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Cruise Ship Information

MS Volendam is an R-Class cruise ship belonging to Holland America Line. There are ten decks, with passenger cabins spread across five of them. The ship contains eight bars, two swimming pools, two hot tubs, a spa, and a show lounge. The theme aboard Volendam is flowers and fresh displays are located in abundance on board the ship; décor throughout the ship also emphasize floral patterns. She sails out of Australia, Asia and conducts cruises of the Inside Passage traversing British Columbia and Alaska.

Atmosphere on board

When it was launched in 1999, Volendam had the highest passenger capacity in Holland America's fleet. The ship is nearly 61,000 tons and carries 1,432 passengers, and, in a move that seems quaint now, it proved its modernity by being the first ship in the fleet to boast a dedicated Internet center (The Website) with eight satellite-connected computer stations.

Volendam has come a long way since then. During Holland America's "Signature of Excellence" upgrades in 2006, the ship received several additions that have brought it into the 21st century. The Website became the Explorations Cafe, which includes 10 desktop computers with Internet access, a well-stocked library, areas for board games and puzzles, and a cafe that offers free finger sandwiches and pastries, as well as for-fee coffee drinks. Le Cirque, an alternative restaurant that's open one night per sailing in what's otherwise the Pinnacle Grill steakhouse, offers upscale French cuisine from the well-known land-based restaurant. Even the kids and teens areas were given facelifts, and cabins are now outfitted with flat-screen TV's and DVD players. A more recent 2011 dry dock spruced up various items like paint, linens and carpeting to keep Volendam from showing its age.

Drawing on the Colonial past of its Dutch roots, Holland America Line has made it a practice over the years to employ Indonesian crew members, touting their friendliness and efficiency in almost all of its corporate literature. The service is phenomenal. Waitstaff and cabin stewards are primarily Indonesian and Filipino; most officers are European, and many of them are from Holland.

Despite its modern upgrades, Volendam still does not have as many bells and whistles as the biggest and newest mega-ships, and that's perfectly fine with the folks who cross the gangway. What you'll get onboard are older passengers with an active and adventurous attitude. They're in it for the ports, given the ship's Alaska, Asia, Australia and Hawaii itineraries. And the ship suits them just fine, offering enough onboard activities to keep them busy on sea days but not so many that they feel like they're missing out if they venture ashore. After all, the focus of most Volendam cruisers' trips is the exotic locations they visit -- not the ship that takes them there.

Family with Kids/Teens

As part of its Signature of Excellence upgrades, Volendam's kids and teens spaces (Deck 9) received major overhauls. Club HAL, which encompasses Kids (ages 3 to 7) and Tweens (ages 8 to 12), offers free daily programming for youngsters in a fun and colorful space that features TV's with plenty of videos and video games. There are also tables and cushy chairs for activities like board games and art projects. Theme nights like Spy Night are hosted, and after-hours fun can be had from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. for $5 per child. On port days, the activity schedule is lighter, but kids can have lunch with their friends in the club, and, speaking of lunch, culinary demonstrations for kids are offered on each sailing in the Culinary Arts Center on Deck 4.

Group babysitting is available from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. for a fee of $5 per child, per hour. In-cabin baby-sitting is also available through Club HAL on a voluntary basis. (Basically, if nobody wants to volunteer to watch your child in your stateroom -- or if nobody is available -- you're out of luck.) If someone is willing to accommodate your request, rates are $10 per hour for the first child and an extra $7 per hour for each additional child. Teens (ages 13 to 17) have their own space, called The Loft, which offers a clubby, lounge-like atmosphere with funky padded loungers and couches with geometric patterns. The area has a slightly industrial feel, with lots of silver and copper tones and a full-length mirror next to a small dance floor. TVs with video games are available for teen use, as is The Oasis, an outdoor lounge area on Deck 10 that boasts fake volcanoes and palm trees, as well as loungers and small alcoves with tables and chairs for socializing. This area is accessed from a spiral staircase in The Loft, one deck below.

