The Timeless Elegance of Holland America Line

A Day at Sea aboard Holland America Line’s Veendam as we steam towards Havana, Cuba. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

At Sea; Thursday, February 15, 2018

Holland America Line’s Veendam sailed slowly through the night towards Havana, Cuba last evening. The distance we have to cover isn’t that immense; a fact betrayed by our snail-like pace over the water. This morning, calm seas and blue skies greeted us and while not much can be seen except for the odd tanker passing us, our relaxed pace perfectly epitomizes a relaxing day at sea.

Nothing like a morning stroll on Veendam’s wraparound promenade deck! Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

I’d forgotten how much I enjoy these S-Class ships. Small and intimate, someone aptly described Veendam last evening as “mature.” I think that’s fair. If you’ve taken Holland America Line’s newest vessels, like Koningsdam, Veendam can, at times, feel less contemporary. To me, however, she also seems more timeless: hers is a décor that has aged remarkably well over two decades, helped along by Holland America’s loving program of refits interspersed throughout.

Just in case you forget what day it is, these day mats are placed in each elevator aboard Veendam. It’s another clever Holland America Line touch. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

To me, Holland America has always been about the little details. Over time, some of those details have changed (remember the cool leather travel wallets you used to get, or the actual, honest-to-gosh luggage tags?), but plenty have stayed the same. Correspondence to your stateroom still comes sealed with a little sticker bearing the Holland America Line logo. Onboard stationary, from the printed When & Where daily program to letters delivered from Guest Relations, is thick and high quality. English mints and fresh ginger are still offered to guests as they exit the Dining Room.

The Explorations Cafe serves up specialty coffees and books…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…along with internet workstations. Wi-Fi internet is also available. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Before I started writing about cruises as a career, I’d spent over 30-plus-days sailing with Holland America Line in my twenties. I’ve always appreciated that the shipboard atmosphere is quiet and elegant. There are scheduled activities, but not too many. There’s nothing raucous. Hairy Chest Contests poolside aren’t a thing. Ditto for thudding discos, wild adult games (you won’t find the popular “Quest” gameshow held aboard other ships here) or other distractions. It’s not that I don’t like any of those – they’re a lot of fun to watch – but when I cruise, I tend to prefer quiet to loud, unhurried to rushed.

The other thing I like about Holland America: live music. Tonight, live music is featured in the Ocean Bar from 5:30pm until 10pm; in the Explorer’s Lounge from 2pm through 8pm; in the Piano Bar in Mix from 8:45pm through Midnight; and up in the Crow’s Nest Lounge on Deck 12 from 8:30pm through Midnight.

The Ocean Bar is a staple of Holland America Line ships, and still one of my favorite spots onboard Veendam. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Don’t be fooled: The Ocean Bar’s dance floor is used more often than this picture makes it seem (these were taken late at night). Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Several Bars – including the Ocean Bar – serve up special Cuban-themed cocktails on this sailing. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

My favorite so far: the Cuban Mule, a rum-based take on the Moscow Mule. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

One of Holland America’s newer innovations – and one that is perfect on this uncommon itinerary to Cuba – are its Explorations Central (EXC) shore excursions and enrichment programs.

To get guests prepared for our arrival into Havana tomorrow, a series of enrichment lectures and presentations are being offered today. These include:

  • 9:00am: Cuba Orientation. Showroom at Sea, Decks 7 and 8.
  • 10:00am: What to See and Do on our Caribbean Tours. Showroom at Sea, Decks 7 and 8.
  • 10:00am: Ask Your EXC Guides. Atrium, Deck 7
  • 2:00pm: EXC Talk: Cuba, No Place Like It. Showroom at Sea, Decks 7 and 8.
  • 2:30pm: EXC Encounter: Cubanismos (Cuban Slang). Mix, Deck 8.
  • 4:00pm: Ask Your EXC Guides. Atrium, Deck 7.
  • 9:30pm: EXC Encounter: Catalina Lasa Bedtime Story. Explorer’s Lounge, Deck 8.

