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Detailed Review - Veendam - Nov 18-25, 2006

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Holland America Cruise – Veendam

November 18, 2006 to November 25, 2006

Roundtrip from Tampa, FL

Ports to visit – George Town, Grand Cayman – Ocho Rios, Jamaica – Costa Maya, Mexico

 

About us - We are a family of 4 from a small town in South Carolina. We have been on 4 other cruises within the last 3 years. We normally share a single cabin. I am an attorney and DW (Darling Wife) is a teacher. DD (Darling Daughter) is 16 years old and DS (Darling Son) is 14 years old (15 in 2 months). Also on this trip are my parents, my 2 sisters with their husbands and children and a family friend couple with their 2 children. We have an inside cabin (677 on Main Deck) as do the others in our party except my parents who have an outside view cabin.

 

First Tip for anyone to be on Veendam. Try to get a cabin forward. Many things are on Deck 7 (Promenade) and the rear elevator only takes you to dining room on that deck. For the other things (front desk, Wajang Theater, etc.), you have to go forward on Deck 8 or 6 and then come back.

 

November 18 – Saturday

Embarkation

 

We learned that the Tampa port had changed since we were here in June of 2004. I thought we would be leaving from the same terminal as our Carnival cruise in 2004 but they have apparently done a lot of construction. There are now 2 additional terminals. Holland America apparently uses Terminal 6 (which is really the second terminal). Traffic was well handled and drop off was okay. We were dropped off at the end of the terminal and then a few buses pulled up and unloaded between us and the door into the terminal so our experience was a little skewed. Most of the buses were carrying older cruisers and the buses unloading along with confused people created quite a bit of confusion and blockade. The good news was that we went to park the car and it was right adjacent to the terminal. The bad news about the great parking is that it was $12 per day.

 

Once we entered the terminal, the line appeared long for those that had done pre-registration. Fortunately, the line moved very fast. We arrived at about 11:50 and were walking on-board by 12:30. As we boarded the ship, we were asked to sanitize our hands. HAL is very serious about germs and there are sanitizing stations (filled with Purell hand-sanitizers) all over the place. This obsession with having guests sanitize their hands continued throughout the cruise I am pleased to say. I went straight to the Pinnacle Grill to make our reservations while the rest of the party went to the Lido buffet. At PG, there was no line and the staff was very polite and nice. Although we wanted a table for 10, the only ones available were at 5:30. We decided we could split into 6 and 4 so we were easily able to get 6:30 seating. It was much easier and better than I had thought it would be.

 

At the Lido Buffet, it was quite crowded. The buffet is not really a traditional buffet and instead is more like a cafeteria since the staff actually help your plate. There are several stations but people were going in one long line so it made things slower. Still, we found the food to be very good and tasty. I was very disappointed to learn that there were no unlimited soda cards like we are used to on other cruises (including prior HAL). Now it was $18 (plus tax and gratuity) for a card with 20 drinks on it. Each soda, they will make a punch. Since the sodas are still in a glass, it was a disappointment as a I like to drink a lot of soda. Without the card, sodas were $1.75 plus tax and gratuity (tax only when within 3 miles of FL)..

 

We went to our cabins about 1:30 and they were ready. DW is suffering from sinus so immediately settled in for a nice nap while we toured the ship and handled the unpacking. The cabin was bigger than we expected and there was plenty of storage for a family of 4. Amazingly enough, we had empty drawers even after unpacking! No fridge and no tub but a large shower. Only 1 outlet in the room but that was expected so I mention it only to remain anyone else to bring a power strip and extension cords. While wandering the ship, I noted that it was smaller than we have been on in a while and of course is smaller than our last HAL cruise on the Zuiderdam. Despite this being a full cruise, there was no congestion in the halls and only a few people wandering. Some were around the pool or swimming but it did not feel crowded at all.

 

Life boat drill was the worst one I have been through. Very cramped and crowded on the Lower Promenade deck and for some reason our lifeboat station was a long way forward although we are almost at the back of the ship. On other ships the Promenade deck is wider I think. Of course, people were not paying attention and confusion reigned. The crew were doing their best and it was not a bad experience, just not as smooth as others.

 

We have 8:00 dinner seating. We watched the sail away from the Crows Nest. This Crows Nest was different from the one on Zuiderdam. On Zuiderdam, the Crows Nest had a wonderful unobstructed view out of the windows, especially the very front. On the Veendam, the sides of the Crows Nest were unobstructed but the gym extended out below the Crows Nest so you could not see down as clearly. Still a wonderful view. The wait staff was not overly friendly. In fact, every time we later came to the Crows Nest, that waiter was usually almost rude to us and the others in our party. Since we were drinking sodas from the card or ice water, the waiter was not very interested in really serving us and showed a lot of preference for those ordering mixed drinks. That was unusual too from our last HAL cruise. The ship had to back down the canal for a while before it could turn around to go forward. Pretty sunset and then we went to get ready for the show at 6:30 and were prepared for dinner in case the show ran long.

 

The show was a “Let Us Entertain You” theme review. The gist of the show was to introduce the various staff members and entertainers. It was well done and each staff member got to say a few words (best was the art auction person). The entertainers were not just the ship band and singers and dancers but included the piano bar players and the other performers normally in the smaller lounges to give us a preview of what they did. It was nice to see and all did pretty good. The ship singers and dancers appeared especially comfortable and used to their acts. It was pretty good.

 

Dinner time showed us that somehow we had the same dinner time but were not at the same tables. Each family had a different table and we were spread around the dining room to an extent that would have been hard to do on purpose. I spoke with the maitre‘d and he promised to see if he could make a change for the rest of the time. I have high hopes.

 

The dining room was also smaller than we have been used to lately and I was surprised to see that we seemed to have only a single waiter rather than 2 waiters like we have had on every other cruise. It seemed the same way at the other tables and I have to say that he did a fine job. The food was very good.

