New York to Bermuda
by Karen Segboer
My friend Norma once wanted very badly to go to a John Denver
concert (which will illustrate how long ago that was). One of
Denver’s signature songs, “Back Home Again”, kept going through my
head last week as we made our way from New York City to Bermuda, a
cruise we’ve done, in part, about eight or nine times in the past.
HAL, you’ve won my heart all over again.
Quote overheard in a shared taxi on the way to
Horseshoe Bay in Bermuda: “What ship are you on?” “The Vondeem.”
(She was on our ship.)
Do people make these kinds of mistakes on land-based vacations? Do
they ever confuse Brussels with Bulgaria?
We have not travelled on a Holland America Line
ship since 1998, quite a long time in our own ship sailing history.
We sailed on the ROTTERDAM VI in April of that year and on this same
VEENDAM later in October. I remember that I was quite brutal in my
analysis of my last HAL cruises, and I had to go back to try to
remember why. I just re-read my VEENDAM review of 1998 and I was
ranting by the second paragraph. What was I thinking? Maybe I was
just post-cruise. Or maybe I was premenopausal. Anyway, we went
away, not literally, but figuratively, off to look for new onboard
experiences. Mostly, we sailed with Cunard, but also with RCI, Seven
Seas and Silversea plus the now-gone Renaissance and Premier cruise
lines. I still think it was time to leave HAL when we did, and it
was time to come back home again when we did. The material for
comparison was all there, a ship we had already sailed and a
destination we already knew well.
Hans and I also had many life changes over the past five years.
Between deciding to downsize to a new townhouse in a different
state, being only children caring for elderly parents and the deaths
of two of the three remaining ones plus two major schedule-changing
back surgeries for me, we were busy with life. Then, we got a dog.
Anybody who has ever tried to find responsible pet care while away
on vacation knows what I’m talking about. Cats are a breeze. A dog
So, this is not a cruise review of the general type, with lengthy
paragraphs that go on and on about the size of the ship, how many
passengers it holds, the sight lines in the show room, the
difference of food quality in the specialty dining room or the
availability of pizza on the pool deck. Indeed, this cruise was
easy, port-wise. We embarked in New York City. We got off at two
ports in Bermuda. Then we came back to New York a week later. Many
reading this will have done this exact same trip.
Quote overheard in the Lido dining area:
Middle-aged woman finishing up her breakfast coffee to friends at
the table - “ The worst shore excursion Bernie and I ever took was a
two hour bus ride to see a rock. TO SEE A ROCK!” (ie, Peggy’s Cove,
Halifax, Nova Scotia)
Am I becoming blasť about an activity I’m very
used to and maybe bored with? No, not at all. I’m just looking at
things from a different perspective, a perspective that allows me to
enjoy something in a fresh new way when I thought that maybe I
couldn’t do that any longer. How many of us regular cruisers have
been on trips that felt similar to the ones we took a year or two or
five ago? This is how I approached this cruise, but came out feeling
very different in the end.
This is a cruise that came up quite unexpectedly. We never take
vacations during the summer months unless we’re traveling with a
group and have no choice in the selection of dates and schedules.
Our ship was full of kids, since this was the height of summer
vacation from school. There were bands of roving unsupervised teens,
five and six of them at a time, with cell phones gripped firmly in
their young paws, trying to understand why they could not get
reception in the middle of the North Atlantic and why their text
messages were not going through. There was the Maryland Boys Choir
traveling with us on this voyage (I kid you not). There were very
young babies, too. I saw a few strollers with two toddlers and there
was even a set or two (or three) of twins. There were also large
informal groups sailing together. One was a bunch of Russians from
Brooklyn, NY. Another group was from an over-55 active adult
neighborhood in Pennsylvania.
What’s new: The use of hand sanitizer. It’s everywhere. The
norovirus doesn’t stand a chance on this ship. I am completely
sanitized! In fact, when I get back home again and want to relive my
vacation, I’ll just apply Purell. But that’s a Good Thing, though. I
understand the incidence of passenger-to-passenger gastrointestinal
issues has decreased since cruise lines started getting tough on
those little buggers. The upright containers full of sanitizer all
over the ship, as well as staff waiting to pump your palm full of
the stuff as you walk into the dining areas makes most passengers do
the right thing and use it. It became like a right of passage to get
food. Walk in smelling like an alcohol-based disinfectant, and
you’ll get your dinner. But it also reminds all of us to be
cautious, to be aware. And isn’t that what we’re all doing more of
these days in every aspect of our lives? If we can beat a little
virus, maybe we can conquer other things, too.
What’s also new: Flip-flops on formal night. I witnessed it. That’s
just not right.
More news: Towel animals! Yes, now HAL’s cabin stewards make towel
animals in the evenings at turn-down time. You still get your ‘nighty-night
chocolate, too, as well as assorted invitations, tomorrow’s daily
program and any other information you’ll need to start a new day at
sea, so it’s all good.
The Rosario Strings are gone, but they were replaced on the VEENDAM
run to Bermuda by the Adagio Strings ... and they were wonderful.
All from the Ukraine, three fiddlers and a cellist, they played with
both passion and precision. They gathered a big following nightly in
the Explorers Lounge.
