• Overview

  • Large or Standard Interior Staterooms

  • Cabin Amenities Overview

  • In-Room Dining Overview

  • Drinks Overview

  • Explorations Café

  • Explorer’s Lounge

  • Greenhouse Spa and Salon, Gym

  • Sports Deck

  • Signature Shops

  • Photo Gallery

  • Art Gallery

  • Club HAL, The Loft and The Oasis

  • Digital Workshop

  • Wajang Theater and Culinary Arts Center

  • Hudson Room and Half Moon Room

  • Photo Gallery

  • Atrium and Front Office

  • The Showroom at Sea

  • Wajang Theater and Culinary Arts Center

  • Lido Pool and Lido Bar

  • The Retreat

  • Sports Deck

  • Lido Pool and Lido Bar

  • Outdoor Walkaround

  • Sky Deck

  • The Retreat

  • Ship Tour Overview

  • Staff

  • General Health and Safety

  • Overview

  • Overview

  • Overview

  • Overview

  • Overview

  • Overview

Veendam has a fairly diverse sailing schedule: The ship spends most of the summer and fall in New England and Canada, with winters alternating between itineraries around South America’s Cape Horn and into Antarctica with voyages to Hawaii and along Mexico’s Pacific coast.

Little did we know that, shortly after our voyage, Veendam was going to get slammed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention with a rare “unsatisfactory” rating following an inspection. To hear about our experience aboard Veendam, read on.
There was a good variety of cabin types available, including Veendam’s unique Lanai accommodations.


There are seven main cabin types on Veendam, about 20 percent of which are inside cabins with no view; these can be as small as 141 square feet, which we would find very snug (you can read about our experience in an Interior cabin aboard Holland America’s Zaandam here). We opted for a step up—an Ocean-view room—and landed an oversized unit.

A unique option on Veendam (and Holland America’s Rotterdam and Maasdam) is the Lanai cabins. These have sliding glass doors that open directly onto the broad Promenade Deck, where deck chairs are assigned to your cabin. It’s not a private deck (the Promenade Deck is open to all), but the accommodations offer a compromise between Ocean-view and pricier Verandah cabins. It’s a fairly unusual style of cabin we look forward to trying on a future cruise, though the windows lack full opacity; at night when cabin lights are illuminated the cabin interior is somewhat visible if the blackout curtains aren’t drawn. (Note that, aboard Holland America’s Statendam, we stayed in a more typical Ocean-view cabin on this deck, which you can read about here).

Verandah cabins on Veendam feature floor-to-ceiling windows, while Verandah Suites are larger, with king size beds. Deluxe Verandah Suites are a generous 575 square feet (including the balcony), more than double the size of a typical cabin. Also available is the Penthouse Verandah Suite, located just behind the bridge on Deck 10.

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Ours wasn’t a typical Ocean-view unit, but having somewhat oversized accommodations posed no issues for us.


Overview

Owing to its location, far forward, ours was an atypical, elongated cabin—about 24 feet long, not counting an additional 3 feet that separated the headboard from a pair of recessed porthole windows. The total size was about 208 square feet, whereas Holland America says that Ocean-view cabins on Veendam start at 174 square feet. We appreciated the extra space, the only caveats being that our location close to the bow was a bit noisier and rocky during rough seas, and the modest-sized TV screen was a fair distance for viewing from bed.

Our cabin featured a very comfortable Sealy Posturpedic mattress—two singles actually, with the split between mattresses apparent but not obnoxious, somewhat disguised by a pillowtop. Because the cabin configuration was stretched by its location the modest-sized TV was further than we like for viewing from bed. An overhead fluorescent blub ran parallel with the window above our head, and there were also pillow-level reading lights for each side of the bed—not bright, but still useful. On either side of the bed were small nightstands with drawers, plus a phone.

The bathroom was unexceptional in size and features, save for one non-standard amenity found in most cabins on Veendam: a bathtub large enough for a proper bath (45 inches long, 16 inches deep). The showerhead was a Grohe model with an adjustable spray. Wall-mounted pump dispensers provided good-quality Elemis body soap, shampoo and conditioner. There was a retractable laundry line in the shower for our wet bathing suits. A bit more storage space for travel kits would have been appreciated. A 115-volt electrical outlet in the ceiling was marked for shavers.

A sign advised us to protect the environment: “Towels left on the rack will be considered clean. Towels on the floor will be washed.” Our towel was replaced only when we left it on the floor once, just as we wanted.

The desk in the bedroom had an illuminated makeup mirror and hair dryer.

Located near the forward section of the bow, our cabin had two small porthole windows, each not quite a foot wide (most Ocean-view cabins on Veendam have a larger, rectangular window). The windows were recessed, so it was possible to see what was going on outside only by climbing onto the bed pillows. But the windows were sufficient for introducing natural light into the room; there was a blackout curtain to block the light, or a sheer for privacy.

Our cabin had ample closet space—four sections facing the bathroom door, each almost 19 inches wide. The left-hand compartment had four fixed shelves, one of which held a safe, plus a basket to put shoes in for shining. The safe was barely 7 inches deep and 14 inches wide—not large enough for a laptop. The next closet compartment had two rods for hanging clothes, while the next two each have three shelves; the shelves folded up to allow storage for luggage or additional hangers. There was a curtain that could be pulled for privacy, separating the entry and closet area from the bedroom. There were under-dressers beneath the beds, allowing additional storage.

There were two main lighting systems for the cabin: One controlled an overhead at the cabin entrance and a florescent bulb at the other end of the room, spanning the width of the bed; the other, in the middle of the room, was a pair of lamps attached to the mirror and a couple lights over the couch pointed at the framed painting (one of which was out and not replaced during our cruise). There were ample switches for these systems at the front door, at the desk and one on either side of the bed. There was a lamp next to the couch that was not, by itself, quite bright enough for reading. There were also individual reading lights on either side of the bed, also not quite bright enough for bedtime reading.

The TV in our room was an older, 20-inch LG flat screen; the TV was in a fixed position at an angle toward both couch and bed. The distance from the bed pillows to the screen was about 15 feet (due to the elongated nature of the room). We liked that, when turned on, the channel that appeared was the one we left it on; no hunting through hotel interface to get to CNN. There was a DVD player mounted under the monitor—CyberHome CH-DVD 300 (and MP3 player), and DVDs could be borrowed from the front desk.

Although there were cans of soda and bottles of water on the desk (for purchase), there was no fridge in our room. An ice bucket was kept filled by our cabin steward, and bathrobes were hanging next to the bed for us.
We did not stay in the rest of these cabins, but we have summaries here provided by Holland America Line. Note that any photos on this page may be provided directly by the cruise line and not our reviewer.


Large or Standard Interior Staterooms

2 lower beds convertible to 1 queen-size bed, shower. Approximately 141–226 sq. ft.
Stateroom amenities include:
• Luxurious beds featuring Sealy® Premium Euro-Top mattresses and finely woven cotton linens
• Deluxe waffle weave and terry cloth bathrobes for use during your voyage
• 100% Egyptian cotton towels
• Premium massage showerheads
• 5X magnifying make-up mirrors and salon-quality hair dryers
• Fragrant soaps, lotions, shampoo and other bath amenities from Elemis Aromapure
• Complimentary fresh fruit on request
• Elegant ice bucket and serving tray for in-stateroom beverages
• Flat-panel TV and DVD player
• Ice service, shoeshine service and nightly turndown service


2 lower beds convertible to 1 queen-size bed, bathtub & shower. Sliding glass doors lead onto the walk-around Lower Promenade Deck. Approximately 181–256 sq. ft.

Stateroom amenities include:
• Direct access to the Lower Promenade Deck
• Luxurious beds featuring Sealy® Premium Euro-Top mattresses
and finely woven cotton linens
• Deluxe waffle weave and terry cloth bathrobes for use during your voyage
• 100% Egyptian cotton towels
• Premium massage showerheads
• 5X magnifying make-up mirrors and salon-quality hair dryers
• Fragrant soaps, lotions, shampoo and other bath amenities from Elemis Aromapure
• Complimentary fresh fruit on request
• Elegant ice bucket and serving tray for in-stateroom beverages
• Flat-panel TV and DVD player
• Ice service, shoeshine service and nightly turndown service


2 lower beds convertible to 1 queen-size bed, bath & shower, sitting area, private verandah, mini-bar, refrigerator, floor-to-ceiling windows. Approximately 244 sq. ft. including verandah.
Modern Spa Stateroom amenities include all Ocean-view stateroom amenities plus:
• Yoga Mats
• iPod® docking station
• Countertop water feature
• Exclusive spa treatments from the nearby Greenhouse Spa and Salon_


2 lower beds convertible to 1 queen-size bed, whirlpool bath & shower, sitting area, private verandah, mini-bar, refrigerator, floor-to-ceiling windows. Approximately 283 sq. ft. including verandah.
• Stateroom amenities include:
• A variety of firm, medium and soft pillows
• No-host mini-bar for easy entertaining
• Personalized cruise stationery
• Oversized bath towels
• One-touch telephone concierge service
• Fresh flowers
• Complimentary DVD library_


2 lower beds convertible to 1 king-size bed, whirlpool bath & shower, large sitting area, dressing room, private verandah, 1 sofa bed for 2 persons, mini-bar, refrigerator, floor-to-ceiling windows. Approximately 575 sq. ft. including verandah.