 

November 19 – Sunday

Day at Sea (and Cruise Critic meet and greet)

 

We slept late, even with the extra hour. We had ordered room service for 9:30-10:00 and it arrived and woke us up (as we hoped). The order was mostly complete but the bad news is that my son had gotten sick during the night with a very sore throat. A little later, my wife took him to the infirmary where the doctor was very friendly and polite and diagnosed a throat infection and provided us with some antibiotics. A little nap and by mid afternoon, my son was much better. It was nice that the next day the nurse called the cabin to just check in on him.

 

I went to try to find the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet. I forgot where it was going to be held but since JmzandJoJo had made reservations for a space through HAL, including lemonade, tea and water and a request that a staff member attend if possible, figured it would be easy to find. Unfortunately, it was not shown on the daily list of events. I went to the front desk and was behind several irate passengers (which I will explain later). When I got to the desk, I asked the man where the Cruise Critic meet and greet was being held. It took a bit before he understood what I was saying and he then tried to refer to the daily list of events. I told him several times that it was not listed and that he would likely find it in some book they probably keep. He insisted on looking through the list of events and asking me about almost everyone shown as I continued to ask him to please just check the arrangements book. Finally, he determined that it was not on the daily list of events (wow) and went to their book of arrangements. It took several wrong starts before he finally found the Cruise Critic event listed and told me it was in the Crows Nest. I rushed up and was pleased to get to meet several of my fellow CCers. Only 4 of us were there (though some with spouses or family) so it was not a good turnout. I wish it had been listed in the daily schedule for a reminder. Anyway, it was nice to meet and talk with those who were there and I learned that many others were having lots of dining room problems. I hope everyone who signs in on a roll call will make an effort to at least stop by the meet and greet since it is very nice to put some faces with names and to know who to wave at during the rest of the cruise.

 

As I was waiting for my turn at the front desk, there was a couple ahead of me complaining that something was wrong with their cabin and it stunk of sewage. They said the cabins adjacent to theirs also stuck. The lady behind the desk tried to explain to them that she would have housekeeping work on it and the plumbers but that the cruise was over-sold (currently holding about 200 more than normal full capacity) so there were no other cabins available. Rather than understand this, the couple kept insisting that they did not want that smell and they had paid for a vacation, etc. I sympathize with their problem but they needed to understand that there was no other option available. It was not a problem that could be solved beyond trying to fix the smell and that it was something to take up with Seattle. Thinking of that and after the CC meeting, I decided I would go back to the front desk to discuss the changed itinerary and that turned out to be a huge mistake on my part. Our itinerary was originally Grand Cayman, Ocho Rios, Costa Maya but about a few weeks before the cruise, it changed and we were going to go in the reverse of that order. I, like many, had many arrangements for excursions with private operators. No notices were sent out or any effort made to notify the passengers of the change. TAs did not even know and I heard from CCers who had used all types of TAs, including very large ones. Thankfully, someone on CC found the change and posted about it so I was able to contact the tour providers on Ocho Rios and Grand Cayman. Had I not seen that notice, I would have been quite upset when I got aboard and found out about the change since all of my plans would now be moot (any deposits would likely be returned but more than the deposit, I wanted the excursion). This made me very angry that no notice was given nor any effort to give notice. It did not bother me that it changed, only that no one was notified that it changed.

 

Well, the guy at the front desk kept insisting that I should go to the shore excursions desk and they would help me. I kept explaining that I did not book the excursions through HAL and he said that I should have done that and again encouraged me to go to the shore excursion desk to see if I could book through them now. I explained repeatedly that booking through HAL was not what I wanted but that I wanted to be able to check with the private providers. I suggested that perhaps HAL could give me some type of internet credit so I could access the internet and confirm things. He again recommended the shore excursion desk. I kept trying to explain that I thought it was a problem to reverse the itinerary and that I knew it was not something within his control so I was not upset with him and instead I was suggesting a possible solution to the issue that I felt was reasonable. I said that I would prefer to have an internet credit rather than have to wait until I return home, whether the excursions went off or not, write to Seattle and end up possibly getting a credit on a future cruise. A shipboard credit now for a little internet could easily resolve the whole issue but he could not fathom what I was saying. I just gave up and thanked him and left, still determined to have a good day.

 

Later, I went by my cabin and there was a form note from the maitre‘d saying that they were unable to accommodate our request for a chance of dining. As I noted above, we had 17 people so I know that is hard to change around but I had hoped he could get us into the same general area, even if not at the same table. I did not care where nor care what he was able to do but I just wanted to know he actually tried. He had seemed so friendly and helpful the night before that such an impersonal form note just seemed wrong. I heard from other passengers he was making the same statements to everyone. I wish they would just let everyone post a note somewhere if they have a seating they want to switch and I bet it would go much smoother. Anyway, it just hit me wrong so I decided that rather than let it get me down, and wait to write a letter when I returned home, I would just ask for the hotel manager to discuss everything with him if he had a moment. Back at the front desk, they asked if I would be willing to talk with the guest services person instead and I agreed that would be okay. I spoke with someone named Emile who seemed very understanding and polite. He appeared to listen to my concerns and to appreciate than I was polite about it and that I offered what I felt were reasonable solutions to each issue. He promised to look into it and to get back to me.

 

When I returned to the cabin later that afternoon (to get ready for dinner in the Pinnacle Grill), I had a voice mail from Emile asking me to call the front desk. Basically, he said that the maitre‘d was going to work on it but nothing could be done. He then started explaining that a change in the itinerary is something mentioned as a possibility in the cruise contract and the line is not responsible for changes. I had stressed to him that the change was not a problem, the problem was that no notice was given when it was known by HAL well in advance. The fact that he had apparently ignored what I had said really made me angry and I told him that I was disappointed he did not apparently pay any attention to what I had told him. Granted, he was not as bad as the guy at the front desk but I think it is ridiculous that I am going to end up having to complain to Seattle about something that could easily have been fixed by some internet minutes or even some genuine words of apology. When he told me the maitre’d would work on our request, I told him that I did not believe him and that the maitre d had told too many people he would “work on requests” for me to think anything was going to happen. He said “I give you my word he will work on it” and I told him that he had also given me his word he had listened when I spoke with him earlier and that had proved false so I would not hold out much hope of anything being done or anyone caring.

