Veendam: Revisiting a Good Friend

Holland America Line’s 1,350-guest Veendam at anchor off Cienfuegos, Cuba later in our voyage. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Wednesday, February 14, 2018

With all the buzz around new cruise ships, I find it increasingly nice to sail on smaller, older cruise ships. Most of these have been lovingly maintained and well-run, and few ships meet that criteria as well as Holland America Line’s Veendam, which is taking me to Cuba and the Cayman Islands this week for a culturally-intensive seven days in the Caribbean.

Veendam's Cuban-Caribbean Cruise

February 14, 2018Fort Lauderdale, FLEmbark5:00pm
February 15At Sea
February 16Havana, Cuba8:00am2:00am Feb 17
February 17At Sea
February 18Cienfuegos, Cuba8:00am5:00 pm
February 19Georgetown, Grand Cayman8:00am5:00pm
February 20At Sea
February 21, 2018Fort Lauderdale, FL7:00amDisembark

I have fond memories of Veendam, having sailed aboard her in the autumn of 2005 and again in the spring of 2006 on Pacific Coastal journeys from Vancouver and Seattle. Built in 1996, Veendam was the last of the S-Class Ships to enter service for Holland America Line, following on the heels of Statendam and Ryndam, both of which have now gone on to serve with P&O Australia; and sister Maasdam, which remains in the fleet and which will embark on supercool, expedition-style EXC In-Depth cruises around the South Pacific this fall.

Welcome aboard! Veendam’s three-storey atrium is anchored by the striking “Jacob’s Ladder” sculpture, designed by Luciano Vistosi (1931-2010). Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

At 719 feet in length, Veendam is humanly sized; big enough to offer all the amenities that you’d expect of a modern cruise ship, like a two-storey dining room and show lounge; a soaring atrium; and plenty of diverse and cozy public rooms. But she’s small enough that she only carries 1,350 guests; a far cry from the multi-thousand-guest passenger ships that are coming online these days.

Jacob’s Ladder wraps around the central atrium, leading to guest staterooms, bars and lounges…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…and Guest Services. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

For those – like me – who like a taste of how cruising “used to be”, boarding Veendam again after 12 years apart is like a visit from an old friend. Her wraparound Burmese teak promenade deck offers plenty of spaces for relaxing and strolling along the sea, indulging in the quiet pleasures of an ocean voyage. Her glittering atrium, with its impressive “Jacob’s Ladder” glass sculpture by the late Luciano Vistosi still looks as striking as it did when I first sailed in 2005.

Throughout, though, Holland America Line has made plenty of improvements. Veendam underwent a massive refit in early 2006 as part of the line’s “Signature of Excellence” refits that modernised her spa and fitness centre and gave her new interior spaces like the sumptuous Pinnacle Grill.

While much of Veendam retains her classic decor designed by of de Vlaming, Fennis & Dingemans (VFD) Interiors…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…a few more contemporary areas, like The Mix, on Deck 8 amidships, can be found. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

A later refit in 2009 resulted in a dramatic transformation for Veendam, with additional balcony cabins mounted forward and aft; the raising of the aft Pool Deck up by one deck; the creation of new “Lanai” cabins with balconies opening out onto the ship’s Promenade Deck; and the reconfiguration of some of her public rooms into The Mix; a concentrated area of bars and lounges running along Upper Promenade Deck 8.

The last few years have also seen improvements to the ship’s soft furnishings, including better carpet patterns, colours and designs, new or reupholstered furniture in many public rooms, all of which are welcome changes. Fun trivia fact: Veendam used to have a set of escalators at the base of her Atrium that went down to Deck 5, but these were removed in 2009.

Pull up a chair and relax…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…at the midships Lido pool, with its retractable Magrodome roof. Note the dolphin sculpture designed by Susanna Holt in the background. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

In recognition of Valentine’s Day today, special bar drinks have been rolled out aboard Veendam. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

While not as large or feature-laden as Holland America’s newest ships, Veendam is nonetheless a great option for first-time or repeat cruisers – and she’s perfect for this itinerary to Cuba. The ports of Havana and Cienfuegos are completely unsuited for newer, larger ships. Veendam just barely fits into the docks in Havana and has to tender in Cienfuegos because she’s too large to tie up to the single berth available in that Southern Cuban port of call. In that respect, Holland America has always done a great job with its older, smaller vessels, deploying them on globetrotting itineraries that newer vessels like Eurodam or Koningsdam would be ill-suited for.

