Navigating the Shores of Cuba, The Dutch Way

It’s a relaxing day at sea this morning aboard Holland America Line’s Veendam. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

At Sea; Saturday, February 17, 2018

Holland America Line’s Veendam came to life at two in the morning today, pushing away from our berth in Havana, Cuba and setting out into the Caribbean Sea. We’re sailing the western coast of Cuba for much of the day today, en-route to the southern Cuban city of Cienfuegos for a day of touring tomorrow.

Holland America Line’s Veendam, as seen yesterday at her berth in Havana. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

It’s not that much of a run; Veendam is sailing at a comfortable 12 knots to make it to Cienfuegos on-time for our arrival just before seven in the morning tomorrow. But a relaxing day at sea does provide guests with the chance to rest up and recuperate from what was, for most guests, a rather late evening in Havana thanks to nighttime tours to the Tropicana Cabaret and the Cabaret at the Hotel Nacional that arrived back shortly before one this morning.

If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know that sea days are the perfect time for me to talk about the ship and what’s going on onboard. Today is no different! There are plenty of great activities going on this morning – many of which have strong educational roots in terms of Cuba.

Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Today, for example, guests can learn how to make Sweet & Spicy Cuban Classics in the America’s Test Kitchen interactive cooking school on Deck 7 forward. One of Holland America’s most recent partnerships, these America’s Test Kitchen demos are some of the most interesting and engaging cooking classes I’ve seen at sea – and I don’t even really like cooking classes. They’re also complimentary, meaning you can enjoy them to your heart’s delight.

Explorations Central (EXC) talks were also held today on both Cienfuegos and our final port of call, Georgetown, Grand Cayman. These lecture-style presentations are much more authentic and in-depth than your average “Port-and-Shopping” style talk that had, until recently, been a staple of most popular cruise lines. I used to avoid these like the plague because they’d only recommend that guests visit Diamonds International and Del Sol – as if each port had nothing more interesting to offer. These EXC talks, however, bring a touch of expedition-style cruising to Holland America’s cruises here in Cuba, and are being rolled out across the fleet.

GoPro Classes were also held in the Hudson Room on Deck 7. These photography workshops are great for those who are new to this micro-HD camera and, of course, you can also purchase your own GoPro Hero 5 or GoPro Session HD onboard if you lack one.

Seen at night, the elegant Crow’s Nest up on Deck 12 offers Happy Hour from 4pm to 5pm, and again from 10pm to 11pm. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

With 180-degree wraparound windows, the Crow’s Nest is one of the most attractive scenic cruising spots afloat. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Holland America still offers some wonderful features that I’d forgotten about, like Afternoon Happy Hour. From 4pm to 5pm, guests can get drinks in the Crow’s Nest Lounge on Deck 12 or in the Ocean Bar on Deck 8, with the second drink available for just $2. It’s a great deal, and the line doesn’t care what you do with the second drink. So treat a friend!

In Mix on Deck 8 midships, a daily Sip & Savor promotion is offered that pairs a rotating selection of appetizers with a glass of wine for only $5. Today’s special: Braised ox tail praline with pineapple relish and jus, paired with a glass of Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc or Chile Beringer Merlot.

Sip and Savor at Mix on Deck 8. Stay for the cool piano vibes, too! Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

All these extra diversions can pack on the calories, but there are ways to get rid of that. Take part in a mindful yoga class at 7:30am in the Fitness Centre for just $12 per person or join in a spin class for the same price at 8:30am.

Veendam offers six different dining venues: the main Rotterdam Dining Room on Decks 7 and 8; the Lido Marketplace on Deck 11 aft; the Italian-themed Canaletto, on Deck 11 aft; and Holland America’s premium Pacific Northwest-inspired steakhouse and seafood experience, the Pinnacle Grill, on Deck 8 aft. The first two are complimentary; the latter two carry a modest surcharge. A fifth option, the Dive-In Burger, offers gourmet hamburgers and hot dogs in a little area tucked away at the forward end of the midships pool, while the equally-hidden New York Pizza café can be found on the port side of Deck 11, outside by the aft pool relaxation area.

In the Rotterdam Dining Room…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…meals are served up in classic Holland America style. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Serving Veendam’s 1,350 guests is no easy task. I took a brief tour of the ship’s galley today which, like most shipboard galleys, is a model of efficiency. Situated forward of the Rotterdam Dining Room on Deck 7, the galley is segmented into well-designed stations that are designed as much for safety as they are for expediting the ship’s food and beverage service. Veendam scored a 99 out of 100 on her recent USPH Sanitation Inspection in January – about as perfect as scores get. The ship got docked one point for having some discoloured deck tiles in the galley flooring.

Veendam’s galley is a hub of organization and activity…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…all for your dining pleasure. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Knowing all of this makes me appreciate the quality of the food served onboard, particularly in the grand Rotterdam Dining Room, which is a bustling hub of activity each evening between 5:15 and 9:00pm.

All in all, it’s a relaxing day aboard Veendam as we sail towards Cienfuegos and another frenetic day in Cuba. To me, the ship is as much of a destination as the ports of call themselves. With a ship as comfortable and welcoming as Veendam, it’s hard to not enjoy the simple pleasures of being at sea.

Watch the setting sun from the great Ocean Bar on Deck 8. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report onboard Holland America Line’s Veendam in Cuba continues tomorrow as we arrive in Cienfuegos, Cuba. 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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