 

The good news is that the maitre’d did have a change made when we arrived for dinner. He moved all 17 of us into the Queen’s room and we will be able to sit together at 2 tables that are side by side. I will make it a point to thank Emile and to apologize for not trusting him. Our dinner arrangements are now quite satisfactory and I appreciate the effort which was made. Even though we were in a separate dining area off of the main dining room, it was fun having people wonder if we were celebrities or something.

 

Other than my fun with the front desk, the day at sea was very relaxing. The seas are smoother than last year and everyone seemed to be relaxing and having a good time. I donated some to the casino and many of my group went to the Wajang Theatre for a movie (Da Vinci Code). The theater was almost full and there was not enough popcorn to go around but it was a nice place and we enjoyed the movie.

 

Then we had to hurry to change and go to the Pinnacle Grill. Our tables were ready and I was surprised at how many empty tables were present. I do not know if there were no reservations or if people did not show up. In any event, the staff was very good and the meal was pretty good but it was not so outstanding I would pay to eat there again. I had the 10 oz Filet Mignon and, while good, it was not that good. We did leave tips for the waiters since it was explained that the regular tip does not go to them. We skipped dessert and met our children in the main dining room for another dinner. It was my sister’s birthday so the waiters sang Happy Birthday (very much in key and sounding really good) and dinner went well.

 

The show tonight was “Pardi Gras”, a vegas style show featuring the ship singers and dancers. I have to say that I think it was the best group I have ever seen on a cruise ship. They seemed like true experienced professionals and the dancers really worked hard. I was very impressed.

 

 

November 20 – Monday

Costa Maya, Mexico

 

Room service was delivered promptly as usual and, as usual, it was not what we ordered but was close enough that we did not complain. Docking went well and disembarkation also went well. We all met up at the exit and went into town. The plan was to rent golf carts, go to Majahual and take some school supplies to the children at the school we visited before. There have been a lot of question about Costa Maya and Majahual so I will go into more details than normal. Feel free to skip it if you want.

 

At Costa Maya, it is a man-made port where there is flea market style shopping and haggling over price is part of the expected fun. There is a large salt water pool with swim up bar and many shore excursions available. As you would expect, shop owners and tour operators call out to you as you pass by. One shop owner called out to one of the other guys in our party asking what he needed. He responded, “Nothing”. The shop owner shouted back that he had several varieties of nothing for a $1 each. The key is to remember that they mean no offense so laugh along with it and enjoy.

 

We decided to rent golf carts. There are other ways to get to Majahual but if you are a family of four, the cab rides are about the same as golf cart rental and it is fun to rent a golf cart. The cart was $30 for 2 hours and all day prices were available. Because we were getting several, they agreed to do $25 for 2 hours or $30 for 2.5 hours. Little haggling with rentals but it never hurts to try. To get to the golf carts, after you enter Costa Maya, just walk straight and you will see an exit by a set of stairs. Walk through the exit, turn left and walk and you cannot miss the rental location.

 

While renting the golf carts, we met a local named Zack Greenspan. He spoke excellent English and knew all the local things. I have no doubt he gets commissions but the key was that he was extremely helpful. Best of all, I have seen many people asking for ways to contact people in Costa Maya or to make advance private reservations and he mentioned that he followed Cruise Critic so I asked him if he would help people who contacted him with questions. He promised he would and gave me his e-mail address (Superzack2@hotmail.com). Anyway, I know if I am coming back to Costa Maya, I will contact him and let him set everything up for me ahead of time, even if he did resemble Jay of Jay and Silent Bob fame.

 

We took the golf carts to Majahual and were surprised at how much it had grown and changed in the last 2 years. It has become more commercialized. The front road through most of the town is no longer open except to pedestrians. You are re-routed to the 2nd and 3rd row streets. Each goes 1 way. There are lots of taxis there and people asking if you need a ride. Parking for the golf carts was safe by a soccer field on the edge of the town and only a block from most things. It was safe. We had a little trouble finding the school we wanted and it turned out that today was a holiday for them. There was no one there except the teacher’s wife who spoke no English. The nerve of someone in Mexico not speaking English fluently! Yeah. Anyway, my daughter is taking Spanish in school so we were able to at least convey our desire to give some supplies to the children and she was very appreciative. She also probably thought we were insane. I asked some locals for directions and each one thanked us for bringing some supplies. I thought that was nice of them. After we left, we passed another school on the 3rd row road and there was another school that was apparently not on holiday but we had already given away all of our stuff. Next time I will remember to plan for 2 schools (I think there are 3 total).

 

After we parked at the soccer field, we wandered down main street. Every shop owner was convinced that he or she had exactly what we needed. Every bar owner had the best prices and knew exactly what we wanted. All were very nice and we did end up buying several necklaces and dresses. One shop was even labeled “Mexican Wol-Mart”. It was a pretty day, nice and cool but sunny and the people were polite and happy. At the end of town (closest to the Costa Maya pier), we met the owner of the Cat’s Meow restaurant and bar. She is from Canada and offered us free samples of the margaritas. Most thought it was too strong but my brother-in-law and I decided they were just right. We ended up getting a couple as well as some sodas and quesadillas and some free chips and salsa. Sitting on a nice beach, sipping a fresh margarita and relaxing with the family is not a bad way to spend a little time. The owner mentioned that she loves to read Cruise Critic (before I mentioned it) so I hope she will see this. Afterward, we rode back to the pier, shopped a few more minutes and then returned to the ship for lunch and rest. It was pleasantly surprising to see how many locals do read Cruise Critic.

 

Watched Pirates of the Caribbean 2 in the theater and again I thought of how much I enjoy having a theater on the ship. Our departure was delayed while some passenger was unaccounted for. A 27 year old male but they kept calling for him and asking him to report if he was onboard. Apparently, he finally realized they were looking for him and responded because I never saw anyone else come on board but an announcement came that all were aboard and we departed. I later learned that he was indeed on board the whole time but just not paying attention. Little did I suspect what was coming.

