The MS Veendam is part of the Signature of Excellence fleet of Holland America Lines and until the end of the summer 2012 season plies the route between New York and Bermuda. From this autumn it will operate on the route from Boston to Canada before undertaking 18 and 31 day cruises to South America.
A Deck -Overview: 142 staterooms; 118 outside, 24 inside
The lowest of the passenger decks, the feel of A Deck is that of the accommodation levels of a quality hotel. There’s no sense of the claustrophobia you think you might feel in the heart of a ship and the corridors are well lit, attractively decorated and airy.
MS Veendam’s staterooms are what you would expect for a ship of this calibre, with facilities to ensure you are comfortable and entertained whilst in your room. Despite the images shown on the ship’s webpage, some of the less expensive rooms are a little cramped and to get the feel of a decent, spacious hotel room, you need to spend out on a higher category of stateroom. In each room there are flat screen televisions with DVD players which you can use to play DVDs obtainable from the ship’s collection. If you want to close your eyes and relax you can listen to music on the ship’s multi-channel music system which caters for most tastes. Each room also has a telephone.
Stateroom categories M, MM and N have showers only whilst the other categories have a bath and a shower.
Staterooms are available on all decks to cater for differing levels of mobility issues. A Deck has two staterooms with small modifications including a reduced number of internal steps or lowered steps whilst staterooms category G near the front of the ship are designed and equipped with the needs of wheelchair users in mind.
In all the staterooms on this deck the beds are arranged as two singles which can be combined to make a queen size bed.
Conveniently for passengers on A Deck, there is a reception desk towards the front of the ship which can deal with most passenger requests, saving you the trek up to the main reception on the Promenade Deck.
If you wish to do your own laundry whilst on board, the laundrette is located on this deck too as is the doctor’s office and should you need it, the infirmary. Rooms to avoid on this deck where possible include FF721, F723 and F725 which are adjacent to the laundrette. The elevators on this deck are tucked away and so rooms nearby aren’t disturbed by the lift operation. You should also be aware that rooms towards the stern are close to the engine rooms and you may hear some engine noise or feel vibrations through your floor.
Main Deck - Overview: 196 staterooms; 124 outside, 72 inside
There are more staterooms on this deck so at peak times it can seem a little more crowded. However, the range of room options is greater here with the bias towards more spacious accommodation. There’s still a launderette for use on this deck but you need to go down to A Deck or up to the Promenade Deck to find reception. Some staterooms in classes E, K, L and M on this deck have four beds, handy for families travelling together as there are no connecting rooms on the main deck whilst others have a sofa that will convert into a bed for a third person sharing the stateroom.
Be aware that if you book a stateroom on this deck towards the front of the ship you’ll find that instead of a window, you’ll have a porthole which causes the room to be darker and reduces your view. Also, if you’re a light sleeper or usually turn in early, avoid rooms C389 to C392 and C326 to C329 which are by the elevators.
Passengers with reduced mobility should request one of the three L class staterooms at the bow end which have easier access to the bathroom facilities. There are no rooms on this deck that have been modified for wheelchair users. Rooms to avoid include DA550, 552 and 554 which are alongside the laundrette and rooms K560, K562, K565, K567, K568 and K570 which surround the escalator.
Lower Promenade Deck - Overview: 123 rooms 104 outside, 19 inside
On the Lower Promenade Deck the size of the staterooms increase substantially and there are fewer of them, giving the deck a more relaxed feel. The promenade which encircles the deck can be busy during the day but not especially so. At night, passengers often walk off the substantial meals but are generally quiet although many passengers complain of feeling like they’re in a goldfish bowl as, despite mirroring on the doors and windows, you get the feeling that people could be looking in at you . This level is the base of the Atrium which extends up a further two deck levels. You’ll also find the Hotel Manager’s Office and that of the Cruise Director on this deck.
Several of the staterooms on the Lower Promenade Deck have connecting doors, ideal for families who still want a little privacy from their children.