No official programming is available for children younger than 3, but parents can borrow toys and coloring supplies for use outside of the kids club.

Volendam does not have an arcade onboard, but Ping-Pong tables and a giant chess set are available by the Lido Pool, board games can be borrowed in the Explorations Cafe, and a basketball/volleyball/tennis court is featured on the Sports Deck.

On our recent sailing, which was near the start of the U.S. school year, there were very few children, and we were told that no teens had signed up for the teens club. More children are onboard during summer sailings, however.

Past Passenger Programs

Bright colors prevail throughout most of the ship; the theme is "flowers," which indeed can be found in abundance on public decks. Floral fabrics and tapestries appear in unexpected places and huge vases of tropical floral arrangements and smaller vases of chrysanthemums are positioned on desks and tables in almost all public areas. Art and sculpture also seem thematic; you'll find many pieces throughout the ship, particularly at the bottoms of stairwells.

Volendam is an easy ship through which to maneuver; both its size and layout make it comfortable within minutes of boarding. While our sailing was completely sold out, not once did we have a feeling of crowding or experience any long lines, except in the Lido Restaurant during busy mealtimes.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this ship is the sundry hidden "nooks and crannies" located around the public decks. Perfect for intimate conversation or just to hide out and read, these spaces include the Explorations Cafe, Explorers Lounge, Ocean Bar and the area across from the Piano Bar. All offer sofas, armchairs facing sweeping vistas, and corner banquettes away from the crowd.

The central, circular three-story atrium -- anchored by a colorful, space-age crystal pole that we jokingly referred to as the mothership, since its base was right next to our cabin -- is surrounded by shops, offices and guest service counters. On the Lower Promenade Deck, a lonely piano sits off to one side, abandoned. The hotel director, beverage manager, culinary operations manager and cruise director have offices there, and you can also find scales to weigh your luggage before disembarkation. One floor up, the Promenade Deck holds the front desk, the shore excursions counter and desk for the guest relations manager. The Upper Promenade Deck has a wide assortment of shops surrounding the atrium, selling watches and other jewelry; duty-free alcohol, perfume and cologne; logowear; souvenirs related to the ship's itinerary; and sundries like toothpaste and candy bars. Passengers will also find cozy seating and little tables placed around the perimeter railing.

One of the most enjoyable locations on the ship is the multipurpose Explorations Cafe, which encompasses the ship's library, reading area (with super-comfy chairs), Internet center and coffee joint. The library is well-stocked, but it's only open during certain hours, and there's a drop slot for returning books if it's closed when you want to do so. There are several areas allocated for things like puzzles, chess and other board games, which, like the books, are also kept under lock and key. You will, however, find daily Sudoku and crossword puzzles available at all times. Ten Internet-ready desktop computers and printers are open for passenger use. Shipwide Wi-Fi is also offered for passengers who bring their own devices. Per-minute rates start at 75 cents. Money-saving packages can also be bought: 100 minutes for $55, 250 minutes for $100, 500 minutes for $175 and 1,000 minutes for $250. A one-time activation fee of $3.95 will also be charged, and printing costs 25 cents per page. We found connection speeds to be impressive.

The Crow's Nest, located forward at the top of the ship, is by night a hopping bar and club, with pre-dinner piano music and post-dinner dancing -- but this room truly shines during the day. Floor-to-ceiling windows surround the large space, which has seating divided into intimate groupings and sofas along the windows. It's an ideal place to curl up with a good book and a cup of coffee or glass of wine, or to just relax and ruminate, mesmerized by the views at the front and both sides of the ship. Daily trivia competitions and games like Battle of the Sexes are held there.

The Hudson Room on Deck 5 is used as a meeting space for everything from mass and Sabbath services to card-playing and jewelry seminars. The King's Room, another meeting space on Deck 5, was closed for our entire sailing. When we inquired about it at the front desk, we were told it's currently being used by the dining department.

