Passengers opting for traditional dining will be scheduled at one of four seatings: 5:45 p.m. (first upper); 6:15 p.m. (first lower); 8 p.m. (main upper); and 8:30 p.m. (main lower). "As You Wish" is HAL's flexible dining program. One level of the ships' two-deck-high dining rooms will be dedicated to traditional "early or main seating" while the other will be open from 5:15 - 9 p.m. daily. Passengers opting for the flexible option can make reservations ahead of time -- or simply walk in.
Dining options on Volendam are varied and plentiful, from early morning continental breakfast to the themed midnight-snack buffet. Apart from the regular restaurant service, hungry guests will also find a hamburger/hot dog/taco/fajita station located near the Lido pool, (self-serve from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.), afternoon tea, and room service -- available 24 hours. Special diets, from Kosher and diabetic to low-carb, are easily accommodated by Volendam's kitchen, but advance notice is required.
The two-story Rotterdam Dining Room, located aft and surrounded with windows, serves open-seating breakfast and lunch and has, at present, two assigned-seating dinner times with plenty of small tables for those who prefer to dine a deux. Even as the concept of open-seating dining is proliferating throughout the industry, there are still many HAL cruise guests who enjoy the traditional same-table, same-time, same-partners dinner.
The Rotterdam also offers a 22-dish, vegetarian-only menu for lunch and dinner; it consists of appetizers, salads, soups and entrees. Options include dishes like portobello mushroom and chipotle quesadillas, Vietnamese vegetable spring rolls or spicy lentil and garbanzo salad.
While I generally prefer the ease of casual dining, I am a patsy for the accoutrements that can only come with the latter: Parade of the Baked Alaska, or of flaming cherries, or Italian Night, or of anything that makes the wait staff drop all pretension and strut their stuff to the tune of "Hot Hot Hot," or wear silly vests and line up to sing "O Sole Mio." (Volendam crew parade their Alaskas to Wagner or Strauss, but they use sparklers, making them quite festive. Alas, there is no Italian Night.) I look forward to it, as do many who enjoy traditional cruising, and Holland America excels at tradition. In a nod to the demand for more choice, the line will soon be introducing four assigned-seating dinner times throughout its fleet.
Hint: Early seatings tend to book up first on this ship, so book your cruise early or be prepared for one of the later dining times.
The Lido Cafe, a cafeteria-style restaurant, is open for all meals. Most guests choose to have a casual breakfast and lunch in the Lido, and for dinner, the dining area is transformed into a semi-restaurant, with table linens and waiters. During busy breakfast and lunch times, fruit, salads, cheeses, breads and other cold items are self-serve while most of the hot items are portioned out from behind the counter. There is a pasta station, a wok station, soup and salad bar, pizza bar, ice cream and dessert bar. Dining-room fare is served in the regular buffet line. The restaurant itself is open and cheery, spanning a large indoor area as well as outside, along both the inner swimming pool and the aft pool. The Lido will be upgraded in the near future, with more casual-dining options and cooked-to-order entrees.
Pinnacle Grill, Volendam's sole specialty restaurant, serves aged beef, lobster tails, fish and lamb in an elegant, understated environment. Reservations are required and there is a $20 per person charge to dine, but all courses are included, the selections are terrific, the presentation artful, and the service impeccable. My favorite of all was the creamed spinach. "The secret is a drop of Pernod added at the last minute," the Pinnacle Grill manager whispered to me.
The room service menu is not extensive but does offer a fair variety. It's pretty nice being awakened each morning with a tray of juice, coffee and croissants while at sea, and there are actually hot breakfast items available through room service. The all-important "will-the-eggs-be-hot?" test passed with flying colors; the kitchen accomplishes the near-impossible task by using a heated under plate. Some of the other items don't fare quite so well. Anyone expecting a pastrami sandwich when ordering a pastrami sandwich will be disappointed, since what arrives is two slices of bread (one of which is spread with mustard and mayo), a whole bunch of iceberg lettuce and sliced tomato, and a single thin slice of meat. Not even a pickle! (The mention of mayonnaise on the menu should have been a clear indication that something was amiss.) If you stick to the salads, you'll be quite happy, and you can order coffee or tea (decaf or regular) with cookies before bed.