 

Like the Gilligan’s Island’s theme song, the weather started getting rough. And I mean rough! The boat was rocking and rolling and pitching and yawing in all directions. The front desk had lots of crackers, seasickness pills and such on the counter and seasickness bags accessible at the elevators. Even crew were getting sick. For dinner, the dining room was sparsely attended and of my party of 17, only 6 made it. The dinner was a chef’s special night that was supposed to have a show and be a specialty of the chef. The 6 of us who were there were not really impressed with the meal since it was heavy on appearance and low on flavor. I am pretty simple and I like my food to taste good more than I like it to look fancy. I did learn more about our waiter as he talked with us that night. Our waiter was normally a room service person who had been pressed into service as a waiter due to the 110% capacity on board. We told him he was doing great though. So, we had our own room and a room service person was changed into a waiter. That is pretty nice. The waiter (Yohanes) was proud that he had been an assistant waiter then promoted to room service and was now very pleased to be even temporarily promoted to waiter. He was young and though good, I believe I insulted him later in the cruise accidentally. He is from Indonesia and the night of the crew show (Filipino crew at 11:15), I asked if he was going to be in the show and he quickly pointed out that he was NOT Filipino. I tried to explain I did not realize it was just the Filipinios.

 

As my DW and DD struggled with seasickness, my son and I were excited to go the evening show. The act was Bob Cates, a juggling comedian who did balancing tricks. Well, what could be better on a roller coaster than watching someone try to balance and juggle! The show was very sparsely attended and I would guess there were only about 1/6 of so of the available seats filled. Bob Cates did an admirable job, especially trying to mount and ride a 6 foot unicycle and juggle on the pitching deck. There were several bits that he was unable to do he said but he was offering a seminar and Q&A seminar tomorrow where he would try to do them.

 

We returned to the cabin to nurse our wounded and to prepare for the day at sea the next day. We also had to set our clocks back to east coast time. Several of our party slept by the Lido Deck pool to try to ease their sickness.

 

November 21 – Tuesday

Day at Sea

 

For the morning, everyone from our party was feeling better and was around and about. The seas were 7.5-12 foot and the winds were Force 7 (near gale). In such conditions, I believe any ship is going to have a lot of rocking so please bear in mind my comments about seasickness and the roughness are not intended as a comment on the ship.

 

We watched Cars in the theater and just relaxed in the sun. I spent some time in the library (called Explorations Café) and was pleased to see that the library had lots of music stations. These music stations were locations with ear phones and a screen that operated much like an iPod. Basically there was a large library of songs available and you make a playlist of what you want to hear then it plays them.

 

Because of the crew Filipino show, the late seating guests had a showtime of 6:30. The performer was Dr. Justin Miller who was to play fiddle, guitar, mandolin, etc. He was quite impressed with himself and his abilities. He often spoke of playing with Ethel Merman, Cole Porter, etc. but none of that mattered to me. I found the performance very boring. He was a good musician but a guitar (or mandolin) concert is not something I want to spend an hour listening to nor hear about how he set Bach’s music to guitar. One of my party is very into guitars and guitar music and found Dr. Miller very accomplished but also felt he was sitting in a music class or something. Everyone is different and others may find it entrancing but I felt it the worst show I have seen on a cruise.

 

After the show, we piddled around a bit then went to dinner. All of our party was present for dinner for a change and our waiter did a good job. The waiter did get a little miffed when 5 of our party enjoyed the oysters rockefeller so much that they asked for second helpings but the food overall was food and the service good as well.

 

After a donation to the casino, it was back to the room for an early bed time since we have an 8:00 arrival at Ocho Rios tomorrow.

 

November 22 – Wednesday

Ocho Rios, Jamaica

 

We arrived on time. Our room service breakfast was a little late but they called to warn us that it would be. As we got off the ship onto the pier, I was surprised at the state of the dock. I am used to wide open docks but this one originally built as a bauxite loading facility. There were cranes and metal structures all around. Not bad but just very different. It was a very short walk to the end of the pier and there was a crowd of tour operators and taxi drivers patiently waiting.

 

We saw Oneil Taylor (Peat’s son) standing and holding a sign saying “Peat Taylor”. We went to him and he called his father to come with the bus. It was just the twelve of us and Oneil told us more about Jamaica (and said some phrases for the camera) while we waited. Peat arrived and was driving a very nice Toyota Cruiser bus. I have never seen such a thing before but it was the size of a long van and had comfortable bus-like seats with 2 on one side, 1 on the other. The aisle between the seats had a fold down seat that could be used if necessary. The van/bus had large windows, air conditioning and a very large DVD player at the front that Peat would later use to show us about tubing. He had a microphone so when he was talking everyone one could hear very well. I saw several of these van/buses so they must be common for tour guides on the island. As we got on the bus, he told us he was a PhD (pot hole dodger) and since he has studied the roads around the island, considered himself also a Rhodes Scholar. He promised he had greased the sides of the bus that morning so we would slide right past anything we met. Got a big laugh but as we saw how narrow the roads were and how close the traffic was, we were glad for that!

 

One thing we immediately noticed, in addition to the fact that they drive on the wrong side of the road, was that Ocho Rios follows the “Blow and Go “ traffic laws of other islands. We saw no stop signs and only a couple of stoplights. There were a lot of signs pleading for drivers to be careful but we never saw any accidents. We planned to go to the Dunns River Falls. On the way, Peat was taking us around the area. We saw some neighborhoods and then stopped by a little school to deliver some more supplies. The kids were about 4 years old and really cute. Peat sang some songs and told us many things about the area. It was very interesting and fun.

 

When we got to Dunn Rivers Falls, Peat had not purchased the advanced tickets but it was no problem since he said to buy the tickets and just pay him the difference. Same price either way. Peat said he would meet us at the entrance 2 hours later. We paid our entry fee and walked through the park toward the falls entrance. There were places to rent water shoes but we had all worn good water shoes and thought we were prepared. We rented a single locker and it was well large enough for all of our stuff (3 backpacks full). We were warned that whatever we took would likely get wet so we left the sensitive cameras, cash, and all clothes we wanted to keep dry. Took some water cameras. Do not take anything you do not want to carry and do not want to get very wet. We were part of a group of about 20 to 25. We were all told to hold hands and make a chain. The chain was more for balance than for really helping you if you fell. There were at least 2 guides with the group and a person who was video taping it. Throughout the climb, the guides were great about taking pictures with your camera for you and for making sure everyone stepped in the right places. The guides hopped around barefooted on the rocks as if they were part mountain goat!