WiFi and Internet connectivity. In
general, it’s far superior to the last ship I was on. I was
remembering the days when marine artist Stephen Card and I almost
had to beat up an internet manager on the SS NORWAY to get a package
deal. There’s a Explorations Cafe close-by (I’m always thinking of
where to get my next onboard nosh), the computer/Internet area is
big and the WiFi is great. We brought my new iPad, plus Hans’ little
netbook, and we were happy with the way the system worked for us,
both in our cabin and around the ship.
What did HAL do wrong: They took away a very decent aft deck
pool/lounge area and replaced it with prefab cabins. Now, there’s
just the “Retreat” with a “pool” of sorts, which is about eighteen
inches deep. I know times are tough and revenue is key, but the
mid-ship pool on VEENDAM is just not enough, especially on a summer
vacation with a ship loaded with kids. Most afternoons, that little
Lido pool was shoulder-to-shoulder with children. The few adults I
spotted were hanging on for dear life on the far edges of the pool,
trying to get cool with a splash of water now and again. There’s a
special spot, the Loft Club, for the young ones at the aft end of
the ship, complete with waterfall, hammocks and deck chairs their
size. On the occasion of our quick visit, there was no kids there,
only one adult ... in a hammock.
What did HAL do right: They made their Wajang Theatre (a great place
for almost-first run movies, incidentally) into a dual purpose
public space. It’s now also a Culinary Arts Center with onboard
demonstrations and discussions.
What’s not so new (and this is not HAL’s fault): Let me put it this
way - If I see one more person out at the bow of the ship by the
rail doing James Cameron’s “Titanic” ( “I can fly!”) thing, I think
I may just go up to them and remind them that thousands of people
lost their lives on that ship. As a long-time ocean liner
aficionado, it bothers me still to see that. Maybe I’m just too
sensitive. Plus, the movie was over a decade ago. I can’t even
imagine what these same people do when they go to Pandora.
What remains the same is HAL’s dedication to its passengers having a
good time, of taking care of them. I’d forgotten about how the
Indonesian and Filipino staff present their best, week after week,
and genuinely look like they’re enjoying themselves, too. Sure,
their work is hard. Sure, the hours are long and they are away from
family and friends for months on end. But it truly seems like they
love their jobs and love their lives. It warms my heart to watch how
they do what they do. They are not just faking it. They’ll share
with you, take care of you, and it’s not just for the tips. One
regrettable thing is that the current tipping policy onboard has
their tip money taken out of passengers’ accounts instead of
allowing the passenger to make it more personal, to say a proper
goodbye at the end of the trip and express in person, face to face,
how nice that particular person made their vacation cruise. Many
passengers do it anyway. We did. In a short span of a week, staff
and cruiser develop a working relationship that almost requires a
more personal approach. It is here that I must say something special
about our cabin steward, Kosh, who was probably the best we have
ever had onboard any ship. He set the bar high, but also led the way
in explaining just how good these folks are at what they do.
What also remains the same? The food. It’s even better than I
remember, in all venues. Hurrah for the cold soups! I particularly
enjoy HAL’s cold soups at dinner in the dining room nightly, a
tradition that started with me on the WESTERDAM to Alaska back in
1990. Is it silly to like dinner rolls? I like HAL’s dinner rolls.
So there, I said it. I miss the crudites with choice of dressing on
the side available as an appetizer on the dinner menu.
Hans asked for sambal oelek, a spicy Asian condiment, for his fish
dish one evening in the dining room. Our waiter ran to get it. Hans
was delighted! On our last VEENDM cruise, this was not the case. No
sambal. Nobody in the dining room knew anything about it.
I still enjoy a piece of ginger upon leaving the dining room after
dinner. I’m thinking of implementing this tradition at home, but I
don’t think it’s on NutriSystem.
More of what’s the same: The HAL Pavlovian-style dinner chimes
calling the hungry from their bars and lounges of preference to yet
another evening meal in the dining room. The young man in charge of
these chimes on our cruise opted to play what sounded like a
Christmas carol rather than the simple ping-pong-pang I’m used to.
Anyway, it was still nice.
What I’m not sure about yet: Those Lanai cabins on Lower Promenade
Deck. During one of the ship’s refurbishments, some cabins here were
given sliding glass doors in place of the large porthole windows.
Now, the occupants can step right onto the outdoor walkaround and
have their own reserved deck chairs outside their cabin’s outer
door. I think it’s one of those things that you either like very
much or hate completely.
A long-time custom of mine when all is said and done and my trip is
over is to ask myself if I would go on this ship or this line again
in future. I’ve seen it done with other reviewers over recent years,
so I guess it’s become a very good gauge of how things went. The
truth is, I’m dying to get back onboard a Holland America ship. I’ve
spent a considerable time since arriving back home again poring over
HAL brochures while doing vacation laundry. We’ve already booked the
ROTTERDAM for next year in Europe. I have my eye on the PRINSENDAM
after eschewing for years the idea of a ship not HAL-built. Nobody
has a bad thing to say about the PRINSENDAM, and now I’m anxious to
So, would I do it again? Would I book a Holland America cruise
again? In a heartbeat.
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