While not specified anywhere, during lunch and dinner times you can order from the restaurant menu and have it delivered to your room.
Food quality is generally excellent, with the very occasional misstep. Some of the soups were bland and watery, and some of the specialties (Thai curry and bami goreng at the wok/pasta station in the Lido at lunch) were virtually tasteless. For the most part, however, both preparation and presentation are exceptional. The Portuguese bean soup served at lunch was not only delicious, but had a real kick to it. The roast rack of lamb could not have been more elegantly presented. The two perennial shipboard favorites, lobster tail and prime rib, were prepared perfectly; the lobster was the largest I have ever seen in a ship's dining room and was very obviously fresh. The individual Baked Alaska in the Pinnacle Grill and the nearly perfect Key Lime pie were wonderful, and Holland America's signature bread pudding with vanilla sauce, served daily at the lunch buffet, is always great. The "homemade" ice cream is also very good, and very popular. Other desserts served in the Lido at lunch are mass-produced and it shows; they are almost uniformly mediocre.
Tucked between the Wajang Theater and the Pinnacle Grill, the Java Cafe remains one of the most popular spots on this ship. Serving a variety of coffees (espresso, cappuccino, latte) and freshly baked cookies, there is no charge for this little luxury ... yet. It's one of the small indulgences that Holland America's guests appreciate the most, but when the ship goes through an upgrade in early 2006, it will be merged into a larger Internet Cafe/Library/Card and Game Room center. There will be pastries, flavored coffees, more specialties, and it will no longer be gratis. Loyal Holland America Line customers who have been apprised of this change are already mourning the demise of the Java Cafe as they know it.
Bright colors prevail throughout most of the ship; her theme is "flowers," which indeed can be found in abundance on her public decks. Floral fabrics and tapestries appear in unexpected places and huge vases of tropical floral arrangements and smaller vases of chrysanthemums are positioned on desks and tables in almost all of her public areas.
Oddly, though, it took nearly my entire 10-day cruise to appreciate her design elements --the stunning and intricate art-glass lamps in the Ocean Bar and around the atrium on deck five, the Art Nouveau-style swirls in the ceilings and on the glass doors to the Frans Hals lounge -- her mish-mash of styles, eras and colors was confusing at first. The crystal atrium sculpture by artist Luciano Vistasi resembles something waiting to be launched into outer space, Rococo artwork melds with what looks like early 1970s architectural detail, and bright red-orange carpeting stops abruptly at the elevator banks, replaced by hues of placid blue.
Traffic flow, however, is good, and despite the profusion of styles, the overall effect is really lovely. Volendam is an easy ship through which to maneuver; both her size and layout make her comfortable within minutes of boarding. While the cruise I was on was completely sold out, not once did I have a feeling of crowding or experience any long lines, anywhere.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of this ship is the sundry hidden "nooks and crannies" located around her public decks. Perfect for intimate conversation, or just to hide out and read, these spaces include sofas and settees, armchairs facing sweeping vistas, and corner banquettes away from the crowd. Look for the unheralded and discreetly placed massage chairs on deck five's port side; have a $1 bill ready if you want to vibrate.
The central, circular three-story atrium -- anchored by the crystal sculpture -- is surrounded by shops, offices, and guest service counters. On the Lower Promenade deck a lonely piano sits off to one side, abandoned, the ghost of whoever played it long disappeared. The Future Cruise consultant's desk is located here as well. One floor up, the Promenade deck holds the Front Desk, the Shore Excursion counter, and desk for the Guest Relations manager. The Upper Promenade deck has a wide assortment of shops surrounding the atrium, as well as cozy seating and little tables placed around the perimeter railing.
Smoking is extremely limited on Volendam, with small sections for smokers allocated in most of the bars and lounges but not in the restaurants or the Frans Hals showroom. Only in the casino, Sports Bar and at the Dolphin Bar for "Cigars Under the Stars" was there any noticeable tobacco smoke odor.
Holland America Line has drawn on its stores of incredible artwork to enhance the interior public spaces. Everything from pre-Columbian fetishes and sculptures to Renaissance-era fountains imported from Italy are included in the hallway galleries along deck five.