 

The Falls and the climb are hard to really describe. They are beautiful and it was a really fun time. If you have physical mobility problems, you cannot make the climb. If you cannot climb a flight of steps unassisted, you should not consider trying to climb the falls. There is a walkway beside the falls most of the time that people who did not want to get wet can walk to look at the falls but just looking is very different from climbing them or being in them. We had an 8 year old girl with us who made it easily. I recommend it since it was definitely an experience.

 

After the falls, the path to the exit goes through a “shopping village” which consists of lots of stalls with Jamaicans selling t-shirts and trinkets. They were very polite and that made it harder to ignore them. They would give the wife or children something “for free” then turn to the husband to negotiate buying the other part of the pair or whatever. Prices were not bad and the non-pushy, polite approach was almost an unfair tactic since it made you feel horrible if you did not stop and look at whatever they were pushing. I was prepared for shouting and such but not for people being nice. When we left the falls, Peat was waiting for us. He offered to take us back to the ship for lunch or to a local restaurant (the Ruins) that he recommended. Because we had some picky children in our group, we opted for eating lunch on the ship. Peat promised to pick us up an hour and a half later for the afternoon trip to the White River.

 

After lunch, Peat was there to pick us up and showed us a video of the river tubing so we would have a better idea what to expect and what there was to do. He showed us some more of the local area and we saw the school where his wife teaches. We also saw the first Sandals resort and the home of the owner of Sandals. Of course, Bob Marley is big on the island and there are a lot of pictures or statues of him. We went to the river tubing place and it looked like being in the middle of nowhere. Peat asked that we put everything in the back of the bus. Some were hesitant about leaving expensive items or cash on the bus but I offered reassurance that there were many good comments about Peat on the CC Board so we trusted him. A couple of our group wore flip-flops rather than water shoes and we were warned we better leave the flip flops (VERY good advice). The guide met us and handed out our innertubes. The tubes were standard innertubes with a floor. The floor was a commercial (meaning not homemade) fiberglass like board that was attached with ropes around the tube. The water was cold but you get used to it pretty quick. We noticed that the river was not the “lazy river” we were expecting and we could see some pretty rough water ahead. The water was not very deep (average probably 2 feet) and the bottom was very rocky with some rocks coming close to the surface. The bottom board in the tube was very useful and comfortable. You could feel rocks scrape along the bottom board but, again, it was more fun than scary or painful. The water would often splash up and over the tube but it was more fun than scary. My daughter fell off her tube and the guides were right there to help her. It was a lot of fun and then about ¾ of the way down the river, we pulled over to the side of the river and got out for a rest. The rest was also a time for them to try to sell us pictures of us tubing and of our group. They know you have no cash so if you want to buy something, they deliver it and take payment at the end when you have reunited with your money.

 

We then walked up a hill back the way we had come and came to the “cliff”. The cliff was an area about 15-20 feet high and there was a rope that you could use to swing out. The goal was to jump from the cliff into the water below. The water was about 12 feet deep our guide told us. My son immediately jumped and had a good time. Slowly, most of us made the decision to jump and it was a lot of fun. After jumping, you then swim to the other side and watch the others jump. Then we swam down to the same point we stopped and climbed back out to look at the pictures of us jumping. I had to buy a few of those. We then all got back into the river and floated further down the river to the end. The weird thing to me was that the end of the run was one curve and about 200 yards from the place where the river entered the ocean. I had never seen such fresh water flowing directly into the ocean. Peat came and picked us up, let us stop by a store then took us back to the ship. We all had fun and were quite tired.

 

It was a formal night and I decided to take a quick nap. When I woke up, I learned that the weather had taken a turn for the worse and that Grand Caymans had closed their port. That means that 7 ships, including us, could no longer stop there. The captain was unable to arrange another port so we were heading back to Tampa. We would just have 4 days at sea instead of 3. We were all really looking forward to Grand Cayman (and Stingray City) so we were all very disappointed. I think I heard the captain say that about 14,000 passengers on those 7 ships were affected but I was mainly concerned with our 17.

 

The good news is that the captain used the time to take us toward some smoother water so that we did not have a repeat of the ferocious seas from Monday.

 

Our bad news for the day was that DD had pain in her ear and although we thought it was swimmer’s ear, a visit to the infirmary turned out that it was an ear infection. The nurse asked if my DW wanted to go ahead and make a reservation for the rest of the family. <g>

 

The formal meal tonight had small filet mignon with lobster tails. They were terrific and most of our party ordered multiple servings of them. The requests for multiple orders were anticipated I think. I do not like lobster tail normally but even I liked these. Baked Alaska was the dessert and it was also terrific.

 

The show tonight was a comedian named Jason Chase who bills himself as the Clean Comic. His bio talks about opening for Barbara Mandrell so that should give you an idea of what era he is from. I do not believe that comedy has to be dirty to be funny but I do think that comedy should be funny at the least. I did not find the show funny in the least. Most of the humor consisted of jokes I heard long ago and revolved around the idea that women are smart and men and dumb. Then he commented on some singers like Elvis or Fats Domino and sang some songs from the 50s as part of his humor. I almost left several times except I wanted to see if it got better and try to be fair with my report. My DS was with me and he enjoyed it but others from my party who were there also thought it was pretty boring.

 

As this was the second formal night, we had made an appointment to have the photographer take a picture of all of us. He insisted that it be done on the atrium staircase and although the background was very plain (taking against the plain blue wall rather than toward the atrium), we went along with it. When we saw the pictures the next day, we were incredibly disappointed since the pictures were horrid. We looked like we were in a stairwell and there were a lot of shadows on the wall behind us. Awful work.

 

At least tomorrow we can sleep late.