Smoking is extremely limited on Volendam. It's allowed only in certain sections of the casino, on deck outside of the Crow's Nest on Deck 9 and outside on Deck 8, aft, starboard, by the Sea View Pool.

Five self-service laundry facilities are available onboard: one on Deck 2, two on Deck 3 and two on Deck 6. It costs $2 to wash one load of clothing and $1 to dry it. The machines are coin operated, and passengers can obtain coins at the front desk. Soap is provided. An iron and ironing board are available in each laundry room, free of charge.

The ship's medical center is located on Deck 1, forward.

Fitness And Spa

Volendam passengers on a strict exercise regimen will be hard-put to offer excuses if they allow their routine to lapse while onboard. Located forward on Lido Deck (Deck 8) is the large and well-equipped gym, with a wide range of equipment including Cybex weight machines, free weights, exercise balls, seven treadmills, four stationary bikes, seven bikes for spin classes, five ellipticals and two rowing machines, which can be used while watching one of the flat-screen televisions or while gazing through the wall of windows at the unfolding scenery from the bow. A fairly large aerobics section is also included in the gym, featuring daily classes; Pilates and yoga instruction is available for $12 per class. Athletic trainers are on hand to provide professional health consultations and screenings for a fee.

The Ocean Spa, also on Deck 8, is operated by Steiner of London and offers an array of pampering treatments (with eight treatment rooms) and salon services at prices comparable to other spas, both at sea and on land. Facials (from $119) and deep-tissue (from $129) and aromatherapy (from $195) massages are among the most popular treatments, while manicures (from $45), pedicures (from $65) and hair care (from $35) are available in the salon. There are men's and women's saunas and one coed steam room available to Volendam passengers as part of a cruise-long package ($149 per person or $199 for a couple). The pass also allows access to aromatherapy chambers, heated stone loungers and a thalassotherapy pool.

The Lido Pool, which has a retractable dome cover and the ship's two hot tubs at one end, serves as a focal point for the entire Lido Deck. It's a social environment, surrounded by the large Dolphin Bar at one end and a huge "dancing dolphins" sculpture and the Terrace Grill at the other. PVC chaises, webbed rather than slatted, ring the pool in this element-protected location. You'll also find a couple of Ping-Pong tables and a giant chess board. The Sea View Pool, on the other hand, is open and sunny, with more loungers, framed only by the view from the stern and the sea breeze. On our sailing, this pool was used for Holland America's version of the Polar Bear Plunge on a chilly sea day. Be aware that the starboard side of this area is one of just three places onboard where smokers can light up.

The Promenade deck is ideal for those who like to walk for their exercise (or for those who want to cozy up with provided wool blankets on the deck's quaint teak loungers). Once per voyage, passengers can sign up to participate in Holland America's On Deck for a Cause event. By adding $20 to his or her onboard account, each participant receives a T-shirt, and all proceeds from the 10-lap (5k) walk go to various national cancer research organizations. (The American Cancer Society is the U.S. organization supported by the walk.) Joggers can use the Sports Deck track. Active types can also find a netted tennis/volleyball/basketball court on the Sports Deck, as well as shuffleboard courts.

Food & Dining

Dining options on Volendam are varied and plentiful, from early morning continental breakfast to the Indonesian-themed midnight-snack buffet. Apart from the regular restaurant service, hungry cruisers will also find a hamburger/pizza/hot dog/taco/fajita station located near the Lido pool (self-serve from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.), afternoon tea and room service (available 24 hours a day for free, although a small tip is generally polite). Special diets, from Kosher and diabetic to low-carb, are easily accommodated by Volendam's kitchen, but advance notice is required.

The two-story Rotterdam Dining Room, located aft, surrounded with windows, and topped with a ceiling of star-like twinkling lights, serves open-seating breakfast and lunch, with plenty of small tables for those who prefer to dine a deux.