Stateroom amenities include:
• Use of the exclusive Neptune Lounge and personal concierge service
• Complimentary laundry, pressing and dry cleaning throughout your cruise
• Complimentary sparkling wine served in the Neptune Lounge upon embarkation
• Complimentary bottled water provided in suite at embarkation
• Gorgeous corsages and boutonnieres for the first formal night
• Cold hors d’oeuvres served before dinner each evening on request
• Binoculars and umbrellas for your use on the cruiseCocktail
party with ship’s officers
• Priority boarding for tendered ports of call
• Special disembarkation service
• Priority dining and seating requests
• Exclusive daily breakfast service
• High tea service in suite on request
• Elegant wooden clothing brush, lint remover and shoehorn for
keeping clothing immaculate
• Fragrant bath salts and exfoliating loofah mitt for an invigorating shower experience

Neptune Lounge: A very special amenity exclusively for guests cruising in a Deluxe Verandah Suite or Penthouse Verandah Suite, the industry-leading Neptune Lounge features a private place to relax, socialize with other suite guests and enjoy the personalized service of a concierge. The fleet-wide lounges provide worktables, large screen television, library, sofas and chairs, refreshments throughout the day and wi-fi for a small charge. One-Touch 24-hour Concierge Service is available when the Neptune Lounge is closed.


Bedroom with 1 king-size bed, oversize whirlpool bath & shower, living room, dining room, dressing room, private verandah, pantry, 1 sofa bed for 2 persons, mini-bar, refrigerator, guest toilet, floor-to-ceiling windows. Approximately 1,273 sq. ft. including verandah.
Includes all the suite amenities.


We appreciated some extras not common on most cruise ships, including DVD player, a fruit basket and a bathtub.

Cabin Amenities Overview

Complimentary DVDs loaned to guests is a perk not common on most ships. The catalog of titles ranged from The African Queen and Rear Window to year-old releases—nearly 1,000 in all. Recent offbeat releases, such as Pan’s Labrynth and Volver, were stocked, along with family films, documentaries and quality TV series like The Sopranos and Mad Men. The DVDs are available by calling the front desk, and treats can be delivered with the flick—popcorn (free), candies, chips and snacks ($1).

On arrival there was an empty metal bowl with a card inviting us to order fruit for the room, including apples, bananas, pears and oranges. We made our selection and the bowl was refilled as needed each day. A basket for shoe-shining service was also available.

We found a decent selection of breakfast options and lighter meals available through room service.


In-Room Dining Overview

There were three room service dining menus on Veendam. The 24-hour menu included such basic fare as smoked salmon, mixed green salad, club sandwich, hamburger, omelet, cheese plate, fruit plate and desserts; there were also a few “time-tested” seasickness remedies, including beef broth, boiled chicken breast, and green apples and crackers. An expanded menu was available from 12 noon to 10 p.m. and featured soups, salads, sandwiches, and a couple entrées (seared salmon and penne primavera).

Breakfast was ordered by choosing delivery time, in 30-minute blocks between 6 and 10 a.m., with a door tag, hung on our cabin door by 2 a.m. the night before. The selection included cold and hot choices: juice, fruit, yogurt with bread and preserves, packaged cold cereals, eggs any style (eggbeaters available), omelets and ham sausage or bacon.

Breakfast was delivered on a tray with a metal lid on top of the plate, the toast in a basket and wrapped in a napkin, a paper cap over the glass of juice and plastic wrap on the pitcher of milk and bowl of fruit. There were salt and pepper shakers, packets of sugar (and substitutes), and a pad of butter and two containers of preserves. Lunch was delivered on a single tray, with utensils wrapped in a napkin and paper packets of salt and pepper, but nothing else.

We requested our breakfast order be delivered between 8:30 and 9 a.m.; the knock on the door came right at 8:30 a.m. When we ordered lunch we were not given a timeframe for delivery; our order took 44 minutes to arrive. Without prompting, the server apologized for the lengthy delivery time and said the kitchen had been very busy.

Our cabin had room for one person to eat at the desk or for two (barely) to share the coffee table. A card on the tray asked us to call to have the dishes removed when we were finished; someone showed up about 30 minutes after we called.

For breakfast, an omelet with cheese and ham was hot and served with a fried potato cake—no surprises here. The tasty wheat toast was not quite warm, while the fruit was a cup of diced pineapple, watermelon and apple. Coffee was hot and the pitcher was ample with more than three cups. All in all, a decent breakfast.

We ordered the penne primavera for lunch, which was described as “tossed in marinara with Italian roasted vegetables—add grilled chicken.” The penne was tossed in a light tomato sauce, the noodles not overcooked, but there were no vegetables to be found, Italian or otherwise. We also thought it strange that no parmesan or bread accompanied the dish. Fortunately the grilled chicken that topped the pasta was quite tasty.

Our cabin’s minibar (no fridge) included two cans each of Coke, Sprite and Diet Coke ($1.95 each) and 1-liter bottles of Crystal Geyser and Nativa water ($2.95 each). Our in-room dining menu availed other options, including six domestic or imported beers ($21-$23), wine packages (starting at $89-$118 for three bottles) and liquor and mixer packages, including a gin and tonic package (one bottle of Beefeater gin and three cans of tonic water), Cutty Sark Scotch and soda, Smirnoff or Stolichnaya vodka and tonic, Jim Beam bourbon and coke, and Bacardi white rum and coke; these were priced $30 to $34 each.

From an elegant specialty restaurant to the pool grill and buffet, there was a good range of dining choices.


In general, our dining experiences aboard Veendam were above average for the mainstream cruise industry. Meals in the main dining room, the Rotterdam, were very good, with just a few items we were less impressed by. We liked that there was a full vegetarian menu available (though selections needed to be ordered ahead of time), and the selections each evening from Holland America’s “Culinary Council” were mostly very satisfying. The ship’s buffet, the Lido Restaurant, was not large, but we enjoyed most of what we had here.

There are two surcharge restaurants on Veendam. Pinnacle Grill was the place for a very satisfying steak lunch (at just $10), and we returned for the once-a-week dinner tributing New York’s Le Cirque restaurant. At $39, this was on the pricey side and the service was unpolished, but the meal was good (normal dinners at Pinnacle Grill are priced $25). Canaletto, the Italian eatery tacked onto the Lido buffet, was formerly a no-charge dinner option but a $10 surcharge was instituted after our cruise, with a menu upgrade—the jury’s out on this one for now.

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Despite the ship’s modest size, Veendam had a good variety of watering holes.


Drinks Overview

There were eight bars serving at various hours. The popular spot during the day was the Lido Bar, opening onto the central pool area. After dark the crowd moved between Crow’s Nest, the Ocean Bar and MIX through the evening. A 15 percent service charge was added to all drink orders.
The beer list on Veendam was short; aficionados were left thirsty. The usual domestics were available for $4.75, with Corona, Amstel Light, Heineken and Beck’s for $5.25; Grolsch was available for $5.95. But MIX had an expanded selection of beers, including Boddington’s, Stella Artois, Bass Ale and Beck’s on draught.

Wines available by the glass started at $5 for Santa Carolina chardonnay and ranged up to $11 for Labouré roi Pouilly Fuissé on the white side; in between was Chateau Ste. Michelle riesling, Nobilo sauvignon blanc, Rosemount Estate chardonnay. The red wine list included Batasiolo Barbara d’Asti ($7), Meridian pinot noir ($7.50), Wolf Blass cabernet sauvignon ($9) and Les Closiers Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($12). Champagnes included Domaine Chandon Brut ($9.50), Nicolas Feuillatte Epernay Brut ($12) and Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut ($14.50).

Wines by the bottle included a good representation from the Pacific Northwest (where Holland America corporate offices are based).

The ship’s standard bar menu included mojito, margarita, daiquiris, etc.—all of which could be made with the classic recipe or with mango, strawberry, or banana. Cosmopolitans could be made “Sex in the City” style, or with grapefruit, candy apple or apricot liqueurs. Most other signature cocktails had their own twist—the Royal Manhattan used bourbon, red vermouth and a dash of angostura bitters—but there was a Vintage Collection page that handled the classics without embellishments. All of the above were priced $6.95.

