illustrated that each line does, indeed, have its own personality, and what is just wonderful for some will be viewed as not wonderful by others. Many of our fellow passengers just loved everything; we enjoyed most things.
EMBARKATION/DISEMBARKATION We went to Ft. Lauderdale a day early, so took a cab to the port; the hotel shuttle was overburdened - 6 ships at the port + the Boat Show that day! Though we had to wait a while for the cab, total time from hotel departure to arrival in our stateroom was a bit over 1 hour. And the stateroom was ready when we arrived at 1:15, so we stopped by, went to the Lido for the Welcome Aboard buffet, and explored the ship. This was much smoother than we had feared, based on some other reports; no lines anywhere, though later arrivals did not have things quite as painless, with some reporting having to wait an hour on the HA bus before they were permitted to begin the registration process. We pre-registered online; I'm not sure it made any difference as the agent asked for the print-out of our forms.
Disembarkation was equally smooth. We had an early flight, so were the 4th or 5th group off, being called at about 9:00. We got a cab immediately (it was a Tuesday) and were checked in, luggage checked, security checked, everything, and at the gate by 10:00!
SHIP/PUBLIC AREAS The ship was quite nice, and of a "comfortable" size (full @ 1400+ passengers). We thought it was smooth (except for one day), but others complained that it was not. It was very easy to get around and never felt crowded. I like a wrap-around Promenade Deck, and Volendam has a beauty - protected in front, wide, lots of chairs. We don't particularly notice decor, but it was fine. The Frans Hals performance lounge was the most customer friendly of any we have experienced; good seats, lots of room to get in and out, with excellent viewing. The Wajang Theater is a separate movie theater which was also used for religious services; much better than using a lounge. The Atrium and Front Office area were smaller than we have been accustomed to, but were certainly adequate. The Bar/Lounges, Casino and Shopping Arcade were places where we noticed the impact of the (smaller) size of the ship. Many of those areas were small. The main walkway went through, not alongside, the Seaview Lounge. The Ocean Bar was adequate, but quite small for dancing, and it was the dance band lounge. The Crow's Nest Lounge was very nice. We are not big pool area fans, but that seemed to us to be more than adequate. The aft Outside Pool area was quite nice. The Ocean Spa Gym was large and well equipped, and not well used. The Casino was quite small, but seemed adequate.
One of the nicest features of the Volendam was the excellent viewing areas forward and aft on several decks. Many ships have cabins on there, but the Volendam had public balconies that were great for viewing when arriving/leaving ports, or scenic cruising along one of the islands; they were not crowded as it was not always obvious how to get to them. You could get all the way to the Bow when the Volendam was not at sea; that was also kind of neat. The Crow's Nest Lounge was a great inside viewing area.
One feature we did not like, but is, we understand, not all that uncommon, was that the Main Level of the Dining Room could not be reached from the rest of its deck without going up/down a deck and then down/up again. We found that we commonly want to go between the Dining Room and the Atrium/Front Office/Shops; you could not do that without going up and down. The Galley was what blocked the path. Our biggest complaint about the ship is the frequently reported sewage odor. I would describe it as unpleasant but not obnoxious, occasional but too frequent. It was noticeable perhaps half a dozen times during the 10 days. We never noticed it in our cabin, thankfully, but did notice it in the Atrium area (of all places) and in certain portions of the Promenade. Based on similar comments I have read, it appears to me that there is a design problem that allows this to happen.
CABINS Our cabin, #D2591 on Deck 2, Main Deck, was an outside cabin w/o balcony. It was spacious, with great storage (we didn't use it all), and comfortable. The bathroom was quite adequate, and had a tub, but since it was only 3/4 size, it was essentially useless. Our cabin steward was excellent: friendly but unobtrusive, prompt, knew our names after the first day. We often get a balcony, but with the price difference on the Volendam, we chose not to. We missed being able to sit out at times, but with this itinerary, it was not a big loss.
One nit-picking annoyance. Our ship pass did NOT have our picture on it, and did not work in the room safe, so we were required to carry the ship pass, photo ID, and credit card (for the safe) whenever we were not in the cabin. That was a nuisance; I like to carry only the ship pass and leave my wallet in the safe.