Passengers opting for traditional dining will be scheduled at one of two dinner seatings on the upper level (Deck 5) of the Rotterdam: 5:45 p.m. or 8 p.m. The lower deck (Deck 4) is reserved for "As You Wish," HAL's flexible dining program. Passengers opting for the flexible option can make reservations ahead of time or simply walk in between 5:15 p.m. and 9 p.m. Even as the concept of open-seating dining is proliferating throughout the industry, there are still many HAL cruisers who enjoy the traditional same-table, same-time, same-partners dinner. Note: Dinner times are later on Asia and Australia sailings. Also be aware that Deck 4 doesn't go straight through from bow to stern; you'll have to go up to Deck 5 and walk for a bit before you can descend to Deck 4 again to get to the dining room.

Hint: Early seatings tend to book up first on this ship, so book your cruise early, or be prepared for one of the later dining times.

We found that the main dining room did wonderfully with its lunch items, many of which had a bit of a comfort food vibe. We fell in love with the tender pulled pork sandwich; crispy, golden fries; and macaroni and cheese. For dinner, Rotterdam was spot-on with its cold items: Caprese salad, gazpacho, shrimp cocktail, fruit plate. Hot entrees, although beautifully presented, were often hit-or-miss. The misses included prime rib, scallops and French onion soup. Hot items we'd recommend highly are the parmesan-crusted chicken breast and penne primavera. One thing we did find across the board in the main dining room is that special modifications to menu items were never a problem. During lunch one day, we asked for an entree size of an appetizer salad; our waiter gladly brought out a giant version that was enough to feed three people. At dinner one night, after a particularly large lunch ashore, we weren't very hungry and asked to have only a plate of wasabi mashed potatoes (a side dish for one of the entrees on that night's menu). They were served with no trouble -- and they were delicious, to boot, as was the banana crumble we had for dessert.

The Rotterdam also offers a 22-dish, vegetarian-only menu for lunch and dinner; it consists of appetizers, salads, soups and entrees. Options include dishes like portobello mushroom and chipotle quesadillas, Vietnamese vegetable spring rolls, and spicy lentil and garbanzo salad.

The Lido Restaurant, Volendam's buffet, is open for all meals. Most passengers choose to have a casual breakfast and lunch there. In the morning, you'll find continental items like breads and muffins, as well as cereal, yogurt, eggs, bacon, sausage and a made-to-order omelet station, which is fantastic. At lunch, there's a pasta station, a wok station, a panini station, a soup and salad bar, plenty of fruit and items for making sandwiches, and an ice cream and dessert bar. We were disappointed to find that dinnertime fare is the same as what's served in the main dining room. The restaurant itself is open and cheery, spanning a large indoor area. There are also tables outside, along both the inner swimming pool and the aft pool. Note that lines can be a bit on the long side during peak dining times.

As part of a "code orange" policy that was implemented in 2010 in an effort to curb the spread of germs and Norovirus, the buffets on all of Holland America's ships are completely crew-served for the first 48 hours of every sailing. After the first two days, it goes back to being self-serve again. As an added precaution, hand sanitizer dispensers are located at regular intervals throughout the ship's public areas.

At dinnertime, the Lido Restaurant is also home to Canaletto, one of the ship's three alternative eateries. For $10 each, passengers can dine Italian-style in a sectioned-off area of the Lido. Our experience was excellent, and, with an appetizer, entree and dessert included in the price, it's a great value if you'd like something other than the dining room or buffet options. You'll be greeted at the podium by a friendly host, and crewmembers dressed as gondoliers will take your order. The menu, which is the same each night, includes items like minestrone soup, veal and cod selections, a variety of pastas with creative sauces and, of course, gelato and tiramisu. A number of wines are available at an additional cost.

Pinnacle Grill, Volendam's steakhouse, serves aged beef, lobster tails, fish and lamb in an elegant but slightly whimsical environment. Reservations are required, and there's a $25-per-person charge to dine, but all courses are included, the selections are terrific, the presentation is artful and the service is impeccable. We highly recommend the lobster macaroni and cheese, and the Filet Mignon with a side of mashed potatoes. Be sure to stick around for dessert, for which you can choose cherry baked Alaska, chocolate volcano cake, raspberry cheesecake, sorbet or a cheese plate, among other treats. Don't miss the petit fours at the very end; the powdered sugar-covered chocolates are to die for. Wines are also available for an added fee.