Because of the layout of the deck and the positioning of lifeboats and other obstructions, several of the staterooms have only partial sea views (DD class) whilst others are completely obstructed (HH). This makes the room cheaper if you don’t mind missing the view.
It’s on this deck that the owners have introduced the so called ‘Lanai’ staterooms which have a number of extra benefits such as complimentary fresh fruit, more luxurious beds and better bathroom products but the main feature of this kind of room are the sliding glass doors to the lower promenade deck. Whilst this should be an advantage, it does mean that you feel like you’re in a goldfish bowl despite the glass being slightly mirrored on the outside. Many guests feel that they have to have curtains closed at all times to preserve their privacy spoiling the point of having the doors. The general consensus is that it’s not worth paying the extra for the facilities.
Passengers with reduced mobility are helped with staterooms C389 and C390 being accessible for wheelchairs with facilities for roll-in showers. Rooms to avoid on this deck include C330 to C333 which are next to general use toilets.
The Promenade Deck
This deck sees most life during mealtimes or at night for it’s there that the main restaurants and bars together with the theatres and shops are found. There are plenty of things to do there and it starts to get busy during the late afternoon as people return from shore excursions or from the pool area. During the day, many of the indoor activities take place there including cookery demonstrations, IT courses, talks and presentations.
The Rubens Lounge is the seating area for the nightly shows and also for the nightclub ‘Showtime’ that kicks off after the evening show performance ends. Views on the shows are varied with some passengers saying the shows are aimed too much for older passengers whilst many agree that they are professionally performed and together with the setting, you feel like you could be in Vegas. It depends on the night and the show with the Broadway Revue and the comedy nights getting the best feedback whilst other nights’ entertainment almost feels like fillers.
There are many opportunities to have your photograph taken on board the MC Veendam. You’ll find the photographer snapping away as you first board as well as photographs taken on the way in to dinner, on gala dinner nights, at the theatre and anywhere else you could possibly be seen enjoying yourself. It’s quite fun to spend a few minutes looking through the daily galleries to see if you’ve been snapped and to see the antics of your fellow passengers.
On this deck you’ll find a small area where before your meals each night you can sample some of the ship’s wine list in order to help you decide what you might enjoy with your meal. The ship carries an extensive range of wines which have been recommended as ‘excellent’ by The Wine Spectator. This can often be a worthwhile use of your time as you can select wine for your dinner and have it ready for you when you arrive. This avoids the problem that sometimes occurs of there being no wine waiter available at some of the Rotterdam and Lido Restaurants tables.
There’s a small gallery of shops on the Promenade Deck but the main shops are a deck higher on the Upper Promenade Deck. The shops in this area include essentials as well as small gifts. They accept credit cards (check or increase your limit before you board!) or you can put purchases on your stateroom account.
Front Office and Shore Excursions
The ship’s administration has a hierarchy which usually gets queries answered and problems solved quickly. Staff in the various parts of the ship should be able to help if a problem arises but if they are unable to, you can seek help from the reception areas on the accommodation decks or go to the Front Office for help. Next to the Front Office is the Shore Excursion Office. A little like an on board travel agents, you can find out more about the various stops and what there is to see there as well as book tickets for the trips.
Over $2m has been spent on art and antiques for the MS Veendam and the Art Gallery exhibits much of it alongside work by contemporary and aspiring artists. Whilst the exhibition doesn’t change during your cruise, it’s worth spending time there if you have a spare hour or so. Be aware that the virtual guide on the ship’s website isn’t updated as often as it should be so you may find the art in different locations or no longer on the ship.
Wajang Theatre and Culinary Arts Centre
The Wajang Theatre is used most often for the culinary arts events which involve top chefs demonstrating new and exciting menus. It may sound a little dull but the chefs have been chosen for their repartee and showmanship and the theatre is often packed out. At other times it’s used for the craft classes but this can sometimes be problematic as the arrangement of the room isn’t conducive to individual projects and despite there being AV facilities, they’re often not used when they could be employed to help demonstrate the activities more clearly.