Drinks were made with the ship’s house spirits—but call spirits were available for .50 cents extra and “premium spirits” were $1 more. Solo, the call spirits were $5.75 and up.

There was a cocktail of the day, offered at most of the ship’s bars—Grapefruit Cosmo the first day, Champagne Dreams the second, etc. These were priced $1 less ($5.95) for the day.

Wine Navigator packages offered three bottles of wine for $89-$118 (depending on whether the premium selection was chosen), five bottles was $149-$199 and seven bottles was $199-$269.

Several packages were available for cabin consumption only. These included a gin and tonic package (one bottle of Beefeater gin and three cans of tonic water), Cutty Sark Scotch and soda, Smirnoff or Stolichnaya vodka and tonic, Jim Beam bourbon and coke, and Bacardi white rum and coke; these were priced $30 to $34 each. There were also beer packages: A six-pack of domestic beers was $21 and imported was $23.

Mocktails were available at most of the ship’s bars, and included Fresh Grapefruit Not-a-Cosmo, Ultimate Unleaded Margarita, and Cool as a Cucumber; these were priced $4.25. Soft drinks were priced $1.95, while juices by the glass were complimentary at the Lido Restaurant for breakfast, including delicious freshly squeezed OJ (the rest of the day juices were prices $2.75 at the bars).
We didn’t find a climbing wall or mini golf, but Veendam’s gym was well equipped.


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Veendam’s coffee shop was an especially comfy venue for java, a well-stocked library and the day’s New York Times.


Explorations Café

We loved Veendam’s multi-purpose coffee lounge, where upgraded java options were available for a fee, along with light snacks (at no charge). This was also the ship’s library, which we found to be reasonably extensive in size; guests were asked not to remove the travel guides and a small collection of magazines from the café (the bookcases were locked up each evening). There was always a puzzle out on a table and the daily New York Times Digest (in print) was stocked here. A collection of Scandinavian leather couches and comfy loungers were in high demand—finding an empty lounger was a challenge most hours of the day.

There were 11 shared IBM PCs available for those who wanted to surf the internet at the usual exorbitant sea-faring rates. The computers offered free access to nytimes.com, which we took advantage of when CNN didn’t do the trick.

Food

The café has a small deli counter for between-meal snacks. We found pound cake, cookies, brownies and delicious “energy bars” (oatmeal cranberry or almond), and other goodies through the day.

Drink

All the standard espresso drinks were available, and quality was good. Baristas automatically fill orders in to-go cups, but could be requested in ceramic cups. Prices for hot and iced drinks ranged $1.60 for a 12-ounce Americano to $2.55 for the caramello latte; the 16-ounce size were .50 additional. Tazo tea drinks (including chai tea lattes) were also available. Spiked coffee drinks included Irish Coffee (with Bailey’s Irish Cream), Icy Bourbon Mint (bourbon, crème de menthe and chocolate) and coffee nudge (crème de cacao and brandy)—these were $6.25 to $6.50.

Additional Details

The basic price for internet access was .75 per minute, plus a one-time $3.95 charge for account activation; this same fee structure applied to WiFi access for laptops. Various packages were available that brought the price down—100 minutes for $55 (.55/minute), 250 minutes for $100 (.40/minute), etc.

The café served from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
We enjoyed a classical string quartet and a jazz combo in two of the venues.


Explorer’s Lounge

Located along a central traffic corridor on Deck 8, this lounge was usually empty during the day—a good place to catch up on reading when the nearby Explorations Café was busy. A few one-off events were held here, including introductory Tai Chi and Meditation sessions, along with a few seminars that ended in spa or merchandize pitches such as one on acupuncture and another dedicated to Diamonds, Watches and Exotic Gemstones.

But in the evening, the Adagio Strings—the ship’s string quarter—played classical music and light standards. An attendant manned the informal bar setup that featured coffee drinks, cognac, port, cheese and crackers. It was a very comfortable place to hang out before or after dinner in the adjacent Rotterdam Dining Room.

The ship’s gym was stocked with relatively new equipment and was rarely crowded.


Greenhouse Spa and Salon, Gym

The spa and salon on Veendam was managed by Steiner Leisure, a company that oversees a majority of spa facilities at sea. Located on Deck 11 forward, the Greenhouse Spa offered a variety of treatments during our cruise, at prices slightly higher than we find at most quality resorts. Treatments were discounted on port days, and other specials became available as the cruise went on, particularly for those booking multiple appointments.

The prices ranged from $129 for a 50-minute Full Body Massage to $259 for a 100-minute AromaSpa Seaweed Massage and Float. A couples or friends massage started at $269 for a 50-minute session. The 50-minute LaTherapie Hydralift Facial Facials was priced $119 with other facials somewhat higher. Manicure and pedicure services started at $45 and $65 respectively. The menu of services also included waxing, tooth whitening and acupuncture—all of which were heavily promoted with leaflets that arrived in our cabin daily.

Within the spa was the Greenhouse Retreat, a small facility within the spa that offered dry heat, steam and aromatherapy chambers, heated ceramic loungers and a body temperature mineral pool. A seven-day pass to use the Thermal Suite was $99 ($149 for couples), a fee that seemed excessive to us, but not to some who wanted this bit of semi-exclusivity to themselves.

A 15-percent gratuity was automatically added to the bill for all treatments.

Sports and Fitness

Overlooking the forward panorama, Veendam’s gym was accessed through the entrance to the spa. It was a well-maintained facility and much of the equipment appeared to be the latest generation of LifeFitness treadmills, bikes, etc. The gym was generally not crowded except early morning.

A solid roster of fitness classes were available, though some required an additional fee. Tai chi (twice daily), abs conditioning, pool aerobics, stretching exercises and dance classes were complimentary, most of them taught by the ship’s “Lifestylist” and announced in the daily Explorer newsletter; yoga, pilates and spinning classes were $12 per session. The Body Sculpt Boot Camp was priced $120 for four 30-minute circuit-based sessions.

Sports Deck

This deck extends the length of the ship and provides the bulk of the sports activities (other than the gym): a basketball court, tennis court and shuffleboard court. On our cruise this deck didn’t see a lot of action, but it was a good place for sunning.

Sports and Fitness

A couple basketball games were organized by the crew during our cruise.
The selection was fairly predictable in a small collection of shops, and the sales pitches were endless.


Signature Shops

A series of shops ran along Deck 8 offering a fairly standard selection of merchandize.

Retail

Cruise apparel themed to our destination was available, along with Holland America logo merchandize such as T-shirts, caps, beach towels, mugs and Veendam ship models. There was jewelry, watches, fragrances, skin care products and binoculars. Sundries including candy, chips, toothpaste, deodorant, feminine napkins, disposable lighters and razors. Duty free cigarettes and liquor was also available.

A staff of photographers was on hand to capture guests on the ship. These included informal snaps in front of designated backdrops, as well as more formal portrait sessions. The shots were assembled each day and showcased here for us to buy.

Veendam’s gallery of art pieces for sale is located opposite the Front Office on Deck 7, with additional pieces hanging on the walls extending down the corridor past the Wajang Theater. With sales managed by Park West Gallery, there were art auctions almost daily, held in the Ocean Bar.

The enrichment programs were solid, and dedicated areas for kids were available.


Club HAL, The Loft and The Oasis

Club HAL is Holland America’s kids program, and a collection of dedicated venues is found on Deck 12. They were divided by age group—one for age 3-7 stocked with board games and a decorated in a spilled-paint theme; another is for tweens age 8-12 and had a Foosball table and video games. There was an unsupervised room with Xbox and Wii games available, but equipment could not be removed from the Youth Center.

There was also a teen venue called The Loft, with a DJ booth, stage and couches for hanging out. A hidden stairway lead from The Loft up to a teens-only outdoor space called The Oasis, decked out for a tropical-theme party with a splash pool and waterfall, faux palm trees and sun loungers. There were less than 10 teens on our cruise and we never saw any of them using this space (perhaps in part because the waterfall wasn’t turned on). If there were a few dozen teens aboard, we could see this space perking up.

The basketball and tennis courts are located right outside Club HAL and The Loft.

Digital Workshop

Classes in Microsoft programs were taught using 15 Sony laptops, each equipped with a mouse. Among the subjects on offer were Transferring Photos, Introductory Photo Editing, Windows 7, Making Movies, PC Security, and PC Buying—all geared to Microsoft products. The ship’s “techspert” was available for questions at set hours daily. The room was locked when not being used for classes.

