The last of Holland America's Statendam-class ships, Veendam blends a modicum of hipness with the strong traditional flavor that HAL's known for. The 57,092-ton, 1,350-passenger ship went under the knife in 2009, gaining new lanai and spa cabin categories, a more contemporary look in public areas and cabins, additional dining options and a revamped theater experience.
Here's what was added in 2009:
Cabins: Balcony cabins have been added to the back of the ship, some with larger aft-facing verandahs -- a welcome addition to a ship built before balconies became a must-have. Lanai cabins, with sliding-glass doors that lead to the outdoor promenade deck, are an innovative way to give additional cabins access to fresh air and outdoor spaces. Other new additions are the spa cabins (picking up on the wellness trend), which offer a more earthy decor, as well as spa privileges and amenities. And, in all staterooms, fresh color schemes and soft goods offer a more contemporary look.
Dining: Two new dining venues have been added. The Canaletto Restaurant takes over a section of the Lido Restaurant each night to offer an intimate, alternative Italian dining experience -- with no extra charge. And the Slice pizza parlor is great for a quick lunch or midday snack, especially when lines get long in the Lido buffet.
Relaxing: The Deck 10 aft pool has been replaced with cabins, and now Deck 11 is home to the Retreat, a resort-style pool area. In addition to Slices and a bar, this deck area features a hot tub, lounge chairs arranged in a wading pool of water and a large screen for showing movies and nature films. It's already a popular spot for al fresco dining, laying out in the sun and gazing at the passing scenery.
Entertainment: Veendam's show lounge has been transformed into the "Showroom at Sea," which aims to create a more intimate theater experience with simpler shows that highlight talented performers fresh from Broadway. The Deck 8 entertainment area has also been opened up (walls have literally been knocked down) to create a better flow between shops, bars and the casino. In addition, two distinct bars have been combined to create Mix, sporting adjoining bar sections and trendy decor.
The look and flow of the ship may now be changed, but Veendam still retains its traditional strengths. Veendam's signature has been its intimate atmosphere and multitude of retreats, where passengers can enjoy a quiet moment or a book. You can still carve out a private space -- whether in one of the blissfully comfortable window-facing lounge chairs in the Explorations Cafe, a corner of the Crow's Nest or Explorer's Lounge, a padded deck chair on the Deck 6 promenade or one of the many slices of outer decks stepped up the bow of the ship. The only time you really feel the crowds is when you are queuing up for dinner in the Rotterdam Dining Room or the Lido Restaurant.
The ship's $2 million art collection keeps the overall feel elegant and traditional with magnificent antique Delft, marble busts, armor and paintings of old Holland America ships on display. Even nightlife -- one of Holland America's weak points -- has been improved by the refurb; the open plan of Deck 8 creates a better vibe in the evenings when the energy of the casino spills over into the bar areas, and shoppers in the boutiques get lured across the walkway to the piano bar when they hear a favorite tune.
There is a good sprinkling of international passengers from Latin America, Asia, Australia and Europe, but the overwhelming majority is North American. Many guests are retirees, with younger travelers often part of multi-generational groups, and the ship's programming is definitely geared to baby boomers and older travelers.
Many of the public rooms are close to the three-story atrium with its multi-story glass sculpture that looks like DNA (though it's called "Jacob's Ladder"). The Deck 6 atrium is an open space where representatives of group tours or charters hold office hours. The Deck 7 atrium area houses the front desk, shore excursions desk and a brochure rack. Directly opposite is the photo gallery. Heading aft from the atrium, you'll find the art auction desk and two meeting rooms -- the Hudson and Half Moon rooms.
The Deck 8 atrium has two shops, selling logowear, destination-related souvenirs and duty-free goods like liquor and perfume. Opposite Mix, an open-plan store sells jewelry (everything from costume pieces to Tanzanite), as well as purses, ties, pashminas and more expensive souvenirs. Next door, the Merabella Luxury Collection Shop was created out of an under-used portion of the Explorer's Lounge. It sells very upscale, designer jewelry pieces.
