A sense of understated elegance and courtesy make sailing with Holland America a holiday that surpasses expectations

When people compare their cruise experiences and favourite cruise lines, Holland America always seems to be the favourite. The ships have a distinctive look, with their elegant navy blue hulls, offset by the brilliant white superstructures.

Holland America has been operating continuously for 130 years, initially providing maritime transportation and freighter service, and now offering holiday cruises in the Caribbean, Europe, Hawaii, South America, Alaska and the South Pacific. The longstanding tradition of service is evident throughout the ship -where guests are made welcome by all staff.

We recently completed a 10 day cruise aboard the m/s Volendam, from Ft. Lauderdale to the deep southern Caribbean. This was our first experience sailing with Holland America – and it was outstanding. It was one of the best cruises we’ve sailed, and I’d like to share our experience with you.

The Volendam is a mid-sized ship, with a capacity of 1,440 passengers. It is large enough to provide a wide range of activities and services – but on a scale that is easily manageable. In addition to a sheltered exterior promenade deck, the ship is equipped with a fully equipped gym. Golfers can work on their swings and practice chipping and putting in the specially designed golf range. You’ll find a well-stocked library adjacent to the card room; where bridge lessons are given. Bridge enthusiasts will always find partners – most days we counted at least a dozen tables of bridge enthusiasts enjoying their games. Other services include a beauty salon, (complete with various wraps and treatments to rid your body of unwanted toxins), a casino, an intimate piano bar with a superb pianist, a Sunday morning Ecumenical service, and shorter daily ecumenical and Friday evening Shabbat services. Current movies are shown daily in the Wajang Movie Theatre, complete with hot popcorn.

There are two pools, one with a retractable roof. We had rain showers one morning, but we were still able to enjoy a poolside coffee without getting soaked. This feature is very useful during the spring and summer season when The Volendam sails an Alaskan itinerary. The aft pool deck has lots of space to stretch out, and the only sound you’ll hear is water passing by the ship’s hull.

The two story Rotterdam Dining Room is located at the aft end of the ship, and the panorama views from virtually every seat add a unique perspective to an already elegant dining experience. Food is a major part of any cruise experience, and the chef and his staff aboard the Volendam provide an outstanding menu, with a wide variety of soups, salads, main courses, and desserts. Special diet needs can generally be accommodated, including kosher, salt-free, and flour-free for people with a celiac condition.

The Lido Café offers a more casual buffet-style of dining, and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Again, there are a wide variety of dishes that change daily.

Also, if you’re in the mood for a cheeseburger, hotdog, pizza or taco, there’s a grill dedicated to these quick meals. The Lido proved to be the most popular destination for lunch.

For folks who want even more elegance, The Marco Polo Restaurant offers a more intimate continental dining experience. The specialities here are seafood and beef, prepared to perfection and beautifully presented. This is truly worthwhile indulgence that we recommend you try at least once during your cruise. There is a $20 per person surcharge in the Pinnacle, and everyone agreed that is was an excellent value!

High tea at 4 pm in the Explorers Lounge was very popular. Tea, sandwiches and mini desserts are served in a setting of comfortable sofas and wing chairs in the Explorer’s Lounge. A harpist playing softly completes the air of genteel relaxation and conversation with your fellow passengers. We met some very interesting people during these afternoon interludes of civility from a bygone era. Most were frequent cruisers who had experienced a variety of cruise lines, but preferred Holland America.

Entertainment plays an important role in any cruise experience. Ranging from the full Broadway-style stage productions to the piano bar and even the afternoon Bingo; we found the acts and staff to be first-class. Holland America also books a variety of entertainers to supplement the regularly scheduled shows. Our cruise included an outstanding comedienne, who was able to keep everybody laughing with routines that you could safely repeat to your old Aunt Sally.

Beverley and I enjoyed having a quiet drink before dinner in the piano bar before going into the dining room. We even danced! When was the last time you were able to take a few turns on a quiet dance floor with the one you love? Holland America has a slogan in their advertising; It started out as just a vacation. The inference being that you can fall in love all over again. Judging by the number of couples attending a Vow Renewal Ceremony, it appears that there is substance behind that advertising slogan.

I was able to gain some insight into the complexities of co-ordinating all the activities of this floating community during an interview with Hans Dernison, the Volendam’s Hotel Manager. Hans is a 28-year veteran of Holland American, and noted “Our success is due in large part to our staff. From the Captain, to the officers and crew, we hire people who enjoy working with guests to ensure that their holiday is memorable and safe.”

At the Captain’s Cocktail reception, the most sustained applause was for an engine room electrician, voted as Employee of the Month. “He was representing the entire crew, and our guests were saluting them with their applause”, noted Dernison.

I also commented on the almost complete lack of public address announcements. “We do that as a company policy” replied Dernison to my observation. “We publish a daily list of activities, and our guests participate without us having to make commercials. “We respect that they are sailing with us to ‘get away from it all’ – so they don’t need public address announcements every 20 minutes from us.”

The cabins are spacious and tastefully decorated, and a generous use of natural wood provides a feeling of warmth and elegance. Almost all twin-bedded rooms can be converted to a double bed. Balcony cabins are increasingly popular, and are interestingly the first category to sell out.

Our itinerary took us from Ft. Lauderdale to Half Moon Cay, Holland America’s private island in the Bahamas. This was is one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. Most of the pathways on the island are paved concrete, providing easy and comfortable access for everyone. The facilities are excellent, including a small Chapel with 3 pews. A trolley train is available for a guided tour of the island. The beach is the focal point of activity, and swimming in the calm, 85 degree F. water was all the therapy that this writer needed.

Our course then took us on to St. Thomas, the shopping capital of the Caribbean, before continuing on to Martinique, Trinidad, Ilsa Marguerita, and Curacao. Each island has a unique history and culture. We especially enjoyed the rain forest in Martinique, the arid countryside of Martinique, and the pastel buildings in Willemstad, Curacao. The Volendam sails from Curacao after dinner; and the local tourist authority sponsors a fantastic fireworks display as the ship departs. Imagine the sight of the fireworks across the water, as your ship quietly puts out to sea, and the temperature on the aft pool deck is still in the comfortable low 80’s at 10pm – it doesn’t get much better!

We now know why so many people make Holland America their first choice for their cruise vacations. Bon Voyage, and remember… It started out as just a vacation!

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