Wajang Theater and Culinary Arts Center

The Wajang Theater is a multi-purpose venue that is primarily used for the Culinary Arts Center, a show kitchen used for cooking demonstrations that were scheduled several times daily. On our cruise there were opportunities to learn penne a la vodka, lobster salad, smoothies, chilled raspberry soup and crème brûlée (not exactly Rachel Ray, eh?). The best event was called Cooking with the Stripes and featured the ship’s captain preparing pizza at the same time as a freeform Q&A about the ship’s operation. We kept our head down for this one.

The Wajang Theater is also the ship’s screening room, and a different film was shown daily (once at midday and two in the evening). Unfortunately, the screen size is too small for the number of seats—especially for wide-screen presentations, which might better be called short-screen.

Hudson Room and Half Moon Room

Two side-by-side meeting rooms were available for groups, and they were also used for various events during our cruise. Half Moon hosted Morning Mass; the Hudson Room was used for origami demonstrations, journal crafting, and beginner and intermediate Bridge instruction as well as non-hosted Bridge sessions.

A staff of photographers was on hand to capture guests on the ship. These included informal snaps in front of designated backdrops, as well as more formal portrait sessions. The shots were assembled each day and showcased here for us to buy.

Atrium and Front Office

The ship’s three-story central atrium is dominated by a glass sculpture, “Jacob’s Ladder” rising from Deck 6. It’s a striking feature, just one piece of Veendam’s $2 million art collection that we enjoyed while onboard.

This is the central axis of the ship, through which passengers pass many times. The large open area around the base of the sculpture (Deck 6) was mostly unused space. On Deck 7 we found the side-by-side Front Office and Shore Excursions desks.

Although the bar scene was decent, most of the evening entertainment was seriously stodgy.


The Showroom at Sea

The main showroom for Veendam on decks 7 and 8 was bathed in red and gold tones, an appealing setting for evening entertainment and other events. Best seats were those on the lower level, down front; this was also where the sound mix was least problematic. The balcony was a different matter: With low backs and configured in wavy rows, these seats were not comfortable for extended periods (though most or all shows were under an hour) and other than the front rows, most balcony seats didn’t have clear sightlines to the stage. Further, the sound system—with vocals particularly over-miked—was especially poor in the balcony.

Shows and Performances

Geared to an audience in their 60s and up, we found the conservative evening entertainment on Veendam to be overdue for an overhaul. A tribute to show tunes one evening trotted out standards ranging from “If They Could See Me Now” to “Send in the Clowns,” each rendered in increasingly dramatic fashion. Highlight of the uninspired Bob Mackie tribute was a review of songs from “Hair,” and it was all downhill from there. Stitched together with one incredibly lame joke after another, the show was—in a word—embarrassing. We felt sorry for the several performers and musicians worth listening to; we just wished they had fresher material and staging to work with.

Wajang Theater and Culinary Arts Center

The Wajang Theater is a multi-purpose venue that is primarily used for the Culinary Arts Center, a show kitchen used for cooking demonstrations that were scheduled several times daily. On our cruise there were opportunities to learn penne a la vodka, lobster salad, smoothies, chilled raspberry soup and crème brûlée (not exactly Rachel Ray, eh?). The best event was called Cooking with the Stripes and featured the ship’s captain preparing pizza at the same time as a freeform Q&A about the ship’s operation. We kept our head down for this one.

The Wajang Theater is also the ship’s screening room, and a different film was shown daily (once at midday and two in the evening). Unfortunately, the screen size is too small for the number of seats—especially for wide-screen presentations, which might better be called short-screen.

Nightlife was subdued and the stage shows in the main theater were dated and unimpressive.


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While there was extensive top deck space for outdoor diversions, a second pool would have been nice.


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There was only one swimming pool on the ship, with a retractable roof—great for days when the weather didn’t work out.


Lido Pool and Lido Bar

By day, this is the hub of the action on Veendam, the central pool area with the ship’s two hot tubs at one end. Loungers flanked the pool, along with tables for dining. A retractable roof was open when the weather invited, but was closed when the air cooled.

There was a bandstand that provided a stage to a group at midday—they weren’t announced in the daily ship newsletter. Although talented, we found the bass to be way over-amped, and the overall volume was loud enough to prevent any conversation from taking place around the pool.

The Retreat

This area of the ship, Deck 11 aft, seemed ill conceived to us, starting with a trio of tacky fake palm trees for ornamentation. When Veendam was originally built there was a full-size swimming pool here. But the pool was taken out and replaced with cabins (on Deck 10) and a pair of hot tubs and pair of elongated, rectangular wading pools were added above-deck in 2009. While the wading pools might be useful on a really hot day, they don’t suffice as a swimming pool, and they were little used during our cruise.

There was a good number of loungers on this deck, and we never had a problem finding an empty one; showers were available for a quick rinse. The Retreat also had an overhead video screen, but this was rarely in use during our cruise.

For a modest-sized ship, Veendam had lots of open deck areas to, and they were rarely crowded.


Sports Deck

This deck extends the length of the ship and provides the bulk of the sports activities (other than the gym): a basketball court, tennis court and shuffleboard court. On our cruise this deck didn’t see a lot of action, but it was a good place for sunning.

Lido Pool and Lido Bar

By day, this is the hub of the action on Veendam, the central pool area with the ship’s two hot tubs at one end. Loungers flanked the pool, along with tables for dining. A retractable roof was open when the weather invited, but was closed when the air cooled.

There was a bandstand that provided a stage to a group at midday—they weren’t announced in the daily ship newsletter. Although talented, we found the bass to be way over-amped, and the overall volume was loud enough to prevent any conversation from taking place around the pool.

Outdoor Walkaround

The promenade deck wraps Deck 6, and loungers are offered for taking in the sun and sea air. Jogging is not allowed on this deck, but walkers are common—four laps equals a mile.

This was also where the Muster Drill took place, beneath the lifeboats.

Sky Deck

Located above the Crow’s Nest, this is the highest public area of the ship. Loungers are stationed here, but this area got little traffic on our cruise.

The Retreat

This area of the ship, Deck 11 aft, seemed ill conceived to us, starting with a trio of tacky fake palm trees for ornamentation. When Veendam was originally built there was a full-size swimming pool here. But the pool was taken out and replaced with cabins (on Deck 10) and a pair of hot tubs and pair of elongated, rectangular wading pools were added above-deck in 2009. While the wading pools might be useful on a really hot day, they don’t suffice as a swimming pool, and they were little used during our cruise.

There was a good number of loungers on this deck, and we never had a problem finding an empty one; showers were available for a quick rinse. The Retreat also had an overhead video screen, but this was rarely in use during our cruise.

We found the crew of Veendam upbeat, and well trained.


The ship’s daily newsletter, Explorer, appeared at our cabin each evening. The layout was conducive to planning the next day’s activities based on personal interests—“food and entertaining” events were broken out individually, as were “well-being” and “technology” sessions.

The first night a card was left on our bed that said “The ship’s captain and crew wish you a restful sleep tonight as we look to tomorrow’s horizons.” The card was also left for us on the second night, then the third, and the fourth. Wouldn’t a different sentiment each night be welcome? Instead the artificial sentiment quickly became stale—and a waste of paper.
Veendam had 10 decks for us to explore.


Ship Tour Overview

The service we received was generally fine.


Staff

Most of Veendam’s crew was Indonesian, and we enjoyed the connection to Holland’s colonial history they provide. They take pride in several cultural events on the ship, such as the Indonesian tea service one afternoon. Service was always friendly, though there were some communication issues with a few staff-members.
A gratuity of $11.50 per day, per guest was charged to our shipboard account (the gratuity is $12 per day for those staying in suites). The gratuity is shared by room stewards and waiters. Additionally, a 15-percent gratuity was automatically added to all bar charges and to wine purchases in dining rooms.
During the day, dress on Veendam was relaxed and casual. Holland America asks that shoes and a cover-up be worn over a bathing suit when passing through public areas inside the ship.

On our typical seven-night cruise there were two formal nights scheduled, with tuxedos, dark suit or jacket and tie required for men and suit, gown or cocktail dress for women. The rest of the cruise was defined as smart casual—slacks and collared shirts for men, casual dresses, slacks or informal evening wear for women. T-shirts, shorts, etc. were not allowed in public areas after dark.

The drinking age on our cruise was 21. Holland America allows guests to bring wine on board for private consumption; a corkage fee of $18 is applied to the bill for personal wine bottles opened in restaurants or bars. Hard liquor brought on board is stored and delivered to cabins the night before disembarkation.
Guests are automatically enrolled in Mariner Society membership after their first cruise with Holland America. Each day earns Cruise Day Credits which can be accumulated; services purchased on-board—such as spa treatments, dining at specialty restaurants and taking shore excursions—also count. The credits can be used towards a gourmet dinner, massage, shore excursions, etc. on future cruses. The more cruise day credits cruisers accumulate, the higher their “star” level. After 30 cruise days one attains 2-Star Mariner status; 75 days equals 3-Star Marine.; and the highest level—Four-Star Mariner—is attained after 200 cruise days.