 

November 23 – Thursday (Thanksgiving)

George Town, Grand Cayman

 

Well, as I said above, Grand Cayman was cancelled. I was curious what would happen with the port fees and taxes since we had the port cancelled. I thought maybe we would at least get some type of ship board credit or something. I got a call from the Front Desk about replacing a burnt out light bulb in our cabin so I asked the woman. She said that we were going to get the full port taxes and fees credited back to our account so I guess that is fair. It was not the cruiseline’s fault and as long as they are not going to keep the extra fees and taxes, I guess it is fair that they do not need to do anything else.

 

Today is Thanksgiving for the United States and so we are just relaxing and taking it easy.

 

The nurse called to check on my DD. She is doing well and having no further problems.

 

Dinner included traditional Thanksgiving fare with all the trimmings as well as other delicious choices. Most of us ordered the Thanksgiving dinner and another dinner of fish, steak or veal. The waiter was also doing really good with the 4 and 8 year old in our party of bringing them items from the children’s menu. After dinner, we were all offered free glasses of champagne (or sparkling cider for the children). Although it was a good day, it was almost impossible to get over the disappointment of having to miss Grand Cayman.

 

The show was a Tribute to Broadway by the ship’s singers and dancers and it was terrific. They were just so good and danced so well. I wish they had done more performances. There was much ado about the costumes being designed by Bob Mackie but I am not into fashion design so that did not really matter to me but what does matter to me is good entertainment and that was good entertainment.

 

November 24 – Friday

Day at Sea

 

Another relaxing day. More donations to the casino and a great final meal. We thanked our waiter and assistant waiter and gave them a little extra tip. The show was a bonus performance from Justin Miller (excuse me, DR Justin Miller) and Jason Chase so I was not very enthusiastic about it. The good news was that Jason Chase sang more than he talked this time and he does have a good voice. Otherwise, I would rather have seen about anything else. Odd that the best ship’s singers and dancers I have seen end up combined with the worst featured performers.

 

November 25 – Saturday

Debarkation

 

We were driving back so normally are in the later departure groups. Departure is done by colors and HAL allows you to wait in the cabin or in public areas. We were Purple 2 and the estimate was that we would debark about 8:45 so we ordered room service for 8:00-8:30 and had prepared to just wait and relax. At 8:20, before our room service arrived, they called for Purple 2. We ate our room service and while DW and DD finished packing a few of their cosmetics, DS and I went looking for a bar to use up the last of our soda cards (none were open). We got to peek in some of the suites and other types of cabins as they were being cleaned and the suites were very nice. Since we were running late for our departure group, I cannot say how it was for all but for us, there was no crowd, our luggage was all together, the porter loaded it up and walked out the door with us to the car and it was all almost too simple and anti-climatic. On the trip home, one of our party had car trouble (bad alternator and battery) which ended up with about $600 in repairs but we were able to distribute the passengers and bags and keep going. Good reminder to always have a cell phone and be prepared for problems to strike on a ship.

 

OVERALL

 

Veendam was a nice ship and a good size. The crew was far below the HAL standards I saw on the Zuiderdam. Zuiderdam was a Vista class ship and at the time we sailed, in the worst repair of any ship in their fleet (though the condition was not a problem). Oddly enough though, it was the highest rated ship in their fleet and the one most crew seek to transfer too because the crew take such pride in it. Veendam could use a lot more pride by its crew and a lot more concern for the passengers. Some crew were very nice, others indifferent and a few downright rude. Not as bad as Carnival but probably on a par with Royal Caribbean. Way behind the Zuiderdam or Disney.

 

The food was excellent and portions were reasonable. My biggest concern about the food was that there were times when no restaurant or area was open except room service. The Lido Buffet should have longer hours and there should be something open constantly from 8:00 AM until midnight. Whether it is sandwiches, ice cream or pizza, this was the first time I can remember finding nothing open sometimes. Maybe that is one reason the food was so good though so I have to consider that.

 

The cabin felt very large and uncongested. This was the first time we have tried an inside cabin so I was expecting it to feel smaller but, as I said earlier, our family of four still had empty storage spaces. That was shocking to me. The flat screen LCD TV and DVD player was also very nice. Nothing but praise for our cabin and since we had the lower level, I can only assume anything higher would even be better. Our cabin steward was slow to make up the room and often did not follow requests (like to return the sofa bed to a sofa). We had a burned out light above the upper bunk and though we reported it several times, and even had calls from the front desk to set up a time to have it replaced, it was still out when we left the ship. Not a big deal but it does show the lower crew dedication I believe.

 

The common areas were clean and large. Deck layout was good (with the exception of access to Deck 7 from the Aft elevators as I mentioned above) and I really love having a dedicated theater. From the Lounge to the Dining Room, all rooms were good size and never felt cramped or crowded even with the ship being beyond standard capacity. The pools were well used and the cover for the main pool was opened and closed at the right times.

 

I am surprised that upon returning home, I saw no mention on the CC board about the other 6 ships that had to miss Grand Cayman. Maybe nothing has been reported yet or maybe something changed and they were able to go in. If what HAL said was true, then there is nothing they could do about having to miss the port (and they did refund the ~$13.50 per person) but if we had gone on the itinerary we originally booked, we would have gotten Grand Cayman and only missed Costa Maya. I am still very disappointed that HAL made no effort to warn people about the reversed itinerary and again thankful that I follow Cruise Critic so that I knew. This was NOT a failing on the part of the Veendam or its crew, it was HAL main office who should have sent notices to the passengers or travel agents. Last minute changes are one thing but this was known weeks before the cruise and I know no reason why it could not have been announced.

 

Although HAL remains my favorite line, I am not sure if I will cruise with them for a while. I would be more likely to go on the Zuiderdam but for any other ship, I would be concerned it would be too much like the Veendam experience. Now, if they could put the Zuiderdam crew on the Veendam, I would sail that in a moment!

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Thank you for taking the time to share your very detailed review. Given you optimized your vacation dollar with 4 inside an Inside Cabin (absolutely not knocking it), perhaps with a Group booking too, I cannot imagine where else you might have gotten a better value.

 

Having your entire group seated together was a significant accomplishement on any cruise, especially when sailing at 100+% capasity ( more than 2 passengers per cabin).

