July 2015 - Veendam to Bermuda
With cruise ships growing to such enormous sizes, there are now many places that are inaccessible to all but the smaller ships. Hamilton, Bermuda is one of the most beautiful harbors in the world, and cruising in among all the islands that make up this archipelago takes well over an hour. We stood on the very top deck of the Veendam & enjoyed the most magnificent scenery, happily passing the giant ships that were parked way out on the northwest corner in the Dockyard. Those guests must purchase tickets to the water taxi, island transport buses or expensive private vans, while we could simply step off the gangway onto Front Street for shopping, dining & sightseeing.While in port, we took the Champagne Sunset Catamaran cruise, a must-do!!! The catamaran Rising Son is large & stable, with plenty of indoor seating as well as in the net hammock out front. They poured the champagne generously, & gave us a great tour of the gorgeous homes around the lagoon. The catamaran docks very close to the Veendam, so it was only a minute's walk to get there. We also visited the Crystal & Fantasy Caves, both beautiful and interesting. The steps down and back up are steep, though. Wear non-slip, comfortable shoes. They have free storage lockers to hold any bags you don't want to carry.The Shore Excursion package offers an air-conditioned bus to pick you up and drop you off, door-to-door. If you visit the caves on your own, there is quite a bit of walking; to the Hamilton bus station for tickets, then from the bus stop to the caves (1/3 mile?) and back again.The bus ride was about 40 minutes. On board ship, we highly recommend the Renewal of Vows ceremony! It was done by the Captain at sunset, overlooking Hamilton harbor from the Crow's Nest lounge. Gorgeous! We sat & enjoyed champagne & hors d'oeuvres for about a half hour, while getting a chance to visit with the Captain. There were 3 couples, and each in turn stood before the Captain, repeating truly beautiful vows that he had prepared for us. A photographer shot photos during the 3 ceremonies, and we all shared cake and more champagne. Then each couple posed with the Captain, and went outside to take romantic photos on the top deck. On the final night, we were each given a lovely keepsake album (12"x12"?) with one 8x10" photo, a copy of our vows & the Captain's toast, and pages for more photos & mementos. We purchased one additional photo, & probably would have bought a few more of the poses if we hadn't already spent a lot on photos from the first (of two) formal nights. The Renewal of Vows package also included dinner in The Pinnacle Grill, which is by far the best restaurant on the Veendam. You need to make reservations as soon as possible once you board the ship. In addition to the Renewal package, we purchased the Cellar Master Wine package, which also included a dinner at the Pinnacle Grill, so we had two great dinners there. The steaks are outstanding there, particularly the filet and petite filet. We opted for the As You Wish, open dining plan rather than a reserved seating, and I would do that again. It gave us flexibility to eat where and when we wanted. We did have two dinners in the main (Rotterdam) dining room, but have to say that the food was disappointing there. We purchased one dinner in the Canaletto restaurant, billed as an Italian bistro specializing in small plates, but my half Italian husband would not recommend it. For breakfasts and lunches, we ate in the Lido, cafeteria-style. It was consistently very good, had lots of variety and excellent service. The coffee is very very good & always available, but if you want specialty coffees or iced coffee, you can purchase them in the Explorers Cafe, and they're reasonably priced. In July 2015, a large iced mocha coffee was just $2.00. The Explorers Cafe and Lounge areas quickly became our favorite spots to hang out. Huge windows, lots of comfortable seating (including faux Ames chairs), quiet spots to read, play chess & other games, or listen to live music (amazing violin & piano duo) make this a great retreat for anyone who prefers this kind of relaxation over the casino or hot tubs & pool. One caveat: the satellite internet service is unreliable and expensive. I recommend not wasting your money on it. I purchased 100 minutes for $55 and was never able to do more than read and answer 2 emails. The clock starts ticking as soon as you log on to the ship's server, even though you are not yet connected to your email provider, which oftentimes just spins, never connecting. In my case, that was AOL, but other guests had the same complaints. My cellphone provider is AT&T, who has some sort of contract with Holland America and does not sell international roaming packages to you if you're on their ships. My advice is to plan ahead & tell people you'll be unavailable for 7 days. Once you are docked in Bermuda, there are lots of hotspots that you can use to check your email, but it didn't work onboard. Last bit of info on the Veendam: the bathrooms are roomy and come stocked with liquid body wash, shampoo and conditioner. There's also a small body lotion provided. The hairdryer is very good, but curling irons etc. are wasted because the two outlets are very tight to the corner of the wall and ceiling so you can't physically plug these other devices in. You will love the closet and drawer space! Everything in our 3 large bags and two large carryons fit, with room to spare. We will look forward to sailing on Holland America's Veendam again, most likely on the New England & Canada route.