Other perks of the Mariner Society, depending on star level, include a 10-15 percent discount on Holland America’s merchandize, a 50-percent discount on cruise fares for the third or fourth guests sharing your stateroom on certain sailings, waiver of air deviation fees; priority disembarkation, tender and check in, etc.
There were self-service laundry facilities located on three of the five decks with cabins—decks 5, 6 and 9.
We didn’t spot anything noticeably amiss—but we were disturbed to read of a failing score for ship sanitation just after our cruise.


General Health and Safety

As part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vessel Sanitation Program, cruise ships pay for and submit to regular CDC inspections aimed at preventing and controlling the introduction, transmission, and spread of gastrointestinal illnesses on cruise ships. The periodic inspections—about two a year—are generally unannounced. Ships are rated on a scale of 100 points, with a score of 85 or less considered “not acceptable.”

On Aug. 19, 2012 Veendam was inspected and received a score of 77. Among the many issues cited in the report were dirty ice machines, malfunctioning refrigerators and dishwashers, brown liquid dripping on clean dishes, flies in a buffet area and more. In an article on the inspection, USA Today cruise editor Gene Sloan said “The CDC report cites dozens of violations including several that suggest a breakdown of management on the ship.”

By coincidence we were aboard Veendam just prior to the CDC’s inspection. Although it’s possible that at least some of the issues cited in the report were present on our cruise, we did not see anything notably amiss as far as sanitation. However, much of the CDC inspection takes place in areas that are off-limits to passengers, including the galley areas of the ship, and the potable water and ventilation systems; the CDC also reviews medical logs which are, of course, off limits.

Still, the CDC report got our attention. As Sloan notes: “Only two other ships from a major line, Royal Caribbean's Monarch of the Seas and Cunard's Queen Mary 2, have failed a CDC inspection over the past three years, according to a search of CDC records. Over the same period dozens of ships have scored a perfect 100 during inspections.”

In a statement, Holland America Line called the unsatisfactory score “highly unusual and an aberration.” Veendam had been inspected 18 times in the previous decade, with a score of 91 or higher on each inspection. On Oct. 7, 2012 the CDC performed another inspection of Veendam, and the new report assigned a passing score of 92. Health Canada, the Canadian federal health agency, has a similar cruise ship inspection program (also using a 100-point scale); their inspection of Veendam on Sept. 28, 2012 assigned a score of 95.

There were automated hand-washing stations outside the Lido buffet. These were a welcome supplement to the usual hand sanitizers, also stationed outside the buffet (and at all other restaurants). The hand-washing stations are not a feature we’ve seen on many other cruise ships.

The Muster Drill was efficiently handled just before sail-away. Passengers congregated on the Lower Promenade Deck and names were called to verify all were in attendance.
The medical clinic was located on Deck 4 forward. Hours for the nurse were 8 a.m. to 12 noon, and 2 to 6 p.m. daily; the doctor was available 10 to 11 a.m. and 5 to 6 p.m. Consultations were charged to the on-board account.

When passing the clinic we noticed that, with the door wide open, conversations between doctor and patient were surprisingly audible; we heard more about patient issues than we needed to.
Smoking not permitted in guestrooms or inside the ship “with the exception of certain designated areas.” Smoking is permitted on the starboard sides of the Outdoor Walkaround and the Retreat deck, and the port side of the Crow’s Nest bar, as well as on stateroom balconies.

A sign in the casino said that the casino was a non-smoking area but that “smoking is permitted at designated slots and tables while playing only.” Smoking and non-smoking slot machines and tables were located within a few feet of each other.
Our cruise on Holland America Line’s ms Veendam was enjoyable and more-or-less went off without a hitch. This was not quite what we expected. When we boarded the ship we were aware of recurring guest complaints, specific to Veendam—particularly cabin air conditioning and plumbing problems. We did not experience either issue in our cabin. Additionally, shortly after our cruise the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) performed an inspection, as part of its Vessel Sanitation Program. Veendam did not receive a passing score, a fairly rare occurrence. Again, although our ship reviews do not cover most of the CDC turf (most of which is behind the scenes and inaccessible to the public), we did not experience any sanitation issues.

This is not to say that Veendam is the belle of the ball. Some areas of the ship felt neglected and unloved—upkeep was not always at its prime. In the main dining room where we had most of our meals, a net was suspended underneath the ceiling, just below the venue’s lighting fixtures, presumably because there have been issues with fixtures falling.

There were a few features on Veendam not found on most Holland America ships, including an outdoor movie screen at the Retreat, on the top aft deck. But we didn’t see much on screen here during our entire voyage, making the screen seem to be an afterthought. And the Retreat itself is also a bit of a misfire: During a 2009 remodel, the aft pool was removed and replaced with a couple elevated wading pools. This allowed Holland America to add 31 cabins, but despite good weather we barely saw anyone dipping their toes in the wading pools (though the adjoining hot tubs did get some traffic).

Our cabin, an Ocean-View located far forward, was not typical—its position on the ship allowed for an elongated layout, which gave us more elbowroom (no complaints here!). Otherwise it had the standard amenities for this category, with a full bathtub in the bathroom, a feature that is not common to most cruise lines. Again, we experienced no plumbing or air conditioning issues in our cabin, and our cabin stewards were sweetly efficient in taking care of our room. We did receive a barrage of marketing materials in our cabin—specials on spa treatments, specials on photo packages, specials on merchandize. It got tiresome after a few days.

For the most part, our meals were very satisfying, with few dishes that seemed like outright clunkers. Only the Terrace Grill seemed unimpressive, but we don’t usually expect much from a pool grill. Meal service was okay, but we had a few bumps in the road, mostly with timing: The waits on two evenings for a table at the main dining room were longer than they should have been, while our dinner at Pinnacle Grill seemed a unnecessarily rushed (the lunch here was spot on).

While most of our cruise went smoothly, there seemed to be a number of ongoing maintenance problems to address, an issue confirmed by frustrated crewmembers we spoke with (as well as passenger complaints we heard). Veendam does not appear to be scheduled for dry dock overhaul at any point in 2013. Knowing this, if we were offered identical itineraries and pricing to choose from on other vessels, we would probably opt for a Holland America ship with a more recent renovation under its belt.
Although we had a few misses, most of our meals here were satisfying.


Overview

Veendam’s main dining room is a two-story affair occupying decks 7 and 8 aft. Breakfast and dinner were served daily, and lunch on sea days. At dinnertime the upper deck was reserved for those on the traditional dining plan, with two seatings nightly, while downstairs was for open seating, which we had selected when we booked our cruise.

The open dining option was in high demand at prime time—around 8 p.m.—and pagers were handed out with glasses of Pol Roget bubbly. One evening we used this time to explore and got as far as midship when the pager starting beeping like a ticking bomb. A stern woman scolded us from inside the device: “You are out of range and cannot receive the page!” As we high-tailed it back toward the restaurant, the voice then ordered us back to the podium: “Your table is ready—please return to the attendant!” The total time from receiving the pager to getting our table was 16 minutes, which didn’t seem too bad. But the following night we waited 26 minutes for our table, which we felt was an unreasonable delay.

The dining room offers sea views from a majority of seats, and tables were stocked with white linens and quality china, and primped with small bouquets of flowers. Holland America’s “culinary council” includes David Burke, Jonnie Boer, Marcus Samuelsson, Jacques Torres and Charlie Trotter joining the line’s Master Chef Rudi Sodamin—each has an appetizer and entrée featured on one night of the cruise.

We particularly enjoyed the International Dinner held on the final night of the cruise. The menu was segmented into four sections—one devoted to the Americas, one for Asia and Australia, another for Europe and Africa while the fourth corner was Chef Rudi’s selections. Our meal started with a wonderful Scandinavian-style seafood and potato chowder that reminded us our dad’s holiday soup, but this one laced with a spicy kick and a lovely fragrance of Aquavit. The Vietnamese spring roll with chicken was light and refreshing, while the Lebanese lamb shank was hearty, served atop couscous and flageolets. Another entrée we loved was David Burke’s pan seared trout, served skin-on over al dente spaghetti, spiked with capers, squash and julienned zucchini—it was an excellent light dish. Jonnie Boer’s salmon tartare was tasty, in a beautiful presentation with an odd, vinegary aspic.