 

I sense your dissappointment missing Grand Cayman and wonder if it understanedly clouded your entire experience. I wonder why it was cancelled and why communication was so poor. This seems to be an issue with all mass marketed cruise lines. I have heard when this happens, cruise lines tend to rely upon fax or e-mail to the T/A. This then requires a human to relate the notice to specific bookings within the T/A and then to contact passengers with bad news. Seems to me there is not a lot of incentive to do so, all the way around.

 

I think you will be happier on Vista Class ships and we are fortunate to have so many choices.

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Thanks for the great review! We sail the Veendam over New Years, our first time on HAL. We're a little nervous about the smaller ship but after our past two cruises on RCI Voyager class ships, we're also looking forward to the fewer passengers.

If you don't mind a couple of questions, how did your teens enjoy the cruise? Did they participate in any of the organized activities or hang out in the teen area? My kids are happy as long as there are at least a few their ages--we've sailed Princess and NCL in the off-season with less than 40 kids under the age of 17.

The boys in our family have an inside cabin forward booked so I was happy to hear that was recommended by you. DD and I have a cat. HH guar. so no idea yet where we'll be. The mystery is part of the appeal of a guarantee cabin for us, lol.

Thanks in advance for any teen advice!

 

Beth

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Very nicely done.

Did you happen to go to the Piano Bar any time? My friend J.P. Nadeau was playing their.

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hammybee - As for value, I think it is impossible to find a better value. We paid approximately $1450 (after Grand Cayman refund) for 4 people for a 7 night cruise. I cannot imagine anywhere that does not involve having to row the ship being a better value so I was not knocking that at all. In case I was not clear, getting all 17 of us together was never expected, we just hoped we could be near each other (in same area of the dining room) and if not, that would have been okay too. I appreciated being given the tables in Queen's Room and as I said with comments about maitre'd, any effort was appreciated and I know he had a tough job. Finding out how they did with everyone else though (4cruzer had requested a table for 4 on the rail, confirmed it phone then confirmed it again by e-mail the week before the cruise and got onboard to find they had a table for 6 in the back corner), it just showed confusion. I believe you misread my post or something. Anyway, the communication about Grand Cayman being cancelled was a last minute thing so no problem there. The reversal of the intinerary was not last minute and could/should have been conveyed. TAs were not notified. Some booked through Travelocity and confirmed that Travelocity was not notified. I was through Vacation Consultants of America and they are part of the largest cruise booking consortium and they had no notice. People with TAs from large to small all confirmed that their TAs received no notice. This was not a TA problem, it was a HAL problem.

 

Bethcollins - At first glance, I thought your post said you were bringing a cat! :D Whew, glad you said you had a guaranteed category! We did that once on Carnival and loved it too. Please believe me when I say that even though the ship was smaller, it was still plenty big enough and even with 110% capacity, never felt cramped or crowded. One of the best things about Veendam and Zuiderdam (so I can generalize about all HAL ships) is that they are well laid out to avoid both the wide open canyon feeling on some ships and the tight spaces feeling on other ships. Very open but very cozy too, as strange as that sounds. The teens all enjoyed themselves a great deal. The Loft (and Oasis) are wonderful and they had a lot of programs for teens. HAL is not known for younger cruisers but that is a shame because they did have some good stuff and put a lot of effort into it. Your teens will have fun but need to decide if they want to hang out solo or if they want to meet more teens. I watched both viewpoints and both were happy.

 

Jessemon - Yes, as you requested I found JP and gave him your message. He rolled his eyes and said that you had been sending him that message a good bit and he was anxious to see you. Seemed nice and was good at the piano.

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Thanks for the review. You certainly did get a bargain - 4 people for $1450. You can't beat that with a stick.

 

I was disappointed to hear that some of the staff were indifferent or rude. Our experiences on the Westerdam were that the staff was fantastic - the best we have ever encountered. I think it really works from the top down.

 

We generally cruise on Princess and found that the Westerdam staff were better than the staff on Princess, although we had terrific staff last February and last April on Princess.

 

I hope that the problems you encountered were due to the holiday overstuffing of the ship. Service tends to break down when the staff are overworked. We are sailing on the December 9th sailing of the Veendam. I hope by then that they have calmed down from the Thanksgiving rush and are the usual HAL wonderful crew.

 

It is also nice to know that the maitre D' went out of his way to accommodate you.

 

Roberta

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wgeddings,

 

Thanks for posting such a detailed review. I am sorry you had such a bad experience.

 

We were on the Veendam for 34 days from 24th September to the end of October and it sounds as if the crew you had on board were completely different to ours. We found each and everyone who worked on the Veendam to be so helpful particularly the Maitre'D and the Assistant Maitre'D. We had a full ship as it was a very special itinerary and yet we didn't hear of anyone having any trouble with the staff.

 

Our Roll Call was fantastic and we met four times. The ship organized for us to have various rooms and we had two drink parties with the ship providing all the nibbles. We provided the wines. I organized the original two get togethers and confirmed it on board with the Guest Services lady. It wasn't written up in the daily Program but I did have everyone's cabin number in case there were changes.

 

Our Captain was fantastic and also the Chief Officer. It sounds like you were on a completely different ship to the one we were on which we didn't want to leave.

 

Jennie

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That's $52 a day, per person !!!

 

It seems to me that you were disappointed in many aspects of your cruise as your review tended to dwell on those things that did not meet your expectations. I am sorry if I am interpreting some of your comments differently, than you intended.

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wgeddings,

 

Thanks for posting such a detailed review. I am sorry you had such a bad experience.

 

We were on the Veendam for 34 days from 24th September to the end of October and it sounds as if the crew you had on board were completely different to ours. We found each and everyone who worked on the Veendam to be so helpful particularly the Maitre'D and the Assistant Maitre'D. We had a full ship as it was a very special itinerary and yet we didn't hear of anyone having any trouble with the staff.

 

Our Roll Call was fantastic and we met four times. The ship organized for us to have various rooms and we had two drink parties with the ship providing all the nibbles. We provided the wines. I organized the original two get togethers and confirmed it on board with the Guest Services lady. It wasn't written up in the daily Program but I did have everyone's cabin number in case there were changes.