One night per cruise, Pinnacle Grill is replaced by Le Cirque, the ship's most upscale (and expensive) alternative eatery. For $39 per person, passengers dine in the same venue that hosts Pinnacle Grill, but choose from a menu of the French cuisine for which the land-based Le Cirque restaurants are renowned. Featured dishes include a trio of caviar, smoked salmon and pate de foie gras; a "deconstructed" Caesar salad; chilled yogurt and melon soup; seared Alaskan black cod; rack of lamb; three cheese ravioli; and creme brulee. The most interesting dish was the yogurt and melon soup, which was cool and refreshing but also spicy -- an unexpected combination. Our favorite, however, was the chateaubriand, which was exquisite. A bit more disappointing, however, was the chicken under a brick, which seemed to be very fatty. Dessert is followed by delightful petit fours that include macaroons, melon, almond chews and chocolate-dipped orange slices. Wines are available at an additional cost. Note: This restaurant is definitely for more sophisticated palates; if whipped duck liver doesn't sound appetizing to you, you might be disappointed.

At the Explorations Cafe coffee shop, finger sandwiches, fruit and assorted cookies and pastries are offered gratis, but specialty coffee drinks, specialty waters, tea and hot chocolate levy a nominal charge (the most expensive being about $4). We were surprised that the coffee was some of the best we've ever had, and we found ourselves stopping there at least once a day. (The only silly gripe we have is that there were no cardboard cup sleeves to keep us from burning our hands.)

The room service menu is not extensive but does offer a fair variety. A standard menu of sandwiches, salads, burgers and omelets is available 24 hours a day, and a small section dedicated to seasickness-friendly options is a nice touch. A more extensive menu of appetizers, entrees and desserts is offered between noon and 10 p.m. daily. You'll also receive a room service breakfast card in your room each day. If you want breakfast delivered to your cabin the following morning, just fill out the card, hang it on your door before 2 a.m., and you'll wake up to made-to-order eggs, bacon, sausage, English muffins, fruit, cereal and your choice of coffee, juice or milk, among other items. Our complicated breakfast order arrived flawlessly, and the food was at just the right temperature. While the room service privilege is free, it's customary to tip a couple dollars to the person who delivers it.

While not specified anywhere, during lunch and dinner times you can order from the restaurant menu and have it delivered to your room.

One sea day afternoon on each Alaska voyage, there's a salmon bake on the Lido Deck, just beside the pool. Obviously the main draw is the salmon, but other offerings included rice, baked potatoes and vegetables like carrots and green beans. It's free to all passengers, but lines can be long, so be sure to get there early.

Premium beverage packages are available onboard during the first day of each cruise, but be warned: they're pricey. You'll shell out $45 per person, per day, for up to 15 drinks per day. Drinks must each be priced at $7 or less, and if you purchase the package, every person in your cabin who's 21 or older is also obligated to buy it.

Entertainment

The entertainment on Volendam is surprisingly diverse, with nightly shows in the two-tiered, 580-seat Frans Hals lounge. Holland America's brand-new Dancing With the Stars at Sea is offered there, too; passengers volunteer to be partnered with dancers from the ship's production staff who teach their wards some moves, which they perform during the final showdown on the last night of the sailing. The audience then elects a winner. Frans Hals was also the setting for a magician and the Marriage Game during our sailing.

In lieu of Broadway-style production shows, the ship's singers and dancers put together a series of pop and country song revues. We're told that the cruise line has made some fleetwide changes and now offers three shorter performances a night instead of two longer ones in order to accommodate those with As You Wish dining.

A perennial Holland America Line favorite is the crew show, with folkloric presentations from the native countries of these hardworking individuals.