Although a couple vegetarian appetizers and entrées were available nightly, Holland America has expanded its vegetarian options to encompass a full menu—the only hitch is that the meals must be ordered in advance. The policy seemed in a state of evolution: First we were told to order when we came for lunch; then it was order it by noon; then we were told to order in the morning. For our vegetarian evening we started with the lentil and garbanzo salad served over bib lettuce; it was notably absent of lentils but otherwise delicious. We ordered a portobello mushroom and chipotle quesadilla, which was decent, but the accompanying guacamole tasted old while the salsa was salty. We also ordered vegetable lasagna (which arrived ahead of the quesadilla); the marinara sauce was chockfull of tomato and whole leaves of basil and lightly cooked, rendering it especially zesty and with a healthy serving of mozzarella. Other offerings on the veggie menu included a mezze plate, empanadas, pasta fagioli, an asparagus, carrot and zucchini tart, and spinach palak curry.

The few misses we had included a chilled apricot soup appetizer—it was so sweet, topped with a sweetened dollop of meringue, that the dish belonged on the dessert menu. For main, the olive oil poached cod was good if slightly chewy, but the “chorizo yogurt cream” that accompanied was a strange jellied blob. Our tiramisu one evening had lots of cream but seemed unsophisticated, indelicate. This treat should burst with espresso and alcohol but ours was bland and gelatinous instead, arriving at our table jiggling like a hyperactive hula girl.

The breakfast menu offered a pleasing variety—the usual fare was supplemented by an egg white frittata Italiana, eggs Benedict (and Florentine, Royale), belgian waffles, French toast, and pancakes (with banana or blueberry). There was also a Japanese breakfast (miso soup, white rice, tamagoyaki and broiled salmon), the full English breakfast (scrambled eggs, English banger sausage, bacon, baked beans, hash browns, grilled half tomato), a Scandinavian breakfast (smoked salmon, pickled herring, hard boiled egg, dark rye bread) and a Dutch breakfast (Uitsmijter, an open-face sandwich with thick white bread, ham, aged Gouda, and two eggs sunny side up). The restaurant was never crowded at breakfast, and the atmosphere was subdued.

On sea days, the restaurant was open for lunch and the selection included soups and salads such as chicken and Swiss chard soup, Thai curried chicken salad and fried calamari. Entrées encompassed comfort foods like mac and cheese, burgers, and sandwiches, along with a vegetarian salade Niçoise and Swiss steak braised in red wine with mashed potatoes.

In addition to the standard bar menu an expanded wine list was available at the Rotterdam Dining Room. Prices on bottles ranged from $22 (Santa Carolina chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon) to $79 (Silverado cabernet sauvignon, Franciscan Magnificat), with several pricier options from the Pacific Northwest (Holland America’s home base) along with a reserve wine list. Champagnes included Domaine Chadon brut ($47), Tattinger Cuvée Prestige rosé ($99) and Cristal Louis Roderer ($244).
Afternoon tea was served here on sea days at 3 p.m. There was a Royal Dutch Tea service, a Cupcake Tea, and of particular note was the Indonesian tea service, with music of the islands and tropical desserts of banana and coconut. Details were provided in the Explorer newsletter for schedule.

There were two seatings for dinner, at 5:15 and 8:15 p.m. nightly, with the downstairs deck devoted to open seating, between 5 and 9 p.m. Breakfast was served for 90 minutes, starting at 7:30 or 8 a.m. daily, and lunch was available on sea days from 12 noon to 1 p.m.
Though crowded at breakfast, Vendam’s buffet restaurant offered a satisfying range of food.


Overview

Offering a typical Holland America buffet layout, the Lido Restaurant is located on Deck 11, behind the pool area, with two nearly-identical serving lines running down the middle of the ship; seating areas are found along the windows facing the view, with live potted orchids on each table. At breakfast, and during lunch on sea days, the venue was fairly crowded, and locating an empty table took some effort.

In keeping with Holland America’s standard policy, during the first two days of our cruise, crewmembers served guest plates at the buffet, a system designed to minimize spread of communicable diseases. And in addition to the usual liquid hand sanitizers stationed at the entrances to the Lido, there were automated hand-washing stations that got a fair amount of use. The only problem was that, at peaks hours, the tile floor beneath these stations was wet from still-dripping hands. But we found these to be a smart addition to the ship (and not common on other ships we’ve been on).

The Lido Restaurant did not have as large a spread as some ships, but the variety and quality was better than average. The busy breakfast operation offered a good range of standards, including various pastries, sticky buns, and breads (toasted on request) with a half-dozen packaged preserves to choose from, such as red raspberry, strawberry, apricot, orange marmalade. There was fresh sliced fruit, fruit salad and whole fruits (plums!)—all ripe and tasty. Yogurts, about 10 packaged cereals, muesli and oatmeal were available, along with smoked salmon with cream cheese, capers and sliced red onion.

From the griddle there was blueberry pancakes, French toast and waffles topped with whipped cream and stewed fruits. Poached egg dishes included eggs benedict and variations—Florentine, Scottish, Massina, Stanley crab and Italian—along with traditional Omelet station, with assorted meats and veggies, or an omelet of the day.

At lunch we enjoyed the sandwich bar, which had daily suggestions such as a Thai chicken wrap, grilled Ruben, Cobb salad wrap. The salad bar also featured prepared salads such as citrus chicken salad, Waldorf, minted Orzo and zucchini and tuna salade Niçoise, etc. There were two soups daily, including such options as cannellini and lentil, cream of broccoli, barley and mushroom, and a miro shiru one afternoon. At the pasta bar we found a daily baked pasta such as lasagna or stuffed manicotti along with various noodles and sauces, including pesto, pinenuts and sun-dried tomatoes, pomodoro and Alfredo; four different pizzas were available by the slice. In addition to a carving station (baked ham, rotisserie chicken, meatloaf), entrées available at lunch included pan-seared salmon, country-style buttermilk chicken, cilantro and mint-crusted tilapia, and baked beet enchilada. Asian items were a regular feature and included such fare as chicken korma, Indonesian tofu and tempeh curry.

There was a dessert station with an ice cream bar (soft serve and scooped). There was a daily fruit pie, mousse, and cheese cake, along with cookies, brownies, fruit tarts, cream puffs, etc.; sugar-free desserts were also available daily.

Dinner was much less crowded, but still casual and offered a similar (but different) spread as we found at lunch.

The self-service beverage stations were stocked with coffee, tea, iced tea and lemonade. Other drinks could be ordered from the nearby Lido Bar. At breakfast there was delicious fresh squeezed orange juice available, along with grapefruit, apple, cranberry, pineapple, grape, prune, tomato and V-8.

The Lido Restaurant was open for breakfast daily from 7 to 10:30 a.m., with a continental selection available for an additional 30 minutes on either side. Lunch was available from 11:30 a.m, to 2 p.m., with a deli, soup and salad bar available from 2 to 5 p.m. Dinner was offered 5:30 to 8 p.m., with a themed late night snack available most nights from 11 p.m. to midnight.
Presto chango—one corner of the Lido buffet is converted into a cozy Italian restaurant each evening.


Overview

The bustling Lido Restaurant slows down quite a bit at night, so Holland America takes a corner of the dining area and converts it into an intimate Italian venue. It’s a fairly distinct dining experience, with light opera music in the background. At our table we found a red rose, an electric candle, and our Indonesian waiters were surreally attired in striped gondolier shirts. Reservations were required, and most tables were booked by the midpoint of our cruise.

Editor's Note: On our cruise there was no charge for meals at Canaletto. But shortly after our voyage on Veendam, Holland America Line began charging $10 to dine at Canaletto. The menu was also revised, but otherwise the venue has not changed. We’ll have a review of the new Canaletto experience on a future ship soon.

Our meal started with a basket of breads and there were bottles of olive oil and Balsamic vinegar on the table. The oil and vinegar was a nice touch, but we found the vinegar to be syrupy sweet. An inviting plate of antipasti was brought by for us to choose from—roasted vegetables, tomatoes, mozzarella, olives, calamari and slices of meat. We found greens for the insalata canaletto to be fresh, but the dressing on the side was overly acidic.

We were all set to try the cod putanesca, but our waiter steered us away. “I don’t recommend the cod tonight,” he said (which seemed strange since the fish is undoubtedly frozen). So we signed up for the chicken marsala scaloppini, which seemed like basic comfort food, the chicken served atop linguini, bathed in a gravy with tiny slivers of mushrooms; green beans, asparagus, broccoli and carrot were not overcooked. For dessert we tried the mille-feuille of chocolate with walnut praline and ice cream. The dish was dainty and not overwhelming—a good choice.

The ship’s usual selection of drinks and wine was available, along with limoncello liqueur for dessert.

Canaletto was open from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. nightly, and reservations were strongly recommended.
The ship’s steakhouse offered the best food of our cruise.


Overview

Offering up chops of Sterling Silver premium beef in elegant surroundings, the Pinnacle Grill is Holland America’s steakhouse. On Veendam, the Pinnacle Grill is tucked to the starboard side of Deck 8, near the upper level of the main dining room, in a refined setting that included elegant plate-ware and Riedel stemware.