Also on Deck 8, the Explorations Cafe is Veendam's library/coffee bar/Internet cafe. Wonderfully comfortable leather chairs and couches line the windows, with several tables and chairs for reading, puzzling, chatting over coffee and working on personal laptops. Twelve computer terminals are available to guests, and the ship is also wired for Wi-Fi. Wireless was not available in the cabins (though the Internet information sheet says that opening your door might help) and has the best signal in the Explorations Cafe and Explorer's Lounge. Internet pricing is 75 cents per minute, or you can buy packages of 100 minutes for $55 or 250 minutes for $100. A $3.95 activation fee applies on the first login, and printing is available at 25 cents per print job.
Service at the coffee bar was incredibly slow on my cruise. Hot coffee drinks range from $1.20 to $3.05 and iced drinks from $1.60 to $2.85. A drink of the day costs $3.95 or $4.45, depending on size, and specialty waters and sodas cost $2.75. Alcoholic coffee beverages are also available for higher prices; pastries and finger sandwiches are available for free.
Self-service launderettes can be found on Decks 5, 6 and 9. Washers and dryers are available for use ($2 per wash, $1 per dry, only quarters accepted), and detergent is provided. Irons and boards are free. The laundry rooms are open 24/7; please be courteous of guests sleeping across the hall, and keep the door closed or voices low if you choose to do laundry after 10 p.m. or before 8 a.m. (I had the room across from the Deck 6 launderette, and quite a party took place there at 6:30 a.m. on sea days.)
The Medical Center is located on Deck 4.
The line automatically adds $11.50 per person, per day, to onboard accounts, which is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills; note that gratuities are not automatically tacked on to spa treatments.
Veendam may not offer as extensive a selection of cabin types as larger Holland America ships, but its 2009 refurbishment added several new cabin categories to help round out the selection. In addition, new decor, carpeting and soft goods give the cabins a more modern feel, with dark browns, reds and earth tones replacing the old bright red and blue cabin color schemes.
Veendam has 138 standard inside cabins, measuring 182 square feet each, and 306 outside cabins at 197 square feet. Beds can be arranged as two singles or one queen. Each cabin features a love seat with table and extra chair; small vanity/desk with flat-screen TV, DVD player and makeup mirror; bathrobes hanging on wall hooks; and a closet with a punch-code safe and a hair dryer. A nice touch is that closets have fold-down shelves and can be configured to have more room for hanging clothes or folded items, as you wish. An oddity is that, instead of a mini-bar, sodas and waters for sale are placed on the desk, taking up much-needed space. The stool at the desk/vanity is hollow for extra storage, though drawers under the bed are already filled with extra linens.Of the 537 cabins with windows, 43 percent (that's 231 cabins) have balconies. Of those, 164 are verandah suites, each measuring 238 square feet with a 54-square-foot balcony. The decor and amenities are similar to those in standard cabins, just with larger desk areas. Balconies are furnished with wicker loungers and chairs, each with a padded cushion, and small tables. New aft balcony cabins have larger-than-average verandahs that look out over the ship's wake.
Two new cabin categories feature interesting modifications to the basic inside, outside and verandah cabins. Twelve cabins near the spa have received new balconies and, along with three inside cabins, form a group of spa cabins. These cabins have a lighter decor than the standard staterooms, with more beige, olive green and light blue colors. They also come with extra amenities, such as priority spa bookings on embarkation day, spa concierge service, turn-down gifts each evening, an enhanced mini-bar setup (Vitamin Water and Voss, rather than Evian and Coke), organic bathrobes and slippers, a "distinctive shower head," wooden bathmats, iPod docking stations, water features, yoga mats, pedometers and fitness DVDs. In addition, spa cabin guests can book Spa Stateroom Rituals, spa treatments exclusive to these passengers. A spa breakfast menu is a healthier take on the typical room service menu, offering items like healthy cereals (no Frosted Flakes), egg selections made with egg beaters or egg whites, and fresh-fruit smoothies.
In addition, former outside cabins and offices on Deck 6 have been transformed into 38 lanai cabins. These cabins have the same decor as spa cabins (minus all the extra amenities) and are the same size as standard outsides. The difference is that, instead of an outer wall with a picture window, each has floor-to-ceiling windows with a sliding glass door leading to the Promenade Deck. Two deck chairs outside are reserved per cabin, though signage on my trip was not clear, and often I'd find other people sitting in my chairs. The back door is opened from the inside with a push button; to get back, you must swipe a special key against a pad to unlock the door. It would be more useful if your cruise card had that functionality so you didn't have to remember two cards. Also, in order to have access out the sliding door, the cabin furniture is arranged like a balcony cabin, but as there's not as much floor space, and the desks in lanai cabins are smaller than in other cabins and have no drawers. All cabins on the Promenade Decks (both outside and lanai cabins) have special glass, so the interiors of the staterooms cannot be seen by day from deck. (At night, draw the curtains.)
