I’m just off a weeklong cruise on Holland America’s 55,758-ton Veendam in Alaska. I was aboard to check out the latest round of Signature of Excellence upgrades completed during the ship’s recent drydock completed on May 1.
The Retreat is a refreshing spot for passengers
The Veendam is the first of several Holland America vessels slated to receive these enhancements. Late this year, the Rotterdam will also receive the upgrades, just in time for that vessel’s 19-day Panama Canal voyage departing December 16
Ryndam will get the upgrades in two phases— with the first completed by February 28, 2010 and the second by fall 2012. In phased upgrades, Statendam will receive the enhancements in 2010 and 2013, while Maasdam will receive them in 2011 and 2013.
Here’s a look at what we observed this past week in the new public spaces onboard the updated Veendam.
The Retreat: This enticing resort-style aft pool concept is aptly named. Guests enjoy a new pool bar with bright red stools, an upscale pizzeria called Slice, and a giant LED screen for evening movies.
Yes, we felt it our absolute editorial duty to sample the pizza. I can report that the pepperoni and vegetarian were both yummy. It was also fun to watch the staff make the pizzas from scratch.
The most appealing attribute of the Retreat, though, is a large area with lounge chairs positioned in shallow water. Guests relax on the chairs, easily able to cool off by dipping their toes in the water or splashing their face. They just step out of their chair to do so.
Guests also might hop in two bubbling hot tubs. Tables and chairs ring the bar and pizzeria areas, and bar service is provided.
At the stern of the ship, the Retreat is also the perfect spot to view Alaskan mountainous vistas or, later in the year, tropical beaches or city sites. Whatever the landscape, whatever the voyage, clients will enjoy 180 degree views.
One interesting feature? While this is an enclave of relaxation it’s not adults only as is the case on some other ships. Families with children are welcome, at least during daytime hours, although more families are expected to frequent the main pool.
Holland America is just gearing up for what to show on the big movie screen. In Alaska, there are limitations on content— essentially wildlife scenes in Glacier Bay, for example— and no sound while docked in Alaskan ports.
But clients can expect Movies under the Stars and other entertainment content, depending on the itinerary. Depending on the movie rating, the line will control the entry (or not) of small children in the evening.
Mix: The space occupied by the former Casino Bar and the Piano Bar on Veendam has been redesigned and reopened as an attractive, open-style space with three separate bars themed around different type of libations.
One lounge is Champagne, for those who enjoy the bubbly. Another concept, called Martini, revolves around varied concoctions for Martini lovers. The third is Spirits & Art for guests who enjoy mixed drinks of all types.
Of course, if you love champagne but your spouse wants a beer, it’s no problem. Guests may order different drinks and the bar staff will oblige with a smile.
The Mix is the spot for late night piano music. Its seating is an eclectic combination of velour-chairs, colorful pillows and small alcoves and seating areas. Many chairs are oddly shaped, giving the area a unique look. The base of the Martini bar changes colors.
Overall, the Mix is an inviting watering hole. It also delivered a sophisticated experience and is a nice addition to Holland America’s collection of onboard lounges.
All three of the new bars are non-smoking. Separately, Holland America also refurbished the Ocean Bar in the recent drydock.
Showroom at Sea: The Veendam, which began service in 1996, features a smaller stage than the line’s newest ships. So, this entertainment venue has been renovated to offer nightclub style entertainment rather than the typical cruise ship Las Vegas production show. There are two big changes in doing so.
First, from a structural standpoint, the theater itself was essentially gutted and completely renovated during the drydock. Steps were added to raise the individual viewing levels.
Guests now sit on long couches separated by small table-like separators containing orange lanterns. Small tables and chairs were added right below the stage to create that nightclub-style feel. New sound equipment and new lighting were installed.
Second, Holland America has upgraded the level of entertainment. Many lines say that. This one has done it for the most part.
We attended “Encore,” one of the new nightclub style productions. I was impressed with the robust band (including a string quartet) that delivered a big band or Broadway musical quality sound. The violinists, in particular, were superb and two of those musicians performed as soloists.
That said, the stars of “Encore” were two lead singers, who quickly distanced themselves from traditional cruise ship entertainers. Most of the entertainers in Veendam’s Showroom at Sea have solid Broadway credits.