Our dinners here (on other ships) have generally been very good, with Colorado lamb chops, broiled king salmon, lobster tail, cedar planked black cod and shrimp scampi rounding out a satisfying menu (you can read about our dinner experience on Holland America’s Zaandam here). But one night of each cruise the Pinnacle Grill is transformed into “An Evening at Le Cirque in the Pinnacle Grill,” a tribute to the famed Le Cirque restaurant in New York, replete with Bvlgari china. On this evening guests will find a set menu with optional wine pairings, and reservation are required; there is a $39 supplement for this meal. This is what we opted for on our cruise aboard Veendam.

On certain days, the Pinnacle Grill also hosts lunch, with a $10 surcharge. Our experience here at lunch on Veendam was excellent.

For the Cirque dinner we started with a delightful amuse bouche, a small jar of frothy, whipped foie gras underscored with a layer of rhubarb chutney. We ordered the lobster salad “le Cirque,” served composée style, with grapefruit, wedges of potato and dollops of French-type dressing. The server offered fresh pepper, which emerged very coarsely ground. The tail itself was a small tail with good flavor, but the dish struck us as one of a few choice ingredients that someone could easily compose at home. The soup—butternut squash with huckleberries—was excellent, rich and full of herbs and spices, with a spoon of cream and a raisin-y dollop. It was an unexpected (though welcome) embrace of Thanksgiving flavors.

The first three courses arrived in breathless succession—bam, bam, bam. There was just a couple minutes between setting our fork down and the next course arriving. Meanwhile, the main course took almost 20 minutes to arrive, but it was worth the wait—a quartet of lamb chops cooked as ordered, medium-rare, with a nice layer of fat and a robust sauce with a couple pools of pesto sauce.

We came back to Pinnacle Grill for lunch, though our waiter was oddly not familiar with the menu. All the ingredients were right for a starter of grilled prawns atop a bruschetta of roasted corn and balsalmic on toasted baguette, foundations that fractured with each cut. Our beef tenderloin was an excellent cut, cooked just as we ordered it, crusted with blue cheese. A delicious potato au gratin was accompanied by asparagus and a squirrelly frill of cucumber. For dessert we imbibed in a simple and elegant orange and lime panacotta—wonderful. Other lunch entrées included a beef salad with mango and lotus fruit, an Alaskan halibut fillet sandwich and a cheeseburger with bacon and cheddar cheese.

The wine list at Pinnacle Grill was almost identical to the one offered at the Rotterdam Dining Room, but with the addition of a few very high-end recommendations.

There was a “wine pairing” option to accompany the Cirque dinner, for an additional $20. But when we asked about the wines, the wine server told us: “it starts with Prosecco, then the chardonnay, then a red wine.” So what we ordered for dinner made no difference, which didn’t exactly seem like a traditional pairing. Oh, and the wine? Both were from Sicilian winery Feudi del Pisciotto. We passed. This led to a service hiccup—the server delayed taking our wine order until the amuse bouche arrived and the wine we chose to go with the lobster salad did not arrive until just as we were finishing that course.
Reservations were required for dining at the Pinnacle Grill. Dinner was offered nightly from 5:30 to 9 or 9:30 p.m. One evening of our cruise was set aside for the Cirque dinner, and Pinnacle Grill was open on four days for lunch, from 12 to 1 p.m.
The pool grill was usually a pretty lonely spot.


Overview

Offering perfunctory burgers and hot dogs, this outdoor buffet counter also had a few ethnic options. Not many people were using this option on our cruise.

In addition to fairly standard burgers and hot dogs, the buffet counter had a few items each day, usually with an ethnic theme. There was a Mexican spread one day, with do-it-yourself fajita fixings—okay but nothing to get excited about. Somewhat better was the middle eastern buffet, which included couscous, feta cheese mousse with pepper, hummus, turmeric chicken stew with olives, chicken shoarma, and lamb stew with beans.

The Lido Bar on the other side of the pool had the ship’s usual drink selection.
The Terrace Grill was open from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
We loved Veendam’s multi-purpose coffee lounge, where upgraded java options were available for a fee, along with light snacks (at no charge). This was also the ship’s library, which we found to be reasonably extensive in size; guests were asked not to remove the travel guides and a small collection of magazines from the café (the bookcases were locked up each evening). There was always a puzzle out on a table and the daily New York Times Digest (in print) was stocked here. A collection of Scandinavian leather couches and comfy loungers were in high demand—finding an empty lounger was a challenge most hours of the day.

There were 11 shared IBM PCs available for those who wanted to surf the internet at the usual exorbitant sea-faring rates. The computers offered free access to nytimes.com, which we took advantage of when CNN didn’t do the trick.

The café has a small deli counter for between-meal snacks. We found pound cake, cookies, brownies and delicious “energy bars” (oatmeal cranberry or almond), and other goodies through the day.

All the standard espresso drinks were available, and quality was good. Baristas automatically fill orders in to-go cups, but could be requested in ceramic cups. Prices for hot and iced drinks ranged $1.60 for a 12-ounce Americano to $2.55 for the caramello latte; the 16-ounce size were .50 additional. Tazo tea drinks (including chai tea lattes) were also available. Spiked coffee drinks included Irish Coffee (with Bailey’s Irish Cream), Icy Bourbon Mint (bourbon, crème de menthe and chocolate) and coffee nudge (crème de cacao and brandy)—these were $6.25 to $6.50.

The basic price for internet access was .75 per minute, plus a one-time $3.95 charge for account activation; this same fee structure applied to WiFi access for laptops. Various packages were available that brought the price down—100 minutes for $55 (.55/minute), 250 minutes for $100 (.40/minute), etc.

The café served from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
This is the ship’s bar with a view—a fine forward-facing panorama positioned just above the bridge. It’s also the ship’s disco, but the lack of enthusiasm was palpable—when the dance music started it was Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop till you Get Enough” (talk about playing it safe) and the DJ left the booth.

The ship’s standard bar list was available here, while happy hour ran from 4 to 5 p.m. and again from 9 to 10 p.m. Other than these hours, Crow’s Nest could feel a bit like a ghost town, no matter how lovely the sunset.
One of the best additions to the ship following the 2009 renovation, MIX is three bars sharing the same space—one dedicated to martinis, another to Champagne, while the main bar (which also served the casino) had a few beers on draught. Between the Champagne stand and the martini bar was the piano man, who played nightly.

Martinis are sold at a premium here, as premium spirits are used, predominantly Grey Goose vodka and Bombay Sapphire gin. They’re $9.50 each, or try a flight of six martinis for $19.50. There was also the XO martini for two, using Grey Goose and aged French cognac, plus two ounces of unspecified caviar—for $100. The standard martini list is also available, at $6.95.

The beer list included the ship’s standard complement, plus Bass Pale Ale, Beck’s, Boddington’s and Stella Artois on draught ($4.75), plus several others in can or bottle—Corona, Red Stripe, Newcastle Brown Ale and Guinness Extra Stout (all $5.25).

Champagne cocktails—including Kir Royale, Champagne Mojito and Royal Fizz were priced $6.95. The ship’s list of sparklers was supplemented here with Tattinger Brut Réserve ($16, or $99 for the bottle), Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut ($14 glass, $89 bottle) and Moët & Chandon Rosé Impérial ($16, $99 bottle). A few premium bottles are available including Moët & Chandon Dom Pérignon 1998 ($199), Krug Grand Cuvée ($249) and Impérial Veuve Cliquot La Gran Dame 1998 ($362).

This pleasant outpost on Deck 8 was our pick for pre-prandial cocktails, when a jazz trio would strike up and take requests.

The main showroom for Veendam on decks 7 and 8 was bathed in red and gold tones, an appealing setting for evening entertainment and other events. Best seats were those on the lower level, down front; this was also where the sound mix was least problematic. The balcony was a different matter: With low backs and configured in wavy rows, these seats were not comfortable for extended periods (though most or all shows were under an hour) and other than the front rows, most balcony seats didn’t have clear sightlines to the stage. Further, the sound system—with vocals particularly over-miked—was especially poor in the balcony.
Geared to an audience in their 60s and up, we found the conservative evening entertainment on Veendam to be overdue for an overhaul. A tribute to show tunes one evening trotted out standards ranging from “If They Could See Me Now” to “Send in the Clowns,” each rendered in increasingly dramatic fashion. Highlight of the uninspired Bob Mackie tribute was a review of songs from “Hair,” and it was all downhill from there. Stitched together with one incredibly lame joke after another, the show was—in a word—embarrassing. We felt sorry for the several performers and musicians worth listening to; we just wished they had fresher material and staging to work with.