The lanai cabins are great for people who want easy access to the outdoors and the wraparound Promenade Deck -- I found this particularly useful in Alaska. Whale sighting? You can be outside in two ticks. But, having access to a public deck is nothing like having your own balcony -- no place for al fresco breakfasts in your PJ's, no private space to relax and gaze at sea. A lanai cabin should not be equated to a balcony cabin when choosing which stateroom to book.
Editor's note: Lanai windows are washed at 5:30 a.m. each morning. Be prepared -- it could wake you up.
Bathrooms in all of the aforementioned cabin categories have tubs with curtains (except for shower-only inside cabins). They come with individual travel-size bottles of Elemis shampoo, conditioner, body wash and lotion, as well as two types of soap. Storage space by the sink is limited to two small glass shelves -½ there's no mirror that opens up to reveal a vanity cabinet.
For a splurge, Veendam offers two deluxe suite categories. The 28 Deluxe Verandah Suites measure 376 square feet with 180-square-foot balconies and are each essentially one enormous room with a king-size bed, large sitting area with two chairs and a sofa bed that sleeps two, a large drawer unit, a bathroom with a separate dressing room, a bar area with fridge, floor-to-ceiling windows and a verandah big enough to hold two lounge chairs and an outdoor dining table with four chairs. The king of cabins, one 979-square-foot Penthouse Verandah Suite has a bedroom with a king-size bed, living room with a sofa bed that sleeps two, a dining room that seats eight, its own kitchen (with a fridge and microwave), a master bath with whirlpool tub and separate shower, a guest toilet, dressing area with vault-like walk-in closet and a desk that looks out on the 180-square-foot verandah. The decor is palatial with antiques for decoration.
Deluxe and Penthouse Suite guests have exclusive access to the Neptune Lounge on Deck 10 and its concierge services. In addition, passengers booked in these suites get special perks, such as complimentary laundry service, binoculars to use during the cruise, priority tendering and exclusive cocktail parties and lunches.
Evening dress is either formal or smart casual. Formal attire is technically a jacket and tie, dark suit or tuxedo for men and dress suit, cocktail dress or gown for women. Most men stick to suits, though I saw a smattering of tuxes and even a kilt on formal night. There are typically two formal nights per week. On casual nights, the range of acceptable attire is quite large -- anything from casual pants (like khakis) with a shirt or sweater to sundresses and skirts for ladies and button-down shirts for men. On my Alaska cruise, I saw many guests wearing jeans in the dining room; bending dress-code rules is more tolerated in this casual destination but may be less appropriate in other cruise regions.
Veendam can have more than 100 children onboard per cruise during the summer months, although numbers can be much smaller, depending on the sailing date. The ship actually has some very nice youth lounges tucked away behind the basketball and tennis courts on Deck 12. Four separate rooms include Club HAL for younger kids, ages 3 to 7; a separate play area for tweens, ages 8 to 12; a video arcade and the Loft, full of crushed-velvet couches and comfy chairs for loafing teenagers, ages 13 to 17. Steps lead from the Loft to the Deck 13 Oasis, a private sun deck for teens. The Oasis has a pirate chic feel with hammocks, splash pools with waterfalls, and tables and chairs made to look like wine barrels. Parents aren't allowed, although the area is supervised by the ship's youth counselors.
The great thing about Veendam's kids' lounges is that they're situated in out-of-the-way areas of the ship. The kids feel they have their own enclaves, and HAL guests without kids don't feel the presence of so many children. Kids are technically not allowed in the Crow's Nest and Mix at night, unless supervised by an adult, but these rules are relaxed when there aren't very many children onboard.