There is a large (and usually busy) card room and a very pleasant library (staffed only between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. -- if you want a book outside of those times, you are out of luck); the nicely laid-out Internet center sits between these two rooms. Although the satellite service can be maddeningly slow at times, the Internet program on board Volendam is more reasonably priced than on many other ships, with packages starting at 75 cents per minute and descending to as low as 40 cents per minute if you buy a block of time. Wireless service is available for those with laptops and wireless cards (the cards can be rented from the Internet center as well), with "hot spots" located throughout the ship. Cabin service is not available, but I had great fun meeting up with other laptop-toting cruise warriors in the bars and lounges where the hot spots are located.
The Crow's Nest, located forward at the top of the ship, is by night a bar and hopping music and dance venue, but this room truly shines during the day. Floor to ceiling windows surround the large space, which has seating divided into intimate groupings and sofas along the windows. It's an ideal place to curl up with a good book and a cup of coffee or glass of wine, or to just relax and ruminate, mesmerized by the views at the front and both sides of the ship as she makes her way through the waters of the Caribbean or Alaska.
|Fitness and Recreation|
Volendam guests on a strict exercise regimen will be hard-put to offer excuses if they allow their program to lapse while on board. Located forward on Lido deck is the large and well-equipped Ocean Spa, with a wide range of gym equipment (treadmills, stationary bikes, free-weights, stair-steppers and rowing machines) which can be used while watching one of the flat-screen televisions or while gazing through the wall of windows at the unfolding scenery from the bow. A fairly large aerobics section is included in the gym, also, featuring daily classes; Pilates and Yoga instruction is available for a fee.
The spa itself, operated by Steiner of London, offers an array of pampering treatments and salon services at prices comparable to other spas both at sea and on land. Mud wraps, facials, and deep-tissue and aromatherapy massages are among the most popular treatments, while manicures, pedicures and hair care is available in the salon. There are men's and women's sauna and steam rooms available to Volendam guests at no charge. The spa will be getting a facelift that will include a Thalassotherapy pool, an expanded pedicure section, and a softer, more tranquil look to the massage treatment rooms.
I couldn't see how having both swimming pools on the same deck would work, but this is perhaps the best element of the redesign from the S-class ships. The central pool, which is surrounded by a glass enclosure and which also has a retractable dome cover and the ship's two hot tubs at one end, serves as a focal point for the entire Lido Deck. It's a social environment, surrounded by food stations, the large Dolphin Bar at one end and a huge "dancing dolphins" sculpture at the other. PVC chaises, webbed rather than slatted, ring the pool in this element-protected location. The aft pool, on the other hand, is open and sunny, with padded loungers, framed only by the view from the stern and the sea breeze.
The Promenade deck is ideal for those who like to walk for their exercise (each circuit equals one-quarter of a mile), and joggers can use the Sports Deck track. There is a netted tennis/volleyball court on the Sports Deck, shuffleboard courts, and of course the two Lido Deck pools, which early in the morning saw power-swimmers racking up their laps.
The Statendam-class use of large deluxe suites and veranda suites proved so popular that the Volendam added more. Moving the aft pool to the Lido Deck freed up space on Navigator Deck for additional veranda suites. Hint: The competitive pricing and elegance of these accommodations ensure that they are the first to sell out on almost any voyage.
Deluxe suites offer 563 square feet -- including what could reasonably be called a "terrace," large enough for a couple of loungers and a dining table for four. A marble entry foyer, curved seating area, separate dressing room and full bath with whirlpool tub provide a luxurious ambiance in which to enjoy the cruise experience. More utilitarian are the 284 square foot veranda suites, with a smaller but comfortable veranda, separate seating area and small whirlpool tub in the bath. All suites include a combination TV/VCR, refrigerator, complimentary hors d'oeuvres, down duvets, 250-count cotton sheets, bathrobes, and personalized stationery. This ship also includes a single penthouse "apartment," at 1141 square feet, with a dining area for eight, a pantry complete with microwave, an enormous veranda, and a powder room. A "concierge club," The Neptune Lounge, is available for guests in deluxe and penthouse suites.