The spa and salon on Veendam was managed by Steiner Leisure, a company that oversees a majority of spa facilities at sea. Located on Deck 11 forward, the Greenhouse Spa offered a variety of treatments during our cruise, at prices slightly higher than we find at most quality resorts. Treatments were discounted on port days, and other specials became available as the cruise went on, particularly for those booking multiple appointments.

The prices ranged from $129 for a 50-minute Full Body Massage to $259 for a 100-minute AromaSpa Seaweed Massage and Float. A couples or friends massage started at $269 for a 50-minute session. The 50-minute LaTherapie Hydralift Facial Facials was priced $119 with other facials somewhat higher. Manicure and pedicure services started at $45 and $65 respectively. The menu of services also included waxing, tooth whitening and acupuncture—all of which were heavily promoted with leaflets that arrived in our cabin daily.

Within the spa was the Greenhouse Retreat, a small facility within the spa that offered dry heat, steam and aromatherapy chambers, heated ceramic loungers and a body temperature mineral pool. A seven-day pass to use the Thermal Suite was $99 ($149 for couples), a fee that seemed excessive to us, but not to some who wanted this bit of semi-exclusivity to themselves.

A 15-percent gratuity was automatically added to the bill for all treatments.

Overlooking the forward panorama, Veendam’s gym was accessed through the entrance to the spa. It was a well-maintained facility and much of the equipment appeared to be the latest generation of LifeFitness treadmills, bikes, etc. The gym was generally not crowded except early morning.

A solid roster of fitness classes were available, though some required an additional fee. Tai chi (twice daily), abs conditioning, pool aerobics, stretching exercises and dance classes were complimentary, most of them taught by the ship’s “Lifestylist” and announced in the daily Explorer newsletter; yoga, pilates and spinning classes were $12 per session. The Body Sculpt Boot Camp was priced $120 for four 30-minute circuit-based sessions.

This deck extends the length of the ship and provides the bulk of the sports activities (other than the gym): a basketball court, tennis court and shuffleboard court. On our cruise this deck didn’t see a lot of action, but it was a good place for sunning.

A couple basketball games were organized by the crew during our cruise.
By day, this is the hub of the action on Veendam, the central pool area with the ship’s two hot tubs at one end. Loungers flanked the pool, along with tables for dining. A retractable roof was open when the weather invited, but was closed when the air cooled.

There was a bandstand that provided a stage to a group at midday—they weren’t announced in the daily ship newsletter. Although talented, we found the bass to be way over-amped, and the overall volume was loud enough to prevent any conversation from taking place around the pool.

The Lido Bar offered the ship’s standard drink menu.

Veendam’s dedicated pizza parlor was a pretty basic affair.


Overview

Regular offerings included cheese, pepperoni and vegetarian, along with the day’s special, such as Florentine.

The promenade deck wraps Deck 6, and loungers are offered for taking in the sun and sea air. Jogging is not allowed on this deck, but walkers are common—four laps equals a mile.

This was also where the Muster Drill took place, beneath the lifeboats.

Located above the Crow’s Nest, this is the highest public area of the ship. Loungers are stationed here, but this area got little traffic on our cruise.

Club HAL is Holland America’s kids program, and a collection of dedicated venues is found on Deck 12. They were divided by age group—one for age 3-7 stocked with board games and a decorated in a spilled-paint theme; another is for tweens age 8-12 and had a Foosball table and video games. There was an unsupervised room with Xbox and Wii games available, but equipment could not be removed from the Youth Center.

There was also a teen venue called The Loft, with a DJ booth, stage and couches for hanging out. A hidden stairway lead from The Loft up to a teens-only outdoor space called The Oasis, decked out for a tropical-theme party with a splash pool and waterfall, faux palm trees and sun loungers. There were less than 10 teens on our cruise and we never saw any of them using this space (perhaps in part because the waterfall wasn’t turned on). If there were a few dozen teens aboard, we could see this space perking up.

The basketball and tennis courts are located right outside Club HAL and The Loft.

Reserved for guests booked into Deluxe Verandah Suites, this is a private lounge tended by a concierge most hours. Nibbles are available throughout the day, along with worktables, an oversized TV, sofas, and computer stations where WiFi is offered at a reduced rate.

Classes in Microsoft programs were taught using 15 Sony laptops, each equipped with a mouse. Among the subjects on offer were Transferring Photos, Introductory Photo Editing, Windows 7, Making Movies, PC Security, and PC Buying—all geared to Microsoft products. The ship’s “techspert” was available for questions at set hours daily. The room was locked when not being used for classes.

A series of shops ran along Deck 8 offering a fairly standard selection of merchandize.

Cruise apparel themed to our destination was available, along with Holland America logo merchandize such as T-shirts, caps, beach towels, mugs and Veendam ship models. There was jewelry, watches, fragrances, skin care products and binoculars. Sundries including candy, chips, toothpaste, deodorant, feminine napkins, disposable lighters and razors. Duty free cigarettes and liquor was also available.
The Wajang Theater is a multi-purpose venue that is primarily used for the Culinary Arts Center, a show kitchen used for cooking demonstrations that were scheduled several times daily. On our cruise there were opportunities to learn penne a la vodka, lobster salad, smoothies, chilled raspberry soup and crème brûlée (not exactly Rachel Ray, eh?). The best event was called Cooking with the Stripes and featured the ship’s captain preparing pizza at the same time as a freeform Q&A about the ship’s operation. We kept our head down for this one.

The Wajang Theater is also the ship’s screening room, and a different film was shown daily (once at midday and two in the evening). Unfortunately, the screen size is too small for the number of seats—especially for wide-screen presentations, which might better be called short-screen.

Two side-by-side meeting rooms were available for groups, and they were also used for various events during our cruise. Half Moon hosted Morning Mass; the Hudson Room was used for origami demonstrations, journal crafting, and beginner and intermediate Bridge instruction as well as non-hosted Bridge sessions.

A staff of photographers was on hand to capture guests on the ship. These included informal snaps in front of designated backdrops, as well as more formal portrait sessions. The shots were assembled each day and showcased here for us to buy.

Veendam’s gallery of art pieces for sale is located opposite the Front Office on Deck 7, with additional pieces hanging on the walls extending down the corridor past the Wajang Theater. With sales managed by Park West Gallery, there were art auctions almost daily, held in the Ocean Bar.

The ship’s three-story central atrium is dominated by a glass sculpture, “Jacob’s Ladder” rising from Deck 6. It’s a striking feature, just one piece of Veendam’s $2 million art collection that we enjoyed while onboard.

This is the central axis of the ship, through which passengers pass many times. The large open area around the base of the sculpture (Deck 6) was mostly unused space. On Deck 7 we found the side-by-side Front Office and Shore Excursions desks.

Located on Deck 8 at mid-ship, Veendam’s casino is a modest facility, but probably sufficient for a ship of this size. In addition to several dozen slot machines there were tables games, including Blackjack, Three Card Poker, Caribbean Stud Poker, Roulette and Craps. At slots, players could load cash onto the room key card.

Gaming lessons were held on the first day of the cruise, with Texas Hold’em tournaments scheduled at other points.

The casino is designated as non-smoking, but that term is in conflict with the reality—most slot machines and tables have a sign that says “smoking allowed while gambling,” but cigarette smoke wanders where it will, including a few feet over to the non-smoking slots and tables. That said, overall the facility was usually not too smoky (we actually found the smell sometimes worse just beyond the casino, where stale smoke lingered in a stairwell).

The bar MIX was adjacent to the casino.

Located along a central traffic corridor on Deck 8, this lounge was usually empty during the day—a good place to catch up on reading when the nearby Explorations Café was busy. A few one-off events were held here, including introductory Tai Chi and Meditation sessions, along with a few seminars that ended in spa or merchandize pitches such as one on acupuncture and another dedicated to Diamonds, Watches and Exotic Gemstones.

But in the evening, the Adagio Strings—the ship’s string quarter—played classical music and light standards. An attendant manned the informal bar setup that featured coffee drinks, cognac, port, cheese and crackers. It was a very comfortable place to hang out before or after dinner in the adjacent Rotterdam Dining Room.

This area of the ship, Deck 11 aft, seemed ill conceived to us, starting with a trio of tacky fake palm trees for ornamentation. When Veendam was originally built there was a full-size swimming pool here. But the pool was taken out and replaced with cabins (on Deck 10) and a pair of hot tubs and pair of elongated, rectangular wading pools were added above-deck in 2009. While the wading pools might be useful on a really hot day, they don’t suffice as a swimming pool, and they were little used during our cruise.

There was a good number of loungers on this deck, and we never had a problem finding an empty one; showers were available for a quick rinse. The Retreat also had an overhead video screen, but this was rarely in use during our cruise.

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