Counselors meet at the beginning of the cruise with parents and guardians, who must personally drop off and pick up each younger child. Structured programs are scheduled for all age levels. Kids, ages 3 to 7, can participate in activities like kids Olympics, tie-dying T-shirts, candy bar bingo, arts and crafts, pajama parties and storytelling. The 8 to 12 set has a schedule of dodgeball, swim parties and video-game play. Teens can hang out and play video games or take part in Ping-Pong competitions, karaoke and teen discos. Age-appropriate movies are shown in Club HAL, and kid-friendly cooking classes take place in the Culinary Arts Center. After-hours babysitting is available on a limited basis for an extra fee.
A children's menu is available in the Rotterdam Dining Room, Lido Restaurant and Terrace Grill, offering smaller portions of dishes like spaghetti, hamburgers, tacos and chicken fingers. Women who will be 24 or more weeks pregnant by the last day of the cruise are not accepted as passengers. Neither are infants younger than 6 months old. For older babies, passengers can arrange for baby food, diapers and refrigerators for an extra fee; high chairs, booster seats and cribs are available for free. Parents can play with kids younger than 3 in the children's facilities at specific times.
|Fitness and Recreation|
The Greenhouse Spa, operated by London-based Steiner Leisure, the ubiquitous cruise spa company, offers a pretty standard range of treatments, such as massages, facials and body wraps. One room has a float bed; another is used for the Ionithermie Cellulite Reduction Program (lose up to eight inches before you eat those inches back at dinner!). You can also get your teeth whitened onboard. The spa features men's and women's changing rooms with dry saunas, a relaxation room with a juice bar and a salon/barber shop. A thermal suite offers five heated loungers, a Turkish steam room, an aromatherapy room, a hot tub and showers. Passes cost $89 for a single cruise pass, $150 for a couple's cruise pass, $20 for a day pass and $10 for a day pass when booked in conjunction with a spa treatment. (Sorry, folks -- no free thermal time when you book a regular treatment.)
The spa's beauty salon provides services that include hair cutting and styling, as well as manicures and pedicures.
The fully equipped gym is dominated by treadmills, but it also has elliptical trainers, stair-steppers and stationary bikes. A variety of weight machines and free weights is available, as are exercise balls and yoga mats. On my cruise, the cardio machines were constantly in use, and some were broken, making getting your machine of choice a bit difficult. An aerobics area is kitted out with bikes for spin classes ($11); Pilates (also $11), step and body-conditioning classes are also held there. Yoga, Tai Chi and aqua aerobics are held elsewhere as part of Holland America's wellness program and are free of charge.
Deck 12 is used as a jogging track, though there's no marked track or shock-absorbent flooring. Basketball and tennis courts on the same deck are only available for use after lunch hours because the sound carries down to the Lido Restaurant. Ping-Pong tables are located by the main pool, and the Lower Promenade deck is the favorite place for walkers. (Four laps is a mile, and the morning hours are the busiest.)
The main pool on Deck 11 is covered by a retractable roof, so it can be used in inclement weather. One pool and two hot tubs are flanked by wicker lounge chairs with blue striped pads, as well as tables and chairs for alfresco dining or card-playing. At the edge of the pool, a cute -- yet quirky -- addition is two colorful loungers that look like reclining humans. Guests can essentially sit in their laps to lay out poolside. A small bandstand is nearby.
On the aft end of Deck 11, through the Lido Restaurant, is the Retreat resort pool area, new to Veendam after its 2009 dry dock. It's a wonderful area for lying out while keeping cool, dining al fresco or simply taking in the scenery. Specially shaped lounge chairs that lift up on either end (so you can recline facing either direction without rotating the entire lounger) sit in a three-inch-deep pool of water. In the middle of this Retreat pool is a wading area with red-tiled benches and a hot tub. Surrounding the pool are regular plastic loungers, tables and chairs, a bar and Slice Pizza. A movie screen is hung above the pizzeria and bar, but on my cruise, it was only showing nature scenes, due to restrictions in Alaska. In other destinations, movies will be shown in the evening. The Retreat is not an adults-only venue.
Editor's Note: The one logistical issue with the Retreat is that it's on the other side of the Lido from the main pool. So, if you've gone swimming in the main pool and then want to lie out in the Retreat, you either have to dry off, put clothes on and walk through the Lido or -- if you don't want to change -- go up to Deck 12, cut through the basketball court, and then take the stairs down to Deck 11, aft.
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