 

Our Captain was fantastic and also the Chief Officer. It sounds like you were on a completely different ship to the one we were on which we didn't want to leave.

 

Jennie

 

Jennie,

 

I was on the 11/18 sailing also and thought the crew was wonderful. I know many of them were on the 34 day sailing as it was talked about by many of the crew.

 

This was my 18th cruise and it is was one of the best.

 

Scott

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That's $52 a day, per person !!!

 

It seems to me that you were disappointed in many aspects of your cruise as your review tended to dwell on those things that did not meet your expectations. I am sorry if I am interpreting some of your comments differently, than you intended.

 

Yep (technically a few cents less). Hard to find any other vacation that cheap! My son could eat more than that at a single sitting. ;) The cruise was good (hard to have a BAD cruise) but when I comment or review something, I like to point out good things and things where improvement could occur. I did not mention all the great treatment from staff since I have come to expect that on HAL and I had hoped that my comments about Zuiderdam showed that HAL has set a very high bar for service and concern. I do not regret going and we were all together so that is the big issue. The other things are things that I would want to know about from someone else before I went. Would any of them prevent me from going again or if I knew they were going to happen? Absolutely not! However, if I knew, I would have been a little more prepared to deal with them. I am sorry if the review does not reflect that. And you were right that I try to explain expectations and where they are met or not met. I like to try to get my expectations right before a cruise or event so my reviews reflect that. Sometimes I have too high of expectations but I assume that others might too so I hopefully help them adjust their expectations before they go. Better to be pleasantly surprised by having expectations exceeded than disappointed they were not met.

 

Charliesmom and Aussie Gal, on the Zuiderdam the Hotel Manager (the real head of the ship) came to our meet and greet and ever scheduled a special meeting with all the Cruise Critic people later on the cruise where he spent over 2 hours just talking about the cruise industry and things in general. That was also a Thanksgiving cruise. The HM was James Deering and he was going to the Osterdam (do not know where he is now) but your comment about top down really seemed to follow that. He was out among the passengers, meeting with groups, handling issues and taking a very hands on approach. The section heads in the dining room (people supervising each area) were helping serve each table and talking with each guest. Perhaps it was his hands on approach that made such a difference. On Veendam, I never saw the HM (and when I asked to see him, I was referred instead to a guest services person named Emile). Looking back, I seldom saw most of the officers (ship or hotel) and often saw the Cruise Director just walking around, not talking to anyone or doing anything particular (I have no idea if he was going somewhere important or perhaps had just finished something but he was making no effort to speak with people in the 4 or 5 times I watched him).

 

I am glad your experience with the Veendam was so much better Aussie Gal. I was very impressed with the ship itself. Maybe the crew was just overwhelmed with the full load but the full load never seemed to show or cause a problem so perhaps I discounted it too much. Many waiters were great and prompt but that just made ones like the guy in the Crows Nest stick out more in my mind. The poor quality of featured entertainment stood out so much because usually the featured acts are so good and the ship's singers and dancers are average at best. On this trip, the ship's singers and dancers were so good it just highlighted the lowered entertainment from the featured acts.

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I forgot to mention 3 things that were important. Others on our Roll Call thread helped me remember. First, I had no idea what a Culinary Arts Center was going to be. It was a full kitchen located behind the movie screen in the Wajang theater. I peeked in one day while waiting for the theater to turn back into a movie theater and everyone was gathered around the table/stove and wearing chef's hats. They looked like they were having a terrific time and I wanted to join them for one of the classes but it was usually held before I woke up at noon. :) Definitely worth checking out.

 

The second thing was the Explorations Cafe. On Veendam, it was the library and internet center. I made some mention of it in the review but I wanted to be sure to stress that it was a very open area that was very bright and comfortable. Games and puzzles were available and lots of books and movies. It usually had people in it and was a great place.

 

The final thing I needed to mention was to specifically mention Dani and the HALcats (the ship band). They played on deck and by the pool most days then every night the band was the back up band or orchestra in the main show. They were terrific and when I was commending the singers and dancers, I should have mentioned them too.

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Hi,

Thanks for the lengthy review. I am traveling with my husband and in-laws on the Veendam in February. It is my second cruise with HAL.

How many people does the ship hold? What do they charge for Internet? Do they have a java bar? Is there a charge for coffee?

Thanks for the info.

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Hi,

Thanks for the lengthy review. I am traveling with my husband and in-laws on the Veendam in February. It is my second cruise with HAL.

How many people does the ship hold? What do they charge for Internet? Do they have a java bar? Is there a charge for coffee?

Thanks for the info.

 

Ship supposedly holds about 1266. However, with families (or whatever) putting more than 2 in a cabin, it can have a larger capacity. There were a lot of families on this cruise so it had about 1,450 or so. Still never felt crowded.

 

Internet is $0.55 per minute or you can buy plans of 100 minutes or 50 minutes (I think) and get 20 or 10 minutes free. There is also a special later in the week where you can buy 20 minutes cheap and toward the last day, another special. No matter what, it is not cheap and although I did not use it, I have heard the connection speeds are not all that fast all the time.

 

In Explorations Cafe, there is a java bar with coffee. Coffee is also free at dinner and most other times with room service or in the lido buffet. Not a coffee drinker so I cannot tell you much else except that yes, it is free and available.

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The coffee is not free at the Explorations Cafe, but it isn't very expensive. Cheaper than Starbucks. I think I got a grande latte for 2.00, something like that. It just goes on your room account. It is pretty good, too.

 

Mary

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Hi Tom,

Great t read your review. Had to complete some schoolwork first and will be writing one myself this week. Going home is truly the only REALLY bad part of any cruise! lol

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The coffee is not free at the Explorations Cafe, but it isn't very expensive. Cheaper than Starbucks. I think I got a grande latte for 2.00, something like that. It just goes on your room account. It is pretty good, too.

 

Mary

 

Sorry, I left that out. Coffee appeared to be free at dining room, lido, etc. but there was a charge at Explorations. It appeared to be a more expensive type of coffee. Also, cappucino was available in the dining room and I think it was at no charge. Thanks.

 

James or JoJo, I will look forward to reading your review!

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