We have been back from our cruise for a few days and I thought I would post a review.
Our travels to Ft. Lauderdale went very smoothly. We haven’t had an on-time flight in a while, so this was a pleasant surprise. We were booked at the Embassy Suites, so a quick phone call to them had a shuttle arriving in just minutes. Even though we arrived hours before check-in, there was a room available, so we got checked in quickly. We took a walk to the Total Wines shopping center where we caught the trolley for a tour around Ft. Lauderdale. Back to the stop, we picked up our wine and had a late lunch. Back at the hotel, we asked about the shuttle to the cruise port and were told to expect a wait of up to 30 minutes in the morning. When we came to the lobby the following morning, we were on a shuttle in about 2 minutes! We arrived at the port just before 11am. We went through security quickly and were sent straight to the “wine table.” We had 4 bottles of wine and asked to pay corkage on 3 because we were planning to take the wine to the dining room. We were pleasantly surprised when we were charged corkage on 2 bottles but the “wine guy” said he would put stickers on 3 bottles. We were even more pleasantly surprised when we discovered later that he had put stickers on all 4 bottles! Nice way to start our cruise! Boarding started at 11:30am. We were in Group 9, but we were on the ship and in our room before noon. In the MDR enjoying a lovely, peaceful lunch by 12:30pm.
Ship: The Veendam is definitely an older ship, but she is in great shape and well cared for. Cleaning was continuous. I did notice a slight mildew smell near the elevators on a couple of the decks.
Cruise Itinerary: This got changed several times. We were supposed to have 4 ports (Key West, Ocho Rios, Georgetown, and Half Moon Cay). We ended up with 3 (Ocho Rios, Nassau, and Half Moon Key). While we were a little disappointed, we certainly understood that the weather conditions couldn’t be controlled by HAL). I did hear a few people complaining. One man said he would never cruise HAL again, but most people seemed to take it in stride. Captain Steve and Cruise Director/Travel Nick kept passengers informed of the changes that were happening. In the Captain’s Q&A, Captain Steve did a great job explaining what had gone into all of the decisions, assuring all that they were taking Coronavirus seriously (and joked that they had removed all Corona beer as a precaution!! LOL).
On-Board Activities: Veendam still has singers and dancers, so this was a pleasant surprise. There were also two comedians (each did a show and then they did a third show together). Both were pretty good. There were a few good movies and documentaries. I really missed the ATK shows, but there was one cooking demo with the cruise director/travel and a sous chef. It was well done, but there was only the one show.
Food: Subjective, I know, but we thought the food was fabulous. We’ve been on 3 other HAL ships and enjoyed the food on all of them, but I thought the food on Veendam was better than the others. We ate all but one dinner in the MDR. We ate breakfast in the MDR a couple of times, but mostly ate at the Lido. Lunches were either Lido, burgers, or pizza. Biggest change that I noticed was that they no longer had the lovely little fruit plates, muesli, and yogurt parfaits in the Lido at breakfast. They had fresh, sliced fruit in bowls. They also did not list a fruit plate and fruit/cheese plate in the dessert options in the MDR.
Service: Fantastic, as it has been on our previous three HAL cruises. Our room stewards kept our room spotless. Every staff member we came in contact with seemed genuinely happy to be there. In the MDR one morning, a man sharing our table asked for a certain pastry. The waiter seemed to take forever before coming back to the table. He said they were out of that pastry in the MDR and he had gone to the Lido to check and they were out, too. The guy assured the servers that it was not an issue, but they asked for his room number and promised him that he would have his pastry the next morning. Breakfast in the MDR took a long time, but we weren’t in a hurry, so it didn’t matter to us. In the Lido, we barely sat down before a server came around with drinks.
Spa/Gym: I bought a pass, pre-cruise, for the Thermal Suite. The price on-board was a little higher. The thermal suite was never crowded when I was there. Several times, I was the only one in there. Dh used the gym a few times and said that the equipment was well maintained.
Departure: We decided to use Luggage Direct and that worked well for us. We received our printed boarding passes and luggage tags the evening prior to departure. We used the HAL shuttle to the airport. Amazingly enough, our flight home left on time and arrived early … and our luggage arrived at the same time! Nice ending to a lovely vacation. While aboard, we booked a 2021 cruise on the Ryndam. We are also booked on another cruise on the Veendam in September (really hoping all of the Coronavirus problems are gone by then).