The Half Moon is another theatre style meeting room, this time with a capacity of up to a hundred. Several presentations are given here during cruises and it’s easy to see the speaker and hear what they have to say as the seating is tiered. There’s the facility for AV presentation too with a large screen behind the speaker’s podium. Here you need to be aware that if there are insufficient passengers to make it worthwhile, the presentation can be cancelled, often without warning and without any notice being given to the passengers. Some have waited there for up to 15 minutes before finding out the presentation has been cancelled.
The Hudson Room is a little unusual on the Veendam. Designed as a commercial meeting room, it can be hired by a group of guests and can seat up to 50 people. There’s AV equipment there making it ideal for business presentations and when not booked, it’s used for the IT lectures and presentations on board.
Rotterdam Dining Room
The emphasis is on pomp and ceremony at the Rotterdam Dining Room. A chime signals the opening of the restaurant for the evening and the experience that awaits you is very special. To some, the décor of the restaurant is a little over the top, almost garish in places but look beyond the kitsch and out through the windows and you’ll dine next to some of the world’s greatest panoramas.
You can make dinner reservations for a set time and table if available but the restaurant also operates an open table arrangement whereby you can simply turn up and be seated, either by yourselves or with other diners if the timescale allows. Be aware that this can mean a wait of up to half an hour whilst a table is filled but you can spend this time over a drink or chatting to your fellow table guests. The food is very special and you won’t find buffet self-service in the Rotterdam, instead, a five course menu awaits you with delights such as seared scallops, porterhouse steak with a variety of sauces and dessert creations that are works of art. All the food and drink is served using top quality table and stemware and the wine list has been rated as excellent by The Wine Spectator magazine.
An acclaimed master chef, Rudi Sodamin, oversees the menu which is prepared by highly trained chefs. Each table is said to have dedicated waiters that remember your likes and dislikes and who are on hand to make recommendations should you wish but the reality is that cost cutting has meant that waiters often have to serve up to twenty tables so service is slow, requests are forgotten and the whole process can take up to three hours meaning that you are likely to miss the evening shows. Food is served in small portions leading some to complain that they don’t feel satisfied at the end of a meal and the vegetarian options can be limited.
The best time to show up for a meal is either very early or very late so the dining room is quieter and you have a better chance of good service. If you have any special dietary requirements, you are likely to have been asked for details when you booked and the kitchen will do all it can to ensure that you have a memorable meal whilst still following your dietary regime.
continues the entertainment theme with access to the balconies of the Rubens Lounge, many shops, cafes and bars as well as the ship’s casino. There’s another gallery plus quiet rooms and the upper level of the Rotterdam Dining Room which is often quieter and better serviced.
Cafes and Bars
The bar facilities of the MS Veendam have recently been remodelled in a format called ‘Mix’. The result of this is that each bar is themed around the style of drink on offer so there’s Champagne, where you can go to celebrate or just to enjoy one of their fabulous cocktails; try their Mimosas, they’re divine. Martinis which is a cocktail style bar with the emphasis heavily on French vodka as they use Grey Goose in many of the special cocktails made there. Finally there’s Ales and Spirits where you can enjoy some of the finest beers from around the world as well as Highland malts and whiskies from the US and Japan. Y
ou’ll also find the all-encompassing bar called the Ocean Bar which serves all of the above. There’s a coffee bar too called Explorations Café which does amazing iced coffee made with freshly brewed espresso. It’s one of the more popular drinking places on the ship, partly because of its atmosphere, the friendliness of the staff that work there and partly because the coffee and tea served there is cheaper than many of the drinks available at other bars. If you don’t want to sit in the bar to drink your coffee, you can have it brought to the Explorer’s Lounge immediately opposite.