The smallish casino gets quite lively at table games (blackjack, roulette, poker) and at the wide assortment of slot machines.

Baroque and classical after-dinner music is offered in the Explorer Lounge (complete with brandy, coffee and divine chocolates), and there's dance music in The Ocean Bar before and after dinner times. Recent-run movies are shown both in-cabin on a rotating basis and in the 120-seat Wajang Theatre, where the scent of freshly made popcorn filters into the surrounding areas. Other daytime and evening activities include scavenger hunts, art auctions, karaoke and high-stakes bingo.

Enrichment abounds onboard. The ship's former Queen's Room is now home to the Microsoft Digital Workshop program, comprising complimentary classes led by Microsoft-trained "techsperts." Passengers can learn to use computers to enhance photos (Windows Live Photo Gallery), produce and publish videos onto a DVD (Windows Movie Maker) and create personal web pages or blogs (Windows Live Services and Windows Live Writer). In addition, one-on-one coaching, called "Techspert Time," is available for more than 20 hours each week. The onboard Culinary Arts Center, which is housed in the Wajang Theater, allows cruisers to watch cooking demonstrations from a mix of cruise line and land-based guest chefs. Passengers can get in on the action, too; on our sailing, a guest chef offered a hands-on bread pudding class.

Local experts also came onboard our Alaska sailing to narrate the scenery as we glided through Glacier Bay. Their commentary was broadcast on the Lower Promenade Deck so we could hear it as we stood outside shivering and snapping photos.

Be careful of promotional activities veiled as enrichment. We did a for-fee tasting of four Alaskan beers and later found out they're sold onboard. (We received a "head on over to the bar to buy more" pitch at the conclusion of the event.) You'll also encounter wine-tastings, shore excursion pitches, health seminars, art discussions and future cruise talks (which, in all fairness, did seem to offer some impressive discounts, according to fellow passengers who attended).

Shore excursion offerings are varied and cater to a wide range of interests and fitness levels. They also tend to focus on destination-specific highlights and activities. On an Alaska cruise, you can enjoy a salmon bake, followed by a visit to a salmon hatchery; go glacier trekking (or just view the glacier from the comfort of the visitor's center); join a musher and his team of mutts for a fast-paced jaunt; take a train ride hundreds of feet up the side of a mountain for spectacular views; or hop on a bus to tour totem pole parks. Prices ranged from as little as $50 (salmon bake) to more than $500 (helicopter ride and glacier trekking).

Fellow Passengers

It would be difficult to find a more loyal group of individuals than those hearty Mariners, past passengers of Holland America Line. Volendam enjoys a particularly high ratio of repeat cruisers, many of whom have been onboard so often they feel quite at home with the staff and crew. Most of the passengers are "of an age," typically older than 55, and while most are couples, there are a fair number of friends sharing quarters.

Tipping

The ms Volendam is the third ship to bear the name of the Dutch capital in Holland America Line's over 135-year history. Built at the Fincantieri shipyard in Marghera, Italy, the ms Volendam blends the very latest in shipbuilding technology with the artistry, personalized touches and superior service that has made Holland America Line one of the highest-rated cruise lines in the world.

Our recommendation

Our crew works very hard to make sure that every aspect of your cruise meets the highest standards. This includes those crew members who serve you directly, such as our dining room wait staff and the stewards who tend to your stateroom each day. There are also many others that tend to your care that you may never meet, such as galley and laundry staff. To ensure that the efforts of all of our crew members are recognized and rewarded, a daily Hotel Service Charge of US$11.50 per passenger for staterooms & US$ 12.00 per person for suite guests is automatically charged to each guest's shipboard account. If our service exceeds or fails to meet your expectations, you are free to adjust this amount at the end of the cruise. The Hotel Service Charge is paid to Holland America Line crew members, and represents an important part of their total compensation package. A 15% service charge is automatically added to bar charges and dining room wine purchases. In terminals, airports, ports of call and on shore excursions, we suggest that you extend gratuities consistent with customary local practices.