Holland America offers these EXC Enrichment Programs to complement it shore excursions offerings, all of which now carry the EXC moniker. Because of current U.S. regulations, our shore excursion program in Cuba works and runs a little differently from other destinations, but Holland America still offers a full complement of tours in Havana, Cienfuegos, and in our only other Caribbean port of call, Georgetown, Grand Cayman.

Many Explorations Central (EXC) talks are held in the sprawling Showroom at Sea. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Located on Decks 7 and 8 forward, it also hosts nightly production shows and entertainment acts. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Onboard, one thing that’s worth taking part in is the Thermal Suite at the Greenhouse Spa. Consisting of heated, tiled ceramic loungers facing floor-to-ceiling windows, the Thermal Suite is an oasis of calm aboard the Veendam. And while it lacks the larger Hydrotherapy Pool found on the Vista, Signature and Pinnacle Class ships, it does have an enlarged hot-tub-style Hydrotherapy Pool that still does the trick.

Passes to this relaxing area can be had for $99 for one for the duration of the voyage, or $199 per couple, as an embarkation special. It’s expensive, but once you book the Thermal Suite on one cruise, you’ll want to do it every time. I know. I’ve put some Holland America Line executive’s kid through school over the years judging by how much I’ve spent on these Thermal Suite passes.

Cozy up and relax in the Thermal Suite in the Veendam’s Greenhouse Spa. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Passes to the Thermal Suite and the Relaxation Room, shown above, can be purchased for the duration of the cruise. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Veendam also has beverage packages that you can purchase, but only during the first two days of the cruise. These make beverages onboard more inclusive, but it is important to look at how much you drink and figure out if it is a good value to you. These are:

  • Quench Package: $17.95 per person, per day. This includes non-alcoholic beverages, juices, Coca-Cola products, and bottled water.
  • Signature Package: $49.95 per person, per day. This package covers beers, cocktails, spirits and wines up to a value of $9 per beverage, as well as all non-alcoholic drinks.
  • Elite Package: $54.95 per person, per day. This package covers alcoholic beverages under $15 per drink, as well as all of the above two packages.

Personally, I don’t buy beverage packages. My total daily spend on drinks, alcoholic or otherwise, rarely exceeds $30 per day. That includes one latte each morning at the Exploration’s Café, and two drinks later on in the day, one of which I usually purchase at Holland America’s designated “Happy Hours”, where the second drink is just $2.

For some, however, these packages will represent a great value. Each package is limited to 15 drinks per day, except for the non-alcoholic Quench Package, which is unlimited. After 15 adult beverages, if you’re still upright, it’s probably time to stop.

Tonight, I dined in the Pinnacle Grill, Holland America Line’s Pacific Northwest-inspired specialty restaurant. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Located on Deck 8 aft, this beautiful venue is open for lunch and dinner for an additional surcharge. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Tonight is formal night, which makes reservations at Holland America’s Pinnacle Grill a must. One of the additional-cost specialty restaurants aboard Veendam, the Pinnacle Grill is Holland America’s signature Pacific Northwest-inspired dining experience, curated by longtime Executive Chef Rudi Sodamin.

The Pinnacle Grill is as I remember it: an elegant meal served up in an equally appealing setting. This is particularly true here aboard the Veendam, where the venue takes up a narrow space running along the length of Deck 8. It is smaller and more intimate than the Pinnacle Grill aboard the line’s Vista Class ships, which makes advanced reservations a necessity.

Pinnacle Grill Steak Tartare. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Cedar Planked Halibut with Shrimp Scampi. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

It is well worth it. The problem I have with the Pinnacle Grill is that I tend to gravitate towards the same thing every time: the Lobster Bisque and the Filet Mignon. This time around, I went for the sumptuous Steak Tartare, followed by the Cedar Planked Halibut with Shrimp Scampi, and now have two more favorite dishes.

It’s hard to go wrong at the Pinnacle Grill. But make sure to linger.  A good dinner here should take just shy of two hours. It’s time well spent. After all, with a day at sea, where else do you have to be?

Always fun: closing out the evening with a drink in the Crow’s Nest, Deck 12. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

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