The shopping arcade on the MS Veendam is, as you would expect, highly exclusive. The gifts and clothes are wonderful but the style and quality comes at a price. You may want to just drift through and window shop, for many of the prices are beyond everyday wallets. A prime example is the Merabella Luxury Shop, set apart from the rest of the arcade, and where their products are presented more like an art gallery rather than a shop
The ship’s casino is a fun place to spend the evening hours and everyone should at least spend a dollar or two trying to ‘break the bank’. Despite being on a cruise ship, the whole business is taken seriously and you’ll see some of the wealthier passengers betting some serious money. If gambling’s not for you, it’s still worth sipping a cocktail and watching the style and glamour of the other casino goers.
The Pinnacle Grill is billed as an exclusive restaurant on the Veendam and you have to pay extra to eat there although some travel agencies include a night per seven days included in the price of your cruise. It’s stylishly laid out with white linen tablecloths and fine china and stemware and has a mouth-watering menu. Service is better here than in other restaurants around the ship as the ratio of waiters to diners is greater. The food is fabulous; perfectly cooked, beautifully presented and delicious.
Verandah Deck - Overview: 114 rooms: 106 outside, 8 inside
On the Verandah Deck, all of the outside staterooms have their own private balcony with sliding doors leading from their sitting areas. The Verandah Suites have minibars, refrigerators and a whirlpool baths for the ultimate in luxury whilst the windows are floor to ceiling to maximise the views. Service to these rooms is top class with complimentary laundry service for the Deluxe Verandah Staterooms, hors d’oeuvres served in the room before your meal if required, regular fresh flowers, complimentary stationery and a mini bar. Six pairs of rooms are connectable allowing for families to travel together whilst maintaining privacy.
Rooms to avoid include BA122, BA124, BA126, BA128 and BA105, BA107, BA109 and BA111 which are alongside the elevators whilst BA146, BA148 and BA150 are alongside the launderette.
There are two rooms with lower level steps between the main room and the bathroom so those with restricted mobility can bet about but there are no rooms adapted for wheelchairs on this deck.
The Navigation Deck - Overview: 84 staterooms: 75 outside 9 inside
This is where the real money lives whilst on board. There’s a single Penthouse Verandah Suite which is the height of luxury. With floor to ceiling windows giving unparalleled views in two directions, a sitting room and a dining room where you can be served your meals in private, a huge whirlpool bath and a guest bathroom and a dressing room of the expansive bedroom, you may not even want to leave your room.
For the not-quite-so-well-off, the 28 Deluxe Verandah Suites are the next best thing. Private balconies, whirlpool baths and a large sitting area with great views from the floor to ceiling windows make staying in one, a top class experience. You get priority boarding for shore excursions and priority at mealtimes. All possible extras you might need during your trip are provided including binoculars and umbrellas.
Verandah Suites at the stern of the ship, next to the pool, are similar to the ones on the Verandah Deck and two pairs of these can be connected to allow more space or for families to use. Inside Staterooms complete the deck’s accommodation with four rooms adjacent to the Neptune Lounge and another five near the stern. There is only a single stateroom on this deck that has lowered steps for the less mobile and none that have full facilities for the disabled.
The Navigation Deck hosts the ship’s large pool and there are theoretically plenty of sunbeds to allow you to enjoy the view as well as getting a tan. In reality, many passengers reserve them with towels before breakfast and so you may be left with no sunbed or one in not such a good position. The ship ostensibly tries to prevent this but the notices are never enforced. On this deck there’s also a private lounge called the Neptune Lounge reserved for this deck’s passengers only. There you can access Wi-Fi, meet with friends, watch a large screen TV and have the services of a concierge dedicated to the lounge’s users. The lounge also houses a small, exclusive library and comfortable chairs and sofas for relaxation.
Rooms to avoid on this deck are A050 and A065 which back onto the pool bar and the pool area toilets and possibly I029 which backs onto the Neptune Lounge.
The Lido Deck is popular during the day having its own pool with plenty of deck chairs around it for relaxation and a waiter service bar and a grill restaurant for light lunches. It’s where you’ll find the spa facilities and fitness centre too together with the ship’s beauty salon. The Lido Restaurant is located towards the stern and is popular for lunchtime meals or for less formal evening meals.