My Stateroom: Oceanview Category DD

Welcome home: my Category DD Oceanview Stateroom on Main Deck 5. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

My stateroom for the next seven days is an Oceanview Category DD stateroom, number 663. Holland America offers 12 separate categories of oceanview staterooms, 11 of which are mostly identical in size and features and are differentiated only by their physical location on the ship. The remaining category are the Category CA Lanai rooms, which have a window that opens onto the Promenade Deck.

These oceanview rooms include a nice sitting area…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…as well as a decently-sized desk/vanity area. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

My stateroom has a picture window but some at the forwardmost end of the ship have porthole windows. These are designated on the deck plans released by Holland America, so it’s always a good idea to double-check before you book if that is important to you.

I’ve always loved Holland America’s staterooms for their clean design, super-comfortable beds, and – on older ships – bathtub and shower combos in most staterooms. My Category DD Oceanview is no exception, fitted with a full-size desk and vanity area; a couch suitable for two that pulls out into a third berth in some rooms; a flat-panel television set with DVD Player; a small table; a bank of closets with four doors; and a bathroom.

You can use the included DVD player to play a wide variety of movies..Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…delivered to your room. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

For the DVD player, Holland America Line offers a whole printed menu of complimentary DVD’s that can be ordered for in-stateroom viewing, simply by dialing the listed number. The DVD is then brought to you and can be returned as you wish.

Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Like the stateroom, the bathroom aboard Veendam has seen some sprucing-up over the years and now features tiled walls and floors and an attractive maroon accent panel with inlaid reliefs of flowers and vines. A tub-and-shower combo will be appreciated for its rarity among oceangoing ships, and pump soap dispensers mounted to the wall dispense oh-so-lovely scented Elemis Aromapure bath products (though I do miss the little bottles you used to be able to take!).

Most stateroom categories aboard Veendam include bathtub and shower combos…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…and all are outfitted with Elemis Aromapure bath products. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

The one weak point here, as with most older ships, is the lack of available electrical outlets in the stateroom. There is one North American and one two-prong-style European outlet currently in my stateroom, which is just enough to charge my devices if I do some swapping around. But cut the line some slack: what did we really have to charge back in 1996 when the ship was built?

Stateroom Corridor, Deck 6. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Out to Sea aboard Veendam

After the mandatory lifeboat drill at 4pm, Veendam slowly edged away from Fort Lauderdale’s Pier 21 under the amber hues of the setting sun shortly after 5pm. Captain Colm Ryan addressed the ship over the P.A. system and informed guests that, as per custom, Veendam would be sounding her horn as she passed through the cut to satisfy the onlookers from the condominium buildings that line the beach. And sure enough, there were plenty of residents out on their balconies, waiting to cheer on our ship as she pulled out into the Atlantic Ocean.

One of the best vantage points (if it’s open)…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…is Veendam’s exposed bow deck. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

It’s accessible by this staircase at the forward end of the Deck 6 promenade. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Veendam, like many Holland America ships, has several little tucked-away vantage points you may not know about. One of these is the ship’s exposed bow area, which is open to guests from time to time. Simply walk forward on the Promenade Deck 6 until you come to two sheltered staircases. Go up the staircase and, if it is permitted to visit the bow, the metal shell doors will already be swung open. If they’re closed: leave them that way.

Today, however, the bow was open, and I strolled out on it to take in our sailaway in style before ascending (up the hidden staircase again) to the small observation deck below the ship’s bridge.

As Holland America’s Eurodam sets out ahead of us…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…Veendam thrusts away from her berth…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…and heads out into the turning basin. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Sounding the horn for the condo residents in Port Everglades is a time-honoured tradition…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…and folks on both sides always wave and cheer. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Finally….Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…Veendam disembarks our pilot… Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…and we head out to sea. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Veendam got underway, and I went back down to the Promenade Deck before returning to my stateroom to change for dinner. Thirteen years have passed since I was first aboard Veendam, but she’s lost none of her charm in the intervening years. While cruises to Cuba definitely weren’t in the cards back in 1996 when she was built, I can’t help but feel like Veendam is entering into a glorious second act in her career, serving as Holland America Line’s ambassador to this intriguing island nation.

Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report onboard Holland America Line’s Veendam in Cuba continues tomorrow with our first day at sea. Follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog.

Veendam's Cuban-Caribbean Cruise

February 14, 2018Fort Lauderdale, FLEmbark5:00pm
February 15At Sea
February 16Havana, Cuba8:00am2:00am Feb 17
February 17At Sea
February 18Cienfuegos, Cuba8:00am5:00 pm
February 19Georgetown, Grand Cayman8:00am5:00pm
February 20At Sea
February 21, 2018Fort Lauderdale, FL7:00amDisembark

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