The 384 standard outside cabins still boast the 197 square feet of the S-Class ships, but these don't feel quite as spacious. The addition of a large floor-to-ceiling cupboard and a slight expansion of the bathroom pushes the desk and sitting area further into the room (and leaves less floor space while increasing functionality). The storage space is sufficient for two or more people for several weeks of travel, with a combination of closets, shelves, drawers, cabinets and desk space. I was traveling alone but, typically, over-packed for my 10-day cruise, and still managed to use only one quarter of the available closets and drawers.
In most outsides, the television is wall mounted, freeing the desktop. For some reason it has been placed nearly to the ceiling, which requires a very uncomfortable chin-up, head-tipped-back viewing position from the sofa located a scant few feet away. Watching television from bed is the only way to avoid neck pain.
Holland America distinguishes itself in the premium cruise category by providing one of the nicest standard bathrooms afloat, with plenty of space and a small but deep bathtub in even the lowest category outside cabins. A new line of yummy soaps, lotion and conditioning shampoo (called "Royal Dutch") is presented in large bottles and bars. There is a new salon-style hairdryer, a magnifying make-up mirror and a multi-spray showerhead, which can be used as a hand-held or overhead. The tub enclosure has several well-placed grab bars.
Caveat One: The water pressure is fine, but during a three-minute shower, the temperature varied between scalding and frigid. Be careful; the scalding range can really burn.
Caveat Two: The tub/shower combinations are very difficult to get into (and out of) for those who have hip, knee or joint problems, but the ship has a total of 23 cabins designed for physically challenged passengers, 13 of which are outside, with walk-in showers.
Inside cabins are slightly smaller, averaging 182 square feet, and have showers only. Smaller too are the 113 outside staterooms on the Lower Promenade Deck, a favorite of many repeat guests because of the easy access to the wide teak promenade that circles the ship. (Some of these outsides have fully obstructed views.) Guests on this level can step out onto what is arguably the largest "veranda" on the Volendam (albeit not private), complete with teak loungers evoking an era of true ocean liners. The wide overhang makes the cabins very dark, and although the windows are covered with a one-way film, prying eyes can still see inside when the lights are on. Unless one is an incurable exhibitionist, keeping the curtains closed whenever the inside is illuminated is requisite.
The uses of pale burled-birch Formica, pale peach-colored walls and the peach and gold colors of the soft goods make the rooms seem light and airy. While clean, the spreads, curtains and upholstery are showing signs of wear, but the brand new Euro-style mattresses make up for it. As part of Holland America Line's Signature of Excellence initiative, the ice buckets have been upgraded from the uber-tacky brown plastic to sleek and trendy polished steel, a new steel wire-mesh fruit basket has been added, triple-sheeting adorns the beds with high-quality linens. Fluffy Egyptian cotton towels have replaced the well worn but serviceable older ones, and, once the purview of suites only, all rooms now have bathrobes.
Hint 1: If you want a longer sofa rather than a small settee, book a stateroom designated as a "triple." You give up the largely unnecessary cabinet at the end of the settee in double rooms -- but the trade off is worth it.
Hint 2: Some of the Lower Promenade cabins that are listed as "fully obstructed" really aren't; they are "partially" blocked by the outside bulkheads around the promenade, and from a few, you still have a limited ocean view. They are priced comparably to an inside and can be a fantastic bargain, especially the ones at the aft of the ship.
The entertainment on Volendam is surprisingly diverse, with two shows nightly in the two-tiered Frans Hals lounge, a dance music combo that doubles as the deck band on warm Caribbean evenings, a harpist, a classical quartet, a resident pianist and a variety of individual performers. Lavish Broadway-style productions are offered in Frans Hals, pre-dinner piano and post-dinner dancing in The Crow's Nest, Baroque and Classical after dinner music in the Explorer Lounge (complete with brandy, coffee and divine chocolates) and dance music in The Ocean Bar before and after dinner times. Recent-run movies are shown both in-cabin on a rotating basis and in the Wajang Theatre where the scent of freshly made popcorn filters into the surrounding areas.
