This is a review of Holland America Line's 10 day Southern Caribbean Seafarer on the MS Volendam. Sail date was Nov 2, 2000. The itinerary and detailed physical descriptions of the ship are available at Holland America's web site. The following is a summary of our experience(s). We are two sixty plus senior citizens who are not yet ready for The Home.
As is HAL's custom, boarding did not begin until about 1:30PM. Those who complain about late embarkation may comfort themselves with the thought that HAL actually cares about between cruise cleanups. Once begun, boarding moved at a snail's pace. For example, our wait for number eighteen exceeded an hour.
Crew and staff attitudes and rapport with the passengers was unconditionally excellent, especially the front desk people. The infirmary is well staffed and considerate. Our cabin steward was typically capable and willing. Regrettably, the dining room was sorely understaffed for the evening meal. Our waiter was strained by the lack of an assistant (bus boy). He worked his tail off, but courses were slow coming and drinks seldom replenished. Early seating, 6:00 PM, seldom got out before 7:30. None of this was our waiter's fault. We were a table for six, none of whom imbibed. Consequently, the wine steward only approached us on the first night, a pleasant change from prior experiences. The Maitre d' never visited our table. I guess he had heard enough complaints about the staffing. The food was typical HAL. Preparation and presentation were acceptable, but undistinguished. I prefer Celebrity's menus and preparation. Breakfast and lunch service in the main dining room was very prompt, and the servers pleasant. We dined in the alternative Marco Polo twice. Reservations were easy to come by. Technically, Marco Polo reservations are only available between 9 and 11AM. However, I stopped by the first evening and the headwaiter accepted my application. I made our reservation for a second night at a later date, with no difficulty. The menu is on HAL's web site. It is Italian and well prepared, but the Marco Polo is also understaffed. On a busy night, our waiter was too rushed, once delivering the wrong entree. However, he made a quick recovery and brought the correct order, accompanied by a profound apology.
There were three formal and two informal nights. Formal dress was typically HAL, mostly tuxes and dark business suits for the men and elegant formal for the ladies. For those unaware of HAL customs, formal wear is retained throughout the evening.
The Shore Excursion office folks are eager and pleasant, but their lack of experience with this itinerary caused a number of tour problems at many islands. Itinerary changes were common. Change notices were placed under the cabin door the evening before departure, far too late to make alternative choices. At Nassau, key excursions were actually cancelled at pier side. The blame was placed on the tour operator not having us scheduled, but a more experienced ship's staff would have the tours confirmed in advance.
Although this was a Caribbean cruise, HAL maturity still prevails. If you're looking for a more representative Caribbean experience with a gay, festive, party atmosphere, this ain't your boat. Despite some disruptions and disappointments, we had a pleasant experience. I think I can best summarize my feelings about the trip with the following:
Reflections on a 10-day Southern Caribbean Cruise:
- A ten-day Caribbean cruise is 3 to 5 days too long.
- Two consecutive sea days is two days too many. I don't limit this to S. Caribbean trips. However, I must concede that a sea day is often logistically necessary, and is preferable to a day of air travel. Unfortunately, the travel mode required just to get to the ship often negates the air travel day analogy.
- Six S. Caribbean islands are five too many. Although each island has its own unique qualities and characteristics, they are all too similar when visited for only one day.
- The Caribbean experience is antithetical to the regimented and confining environment of a cruise ship.
Conclusions: Instead of a cruise, spend four or five days at a select all-inclusive resort. Sandals, St. Lucia, would be a great choice. There‘d be enough time to truly enjoy the island, become familiar with the surroundings, and experience a pampered, relaxed, laid back, Caribbean setting. This may be slightly more expensive than the cruise, but it sure takes care of 3 and 4 above. Or, if one must visit the S. Caribbean by ship, take a seven-day cruise out of San Juan, if the airfare isn't a deal breaker. This option takes care of 1 and 2 above, but still leaves 3 and 4 as dominant factors!
Admittedly, I couldn't have realized these revelations if I hadn't taken the cruise. Experience is the best teacher, but it sure is a costly tutor!
Note: If you deem the cruise ship a sought-after destination, then none of the immediately preceding comments apply. I use cruise ships as an alternative to hotels. A ship is sometimes more convenient, but it is certainly more confining, disciplined and cramped than any 3 or 4 star hotel.
Finally, I will not attempt to deflect criticism by closing with an IMHO disclaimer. It's entirely evident that most of what we say is simply opinion. If you disagree with any of my observations, feel free to fire away.