My husband and I boarded our first Holland America Line cruise in not-so sunny Vancouver, BC for seven-days sailing Alaska. From the moment we entered the ship we were immersed into the friendly, warm atmosphere of the ms Volendam. In a later posting I’ll talk more to the destinations we visited, for now I’d like to share with you our Holland America experience.
We were lucky enough to stay in a fabulous Verandah Suite, category B, room 6199. The 262-sqaure feet of space was just enough for the two of us to stretch out in. The stateroom was beautifully furnished, everything seemed new and well cared for and the signature Mariner’s Dream Bed did not disappoint – with soft luxurious bedding combined with an ultra comfy mattress. Other lush items, cozy waffle weave bathrobes, wool blankets (which we enjoyed time and again on our verandah), and the spa-like bathtub and shower head. I should also note that there is plenty of storage space in this stateroom, large closets, drawers under the bed, and drawers in night stands provided ample storage, even if we were to stay longer than seven days. Plus, Holland America does provide a laundry service, or a self-serve laundry room. It truly felt like a home away from home for us.
From the front desk to the room attendants we experienced nothing less than phenomenal service. Having sailed on a few cruise lines I have to say that Holland America Line’s staff is a cut-above and are ready and willing to please with a friendly smile on their face. The entertainment staff was engaging and friendly getting people into the right mood to play games and participate in onboard events.
FOOD, FOOD & MORE FOOD
I think most people know that you don’t starve on a cruise, every time you turn around there’s more food. What’s more important is that it was good quality and great tasting food.
*The Main Dining room has a luxurious quality and the friendly staff makes the Anytime Dining work well for those who don’t want to be locked into a set schedule. If you don’t want to wait in line (for two people the most we waited was about 10 minutes), just call ahead that day and make a reservation for your preferred dining time and you will get right in.
*Pinnacle Grill, this reservations-only dining experience costs only $20 per person and is worth at least triple that amount. Our reservation time was for 8pm on one of our at sea days. The menu consisted of Soups & Salads, Mains and Desserts. The waiter brings around the various cuts of Sterling Silver Beef to show you the options from which to choose. Our meal was in one short word amazing. Rivaling any top restaurant in the country. Still not sure about spending the $20, go on the first night of the cruise or for lunch and the price is reduced to $10 per person. Make your reservations early on though, because space is limited in this small dining room.
*Lido Dining Options – The Lido Restaurant Buffet had many choices and changed daily. We ate in here several times for breakfast, lunch and dinner. During lunch, by the Lido Pool, the staff would serve up a lunch special from fresh grilled salmon to Asian specialties. Also, if you so chose there was a small grill, the Terrace Grill and taco stand permanently fixed out by the pool where you could get a cooked-to-order hamburger and other grilled treats.
*Complimentary In-room dining was such a great experience. Imagine hot cocoa and chocolate chip cookies delivered to your room while you are scenic cruising Glacier Bay. Breakfast brought to your room before you head off to port. Or even a midnight snack if you so choose. One evening we were so tired we decided to stay in and order room-service off the in-room dining menu, I was surprised by how many choices we actually had, we waited about 45 minutes and were delivered piping hot food that was perfectly delicious.
LOUNGES & BARS
Every afternoon and evening the lounges and bars came to life. Holland America Line provided “Happy Hour” every day in two different bars, where the drinks were buy one, get one free and they provided scrumptious little appetizer platters to everyone who attended. Later in the evening each lounge has a different type of entertainment going on from a piano player regaling us with Beatles tributes to musicians playing classical tunes. We popped around from place to place checking out the new scenes.
ACTIVITES & ENTERTAINMENT
So many activities, what should we do? All day long the entertainment staff provided activities for all ages, fun games like a golf challenge and experiences like karaoke and Dutch High Tea. The ship has two pools, one in the back and one in the center (which has a retractable roof for incremental weather).
*The Culinary Arts Center, to my surprise was much more than I expected. It was more than just a place to watch food demonstrations; they used this space for a scrapbooking class, mixology lessons, napkin folding and towel animal demonstrations. Each class we participated in was free of charge, engaging and entertaining. Our favorite being the towel animal demonstrations – after almost a week of finding these fun creatures upon returning to our room for the night we were ready to see how they were made.
*Explorations Café was one of our favorite sea day hangout spots. It provided floor to ceiling windows off the starboard side of the ship for us to view nature, but most importantly provided very comfortable chairs, specialty coffees (fee applied), board games, puzzles, music listening stations, internet stations, a library and movie rentals.
*Frans Hals Show Lounge – we attended a couple of shows and again, to my great surprise the shows were very good. In my experience the shows I’ve seen previously have always been in the o.k. range, but the shows we saw were delightful and entertaining. The singers and dancers were spot on. The first big show the captain did a welcome onboard, congratulated the employee of the month (who worked in the engine room) and did a champagne toast, everyone was provided with a complimentary glass of champagne upon arrival and we got them topped off as well.
* Club Hal kids’ area had plenty of fun things to do and spaces for kids to play. The Oasis teen area was very cool, I can just imagine being a teen and hanging out up on the back deck in our own private area with waterfall, hammocks and hang out space.
HOLLAND AMERICA LINE IN ALASKA
Being my first time to Alaska, Holland America really made the experience special. The staff’s knowledge of the area was vast and each time we docked we were in the heart of the town. In areas where it is allowed Holland America brought on National Park Rangers to speak, providing commentary over the loud speakers. So even though I was enjoying life from my verandah I could hear about the area that we were passing by. The captain was also exceptionally good at pointing out wildlife – everyone was waiting to hear the sound of three little chimes followed by the captain’s voice saying something like “whales off the port, bow”.
Truly a fantastic experience that we will never forget. Thank you Holland America Line.