DINING All of our dining experiences were good, but not great. Our Early Seating table was at the very stern of the ship. Except for the one rough-sea day, it was great; nice sunsets, moon, stars, nice viewing overall. The food quality and choices were fine. Most entrees were enjoyable or better; those that weren't were promptly replaced. In general, our tables' experience with the steaks was not good; either tough or rubbed with something that was not particularly good. Several pork choices were too pink for our taste. In one case, a replacement was provided that was done properly and still very juicy and delicious. In another case, a substitute of an appetizer was requested instead; a luscious full plate of wonderful, tender shrimp was provided. So overall, we would rank the food quality as typical of our previous cruise experiences.
The dining room service, however, was not on a par with those previous cruises. I don't blame it as much on our Waiter and Assistant, who gave it a good try, as much as I blame it on the staffing decision makers. Our servers started out with 25 passengers to serve; an adjustment was made and they then had 21 passengers, consisting of tables of 8, 7 & 6. On other cruises, we have typically seen our servers be responsible for 16 or so. Perhaps a VERY experienced team could have handled these 3 large tables; our service suffered. Little things. Like not always serving a given course to everyone at the table at the same time. Having the salad dressing in those little cups instead of presenting and serving the choices; and not offering ground pepper (it was on the table). Not cleaning the table of crumbs before dessert. And the service was often slow, almost certainly the result of too many to serve. It was NOT unpleasant as a whole, just less than we are accustomed to. Perhaps service has deteriorated at the other lines as well since we last cruised (RCI) two years ago. I will say that our servers did learn our drink preferences and other routine food choices after a few days. They never learned our names.
The Lido Buffet was a pleasant place to eat, with good food, good choices, reasonable lines, and usually good availability of seating (for 2, anyway). It took a little learning to know where things were, but it was fine.
The passengers, for the most part, followed the dress code for the day at dinner, but some would dress down after dinner for the show and lounges. The atmosphere was very pleasant, and not "stuffy".
ENTERTAINMENT/ACTIVITIES The entertainment was only adequate. We did not attend any of the cast shows after the first night. The performers were not inspiring to us (we are demanding) and were lip-synching to a pre-recorded sound track. So we choose to do other things those nights. The other performers were OK. No names, and of varying ability, but adequate and entertaining. That is all we expect, and we are pleasantly surprised if they exceed that.
The activities were another area we were disappointed in. There were very few organized fitness activities. This may seem trite, but we really missed the (equivalent of the) ShipShape $$$ program that RCI has. There were organized fitness activities several times each day, and the $$$ were an inducement to attend. On this cruise, I think there may have been one unhosted walk and one stretching activity each day. After observing the stretching one day, and seeing 3 people attended, perhaps the demand is not there. But we missed that.
We also felt that, while the typical games and activities (and bingo!) were there, there was not the breadth and number of choices that we have been accustomed to.
PORTS/SHORE EXCURSIONS The ports and shore excursions were fairly typical, and I won't go into detail on them. Bonaire was quaint; our Glass Bottom Boat tour was cancelled because the boat broke down, so we walked around the small town, which was pleasant. Isla de Margarita, however, was not a pleasant experience. It is desert-like, very poor, dirty, and the dock area is out in the middle of nowhere; the "Island Tour" excursion had very little to show off. Local craft vendors set up next to the ship. We left feeling very sorry for the inhabitants, and thankful for what we have. Other passengers reported that the snorkeling was great, and the part of the island they saw was quite attractive. St. Lucia was beautiful, but the cab drivers near the dock were obnoxious in their persistence; not threatening, but still annoying. Dominica, like St Lucia, is a quite nice "rain forest" island. St. Thomas - nothing I can say that hasn't been said a hundred time by others; we went to St. John, which was quite nice except for a rough ferry - read "small boat" - ride of 30+ minutes. Half Moon Cay, HA's private island, has typical activities, but lots of them, and is VERY well done. It was so hot, though, that we came back to the ship for lunch, and enjoyed the day onboard. We both enjoy sea days, of which we had 3. The cruise started out with 2 of those seas days, which was kind of nice to allow getting settled into the cruise.
CONCLUSION If you made it all the way through this lengthy report, Thanks! And congratulations! But please re-read the first paragraph. This cruise was fine, it really was! It just wasn't us.