For example, the female vocalist in Encore, Tobi Foster, has appeared in “Les Miserables” and “The Sweet Smell of Success.” She also performed in the international touring company of "Thoroughly Modern Millie" as lead vocalist with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra.
Joseph Pokorski, the male singer for "Encore," appeared in “Phantom of the Opera” and he has performed in 25 leading roles in operas worldwide. He also starred in the original cast world tour, TV special and DVD of the “Twelve Irish Tenors.”
For other shows, including Bob Mackie’s Broadway, other high-quality singers also performed; Moeisha McGill has appeared on Broadway in "RENT" and "Mamma Mia!" You get the picture. This isn’t your typical cruise line entertainment with just good singers. These singers are truly a cut above.
During “Encore,” your clients will enjoy modern melodies like “Scarborough Fair” and “Memories,” as well as operatic tunes, Celtic favorites and the music of Louis Armstrong, the Beatles and Josh Groban, not to mention classical hits including Beethoven’s rousing “Song of Joy” to close the show.
The nightclub show concept worked well within the new venue. Sight lines were good, and the seating comfortable.
Could be improved? Transitions between songs— essentially too much dialogue spoken tepidly by the singers— were weak. That was a bit of a let-down after each powerful vocal performance.
In addition, the two so-so dancers who flitted on and off stage throughout the show with ribbons, feather fans or flowing costumes, were an unnecessary distraction. At times, the singers had to move onto risers just to get out of the way.
At the end of "Encore," the audience clapped wildly, clearly enjoying the show. I too enjoyed the superb musical talent. Changing lights, colors and visuals were also appealing.
One couple who sat next to me said they had attended the last half of the evening’s first show and liked it so much they came for the entire second show.
The Merabella Boutique
Merabella Boutique: For high-end jewelry purchases or just window browsing, tell clients to head to the new Merabella Boutique. It was carved out of one end of the Explorer’s Lounge.
While your clients certainly won’t find any shortage of other jewelry purchase options either onboard or ashore at ports of call, this jewelry boutique has some stunning pieces.
Canaletto: Now guests onboard Veendam also may dine at the new Canaletto eatery, which is essentially a portion of the Lido restaurant that’s cordoned off and outfitted for evening as an elegant-looking, yet casual Italian dining venue. Best of all, this is a complimentary alternative dining experience.
With the aura of La Dolce Vita, Canaletto is distinguished by elegant tablecloths; fine china and glasses; a gorgeous Venetian glass bowl that holds a candle; and drink and dining menus showcasing a painting of Venice’s Grand Canal.
The drink menu outlines the Canaletto wines from such Italian regions as Puglia, Venice and Sicily, to name a few. The savory wine selections are quite affordably priced at $22 per bottle or $5 per glass.
In addition, Italy’s signature fruit-flavored libation, Limoncello, is available as cocktail concoctions. So, your clients might select a Limoncello Martini, Limoncello Belini, Limoncello Cosmopolitan or other combination drink. Each costs $6.50.
The evening’s dining experience begins with the chef’s selection of antipasti, served tableside. You choose from a wide selection of delicacies including asparagus, eggplant, mushrooms, squash, prosciutto, salami, mozzarella cheese and much more.
For the appetizer course, Canaletto offers such items as salad, soup or Zuppa di Pesce, which is assorted seafood simmered with vegetables, tomatoes, flat parsley and saffron.
For the main course, I ordered Linguini Frutti di Mare, linguini pasta with clams, mussels, shrimp and scallops tossed in garlic, onions and cherry tomatoes. It was savory with a perfect sauce that didn’t overpower the seafood.
Other entrée options on our night at Canaletto included Veal Milanese; Chicken Marsala Scaloppini; Cod Puscanesca; Penne alla Vodka; Baked Meat Lasagne Pomodoro, and more.
Prior to dessert, our table received an unexpected plateful of white cotton candy. It created quite a sensation. We enjoyed pulling off wisps of the white stuff as a transition into the dessert phase of the dinner.
For dessert, clients might choose Tiramisu, Limoncello Crème or Mille-Feuille of Madagascar Chocolate – plus a selection of gelatos.
During the Alaska season, Canaletto is open with full table service from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; reservations are highly recommended.
Check back here this week for Part II of our Veendam Update. You’ll learn about accommodations changes on Veendam and, specifically, the Lanai stateroom category – where we stayed during our onboard inspection.