New to Volendam in spring 2009 (May 27) is the Microsoft Digital Workshops program, comprised of complimentary classes led by Microsoft-trained "techsperts." Passengers can learn to use computers to enhance photos (Windows Live Photo Gallery), produce and publish videos onto a DVD (Windows Movie Maker) and create personal webpages or blogs (Windows Live Services and Windows Live Writer). In addition, one-on-one coaching, called "Techspert Time," is available for more than 20 hours each week.
A perennial Holland America Line favorite is the crew show, with folkloric presentations from the native countries of these hard-working individuals. On every cruise there is a series of games at various times of the day: Team Trivia, Name That Tune, Liars Club and others administered by the Cruise Director and staff, and of course there are both bingo and art auctions. The smallish casino gets quite lively at table games and at the wide assortment of slot machines; price-to-play ranges from a nickel to $5.
It would be difficult to find a more loyal group of individuals in any walk of life than those hearty Mariners, past guests of Holland America Line. Volendam enjoys a particularly high ratio of repeat guests, many of whom have been on board so often they feel quite at home with the staff and crew. Most of the passengers are "of an age," typically above 55, and while most are couples, there are a fair number of friends sharing quarters.
Daytime dress on the Volendam is always resort-casual. On her Caribbean itineraries during the fall and winter, the Lido breakfast and lunch buffet lines are often filled with people in bathing suit cover-ups or shorts, but such informal wear is never allowed in the main dining room.
Evening dress ranges from casual to informal to formal. This is a traditional cruise ship; there are typically two formal nights on seven-day cruises, three on 10-day cruises. Formal equals dressy-dressy-dressy for women (gowns or cocktail dresses), and for men a tuxedo or suit with tie. Informal nights mean pant suits or dresses for women, jacket for men, tie optional. Casual dress in the evening is country-club casual, women in coordinates or slacks and sweaters, men can wear pullover shirts and khakis.
Holland America Line automatically adds $11.50 per person, per day, to onboard accounts; this 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 tacked on to bar bills. Note that gratuities are not automatically included on bills for spa treatments.
Anyone familiar with the Statendam-class of Holland America ships, which includes Statendam, Veendam, Ryndam and Maasdam, will quickly find their way around Volendam. Essentially a stretched-out version of the S-class, the ship has three design changes that distinguish her and her sister Zaandam: The aft swimming pool was moved from the Navigation Deck up one level to Lido Deck, the specialty restaurant (Pinnacle Grill) was incorporated, and a much-needed mid-ship elevator bank has been added.
When she was launched in 1999, Volendam had the highest passenger capacity in Holland America's fleet. She's nearly 61,000 tons, with a length of 778 feet, and, in a move that seems quaint now, proved her modernity by being the first ship in the fleet to boast a dedicated Internet center (The Website) with eight satellite-connected computer stations.
Drawing on the Colonial past of its Dutch roots, Holland America Line has made it a practice over the years to employ Indonesian crew members, touting their friendliness and efficiency in almost all of its corporate literature. There had been some concern about visa renewals for the Indonesian staff, but those issues seem to have straightened themselves out. Service personnel are primarily Indonesian and Filipino; most officers are European, and most of them are from Holland.
One noticeable distinction of Volendam is the manner in which the staff welcomes and accommodates passengers with physical challenges. Considerate and genuinely caring, crew members assist guests in wheelchairs and those with difficulty walking when required, and there is never a sense of impatience or rushing. There are about 30 wheelchairs on board for guest use.
Because of her bright colors and cheery aspect, and because of the large standard staterooms (some connecting) and abundance of suites, Volendam is ideally suited for a family vacation. There were several families aboard during my cruise, and while there may not be rock-climbing walls or ice-skating rinks on this ship, there were plenty of activities for the young folk to enjoy.
Club HAL, Holland America's "kid's camp," operates daily, with age-appropriate activities and a space to call its own -- the Sky Room -- located aft on the Sports Deck. Arts and crafts, computer classes, games, sing-alongs and sea lore are all part of the program, which is complimentary for all families. Evening babysitting can be arranged for an additional fee if available (it's best to inquire as soon as possible to reserve your preferred times).
Teens enjoy the movies, pools, video arcade and the unlimited pizza, hot dogs and ice cream available during most of the day; special activities are set aside for those in the teen group when there are enough of them on board.
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