Lido Deck at night
The fitness centre is very well stocked with the latest exercise machines, weights and other fitness apparatus. There’s a trainer in attendance each day to give advice on exercise regimes and the centre can undertake fitness assessments on you at a small extra charge. If the gym isn’t busy, you can use the fitness trainer as a personal trainer too.
Formerly this was the Lido Terrace but remodelling in 2009 turned this area into The Retreat. Billed as a private resort style pool area, membership is free to occupants of the upper deck staterooms whilst others can use it at an extra charge. The numbers of passengers using it are therefore limited meaning that you have more change of relaxation, of getting a sunbed and the waiter service there is brisker and more efficient. The area has some plunge pools and Jacuzzis and is designed to look classier than the main pool area. The sunbeds are more luxurious too. A small bar alongside The Retreat sees to your liquid comfort during your stay on the Lido Deck.
Greenhouse Spa and Salon
The spa and salon on the MS Veendam is amazing and covers just about every treatment possible. There are rooms for meditative massage, treatment rooms and the latest beauty therapies are offered by highly trained staff.
Ladies on board can get their hair styled here as well as taking advantage of the manicure service. The Beauty Salon is tastefully presented with a relaxing, reassuring atmosphere and the staff that work there are friendly, knowledgeable and skilled.
The Lido pool is much smaller than the main pool and has a retractable roof meaning you can swim or enjoy the Jacuzzis there in any weather or at any time of day. There are lots of plastic sunbeds with sumptuous blue and white striped cushions or a small bar and eating area near the Terrace Grill where you can enjoy good food or look out to sea through the floor to ceiling windows that run the full length of the pool area.
The observation deck is accessed from the Fitness Centre and is a moderately sized teak planked area where you can stroll and look out at the sea ahead or relax on a lounger.
If you’re on the Lido Deck then there are three opportunities for eating. For light snacks and meals try the Terrace Grill near the pool. It’s not big but the food is good and the atmosphere uncrowded. For any of the day’s meals where you want to be a little less formal, try the Lido Restaurant.
Whereas the Rotterdam Dining Room is very formal with waiter service, the Lido Restaurant follows a help yourself buffet service but the food is no less delicious. Steak, lobster and lamb racks regularly feature on the menu and the desserts are heavenly. You should be aware that for the first 48 hours of your cruise, the Lido doesn’t do self-service so as to conform with hygiene requirements. Finally there’s the Canaletto Restaurant serving Italian food. Whilst the fare there is generally good, the antipasti can be over salted or tasteless. The other Italian dishes including the lasagne, spaghettis and pizzas are delicious although you’ll sometimes find them made with strange ingredients such as hot dog sausage in the lasagne!
The Sports Deck is just that, an area where you can play tennis or basketball, practise your golf or take part in team events in the arena which can be covered in bad weather. It’s very popular with the younger, more athletic passengers and the ship organises regular individual and team competitions there which you can find out about in the ship’s programme of events and activities.
The Crows’ Nest
This is a peculiar place, part meeting room, part quiet area and part funky futuristic bar. Younger passengers will enjoy the bar decorated in mock Star Trek design whilst older passengers will appreciate the peace of the Crows’ Nest’s meeting room where the chairs are arranged in small groups, ideal for meeting friends or for just enjoying the view.
The Sky Deck is fun and funky. It’s a little like the Flintstones meets the Early Learning Centre but if you can get over everything being synthetic than it’s a good place to go to relax. Not many people make it this high up on the ship but if you do, you’ll find a small pool, some sunbeds to stretch out on and the odd hammock or two. There’s waiter service for your drinks although the bar is small so don’t expect the range you’d find elsewhere on the ship. If you prefer, there’s a mock Hawaiian beach hut by the bar where you can sit and enjoy your drinks.
The pool is small and is in a fake ‘rock pool’ design. It’s more of a plunge pool or a place too cool off rather than have a serious swim.
The Oasis area is very artificial looking. Some may like it but it is a little too fake to be fun. But if you’re just going to slump in a hammock and let the breeze blow through your hair, you won’t worry too much.